THE MASS OF THE WESTERN RITE
By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol
Abbot of Farnborough Abbey
I. THE DIFFERENT NAMES OF THE MASS AND THE WORD "Missa" IN PARTICULAR
THE word "Missa" has given rise to numerous dissertations mentioned in the
Bibliography, and to long philological discussions. The reason for this is
that the term was evolved before it was used to design the Mass. It would
seem that the following are the chief stages through which it has passed.
One of the clearest texts is that of St. Avitus, Bishop of Vienne (d. 518).
Gondebaud asks him the meaning of the word "Missa," he replies that "Missam
facere" means "dimittere," or dismiss, and that the expression was used by
Romans in audiences at the palace and in sessions of the tribunal to denote
that the sitting was over. The phrase was even used by them to denote
end of their sacrifices and religious offices.
The custom of giving a signal to show that an Office is ended is natural
enough, and indeed necessary in a numerous assembly. The Christians no
doubt accepted it, and Tertullian already speaks of a "Dismissio
St. Ambrose also uses the term "Missa" in this sense (Eph. xx. 4); and I
know not why it should be contested, for it appears quite clear (cf. Lejay,
article mentioned in Bibliography). St. Augustine uses the word "Missa" in
the sense of "Missio," "Dismissio" (dismissal), at the close of the Office.
From this Mgr. Batiffol justly concludes that the "Ite, Missa est," which
has the same meaning, dates from the same period. The same sense is given
to the expression in the "Peregrinatio Etheriae," in the Rule of Aurelian,
in Cassian, in St. Benedict. It is the end, not only of the Mass but of
every Office. For already in the latter writers, especially in Cassian, the
word has taken on this extended meaning and designs every Office, "Missa
Canonica," a canonical Office, and "Secunda Missa," the evening Office.
In the sixth century we have texts in which "Missa" means Mass. Thus in
Antoninus of Placentia, about 575 --"Missas faciebant"--they said Mass. The
same meaning is given in contemporary authors of that age, Gregory of
Tours, St. Gregory the Great, and Caesarius of Arles.
But why "Missa" instead of "Missio"? It is not a past participle of
"mittere," for it cannot be explained in that sense. "Missa" has been made
out of "Missio," just as "Collecta" has been made out of "Collectio;" there
are many examples of this practice, especially in the liturgy. "Missa" is
thus simply a popular expression which, taking the part for the whole, has
ended by designating the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Some authors, finding this
etymology rather below the dignity of this function, have sought a higher
origin and meaning in a Hebrew word which signifies Mission or Message. It
is the message of earth to Heaven; of man to God. This is the meaning which
Amalarius gives it in the ninth century. But we are not in the realm of
In the terminology of the Gallican and Mozarabic liturgies in the seventh
century, "Missa" also means a prayer. The "Praefatio Missae" is the prelude
of a prayer. The second Council of Milevia had already said: "Missae, vel
orationes Missae." "Missa secreta"=words of Consecration.
For those whom this meaning of "Missa" does not satisfy there is no lack of
synonyms with a much loftier signification.
"Eucharistia" or "Eulogia."--These two terms, the first of which means
thanksgiving, the second, blessing, were once of equal value, and were used
indifferently to design the Eucharist. Thus, in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus
"blessed the bread" and gave thanks." This, of all blessings the most
efficacious, was doubtless made by the laying on of hands, or, if we like
to follow certain other interpreters, by a sign of the Cross, which
prophetically signified the Bloody Sacrifice of the following day. This is
one of the essential elements of the Consecration: the Priest at Mass
blesses and consecrates the bread and wine by a sign of the Cross.
But the term "Eulogy," blessing, early fell into disuse, and merely meant
the bread or other objects blessed at Mass at the same time as the bread
and wine. The other term, "Eucharist," has lived longer. In the Gospel the
"Gratias agens," giving thanks, is heavy with meaning. Every time He
blessed bread (as in the multiplication of the loaves) Our Lord gave
thanks. The prayer over the bread before taking a meal is a Traditional Latin Mass Parish
Jewish custom. This people had felt the necessity of thanking God for His
benefits more strongly than any other ancient race. In the books of the Old
Testament, especially in the Psalms, this duty of gratitude to God is
expressed. The first duty of the creature is to thank God who has given to
the earth wheat and the vine, fruits, and all things which contribute to
the nourishment of mankind. But the blessing of blessings henceforth is the
very bread and wine which Jesus Christ has transformed by His blessing into
His Body and Blood. The most ancient "anaphora," especially that of the
"Apostolic Constitutions," reminds us that the Eucharist is the great
Sacrifice, and the most efficacious means in man's possession to "render
thanks to God."
The "Supper" ("Coena," repast, supper), and more especially the Last
Supper, is a term which we need hardly explain. It was at this Last Supper,
taken with His Apostles on the evening of Holy Thursday, that Our Lord
instituted the Eucharist (cf. Chap. I). But since the sixteenth century,
as Protestants have used the words "Last Supper" in a narrow sense,
excluding all relation with the Sacrifice of the Cross, they have almost
dropped out of Catholic language. However, the Church has retained a lively
remembrance of the Last Supper, and during Holy Week, Holy Thursday, the
anniversary of this great event, is marked in the liturgical year by
exceptional solemnity. The prayers of the Canon, "Communicantes," "Hanc
igitur," recall the "Diem sacratissimum quo Dominus noster Jesus Christus
pro nobis est traditus," the "Diem in qua Dominus noster Jesus Christus
tradidit discipulis suis Corporis et Sanguinis sui mysteria celebranda."
The "Qui pridie" itself contains this curious variant: "Qui pridie quam pro
nostra omniumque salute pateretur, hoc est hodie, accepit panem," etc. The
Priest consecrates two Hosts, one of which is reserved for the next day's
Mass; this is carried processionally into a chapel, where It is exposed for
the adoration of the faithful during the day and all that night, and on
Good Friday, the day following, is brought back to the high altar with the
same ceremonies, and is consumed at the Mass of the Presanctified. This is
the only day in the whole year on which this Mass is celebrated in the
The term "Sacrifice," "Holy Sacrifice," is also used; the Mass being for
Christians the only Sacrifice, as we have explained (Chap. IV). It is that
which has replaced all others; where Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
renews the Sacrifice of the Cross, and offers Himself to God the Father for
the salvation of all.
The Mass is also often called "The Sacrament," or "Sacraments," especially
by the Fathers and in the liturgy, because it is at the same time Sacrifice
and Sacrament, the chief of all, since it is the Sacrament of the Body and
Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, source of all Sacraments. We often find in
prayers the words: "Sacramenta quae sumpsimus," or analogous expressions.
The Oblation, Offering ("Offerre"), is also a very ancient term used at
Rome, in Africa, and elsewhere, the Mass being the greatest of all
Offerings, the Sacrifice of sacrifices. The Church offers it by her
Pontiff; and we have seen with what insistence she urges the faithful to
unite their offering with that of the Priest.
The words "Fractio Panis" have been explained in another place (cf. Chap.
"Liturgy."--In the East this word is used specially to design the service
of the Mass. Primitively it had a much more extended sense; it was a
general public function, more especially a religious service. In Christian
language it designates all religious services, though in the East it is
confined to the Mass.
Other terms are less popular, yet they express some aspect of the
Eucharist. Mgr. Batiffol explains very well the meaning of the word
"Dominicum" ("convivium"), used in Africa, and even at Rome, in the time of
St. Cyprian. St. Paul had already spoken of the "dominica coena," or
"mensa Domini" (I Cor. xi. 20; X. 21). ("Kuriakon deipnon trapeze kuriou")
It is a table, reminding us of the Last Supper wherein Christ instituted
the Eucharist; it is a banquet in which all those present are called upon
to take part. This characteristic of the Eucharist has perhaps become
slightly effaced in the course of time but in ancient days it was a living
memory; and the frescoes in the catacombs recall it.
THE CHANTS OF THE MASS
At the Synaxis, or primitive gathering, psalms and canticles were sung (cf.
Chap. I). The Christians inherited the custom of singing after reading from
the Jews. St. Paul himself alludes to these chants in many passages of his
Epistles (Eph. v. 19; Col. iii. 16). The lessons themselves, as well as the
prayers, were also probably sung, or declaimed, in a melodic tone.
The actual practice is as follows: at the Pontifical or Solemn High Mass
certain parts are sung, or ought to be sung, by the people: "Kyrie,"
"Gloria in Excelsis," "Credo;" while others are reserved to the cantors, or
to the schola, and others again are said in a low voice. These points must
be studied more in detail so as to establish the necessary distinctions:
1. Parts sung by the cantors, the "schola," or the people.
2. Parts sung or recited aloud by the Priest, and parts said in a low
voice. (The Secret of the Mysteries.)
3. The Gregorian chant.
I. PARTS SUNG BY THE CANTORS, THE "Schola," OR THE PEOPLE.--Another
distinction must be made between the chants belonging to this category. The
Introit, Offertory, and Communion have an almost identical origin; they are
sung during a procession, or during movement to and from the altar; they
were instituted in the fourth and fifth centuries, and are composed for the
same end and in the same way- they are Psalms with an anthem. To-day they
have been abridged and reduced to almost a single verse. But their origin
must not be forgotten, and Mgr. Batiffol has very clearly shown by the
example of the Introit for the Epiphany that the choice of Psalm lxx. can
only be explained by the verses which are now omitted. The same
may be applied to many of the verses of the Offertory and Communion. The
singing of these pieces must necessarily have had special characteristics,
and resemble the psalmodic style.
But this was generally rare, and it would seem that the music which was
wedded to the words dates from a period when these distinctions were hardly
known; it is not always easy to distinguish an Introit and an Offertory
from a Gradual and an Alleluia by the chant which belongs to it. The
Communions, however, especially those for Lent, often have a purely
syllabic melody, which betrays a more ancient origin. This psalmodic chant
has been better preserved at Vespers and the other Offices. But if there is
to-day hardly any difference between the different chants of the Mass, such
was not the case formerly. Originally the anthem, or Psalm with antiphon,
was the Psalm sung by two choirs, each in its turn repeating an alternate
verse until the end was reached. The "Responsory," or "Responsorial Psalm,"
is sung by one or more cantors; the choir or the faithful taking up one of
the verses as a refrain. Probably to simplify matters and to allow even
those who did not know the Psalm to take part in the singing, a single
verse was chosen as anthem, and this served for a refrain. This is the case
with certain anthems of the Roman Vespers, which must represent an ancient
custom. Certain Psalms, cxxxv. in particular, with its refrain "Quoniam in
aeternum misericordia ejus," point out that this practice originated in the
most distant past.
The "Gradual" (cf. Chap. IV) is quite distinct from the chants with
antiphons of the Introit, Offertory, and Communion. It is a Responsory, or
Responsorial Psalm, and is thus sung by one or several cantors, the people
answering by a refrain which is one of the verses of the Psalm. That for
Matins (Psalm xciv.) preserves one of the most perfect examples of this
practice, probably borrowed, like that of the Lessons, from the services of
the synagogues. In any case, it belongs to the same category as the
Responsories which follow the Lessons at Matins, and which St. Benedict at
the end of the fifth century apparently borrowed from the Roman Church. The
Gradual chant is ornate, often difficult, and we can understand why it was
reserved to experienced cantors. It also has a special dignity; it is sung
from the ambone, or from the steps of the sanctuary. At one time, until the
days of St. Gregory, it was reserved for Deacons alone, like the Gospel.
The "Alleluia" is a case apart. At least originally, it is in reality
neither anthem nor responsory. The existing custom of incorporating it with
the Gradual is not primitive. It is an acclamation, like "Amen," "Hosanna,"
"Deo Gratias," "Benedicamus Domino;" and Cardinal Pitra has said that its
history is a long poem. As such it was sung frequently, and in various
circumstances. This no doubt is the reason why its place in the Mass is not
always the same in the different liturgies. There were variations even at
Rome (cf. Chap. IV). At present it follows the Gradual, and is usually
attached to a Psalm, of which a single verse has been preserved. The
"Alleluia" is followed by a "Jubilus," that is to say, by a somewhat
prolonged melody on the final "a."
When it is suppressed under circumstances already stated it is replaced by
the Tract, whose origin is not less obscure. Yet the words "Tractus,"
"Tractim" were familiar to St. Benedict in the fifth century, and used to
denote a Psalm sung without refrain or repetition but consecutively, and as
a whole (Fr., "trait"). It is indeed still executed in this form, the only
difference being that it is sung by two choirs in alternate verses, so that
now it resembles the chant with antiphons. The Tract, in the Gregorian
Antiphonary, has preserved its psalmodic appearance better than the other
chants of the Mass.
The Proses do not go back to an earlier date than the tenth century.
Composed to complete the "Jubilus" of the "Alleluia," they multiplied
prodigiously in the Middle Ages, and hundreds may be counted in the
collections which have been made of them. While much in these poems is
mediocre, some of them are real masterpieces, like those which the Church
of Rome ended by adopting. They form a literature which it would be a
mistake to neglect, and the Proses of Hugo de Saint-Victor, to take but one
example, are finished models, complete with technical knowledge, and of the
loftiest theological teaching.
Even in the seventeenth century a few true humanists set to work to compose
hymns for the neo-Gallican breviaries; and the Abbe Bremond, in his tenth
volume ("Du sentiment religieux") has made war on their adversaries.
Happily for us this subject is outside our present scope, since the hymns
in question were written for the Office and not for the Mass.
The "Kyrie," "Gloria in Excelsis," "Credo," "Sanctus," "Agnus Dei,"
"Dominus vobiscum," "Ite, Missa est," and "Benedicamus Domino" are not
taken from the Psalms, like the other chants of the Mass, and thus do not
form part of the psalmody, properly so called. They are sung in various
ways, and the rules to which they are submitted are much broader. This
explains the numerous melodies with which they have been adorned, examples
of which may be found in liturgical MSS. from the ninth-fifteenth
centuries. They have also often served as themes for polyphonic
2. PARTS SUNG OR RECITED ALOUD BY THE PRIEST AND PARTS SAID IN A LOW
VOICE.--At present, and since the tenth century at least, the Priest must
recite all the prayers of the Mass, including (at High Mass) the parts sung
by the people or the ministers, Epistle, Gospel, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis,
etc. The rules for LOW Mass prescribe what has to be said aloud. At High
Masses the Priest sings the prayers, Preface, and Pater; the Gospel and
Ite, Missa est are sung by the Deacon; the Epistle by the sub-Deacon; while
the Priest also intones the "Gloria in Excelsis" and "Credo." But the Canon
is said in a low voice, even at High Mass, with the exceptions of the
Preface, the "Pater," and of "Nobis quoque" peccatoribus, which the Pope
always said aloud, as the signal for the prostrate sub-Deacons to rise.
But why should the Canon be said in a low voice? It is a question which
seems to-day of secondary importance; and we can scarcely explain why there
was formerly so much discussion about it. But the Secret of the Mysteries
was the subject of a celebrated controversy in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, and we can see, in the ninth volume of the Abbe
Bremond, with what skill and talent he fights against those who with Dom
Gueranger, made a question of orthodoxy of this rubric.
It is clear that primitively, according to the description given in Chapter
I, the Eucharistic prayer properly so called (from the dialogue of the
Preface to the final doxology to which the faithful responded Amen) was
said in an audible voice, and very probably was declaimed on a melopoeia
doubtless resembling that of the Preface or the Pater. That at least is
what the terms of this prayer would appear to indicate, based as they are
on a lyric tone which seems to call for a chant. Ancient texts which
corroborate this hypothesis are not wanting. In any case there is nothing
mysterious in the words; nothing that calls for concealment. The author of
De Sacramentis quotes them in a work not specially addressed to the
initiated; another example is that of Melanie of Jerusalem, who was able to
hear every word of this prayer; and there are many others of the same
sort. But it is none the less true that this was otherwise at another
period, and that the Secret of the Mysteries, of the Eucharistic Mysteries,
is not an empty word. Pope Innocent I (in 416) speaks of this part of the
Mass as falling under the law of the Arcana, Arcana agenda, something which
must not be written about. St. Augustine when he speaks of the Eucharist
uses great reticence in his language, and speaks of those things only known
to the initiated, the baptized. The discipline of the Arcana is no myth; it
was observed for centuries, though not everywhere, nor always in the same
On this point it is curious to observe the variations of Catholic devotion
in different periods and countries. Edmund Bishop has already pointed out
the opposition between East and West; the latter erecting its altar upon
steps in the midst of the sanctuary, as if to expose it to the eyes of all;
the former, on the contrary, hiding it behind a screen (iconostasis), and
concealing with a curtain the Priest who accomplishes the great Mysteries.
In any case, a law prescribes that the Canon, especially the words of the
Institution, shall be said in a low voice.
"This mysticism is more Eastern than Roman," says Mgr. Batiffol (p. 21).
And yet, at a given moment, doubtless under the influence of Byzantium,
Rome became inspired with the same ideas. The Popes hung curtains which hid
them from the view of the faithful around the altar. An "Ordo" (II)
prescribed the saying of the Canon in a low voice. We can but indicate the
question here, since it is only indirectly related to our subject;
moreover, we have treated of it elsewhere. We must not be too much
astonished at these fluctuations in Catholic piety. The "Mysterium Fidei"
may be envisaged under many different aspects. At one time veneration,
respect, and--let us say the word--a kind of fear surrounds this Sacrament,
and prostrates the faithful before It in adoration. To-day they are carried
away by Its mercy and Its love. At one time the law of the Eucharistic
fast, so strict at present, scarcely existed; at another, devotion
constrained the Priest to celebrate Mass several times a day; at yet
another, on the contrary, exclusive of all Jansenist influence, there were
those who deprived themselves of Holy Communion out of respect for the
In that book of the Abbe Bremond already quoted the quarrels of Gallicans,
Jansenists, and Ultramontanes on this subject can be studied. To-day, thank
God, men's minds are pacified. If the Church formerly made a law regarding
the "Secret of the Mysteries," she is no longer so severe, and the
compilers of the best authorized prayerbooks for the faithful can translate
the whole of the Mass without the least uneasiness. Still, there remains
that ancient rubric which prescribes that the Priest shall recite the Canon
in a low voice, while he must sing, or say aloud, the Preface and the
3. THE GREGORIAN CHANT.--We need not here study the question of the chant,
since this has been done in another volume. We shall only say what seems
to be strictly necessary in order to understand the part played by this
chant in the Roman Mass.
The Gregorian chant, the origin of which is obscure, is revealed in many
MSS. from the ninth century onwards under the form of neumes, or musical
signs which it has been possible to decipher by comparing them with other
MSS. of a later age, in which these signs are written in such a way as to
indicate their tonality. But even in the most ancient manuscript which
contains these neumes, that is, of the ninth century, it is possible to see
that there is nothing new in this chant. It is indeed in the second stage
of its evolution. It has its rules, its laws, a well-established program,
and a learned technique. The attribution of this chant to St. Gregory was
attacked in the nineteenth century by those who believed it should rather
be traced to Gregory II (d. 731); but their arguments are more specious
than solid. It is true that the MSS. in which this system of notation is
found go back no farther than the ninth century, and that from thence to
the time of St. Gregory there is a gap of two hundred years--truly, a very
long time. But these objections have been answered. The single fact that
the MSS. of the chant of the ninth and tenth centuries are unanimous upon
so many different points would alone be a strong argument that this
tradition comes from the same source: the tradition dating back to the
eighth century, which has never hesitated as to the Roman and Gregorian
origin of this chant. It might even be said that it was anterior to this
Pontiff, and that St. Gregory only did for the Antiphonary what he did for
the Sacramentary which bears his name: he made rules and orders for it,
and, no doubt, simplified it. He reorganized a schola existing before his
day, and gave it new life. Some have even thought that the Ambrosian chant,
so closely related to the Gregorian, often betrays this earlier state. What
must be noticed is the excellence of the Gregorian chant during the first
period of its history, its golden age, from the sixth-ninth century. The
schola became a school of masters, among whom came those who wished to
study the true principles of the Gregorian chant: the disciples thus formed
spread later through other Latin countries. This explains why the annotated
MSS. from the ninth-twelfth centuries present as a whole the same musical
system in which variants are very rare. This has been most rigorously
proved in the collection "Paleographie Musicale" published by the monks of
"Solesmes." Still more recently an Anglican Bishop, famous for his
liturgical prowess, recognizes that the Roman Church has supplanted all
other Latin liturgies by her Cantilena rather than by her liturgical
III. THE ATTITUDE OF THE FAITHFUL AND THE LITURGICAL GESTURES DURING MASS
To-day it is hardly necessary, in view of the very large number of studies
devoted to this question, to insist on the importance of gestures or
attitude in connection with the liturgy. We have, moreover, made a separate
study of it ourselves, elsewhere. As the Mass is the essential function
of the liturgy, it is not astonishing that most of the liturgical gestures
belong to it, nor that the Church has very carefully determined both their
form and their number. Certain general rules for prayer were already
established in the time of St. Paul, who alludes to them many times in his
Epistles. For public prayer each must wait his own turn; must speak
intelligibly when he does speak. Women were not allowed to speak at all (I
We know from other witnesses, especially Tertullian, in texts often quoted,
that Christians prayed standing, their eyes raised to Heaven, their hands
stretched out. No one knelt on Sunday, nor during the fifty days between
Easter and Pentecost. Frescoes in the catacombs represent "Orantes" in the
posture described. One such shows a Priest standing before a "triclinium,"
his hands outstretched in a gesture of blessing, while beside him a woman
Certain rubrics in the ancient liturgical books remind us of these old
customs, for some are still preserved in the existing Missal. Thus, the
Deacon at certain moments commands the faithful to kneel down, to bow the
head, to rise; he dismisses them at the end of Mass--"Flectamus genua,"
"Levate," "Humiliate capita vestra Deo," "Ite, Missa est." In the Greek and
Eastern liturgies these rubrics are much more numerous. Some of these
gestures, as has been stated, are marked in the ancient Sacramentaries; but
as the gestures at Mass, especially those of the officiant, are both
numerous and detailed, they would have overloaded these books. Moreover, at
that epoch (fourth and ninth centuries) the tendency was to multiply
liturgical books, so as to have one for each function: book of the Priest,
or Sacramentary; book of Epistles for the subdeacon; of the Gospels for the
Deacon; book for the cantors, etc. One such book was devoted to explaining
processions: the order to follow, the places to be taken and kept, and the
other movements during Mass. These are the "Ordines," and especially the
"Ordines Romani," which are of the highest value in liturgical history (cf.
"Books of the Latin Liturgy," p. 81). These "Ordines Romani," or Roman
Orders, specially describe the Papal Mass; but as we have already said,
this Mass was the same as that of a Bishop, or a simple Priest, except for
the number of ministers who assisted at it, and for the solemnity of the
ceremonies. Only in Low Mass has the number of the latter been suppressed;
and several of those ceremonies still preserved can only be explained by
reference to Pontifical High Mass.
This fact being laid down, we can divide our subject, which has never been
studied very methodically so far, into a few paragraphs in which we shall
try to throw light on the existing rubrics by the ancient customs.
1. Attitude of the faithful during Mass.
2. Processions, Stations, and general ceremonies.
3. Gestures of the officiant and his ministers during Mass.
1. Attitude of the faithful during Mass.--In certain frescoes in the
catacombs, which seem to be a representation of the Eucharist, we see
guests seated around a table as if for a feast. At the Last Supper, when
the Eucharist was instituted, Our Lord and His Apostles were, according to
the best exegetists, seated, or half lying on couches, according to the
general custom. At the "Agape" described by St. Paul, the faithful were
either seated or lying down.
But this position was hardly practicable during the celebration of the
Eucharist as soon as the number of the faithful was greatly increased;
moreover, the respect due to this function would have been quite enough to
impose another attitude. To pray standing was the most usual thing with the
Jews, and even with pagans. This position indicated not only respect and
deference for the person to whom the prayer was addressed, but it was also,
in prayer, an attitude of adoration.
The faithful thus heard Mass standing; the practice of kneeling being
reserved, from the second and third centuries, for days of vigil, for times
of penitence, or for certain specially solemn moments, as during the Prayer
of the Faithful at the Offertory. A sentence spoken by the Deacon, still
preserved in our Missal, warned the faithful: "Flectamus genua;" while
after some moments of recollection he said: "Levate." The celebrant then
pronounced the prayer--"Oremus"--being, as he was, charged in a certain
sense to sum up and present to God all the intentions of the people. It was
also a rule at this time that on Sundays and during the joyous fifty days
from Easter to Pentecost, there should be no kneeling. We are yet reminded
of this custom by the fact that during the Ember Days of Pentecost, and on
its vigil, the "Flectamus genua," heard during the penitential seasons, is
It was not customary to sit during the Mass. The Bishop alone was seated,
on his throne, which was not an ordinary seat, but rather a symbol of his
functions. The seat of that Bishop of the beginning of the third century at
Rome, to which we owe the celebrated "anaphora" already mentioned, is a
monument of the highest importance, on which have been written the titles
of his various works. Antiquity has preserved the remembrance of other
Chairs of this distant period, such as that of St. Peter at Rome, the
"Cathedra Petri," which has always been celebrated.
I think, however, that those texts of Tertullian and others in which
Christians are represented standing with outstretched arms during their
prayer have been interpreted too rigorously. Such a prayer would mean that
the word was used in its deepest sense, for the prayers, and doubtless for
the whole of the Mass of the Faithful. But they must have sat down for the
Lessons of the Pre-Mass, which were often long. Certain texts of St.
Augustine refer to this subject; he says he will not fatigue the people
with a long discourse, as they are all standing. In some places it was
allowed to take a staff into the church, to be used for leaning upon. Here,
as elsewhere, customs must have varied. In certain texts, indeed, "sedilia"
are spoken of, that the people might be seated. St. Benedict, who was not
given to relaxation, admits monks to be seated during the Lessons, as this
was a common practice.
The custom of prostration at the moment of the Elevation dates from the
eleventh century. Before this time it was usual to stand upright; and this
too was the customary attitude for receiving the Eucharist in the hands, or
for drinking the Precious Blood. From this Protestants have tried to argue
against faith in the Real Presence, but their objection is really too
easily answered; and it is almost matter for astonishment that one writer
has thought it necessary to devote a learned work to this question.
Another custom, much discussed, and on which much has been written, is that
of praying turned towards the East. Christ is the Sun of Justice, and His
light illumines the West, the region of darkness. The latter is thus the
domain of the devil; and it is to the West that men turn to curse him.
Hence also the custom of "orientation:" that is, to build churches in such
a way that the Priest while praying looks towards the East. But this
practice often involved such difficulties that it was not always possible
to be faithful to it. It was, however, generally applied in the
construction of churches in the Middle Ages, from the fifth century
onwards. Hence there were certain changes in the ceremonial. The Priest
who, in the first centuries, celebrated before an altar shaped like a
simple table, without gradines or retable (as is still the case in the
Basilica of San Clemente at Rome), was obliged to face the East when the
church was "orientated," and thus, as to-day, turn his back to the people.
Consequently when he addresses them in the words, "Dominus vobiscum," he
turns towards them, facing the altar again as he says: "Oremus."
The "Ordo Romanus" (n. I) thus describes the attitude of the Pope when
celebrating Pontifical Mass. The Pontiff stands upright facing the East at
his throne, which is at the back of the apse; turns towards the people to
intone the "Gloria in Excelsis," but turns again to face the East,
remaining standing thus till the end of the chant. He then again turns
towards the people to say: "Pax vobis;" then back to the East when he says:
"Oremus," and the Collect for the day. After the Collect he seats himself.
The Bishops and Priest present also seat themselves, as a gesture from the
Pope invites them to do, but the congregation remains standing, as it does
the whole time of the ceremony. It has been said that the Deacon caused all
the faithful to kneel on Good Friday for the Prayer of the Faithful; and
this ceremony is yet observed.
In our churches at the present time these rules are rather vague. Those
usually observed by choirs of Canons or Monks may be followed. It is thus
customary to stand upright at High Mass during the Introit, prayers,
Gospel, and Canon; to sit during the reading of the Epistle and other
Lessons when there are any, as also for the singing of the "Kyrie," "Gloria
in Excelsis," "Credo," "Gradual," and "Alleluia," or Tracts and Proses, to
prostrate during the Consecration; and to bow for the blessing of the
2. Processions, Stations, general ceremonies.--All these subjects have been
treated by liturgiologists, often with great learning. It can only be a
question here of those connected with the Mass, such as the Station, and
the defiling past at the Introit, the Offertory, and the Communion. The
Procession of the Station is no longer made. But in the time of St. Gregory
and the following centuries the Station began with a most solemn
procession. The suburban Bishops (the seven Bishops of Ostia, Porto, Silva
Candida, Albano, Tusculum, Sabina, and Praeneste) and other Bishops present
in Rome, the Priests of the 25 "tituli" (Rectors of the principal churches
in that city), the Monks, and lastly the people divided into groups
according to the seven regions (Quarters) of Rome, an ensign-bearer at the
head of each group carrying a silver Cross on which were three candles--all
these early awaited the Pope (who came from the Lateran with his "cortege")
in the church which had been chosen as the starting-point. The Pope arrived
on horseback. His following was composed of all the acolytes of the region
where the function was being held. After the acolytes came the "Defensores"
of each region: these were a kind of lay functionary charged with the
administration of the ecclesiastical patrimony. Acolytes and "Defensores"
were on foot. The seven Deacons of the seven regions, with their regional
sub-Deacons followed next, all on horseback. Two squires were to the right
and left of the Pope, and in front of him an acolyte bearing the "ampulla"
of the Holy Chrism. Behind the Pope came the "ViceDominus" and other
dignitaries of his household. The sub-Deacon who was to read the Epistle
carried the "Epistolarium," while the Arch-Deacon bore the "Evangeliarium,"
usually a luxuriously bound manuscript the cover of which was encrusted
with precious stones, and which was carefully enclosed in its case.
When this almost royal procession, recalling in more than one detail the
ceremonial of the Emperors and Consuls, had reached the church where the
Bishops and people were waiting for it, they all set out together for the
church at which the Station had been fixed, and where Mass was to be
celebrated. The whole ceremonial for the reception of the Pope in this
church is minutely foreseen and described.
The procession of the Pope and clergy for the beginning of Mass is not less
solemn. In the sacristy or "secretarium" of the Basilica, which was vast
enough to serve as a council hall, the Pope was vested with the liturgical
garments, linen tunic, amice, dalmatic, chasuble, "pallium." At a given
signal, accompanied by the Deacons, by the sub-Deacon bearing the
"thymiamaterium" in which incense was burning, and by the seven serving
acolytes with their seven lighted candlesticks, he advanced up the great
nave (for at that period the "secretarium" was at the atrium, or entrance
of the Basilica, except at St. Peter's) while the "schola" sang the psalm
of the Introit. The Pope saluted the "Sancta" (the "fermentum," or Host
consecrated at a previous Mass), prayed before the altar, then kissed the
book of the Gospels, placed on the altar itself, and so moved to his
throne, where he remained standing. He made a sign to the "schola" to stop
the singing of the psalm, and to begin the "Gloria Patri" which ends the
The order followed at Rome for the Offertory and Communion has been already
described (Chap. IV); that of precedence was most strictly observed:
Bishops first, the ministers to the last rank of the clergy, Princes,
nobles, the faithful, first the men, then the women. It was the Golden Age
of the liturgy in Rome from the sixth-ninth centuries; both clergy and
faithful gave admirable examples of behavior, order, dignity, and a
simplicity which did not exclude a certain pomp.
3. Gestures of officiant and ministers during the Mass. --In describing in
the various chapters of this book the Mass at Rome, Milan, in Gaul, Spain,
and Africa, we have already pointed out the chief gestures prescribed for
the celebrant, especially at the Consecration, the Fraction, and the
Communion; we have also spoken of censing, of the Kiss of Peace, and of
some other rites of the same kind. We then said that all these acts and
gestures were generally intended to express, in the eyes of the
congregation, an act corresponding to the spoken word; an act which
emphasized it, and threw it into new relief. This idea has been explained
at length and with perhaps too much complaisance by Dom Claude de Vert
a work whose scholarship is more curious than solid. To him, the word
infers the gesture. But, as we have already remarked, it is usually just
the contrary which happens. In the ancient Roman liturgy, for example, a
great many gestures were made without any words at all. It was only later,
in the course of the Middle Ages, that a prayer was composed to explain an
act, such as "Oramus te;" or for certain Offertory prayers: "Offerimus
tibi;" or again for the Communion: "Panem coelestem accipiam," "Quod ore
sumpsimus," "Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam meam," etc.
It must also be noticed that in the liturgy there are gestures which have
not a merely simple, mimetic meaning. Certain unctions, the laying-on of
hands, certain signs of the Cross, or blessings are supernaturally
efficacious, and produce what they signify. For all these reasons, and
without going back to different points which have already been sufficiently
explained, we must here give a little supplementary information as to
certain gestures of the Mass, the sense of which is by no means always
The celebrant and his ministers were thus standing upright during Mass,
except during the Lessons and the chants. This is still the custom; at
Solemn High Masses celebrant and ministers are seated during the reading of
the Epistle and other Lessons, as well as during the singing of "Kyrie,"
"Gloria in Excelsis," "Credo," Gradual, and other chants.
At certain moments the celebrant spreads out his hands to pray, reminding
us of the attitude of the "Orantes:" this is done during the prayers of the
Mass, the Preface, Canon, and "Pater." At other times he bows himself, as
at the "Confiteor," the "Oramus te, Domine," the "Suscipe sancte Pater" and
"Suscipe sancta Trinitas," at the words of the Canon "Te igitur" and
"Supplices te," as well as at the "Munda cor meum."
The rubric prescribes that he shall raise his eyes to Heaven at the "Veni
Sanctificator," and at the Consecration of the bread and wine; that he
shall strike his breast at the "Mea culpa" of the "Confiteor," at the
"Agnus Dei," the "Domine, non sum dignus," and at the "Nobis quoque
Before the prayers he kisses the altar, turns towards the people, extends
his hands and salutes them with "Dominus vobiscum," from the middle of the
altar, at the "Oremus" he salutes the Cross and again extends his hands. He
genuflects at the Elevation, at the "Homo factus est" of the Credo, and of
the Last Gospel- also, in Solemn Masses he does this each time he leaves
the altar to seat himself, as well as when he returns.
The imposition of hands occurs only once during Mass, at the "Hanc
igitur;" this gesture, indeed, dates only from the fifteenth century, and
is merely intended to design the oblation. This may appear rather singular
when we know the importance of this act in the Catholic liturgy. But it
must be remembered that signs of the Cross, which often replace the
imposition of hands, are frequent during the Sacrifice of the Mass, and we
may now study their meaning.
The sign of the Cross during Mass is a subject which has long gained the
attention of liturgiologists. It is presented here under different forms.
The usual way of making the ordinary sign of the Cross is for the Priest to
trace it upon himself by carrying his right hand from the forehead to the
breast, and then from the left shoulder to the right; it has thus been made
since the ninth century, as, at the same time, the sign of our Redemption,
and of a doxology to the Trinity, with the words: In the Name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Before this epoch (ninth century) it was more especially the sign of
Christ, and answers to the "In Nomine Christi" so frequently recommended by
St. Paul. The sign was then traced on the forehead, the lips, and the
breast. Under this form it is still used before the Gospel.
The sign of the Cross is, with the imposition of hands, the most venerable
and expressive act of Christian worship. Innumerable works, treatises, and
articles have been written on this subject. We can only refer here to the
articles "Croix" and "Crucifix" in DACL, where a Bibliography of the matter
will be found.
The number, place, and form of these signs of the Cross in Mass has varied
according to time and place. The Missal of St. Pius V adopted the greater
part of those indicated in the most recent MSS. of that period, or in books
printed at that time. But these are by no means equally ancient, or of the
Some are mimetic signs which are specially aimed at emphasizing the text,
as in "Haec dona," "haec munera," "haec sancta sacrificia." Others have the
meaning of a blessing, like those which accompany the words "benedictam,"
"adscriptam," "ratam," "ut nobis corpus et sanguis," etc. As much, and "a
fortiori," must be said of the sign of the Cross at "Benedixit" upon the
Host and chalice, at the Consecration, for this reproduces the gesture of
Our Lord in blessing the bread and wine.
But what of those signs of the Cross made upon the consecrated elements? A
blessing upon the Body and Blood of Our Lord would seem superfluous, at the
very least, and yet the signs occur many times, as at "Hostiam puram,"
"Hostiam sanctam," etc. There are as many as five, and specially again at
the "Per quem" and "Per ipsum," and at the "Pax Domini" and Communion. We
may say at once that usually these signs are not indicated in the ancient
Sacramentaries, nor in the "Ordo I," while a certain variety is observed
even in the other Sacramentaries. Thus, they are not considered essential,
and often are merely figurative, the word having been the author of the
gesture, according to the theory so dear to De Vert.
At the "Per ipsum" the Priest, holding the Host in his right hand, traces
three signs of the Cross over the chalice, two between the chalice and his
breast, before elevating the Host and the chalice at the final doxology of
During the embolism of the Pater, at "Da propitius pacem," he makes the
sign of the Cross with the paten, which he kisses. At the end of Mass
Priest, turned towards the people, makes with his right hand a great sign
of the Cross, which is the sign of blessing. A Prelate makes this sign once
to his left, once in the center, once to his right.
The kissing of the altar is another act which frequently takes place in
Mass. In the seventh century this gesture was far less common, but was
surrounded with a greater solemnity. Thus at the beginning of the Office of
Good Friday, as has been mentioned, the Pontiff, after the conclusion of
Nones, left his throne to go and kiss the altar, returning afterwards to
his place. This rite at the beginning of Mass was already a characteristic
of the Papal Mass in the seventh-eighth centuries. It is still preserved
to-day, with the "Oramus te, Domine," which gives the reason for it--
"Sanctorum quorum reliquiae hic sunt." The altar is a sacred stone,
containing the relics of Saints; it is the "mensa" which recalls the table
of the Last Supper, or again, the stone of Golgotha. It is unnecessary to
compare this act with that of the Romans, who kissed their pagan altars, in
order to understand the act of veneration accomplished by the Priest at
To-day the Priest kisses the altar each time he comes to it, as well as
before the "Dominus vobiscum" of the prayers.
We have already sufficiently explained the blessing of the people by the
Priest at the end of the Roman Mass, as well as that blessing which in the
other Latin rites preceded the Communion (Chap IV).
IV, THE BOOKS OF THE MASS
This subject having already been treated in another book ("Books of the
Latin Liturgy," see p. 28 et seq.), we may be allowed to sum it Up shortly
here. It may be believed that in the beginning no book was used for Mass.
The Consecration of the bread and wine was made after the Formula used by
Christ Himself, handed down by St. Paul and the synoptic Gospels. The
prayers of preparation or thanksgiving were left to the improvisation of
the celebrant, who did this on a fixed theme, from which it was not allowed
to depart; for the most ancient formulas studied reproduce always the same
In the aliturgical synaxis which became the Pre-Mass (cf. Chapter I) the
Old and New Testament were read, and psalms were sung. Thus the Bible
proved sufficient. But very soon the formulas mentioned were put into
writing, and we have an example of this in the "Didache," which dates,
perhaps, from the year 100, while the "Anaphora" of Hippolytus dates from
the first quarter of the third century. In the fourth and fifth centuries
liturgical literature was in full flower, especially in the East. St.
Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Paulinus of Nola, Voconius, Musaeus, and many
others are quoted amongst the authors who composed hymns, prayers, and
Prefaces, or who chose Lessons drawn from the Old and New Testaments to be
read at Mass or during the Offices. In other books the parts that were
be sung were collected. From this time, especially during the period
immediately following--from the sixth-ninth centuries-- as the taste for
these compositions developed, we have books specially devoted to the
various liturgical functions: one for the readings from the Testaments
generally called the Lectionary, or book of lectures, this, when intended
for the Mass alone, was called "Epistolarium" (book of Epistles, or
sometimes of Prophecy, or the Apostolic book) . There was also the
"Evangeliarium," containing nothing but readings from the Gospels.
The chants of the Introit, Gradual, Tract, "Alleluia," Offertory, and
Communion were collected in a book called the "Cantatorium," or book of
chants. This was also sometimes styled "Liber Gradualis," since the Gradual
was the most important and most ancient of these chants.
The Priest used tablets ("plaquettes," "Libelli") in which he found the
prayers and Prefaces with the Canon of the Mass; he also had "Diptychs:"
all these, collected together, were called "Sacramentaries." This is the
most ancient type of Missal, in use from the sixth-ninth centuries; it
contained only those parts recited at Mass by the celebrant. When the
custom of Low Masses was introduced and multiplied, and the Priest was
obliged to accomplish by himself all those functions which, in High Masses,
fell to the lot of the Deacon, sub-Deacon, lectors, and cantors, it was
necessary to add the Epistle, Gospel, Gradual, and other chants to the
Sacramentary, which thus changed its name and its nature, and was
henceforth called "Plenary Missal," or simply "Missal." The most ancient of
these go back to the tenth century, or perhaps a little earlier. They went
on multiplying through the eleventh century, and very soon after they
eliminated and replaced the Sacramentary almost completely.
These liturgical books, some of which were illuminated and bound in the
most luxurious manner, have always attracted the attention of artists,
liturgiologists, and archaeologists; but at the present time it may be said
that they are sought after and studied more than ever, so that erudite men
have set themselves to describe them carefully (see Bibliography). The
price of some of them represents a fortune. It is necessary to add that
this subject is very far from being exhausted, and that in many ancient
libraries precious manuscripts and early printed books still exist which
deserve to be studied with care.
Prayer Books ("Paroissiens").--The history and bibliography of these
is yet to be written. That of the Books of Hours, which has tempted certain
scholars, may serve as an introduction to it (cf. "Books of the Latin
Liturgy," pp. 128 seq. and 151 seq.). In that the history of the different
Catholic devotions may be studied, according to period and country. Still
more recently, in his "Sentiment religieux en France," the Abbe Bremond has
shown how much may be drawn from these little books. In them the Mass
naturally has its place, whether the Latin text is given, with a
translation, or whether we find merely explanations and commentaries, as
was the usual practice at a certain period, when translation into the
vulgar tongue was looked on with very little favor if not actually
To-day the liturgical movement has driven the faithful more and more
towards requiring the complete text of the Latin Mass, with its
translation. Thus certain prayerbooks are indeed real Missals for their
V. DIFFERENT KINDS OF MASSES
The Papal Mass and the Stational Mass.--These have been described in
Chapter IV. The latter was called Stational because there was a Station on
that day. Except a few points already mentioned, they were the same as the
Pontifical Mass.--It has been already stated that if we wish to understand
the sequence of the ceremonies at Mass, and really enter into the spirit of
them, we should be present at a Pontifical Mass, which, more than any
other, has faithfully preserved that ceremonial described in Chapter IV. It
is, in fact, the Papal Mass, and, with but few differences, that which is
celebrated by Bishops and certain Prelates. It is described at length in
the Ceremonial of Bishops.
Solemn, or High Mass.--All the ceremonies which are the privilege of
Bishops, such as crosier and mitre, throne, the number of the ministers
(assistant Priest, Deacons of honor, bearers of the insignia, etc.), are
omitted; but the Introit, Gradual, "Kyrie," Lessons, etc., are sung as in
Pontifical Masses, and by the same ministers. These comprehend, after the
Deacon and sub-Deacon, a "Ceremoniarius," acolytes, and a thurifer.
Sung Mass, or Missa Cantata.--Here there are neither Deacon nor sub-Deacon,
the ministers being reduced to one or two servers; but the same parts are
sung as at High Mass. This Mass is sometimes called in French, "messe
Conventual Mass is said in Chapters of Canons, in Collegiate churches, and
monasteries. It may be either sung or said, with or without ministers.
Missa lecta, a Mass which is not sung, is often wrongly styled Low, or
private, Mass, for the rubrics prescribe certain parts to be said aloud. At
this Mass the Priest, with one, or sometimes two, servers, accomplishes the
various ceremonies of Mass, but nothing is sung.
The history of Low Mass has given rise to certain errors; its evolution is
less well known than that of Pontifical Mass. But there can be no doubt
that in very ancient days--let us say about the third century, but most
probably before that epoch--there were (beyond the Eucharistic synaxis
celebrated by the Bishop, surrounded by his clergy and the faithful), both
in cemeteries and in private houses, private Masses said, from which all
the ceremonies had been shorn. The story of Hesperus, cured after a Mass
had been said in his house, is well known; Mgr. Batiffol relates it
according to St. Augustine. There are other examples of private Masses
said in domestic oratories, the existence of which is proved from the fifth
About this time, too (sixth century), churches began to be built with
several altars or chapels, a fact which evidently indicates private Masses.
The Sacramentaries or Missals drawn up from the seventh-tenth centuries
might have served either for a Pontifical or a private Mass. There must
have been also, about this time, and even before it, "Libelli," or leaflets
composed of several Masses for the use of the Priest. Of these we have
spoken in the "Books of the Latin Liturgy," mentioning as one of the types
of this "Libellus" that of the "Masses of Mone."
Missa solitaria.--In certain dioceses and missions the Priest has obtained
permission to say Mass without a server, making the responses himself, in
view of the practical impossibility of finding anyone to serve Mass.
Votive Masses.--As its name indicates, this Mass is said in virtue of a Vow
("votum"), or, in a wide sense, for a special intention. It is thus
distinguished from the Mass of the day, the character of which is fixed by
the calendar. There are certain days in the year, simple Ferials, or those
on which the Mass is assigned to a Saint with a simple rite or a semi-
double; and on these the Priest can usually celebrate a Votive Mass In the
Missal a whole division, following the Common of Saints, is devoted to
Votive Masses. Some are in honor of Our Lady, or other Saints; others again
for different circumstances, or devotions, as in time of war, or of peace;
of famine or epidemic, etc. They are thus devotional Masses which, unlike
the Mass for the day, are not attached to the calendar, nor to the Office
said on that day, which itself is in relation to the Mass.
Some of these Votive Masses are very ancient, and their texts deserve
study. Some may already be found in the Leonine and Gelasian
Sacramentaries. The Mozarabic "Liber Ordinum" contains a considerable
number. A Missal attributed to Alcuin has Votive Masses for every day in
the week, in honor of the Holy Angels, of the Eucharist, of Our Lady, etc.
Franz, in the book we mention, has made a most learned study of them.
Here is the list of Votive Masses in our Missal:
De Sancta Trinitate,
De SS. Petro et Paulo,
De Spiritu Sancto,
De S.S. Eucharistiae Sacramento,
De Sancta Maria,
Pro eligendo Pontifice,
In anniversario electionis Episcopi,
Ad tollendum schisma,
Pro quacumque necessitate,
Pro remissione peccatorum,
Ad postulandam gratiam bene moriendi,
In tempore belli,
Pro vitenda mortalitate,
Pro sponso et sponsa.
"Missa sicca," or Dry Mass.--This is rarely in use to-day. Whether an
abuse, or simply from singularity, it was fairly widespread in the Middle
Ages. It was a Mass without Offertory, Consecration, or Communion; and thus
in reality not a Mass at all. Since there was neither Sacrifice nor
Sacrament, it was merely a rite (sacramental, if we wish to call it so)
which reproduced the ceremonies of the Mass, with the exception of the
parts mentioned. It was regarded as a substitute for Mass. Thus, for
marriages or deaths celebrated in the afternoon, a Dry Mass was said. As
many Dry Masses as it was wished to say from private devotion could be
celebrated on the same day; they were also said for those who wished to
have as many Masses on the same day as possible. Bona very justly protests
against this custom, which seems to him an abuse. As a private devotion,
the "Missa Sicca" is still in use among the Carthusians.
Mass of the Presanctified.--A very different thing is the dignity of this
Mass, of which we have already spoken. In the Greek rite it is much used
during Lent. Properly speaking, it is not a Mass, since the Sacrifice is
absent. But Holy Communion is given at it, and it was really instituted to
satisfy the piety of those who wished to communicate.
Some other kinds of Mass.--The "Missa Nautica" and "Missa Venatoria" are
also Dry Masses; since by reason of the fear of tempests, or for other
causes, the essential parts are suppressed.
1. op. cit., p. 44. Cf. also Fortescue, Votive Mass, in Catholic
2. See also our article "Missel" in DACL.
The Stational and Pontifical Mass is described in Chapter IV; see the
authors mentioned in the Bibliography of that chapter.
On the ceremonies of the Pontifical Mass, see also:
ADRIAN FORTESCUE "The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite" London, 1918) Cf. also
HAEGY, "Ceremonial" (edn. 1902), and L. HEBERT, "Lecons de Liturgie"
On Votive Masses the most scholarly work is that of AD. FRANZ, "Die Messe
in Deutschen Mittelalter" (Freibourg-im-Breisgau, 1902), PP. 115-292 For
the rules concerning these Masses, see HEBERT, loc. cit., Vol. II, P. 118.
FORTESCUE, in his work "The Mass," and in his articles to be found in the
"Catholic Encyclopaedia," gives some information as to these Masses.