Q. & A.
Reprinted from Various Summer 1999 Parish Bulletins
Question: A few months ago you told us about the development of the Mass in the Catholic Eastern Churches.1 Can you tell us something about the Western Church as well?
Answer: The answer is relatively long. The reader may want to jump to one or more of the division headings listed directly below, or simply scroll through the entire document. You should be able to return here by using your browser's "Back" button.
We mentioned that in the East, the development of liturgy, custom, and law centered around the major cities or patriarchates. One might expect to find such developments in the West dominated by the Holy See of Rome. Perhaps surprisingly, Rome demonstrated rather little desire to regiment the practices of the churches in the Western Patriarchate until sometime in the second millennium. Rome played a leading part in the definition of doctrine and moral principles for the Universal Church, but was slow in demanding that the West follow her lead in disciplinary matters. The West, therefore has a rich liturgical tradition.
The greatest difficulty associated with examining the history of the Western liturgies is the lack of early texts. The earliest Masses were extemporaneous affairs, combining the essentials of the Sacrament with piety of the individual priest and his congregation. The earliest description of the Roman Mass is found in St. Justin Martyr's First Apology.2 It is a broad outline that could be "filled in" in a variety of ways. Fixing the content of the Mass and writing it down took place over several centuries. The fragile papyrus writing materials of the first few centuries, and the enormous labor required to copy a manuscript make early texts extremely scarce.
The earliest existing western Mass text is thought by modern scholars to be the work of Hippolytus, the third century antipope.3 As one might expect, the Mass was in Greek, the international language of the time; necessary considering the missionary nature of the Church at Rome and the cosmopolitan makeup of the City's population It is possible, though, that the text is Egyptian in origin, or even the work of a later forger. If it is genuine, Hippolytus' text recounts the Mass as he knew it, and not an instruction as to how Mass ought to be celebrated. More in the simple style of the Apostles, it does not reflect the formal rhetoric and organization of Latin oratory found in later texts.
The Latin rites of Mass developed in the lands belonging to the old Western Empire: western Europe; including Ireland and the British Isles, Germany, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia; and the western portion of Mediterranean Africa. In Rome itself, Greek was preserved as the liturgical language until the late third or early fourth century. The earliest introduction of the Latin vernacular at Rome is attributed to the African, Pope Victor I (190-202). By the fourth century, the Roman Mass was entirely in Latin with the familiar exceptions of the Kyrie eleison, and the Agios o Theos of Good Friday. Latin probably came earlier in cities where Greek scholarship was less important. Even in recent times, in a few locations the Roman Mass is celebrated in other languages; notably Old Slavonic.
For most of the first millennium the Western Rites consisted of two major liturgical families, the Roman-African and the Gallican. We use the word "families," because there was no liturgical standardization; only a grouping of similar rites. Lack of documentation and a great deal of interaction makes the origins of both families obscure. There are honest differences of opinion among scholars, for much of liturgical history is conjectural, based on analyses of partial information conducted centuries after the fact. But a few things are clear. Both had connections to the East, which was, of course, quite natural since Christianity began in Israel and St. Peter came to Rome from Jerusalem via Antioch in Syria. Peter, in turn, sent St. Mark to establish the Patriarchate of Alexandria. It is natural that these important Sees would influence each other's customs.
For the moment, we will put aside the Roman-African family which developed in continental southern Italy (excluding Sicily and much of Calabria), and Northwestern Africa. It is, of course, the family to which our modern Roman Rite belongs, but which was less significant -- or, at least, less far-flung in the early evangelization of western Europe. The other family of the Latin rites, is often called "Gallican," and some of the its rites survive in our century (albeit with Roman modifications).
The Gallican family developed in the Imperial city of Milan, and in the territories on the other side of the Alps. It had several family members:
Milan (a.k.a. Ambrosian), a city controlled by the Eastern Emperors for several centuries, and often thought of as the point of entry for Eastern liturgical practices. Rather early on, Milan adopted the Roman Canon, but otherwise maintained Gallican forms. St. Ambrose (or, some say, a "pseudo-Ambrose") left a record of the Milanese liturgy before its Romanization.4
Toledo (a.k.a. Mozarabic), an influential Spanish city -- one whose influence might have been considerable if not for the infidel invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. LINK: Text of The Mozarabic Mass
Gallic (or "Gaulic"), the territory known today as France. Gaul provided St. Patrick with Holy Orders and its rite of Mass, in turn bringing Catholicism to the northern regions of Europe.
Celtic, the territory of the Irish (evangelized by St. Patrick from Gaul), Iona, Scotland and England, and the territories evangelized by the monasteries of St. Columbanus in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and northern France and Italy.
One theory, believed by the practitioners of the Celtic version of the Gallican rite, was that they followed the form of worship instituted by St. John the Apostle at Ephesus. This would be consistent with known patterns of travel and trade in subapostolic times. We know that Saint Polycarp of Smyrna -- a stone's throw from Saint John's home in Ephesus -- was instrumental in establishing the mission of Saint Pothinus at Lyons, and that Polycarp's disciple Saint Irenaeus succeeded as bishop on Pothinus' martyrdom, and that Irenaeus went to Rome to argue against Pope Victor's prohibition of the Eastern method for calculating Easter. The sites of early Christian settlements are generally up river from Lyons.5
An alternative theory is that the Gallican rites were the product of Imperial influence in the person of the Cappadocian bishop Auxentius, who served as Archbishop of Milan (355-374). Augustine, baptized by St. Ambrose at Milan, testifies to the Eastern origins of the rite.6 Any theory must recognize that the rites of Christendom borrowed from one another and from their shared heritage of Jerusalem. In an era of poor communication, the major cities of the Empire and the Church were "head and shoulders" above the rest.
While there was no standardization of rites in the Gallican family, the following plan of the Mass is thought to be typical:7
Preparation of bread and wine at credence.
Mass of the Catechumens
Mass of the Faithful
While Rome made no effort to stifle "competing" liturgical practices, the Gallican family of liturgies was reduced in scope by at least two quirks of history, both involving the Holy See:
Looking for the doctrinal purity of Rome as an antidote to the Arianism that was so common in his "barbarian" lands of northeastern Europe, the Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) obtained a copy of a Roman Sacramentary from Pope Adrian I (772-795). A "sacramentary," particularly at the time of Charlemagne, was (is) much less complete than a modern "missal." It may have contained nothing more than the Order of Mass, without the specific texts to be recited on the various days of the year. The Sacramentary of Adrian, often called the Gregorian Sacramentary, was blended with an earlier work, the Gelasian Sacramentary, and the Gallican texts by Alcuin, the English liturgical advisor to the Emperor. With the authority of Charlemagne, the rite of Rome displaced many of the major strongholds of the Gallican family in the Empire. It should be noted that, in return, the Gallican rite of the Empire had strong influence on the rite of Rome.
In 596, Pope St. Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize the English. Augustine's efforts were immediately productive. Queen Bertha was already a Catholic (albeit of a Gallican rite), and King Ethelbert soon received Baptism and brought thousands of his people to Roman rite Christianity. The problem of two rites in England became apparent almost immediately: While the King and his court were observing the Roman Easter, the Queen and her attendants were still observing Gallican Lent; among other things the two rites observed different calendars.
In the early Church discussions of the "proper" date for observing Easter were quite heated, often bringing charges of heresy leveled by both sides against the other. Conflict over the Easter observance, as well as a few lesser customs, brought about the Synod of Whitby in 466. If not the end, Whitby marked the beginning of the end for the Gallican rite in the British Isles. The "liturgy of Saint John" slowly and gracefully yielded to the "rite of Saint Peter."
Quite apart from the influence of Rome, the Gallican rite suffered a severe setback in what is today called Spain. The Spanish kingdoms spent roughly 800 years under Moslem domination, ending only in 1492. The "reconquista" found very little left of the indigenous Gallican Catholicism, a vacuum that was rapidly filled by the Roman rite.
At least in some form, Milan and Toledo preserved their Gallican rites until this century. Alexander VI in 1495, and Pope Julius II (1503-1513) approved the continued use of these rites in a few locations. Both rites have been influenced by Roman customs, but are preserved in the corresponding cathedrals. Some ceremonies of the Toledano rites are also used in Spanish speaking countries. In the Philippines, for example, the wedding ceremony follows that rite, exchanging two rings and a token dowry of blessed coins called "arrhae."8 Pius XI, the great Milanese Pope, was ordained to the priesthood in Rome but with the ceremonies of the Ambrosian rite.9
The "pure Roman elements" of the Roman rite Mass are summarized by Adrian Fortescue:10
To these "pure Roman" items are added, earlier in some places and later in others, some from the East, some from the Gallican rites:11
Prayers at the foot of the altar (16th century - previously
While they were composed at an earlier time, Gregory the Great (590-604) appears to have rearranged the order of the prayers in the Roman Canon, fixing them in the form currently in use. Apart from the Canon, some ceremonies were borrowed from the Greek and Gallican Masses. Rubrical developments like the elevation of the Host (and later the Chalice) and the distribution of Holy Communion under the single form of bread came about the twelfth century for pastoral and practical reasons. Likewise, the twelfth century saw the end of the public reading of the list of the dead at the beginning of the Momento of the dead.12
The introduction of the various ceremonies now found in the Roman Mass took place over a number of centuries and was rarely uniform through Western Christendom. Only with the rise of Protestantism did the Church perceive a need for liturgical standardization. A critical edition of the Roman Missal became mandatory throughout the West only with the Bull Quo Primum issued by Pope Saint Pius V in 1570. A standardized Breviary had appeared shortly before in 1568. Even then, the truly venerable non-Roman liturgies of the West were permitted wherever their adherents desired to retain them. Feasts proper to a certain religious order, diocese, or region continued to be permitted. The Bull authorized all Western priests to use the Roman Missal, without fear of ever having to relinquish it for some other rite.
The new Missal did not introduce a new rite. Its compilation was a reform, and consisted in the codification of the traditional rubrics, in correction of the texts, and in securing agreement between the Missal and the newly reformed Roman Breviary (approved in 1568). It definitely fixed the text of the Ordinary -- introducing officially into it the preparatory prayers, the Offertory prayers, the prayers preceding and following Communion, the Blessing and the Gospel of St. John -- and greatly reduced the number of Sequences, of Prefaces, and of proper Communicantes and Hanc igitur.
The Latin text the Pianine Missal is the Itala Vetus [The Old Latin version (dating from the second century), in use before the Vulgate was made] for the sung texts of the proper (i.e. Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion verses); the Vulgate [The version of the New Testament Published by Saint Jerome about 382 -- a revision of the old Latin versions] for the readings (lesson, Epistle, Gospel.13
Minor revisions of the 1570 Tridentine Missal followed occasionally, sometimes to restore the texts of the Tridentine Missal, to add new feasts, to clarify the rubrics, to add new prefaces, and new Commons of the Saints.
The first controversial revision of the Tridentine Missal came in 1955 with Pope Pius XII's revised rite of Holy Week, which restored the ceremonies of Holy Week to their proper times of the day, but at the cost of rather severe editing. Perhaps as an omen of things to come, it detached the account of the Last Supper from that of the Crucifixion in the reading of the synoptic Passion Gospels. Pope Pius also allowed some simplifications to be made in the rubrics, while making some of the collects "optional" (i.e. never said).
Pope John XXIII incorporated his predecessor's changes into the 1960 revision of the Missal, along with the elimination of the Confiteor before the communion of the people, a seemingly minor act but one which started to blur the distinction between the sacrificing priest and those who happened to receive at his Mass. Likewise, the distinction between the Mass and ceremonies that preceded or followed It was blurred by removing the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar or the Last Gospel on such occasions.
Pope John's 1962 revision contained a few new prefaces and inserted the name of St. Joseph into the Canon. While local saints were sometimes added to the Canon, and rubrical details had been added or subtracted a few times over the centuries, this was the first change of verbiage for the entire Western Rite in the roughly 1,350 years since Gregory the Great.14 While no Catholic could possibly begrudge this honor of St. Joseph, at least in retrospect it seems to many as a "testing of the waters" to see how much resistance to change would come from the clergy and people.
Before the Council of Trent there was considerable variation in what was essentially the Roman Mass as it was celebrated in the various cities of Europe, and by the religious orders. The Roman Canon was common to any of the "uses" that can be called Roman. (The word "use" is employed to denote a slight variation within the parent rite.) The variations within the Canon were restricted to the seasonal ones which we know today, the naming of the pope and the bishop (and sometimes the king, the emperor, or local saints), and the rubrics.
Cities and orders that had their origins in France, Germany, and the low countries tended to hold on to some of their Gallican heritage. When exported to the Holy Land via the crusades, these Gallish variants of the Roman rite produced the rite of the Holy Sepulcher, a use that had the advantage of celebrating many of the events of the liturgical year in the locations where they actually took place. The Carmelites and some of the military orders retained this rite of Latin Jerusalem when taking up residence in Europe.
Variations in the Calendar were at least as common as they are today. The cities all had their own patronal feasts, feasts of relics held within the diocese, and the usual spread of Marian feasts. The calendar of saints for a religious order characteristically paid great attention to the saints of the order and perhaps even to those who were merely beatified. The Roman scheme for vestment colors was not followed everywhere.
The ceremonies at the beginning and end of Mass varied considerably more than the Canon. At the beginning of Mass the preparatory psalm might be recited privately before Mass, or at the foot of the altar, the Confiteor varied considerably -- even in modern times being considered a good place to commemorate the founder's name(s), and the Offertory ceremonies varied widely. Toward the end of Mass, the kiss of peace and to whom it was given, the method of receiving Holy Communion, the blessing, and the Last Gospel, were all subjects of local variation. Even in the Roman rite requiem Mass the variations are largely in these areas.
The mandatory use of the Missal of Pope St. Pius V allowed an exception for churches and orders that had been using their own particular liturgy continuously for two hundred years or more. As might be expected, Milan, Toledo, and Lyons took advantage of this right. A few of the religious orders, including Pope St. Pius' own Dominican Order, did likewise. Of the Cistercians, Premonstratensians, Carmelites, Carthusians, and Dominicans, the last two preserved their rites into this century. The others have adopted the Roman rite more or less completely, but with calendars and rubrics of their own.
Of the religious order rites that continued after Trent, the Dominican use had by far the greatest influence on the Church.15 It was, after all, the rite of active friars - men and women who preached and taught school and tended the sick -- not confined to a few monasteries. Strongly influenced by the Gallican elements of the rite of Paris it is a good example of a western medieval rite that survived into the twentieth century. Like all rites aligned with medieval Rome, its differences in the ordinary are in the preparatory, Communion, and concluding prayers. We assume that the reader is familiar with the Roman Mass, and print only the differences:
The servers may carry candles, which are lit for the preparatory prayers, the Gospel, and after the ablutions. The priest and servers genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament when they approach and leave the altar. During the Mass they bow instead of genuflecting. At low Mass, the servers immediately bring the priest water and wine to prepare the chalice in the Gallican fashion.
[Server:] Please Bless.
[Priest:] + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Then the priest composes himself to offer the Holy Sacrifice and says the following prayer privately at the center of the altar:
[P] Precede our actions with Thine inspiration, we pray Thee, O Lord, and follow them with Thine assistance, that every prayer and work of ours may begin from Thee, and, through Thee, being begun, may be finished. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
He descends the altar steps and begins:
[P] + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
[P] Praise the Lord, for He is good.
[S] For His mercy endures forever.
Bowing, he begins the Confiteor:
[P] I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Dominic, our Father, and to all the saints and to you brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, deed, and omission, through my fault. I beseech you to pray for me.
[S] May almighty God have mercy on thee, and forgive thee all thy sins, and free thee from every evil, may He save and confirm thee in every good work, and bring thee to everlasting life.
[P] Amen. The server then says the Confiteor, and the priest responds with the Misereatur as above, the Server answers: [S] Amen [P] May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant you absolution, and remission of all your sins. [S] Amen
[P] Our help is in the name of the Lord.
[S] Who made heaven and earth.
The priest ascends the altar, signs it with his thumb and kisses it after saying:
[P] Take away from us, O Lord, our iniquities, that we may deserve to approach the holy of holies with pure hearts, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Mass continues, almost identical with the Roman Mass until the Offertory.
Gloria (begun at center, concluded at the book).
Epistle, Chants, Gospel with no response at end.
Credo (begun at center, concluded at the book).
After reading the Offertory psalm, the priest takes the chalice and paten in his hands, offering both together, saying:
[P] What shall I repay the Lord for all that He has done for me? I will take the chalice of salvation and call upon the Lord.
[P] Receive holy Trinity this oblation, which I offer Thee in memory of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ: and grant that it may ascend before Thy sight, pleasing; and obtain eternal salvation for me and for all the faithful.
As the priest washes his hands he recites three verses of Psalm xxv:
[P] I will wash my hands among the innocent and walk round Thine altar, O Lord. That I may hear the voice of praise, and tell of all Thy wondrous works. Lord, I love the beauty of Thine house, and the place where Thy glory dwells.
Bowing profoundly before the altar he says:
[P] In a humble spirit and with a contrite heart may we be received by Thee O Lord; and may our sacrifice be so performed that it may be received by Thee today and my be pleasing to Thee, O Lord God.
Turning to the people he says, getting no response:
[P] Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may both alike be acceptable in the sight of the Lord.
He does not complete the circle, but turning back to the altar says:
[P] O Lord hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto Thee. Let us pray.
The priest reads the Secrets. The dialogue before the Preface, the Preface, Sanctus, and Canon are identical in wording with those of the Roman rite; there are minor rubrical differences.
Lord's prayer and embolism.
Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum
Agnus Dei (priest does not strike the breast).
[P] May this holy conmixture of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ be to me and to all who receive it health of mind and body, and a saving preparation for gaining and keeping life eternal. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Communion prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God...." (The first and third prayers of the Roman Mass are not said, nor is "Domine non sum dignus - Lord I am not worthy.") A single prayer precedes the priest's reception of the Host and Chalice:
[P] May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve me unto life everlasting. Amen.
If there are communicants, the server recites the Confiteor as above, and answers "Amen" to the absolutions given by the priest. "Domine non sum dignus" as in the Roman Mass.
The formula for each communicant is:
[P] May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thee unto life everlasting. Amen.
There is only one prayer (at the second ablution):
[P] What our mouths have received may we keep with purity of heart, so that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ may be for us an everlasting remedy. Amen.
Communion, Postcommunion, Placeat.
[P] May the blessing of Almighty God the Father +, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, descend upon you and remain forever. Amen.
Last Gospel, Leonine prayers as at Rome.
In the mid-1960s, under Pope Paul VI, Catholics received versions of the 1962 Missal containing a far greater amount of translated material than the Second Vatican Council had authorized.16 To say that the English translations were "pedestrian" is to unduly honor the translators. The Council's directives on the promotion of Latin among the laity and the primacy of Gregorian chant were completely ignored. Such massive revisions could have been justified only by appealing to the Council's accommodations for nations truly foreign to western culture. These accommodations were intended for the Orient, or maybe for parts of Africa. While in the 1960s it was false to say that Western culture and the Roman Mass were foreign to Europe and the Americas, it is certainly true now!
In the following few years the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Last Gospel, and the Leonine Prayers were removed (at the same time as a radical shortening of the Breviary), and the "Prayer of the Faithful" was foolishly restored. These often extemporaneous "bidding prayers" frequently embarrassed even their most liberal sponsors as worshippers asked their congregations to join them in prayer for all manner of dubious political and social causes.
But the final blow, the last violation of the Roman Mass, came with the introduction of vernacular "translations" of the Canon. "Mis-translations" is the appropriate word, for in virtually every European language except Greek (modern Greek is too close to biblical Greek to allow such falsifications) the form for the Consecration of the wine was altered to accommodate the Universalist heresy that the blood of Christ was poured out so that the sins of all mankind would be forgiven.
More changes would come, but by 1969 one could no longer complain of offenses against the Roman Mass, for on April 3rd 1969 Pope Paul VI, assisted by the notorious Freemason Annibale Bugnini and six Protestant ministers, introduced his Novus Ordo Missae. The Mass of the papal Curia was now a Calvinist17 form that would embarrass most Presbyterians -- a "horizontal" exaltation of man, rather than the "vertical" worship of God.
Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than the one which we have preached to you - other than that which you have received, let him be anathema! Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Am I seeking to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
--- St. Paul to the Galatians i: 8-10.
-- Pope Saint Pius V, Quo primum tempore, 1570.