Category Archives: Church History

Floating along with St. Brendan

Now—in something completely unrelated to prayer book revision plans, I have a new post up at Godspace. This one is a musing around the concept of pilgrimage, and my way into it is a brief meditation on the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator. If you’ve not encuntered this text before, I’d urge you to do so. It’s quite fascinating. I have a feeling I will drill into it quite a bit deeper at some point in time.

But that time is not now.

Too many other plates in the air at the moment…

On Borg

I saw the news last night that Dr. Marcus Borg has died. May light perpetual shine upon him.

I have not actually read many of his books despite that fact that he generally falls into my New Testament (NT) specialty. I have heard him summarized, and have read those who argue with him and with whom he argued. This year I will make it a point to read more of his works.

At this point, my feelings toward him are rather ambiguous. I know that he is widely read within the Episcopal Church, and that he has helped many progressive Christians and Episcopalians to be able to read the Bible again. He presents a perspective and an entre into the Bible that allows it to be read critically and rationally over and against fundamentalistic reading strategies. That he has helped people pick up and return to the Scriptures is a good thing.

However, I have noticed distinctive interpretive trends in most of the people I know who cite him with approval. Modern biblical scholarship of the 20th century (and the latter half of the 19th) focused on Bible as history. Thus, the questions biblical scholars brought and solutions they offered were around sketching the history of the early Christian movement and in the development of its ideas as reflected in the various writings of the New Testament texts.  What I have heard of Borg and what I have read in those I consider his fellow travellers—Crossan, Funk, the Jesus Seminar crowd—is that they apply a hermeneutic of suspicion while they use the NT as a historical data mine. They’re certainly within their rights and privileges as NT scholars to do so; I think they go overboard and their results are skewed because they misconstrue the nature of their data-set.

When this approach passes out of scholarship into the lay realm it takes the form of this sort of narrative:  Jesus was a revolutionary (peasant or otherwise) and was both co-opted and misunderstood by the early church. Thus, to understand him and his message properly, the claims of the early church should be downplayed (or dismissed). Furthermore, potential seams or disagreements within the writings of the NT and in the apocryphal literature are extrapolated into full-blown incarnate communities. The narrative of the formation of the canon of the NT and the emergence of the early church into public view in the 4th century, therefore, is of a supressive and repressive faction that becomes “orthodoxy” by getting rid of all other claimants (particularly the more diverse sorts!). In some variants of this narrative, Constantine is invoked as the one who declares Jesus divine in a complete departure from the peasant revolutionary who kicked off the original Jesus movement.

When this narrative is imported into congregations as theology, the result is a semi- to fully-Arian christology (one that considers Jesus as an exemplary person and teacher, but not a divine being) and a generally anti-orthodox approach that sees the early church and its councils as repressive agents of Empire.

A central problem is that, in our churches, this narrative and its resulting theology is seen as the only alternative to fundamentalism.

And it’s not.

I’m not a fundamentalist; I don’t read the Bible like a fundamentalist. I read it as a poetry of God’s presence and, in doing so, I read it in the company of the early church. I don’t read the Bible as a dead historical site to be excavated for its ideas, but as a living city that invites us to both imagine and live the world that God imagines.

So—I need to read some more Borg. I realize that I tend to respond to something of a caricature of his thought; I’d like to be able to be more fair to him and to be able to speak to what he does say rather than what I hear others report him to have said.

Original Pronunciation and the Prayer Book

On Sunday at church we sang “Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” As is often the case, I was struck by the couplets of the fourth verse:

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The first two, “come/home” look good on paper but don’t rhyme in American mouths. Even worse is the second pair: “high/misery.” We have to conclude one of three things.

First, the twentieth century approach to classical hymnody being what it is, maybe somebody has fiddled with the words. Second, John Mason Neale didn’t know what he was doing and flubbed the rhyme. Third, there’s an entirely different way of pronouncing English from what your average Baltimore congregation sings, and this hymn assumes those sounds rather than what I was hearing.

In regard to the first, no—not this time. In regard to the second,  John Mason Neale won medals for his poetry at Cambridge and is one of the best translators of hymns of his day; incompetence is likely not the answer. That leaves us with the third and to the video presentation of the day… I ran across this a little bit ago and was greatly intrigued by it. It’s a short video on the Original Pronunciation of Shakespeare’s English. Clearly, this wasn’t the  tongue that Neale was writing in (as he was a couple of centuries later), but the mention of rhyme as a means for getting a feel of the language jumped to mind when we hit the fourth stanza yesterday.

What this does move me to consider is the pronunciation of the texts from the first English prayer books. What sort of rhymes and other forms of assonance do we miss because we read through it in our English rather than theirs? The same, of course, is true of the King James Bible of which we are told that Blessed Lancelot Andrewes and others read their work out loud to test the sound of it before making final decisions?

No point to make, just a shift in perception…

Benedictional of St Aethelwold up!

A couple of posts in the pipeline dealing with church politics stuff are sidelined for a most important announcement: the British Library has put on line the splendid Benedictional of St. Æthelwold!

Æthelwold was the teacher of Aelfric, the chief guy my dissertation was about, so this is a big deal for me. The manuscript illustrations are simply beautiful—they’re definitely worth the time to look through.

Sacramental History and CWOB

This is a piece I wrote for a collection now in the final stages of editing. It’s targeted for the adult formation in your typical parish (hence the phonetic spellings of some items…)



The sacraments, particularly Baptism and Eucharist, have been an important part of the Anglican tradition from even before the time that Anglicans became a distinct body within the global Church. Looking across the centuries of Christian sacramental practice, we see quite a lot of change based on different beliefs that appeared in different times and different places. The sacramental rites and who had access to them shift as the understandings of those rites shifted.  However, we find through all of these practices a significant common thread: the sacraments can never be viewed in isolation; they are intimately connected with one another to form a broader pattern of Christian discipleship.

The Early Church

The evidence of the first few centuries is notoriously spotty; the church grew in obscurity from its humble beginnings and once it began to flourish, it became the target of suspicion and then suppression from the Roman authorities. As a result, we get only bits and pieces from the first three Christian centuries.

Our first real glimpse of the sacramental teaching of the Early Church after the writing of the New Testament is a short little book called the Didache (pronounced “Did-a-kay”). Difficult to date, most scholars believe that it was written sometime at the end of the first century or the very beginning of the second. It is the first surviving Christian writing to make a statement on the direct relationship between Baptism and the Eucharist (but is hardly the last). It states: “But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized in the Lord’s Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs’” (Did. 9.5). It’s only fair to locate this statement within the larger context of the whole treatise. The Didache was written as a baptismal instruction manual. It begins with a section describing “The Way of Life and of Death” that lays out the ethical conduct required to live as a disciple of Christ. It begins by describing the demands of discipleship. Then it describes the Baptismal rite, then the Eucharistic rite, and it’s after the description of the Eucharist where we find the admonishment that only the baptized should receive the Eucharist. In this initial foundational document, Baptism is the introduction into a life of discipleship—the Eucharist is the food that sustains it.

Justin Martyr, an apologist who died for his faith, wrote a defense of that faith around the year 150. In it, he too linked the same themes that we see in the earlier Didache: “…And we call this food ‘thanksgiving [eucharist]’; and no one may partake of it unless he is convinced of the truth of our teaching, and has been cleansed with the washing for forgiveness of sins and regeneration, and lives as Christ handed down” (First Apology 66.1). For Justin Martyr, the Eucharist is the food of discipleship that is preceded not solely by Baptism but by faith, by Baptism, and by a life marked by discipleship.

As we move farther into the second century we can take a broader view because our evidence allows us to gain insight into more aspects of Christian life.  Hippolytus of Rome wrote a set of liturgical instructions around the year 215 that laid out the ideal process for Christian initiation and living. Those who wished to become part of the faith were examined to see if they lived acceptable lives. People with certain jobs were automatically denied. Some of these are not surprising: pimps, prostitutes, sorcerers, magic amulet-makers, priests of pagan cults. Others might be more surprising: soldiers, actors, painters, and civil officials. Essentially, anyone who either was connected to the practices of idolatry or those who held the power of life and death—including condemning others to death—had to renounce their profession or be turned away. Those acceptable were enrolled as catechumens (pronounced “kat-a-kyu-mens”) and were instructed in faith for up to three years before they were selected for Baptism. The criteria Hippolytus gives us is significant: “When those to be baptized have been selected, their life is to be examined: Have they lived uprightly during their catechumenate? Have they respected widows, visited the sick, practiced all the good works?” Baptism was not dependent upon knowing a certain amount (that was a given based on the period of instruction beforehand) but on whether the catechumens were living lives of tangible discipleship.

After selection for Baptism, Lent became a special time of intensive pre-Baptismal preparation where formerly hidden parts of the Christian teaching were revealed; the catechumens were formally given the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer along with exorcisms. Hippolytus then describes Baptism at the Easter vigil with the bishop presiding. The candidates are baptized and anointed. Then we get our first record of the rite of Confirmation: the bishop seals the newly-baptized with oil and lays hands on them. After this rite, they receive their first Eucharist. Again we see the basic pattern of discipleship inextricably bound with the reception of the sacraments.

The vision that we get from Hippolytus—Baptism at the Easter Vigil followed immediately by Confirmation and by Eucharist—becomes the standard pattern that we will see through the third and fourth centuries. Indeed, the fourth century is the age of the great catechetical lectures; several of the Church Fathers such as Cyril of Jerusalem and Ambrose of Milan wrote and gave lectures preparing the catechumens for the life of discipleship as well as post-Baptismal lectures that explained the meanings of the rites that they had experienced. In order to reserve their experience of the Christian sacraments for the time in which they could participate in them fully, however, the Eucharistic liturgies of the fourth centuries have a specific point during the prayers and before the Eucharist where all of the catechumens were dismissed.

The Medieval Era

With the fall of Roman authority in the West, the move of Christian Rome to the Greek-speaking East in Constantinople, and the large-scale migrations in tribal Europe, the social and religious patterns of the fourth century experienced tremendous disruption in the West between the late fourth and sixth centuries. By the end of this time, Baptism was typically administered to infants. Because of the infant mortality rate and the spread of a biologically-grounded understanding of original sin, Christian parents felt a need to have their children baptized as soon as possible lest they die outside of the Church. The chrism of Confirmation still required a bishop, however. In some places, Baptisms were held at the Easter Vigil when possible and the infants were communed even if the bishop was not available—for those who lived near urban centers and cathedrals, Confirmations would follow the week after. For those who lived in more rural areas, Confirmation would occur the next time the bishop was in the area…in theory. In practice, though, Confirmation was put off not just months but often years; Baptism and Confirmation began to take on separate lives of their own.

By the medieval period, Confirmation seems to have been a sacrament often honored in the breach. In the thirteenth century there were a number of rulings by local English Synods that sought to compel  Confirmation. One council insisted that children be confirmed within their first year or else their parents were forbidden to even enter the church building. Another mandated that Confirmation had to occur before the age of seven. Yet another insisted that Confirmation happen before three; if this did not happen, the parents were required to fast on bread and water until the time that the Confirmation occurred!

Furthermore, reception of the Eucharist became less and less common. Due to fears of profanation of the sacrament, most laity received the Eucharistic bread infrequently. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Pope Innocent III decreed that all Christians had to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, at Easter, and that sacramental Confession had to precede it. In relation to this Eucharistic ordinance and in frustration at the dearth of Confirmations, the Council of Lambeth meeting in 1281 under Archbishop Peckham decreed that only those who had received Confirmation would be allowed to receive the Eucharist.

At Baptism, the parents and sponsors promised to teach the fundamentals of discipleship—the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer. In turn, the priests were required to teach these to the people in the vernacular. Although the infants could not understand, the Creed and Lord’s Prayer were still handed over to them during Lent, and often early medieval sermons during Lent and the Easter season explained them to the people.

While the practice of the sacraments in the medieval West differed from that of the fourth century of the Church Fathers, the fundamental pattern was the same: Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, then Communion. With the virtual universal adoption of Christianity in the West, the connections between the sacramental rites and the life of discipleship became less obvious. The presence and practice of Confession between a vital link between the Great Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and Christian discipleship. Drawing its power from Baptism, requiring thoughtful reflection about intentional habits of life, and receiving advice for Christian living from the confessor-priest, the demands of discipleship were placed in direct relationship with Eucharistic reception.

The Prayer Book Tradition

In the very first Anglican prayer book, the English Book of Common Prayer of 1549, there are two services of Baptism, a public and a private, one following the other with the second to be reserved for cases of “great cause and necessity.” Both services (the public especially) would not be so foreign to Hippolytus as it contains the same basic principles: renunciation of the devil, affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed, threefold wetting (either by dipping or sprinkling rather than full immersion), then an exhortation to fulsome Christian living. The purpose was the same as we see from the initial prayer which ends as follows:

“We beseech thee (for thy infinite mercies) that thou wilt mercifully look upon these children, and sanctify them with thy Holy Ghost; that by this wholesome laver of regeneration, whatsoever sin is in them may be washed clean away; that they, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ’s church, and so saved from perishing: and being fervent in spirit, steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, rooted in charity, may ever serve thee; and finally attain to everlasting life, with all thy holy and chosen people.”

The children are baptized into a community—the ark of Christ’s church—and sanctified with the Holy Spirit, binding them to the rest of the holy and chosen people likewise baptized. Furthermore, they are baptized for discipleship—service of God characterized by the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.

There are two main differences between this service and that of Hippolytus. The first is that it was set to occur after the New Testament reading and before the canticle at either Morning or Evening Prayer; it was not set within the context of a Eucharistic service, and the newly-baptized were not communed. Second, it was intended for infants while Hippolytus envisioned adults. The gap between the two is filled by the role of the Godparents who take the children’s promises on themselves and then receive a final exhortation that connects the core catechesis, the necessity of discipleship, and the role of the community. After the minister reminds them of their duty to instruct the children in the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, he ends the service thus:

“And that these children may be virtuously brought up to lead a godly and Christian life; remembering always that Baptism doth represent unto us our profession; which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him; that as he died, and rose again for us, so should we (which are baptized) die from sin and rise again unto righteousness; continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living.”

This is the end of Baptism—a life of virtue in the example of Christ. This is why we are baptized, this is why we must learn the core instructions of the faith. It’s not (solely) for the sake of knowledge but for action, for faithful daily living.

Following Baptism is the service for Confirmation; there’s a section right after the title “Confirmation” that says a few words about its purpose. For Confirmation to occur—as was stated at Baptism—children had to be able to repeat “in their mother tongue” the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments along with the contents of the catechism that followed that offer brief explanations of these three items. This section then offers three reasons for Confirmation, the first reason picking up the same themes from the Baptismal service itself and directly connecting Baptism with Confirmation by means of discipleship:

“First, because that when children come to the years of discretion, and have learned what their Godfathers and Godmothers promised for them in Baptism, they may then themselves with their own mouth, and with their own consent, openly before the Church, ratify and confess the same; and also promise, that by the grace of God they will evermore endeavour themselves faithfully to observe and keep such things as they by their own mouth and confession have assented unto.”

Learning the words is not enough; they must also promise to observe and practice the demands of discipleship encapsulated in the Creed, Commandments, and Lord’s Prayer. The final note after the Confirmation rite states briefly: “And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed.”

Speaking to admission to holy Communion, these same themes of discipleship appear there in the exhortation which precedes the invitation to Eucharist. The exhortation breaks into four main sections. The first reminds the hearers of Paul’s command that those coming to the table examine themselves before hand, knowing that those worthily receiving receive a great benefit, but harm comes to the unworthy. The second focuses specifically upon the hearers’ pattern of life: if they are in patterns of habitual sin, they must repent of them before coming. The third recalls to mind the salvific acts of God on the congregation’s behalf while the fourth exhorts their thanks for the gift of the sacrament and its reception. After the prayer of consecration, right before the reception of the sacrament, the principal themes of this exhortation are condensed into the call for confession:

“Ye who do earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God meekly kneeling.”

This exhortation—however brief—makes clear that the combination of Baptism and Confirmation is not all that is required: active discipleship is the stated requirement. The confession and absolution that follow should not be seen simply as a cleansing of sin—they are also a naming of acts that describe what the congregation has failed to do with an eye towards mending their ways and returning to full discipleship.

The prayer book tradition begins, then, with a continuation of the classical Western pattern: Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, then Eucharist. While the confession in the prayer book rite is a general one, private confession is recommended in the exhortation but is not required.

The American 1928 Book of Common Prayer follows substantially in the tradition laid down almost 400 years before. Baptism is still about inclusion into the Church, the Body of Christ; Confirmation is still required for admission to the Eucharist; Confession still occurs before reception (although it has shifted to before the consecration). The exhortations are still present although moved out of main body of the rite.

Here and Now

The American 1979 Book of Common Prayer represents a major revision from the mainstream of the Anglican Tradition. With the influence of the ecumenical Liturgical Renewal Movement, Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant Churches alike aligned their liturgical practices back towards the pattern represented by the fourth century rites. Following suit, our current prayer book melds fourth century traditions with historic Anglican ones. The rethinking of our rites that accompanied these efforts included some substantial modifications of our sacramental theology.

Our current prayer book makes clear that Baptism—not Confirmation—is full initiation into the Church (BCP, p. 298); Confirmation is no longer required in order to receive the Eucharist. The demands of discipleship are laid out in the form of the Baptismal Covenant. Those being baptized or their sponsors commit to belief in the Apostles’ Creed but also commit to five specific patterns of behavior: continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship particularly through the breaking of bread and the prayers, repentance and returning to God after sin, proclaiming the Good News of Christ by word and deed, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of all (BCP, p. 304-5). These patterns of life sketch the boundaries of discipleship.

The Confirmation rite removes the questions and answers that had characterized it from the beginning of the Anglican tradition. Instead, the heart of the service is a recapitulation of the Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 416-7).Confirmation is a reaffirmation and a mature claiming of the patterns of discipleship taken on in Baptism.

A general confession still precedes reception of the Eucharist. The version in Rite I differs only in wording and spelling from the1928 and 1549 forms. The version in Rite II has been rewritten so that the demands of discipleship are sketched in the confession itself rather than in the exhortation preceding it. Rather than focusing on specific acts, the confession sketches categories by which we either maintain or fall short of perfect discipleship: “in thought, word, and deed” and also “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone” (BCP, p. 360).  Recalling both the two tables of the Ten Commandments and Christ’s own Summary of the Law we acknowledge discipleship’s requirements when we say that “We have not loved [God] with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (ibid.). Our contrition and request for mercy that follows is itself a fulfillment of the Baptismal Covenant’s second promise to repent and return to the Lord. The concluding lines express our hope for the result of God’s grace: that we can fulfill discipleship’s demands through a proper reorientation towards God.

One final element clarifies and sharpens the Eucharistic theology of our present prayer book. Where formerly there was one post-communion prayer, now there are two. Despite this change, the structure of both prayers is the same: they begin with a recognition that those who have received are “living members” of the Body of Christ, and move to a request to be sent out to fulfill the works of discipleship. (BCP, pp. 365, 366). Those who belong to the visible Body of Christ receive the sacramental Body of Christ and, as the empowered Body of Christ, are authorized to perform the works of Christ.


Across the ages Christian communities have not embodied the sacraments in identical ways. However, there are some fundamental patterns that are constant.

  1. The traditions and the liturgies of the Church have never treated the sacraments as distinct and isolated rites.
  2. The central common thread connecting the primary sacraments of the Church is discipleship.
  3. The sacraments and the grace that they communicate are not simply a generic sign of God’s favor but is precisely grace for a cruciform life of discipleship .
  4. Baptism is the act of initiation into the communal and visible Body of Christ which is the Church, the community of disciples.
  5. Eucharist is food for the Church where in the midst of the communal Body of Christ bread and wine become the sacramental Body (and Blood) of Christ given to feed the life of discipleship.
  6. The sacraments are always communal actions: Baptism is Baptism into the full community of faith; Confirmation is Confirmation into a local community of faith; Confession is an alignment back to the norms of the community; Eucharist is the communal celebration of its identity and integration into Christ.

Most discussions about Communion without Baptism only consider it from the perspective of an individual attending one liturgy. This is an inadequate perspective that fails to properly treat either the communal nature of the sacraments or their intimate connection with discipleship. Rather than discussing “Communion Without Baptism” the Church would be far better served by a discussion around the “Sacramental Path to Discipleship.” Is how we greet strangers important? Absolutely. Is hospitality a Christian virtue? Absolutely. But our most hospitable act towards strangers is to introduce them to the sacramental path to discipleship that will bring them into a community that embraces God’s promise of resurrection life most fully.

We as a Church have received the sacraments for a purpose. They bind us deeper into the life of grace into which God invites us. But without committing to embracing that resurrection life offered—and sharing it with those we meet—we mistake the nature, purpose, and aim of these sacramental gifts.

Initial Thoughts on Stripping of the Altars

For some reason, the books I most like to read are quite expensive. With no lending seminary library in the area, that means I normally have to wait until Christmas time to get a fresh crop of theological reading material. Well—Christmas has come and so has my reading list!

At the top (thanks to my awesome in-laws!) is Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars. For those unfamiliar with it, this book was originally published in the late 90’s and is now into a second edition. It is at the heart of a revisionist reassessment of the state of late medieval catholicism and the history of the English Reformation(s). The old view was that late medieval catholicism was a mass of impenetrable superstition just ripe for a Reformation which was eagerly embraced by all right-thinking English-speaking people. In this work, Duffy has two main sections: the first uses social historical techniques (looking at wills, bequests, court cases, etc.) to document the vibrant and coherent character of late medieval devotion; the second section challenges the assumption that the Reformation was a movement just waiting to happen that had wide popular support.

I’m about a third of the way through it and have a few thoughts which will likely be expanded later (and as I read more):

  • This is a great book—learned yet still very readable and highly informative! In this first part in particular, it shows what can be done when social history is done well.
  • This is also a very large book, tipping the scale at 700 pages. While I’ve seen it referenced quite a lot, I’m guessing that this is a text that falls in the same class as Dix’s Shape of the Liturgy: it’s referenced more often than actually read…
  • It’s both informing and corroborating my earlier hunches concerning the prymers and their relationship to the early Books of Common Prayer. I suspect I’ll be writing quite a lot more on this connection.
  • In a sense, sections of it remind me strongly of Percy Dearmer’s little book on the history of the Church of England. That is, it portrays the 15th century in mostly idyllic terms and the Reformation as a rupture caused by a powerful few. I’m looking forward to the second section where I hope he will draw a clearer picture of this.
  • Sometimes he seems to suggest that the evidence he gathers means more than it does. Being able to point to texts is important (and is often all we have to go on); demonstrating how widely read, held, and representative they are is a different story entirely.
  • Social history is a terrific tool but always errs in the direction of the anecdotal. As a result it must be well deployed in using it to help solve the previous problem. But its anecdotal character can be used to conceal as well as reveal.
  • As he points out in the intro, Lollards rarely appear and they are reckoned as naught in the main. On the other hand, he’s quite right that so often scholars focus on the marginal groups rather than trying to sketch a picture of mainstream orthodoxy. I appreciate that and am thinking of how Aelfric fits into his time.
  • All in all, so far, I highly recommend it!

American Sarum: Monday Afternoon

Monday afternoon was the Sarum Mass. While there was a session entitled learning the rubrics beforehand, it was really an opportunity for a talk through what was going on as we watched the participants practice. Unfortunately due to the sickness of some key folks and the sudden disappearance of a central annotated edition of the service, the practice was more helter-skelter than it was intended to be and the rubrics session couldn’t live up to the original intention.

I have to confess upfront that it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Traditional Latin Mass. This would be a much more informed article if I’d been recently and could compare the differences between a “standard” TLM and what occurred at the conference—but I can’t.

There is no video of the mass that I know of, but there are some photos. This album contains photos from the entire conference with the mass at the end.

The church was surprisingly full—I think many of the regular congregants came and other interested folks. A couple of the people from my parish were able to come (and should leave comments to add to my account…).

The point of the service was to present as completely as possible an actual Sarum Mass. It was not a suggestion that this is what the Episcopal Church should do now, but rather to convey an experience of the liturgical world from which the Anglican rites developed and the world to which Dearmer, Frere, Staley, and other Victorian and Edwardian liturgists pointed as a source for understanding and enriching the Anglican rites of their day. The service was a reconstructed votive mass of the Blessed Virgin. Full programs containing the Latin and an English translation were handed out, but my preference was just to watch and listen without it.  As the basis of the Sarum truly is the Roman Rite, I didn’t have much trouble following along. To my eyes, it was much like other Latin Masses to which I have been but the server and subdeacon were much more involved in the preparation of the chalice than I recall. There was also a significant moment, I believe just prior to the fraction, where the deacon held the paten and sudary cloth high which was familiar from to me from late medieval manuscript images.

What struck me, likely due to Dr. Harper’s presentation, was the interplay between the choir and the altar party. The choir was singing almost the entire time and very little of what the altar party said could be heard. It was completely clear that the Ordinary of the Mass sung by the choir was following a different track from the altar party. That is, while the altar party undoubtedly said the same parts—the Gloria, the Sanctus, etc.—they did not wait until the choir had finished singing to continue their parts. Instead, the choral sanctus stretched from the beginning of the canon until the elevations, there was a pause for the elevations, then the choral benedictus qui venit continued from that point virtually until the end of the canon and the beginning of the Communion proper. It reinforced for me how linear our current service is: only one significant action is occurring at a time, and if an overlap would occur, we stop until that action or element is completed. The medieval experience seemed to have much more layering.  (Of course, it must be noted that the congregation present acted like a typical modern congregation—we “paid attention” and “followed along” as we are used to and did not wander around and do our own devotions as a medieval congregation would have!)

On one hand, the worship experience seemed more rich because of the multiple elements occurring simultaneously. On the other, the layering did obscure some aspects of the experience, deliberately so. The deliberate obscuring of the altar party’s actions and vocalizations left no doubt in my mind that my personal edification was not the point—their action was Godward. The elements most central presented to the congregation’s perceptions—the choir’s part—were also not for congregational edification as it was not in our native tongue and even someone like me who understands a modicum of spoken Latin sometimes would have difficulty understanding all the words due to the polyphony. Thus, the Godwardness of the experience was quite clear. What was less clear to me was the theological place of the congregation; I got the strong sense that we were superfluous. Yes, our being there changing something about the nature of the service in the same way that any act of observation alters the behavior of the observed, but I lacked a sense that we played a necessary role—and I found that theologically interesting.

I say “interesting” because it’s leading me to reflect on my understanding of the place of liturgy within the life of the liturgical community. I *do* see value in the continuity of liturgical action conducted on behalf of the full community in the full community’s absence. That is, masses and offices should be said on behalf of and in reference to the community even when the full community is not able to gather for them—even a token congregation provides the necessary continuity, but the presence of those few is both significant and important whereas the choir and clergy seemed sufficient in the Sarum system in a way that felt questionable to me.

This is the last post on the sessions of the conference, but I am working on a summary post that seeks to pull together what I took from the conference, what I think its real strengths were, and the questions that I believe it poses to the larger Episcopal Church.

American Sarum: Sunday Afternoon

Session 5: Dr. John Harper: Sonic Ceremonial

This session was amazing. I don’t have learning to appreciate fully everything that he said, but it has taken my understanding of late medieval liturgy up a level. (That’s not to say that you had to have a lot of prior learning to get anything out of it, just that he covered the whole spectrum. A shotgun blast of erudition!) I received a strong sense of how intellectual my knowledge of liturgy in this period is; I know books and books about books. What I don’t know nearly as well are the spaces in which the liturgies were conducted, the timing of the various parts and how both of these overlapped.

Cathedrals: Multiple and Overlapping Spaces

Using the plans of Hereford Cathedral, Dr. Harper identified the three principal worship spaces within a late medieval cathedral.

The heart of the cathedral’s worship life is the choir (quire) which contained the high altar. This section is located literally at the heart of the cathedral where the two transepts come together. This is where the main body of canons would gather to sing the Offices and would celebrate the Mass of the Day. (I believe the organ is located here, but I can’t swear to it.)

To the east is the Lady Chapel. In this area, a separately funded body of people are attending to the various services for Our Lady. Thus, there was daily a Matins, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline of the BVM, the Lady Mass, and, after Compline, the Antiphon/Anthem ceremony when choral arrangements of the Antiphons (Alma Mater Redemptoris, Salve Regina, etc.) would be sung.

To the west of the Choir is the Nave or the parish church. You don’t see it in the 1950’s plans I inked to, but there was a stone pulpitum (essentially a big stone rood screen that you could get on top of—readings would be done from its top) that separated the Choir from the Nave. The Nave was the parochial space. The parish priest led masses, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and the Friday Jesus Mass in this space. However—note the aisle in the plan… On Sundays and Holydays processions that went forth from both the Choir and the Lady Chapel would travel around this space as the various services overlapped and inter-related. And it’s this inter-relation of space that must be considered to understand the full impact of sound and action in late medieval liturgy. There could literally be three different services going on at the same time—on in each of the three main spaces—and variously interacting with one another sonically if not physically. Indeed, there are surviving complaints from canons that the noise from the parish masses was interfering with their choir services.

The organ would only play on Sundays and Holydays and, I believe, supported what was going on in the Choir. Hearing this piece of information made me realize that I have to reconsider the old Lent and Advent restrictions on organ playing—these never originally applied to parish settings, as far as I can tell, and chiefly impacted the Choir only!

Rochester Cathedral: Who does what when


Rochester Cathedral (note the photo of the in-place pulpitum with the pipe ranks atop it and the railing where the reader would stand to read into the Choir but be seen and heard in the Nave) which has its Lady Chapel in the South Transept gives us a great opportunity to look at exactly how worship would have been late out in the period after Henry VIII’s break with Rome but before the institution of the Book of Common Prayer. This is English Sarum in its heyday. The reason why it’s such a terrific case is because Rochester had been staffed by a Benedictine priory. With the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540, it was re-founded as a secular cathedral by letters patent in June of 1541. Bishop Nicholas Heath drew up a set of injunctions in 1543 and statues in 1544 to regulate the life and worship of the new cathedral structure.

Here’s the breakdown of people we find in Heath’s directions:

  • Dean and Chapter (7 people)
    • Dean
    • 6 canons
  • Choral Body (23 people)
    • 6 minor canons (clergy)
    • 6 clerks (lay or clergy)
    • 1 Master of Choristers
    • 8 Choristers
    • Deacon and Subdeacon
  • Grammar School (22 people)
    • 2 Instructors of Grammar
    • 20 Grammar boys
  • Church servants and poor men (12 people)
    • 2 Vergers
    • 2 Bellringers/sweepers
    • 2 Porters
    • 6 Poor men
  • Household Servants (4 people)
    • 2 butlers
    • 2 cooks


These people were then correlated to a chart that displayed how these various groups were deployed across the day for Holydays and Workdays. (The chart is copyrighted or I’d post it.) There are five possible staffing groups that were deployed for various services based on the service and the rank of the day:

  • Choristers: these were the 8 singers and their Master of Choristers who also doubled as the organist
  • Priests and clerks: these were the 6 minor canons and the 6 clerks (I don’t know if the Chapter is included here as I don’t know how often they were around. I expect that the deacon and subdeacon were in this group as well.)
  • Full choir: Choristers + Priests and clerks
  • Full choir & Grammar school: Like it says, full choir + boys
  • Said: It’s on the chart but isn’t explicitly described. Clearly the minimum necessary here is a priest and a server.

From the chart it’s clear that the Choristers and Master of Choristers are the main body for the Lady Chapel and the Priests & Clerks inhabit the Choir on Workdays. The Choristers are used for the Jesus Mass in the parish church on Fridays. On Holydays, the Full Choir and the Grammar School come together for big blowout events.


Since this was a conference for musicians, the “what” in this case was the music. There were three basic kinds of music used:

  • Plainsong—sung unison
  • Improvised polyphony (organum)—plainsong with two parts added, one moving in open fifths above, the other moving below by a fourth IIRC
  • Composed polyphony (pricksong)—this is the composed polyphony for a set of voices (anywhere from 3 to a maximum of 12 (!!)) that we’re used to from Byrd and others

On a regular workday, the only people who would be singing polyphony at Rochester Cathedral according to Bp. Heath’s directions were the Choristers when they sang at Lady Mass 8 AM every morning but Saturday. (On non-festal Saturdays, the Lady Mass was the Mass of the Day and was sung by the Full Choir at the main Mass of the Day slot; the Lady Mass was only “said” at 8 AM in the Lady Chapel). On the Eves of all Doubles (including Saturdays as eves of Sunday), the Full Choir sang the Anthem of the BVM in composed Polyphony. The Grammar School joined with the Full Choir for the Anthem on Holydays.  Thus, in the 8 surviving major sources of liturgical polyphony from the period,

  • 29% of the pieces are for the Mass
  • 33% of the pieces are for the Office
  • 39% of the pieces are for the Anthem

When it comes to the Mass, very little of the Propers get embellished. Instead what receives the embellishing is the Ordinary of the Mass. Again, most singers will be familiar with this as the major mass pieces are the Ordinary: Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei. (Note, though, that in Sarum non-votive masses, the Kyrie was troped and thus was part of the Proper, not the Ordinary—hence no Kyries in most Byrd Masses; it’s because they’re Sarum…)

In the Offices, the main areas for polyphony were the final Respond of Matins and the Magnificat (not the Benedictus, note). Compline was sung separately from Vespers and tended to be more formal (more formal than what I’m not sure—my notes don’t say: possible answers could be “than Vespers” or “than continental sources”).

As a side note, note that music composed for the Lady Chapel is small-space music—it wasn’t intended to fill the whole space of the cathedral because it didn’t have to.

Dr. Harper then displayed a fascinating chart that I didn’t have anywhere near time to copy down. It displayed the correspondence between liturgical “height” of a feast and the number of voices liturgical music (usually Masses) for the feast contained. It was a very clear distribution of kalendrical importance expressed through song. Christmas received pieces for 8 voices on one end of the spectrum; All Saints, and Feasts of Confessors and Martyrs received 5 at the other.

One of his main points in the discussion of music on the eve of the Reformation is how much of it survived. Organs narrowly missed being banned by one vote (in Parliament, I believe) and Elizabeth saved the choirs. As we consider late Medieval liturgy/music and the transition into the early Anglican experiment, the retention of music must be kept in mind.

Experiencing a Sarum Liturgy

The second part of Dr. Harper’s presentation was watching a video of a reconstruction of a Sarum service for the reconciliation of penitents. He asked us when we watched it to be aware of its effect on us from a few different angles. First, what does it mean to participate in a liturgy in a language we don’t understand but of which we know the general gist? Second, what is the lived impact of certain uses that seem boring on the page—like the prolonged recitation of the penitential psalms in plainsong—but may be more powerful in the experience?

The service was done at St Teilo’s, a church which is part of a Welsh museum, and which the Harpers (John’s wife is also a formidable scholar of medieval music and liturgy) and other scholars are using to learn more about the lived experience of medieval liturgy. Here’s a pdf of a paper on how liturgists might learn from it and some pointers on how a Sarum Mass might be done in this particular church.

Here’s at least a portion of the service we watched uploaded to YouTube. Jeremy Davies, precentor at Salisbury is serving as the priest, Dr. Harper is the second server.

I’ll put the next session in another post given the current length here…

American Sarum: Sunday Morning

I apologize for the significant delay in getting this out—most of my meager online time this week has been spent in the discussions at the Cafe…

The main event of Sunday morning was, of course, Mass at Christ Church, Bronxville according to their Sarum Use.

The difficulties with logistics came home to roost on Sunday morning. The hotel for the conference was a good fifteen to twenty minutes away from the church. With the number of people at the hotel, one shuttle was not sufficient for the number of attendees without cars. As a result, M and I had to go on the shuttle’s second trip and arrived late to the mass, coming in at the end of the Gloria. We started out seated in a side-aisle behind a pillar where we had no view at all of the chancel area but we moved during the offertory hymn to a spot in the nave where we could see what was going on.

Canon Davies preached the sermon—I quite liked it and thought he did a nice job weaving questions of identity and naming in the beginning of John with the I Am statements of that Gospel; others found it wordy and a bit diffuse.

Three points before I continue to the ceremonial:

  1. It was Mass; I was there to worship. As a result, I didn’t take notes and can’t draw out any schematics. What I am relating is what I can remember seeing based on where I was sitting. Other attendees with better views and/or memories should feel free to offer corrections!
  2. Dr. Percy Dearmer—by way of The Parson’s Handbook—is the best known and most authoritative proponent of the English Use. And that’s the term he uses: English Use. While much of the practices and principles are drawn from Sarum books, his goal was a synthesis of the tradition for his times that would preserve both the English and catholic heritage of the Church of England to be used in strict accordance with the rubrics of the authorized Prayer Book. At one point he writes: ” A great deal of harm has been done by the thoughtless use of the word ‘Sarum’ when the statements of the Prayer Book should have led us to the only exact word ‘English'” (PH 6th ed., 38). That the church identifies its use as Sarum suggests that it is in contact with Blessed Percy and his sources, but also that they are not full exponents of his English Use.
  3. I won’t (and can’t) go into detail on the history of the parish. However, it seems from the rector’s talk later in the day that the church had some early Dearmerite influence at its beginnings, and an influential clergy team later who introduced some aspects of the English Use. There was quite a gap, though, and the rector identified a number of ceremonial changes that he had made to make things more like they were before. As a result, I don’t know how long they have been doing things in the manner that I saw—I can only relate what was done on Sunday.

The service was a Rite II Holy Eucharist from the BCP. They used the high altar, celebrating eastward, which was appointed with riddel posts and riddels. Interestingly, the two angels holding the candles were facing each other rather than outward. There were three vested sacred ministers—the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon—and the crucifer and thurifer both wore tunicles as well. All five had appareled amices, but I saw no appareling on the albs.  (Alb appareling is present in some of the recent photos in the parish books, though.)

These are the differences that I noticed from my Fortecue Anglo-Catholic parish:

  • There were no genuflections. (Dearmer insists on this.)
  • There was less incense than usual. While I thought I saw the top of the thurifer’s head in the gospel procession, I didn’t hear the pause-clank-pause of censing the book. After the censing of the altar—which the celebrant did alone—he pivoted then censed the choir and congregation with three long swings. Then the thurifer took back the thurible and censed him with three doubles. There was censing at the elevations. (Dearmer reserved censing for things not people and IIRC was against the notion of “double swings”)
  • At the Sursum Corda when the celebrant turned westward to speak to the people, the deacon and subdeacon on their respective steps turned to face each other (and the celebrant) in the “open position.” (I’m told this is a Dearmerite position but it’s not in the directions of the 6th ed. of the Parson’s Handbook; it could be a later concept.)
  • When the deacon and subdeacon lined up with the celebrant, it was always at the middle of the altar. I don’t recall seeing them line up together at either horn of the altar.
  • There were a few textual deviations from the BCP such as the inclusion of Ps 34:8 (“taste and see…”) after “Behold the lamb of God…” at the conclusion of the canon.
  • There was no offertory procession
  • The procession moved in the usual order (crucifer, torches, choir, clergy, celebrant last) as opposed to Dearmer’s order where the clergy are right after the torches and before the choir.

So, by my reckoning, the ceremonial of the parish was definitely catholic and had a fair amount of influence from Dearmer but was not wholly or strictly English Use. The most noticeable influence of English/Sarum custom was in the ornaments and vestments. An anglo-catholic like myself could point out a number of differences from “standard,” the most notable being the lack of genuflections. To an uninformed participant it would probably have seemed like a typical idiosyncratic anglo-catholic Mass.

The thing that surprised me the most wasn’t in the chancel, though. It was watching the congregation (those who weren’t there for the conference). Very few of them made manual gestures during the service; most exited the pew to receive the Sacrament with neither a bow nor genuflection. While the chancel action seemed standard catholic fare, I didn’t see much evidence of catholic practice in the pews. I don’t know if this relates to discontinuity in liturgical practice between rectors or other factors but the spirituality of the ceremonial did not appear to be present in the gathered body.

American Sarum: Saturday Afternoon

Session 3: Dr. Allan Doig: The Revival of the Sarum Rite in the Nineteenth Century: Liturgy, Theology & Architecture

Dr. Doig is from Oxford University and has published most recently in the field of liturgy and architecture. He began and ended his presentation with references to the Directorium Anglicanum. Published in 1858, this was the first work to advocate a recovery of Sarum rubrics and ceremonial for application to the Book of Common Prayer (English 1662). After presenting a bit about the Directorium itself and the—literal—trials of its author, the Rev. John Purchas, Dr. Doig described the situations in England that led up to it.

In the early nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. It brought great inequity between the rich and poor and caused major shifts in the population distribution of England. The lower classes were ill-served by the Established church and Non-conformism was on the rise. With the flood of people out of the country and into the cities, the church was caught flat-footed: there qere too many clergy in the rural areas and not nearly enough in the cities. Whereas the Established Churchneededboth houses of worship and clergy, the Baptists and Methodists were able to hire halls and provided lay preachers wherever a need arose.

In 1818, the government tried to address the problem by setting aside a million pounds for the building of 96 churches. A few years later the concept was replicated with a larger scope—but far fewer resources; half a million pounds were set aside for building 450 churches. The result was an architectural style referred to as “Commission Gothic” which was a thinly Gothicized preaching box. These measures helped, but didn’t solve the problem.

In 1833,the Tractarian movement kicked off with Keble’s preaching of the “National Apostacy” sermon. In the same year, A. W. Pugin conducted a tour of English architecture and churches. He connected the spread of modern architecture with a degradation in modern morals. Gothic architecture, on the other hand, had a higher moral structure literally built into it. The symbolism and encoded meanings built into Gothic architecture made it, Pugin believed, a greater vehicle for truth. He found the faith encoded in the Gothic buildings more compelling than what was being preached and, in 1834 as a result of his architectural study, Pugin joined the Roman Catholic Church. Conversely, he associated the lack of architectural integrity in the more recent church buildings with the failures of the Established Church. Perhaps in part because of his route into the Roman Catholic Church, Pugin’s Catholicism had much in common with a medieval, Sarum perspective—it was romantic, aesthetic, and was nurtured in an environment replete with meanings.  

The Tractarian Movement, on the other hand, was well under way in 1834. It had already penetrated to the rural regions and the Tracts for the Times were making their impact felt. The catholicity of the Tracts was rather different from what Pugin desired—he wished to see a return of medieval rite and ceremonial; the Tractarians had quite different goals. Nevertheless, there were some interesting intersections between the two.

John Henry Newman made his decision to swim the Tiber in 1845. Before leaving for studies in Rome, he attended the consecration of one of Pugin’s churches, St Giles, in 1846. He described the building in literally glowing terms. He called it the most splendid building that he had ever seen. Newman’s subsequent discovery of the Baroque cooled his enthusiasm for Pugin’s work. In later years when he preached at another of Pugin’s churches Newman found the altar too small for a proper Solemn High Mass, its tabernacle too small for a proper exposition, etc. Pugin and Newman butted heads on a number of occasions due to competing views on the liturgy and the architecture necessary for its performance. Pugin envisioned a medieval rite like Sarum; Newman, a Baroque Roman.

While the Oxford Movement spawn an Oxford society on architecture that offered advice on building churches in England and in the far-flung English colonies, the Cambridge Camden Society began the central architectural powerhouse of the mid nineteenth century. Founded by Benjamin Webb and John Mason Neale, their views were far more strident than those of the Oxford group. Articles in the Ecclesiologist called for a recovery of medieval practices for use with the prayer book. They wanted a more frequent and elaborate celebration of the Eucharist and were the first to point to the Ornaments Rubric and its importance. Not everyone agreed, however, and they faced significant persecution for their stances; Webb was inhibited for 16 years as a result of his ritualizing ways.

 The central medieval touchstone for the Cambridge Camden Society was the writings of Durandus of which they released a translation in 1843. Inspired by his work, the society promoted “architecture with an agenda.” They won and the Cambridge Camden Society, later known as the Ecclesiological Society , and its aesthetic concepts became the norm for Anglican church buildings. With the renewed vigor of the English Church through the Oxford and Cambridge Movements, some 4,000 churches were built or reconditioned between the 1830s and 1870s. The great majority of these followed the precepts of the society. While Pugin had converted to the Roman Church, he was not in principle a Romanist and shared much in common with the Ecclesiologists.

It is at this point—with the maturity of Pugin, with the success of the Ecclesiological Society—that Purchas’s Directorium Anglicanum appeared. The Directorium insisted that the rubrics of the BCP were incomplete as they stood—some other information was needed to complete them and that the answer lay in the pre-Reformation era. The section “Of Ceremonies” in the 1662 BCP gave some hints and nods towards late medieval practice, Purchas believed. As a result, the Directorium cites medieval precedents, appealing to contemporary Roman ceremonial when a medieval source could not be found. Whenever possible, though, he preferred a medieval Sarum source.

What the Directorium did was to give directions for ceremonial that fit the shape of the buildings that the Ecclesiologist Society had prepared. The shape was there—Purchas provided the ceremonial that worked in them. As a result, the Directorium became the main authority for rite and ceremony in the Church of England for the next half-century.

Session 4: Canon Jeremy Davies, Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral

This presentation is harder to describe because so much of it was based around the PowerPoint presentation of photographs of the liturgies from Salisbury Cathedral. As a result, I won’t be able to do it true justice in a written format.

He began with the question of how a diverse modern community inhabits, uses, and worships within a medieval building—how do they go about being good heirs of a medieval structure?  Peter Brook, an English theatre director, wrote against the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral—the building was constructed first, then the church considered how to use it. This is backwards: the ceremony has to come first.

In the medieval world, this was the case. The ceremony did come first and the cathedrals were built to enable and to shape it. When Richard Poore began the construction of the current cathedral at New Sarum, he brought more than a new ground plan; he had studied at the University of Paris and brought back the new theology, a new mindset, and the desire to create something innovative. Just as he brought back the new Scholastic theology, he brought the new Gothic architecture to replace the old monastic styles. The Sarum Rite was first of all rooted in the Roman Rite of the Western Church. While the Roman Rite progressively simplified, the Sarum Rite remained elaborate. [I believe this was a reference to the liturgical reforms along Franciscan lines eventually leading to Trent and the Tridentine forms but I’m not positive of that…] Poore knew that the ceremony had to come first and would dictate the shape of the space; he had the advantage of having experienced the Old Sarum cathedral first.

At this point, the presentation moved into a lengthy presentation of the conduct of the modern Easter Vigil in the Salisbury Cathedral space. Processions remain an important part of the liturgy at Salisbury and the Easter Vigil is no exception. The description that he gave seemed to show a negotiation between a medieval space and a standard Liturgical Renewal Movement ceremony (complete with a recently-added LRM fountain-style font that looks quite out of character with the rest of the building).  

 Cocktail Hour

The day concluded with cocktails at the nearby house of a member of the parish. The finger-foods were delicious , and the setting delightful. We met a number of interesting people, including a number of folks who read the blog, and caught up on doings back in Atlanta with Bishop Whitmore, the assisting bishop of the diocese.