Pedagogic and Dramatic Roles of the Liturgy in Piers Plowman
This essay reconsiders L’s engagement with the liturgy. The first part reads episodes in PPl that invoke particular liturgical texts and practices. The penitential psalms, served as food at the feast of Conscience, were also performed during the ceremony of the Reconciliation of Penitents on Maundy Thursday, and Reason’s arrival in procession on the field of folk at the start of the second vision in the C text recalls the procession from this ceremony. In both cases, the poem invokes this liturgical context to signal a turn towards penitence in the action to follow. In the crucifixion passus, whose debts to the Holy Week liturgy have often been noted, the kiss that concludes the debate between the four daughters of God recalls the kiss of the celebrant, deacon and subdeacon that formed part of the introit in the Sarum Use. The kiss was withheld after Maundy Thursday and resumed on Easter morning, making it a fitting conclusion to this part of PPl. The second part of the essay proposes that the liturgy informs both the narrative structure of PPl and its characteristic use of allegory. It argues that the Mass in the Sarum Use resembles the ‘episodic’ narrative of PPl, ‘raising expectations, enduring a period of uncertainty or loss, and finally providing satisfaction through communion’ (p. 357). The kind of ‘relational’ allegory Jill Mann describes in the poem, meanwhile, can also be found in exegesis on the liturgy, notably in De Ecclesiastico Officio by Amalar of Metz.
Cambridge Quarterly, 45.4 (2016), 343–64.