The Liturgical Context of Ælfric’s Homilies for Rogation

The Liturgical Context of Ælfric’s Homilies for Rogation


The Old English homily:precedent, practice, and appropriation, edited by Aaron J Kleist (Turnhout : Brepols, 2007)


Time does not pass capriciously in the Church, but cyclically. Time to a Christian is pregnant with memory and celebration. The ecclesiastical structure of time determines in part the liturgical content of human devotion, and monastic time is therefore ordered accordingly. Monks are strictly regulated in the times of their prayers, and in their oblations and obligations. The Regularis concordia, for example, requires that the seven penitential psalms be sung during the winter at Prime. But why these psalms, and why at Prime? Why a particular verse and not another? The order of prayer in a monastic office or a liturgy is neither haphazard nor accidental.  The pericope, lection, gospel, collects, tropes, psalms, hymns, and homily of a mass all fit together to fulfill the symbolic mandate of a particular moment in time. Examining how a given homily relates to that symbolic mandate may allow us a fuller appreciation of Old English homilies. By reading homilies in their liturgical context, we can observe how homilists dealt with broader liturgical themes. First, we can determine, even if vaguely, how the prayers of a Christian feast are interconnected thematically or symbolically. Then, we can inquire into how the liturgy could have affected compositions prepared for that day’s feast. Homilies for Rogationtide, the Christian feast of atonement, by Ælfric of Eynsham, Anglo-Saxon England’s greatest prose stylist, provide a particularly interesting place to consider how liturgy affects homilies. Liturgical texts do not appear to have influenced Ælfric’s homilies for Rogationtide, yet his homilies contain elements for which no other sources are known. I will argue that the liturgy of Rogationtide provides some of the themes that guided Ælfric as he composed.

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