Friday, April 25, 2008

The Legal Status of the Sarum Mass (RC point of view)

A correction Fr. Anthony Chadwick (Who I am in great hopes will become a contributor to our blog) Posted this on his yahoo group for the Sarum Use. He emailed me to correct me and said that the Priest who wrote it was actually an English Latin Rite Priest. Apparently I missed the link at the end of original post. This was my mistake and I would like to thank Fr. Anthony for his paternal correction. I am prone to make mistakes and if I do correction is always best, as St. C.S. Lewis said if a man is on the wrong road the wisest thing for him to do is turn back and correct his mistake.

The Legal Status of the Sarum Mass

Following my postings of the Sarum celebration, quite a number of questions have been posed, mostly on other blogs, concerning the legality of celebration according to Sarum: not in a negative way; rather asking 'can we all do it'? I haven't seen a negative comment about the rite itself; all seem to be in agreement that it is a splendid and beautiful way to honour God, but its propriety is something that one or two seem to be curious about. I'm not any sort of a canon lawyer, so I'll try and take a historical approach.
The Sarum Use was the form that Mass was celebrated in throughout the British Isles from the high middle ages (or even earlier) until the Reformation. There were some local variants, such as at Hereford, York, Aberdeen, Bangor, and slight tweaks at Lincoln and Westminster Abbey. Once he seized control of the Church in England, Henry VIII made the Sarum Use standard throughout the kingdom. We presume that Mary simply continued this policy—at least the only missal to be reprinted during her reign was the Sarum one, in 1555. Thus when Mary died, Sarum was the Catholic standard in England and Wales, only Aberdeen in Scotland holding out until 1566 when the Mass was abolished tout court. There would have been other rites and uses in some of the religious orders; the Franciscans used the Roman Use, for instance; the Dominicans, the Dominican &c.
On the eve of Pentecost 1559, presumably the whole Sarum thing would have been celebrated much as you have seen it in these clips plus the blessing of the font &c—and then the following morning the minister would have got into the pulpit and said 'Dearly beloved brethren &c'. It is hard to imagine what must have been the distress of many who had already gone through this before in the reign of Edward VI.
Not all priests conformed, of course. Many fled to the continent. William Allen of Oxford University got seminaries going in France and Rome, and was made Cardinal. Others carried on in their parishes, celebrating the official Book of Common Prayer in the church, and Mass in the vicarage, sometimes distributing consecrated Hosts at the Communion Service in the church to those of Catholic sympathies.
At any rate, these priests may be presumed with reasonable certainty to have used the Sarum Mass (how might they have come by Roman Missals when even the Sarum ones were contraband?), and so in 1570 the practice could not reasonably be said to have died out.
This was the year that Pope St Pius V approved the 'Tridentine' Missal, where Quo Primum states that all liturgies with more than 200 years' continuous usage might continue to be used.
There is little doubt that after this time the Sarum Mass dwindled; there was never a conscious effort to wipe it out, I think; it is just that printing the missal would have been difficult; the seminaries, run by Jesuits, used the Roman Mass—the Church had bigger problems to contend with than keeping Sarum running. So, there was never any act of abrogation of the Use. It continued as the native Use, though everyone used the Roman, by privilege of Quo Primum, which said they might.
Now we spool forwards to the nineteenth century. There was a certain enthusiasm for the revival of the Sarum Rite. It began when Canon Daniel Rock wrote his ground-breaking liturgical studies of the early English period The Church of our Fathers and Hierurgia, being spurred on by Pugin and the Gothic Revival. I read somewhere recently that St Chad's, Birmingham was specifically designed for the Sarum liturgy. However, this was also the period of Ultramontanism. France was still stamping out her local rites (their enthusiam benefitted also from the fact that many of these uses were tinged—or more than tinged—with Jansenism) and the atmosphere of the restoration of the English and Welsh Hierarchy in 1850 made links with Rome all the more desireable.
I have often heard (as have many others) that there was a serious proposal to use the Sarum Use in St Edmund's Ware, and Westminster Cathedral. Never have I seen any watertight evidence for either of these assumptions. The person best placed to make such an investigation (hint, hint) would be Fr Nicholas Schofield, he of the Roman Miscellany, and himself an admirer of the Sarum Use. He is the Westminster Diocesan Archivist, and if there is any evidence to be had, it will be in his hands already. But it might be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
In the Church of England, the early twentieth century saw the turning of the tide away from a Roman liturgical direction towards the Sarum. The 'Ornaments Rubric', stating that churches should look like they did before the reformers really got their hands on them was used to justify the re-re-re-reordering of parish churches in the style we have come to associate with the dear old CofE—which is to say, Sarum-ish. And groups like the Alcuin Club produced book after book demonstrating how one could take the Book of Common Prayer Communion Service and make it look quite like a Sarum Mass (as long as you stuck your fingers in your ears).
In the Catholic Church during the early years of the twentieth century, the centralizing force of the liturgy began to recede. Certain of the religious orders, such as the Cistercians and Carmelites, with Rome's encouragement, began to edit and purify their own liturgies, reinforcing their practice. And Braga, in Portugal, which used a variant form of the Sarum liturgy, completely revived its own rite, quoting, I understand, Quo Primum as its justification for doing so. Rome agreed that it had the right to do so.
I don't know whether any celebrations of the Sarum Rite took place in England before the Second Vatican Council. The first I heard of was in Englefield Green, Surrey, where in the mid-1980s the inappropriately baroque Catholic parish church was the setting for a Mass as part of the celebrations commemorating Runnymede, the nearby setting for the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. Deacon and Subdeacon wore fancy baroque dalmatics stiff with gold braid, while the celebrant wore a 70s striped Slabbinck creation with a high collar and overlay stole. And yet it was still beautiful.
The next celebration that I am aware of was in Merton College Oxford, 11th February 1996, the feast of the Translation of St Frideswide. This was the initiative of the undergraduate Newman Society who worked very hard with the celebrant to get it as right as possible. Well beforehand, the Archbishop, the late Maurice Couve de Murville, was consulted, with reasons for belief that there need be no scruples about celebrating; he concurred, and the celebration went ahead, being repeated enthusiastically a year later for the feast of Candlemas—the video has been posted here.
And here the Sarum Use ran into its first official roadblock in all its long history. Somebody, let us call him X, wrote to Cardinal Hume, to Fr Allen Morris, the chair of the Liturgical Commission of England and Wales and to the Congregation of Rites in Rome, informing them of the celebration and enquiring into its legality, implying that the celebration had taken place without the knowledge of the Archbishop. Cardinal Hume and Fr Morris wrote back in measured words, saying that they didn't really know the situation, but thought that really the decision was Rome's. They didn't seem particularly worried by it either way. The Congregation, though, replied in a letter by a junior official to the Archbishop and to X in the most shocked maiden-auntly terms. It makes me wonder whether the bishops of those who celebrate clown Masses in the US get such dressings-down. I think I know the answer.
I do not think that the official in the Congregation even reached for his code of Canon Law; still less did he make any attempt to find out why and how the celebration took place—he was not even aware whether it had been celebrated in Latin or English. Alcuin Reid, one of the more eminent of the up-and-coming liturgists has said that he is sure that we were on firm ground, and even written about this very matter in his book The Organic Development of the Liturgy (St Michael's Abbey Press 2004, pp118-9). Mgr Schmitz, US superior of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest has in a private conversation said the same.
What is sad is that I have not felt able to continue celebrating the Sarum Use. I am a Catholic, after all, and though I think that the Roman decision was badly made—I must quote one line from it: 'in fact the Roman Missal promulgated by the late Pope Paul VI is of superior quality to previous editions from all points of view'—nonetheless if we are not obedient, if we do not cleave to the rock, then the Church would disintegrate. It will not suffer for the loss of the Sarum Liturgy—I would not say the same for the Traditional Rite generally.
What is sad is that I have heard subsequently that X wrote these letters deliberately in order to make trouble. Let us hope that this is not true; he is supposed to have been of the opinion that one should celebrate Mass traditionally despite official discouragement or even forbidding, and, having seen our enthusiasm for the Sarum, he sought to force us onto his side. If this is true, he miscalculated, and something moving and beautiful has been allowed to fall away as a consequence. I am told, again, that subsequently he joined some Old Catholic sect and received minor orders; later on, he migrated to the Church of England. I repeat that this is hearsay.
Back to Sarum. It was not the end. The then Bishop of Aberdeen, Mario Conti, celebrated a Sarum Mass in 2000 in Aberdeen for the University. Quite apart from the fact that the Sarum Mass was never celebrated in Aberdeen before this (as I mentioned above, it had its own rite before the Reformation), it was an interesting thing to do. Alcuin Reid quotes a letter from now-Archbishop Conti in the book mentioned above, thus:

Permission of the Holy See was not sought, and I judged that it was not needed, since the Mass is substantially that of the so-called Tridentine Rite, the central eucharistic prayer, or canon, being almost word for word that of the Roman canon still in use throughout the Latin rite.

Reid adds:

In the author's opinion, in the light of the principles operative in the reinvigoration of the traditional rite of Braga, both the Archbishop of Birmingham [in our case] and the Bishop of Aberdeen acted within their competence, in harmony with liturgical Tradition, and in accordance with the precedent of the Holy See by allowing, and in the case of the latter, by personally celebrating Mass according to the Sarum rite.

Since then, I have heard rumours of Archbishop Peter Smith allowing a celebration in the Cardiff Diocese last year, but nothing very definite.

So there we have it. I am of the opinion that the Sarum Use is morally available to clergy of the British Isles, though it is now subject to a legal dubium which really needs clearing up. It needs somebody with more leisure than I have to pursue it.

A long post—if you've struggled through, congratulations.

St Osmund, pray for us.

1 comment:

Canon Tallis said...

The truth is that very few fled to the continent. It is also the truth that William Allen was a traitor and a murderer. So Cardinal or not, he was essentially a common criminal. Does it ever strike you that Rome mad many attempts to have Elizabeth killed, but that the English Church never felt it necessary to return the favour.

The Sarum Rite is very beautiful. It was also an international rite being celebrated in both Spain and Portugal. There was once even a Sarum rite parish in Constantinople under the authority of the Patriarch but when people no longer spoke Latin nor understood it when they heard it read, the teaching of Holy Scripture was being violated.

It is strange that you have not mentioned that the great authority on the Sarum rite was The Right Reverend Walter Howard Frere, CR., Bishop of Truro and one of the makers of the English book of 1928.