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Revival of a long-ago rite: David Stancliffe enjoys a historians' view
of the Use of York
This is a book of the talks given at a day conference before a
recon-struction of a requiem according to the Use of York was celebrated in All
Saints', North Street. The talks were given by members of the Centre for
Medieval Studies at York University, who are enthusiasts for their subject; and
they were designed to make the liturgy come alive.
The text of the requiem, complete with its rubrics in red, is set out with
an English translation in parallel columns. Some of the translation is
unexpected, and does not always use the familiar English phrases, but it is
pretty literal, to aid those who are coming fresh to the Latin. Where the
rubrics seem too sparse to give an idea of what is going on, the compilers have
added rubrics - clearly indicated - from the Sarum Rite; they have also left in
- in the Latin text - their English stage directions to the ministers.
This is all sensible stuff for those who know little about how mass was
celebrated in the late medieval period, and want to get a general idea.
Alongside woodcuts (which reproduce well) from Percy Dearmer's edition of Dat
Boexken van der Missen (originally published in Antwerp in 1507), there are
photographs of the reconstructed rite, in rather dark tones.
The opening talks vary in quality. There is interesting local history in the
chapters on "The Mass in its Urban Setting", "A York Priest and his Parish:
Thomas Worrall at St Michael's, Spurriergate", and a concise and well-presented
piece on compositional techniques in 15th-century music in York.
The section on the ornaments of the altar and the ministers is heavily
dependent on Francis Bond and Dearmer, who both wrote in the early years of the
20th century, and the author does not sound really familiar with the history of
The same lack of familiarity with nuanced theological and liturgical
language is true of the introductory section: "the consecration when the bread
and wine were turned into the body of Christ" is an inadequate description of
the heart of the mass. And is it really true that the front hangings of the
ciborium over the altar were abandoned only after the elevation had become
central to the rite? Were "matins and evensong" the other obligatory Sunday
services in the late Middle Ages?
But these are historians, trying to give a broad-brush picture of the
beliefs and practices of the late-medieval inhabitants of York for their
successors who live in an unimaginably different world. The speakers clearly
captivated their audience, who will be grateful to have a record of the day.
And a publication such as this reminds us that very little is available, in
accessible terms, on how the medieval liturgies of the British Isles were
celebrated, and what impact they made on worshippers. We can be grateful to the
team that produced it.
Dr Stancliffe is Bishop of Salisbury. The book is available from Spire
Books, P. O. Box 2336, Reading
RG4 5WJ; 0118 947 1525.
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