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Use of York

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It was a received principle in medieval canon law that while as regards judicial matters, as regards the sacraments, and also the more solemn fasts, the custom of the Roman Church was to be adhered to; still in the matter of church services (divinis officiis) each Church kept to its own traditions (see the Decretum Gratiani, c. iv., d. 12). In this way there came into existence a number of "Uses", by which word were denoted the special liturgical customs which prevailed in a particular diocese or group of dioceses: speaking of England before the Reformation, in the south and in the midlands, the ceremonial was regulated by the Sarum Use, but in the greater part of the north the Use of York prevailed. The general features of these medieval English Uses are fairly represented by the peculiarities of the Sarum Rite and the reader is advised to consult that article, but certain details special to York may be noted here.

Beginning with the celebration of Mass, we observe that in the reading of the Gospel the priest blessed the deacon with these words; "May the Lord open thy mouth to read and our ears to understand God's holy Gospel of peace," etc., whereupon the deacon answered:

Give, O Lord, a proper and well-sounding speech to my lips that my words may please Thee and may profit all who hear them for Thy name's sake unto eternal life. Amen.

Moreover, at the end of the Gospel the priest said secretly: "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord". Again while reproducing in general the features of the Sarum offertory, the York Use required the priest to wash his hands twice, once before touching the host at all and again apparently after using the incense, while at the later washing the priest said the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus". Also, in answer to the appeal "Orate fratres et sorores", the choir replied by repeating in a low voice the first three verses of Psalm xix, "Exaudiat te Dominus", etc. By another noteworthy departure from the Sarum custom, the priest in giving the kiss of peace at York said, not "Pax tibi et ecclesiae" (Peace to thee and the Church), but "Habete vinculum", etc. (Retain ye the bond of charity and peace that ye may be fit for the sacred mysteries of God). There were also differences in the prayers which immediately preceded the Communion, while the formulae used in the actual reception of the Blessed Sacrament by the priest were again peculiar to York. It may further be noticed that the number of Sequences, some of them of very indifferent quality, retained in the York Missal, considerably exceeded that of the Sequences printed in the Sarum book. A list is given by Mr. Frere in the "Jour. Theol. Stud.", II, 583. Some metrical compositions, bearing a curious resemblance to the Carmelite "O Flos Carmeli", figure among the offertories. (See Frere, loc. Cit., 585.)

Turning to the Breviary, York employed a larger number of proper hymns than Sarum. There were also in every office a number of minor variations from the practice both of Sarum and of Rome. For example a careful comparison of the psalms, antiphons, responsories, lessons, etc. prescribed respectively by Rome, Sarum, and York for such a festival as that of St. Lawrence reveals a general and often close resemblance but with many slight divergences. Thus in the first Vespers the psalms used both at York and Sarum were the ferial psalms (as against the Roman usage), but York retained also the ferial antiphons while Sarum had proper antiphons. So the capitulum was the same but the responsory following was different, and so on. Again the psalms, antiphons, and responsories at Matins were substantially the same, but they do not always occur in quite the same order. Both at York and Sarum the first six lessons were taken from the legend of the saint and yet they were differently worded and arranged. The most singular feature, and one common to both Sarum and York on this and one or two other festivals (notably that of the Conversion of St. Paul and the Feast of the Holy Trinity), was the use of antiphons with versicles attached to each. This feature is called in the Aurea Legenda "regressio antiphonarum" and in Caxton's translation "the reprysyng of the anthemys". The contents of the manual and the remaining service-books show other distinctive peculiarities. For example the form of troth-plighting in the York marriage-service runs as follows (we modernize the spelling):

Here I take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold at bed and at board, for fairer for fouler, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part and thereto I plight thee my troth; in which may be specially noticed the absence of the words if the holy Church it will ordain,

found in the Sarum Rite and still represented in the English Catholic marriage service. Again in the delivery of the ring, the bridegroom at York said:

With this ring I wed thee, and with this gold and silver I honour thee, and with this gift I dowe thee,

where again one misses the familiar "with my body I thee worship" retained in both the Catholic and Protestant marriage service of England. Also the York rubric prescribes

Here let the priest ask the woman's dowry and if land be given her for her dowry then let her fall at the feet of her husband.

This feature is entirely lacking in all but one or two of the Sarum books. The only other York peculiarity that seems to call for special notice is the mention of the Blessed Virgin in the form for the administration of extreme unction, viz.

Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam et per intercessionem beatae Mariae Virginis et omnium Sanctorum, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid peccastic per visum. Amen.

Naturally York had also its special calendar and special feasts. They are set out at length in Dr. Henderson's edition of the York Missal (pp. 259 sqq. And especially p. 271). We will only note here the circumstance that the Visitation was kept at York on 2 April, a date which seems to agree better with the Gospel narrative than our present 2 July. As for the colours of vestments, York is said to have used white for Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday, and probably for Whitsuntide, as well as on feasts of the Blessed Virgin, while black was used for Good Friday and blue for Advent and Septuagesima, etc. (see St. John Hope in "Trans. T. Paul's Eccles. Society", II, 268, and cf. I, 125) but it is very doubtful whether these data regarding colours can be trusted.


The series of York liturgical books have all been printed for the Surtees Society of Durham, the Missal in 1874, the Manual and Processional in 1875, the Pontifical in 1873, all these being edited by HENDERSON. The Breviary edited by LAWLEY appeared in two volumes in 1880-82. Much information may be derived from the prefaces and notes in these volumes. See also MASKELL, Ancient Liturgy of the Church of England (3rd ed., Oxford, 1882), in which the text of the Ordinary and Cannon of the Mass as observed at Sarum, York, Hereford, and Bangor are printed in parallel volumes and contrasted with the text of the Roman Missal. Some account of "the newly found York Gradual" is given by FRERE, in Jour. Of Theol. Stud., II, 575-86 (1901). Compare further the introductions to the three volumes of MASKELL, Monumenta Ritualia (Oxford, 1882), and the notes to SIMMONS, Lay Folks Mass Book, in Early Eng. Text Society (London, 1878).

About this page

APA citation. Thurston, H. (1912). Use of York. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Thurston, Herbert. "Use of York." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to Catholic Liturgists.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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