Did you know that our Eucharistic Prayer, Rite I, that we use at our 8:00am Sunday morning service (p. 323 in the Book of Common Prayer) dates back to the 11th century when St. Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, introduced it at the influential Salisbury Cathedral? It is important to keep in mind that in the 11th century all the churches in the “West”, including Great Britain, were Roman Catholic; consequently all the liturgies of the Church, including the Sarum Rite, were in Latin and under the jurisdiction of the one and only Church. However, in significant ways, the story of the Sarum Rite, as part of our liturgical heritage as Anglicans, is woven into the history of the monarchy and people of England; kings and queens have shaped it’s destiny. It is, perhaps, safe to say no other liturgy or Eucharistic Prayer has played such a prominent role in the course of a country’s political history as the Sarum Rite.
The height of the popularity of the Sarum Rite was in the early 16th century. In other words, in the intervening several centuries from the inception of the Sarum Rite at Salisbury Cathedral and Diocese in the 11th century, it was adopted for use throughout virtually all of Great Britain. However, the first major change began when the nascent Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1530’s; and with the publication in 1549 by Archbishop Cranmer of the first Book of Common Prayer, the Sarum Rite morphed into a less ceremonial liturgy. And while Roman remnants still remained, it was now in English; and liturgically it was the Rite of the newly constituted Church of England. However, when Queen Mary I came to the throne a few years later in 1553 she restored the Roman version of the Sarum Rite; only to have Queen Elizabeth I suppress it in 1559. For certain and at this point in England, the Reformation was now well underway; Protestantism was the norm and Roman Catholicism was basically restricted. However, in reality there remained all sorts of caveats about parish furnishings, vestments, and rubrics which varied from diocese to diocese; but the Book of Common Prayer largely held sway concerning liturgical format and content. In other words, even though modified, the Sarum Rite remained vital to the emerging Anglican Church ethos and spiritual ascetic even through all these transitions. It was still the prevailing liturgical Rite of the Church of England even during the Puritan Era under Oliver Cromwell, when it was officially abolished.
Then in the 19th century, specifically the 1830’s, a movement got underway at Oxford University, one objective of which was to essentially find a traditional formal liturgy that was characteristically English rather than Roman; in other words, more parochial and historic to England. What ensued, therefore, was a revisiting and utilization of the liturgy, and particularly the ceremonial aspects, of the Rite of the period of King Edward VI in the late 1540’s. To sum up, the rejuvenated Sarum Rite lives on! Just attend the 8:00am Sunday service at St. Mary’s and see for yourself!
Why is information meaningful or important? The foregoing is but a glimpse of the ebb and flow of the enormously significant events that shaped the liturgical life of our faith tradition, namely Anglicanism, and the dedicated care and attention given to it’s preservation. We, as Episcopalians and parishioners at St. Mary’s, are in a sense both the culmination of these efforts and the means by which our liturgical spiritual ascetic heritage endures. We are entrusted with the task of curating our liturgies into the future, and the more we know about them the more equipped we will be able to do so. This is an important and meaningful assignment and responsibility, to be embraced and cherished.