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Pre-Tridentine Roman Mass and Traditions

The Lord's Last Supper and First Mass.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass page
(Pre-Tridentine Roman Missals and Traditions)

Source: New Advent
Note: Only the references to the source material have been removed from the text used on New Advent for easier reading. When a name is mentioned below, it usually referred to a scholar of the time the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia was written.

It should be noted that the name Mass (missa) applies to the Eucharistic service in the Latin rites only. Neither in Latin nor in Greek has it ever been applied to any Eastern rite. For them the corresponding word is Liturgy (liturgia). It is a mistake that leads to confusion, and a scientific inexactitude, to speak of any Eastern Liturgy as a Mass.

As stated on the main Holy Mass page the Western Mass, like all liturgies, begins, of course, with the Last Supper. What Christ then did, repeated as he commanded in memory of Him, is the nucleus of the Mass. Many scholars believe that when Christ instituted the Last Supper, he did so in Aramaic. As soon as the Faith was brought to the West the Holy Eucharist was celebrated here, as in the East. At first the language used was Greek. Out of that earliest Liturgy, the language being changed to Latin, developed the two great parent rites of the West, the Roman and the Gallican. It should be noted the question of the change of language from Greek to Latin is less important than if might seem. It came about naturally when Greek ceased to be the usual language of the Roman Christians.

Of these two the Gallican Mass may be traced without difficulty. It is so plainly Antiochene in its structure, in the very text of many of its prayers, that we are safe in accounting for it as a translated form of the Liturgy of Jerusalem-Antioch, brought to the West at about the time when the more or less fluid universal Liturgy of the first three centuries gave place to different fixed rites.

Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome, Hippolytus (d. 235), and Novatian (c. 250) all agree in the Liturgies they describe, though the evidence of the last two is scanty.

Justin gives us the fullest Liturgical description of any Father of the first three centuries (Apol. I, lxv, lxvi.). He describes how the Holy Eucharist was celebrated at Rome in the middle of the second century; his account is the necessary point of departure, one end of a chain whose intermediate links are hidden. We have hardly any knowledge at all of what developments the Roman Rite went through during the third and fourth centuries. This is the mysterious time where conjecture may, and does, run riot. By the fifth century we come back to comparatively firm ground, after a radical change. At this time we have the fragment in Pseudo-Ambrose, "De Sacramentis" (about 400. Cf. P.L., XVI, 443), and the letter of Pope Innocent I (401-17) to Decentius of Eugubium (P.L., XX, 553). In these documents we see that the Roman Liturgy is said in Latin and has already become in essence the rite we still use. A few indications of the end of the fourth century agree with this. A little later we come to the earliest Sacramentaries (Leonine, fifth or sixth century; Gelasian, sixth or seventh century) and from then the history of the Roman Mass is fairly clear. The fifth and sixth centuries therefore show us the other end of the chain. For the interval between the second and fifth centuries, during which the great change took place, although we know so little about Rome itself, we have valuable data from Africa. There is every reason to believe that in liturgical matters the Church of Africa followed Rome closely. We can supply much of what we wish to know about Rome from the African Fathers of the third century, Tertullian (d. c. 220), St. Cyprian (d. 258), the Acts of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas (203), St. Augustine (d. 430).

The question of the change of language from Greek to Latin is less important than if might seem. It came about naturally when Greek ceased to be the usual language of the Roman Christians. Pope Victor I (190-202), an African, seems to have been the first to use Latin at Rome, Novatian writes Latin. By the second half of the third century the usual liturgical language at Rome seems to have been Latin, though fragments of Greek remained for many centuries. Other writers think that Latin was not finally adopted till the end of the fourth century. No doubt, for a time both languages were used. The Creed was sometimes said in Greek, some psalms were sung in that language, the lessons on Holy Saturday were read in Greek and Latin as late as the eighth century. There are still such fragments of Greek ("Kyrie eleison", "Agios O Theos") in the Roman Mass. But a change of language does not involve a change of rite. Novatian's Latin allusions to the Eucharistic prayer agree very well with those of Clement of Rome in Greek, and with the Greek forms in Apostolic Constitutions, VIII.

NOTE: The Apostolic Constitutions were a fourth-century pseudo-Apostolic collection, in eight books, of independent, though closely related, treatises on Christian discipline, worship, and doctrine, intended to serve as a manual of guidance for the clergy, and to some extent for the laity.

The Africans, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, etc., who write Latin, describe a rite very closely related to that of Justin and the Apostolic Constitutions. The Gallican Rite, as in Germanus of Paris, shows how Eastern -- how "Greek" -- a Latin Liturgy can be. We must then conceive the change of language in the third century as a detail that did not much affect the development of the rite. No doubt the use of Latin was a factor in the Roman tendency to shorten the prayers, leave out whatever seemed redundant in formulas, and abridge the whole service. Latin is naturally terse, compared with the rhetorical abundance of Greek. This difference is one of the most obvious distinctions between the Roman and the Eastern Rites.

If we may suppose that during the first three centuries there was a common Liturgy throughout Christendom, variable, no doubt, in details, but uniform in all its main points, which common Liturgy is represented by that of the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions, we have in that the origin of the Roman Mass as of all other liturgies. There are, indeed, special reasons for supposing that this type of liturgy was used at Rome. The chief authorities for it (Clement, Justin, Hippolytus, Novatian) are all Roman. Moreover, even the present Roman Rite, in spite of later modifications, retains certain elements that resemble those of the Apost. Const. Liturgy remarkably.

Between this original Roman Rite (which we can study only in the Apost. Const.) and the Mass as it emerges in the first sacramentaries (sixth to seventh century) there is a great change. Much of this change is accounted for by the Roman tendency to shorten. The Apost, Const. has five lessons; Rome has generally only two or three. At Rome the prayers of the faithful after the expulsion of the catechumens and the Intercession at the end of the Canon have gone. Both no doubt were considered superfluous since there is a series of petitions of the same nature in the Canon. But both have left traces. We still say Oremus before the Offertory, where the prayers of the faithful once stood, and still have these prayers on Good Friday in the collects. And the "Hanc Igitur" is a fragment of the Intercession. The first great change that separates Rome from all the Eastern rites is the influence of the ecclesiastical year. The Eastern liturgies remain always the same except for the lessons, Prokeimenon (Gradual-verse), and one or two other slight modifications. On the other hand the Roman Mass is profoundly affected throughout by the season or feast on which it is said. Probst's theory was that this change was made by Pope Damasus. This idea is now abandoned. Indeed, we have the authority of Pope Vigilius (540-55) for the fact that in the sixth century the order of the Mass was still hardly affected by the calendar. The influence of the ecclesiastical year must have been gradual. The lessons were of course always varied, and a growing tendency to refer to the feast or season in the prayers, Preface, and even in the Canon, brought about the present state of things, already in full force in the Leonine Sacramentary. That Damasus was one of the popes who modified the old rite seems, however, certain. St. Gregory I (590-604) says he introduced the use of the Hebrew Alleluia from Jerusalem. It was under Damasus that the Vulgate became the official Roman version of the Bible used in the Liturgy; a constant tradition ascribes to Damasus' friend St. Jerome (d. 420) the arrangement of the Roman Lectionary. Mgr Duchesne thinks that the Canon was arranged by this pope (Origines du Culte, 168-9). A curious error of a Roman theologian of Damasus' time, who identified Melchisedech with the Holy Ghost, incidentally shows us one prayer of our Mass as existing then, namely the "Supra quæ" with its allusion to "summus sacerdos tuus Melchisedech".

The Mass from the Fifth to the Seventh Century

By about the fifth century we begin to see more clearly. Two documents of this time give us fairly large fragments of the Roman Mass. Innocent I (401-17), in his letter to Decentius of Eugubium, alludes to many features of the Mass. We notice that these important changes have already been made: the kiss of peace has been moved from the beginning of the Mass of the Faithful to after the Consecration, the Commemoration of the Living and Dead is made in the Canon, and there are no longer prayers of the faithful before the Offertory. Rietschel thinks that the Invocation of the Holy Ghost has already disappeared from the Mass. Innocent does not mention it, but we have evidence of it at a later date under Gelasius I. Rietschel (loc. cit.) also thinks that there was a dogmatic reason for these changes, to emphasize the sacrificial idea. We notice especially that in Innocent's time the Prayer of Intercession follows the Consecration. The author of the treatise "De Sacramentis" says that he will explain the Roman Use, and proceeds to quote a great part of the Canon. From this document we can reconstruct the following scheme: The Mass of the Catechumens is still distinct from that of the faithful, at least in theory. The people sing "Introibo ad altare Dei" as the celebrant and his ministers approach the altar (the Introit). Then follow lessons from Scripture, chants (Graduals), and a sermon (the Catechumens Mass). The people still make the Offertory of bread and wine. The Preface and Sanctus follow, then the prayer of Intercession and the Consecration by the words of Institution. From this point the text of the Canon is quoted. Then come the Anamnesis, joined to it the prayer of oblation, i.e. practically our "Supra quæ" prayer, and the Communion with the form: "Corpus Christi, R. Amen", during which Ps. xxii is sung. At the end the Lord's Prayer is said.

In the "De Sacramentis" then, the Intercession comes before the Consecration, whereas in Innocent's letter it came after. This transposition should be noted as one of the most important features in the development of the Mass. The "Liber Pontificalis" contains a number of statements about changes in and additions to the Mass made by various popes, as for instance that Leo I (440-61) added the words "sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam" to the prayer "Supra quæ", that Sergius I (687-701) introduced the Agnus Dei, and so on. These must be received with caution; the whole book still needs critical examination. In the case of the Agnus Dei the statement is made doubtful by the fact that it is found in the Gregorian Sacramentary (whose date, however, is again doubtful). A constant tradition ascribes some great influence on the Mass to Gelasius I (492-6). Gennadius says he composed a sacramentary; the Liber Pontificalis speaks of his liturgical work, and there must be some basis for the way in which his name is attached to the famous Gelasian Sacramentary. What exactly Gelasius did is less easy to determine.

We come now to the end of a period at the reign of St. Gregory I (590-604). Gregory knew the Mass practically as we still have it. There have been additions and changes since his time, but none to compare with the complete recasting of the Canon that took place before him. At least as far as the Canon is concerned, Gregory may be considered as having put the last touches to it. His biographer, John the Deacon, says that he "collected the Sacramentary of Gelasius in one book, leaving out much, changing little, adding something for the exposition of the Gospels" (Vita S. Greg., II, xvii). He moved the Our Father from the end of the Mass to before the Communion, as he says in his letter to John of Syracuse: "We say the Lord's Prayer immediately after the Canon [max post precem] . . . It seems to me very unsuitable that we should say the Canon which an unknown scholar composed over the oblation and that we should not say the prayer handed down by our Redeemer himself over His body and blood". He is also credited with the addition: "diesque nostros etc." to the "Hanc igitur". Benedict XIV says that "no pope has added to, or changed the Canon since St. Gregory". There has been an important change since, the partial amalgamation of the old Roman Rite with Gallican features; but this hardly affects the Canon. We may say safely that a modern Latin Catholic who could be carried back to Rome in the early seventh century would -- while missing some features to which he is accustomed -- find himself on the whole quite at home with the service he saw there.

This brings us back to the most difficult question: Why and when was the Roman Liturgy changed from what we see in Justin Martyr to that of Gregory I? The change is radical, especially as regards the most important element of the Mass, the Canon. The modifications in the earlier part, the smaller number of lessons, the omission of the prayers for and expulsion of the catechumens, of the prayers of the faithful before the Offertory and so on, may be accounted for easily as a result of the characteristic Roman tendency to shorten the service and leave out what had become superfluous.

The influence of the calendar has already been noticed. But there remains the great question of the arrangement of the Canon. That the order of the prayers that make up the Canon is a cardinal difficulty is admitted by every one. The old attempts to justify their present order by symbolic or mystic reasons have now been given up. The Roman Canon as it stands is recognized as a problem of great difficulty. It differs fundamentally from the Anaphora of any Eastern rite and from the Gallican Canon. Whereas in the Antiochene family of liturgies (including that of Gaul) the great Intercession follows the Consecration, which comes at once after the Sanctus, and in the Alexandrine class the Intercession is said during what we should call the Preface before the Sanctus, in the Roman Rite the Intercession is scattered throughout the Canon, partly before and partly after the Consecration. We may add to this the other difficulty, the omission at Rome of any kind of clear Invocation of the Holy Ghost (Epiklesis). Scholars theorize that the Roman Mass, starting from the primitive vaguer rite (practically that of the Apostolic Constitutions), at first followed the development of Jerusalem-Antioch, and was for a time very similar to the Liturgy of St. James. Then it was recast to bring if nearer to Alexandria. This change was made probably by Gelasius I under the influence of his guest, John Talaia of Alexandria.

At Rome the Eucharistic prayer was fundamentally changed and recast at some uncertain period between the fourth and the sixth and seventh centuries. During the same time the prayers of the faithful before the Offertory disappeared, the kiss of peace was transferred to after the Consecration, and the Epiklesis was omitted or mutilated into our "Supplices" prayer. Of the various theories suggested to account for this it seems reasonable to say with Rauschen: "Although the question is by no means decided, nevertheless there is so much in favor of Drew's theory that for the present it must be considered the right one. We must then admit that between the years 400 and 500 a great transformation was made in the Roman Canon".

From the Seventh Century to Modern Times

After Gregory the Great (590-604) it is comparatively easy to follow the history of the Mass in the Roman Rite. We have now as documents first the three well-known sacramentaries. The oldest, called Leonine, exists in a seventh-century manuscript. Its composition is ascribed variously to the fifth, sixth, or seventh century. It is a fragment, wanting the Canon, but, as far as it goes, represents the Mass we know (without the later Gallican additions). Many of its collects, secrets, post-communions, and prefaces are still in use. The Gelasian book was written in the sixth, seventh, or eighth century (ibid.); it is partly gallicized and was composed in the Frankish Kingdom. Here we have our Canon word for word. The third sacramentary, called Gregorian, is apparently the book sent by Pope Adrian I to Charlemagne probably between 781 and 791 (ibid.). It contains additional Masses since Gregory's time and a set of supplements gradually incorporated into the original book, giving Frankish (i.e. older Roman and Gallican) additions. Dom Suitbert Bäumer and Mr. Edmund Bishop explain the development of the Roman Rite from the ninth to the eleventh century in this way: The (pure) Roman Sacramentary sent by Adrian to Charlemagne was ordered by the king to be used alone throughout the Frankish Kingdom. But the people were attached to their old use, which was partly Roman (Gelasian) and partly Gallican. So when the Gregorian book was copied they (notably Alcuin d. 804) added to it these Frankish supplements. Gradually the supplements became incorporated into the original book. So composed it came back to Rome (through the influence of the Carlovingian emperors) and became the "use of the Roman Church". The "Missale Romanum Lateranense" of the eleventh century shows this fused rite complete as the only one in use at Rome. The Roman Mass has thus gone through this last change since Gregory the Great, a partial fusion with Gallican elements. According to Bäumer and Bishop the Gallican influence is noticeable chiefly in the variations for the course of the year. Their view is that Gregory had given the Mass more uniformity (since the time of the Leonine book), had brought it rather to the model of the unchanging Eastern liturgies. Its present variety for different days and seasons came back again with the mixed books later. Gallican influence is also seen in many dramatic and symbolic ceremonies foreign to the stern pure Roman Rite. Such ceremonies are the blessing of candles, ashes, palms, much of the Holy Week ritual, etc.

The Roman Ordines, of which twelve were published by Mabillon in his "Museum Italicum" (others since by De Rossi and Duchesne), are valuable sources that supplement the sacramentaries. They are descriptions of ceremonial without the prayers (like the "Cærimoniale Episcoporum"), and extend from the eighth to the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. The first (eighth century) and second (based on the first, with Frankish additions) are the most important. From these and the sacramentaries we can reconstruct the Mass at Rome in the eighth or ninth century. There were as yet no preparatory prayers said before the altar. The pope, attended by a great retinue of deacons, subdeacons, acolytes, and singers, entered while the Introit psalm was sung. After a prostration the Kyrie eleison was sung, as now with nine invocations; any other litany had disappeared. The Gloria followed on feasts. The pope sang the prayer of the day, two or three lessons followed, Interspersed with psalms. The prayers of the faithful had gone, leaving only the one word Oremus as a fragment. The people brought up the bread and wine while the Offertory psalm was sung; the gifts were arranged on the altar by the deacons. The Secret was said (at that time the only Offertory prayer) after the pope had washed his hands. The Preface, Sanctus, and all the Canon followed as now. A reference to the fruits of the earth led to the words "per quem hæc omnia" etc. Then came the Lord's Prayer, the Fraction with a complicated ceremony, the kiss of peace, the Agnus Dei (since Pope Sergius, 687-701), the Communion under both kinds, during which the Communion psalm was sung, the Post-Communion prayer, the dismissal, and the procession back to the sacristy (for a more detailed account see C. Atchley, "Ordo Romanus Primus", London, 1905; Duchesne, "Origines du Culte chrétien", vi).

It has been explained how this (mixed) Roman Rite gradually drove out the Gallican Use. By about the tenth or eleventh century the Roman Mass was practically the only one in use in the West. Then a few additions (none of them very important) were made to the Mass at different times. The Nicene Creed is an importation from Constantinople. It is said that in 1014 Emperor Henry II (1002-24) persuaded Pope Benedict VIII (1012-24) to add it after the Gospel (Berno of Reichenau, "De quibusdam rebus ad Missæ offic, pertin.", ii), It had already been adopted in Spain, Gaul, and Germany. All the present ritual and the prayers said by the celebrant at the Offertory were introduced from France about the thirteenth century; before that the secrets were the only Offertory prayers. There was considerable variety as to these prayers throughout the Middle Ages until the revised Missal of Pius V (1570). The incensing of persons and things is again due to Gallican influence; It was not adopted at Rome till the eleventh or twelfth century. Before that time incense was burned only during processions. The three prayers said by the celebrant before his communion are private devotions introduced gradually into the official text. Durandus mentions the first (for peace); the Sarum Rite had instead another prayer addressed to God the Father. Micrologus mentions only the second, but says that many other private prayers were said at this place (xviii). Here too there was great diversity through the Middle Ages till Pius V's Missal. The latest additions to the Mass are its present beginning and end. The psalm "Iudica me", the Confession, and the other prayers said at the foot of the altar, are all part of the celebrant's preparation, once said (with many other psalms and prayers) in the sacristy, as the "Præparatio ad Missam" in the Missal now is. There was great diversity as to this preparation till Pius V established our modern rule of saying so much only before the altar. In the same way all that follows the "Ite missa est" is an afterthought, part of the thanksgiving, not formally admitted till Pius V.

We have thus accounted for all the elements of the Mass. The next stage of its development is the growth of numerous local varieties of the Roman Mass in the Middle Ages. These medieval rites are simply exuberant local modifications of the old Roman rite. The same applies to the particular uses of various religious orders (Carthusians, Dominicans, Carmelites etc.). None of these deserves to be called even a derived rite; their changes are only ornate additions and amplifications; though certain special points, such as the Dominican preparation of the offering before the Mass begins, represent more Gallican influence. The Milanese and Mozarabic liturgies stand on quite a different footing; they are the descendants of a really different rite -- the original Gallican -- though they too have been considerably Romanized.

Meanwhile the Mass was developing in other ways also. During the first centuries it had been a common custom for a number of priests to concelebrate; standing around their bishop, they joined in his prayers and consecrated the oblation with him. This is still common in the Eastern rites. In the West it had become rare by the thirteenth century. St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) discusses the question, "Whether several priests can consecrate one and the same host" (Summa Theol., III, Q. lxxxii, a. 2). He answers of course that they can, but quotes as an example only the case of ordination. In this case only has the practice been preserved. At the ordination of priests and bishops all the ordained concelebrate with the ordainer. In other cases concelebration was in the early Middle Ages replaced by separate private celebrations. No doubt the custom of offering each Mass for a special intention helped to bring about this change. The separate celebrations then involved the building of many altars in one church and the reduction of the ritual to the simplest possible form. The deacon and subdeacon were in this case dispensed with; the celebrant took their part as well as his own. One server took the part of the choir and of all the other ministers, everything was said instead of being sung, the incense and kiss of peace were omitted. So we have the well-known rite of low Mass (missa privata). This then reacted on high Mass (missa solemnis), so that at high Mass too the celebrant himself recites everything, even though it be also sung by the deacon, subdeacon, or choir.

The custom of the intention of the Mass further led to Mass being said every day by each priest. But this has by no means been uniformly carried out. On the one hand, we hear of an abuse of the same priest saying Mass several times in the day, which medieval councils constantly forbid. Again, many most pious priests did not celebrate daily. Bossuet (d. 1704), for instance, said Mass only on Sundays, Feasts, every day in Lent, and at other times when a special ferial Mass is provided in the Missal. There is still no obligation for a priest to celebrate daily, though the custom is now very common. The Council of Trent desired that priests should celebrate at least on Sundays and solemn feasts (Sess. XXIII, cap. xiv). Celebration with no assistants at all (missa solitaria) has continually been forbidden, as by the Synod of Mainz in 813. Another abuse was the missa bifaciata or trifaciata, in which the celebrant said the first part, from the Introit to the Preface, several times over and then joined to all one Canon, in order to satisfy several intentions. This too was forbidden by medieval councils (Durandus, "Rationale", IV, i, 22). The missa sicca (dry Mass) was a common form of devotion used for funerals or marriages in the afternoon, when a real Mass could not be said. It consisted of all the Mass except the Offertory, Consecration and Communion (Durandus, ibid., 23). The missa nautica and missa venatoria, said at sea in rough weather and for hunters in a hurry, were kinds of dry Masses. In some monasteries each priest was obliged to say a dry Mass after the real (conventual) Mass. Cardinal Bona (Rerum liturg. libr. duo, I, xv) argues against the practice of saying dry Masses. Since the reform of Pius V it has gradually disappeared. The Mass of the Presanctified is a very old custom described by the Quinisext Council (Second Trullan Synod, 692). It is a Service (not really a Mass at all) of Communion from an oblation consecrated at a previous Mass and reserved. It is used in the Byzantine Church on the week-days of Lent (except Saturdays); in the Roman Rite only on Good Friday.

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