And so comes the final week of Advent. On Thursday, the season will climax and close with the arrival of Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity. Following the Use of Sarum, this Sunday’s collect is:
O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come, and with great might succour us; that whereas through our sins we are sore let and hindered, Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us. Who livest …
This is what the Advent longing is about — the coming of the Lord. There is a straining and a wrestling in it. A struggle. We feel the ache of life without Emmanuel (God-with-us) in Advent. This year, I have found this particularly true not only reflecting upon these Sarum collects with their crying out for God to give us his aid and be ever-present to us in time of need and in the face of sin, but also in my daily readings.
Although I don’t pray Vigils, I started reading the lessons for Vigils from Benedictine Daily Prayer partway through Advent this year. The Old Testament lesson was usually from Isaiah, and usually about the dread day of the Lord’s coming, or a weighty pronouncement about judgement. The New Testament lesson was usually from the epistles, usually more cheery, about Christ’s fulfilment of the Old and future coming in glory.
When you read such Bible passages regularly, combined with the average sorrows of daily life and the great burden of a world torn by strife, the Advent ache for a Saviour becomes much more pronounced. You feel with the liturgist the request for the Lord to succour us with His great might!
But it’s not mere, run-of-the-mill suffering the Sarum points us to. It is about the suffering we inflict on ourselves — through our sins we are sore let and hindered. St John Cassian, joining the Stoic ethical tradition, argues that the only evil inflicted upon you is the evil that you yourself commit. When someone else wrongs you, if you do not sin, no evil has been done to you; that person has done evil to himself.
The phrase ‘through our sins we are sore let and hindered’ is Englishing the Latin, ‘nostra peccata prepediunt’, ‘our sins shackle/bind/entangle/fetter’. I like ‘fetter’, myself.
And is not the bondage of the will, this human shackling to our sins, precisely what Jesus came to unloose? As the angel said to Joseph, ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ (Mt 1:21; NKJV)
To turn from Sarum to Cranmer (who sourced the Litany from ancient texts; below is Canada’s BCP, 1962):
From all evil and mischief, from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting condemnation, Good Lord, deliver us. From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us.
From all uncleanness in thought, word, and deed; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us. …
By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation, Good Lord, deliver us.
Lord, we beseech Thee, give ear to our prayers, and by Thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our hearts. Who livest …
This collect is barely a collect. Barely there at all, really. Usually, a collect has a description of one of God’s divine attributes or mighty deeds, ‘O Lord, who ….’, followed by the entreaty. These Sarum collects do not always follow that traditional pattern. The requests, however, are very traditional. Give ear to our prayers. Lighten the darkness of our hearts.
And there is a request for God’s ‘gracious visitation’ as that which lightens the darkness. The immediacy and immanency of God are remembered when we are confronted with our own darkness and feel far from Him. Although we are faithless, He will be faithful.
But this week doesn’t end with a Sunday collect. Since at least the days of St Leo the Great (pope 440-461), the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the Third Week in Advent have been days set aside for solemn prayer and fasting. In English we call them the Ember Days.
Yesterday, I did a little to observe the Ember Day by going to Morning Prayer. Hopefully I will do something tomorrow as well; I’m notorious for thinking I’ll observe a feast or fast and then failing, though!
Thus, the Sarum Collect for Wednesday is:
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the approaching solemnity of our redemption may both afford us succour in this present life, and abundantly bestow on us the rewards of eternal happiness. Through the same…
There’s a lot that could be meditated upon in this collect, but I’ll leave that to you. Be aware that ‘happiness’ translates ‘beatitudo’…
Tomorrow’s collect from the Use of Sarum is yet another ‘Stir up’ prayer:
Stir up, O Lord, we beseech Thee, Thy power, and come; that they who trust in Thy lovingkindness may speedily be delivered from all adversity. Who livest…
And Saturday’s deals once more with the visitation of the Lord:
O God, Who seest that we are afflicted by our own wickedness, mercifully grant that by Thy visitation we may be comforted. Who livest…
And so go the collects for the Ember Days of Advent according to the Use of Sarum. I hope that they may be of use to you in your prayer life this week as we prepare for Christmas, which comes a week from tomorrow!
Stir up, O Lord, our hearts to prepare the way of Thy Only Begotten: that by His coming we may be counted worthy to serve Thee with purified hearts. Who livest …
And, like a week ago, there is emphasis on God counting us worthy. I won’t repeat my mullings on that count here. Instead, two other thoughts.
First, in contemporary Christianity, Advent 2 is the week of St John the Baptist, as I happily proclaimed on Sunday. In the Revised Common Lectionary, we read from Luke 3, with the Baptist proclaiming, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’ In the Roman lectionary, they read from Matthew 11, where Jesus asks the crowd what they went to see when they went to John the Baptist — a reed shaken in the wind?
As it turns out, neither of these passages is the one in the Sarum Missal — instead, we find there Jesus’ apocalyptic proclamations of Luke 21.
Second, I like the emphasis on ‘purified hearts’. Advent was originally a solemn time of preparation, similar to Lent, if not quite as hard-core. Indeed, the Orthodox think of it as Lent (whereas what we call ‘Lent’ they call ‘Great Lent’). This union of purification and preparation is why both seasons traditionally have the same liturgical colour.
As St Paul says in Romans, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yet God calls us, broken though we are, to serve Him. Let us strive to do so with purified hearts, let us beseech the Lord to purify us.
Given my recent series about the sources for early mediaeval liturgy,1 I thought it would be appropriate to do some Advent blogging about these prayers. However, I discovered last night that the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries do not have collects for Advent. Sarum Use, however, does. And the Sarum Collect for Advent 1 is familiar yet foreign to Prayer Book Anglicans:2
Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy power, and come, that we may be accounted worthy to be rescued by Thy protection; from the threatening dangers of our sins to be set free by Thy deliverance. Through Jesus Christ our Lord…
Because of ‘Stir up, we bessech Thee, O Lord,’ we automatically think of the Collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent (aka ‘Stir-up Sunday’ — the day the Christmas puddings are made). However, in Sarum Use, that Collect is for Trinity 24, just like in the BCP:
Sir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of Thy lovingkindess be more plenteously rewarded. Through Jesus Christ our Lord…
Two differences exist between this collect after the Use of Sarum and Cranmer’s version in the BCP: 1. ‘of Thy lovingkindess’ becomes ‘of thee’ in the Prayer Book, and 2. ‘more plenteously’ is simply ‘plenteously’. I admit to having no theories as to why the former change was mode. The latter seems to be made to make the sentiment more Protestant. That is, we are hoping to be plenteously rewarded, full stop. No ‘more plenteously’, since our good works do not change the acting of God’s grace and lovingkindess upon us. This, at least, is my theory. Feel free to disagree/offer your own.
I like the connection between Trinity 24 and Advent 1 in Sarum. The final Sunday in the Church Year is thus intimately linked with the first. Endings are united with beginnings. We are asking the Lord to stir up for us. In Trinity 24, it is our own wills we want Him to stir up. As the Prayer Book collect for Trinity 19 says, ‘forasmuch as without [God] we are not able to please [God].’ So we ask Him to stir up our wills that we may do the good works he requires of us.
In Advent 1, we are beseeching God to stir Himself up. We are asking Him to come, seeking His Advent in the here and now (this is, in some ways of thinking, e.g. St Bernard of Clairvaux, the second coming, whereas Christ at the Final Judgement is the Third). I have no doubt this is precisely the sort of prayer that Reformers were wary of; observe its lack of presence in the BCP! The prayer asks ‘that we may be accounted worthy’, and the oft-repeated refrain of the Reformation is that our worthiness has nothing to do with it. To many ears, this sounds like a diminution of grace.
But perhaps it is not.
I mean, we are asking to be ‘accounted’ worthy. Not to be worthy. If anyone is aware of his own unworthiness, it is the mediaeval Christian. Read St Thomas a Kempis if you don’t believe me. We are not worthy, but God can account us worthy, see us as worthy. This is entirely His own free gift. This is grace.
And what do we want, having been account as worthy by God? His deliverance. We want to be rescued from our sins.
At the beginning of this holy season of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity, we are asking God to deliver us from our sins, to make us holy. A good place to start, don’t you think?
A friend of mine once dreamt that I had started my own church following the liturgy according to the Use of Sarum. I’ve had a few encounters with Sarum Use, including translating some of its texts on this blog.1 I started to imagine what my Sarum Use church would be like. Obviously, despite my Protestant sentiments to the contrary, the liturgy would have to be in Latin. And it would have to follow the Use According to Sarum. This is not difficult to organise; the entire Missal and Breviary exist in modern printed editions. I would probably, however, print up glossed versions of the text for the congregants. Although it’s something that I’ve seen in Tridentine churches, it would be my first departure from the mediaeval liturgy. Nevertheless, this seems perfectly justifiable; the Middle Ages had a low literacy rate,2 so pew sheets would have been useless — plus, parchment and paper were rather more expensive then, and print was only around for a few decades before the Reformation, to boot.
Kitting out a full-blown Sarum church as recommended in the mediaeval sources would require no small sum of money — candles, censers, incense for the censers, vestments for clergy and the various assistants at the altar, altar cloths, banners for processions, chalices, patens (both plural, of course), monstrances, tabernacle for reserve host, etc, and more of which I am unaware.
The architecture of a Sarum church is important. I thought about this for a while — Romanesque or Gothic? Mosaics on the walls? I decided that, as much as I am fond of Romanesque and mosaics, it would have to be Gothic with a few carvings and frescoes because our sources for this liturgical use come from the period when Gothic in all its variety and Perpendicular reigned supreme in English church architecture. So it would only be fitting for my Sarum church to be Gothic. Unlike Victorian Gothic, however, the windows would be large, ablaze with stained glass telling the stories of Scripture and the saints, like Yorkminster (or, preferably, La Sainte-Chapelle).
This Gothic church would be cruciform in shape with the high altar just beyond the transepts. I would want a screen, but I’m not sure a. how authentic Late Mediaeval Rood Screens looked (besides Yorkminster) b. how much I want it to obscure the congregational view of the celebration of the Mass. My modern/Prot sensibilities intruding again!
The music for the liturgy is another question. When Sarum was last in use, it was blessed by the magnificent music of Thomas Tallis. But I am not sold on this sort of music for congregational use — I want the people of the congregation to engage with the words of the liturgy and recite/sing/chant as much as they can. This sounds very Protestant of me (because it is), but I’ve a feeling it would be in the spirit of the Dominicans and Franciscans, anyway. Perhaps a compromise with an ‘Anglican’ or Gregorian plainsong for most the liturgy, but then intricate choral singing while people receive the Mass?
Hymnody could come anywhere from the Latin tradition, I suppose. Perhaps restricting itself to hymns found in British sources? I wouldn’t want to restrict myself to pre-Elizabethan Latin hymns, though — I’d lose ‘Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,’ in that case!
The lectionary would be based on the Sarum sources and the preaching in the vernacular based on the lectionary. That’s simple.
I think I would like to restore the Late Antique and Early Mediaeval ‘cathedral’ liturgy of the hours. That is, Morning and Evening Prayer, Monday through Saturday, instead of Mass every morning which is contemporary Roman Catholic practice. But, since this is a parish church, no attempt at the monastic liturgy of the hours. I think a modern practice that could be acceptable, however, is a mid-week, midday Eucharist.
Thus the liturgy. Anyone with enough willing bodies and money could reproduce the Use of Sarum in an appropriate space. There are probably more people willing to get involved with such an experiment than one would think.
But is that enough?
Can we transplant mediaeval liturgy into the modern world and touch modern souls in the same way? If we were to transplant it, would touching modern souls as mediaeval even be the goal?
The liturgical practice of the Middle Ages was part of a much bigger spirituality that a single parish could not recreate today. This was a shared spirituality that, with some variety of region or religious order (Dominicans, Franciscans, secular clergy, monastics), embraced Europe from Ireland and Iceland to the Czech Republic, from Norway to Sicily (and sometimes Cyprus and the Levant). For all that pilgrimage has always had a hint of spiritual tourism, people would still have taken pilgrimages to Durham or Canterbury or St Andrews or Compostela or Rome or Jerusalem as part of an international spiritual piety that bound them together in a way that modern spiritual tourism does not. In England they would have had the religious world of the miracle plays on their doorstep as part of the regular life of a city’s entertainment. Monks and anchorites were available to learn from as an integrated part of a spiritual community rather than oddities or perceived as relics of a bygone age.
Some of this could be mitigated in artificial ways in the parish life of the Sarum church, I suppose — study groups of the mediaeval mystical tradition, for example, or trips to living monasteries. But I don’t think the spirit of Sarum could ever be recaptured precisely because we no longer live in the Middle Ages. Christendom has been torn asunder over the past 500 years, and any attempt to integrate the mediaeval with the (post)modern must acknowledge that fact and realise that anything it does will be, inevitably, different from what they did, no matter how one might try.