Wednesday, February 22, 2006

From Fr Anthony Chadwick
On mediæval English church life
Having read some of Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars (or at least dipped into it), the typical parish scene in the late 15th and early 16th centuries would not have been some nice romanticised 19th-century building by Pugin with Pusey or Keble as the parish priest. It would have been a part of a rural culture that was something akin to la France profonde - little villages and small towns where people were, as now, concerned for their work, family lives and - above all, what happened to them when they or their loved ones died. I think most of us are realistic enough not to see the period as the Oxford and London ritualists saw it, but as something more rustic and real than any modern city dwellers could imagine it.

...There was certainly nothing precious about the priests who were distinguished from lay men only by their tonsures, their feelings hardened by seeing public hangings and animals slaughtered in the Shambles, people pouring their excrement out of their windows into the streets. Whether English parish life was steeped in superstition and immorality, or in genuine piety, would depend on the place and quality of formation of the priest and parish clerks. I have heard 14th-century English parish life compared to that of some of the Greek islands of today or even Islam in Morocco, where the church was simply a part of life. One lived and died in it. It was all taken for granted - until the day it was all taken away...
Just like a lot of what we think is ‘English restraint’ in church décor is really the result of ‘Reformation’ iconoclasm — period parish churches were riots of colour with images in the form of murals. And like with Græco-Roman style... we see the statues and buildings as clean and white because that’s how they looked when they were dug up during and after the Renaissance, not as they were when they were new!

Pugin Gothic was an intentional compromise to get the feel of the mediæval buildings but fitting them for the Tridentine use.

Fr Chadwick has the same ambivalence as me about trying to revive mediæval uses such as Sarum that are extinct as living traditions. It’s probably too late but the revivalists’ hearts are in the right place.
The Use of Sarum became increasingly standardised in the early sixteenth century, and the Convocation of Canterbury imposed its use to replace the other uses in 1544. It was replaced by Cranmer's first Prayer Book in 1549. The Use of Sarum had a great deal in common with the Norman rites, such as those of Rouen and Bayeux, though Sarum kept some of the old Gallican and Celtic prayers not found in northern France.

[Some] Anglo-Catholics introduced Sarum usages into the celebration of the Eucharist following the official 1662 Prayer Book rite with the Prayer of Oblation following the words of institution.

Sarum books are extremely hard to find, even in reprints, whether in the original Latin or the various done into English versions from the late nineteenth century. I would personally be favourable to a revival of the Sarum movement, if the result would be more than an antiquarian curiosity or something to which ordinary Christians cannot possibly relate. Celebrated in full, Sarum was a highly exuberant rite, and would require no less than a very large church for its full deployment.

There is something I once read in an e-mail list, but I am unable to find the exact details. Apparently, some traditional Roman Catholic students at Oxford University had the bright idea of reviving it in one of the college chapels as a way to "get round" the Indult, but its use was condemned by the Congregation of Divine Worship as an "abuse". The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, initially not opposed to these celebrations, was obliged to put a stop to the Sarum Masses in Oxford.
Brilliant! And a noble try.
...the people of the "working classes" are alienated from institutional Christianity, but readily resort to superstitious practices - witnessing to their belief in the supernatural and non-material phenomena.
It’d be difficult but not impossible to make them Catholic again: the natural religious instinct is still there.

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