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Liturgical Books of the Old Roman Catholic Church

    Question: What did the priest mean when he spoke of "the liturgical books"? Which books are "liturgical"? (DPF, Surinam)

    Answer:  Translated more or less literally, the word "liturgy" refers to the "work of God." This work is, of course, the work of prayer and sacramental sanctification. The "liturgical books" are simply those used by the Church in worshipping God. The more important liturgical books are reviewed below:

    Missale Romanum -- The Roman Missal In the early Church, most celebrations of the Mass were offered in the midst of a congregation that would sing the parts proper to them. The earliest liturgical books were, therefore, specific to the person who would be using them. Printing did not exist, and copying was expensive and laborious. The priest had a book containing the parts proper to his office, called a "sacramentary"; the deacon and subdeacon had one or two more containing the Epistle and Gospel, a "lectionary" or, perhaps a separate "epistolary" and "evangelary" (gospel book); the singers had another containing the music that distinguished one Mass from another, an "antiphonar" or "gradual." The calendar of what feast days were to be observed, and the "ordo," explaining how these feasts were to be observed, might have constituted an additional book.

    In the Western Church, prior to the Council of Trent (1544- 1563), there was relatively little liturgical standardization. The Canon of the Mass, edited by Pope St. Gregory the Great (540- 604), and in use with relatively little modification ever since, formed the core of most Latin Rite sacramentaries. Yet, most dioceses and religious orders enshrined the Canon within their own particular variation of the Mass.

    In the era of flourishing spirituality that we call the "middle ages," the Church had adequate time and freedom to evaluate Its practices. With reflection, priests came to appreciate the infinite value of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which they could renew on a daily basis. With Holy Mass being offered more regularly, and often without the benefit of singers and a large congregation, the recited Mass came into vogue. The priest would simply read the parts assigned to him and his lesser ministers, while the server or the congregation would respond with the less difficult parts assigned to the choir. This emphasis on multiple daily Masses offered by a small number of people brought about the development of what we know as the"missal."

    The first missals were simply sacramentaries to which had been added appendices containing the readings and chants that the priest would have to supply. Over the years the missal became a more integrated volume, presenting all of the texts for each feast on the same page in their proper order. Where true missals were produced, they were, at first, the work of diocesan bishops and superiors of religious orders attempting to achieve a measure of uniformity.

    In trying to address the doctrinal confusion brought about by the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent determined that a standard missal, breviary (more below), and catechism was needed for the Western Church. The Mass offered at Rome since the time of Saint Gregory the Great was standardized (with fixed preparatory, offertory, and Communion prayers; blessing and last Gospel), simplified (by eliminating many of the poetic sequences and proper prefaces), the traditional rubrics were reduced to writing, and the calendar brought into line with the new breviary. The revised missal was issued by the Holy See and promulgated by Pope Saint Pius V on 14 July 1570 with the bull Quo primum tempore.  It became obligatory for all Western Rite churches and orders not having a rite of their own for at least two centuries at that time. Since 1570, minor revisions of the Roman Missal have occurred periodically, introducing new feasts and Mass texts, and refining the rubrics.

    The introduction to the Missal contains copies of the papal bulls authorizing it, a section on the calendar and the rubrics of the Mass, the defects that may occur in a particular Mass and how they are to be remedied, and the prayers of preparation and thanksgiving for Mass. The body of the Missal includes the "proper of time," those Masses which are placed in the calendar in relationship to Christmas and Easter; the ordinary of the Mass and the Canon; the "proper of saints," those feasts which fall on fixed days in the civil calendar; the "common of saints," the texts to be used for saints' feasts that have no proper Mass; "votive" masses and prayers which may be offered according to the day of the week (e.g. Saint Joseph on Wednesday) or for some pressing necessity (e.g. for peace); and Masses and prayers for the dead. An appendix often contains prayers connected with the Mass and excerpts from the Pontifical; Masses proper to a particular nation; and some additional Gregorian chant notations for the parts of the Mass sung by the priest.

    Breviarum Romanum -- The Roman Breviary Apart from the Mass, the official public prayer of the Church is offered in the Divine Office. The Office, in turn, has its roots in the Psalms chanted by the earliest monks in deserts and monasteries. The modern Office contains hymns, prayers, and readings for the various days of the liturgical year. Over the centuries, the various books containing these elements were combined in what is called the Breviary. Like the Missal, there was a great deal of variation in the Breviary until its standardization following the Council of Trent. In 1568, the Breviary of Pope Saint Pius V was imposed on those not having one then at least two hundred years old. The Pian Breviary has been revised several time to include new feasts, to refine the arrangement of the Psalter, and to include the 1945 re- translation of the Psalms.

    The Office is divided into eight "hours" which are distributed throughout the day: Matins during the night, Lauds at dawn, Prime at 6 AM, Terce at 9, Sext at noon, None at 3 PM, Vespers at sunset, and Compline at bed time. Apart from the monastic environment or cathedral chapter, the exact times are not critical, and Matins may be prayed during the previous afternoon or evening. The recitation of the Office is of obligation for the clergy in major Orders, and for those religious committed to it by the rule of their order. Each of the hours consists of a few Psalms, a hymn, a short scripture reading, and the collect of the day. Matins contains some longer readings and ends with the Ambrosian hymn, "Te Deum." Lauds always contains the canticle of Zachary, "Benedictus," and Vespers always includes the "Magnificat," or canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    In order to make it of manageable size, the Breviary is normally printed in three or four volumes, corresponding to the liturgical or solar seasons. Like the Missal, it contains a section for calendar and rubrics, a "proper of time," "proper of saints," and "common of saints." There is an "ordinary" which details the basic organization of each hour. The core of the Breviary is the "Psalter," which contains the 150 Psalms, organized by the "hours" of the day in such a way that they will be recited during the course of the week.

    Rituale Romanum -- The Roman Ritual The Roman Ritual contains the rites and rubrics for the Sacraments that can be administered by a simple priest, the rites associated with death and burial, processions, exorcisms, several hymns, creeds, and litanies, and blessings for all sorts of things. In addition to dealing with the higher things, the Ritual brings God's influence into normal life with its blessings for beer, bread, fruit, seeds, cheese, wine, railroads, typewriters, ambulances, cattle, cars, telegraph stations, and flying machines.

    The Roman Ritual was promulgated by Pope Paul V with the Apostolic Constitution "Apostolicae Sedi" on 17 June 1614. It has been revised periodically to provide for new developments in human life (like the aforementioned typewriters and flying machines).

    Pontificale Romanum -- The Roman Pontifical The Sacraments and ceremonies proper to bishops are detailed in the Roman Pontifical. These include Confirmation, Tonsure, Holy Orders; the blessing of Abbots and Abbesses, and the Consecration of Virgins; the blessing of cornerstones, the consecration of churches, altars, chalices, and patens; the blessing of bells, crucifixes, knightly armor, and banners of war; the expulsion and the reception of penitents and converts and apostates, the degradation of wayward clergy; and the coronation of kings, queens, and emperors. There is even a section for the "Itineration of Prelates," which requires a horse for the prelate to be "itinerated" upon -- _not_ coming soon to your parish church.

    The modern Pontifical comes to us largely through the efforts of Pope Benedict XIV, who also formulated the regulations for the canonization of saints, and who contributed greatly to the Church's procedures for the discernment of spirits. In his Apostolic Letter, "Quam ardenti," (25 March 1752) Pope Benedict cites the efforts of his predecessors, Popes Paul V, Clement VIII, Innocent X, and Benedict XIII.

    Other Liturgical Books At least three other liturgical books are worthy of mention:

    The Ceremonial of Bishops goes back to 1600 and Pope Clement VIII. It deals with the ceremonies that are to be carried out in cathedrals and other major churches of the diocese. It serves as a guide for knowing the mind of the Church in interpreting the rubrics of the Mass and the Office. 

    Memoriale Rituum is a guide to the observance of Holy Week in smaller churches where the full magnificence of the liturgy cannot be observed. It owes its authorship to Pope Benedict XIII, while bishop of Benevento. As Pope, he later prescribed it for Rome in 1725. Pope Saint Pius X declared it an official liturgical book in 1911.

    The Clementine Instruction is based on the work of Saint Charles Boromeo in establishing the Forty Hours devotion. The saint's work was confirmed by Pope Clement IX in 1705. It is the standard of instruction for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the Western Church.



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