Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary Back Online

As I wrote previously, I am going to be hosting the files/content for David White’s Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary. For more information on this resource, check out that initial post.

I have an index page up from which the current and corrected files can be downloaded. For the time being, it’s functional rather than pretty—pretty will come later. That page is located here.

Particularly pertinent for the present time, the propers for Corpus Christi are located in the sections labeled “Temporal Cycle–>Moveable Feasts after Pentecost”.

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Sunday Services and Church Vitality

I have a clergy friend who will remain nameless. He’s had difficulty finding employment in the church of late. Like M and myself, he’s a pretty active guy and is into running and biking. Now—a lot of running races occur on Sunday mornings, as do many more informal join-ups to run or bike. When we chatted last he said, “You know, on nice Sundays I’ll often just go running or riding if I’m not supplying. To be perfectly honest, if I weren’t a priest, I don’t think I’d spend my Sunday mornings in church…”

I was reminded of this conversation after seeing this post on the decline of the Sunday morning church moment.

I don’t question my friend’s commitment or faith. I know him better than that. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m taking these kinds of statements more seriously.

Attendance at church on Sunday mornings is seen as the primary index of faith by a lot of folks—like governing bodies, for instance. After all, one of our primary metrics is ASA: average Sunday attendance. As many people have said in various ways over the past several years, this number both is and isn’t important. On one level, it is not a measure of vitality; on the other, it is a starting place to get into questions of trends of growth or decline that may well be driven by vitality, energy, or lack thereof.

But you and I know that attendance on Sunday doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter. Some people still go to church out of a sense of guilt or obligation. Others don’t attend who are far more faithful than I. At the end of the day, this is the heart of the matter: are we living in such a way to be ever more deeply immersed in God? Are we “hid with Christ in God” and contributing to such an experience in others as well?

I won’t say that Sunday morning has nothing to do with this. As a sacramental Christian, Baptism into and lived out within an embodied community is an essential part of the faith. As I read the Scriptures and the Fathers, you can’t be a Christian by yourself! Too, we are together most fully who we are in the Eucharist. In the sacramental assembly we participate within the interior dialogue of the Trinity at Christ’s own invitation and the Spirit’s enabling.

We cannot dispense with the sacramental assembly. But is that the same as Sunday morning?

In my study of the Daily Office; of the liturgical, theological, and spiritual application of Scripture; of patterns of lay devotion in the medieval Church, I do wonder if we have not somehow become fixated on Sunday morning to the impoverishing of other aspects of Christian life and practice.

As one deeply committed to the importance of and convinced of the fundamental utility of a liturgical spirituality, I believe that there are answers within our tradition that will help us address the the situation we find ourselves in. But I don’t think we’ve even fully defined that situation yet!

The Church is called to be counter-cultural. We are expected to live and behave in ways that reflect our adherence to a different norm. However, insisting on the primacy of Sunday morning all too often feels less counter-cultural than an insistence on retaining the norms of the previous generations. Too often it feels less “revolutionary” and more “sour grapes.”

Still pondering…

Posted in Anglican, Random | 29 Comments

Generations in the Church

No thesis here, just some dot-connecting…

Something is pinging my brain about leadership, identity, who the Church is, who the movers-and-shakers in the Church are or ought to be, and generational vision. As you can see, this is a pretty amorphous mass! But I do want to put a few things in conversation with one another.

The first is Fr. Tim Schenck’s post Generation to Generation that fusses with generations in the Church and generations in leadership. It, too, seems to me to be an act of noticing rather than a thesis about the nature of generations and generational conflict in and around church leadership.

Another is today’s Daily Episcopalian from George Clifford on clergy as professional revolutionaries. I see this piece as an example of a certain deeply-held generational perspective of what it means to do and be Church. The opinions and perspectives expressed here exemplify a stereotype (well on its way to being a caricature) of an aging, politically liberal leadership that seems to hold creeds, theology, and spirituality loosely but holding politics tightly. (And, perhaps, a way to retain clericalism while stripping the role of anything clerical!)

And, of course, as I type this, I perceive my own bias in my reflection…

My sense is that, for Fr. Clifford and others of his ilk, they would heartily disagree with my phrasing and would insist that political action IS a spiritual act—indeed, is THE spiritual act.

Akin to this is the baffled Facebook post from the Cafe over the weekend that could not comprehend why a Cafe piece on Evensong was being shared multiple times but one on racism wasn’t.

Contrast that with Fr. Hendrickson on the eucharistic character of the Church. If I said that George’s piece represents a stereotype of a very visible perspective of a certain generational slice, I could say a similar thing about Robert’s… For Robert, Eucharist is THE spiritual act.

It’s easy to take these positions, harden them, and oppose them to one another. I don’t want to do that. I think we will be making a grave error for the Church if we do it or let others do it to us. What I am seeing here are two different theologies with their own spiritual implications. And there need not be as much distance between them as some would try to create. See, for instance, Robert’s reflection on the Harvard Black Mass that touches on matters near and dear to the political. And yet to say that they’re just two sides of the same coin doesn’t feel right either.

Two theologies, two generations. I don’t think they’re necessarily correlated, but I do wonder what the trend balance is.

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Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary

Some projects are planned and thought out; others just drop in your lap…

It was brought to my attention a short while ago that the Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary had disappeared from its former online home. For those not familiar with it, the AG&S is a independent work created by David Allen White that offers Minor Propers and other material for use alongside the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It’s a very handy resource for Anglo-Catholic Episcopal clergy who would like to use the Minor Propers and contains contemporary Rite II material paralleling the current Roman use, traditional Rite I material paralleling classic Roman use, and Spanish-language material as well.

Here are the editorial principles from which it works:

This book is a revision of the Anglican Missal for use with the 1979 Prayer Book. Unlike the earlier work, the text of the Eucharist is not printed so as to be used for the celebration, but only as a guideline. . . .

In selecting the proper anthems, this book uses a general pattern as follows: Introits and Communions generally agree with Missale Romanum cum Lectionibus, 1977, when that use was compatible with Anglican use; otherwise they generally agree with Martens, Traditional Anthems of the Eucharist, 1975. Offertories nearly always agree with Martens, because modern Roman use does not appoint an offertory. Graduals, alleluias, and tracts usually agree with Martens in Rite I, but in Rite II they agree with Gradual Psalms and Alleluia Verses, 1980-1990, published by the Church Hymnal Corporation. Where this latter source suggested only “ad lib.” alleluias, or fails to suggest any at all, Missale Romanum cum Lectionibus was normally used as the source, since an “ad lib.” option is not in keeping with the format of this book. For propers which do not appear in these sources, anthems have been selected from other sources, including some unfamiliar anthems found in missals from Ireland, England, and Spain which include supplements for local communities. This was done to avoid repetition of the same anthems for various propers. Finally, it should be emphasized that this is a general guideline, and there are a number of variations from it. . . .

Rite I English anthems use the 1928 Prayer Book as the form for psalms and canticles, and any text derived from them. For texts from other parts of the Bible, the King James version was used. For texts from non-scriptural sources, the Anglican Missal was preferred, but other sources have also been used.

Rite II English anthems use the 1979 Prayer Book for psalms and canticles, and The Common Bible for texts from other parts of the Bible. For texts from non-scriptural sources, the Roman Sacramentary was often the source.

Spanish anthems use Libro de Oración Común, 1989 for material from the Prayer Book, and the Nácar-Colunga translation of the Bible for other Scriptural texts. For non-Scriptural material, Misal de la Comunidad, 1976, was the preferred source. The Spanish-language material is the equivalent of English Rite II, and anthems which appear only in Rite I texts do not have a Spanish form.

Thus, it is solidly rooted in current traditions of use. My only real beef with it is the format in which it travels…

It has circulated in three different formats: WordPerfect files, MS Word Documents, and PDFs. In each case, each occasion or week is its own discrete file. As a result, the collection is massive; an extant printed version runs over twenty volumes! The paradigm under which they were created was fundamentally that of print—which makes sense as the original preface is dated 1991. As an internet resource in an age of digital media, it is crying out for a new format.

The original source documents are the WordPerfect files. The Word docs and PDFs were created by Glenn Hammett, the former online host of the resource, in 2000. As I delved into the question of where the files were, I learned that Fr. Hammett had passed away as had his service provider: that’s why the web site has gone down. However, the former custodian of the site gave me contact information for David Allen White.

In the interest of getting the material circulating again, he has given me permission to host the AG&S files. He adds these three caveats:

  1. First of all, it predates the Revised Common Lectionary and Holy Women, Holy Men, therefore you will not find these uses here. It remains for someone else to adapt it to those sources.
  2. Second, in order for these pages to display properly you will need the following fonts installed in your computer: Garamond, Antique, Cataneo, and Ceremony. Ceremony was designed by Fr. Tobias Stanislas Haller. Most people who would be interested in this book know who he is and how to contact him. [The Ceremony font is available for free download here.]
  3. These files are being converted from WordPerfect, the program in which they were created, to Rich Text Format. This makes them better than any previous files you might have seen that were in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat (which I did not create), the reason being that over the years I have made corrections here and there, but only in the WordPerfect files, because WordPerfect remains my choice for word processing software.

The files are still in the process of conversion to the .rtf  format from WordPerfect. However, the Temporal Cycle and the Saints’ Days & Holy Days are done, and I will begin uploading them shortly. Once this is done, I will link to them. Too, I am working on an interface to make the collection more readily accessible.

Ideally, I’d like to do further conversions on the files. I’d like to 1) convert them into html for even broader circulation, and 2) database them for enhanced versatility. As noted above in point 3, there is a formatting issue in the current files; the collects and other items begin with a drop-cap. However, these are laid out by means of tables in the current set-up, and Word won’t let you use a drop-cap within a table. This is easily fixed with modern html/css, but it takes time to convert all of the files and is likely not something that will be accomplished soon.

So—what exactly are we talking about in terms of time? When will these files be available again? Very shortly, I hope. I expect the finished files to be available by the end of next week with the main hold-up being an effective interface. Of course, that’s not the only thing on the docket… Here’s a glance at my current workload:

  • An edition of the St. Bede’s Breviary for the Companions of St. Luke (OSB): This is at the top of the list and is almost done. This edition uses a four-week psalm cycle, seasonal antiphons for all of the psalms and canticles, and an expanded array of canticles for the slot after the first reading at Morning Prayer. I’m in the final data-entry/testing stages here.
  • Transcription of the Anglican Breviary: This has begun, but has not yet been unveiled. That’ll happen very, very soon. At that point, I’ll also solicit help from the various people who have volunteered to assist with it.
  • Collect revision for “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” (formerly HWHM): This is also underway and needs to be in decent shape by the end of the month…
  • Dissertation revision: The dissertation is being transformed into a book for regular people to be published by Liturgical Press. There’s an early Fall deadline on this one, so expect a lot more posts in the near future on early medieval monastic formation, liturgy, and biblical interpretation!

Then there’s the day job, the girls’ activities, the staying married, and all—needless to say, it’s a busy summer. Donations to help defray hosting costs and to help underwrite some of this work are gladly accepted from those able to do so!

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy | 4 Comments

Feasting Bede: An Exercise in Collect Revision

The feast of Saint Bede fell over Memorial Day weekend this year. I didn’t post on it this year on its proper date but shall do so now.

In praying his collect this year, I was struck by its limitations. Here’s the text:

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still
a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines
of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the
Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation,
so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you
known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It’s not so bad as far as current sanctoral collects go. It’s singable. It points towards his virtues and isn’t overburdened with detail. And yet, it could be better.

The regnant model currently is that of the “biographical collect.” This is a proper prayer that incorporates elements of a person’s life and biography. In the Episcopal Church, the biographical collect was attempted and rejected as a strategy in the original deliberations leading up to the first batch of sanctoral collects published in 1958′s Prayer Book Studies XII.  The main reason for the rejection was because “Too many of these Collects gave the effect of being overly contrived and erudite” compounded by the appearance of “subtle allusions” not edifying to the whole worshiping community (PBS XII, 9). However, in 1980, in contrast to these earlier findings, a great majority of the sanctoral collects were rewritten to be biographical. In recent years, particularly in Holy Women Holy Men, the biographical collect has achieved a position of dominance as the genre of choice for sanctoral collects.

I have a fundamental theological problem with the biographical collect. I’m a medievalist: everyone knows this. As a medievalist, my perspective on the saints—who they and and who they are for us—has been heavily influenced by medieval models and perspectives while still retaining a Reformation perspective. Saints are neither demi-gods nor cool people who were also Christian. Rather, the saints are remarkable individuals who have been singled out by their own communities and those after them because they represented the ideal of Christian maturity. If, as Irenaeus has said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists of beholding God,” then these individuals are example of those who, in the act of beholding God, entered most fully into their own God-imaged humanity. Yes, many of them lived remarkable lives, did remarkable things, and have interesting biographies. But what we celebrate in them is our ability to see in their lives the universal virtues of Christ that they put on by virtue of their Baptism. It’s easy to get lost in biography. What we need to celebrate are the virtues and the charisms which they shared with Christ, which they grew into by virtue of Baptism, and which are available to us also by way of our own Baptisms. Thus, the biographical collect tends to err on the side of accenting their particularity rather than connecting to their universality and the Christ from whom it flows.

The second main issue I have with the biographical collect is its tendency to stop being a collect and to begin being a mini-sermon or secondary biography. A collect is a prayer; it is first and foremost speech to God. Only secondarily is it speech to the gathered assembly. The biographical collect tends to get this reversed, and attempts to edify more than it prays and praises. Consider again the genre of the collect. I’ve written about it here with a two-pronged simile: a collect is simultaneously like a sonnet and like a haiku. And I continue to come back to the words of Percy Dearmer:

Unity is the essential characteristic of the collect. To be good, it must have colour, rhythm, finality, a certain conciseness as well as vigour of thought; but it must be a unified petition, or it becomes something else than a collect. We might indeed say that it must be one complete sentence, an epigram softened by feeling; it must be compact, expressing one thought, and enriching that thought so delicately that a word misplaced may destroy its whole beauty.

Holding these things in mind, let’s review again the appointed collect for Bede…

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still
a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines
of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the
Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation,
so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you
known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First off, this is a two-sentence prayer, not a collect. Standing in for an actual Invocation+Relative Clause describing God we have an Invocation+biographical note. This is one complete thought: “Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship.” While it begins with God (verbally, at least), it says very little about who God is and says far more about who Bede was.  But it does so to talk about his job. (Again, the professionalization of sanctity, something I’ve railed about before and which I’ll spare you at the present…) Now—how does this first sentence relate thematically and conceptually to the second sentence? The second sentence (“Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world”) identifies the effect of Bede’s service as bringing out the riches of God’s truth, and then requests—on the strength of that—that we be good evangelists.

I guess I can follow the logic—but is it good logic? Is it strong logic? Is this the best we can say about Bede and what we see in him and what we see of Christ through him? I certainly hope not…

Well, what are some other options, then? Here’s the version in the People’s Anglican Missal and the Anglican Breviary that substantially translates the Latin of the pre-1962 Roman Missal:

O God who hast enlightened thy Church with the wondrous learning of blessed Bede thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant to us thy servants; that we, being in all things enlightened by his wisdom, may at all times feel the effectual succor of his righteousness. Through…

We do, in fact, have a collect here! We have a true Invocation+Relative Clause that says something about who God is—he is the enlightener of the Church and Bede is an example of vehicles he has used for this purpose. We at least see something of why we are revering Bede: his wisdom. And yet, this collect, too makes me feel a little edgy. I see Bede—I don’t see Christ…  This falls too close (and perhaps even over) the “saint as demi-god” line. Whose is the “effectual succor of righteousness”: Bede or Christ?

Now, here’s a collect for Bede that appears in PBS XII when he was first introduced into the Episcopal Calendar:

Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the singular learning and holiness of thy servant Bede: Grant us to hold fast the true doctrine of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, and to fashion our lives according to the same, to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy holy Church; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So—a true collect that starts out in a very similar fashion to the Roman version, thanking God for enlightening the Church by virtue of Bede his instrument. Too, we see Jesus and ask to pattern our lives off his and to both glorify his name and benefit the Church. The collect doesn’t explicitly say that this is what Bede did, but we should certainly imply it.

I like this collect. It does what it’s supposed to do and it falls quite neatly between our two boundary lines. It is a bit general, though. This is actually a common collect for teachers and theologians; in PBS XII, Bede shares this same collect with Thomas Aquinas, John of Damascus, Ephrem, Jeremy Taylor, and Samuel I. J. Schereschewsky! You can see how it will work admirably for all of them. Can we get more particular and still hold to our principles?

How about this:

Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the learning and holiness of thy servant Bede: Grant us to find in Scripture and disciplined prayer the image of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and to fashion our lives according to the same, to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy holy Church; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Learning and holiness capture well the virtues of Bede. I would characterize them as wisdom, knowledge, piety, and discipline myself. Holiness and piety are fairly synonymous, holiness lacking the whiff of sanctimoniousness that often accompanies the contemporary use of “piety.” I deleted “singular” as I don’t feel it adds. Rather, it detracts from our theology of sanctity! We don’t celebrate the saints because they are singular or unique; we celebrate them because they witness to our common gifts in Christ. Bede wrote his own epitaph in the closing chapters of the Ecclesiastical History thus: “I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.” In making the common particular to him, then, I modified the petition relating to Christ. The original phrase “hold fast the true doctrine” is certainly correct as Bede was quite orthodox. However, bringing in the Scriptures and the singing of the Offices honors Bede’s own self-description better and enables us to capture his virtue of discipline.

Is this singable? I think so. It does have a number of clauses, but no more so than some of our other classic collects.

Now, I had made a suggestion earlier on in the process that we create collects that could sustain the optional phrase “[and in union with her prayers]” where grammatically appropriate in order to capture a true baptismal ecclesiology. This phrase would recognize the unity of our Baptismal community in Christ that physical death cannot sever, and acknowledge the presence of the saints within our present worshiping community. (And be entirely optional, noting that some have a more limited understanding of Baptism…) Looking at this new collect, though—there’s not a good way to fit the phrase in. I could see it going here: “and [in union with his prayers] to fashion our lives according to the same” except that we open a can of worms regarding antecedents. The natural antecedent of “his” would be Christ and if we substitute “Bede” for the pronoun it becomes clunky and interferes with “the same” at the end of the line. Thus, despite my desire for a recognition of our eschatological community with Bede and the rest of the saints, I think this collect is better off without the added phrase.

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy, Saints | Tagged | 6 Comments

The Revised Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book

The Revised Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book has finally arrived. After several years of planning and working, I can at last hold it in my hands!

I know that there have been some questions about how the new revision relates to the previous version, the 1967 revised edition, so I’ll go ahead and address that.

Physically, the two books are roughly the same size in the hand. However, the bindings are different—while the ’67 is a hardback book, the ’14 is leather bound with sewn-in pages, two ribbons, and gilt-edged “Bible paper” pages. It feels like a prayer book that will stand up to repeated use. Because of the thinness of the Bible paper, there are roughly one hundred more pages in the new edition than in the previous edition.

SAPBs IMG_20140528_062831

Opening the book, the text is printed in both red and black.

A quick comparison of the two tables of contents underscores that this is a revision, not a new work. The same headings are present, but the new revision has a more detail, more subheadings, to help direct you to where you want to go.

The former revision was conducted as the Episcopal Church was in the midst of formulating its next prayer book. As a result, it remains a solid catholic supplement to the 1928 prayer book and is in dialogue with the Roman Catholic piety of its day in the very midst of the tumult of Vatican II. By contrast, this new revision was designed from the ground up as a solid catholic supplement to our current prayer book, reflecting the ecumenical and cultural situation of our day. Additionally, this revision intentionally draws from the wells of historic devotion incorporating more materials from Sarum primers and breviaries. In keeping with both aims—a closer connection with the current prayer book as well as recovering the riches of former ages—we have tried to give as many attributions as possible laying bare the historical span of the material. Just to be clear, though, old stuff isn’t in here because it’s old; it’s because in working and praying with these well-worn prayers, David and I were convinced that they had an important word to speak to the church of our present day.

There are prayers here in contemporary (Rite II) language; there are prayers here in traditional (Rite I) language. We have also incorporated some material—I’m thinking of Office canticles in particular—in direct address that provide gender-neutral praises to God. Above all, our goal was to use the whole register of liturgical language with the intention of not making language an issue. There was no quota of Rite I to Rite II to gender-neutral material. Instead, we went with what prayed well!

Some material was removed. David probably knows better than I which material exactly, but there’s a certain flavor of saccharine-sweet overly-pious immediately pre-concialiar sentimentality that is greatly toned down. To my Gen-X/Y ears, this material strays dangerously close to the line of self-parody. It’s one thing if your heart is genuinely overflowing with love and devotion; it’s another to insist that’s how you’re feeling and, if not, to whip yourself up to that level because the prayer says you should—that just doesn’t strike me as honest spirituality!

There’s also a good amount of explanatory material here. The previous edition had this too, but much of it has been updated. As David explains in his Foreword, he—like many clergy—discovered the Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book in seminary. That is, his first encounter with it and its spirituality was not necessarily in the context of a living church community. I know that my first encounter with it occurred that way—it was a text that I discovered apart from a living tradition. As a result, the explanations are offered as a way of introducing people to a fuller and deeper expression of the Anglican tradition that is completely consonant with prayer book spirituality whether they’re in a congregation familiar with such traditions or not.

It was a real honor to have the opportunity to work on this book. Both of us entered into it with a certain trepidation because of how deeply loved it is. None of our changes were made lightly; in each case we wanted to make sure that the material was consonant with our prayer book, with our Anglican tradition, and spoke Gospel words of life to modern Episcopalians.

As I have said—tongue in cheek—my chief role was to gild David’s lily: the lion’s share of the work was his. However, I had read through portions of it at David’s request and commented on them before I was officially invited onto the project by Scott Gunn and the good folks at Forward Movement. I see my true role in this work as representing the voice of the laity. It’s easy for devotional works of this sort to reflect what clergy want lay people to think, and do, and pray. I believe that’s a trap that we consciously avoided here. This work, flowing from the monastic well-spring of the Order of the Holy Cross, bolstering the work of the clergy, finds its true home in the hearts, minds, and actions of the whole church—not just the ordained portions. These are prayers that I use with my children, that I turn to between meetings, conference calls, and shuttling the girls to ballet lessons, that are made for our world, the sections both within and without the church’s walls. This is a spirituality for the whole church.

May it be received as it is offered: a treasury of Gospel nourishment for the road. Not a last word or a perfect work, but godly conversation as we push along the way!

Kindle versions are available at Amazon; for the present, physical copies can be ordered through Forward Movement. (They will also be available through Amazon at some point in the future.)

Posted in Liturgy, Spirituality | 5 Comments

Psalms and Monastic Education

It’s impossible to overstate the intimate connection between early medieval monastic education and the early medieval monastic liturgy. Learning was about acquiring the skills to participate within the liturgy, to comprehend the depths of the liturgy, to incorporate it into monastic practice, and—in turn—to enrich it.

At the heart of this educational program was mastery of the psalms.

You have to imagine what it would be like entering a monastery in 10th century England. A child, somewhere between the ages of 7 and 11 would be taken from their family, mother tongue, and the world of fields and woods and home handcrafts, and would be placed within an utterly alien environment. The central experience would be that of trooping into the oratory many times a day to sing unknown songs in an unknown tongue. One scholar of the period has reckoned that, in summer time, the monks would be awake for nineteen hours of the day; about eleven of these would be spent in song!

At first, no doubt, new boys and girls would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of unfamiliar material. They would mumble along, trying to follow the pitch and to throw in a word or two when they could. At least they would have the benefit of singing alongside a number of other people—strong voices from whom they could take their lead. As daunting as this sounds, children are adaptable, and the presence of music itself would be a help.  It would be something like the experience of singing along to the radio in a foreign language. A number of times my wife and I have been surprised to hear our daughters (ages 8 and 10) singing along to a new song that we don’t remember hearing before—how, we wonder, could they have learned it so quickly!

Furthermore, once the initial tsunami of unfamiliar experiences had passed, the children would discern (perhaps with the help of their peers or teachers) that certain songs show up far more frequently than the others. In a Benedictine Reform monastery, the seven penitential psalms were sung several times every day as part of the payers for the king, queen, and benefactors (the trina oratio). Too, the Night Office invariably began with a recitation of the fifteen gradual psalms (Pss 120-134). Indeed, it would be a slow monk who didn’t quickly learn Psalm 51: during Lent, it would have been sung at least 8 times a day! Charting out the liturgical provisions of the Regularis Concordia, there were 35 psalms that would be sung every single day. Surely the young novices would have learned these quickly, at least to the point where they could confidently sing them in the midst of a group who knew them well. Naturally, they would have the additional impetus of knowing that those who made faults in the singing of the songs were subject to punishment during daily Chapter!

Thus, the constant liturgical cycle was a means for passive education. The children would sing along as they were able, and would absorb a massive amount of Latin. But—it would only be meaningless sounds to them without further help. The Old English of Ælfric’s Colloquy opens with this exchange between teacher and student:

Teacher: What is your work?

Student: I am presently a monk and I sing seven times each day with my brothers, but meanwhile, between them, I want to learn how to speak in the Latin tongue.

Both monastic rules and surviving educational books help give us a sense of how this mass of memorized sounds was converted into useful language. First, memorization of the psalms outside of the choir was an essential activity. A song you think you know well, that you can can belt out at the top of your lungs alongside the radio, can have some embarrassing sections of mumbling the first few times you try to sing it by yourself. In a similar fashion, despite the passive learning of the choir, the monks worked with teachers, other students, and by themselves to memorize the psalms. Benedict’s Rule specifically identifies the time after the Night Office in winter and after None throughout the year as a period to learn the psalms and readings. (A bit later in the text, Ælfric’s Colloquy clarifies that it is taking place after None.)

Benedict’s source, the Rule of the Master, describes the process in detail demonstrating that the active memorization of the psalms occurs in parallel with the learning of literacy. The passively memorized sounds are transformed into written words as the process of active memorization unfolds:

During these three hours [between Prime and Terce] the boys, in their deanery [groups of ten], are to learn letters on their tablets from someone who is literate. Moreover, we exhort illiterate adults up to the age of fifty to learn letters. Again, we wish it kept in mind that during these same periods the psalms are to be studied by those who do not know them, directed by the deans in their respective deanery. So during these three hours, they are to read [aloud] and listen to one another, and take turns teaching letters and psalms to those who do not know them. (RM 50:12-15)

And throughout [the] summer season, whether the meal is at the sixth hour or at the ninth, for whatever time remains between None until time for Vespers to begin, the various deaneries having been separated from one another in different places, some as directed by their deans are to read, others listen, others learn and teach letters, others studied psalms which they have transcribed. When they have mastered and memorized them perfectly, let their deans take them to the abbot to recite by heart the psalm or canticle or lesson of any kind. And as soon as he has recited it in its entirety, let him ask prayers for himself. Then when those present have prayed for him, the abbot concludes and the one who has done the reciting kisses the abbot’s knees. Either the abbot or the deans immediately order something new to be transcribed [for memorization], and after anything has been transcribed, before he studies it, let him again ask those present to pray for him; and in this way the learning of it is to be undertaken. (RM 50:62-69)

Now, there’s one other factor we have to account for. The Rule of the Master was written in the early sixth century somewhere in the region of Rome or Campania. The Latin of the psalms would still be largely comprehensible to the monks. To the 10th century English novices, it would have been a completely foreign tongue.

The manuscript British Library, Royal 2 B V gives us a fascinating perspective into how this challenge was addressed in England. The manuscript is a liturgical psalter that includes all 150 psalms plus the monastic canticles. It does not seem to have been used in choir as it lacks the psalm divisions necessary, but was a classroom book. The psalms are written in clear large letters. Above these, between the lines, is a running gloss in Old English explaining the meaning of the Latin words. In the margin are excerpts from Cassiodorus’s commentary on the Psalms. Working through this book a student would be learning to read Latin, learning to read Old English, acquiring an understanding of the Latin text, and beginning to learn how the psalms were interpreted by an important monastic author. A companion book written by the same scribe and presumably used alongside it (or at least in the same classroom) contains Jerome’s 59 homilies on the psalms.

This initial stage of education—the passive acquisition of the psalms, their active memorization, and an introduction to the exegetical method of the Church Fathers—provided a foundation that the monks and nuns would use the rest of their lives. This childhood memorization would be reinforced daily as the psalms were sung in the Daily Office. Too, psalm verse and portions were sprinkled throughout Office and Mass in the form of prayers, responsaries, and minor propers. Furthermore, the monks were to continue running through these memorized psalms outside of the oratory as well. The Regularis Concordia, in harmony with longstanding monastic tradition, recommends that the psalms be silently recited and meditated upon during the periods of work when the monks were at work in the fields or in the workshops.

This initial stage of education would be complete once the entire psalter and canticles were committed to memory. Exactly how long that would take depends entirely on the student, but contemporary sources do give us a sense of the range. In speaking of an early medieval saint, Gregory of Tours expresses his wonder that the saint was able to memorize the entire psalter in only 6 months instead of two or three years. It’s hard to say if two to three years was normal or if Gregory was exaggerating slightly for the sake of promoting the saint. Either way, this does give us something to go on—exceptional students might be able to get through this process in six months to a year while more ordinary students could take as long as three years.

[To Be Continued...]

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