Sunday, 16 July 2017

What are Rubrics?

From "The Pilot", 1968 comes this, an interesting historical ramble.

Some Church Customs Explained
By S.G. Thicknesse

What are Rubrics?

In England, ever since the Reformation, rubrics have I been rules for the ordering of divine service which have behind them the force not only of ecclesiastical but also of civil authority. The detailed directions in the Prayer Book, sometimes still in the red lettering which gave them their name, but usually now in italics, can in fact bring bishops and clergy into the dock as law-breakers.

The Act of Uniformity, which can be read at the beginning of every Prayer Book, recalls by the severity of its penalties the store which Elizabeth and her Ministers set on the acceptance of a unified order and form. This, it was hoped, would put an end to those religious confusions and controversies of the Reformation which had brought such terrifying political disruption in their train.

But even in nineteenth-century England, when the political significance of religious uniformity was relatively small, clergymen were convicted and penalized for practices not authorized by rubric. So, for example, in 1868 the Reverend John Purchas was convicted in the Arches Court of Canterbury among other things for standing with his back to the people when consecrating the Elements. The judgment was upheld by the Privy Council, and when Purchas neither paid the costs, amounting to £2,096 14s. 10d., nor discontinued any of the practices which had been declared illegal, he was suspended for a year from the discharge of his clerical office.

Directions and titles written in red had, according to the Latin poet Juvenal, been customary in the old Roman law books. But very few, if any, of such rubrics appeared in the earliest service books of the Church. (Pliny says that this red colour-ruber-first got its name from a coloured earth which carpenters used, to mark their wood for the cutting.)

Of two of the earliest surviving missals, for example, the sacramentary of Leo and the Gelasian sacramentary, both of which belong to the fifth century, the first contains no rubrics at all. A French missal of the sixth century contains eight rubrics, and an Irish one of the ninth, two, in the vernacular.

Collections of rubrics were made separately in special books, under such titles as Ordo, Directory or Ceremonial. Copies of these compilations were made with not less painstaking devotion than were copies of the Offices themselves, of which Charlemagne's scholar, the Yorkshireman Alcuin, reminds us.

Part of the prologue to his Sacramentary runs: `And we pray you to copy it again so diligently as to its text that it comfort the ears of the learned and allow not any of the simpler sort to go astray. For it will be no avail, as saith blessed St. Jerome, to have made correction in a book, unless the corrected reading be preserved by the diligent care of the bookkeepers . . .'

Bishops and abbots themselves used to check the final versions of the scribes in the mediaeval scriptoria. The multiplication of such books, however, and the hardening of local traditions meant that a variety both of ritual practices and of forms of prayer became common in different areas. 

St. Augustine complained of this in the sixth century, and in the eighth, in Gaul, every priest was required to describe -his own practice in writing, and to present this libellus ordinis to the bishop in Lent for approbation. In England there grew up a Salisbury (Sarum) Use, a Hereford Use, a Use of Bangor and of York and of Lincoln.

As ecclesiastical authority became more centralized - largely a matter of the roads having become safer - such local differences began to be attacked. One way of procuring uniform practice was for the Pope to authorize a collection of rubrics which he believed to be based on the best and most primitive traditions. Such a collection was the Ordo Romanus.

Another way was for him to authorize the appearance of the most important of these rubrics in the Missal itself. This he did not do until the end of the fifteenth century. Then, despite the strong opinion of many ecclesiasts that rubrics were not a matter for the laity, Burcard, Master of the Ceremonies under Innocent VIII and Alexander VI, published together the order and the ceremonial directions of the Mass in a Pontifical. This, from then on, was the glass of fashion and the mould of form.

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