THE MASS OF THE WESTERN RITE
By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol
Abbot of Farnborough Abbey
THE CELTIC MASS
The title "Celtic liturgy," or rather "Celtic liturgies" (the plural is
used on account of the various forms which this liturgy takes), designates
the rite which was in use amongst the populations of Ireland, Wales, and
Cornwall, Scotland, and Armorican Brittany. I have stated elsewhere what
may be thought as to this expression "Celtic liturgies." For, as a matter
of fact, in the sense in which the term is used to describe the Mozarabic
or Gallican rites, there is really no Celtic liturgy.
THE CELTIC LITURGICAL BOOKS
The Celtic monks, missionaries, and travelers, whom we may consider as the
authors of the above, had no intention of composing a new liturgy, or even
one which differed from those already existing. What they did was to take
what suited them from one or the other rite, and then to combine these
various elements. That in itself is not enough to constitute a new liturgy.
It is none the less true that their liturgical books, transcribed and
arranged as they are by Celtic copyists, have a very real interest. We have
made a study of them in another volume, entitled "Books of the Latin
Liturgy" (Sands & Co., London), pp. 107--112.
Of these books the most important is a Sacramentary, or Missal, the "Missal
of Stowe;" and in it the Celtic Mass may be studied. Some critics have
placed the date of this MS. as far back as the eighth, or even the seventh,
century. Certain doubts may be felt as to this great antiquity; but
whatever the date of the MS., it certainly describes a liturgy older than
the ninth century.
THE CELTIC MASS
In the "Missal of Stowe" the preparation for the Mass comprehends a
confession of sins, a long litany in which are found the names of all the
Irish and Celtic Saints, and a "Apologia sacerdotis," or prayer of
preparation for Mass. This feature is not confined to the Celtic rites; and
we have studied elsewhere these liturgical "Apologies" (cf. article,
"Apologies," in DACL).
It would seem that the preparation of the oblations took place before the
entrance of the celebrant, as in the Gallican rite. It comprised several
prayers, as follows: in pouring water into the chalice: "Peto Te, Pater;
Deprecor Te, Fili; Obsecro Te, Spiritus Sancte;" in pouring the wine:
"Remittat Pater, Indulgeat Filius, Misereatur Spiritus Sanctus." Another
Celtic book, the "Leabhar Breac," notes that a single drop, both of water
and wine, should be allowed to fall as the Name of each Person of the
Trinity was pronounced. We first notice here the insistence, found nowhere
else in the same degree, on emphasizing each Person of the Blessed Trinity
in the Eucharistic Mystery.
The setting of the Pre-Mass is almost the same as that of the Roman rite: a
prayer, the "Gloria in Excelsis," one or several Collects (which Celtic
priests habitually multiplied to an extent which sometimes caused the
faithful to protest), an Epistle taken from St. Paul, a Gradual chant, and
the "Alleluia." A celebrated litany, the "Deprecatio Sancti Martini,
Dicamus omnes," was said here.
This is borrowed from the Eastern liturgies, which have prayers of the same
type; the above litany is merely the translation of a Greek text. It has
indeed been adopted by other Latin liturgies.
Two prayers followed this. Then the chalice and oblations were partially
unveiled, probably by the removal of the first veil; they were not
completely uncovered until the Offertory. The formula, "Dirigatur Domine,"
was sung thrice; then one veil of the chalice was taken away, and the
prayer, "Veni, Domine, Sanctificator omnipotens, et benedic hoc sacrificium
praeparatum tibi, Amen," was said three times.
The Gospel followed. One of the fragments discovered by Bannister gives as
that for the Circumcision an apocryphal Gospel of James, the son of
Alphaeus. The "Credo" included the "Filioque," but as an addition to the
primitive text, and with several variants. After the Gospel there was a
chant, which perhaps corresponds to the Mozarabic and Gallican "Laudes" and
to St. Benedict's "Te decet laus."
The Offertory included the complete unveiling of the chalice, which was
elevated, sometimes with the paten; and different formulas given in the
"Missal of Stowe," which have no particular characteristics.
Then came the "Memento of the Dead," with the reading of the "Diptychs."
This is the Mozarabic and Gallican use. The following is the characteristic
"Has oblationes et sincera libamina immolamus tibi domine ihesu christe,
qui passus es pro nobis et resurrexisti tertia die a mortuis pro animamus
(animabus) carorum nostrorum N. et cararum nostrarum quorum nomina
recitamus et quorumcumque non recitamus sed a te recitantur in Libro vite."
The Preface begins with "Sursum corda." The text given in the "Missal of
Stowe" is a combination of the "Trisagion" and the Roman Preface of the
Trinity; it also deserves to be quoted. We have already noted this
insistence of the Celtic Mass upon confessing the Trinity.
"Pater omnipotens . . . qui cum unigenito tuo et spiritu sancto Deus es
unus et immortalis, Deus incorruptibilis et immortalis, Deus invisibilis et
fidelis . . . te credimus, te benedicimus, te adoramus et laudamus nomen
unum in aeternum et in saeculum saeculi, per quem salus mundi, per quem
vita hominum, per quem resurrectio mortuorum, per quem maestatem tuam
laudant angeli, etc."
The "Sanctus" is paraphrased like the Preface:
"Benedictus qui venit de celis ut conversaretur in terris, Homo factus est
ut delicta carnis deleret, hostia factus est ut per passionem suam vitam
aeternam credentibus daret per dominum."
Like the Gallican and Mozarabic books, those of the Celtic rite usually
have a "Post sanctus." The Canon of the "Missal of Stowe," under the title
of "Canon dominicus papae Gilasi" (edn. Warren, p. 274 seq.), is famous
among liturgiologists. This precious text, which by some is believed to be
the most ancient text of the Roman Canon, contains the "Te igitur," the
"Memento of the Living," and other prayers of the latter rite, but with
notable variants, the chief of which are as follows:
"Te igitur clementissime pater . . . una cum beatissimo famulo tuo, n. papa
nostro, episcopo sedis apostolicae, et omnibus orthodoxis atque apostolica
fidei cultoribus, et abbate nostro, N. episcopo."
"Hic recitantur nomina vivorum."
"Memento etiam, domine, famulorum tuorum, N . . . qui tibi offerunt hoc
sacrificium laudis pro te suisque omnibus, pro redemptione animarum suarum,
pro stratu (sic) seniorum suorum, et ministrorum omnium puritate, pro
integritate virginum, et continentia viduarum, pro aeris temperie, et
fructum (sic) fecunditate terrarum, pro pacis redetu et fine discriminum,
pro incolimitate regum, et pace populorum, ac reditu captivorum, pro votis
adstantium, pro memoria martirum, pro remissione peccatorum nostrorum, et
actuum emendatione eorum, ac requie defunctorum, et prosperitate itineris
nostri, pro domino papa episcopo, et omnibus episcopis et presbyteris et
omni ecclesiastico ordine, pro imperio romano et omnibus regibus
christianis, pro fratribus et sororibus nostris, pro fratribus in via
directis, pro fratribus quos de caliginosis mundi hujus tenebris dominus
arcisire dignatus est, uti eos in aeterna summae lucis quietae pacis divina
suscipiat, pro fratribus qui varis dolorum generibus adfliguntur, uti eos
divina pietas curare dignetur, pro spe salutis et incolimitatis suae, tibi
reddunt vota sua eterno Deo vivo et vero communicantes, in natale domini et
(Then follows the enumeration of other feasts--Circumcision, Epiphany under
the title of "Stella," Holy Thursday as "Natalis calicis domini nostri,"
Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.)
"Et memoriam venerantes imprimis gloriosae semper virginis. . . .
Hanc igitur oblationem . . . quam tibi offerimus in honorem domini nostri
ihesu christi et in commemorationem beatorum martirum tuorum, in hac
cecclesia quam famulus tuus ad honorem gloriae tuae aedificavit, quesumus,
domine, ut placatus suscipias, eumque, adque omnem populum ab idulorum
cultura eripias, et ad te Deum verum patrem omnipotentem convertas, diesque
nostros in tua pace disponas, atque ab aeterna damnatione nos eripias, et
in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari per, etc."
"Quam oblationem te, deus, in omnibus, quesumus benedictam, ascriptam,
ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere dignareque nobis corpus et
sanguis fiat dilectissimi fili tui domini nostri ihesu Christi."
"Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis, passionem meam
predicabitis, resurrectionem meam adnuntiabitis, adventum meum sperabitis,
donec iterum veniam ad vos de caelis."
Passages which bear an analogy with this formula can be found in the
"Apostolic Constitutions," in the liturgies of St. James and St. Basil, in
the Ambrosian and Mozarabic liturgies, etc.
Irish treatises upon the Mass emphasize the importance of the formula of
Consecration. The Priest bows thrice at "Accepit Jesus panem;" the people
prostrate themselves when he offers the bread and wine to God. This prayer
has been called the "periculosa oratio," and none must dare to break
silence. The "Penitential of Cummean" inflicts a penance of fifty strokes
upon the Priest who has hesitated once in speaking these words. In some
Missals the word "Periculum" is written in the margin. Unfortunately to all
these marks of attention and respect, so well justified, must be added
certain other features which sometimes betray a meticulous and complicated
piety. According to some treatises the celebrant had to take three steps
forward and three backward, "a triad which recalls the three ways in which
man sins, that is, by thought, word, and deed, and the three ways in which
he is renewed in God."
After the Consecration we have the prayers "Unde et memores sumus, Supra
quae propitio, Supplices Te," as in the Roman Canon. The "Memento of the
Dead" presents a very interesting formula also, which has analogies with
the Mozarabic and Gallican prayers:
Memento etiam, domine, et eorum nomina qui nos praecesserunt cum signo
fidei, et dormiunt in somno pacis, cum omnibus in toto mundo offerentibus
sacrificum spiritale deo patri et filio et spiritui sancto sanctis ac
venerabibus (sic) sacerdotibus offert senior noster, n. praespiter, pro se,
et pro suis et pro totius ecclesiae cetu catholicae; et pro commemorando
anathletico gradu venerabilium patriarcharum, profetarum, apostolorum et
martirun, et omnium quoque sanctorum, ut pro nobis dominum deum nostrum
To this formula must be joined another, which in Warren's edition is
separated from it in mistake by a list of names (pp. 238-240).
"Et omnium pausautium qui nos in dominica pace precesserunt, ab adam usque
in hodiernum diem, quorum deus non nominavit et novit, ipsis et omnibus in
christo quiescentibus locum refrigerii," etc.
Then "Nobis quoque" with "Patricio" after "Petro" and "Paulo;" "Per quem
We do not think, with certain critics, that it is necessary to see the most
ancient form of the Roman Canon in this formula. The addition "diesque
nostros," made by St. Gregory; that of "Pro fratribus in via directis,"
borrowed from the Rule of St. Benedict, and other indications are opposed
to this view. As with the other Celtic prayers, the author has made a
mixture of fragments culled from different sources; but there can be no
doubt that some of these fragments are very ancient, as, for example, the
The rites of Fraction, Immixtion, and Communion in the Celtic Mass present
no less interesting features. On these points there was great liberty.
Following the "Per quem haec omnia," the rubric of the "Missal of Stowe"
adds "ter canitur," and in Irish: "here the oblations are raised above the
chalice, and half the bread is plunged into the chalice." This is the rite
of Intinction practiced in the Syrian liturgy. The versicle "Fiat domine
misericordia tua super nos quemadmodum speravimus in te" follows.
Then the Fraction takes place. "The bread is broken," says the Irish
rubric. This is the usual place for the Fraction in the Latin liturgies,
even in the Roman Mass before St. Gregory's time. The versicles which
follow comment on the actions of the Priest, and emphasize the special
importance of the rite. "Cognoverunt dominum alleluia, in fractione panis,
alleluia." This is the "Confractorium," or "Antiphona ad confractionem" of
the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites, and of which a few vestiges remain in
certain Roman books. With regard to the Fraction it has been shown that
the Celtic, and perhaps in other churches, a Priest here joined the
celebrant, if the latter were a simple Priest, to break with him the Body
of the Lord. It was the Confraction. But were the celebrant a Bishop he
broke the Host alone. These other versicles of the Fraction followed:
"Panis quem frangimus corpus est domini nostri ihesu cristi. Alleluia."
"Calix quem benedicimus (alleluia) sanguis est d. n. I. C. (Alleluia) in
remissionem peccatorum nostrorum (Alleluia)."
"Fiat domine misericordia tua super nos. Alleluia. Quemadmodum speravimus
in te. Alleluia."
"Cognoverunt dominum. Alleluia."
"Credimus, domine, in hac confractione corporis et effsione sanguinis nos
esse redemptos et confidimus, sacramenti hujus adsumptione munitos, ut quod
spe interim hic tenemus mansuri in celestibus veris fructibus perfruamur,
per d.," etc.
The Host was divided in seven different ways, according to the Feasts: into
five parts at Common Masses; into seven on the Feasts of Saints,
Confessors, and Virgins; into eight on the Feasts of Martyrs; into nine on
Sundays; into eleven on the Feasts of Apostles; into twelve on the Kalends
of January, and on Holy Thursday; into thirteen on the Sunday after Easter
and on the Ascension; and into sixty-five on the Feasts of Christmas,
Easter, and Pentecost. The particles were arranged in the form of a Cross,
and each group received a part of this Cross according to grade. Everything
here seems to have been invented to distract attention at the very moment
when it should have been concentrated on the One Essential Object. Happily
those chants of the Fraction already mentioned led to more serious
As in the greater number of liturgies the "Pater," said after the Fraction,
is set between a prelude and an embolism, which differ little from the
Roman formulas; the name of St. Patrick is read after those of SS. Peter
and Paul. There is a blessing here, as in the Mozarabic and Gallican rites,
and it runs thus:
"Pax et caritas D.N.I.C. et communicatio sanctorum omnium, sit semper
vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo.
The Kiss of Peace was then given, as in the Roman Mass. The "Missal of
Stowe" contains at this point many anthems on Peace, mingled with anthems
and chants for Communion.
The Commixtion of the Body and Blood was carried out as in the Roman rite.
The Communion was encircled with rites and chants which gave it great
solemnity. We mention a few: "Novum carmen cantate, Omnes sancti venite,
Panem caeli dedit eis, Sinite parvulos venire ad me, Venite benedicti
Patris mei." Psalm xxxiii., of almost universal tradition at Communion, was
also sung. The famous hymn, "Sancti venite, Christi corpus sumite,"
preserved in the "Antiphonary of Bangor," is of lofty inspiration, and
would cause the wearisome prolixity of some other prayers to be pardoned.
The text of the Post-communions is borrowed from the Roman books. The
dismissal was given in these words: "Missa acta est. In pace."
Beyond a few formulas and rites which seem particularly to belong to the
Celts, it can easily be seen that nothing really original can be found in
this Mass. What does distinguish it is the almost equal mixture of Roman
and Gallican rites, with a few features borrowed from the Mozarabites, the
Ambrosian liturgy, or from the Eastern rites. It is composite. And the rite
of Baptism, which we need not study here, presents the same