The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History

Article excerpt

The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History. By Richard W. Pfaff. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. xxviii + 593 pp. $124.00 (cloth); $96.00 (Adobe eBook).

There is no comprehensive historical study of Christian worship in medieval Europe. In fact, it seems that until the present work by Richard Pfaff, there has been no comprehensive historical study of Christian worship in any substantial region of medieval Europe. We now have this large, complex, and difficult work, which, nonetheless, is incredibly valuable for a broad spectrum of readers. Pfaff, an emeritus professor of history at the University of North Carolina, has focused on the books, feasts, and saints of England from the time of Bede until the Reformation, and The Liturgy in Medieval England is the result ofthat lifetime of study.

In the first half of the work, Pfaff takes a primarily chronological approach to exploring the Eucharist and the daily office from just before the Norman Conquest until the differentiation of regional rites in the thirteenth century. This examination is organized by monastic and secular movements in liturgy as well as by time. The second half is a detailed history of the use of Salisbury, and of the smaller regional uses of Exeter, York, Hereford, and London. In addition, Pfaff surveys the monastic liturgies engendered by the regularizations of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, including Augustinian, Benedictine, Cistercian, Carmelite, Dominican, and Franciscan. Excurses on sources, comparisons of texts, ascriptions of books to churches, and books from women's liturgical houses round out the study, and would be valuable if each were expanded into a book by itself.

Shoehorning this huge amount of material into (a mere) 600 pages requires a single-minded, even draconian, focus on sources. PfafFs work might more accurately bear the subtitle A Codicology rather than A History. He chooses to exclude, in the main, three crucially important sources for a history from this study: music (it requires a substantially different set of tools and expertise), art and architecture (for the same reasons), and secondary reflection on the performed worship life expressed in theology and spiritual writings (because of the hermeneutical challenges). The Liturgy in Medieval England is mus three interlocking studies: a survey of the changes in the formal cult of the saints and the texts underlying that cult (itself the core of PfafFs own research); a study of rubrical and canonical changes throughout English liturgy; and most completely, an expanded catalogue raisonné of English liturgical manuscripts (but without any facsimiles, which Pfaff notes, would not significandy increase the reader's understanding unless they were provided in full). …