You shall note the appearance of the page Mediaeval Vespers — Sarum Rite under “Classic Christian Texts” off to the rite. This is a translation I made a while ago for a potential regular “Mediaeval Vespers” to meet at the Hart House Chapel at U of T. I decided that the Christian Classics Reading Group was more the sort of thing I wanted to do.
This Tuesday past, we used my translation of the Sarum Vespers. The Rite of Sarum (Salisbury) was the most popular pre-Reformation rite in England (some say the whole British Isles). There are others who know much better than I, but a likely development, as proposed by Walker in The Services of the Church, with Rubrical Directions, According to the Use of the Illustrious Church of Sarum (London: J.T. Hayes, 188?), is that the Sarum Rite developed in England after the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury. St. Augustine was told by Pope Gregory that he was to use the material he found locally as well as his own experience with the Roman Rite as he converted the pagan Saxons.
Locally, the Christians were all Romano-British Celts, including missionaries from Ireland abroad in Britain. What Walker imagines to have happened is a merging of the Roman Rite with the Celtic liturgies over the centuries, with an accelerated Romanisation after 1066, producing a local British rite based in Salisbury. This rite would have been the Sarum Rite.
In matters of the liturgical calendar, the Sarum Rite differs from its Continental relatives by counting from Trinity Sunday, not Pentecost, for ordinary time, something that survived in Anglicanism until the modern liturgical reforms when everyone decided to try and be the same (aka like post-Vatican II Rome). Walker argues for the Sarum liturgical colours (I don’t have his book at hand, so I can’t tell you what they are), but most people don’t.
What we also find in the Sarum Rite is the raw material of Thomas Cranmer’s masterpiece of liturgy, The Book of Common Prayer. Thus, the Mass begins:
O God, to whom every heart is open and every desire known, and whom no secret escapes, purify by the infusion of the Holy Spirit the thoughts of our heart; that we may merit perfectly to love and worthily to praise thee: through Christ. (See The Sarum Missal in English.)
And so on Tuesday, when we found ourselves praying that liturgy over in the sidebar there, we found ourselves covering familiar ground. About the only differences were the lack of the Nunc Dimittis, since Cranmer conflated Vespers with Compline, and the versicles weren’t quite the same. Also, Sarum originally had prayers to saints. Nevertheless, this is the stuff from which liturgical greatness was made.
I have been twitching and itching and feeling generally irksome about tradition lately. Sometimes Anglicans claim to be the living link with the Celtic Christianity of the Early Middle Ages and that the Reformation wasn’t as large a break in England as elsewhere. While that last may be overstating it a bit, I think that Cranmerian liturgics are certainly in keeping with the best of the pre-Reformation traditions; indeed, he did nothing very different from many Catholics of his day with his prayer book — he just did it in English!