28 November 2008


As Christmas approaches and you look for suitable presents along the shelves of 'Church' bookshops: a word of advice. Shun the shelves labelled 'Celtic'.

Historians have decisively abandoned the concept of the 'Celtic' and especially of a supposed distinctive 'Celtic Church'. In the most recent major scholarly work on this subject, Professor Charles-Edwards' Early Christian Ireland (Cambridge, 2000), the distinguished author writes dismissively of 'that entity - beloved of modern sectarians and romantics, but unknown to the early Middle Ages - ''the Celtic Church'' ', and surveys in a footnote the scholarly work of the last thirty years which has established this.

'Celtic' is the sexy religious thinggy because the 'Celtic' saints are distant figures in the past who , when they were alive, were rather combative old people but pose no particular threats to us now because they're in books and so they can be moulded to our own fads by suppressions and misrepresentations. And because 'Celtic' Christianity is in the past, people with hangups about the actual real Christianities available in the present day can invent their own 'Celtic Christianity'. Commonly such DIY constructions are all about being rather Mystical in pieces of remote and beautiful countryside, and about being 'close to nature'. If you are tempted to buy their books, check carefully whether the contents actually are sourced somewhere ancient or are merely the author's own compositions 'in the Celtic Spirit'.

If the 'Celtic' industry really had any serious interest in the Christianity of the 'Celtic fringe' during its first millennium, they would be rather keener to revive use of the earliest surviving Missal from these islands, the Stowe Missal, which dates from the 790s and is of southern Irish origin. I published a little academic something on it a few years ago. Its Eucharistic Prayer is almost entirely identical with the current Roman 'First Eucharistic Prayer', except that it contains rather more saints and describes the Pope as 'thy most blessed servant N our Pope, Bishop of the Apostolic See'. It has a lovely Prayer of Humble Access, so much more mystical and uplifting than Cranmer's, which includes beautiful phrases like 'I am unworthy because I filthily adhere to the mire of dung and all my good deeds are like a rag used by a menstual woman'.

I wonder if there would be any takers if I advertised and put on a Demonstration Celebration of it in S Thomas's?


rev'd up said...

Father, I'd be there but the 3000+ mile commute is a killer!

Is the book you mention for sale? And do you know of a Sarum Missal that is altar ready for sale?

Frair John said...

I have worshiped according to the Stowie Missal.
I knew what to expect, the rest of the congregation didn't (a little internet research id almost always a good thing). One friend of mine was simply appalled and walked out. One other just sat frozen and unable to receive.
It wasn't the eco-friendly/feminist/theology light service they were expecting.

Ethan said...

I second your "Celtic" spirituality. In Boston there are tons of these "Celtics" who are basically post-christian grandchldren of the professional Irish-Americans of the 2nd half of the 20th Century. It seems to be dying in popularity as more and more of them have become practical agnostics.

In college I did a paper on the Book of Kells in the Liturgy and I thought to myself, thank God I live now. However, I looked at the Stowe Mass and it is beautiful and interesting.

Athair Ambrois said...

Great article! The menstrual rags? That's Isaiah 64:6.

It was fascinating to discover that the Celtic rite has a limited use in the modern Russian Orthodox Church - some places are permitted to use the Lorrha Missal. These are a convert monastery in Belgium which is under the Moscow Patriarchate and a monastery and a few parishes in Australia which also come under the Russian Orthodox Church.

Athair Ambrois said...

> Is the book you mention for sale? <

Much better than paying a few hundred pounds for a Bradshaw edition (if you are lucky enough to find one) is to get a copy from a small Celtic Church in the States whose head Bishop Maelruain has put many years into working on the Lorrha Missal. He and his people use it as their regular form of worship. It comes with the Bangor Book of Hours added.

Here is his translation of the Lorrha

Part 1

Part 2

Write to him for information at
espmaelruain @ celticChristianity.org

Athair Ambrois said...

Here are links to the Lorrha Missal as Tiny Urls

Part 1

Part 2