Theologians, historians, and liturgiologists are to-day in agreement in recognizing that the Mass is the most important function of all Christian worship; and that the greater part of the other rites are in close relation with the Eucharist.
This affirmation rests upon the most serious study of Christianity, in antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages; and the various works regarding the Mass, which have been multiplied in recent years, have merely confirmed this truth. More and more have the faithful, in their turn, become convinced of it; while even those who are without the Faith are beginning to interest themselves in the Mass, and to endeavor to know more of its history and to understand its meaning.
These facts explain the number of books which have recently appeared on this subject. A glance at the Bibliography printed at the end of this Preface will suffice to give an idea of their extent, and may serve as a guide to those who wish to study the question more deeply. This consideration might have dissuaded us from adding to all these works (some of which are excellent) another book on the Mass. But we may first remark that the "Bibliotheque catholique des sciences religieuses" had, from the beginning, comprehended in its plan a volume on the Latin Mass as one of the elements of its synthesis.
Further, it may be noticed that the larger number of the books whose titles we quote are chiefly, and sometimes entirely, occupied with the Roman Mass, while our own plan comprises a study of the Latin, or Mass of the Western Rites; that is, of the Mass as celebrated in Africa, Gaul, Spain, Great Britain, and Northern Italy and in the other Latin countries in the Middle Ages, as well as in Rome.
Now this comparison of the different Latin rites is most suggestive. Better than all other considerations it reveals first the relationship of these rites, and the fundamental unity of all the liturgies under their different forms. Then, as we shall see, it throws light on the rites of the Roman Mass which, consequently on the suppression of some of their number, can only be understood by comparison with more complete rites. It must be added that the Mass is so rich in material that each may study it from his own point of view, and while receiving much benefit from the latest works on the same subject, may present his own under a new aspect. Thus, following Mgr. Duchesne's book, Mgr Batiffol thought it worth while to give us his "Lecons sur la Messe;" and assuredly no one will consider that these "Lessons" are a repetition of the work of his illustrious predecessor, or of any of the other books already published upon this subject.
To those who may recognize in our own study views already exposed by one or other of the authors quoted, we may remark that many articles in our "Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretienne et de liturgie" (anamnese, anaphore, canon, etc.) had taken chronological precedence of the greater part of these books, so that in drawing inspiration from them we have but made use of the "jus postliminii."
This, then, is the line we shall follow in this new study of the Mass; and, while conforming with chronology, it seems to us at the same time to be the most logical. We shall first examine the Mass in the first three centuries, during which a certain liturgical unity reigned, and while the different Christian provinces of the West had not each created its own special liturgy. We shall then explain (Ch. II) how and why, from the fourth to the seventh century, those liturgical characteristics which distinguish the various Latin families became definite. According to these principles we shall attempt to establish the classification of these liturgical families and their genealogy.
In the following chapters we shall rapidly sketch the general characteristics of the Mass in Africa, Gaul, Spain, Milan, and Great Britain. It goes without saying that the Roman liturgy having become our own, as well as that of the West (with rare exceptions), and also that of the East, the Far East, and the New World--in short, of most Christian countries--it demands detailed study, as well as a close following of its historical development from the fifth to the twentieth century.
We have, according to the usual method, placed in an Excursus certain questions which would have delayed the progress of the work, since they can be studied separately. Such are: the chants of the Mass, the liturgical gestures, the meaning of the word "Missa," the ancient books now united in the existing Missal, the different kinds of Masses, etc. We hope that those who are willing to follow us on these lines will arrive at certain conclusions, and, if they are not specialists (for whom this book is not written), that their ideas as to the great Christian Sacrifice will be clearer and more precise.
The Mass as it is to-day, presents itself under a somewhat complicated form to the non-Catholic, and even to a large number of the faithful. The ceremonies, readings, chants, and formulas follow each other without much apparent method or logic. It is a rather composite mosaic, and it must be confessed that it does seem rather incoherent. Rites, indeed, have been added to rites; others have been rather unfortunately suppressed, and where this is the case, gaps, or what have been styled "gaping holes," appear.
But the historical and comparative method applied in this book explains the greater part of these anomalies, making it fairly easy to reconstitute the synthesis of the Mass, to grasp the guide-line, and, once in possession of the general idea which has presided at all these developments, to understand the whole better when light is thus thrown on the details.