Rick Bussey in medieval dress. (Sheila Snell photo)

Collegio Leonem, a group of Lower Mainland musicians specializing in medieval music, assisted the congregation at St. Oswald's, Port Kells, in celebrating a "Medieval Mass" recently.

Several members of the parish are also members of the Society for Creative Anachronism - an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.

The service provided an opportunity to reflect on ways in which our worship has evolved over the years.We imagined that the date was 1407, although we "cheated" by using the Order of Service from the Book of Common Prayer.

The music was firmly mediaeval, however, including some chants from the 11th Century Sarum Mass, which some scholars believe was the blueprint for Archbishop Cranmer's second prayer book (1552).

Copies of the lectionary texts were provided in the Wycliffe translation from about 1380 (see box). The sermon was delivered by a "visiting preacher", who was horrified to discover the Scriptures being read in English!

It was in 1401 that King Henry IV had passed a decree that anyone who owned or produced an English translation of the Bible would be burned at the stake. The only acceptable language for worship was Latin.

In Bible Study, the following week, we discussed other ways in which our worship has evolved.

We wondered how much the congregation would get from worship in a language they did not understand. On the other hand, it was felt that the sheer repetition of familiar words, even in another tongue, might offer meaning at a different level. We realised that virtually no one in the congregation would have been able to read, so that issues of the written language and readability would be less critical.

The priest seemed to lead the worship on behalf of the people. There was hardly any participation by the congregation - the priest was even sometimes praying by himself at the altar, when no one could hear what he was saying.

In medieval times there was no congregational singing, such as hymns. The music was in the plainsong style - no harmonies. Even polyphony, the system of interweaving parts, did not come in until the 1500's.

Of course, there was no organ or piano music. The service music was sung a cappella, although Collegium Leonem were kind enough to provide the opening notes on a small mediaeval hand harp, to keep the priest on track.

The "prayers of the people" were said by the priest. Perhaps the greatest difference we noticed in modern worship is the extent to which lay people participate in the worship leadership, as readers, intercessors and lay administrators. These roles were reserved for the clergy in past times.

Our "visiting preacher" was outraged to discover women playing leadership roles in worship - singing in the choir, for example would have been a male prerogative in this medieval parish. He sarcastically asked if we thought we would be ordaining women to the priesthood next.

By leading worship with his back to the congregation, the priest was seen to be worshipping along with the people. Yet the connection between the priest and the congregation was lost.

At Communion, only the wafer was offered to communicants, the wine being taken only by the priest. Afterwards, several people felt that they had missed out on the full mystery of the Eucharist, in the receiving of both sacramental elements.

Finally, the social structures of the congregation were not visible in our 2007 service. In 1407, the Lord of the Manor and his family would have had the front pew reserved, and other prominent families would have their own space. He would also have been responsible for making sure that his vassals came to Church every Sunday. Nowadays, as the song goes - "nobody here has a claim on a pew."

Celeste Chadwick, Doug Loney, Yvette Adams, Paul Guiton, Erin Seedhouse, and Pam Martin played their part in St. Oswald's "Medieval Mass" last Sexagesima Sunday at St. Oswald's, Port Kells, Surrey. (Brenda Murphy photo)

John Wycliffe's Translation of the Bible

c.1380 - 1 Corinthis 15:12-20

12 And if Crist is prechid, that he roos ayen fro deeth, hou seien summen among you, that the ayenrisyng of deed men is not?

13 And if the ayenrisyng of deed men is not, nethir Crist roos ayen fro deeth.

14 And if Crist roos not, oure preching is veyn, oure feith is veyn.

15 And we ben foundun false witnessis of God, for we han seid witnessyng ayens God, that he reiside Crist, whom he reiside not, if deed men risen not ayen.

16 Forwhi if deed men risen not ayen, nether Crist roos ayen;

17 and if Crist roos not ayen, oure feith is veyn; and yit ye ben in youre synnes.

18 And thanne thei that han diede in Crist, han perischid.

19 If in this life oneli we ben hoping in Crist, we ben more wretchis than alle men.

20 But now Crist roos ayen fro deth, the firste fruit of deed men.