A Glossary of Basic Liturgical Terms

[Included after the Preface of the 1843 edition of Lebrun]

Explanation of certain words that are found in this volume and are perhaps not familiar to everyone.

LITURGY is a Greek word composed of λέϊτον, which means public, and of ἔργον, which means work, which in French we call le Service divin, or simply and excellently le Service. The books that contain the manner of celebrating the holy Mysteries are called Liturgies (in French). Everything that pertains to liturgies is called LITURGICAL, and the authors who work in this field are called LITURGISTS.

RITE, in Latin Ritus, signifies a usage or a ceremony according to a prescribed order. We say equally rite or recte to indicate that which is well done, in order, according to custom, because only that which is thought good is prescribed. What is prescribed at Rome is called the Roman Rite, at Milan the Milanese or Ambrosian Rite, at Paris or Lyon the Parisian and Lyonnese Rite. This term is not ordinarily employed outside the domain of religion. Festus calls the books that contained the ceremonies for the consecration of cities, temples, and altars Rituals, and at present we call a RITUAL the book that prescribes the manner of administering the sacraments.

MOZARABIC RITE. The rite of the churches of Spain from the beginning of the 8th century to the end of the 11th. The Arabs having taken Spain in 712, the Spanish who remained under their domination were called Mozarabes, which means foreign Arabs, to distinguish them from the original Arabs. The proper term is Mostarabe, or in the Spanish pronunciation Moçarabe. We speak about them in the treatise on the ancient rite of the Churches of Spain.

It is sufficient to remark here that the rite is often called the GOTHIC, from the Goths who became Christian and masters of Spain until the time of the Moors. This rite is observed in one chapel of the cathedral church of Toledo according to the Missal printed by Cardinal Ximenès in 1500.

SACRAMENTARY. This was the book containing the prayers and words that the bishops or priests recite during the celebration of Mass and the administration of the sacraments. In later times, the book in which only the parts pertaining to the bishop were written was called a PONTIFICAL; and the one where only the parts celebrated or administered by priests, is called a SACERDOTAL, RITUAL, or MANUAL.

MISSAL. This well-known book contains everything said at Mass throughout the year, but the greater part of the ancient missal manuscripts about which we speak in this work only contain what the celebrant said at the altar, i.e. the Canon and the others prayers of the Mass. A PLENARY MISSAL is the book that contains not only what the priest says but also what is said by the deacon and sub-deacon and choir. These kinds of missals were necessary for the Low Mass, and in our time all the missals printed are plenary missals.

ANTIPHONAL, or according to some, the ANTIPHONARY. Formerly the name of the book that contained all that must be chanted by the choir during the Mass, for which reason the introits were entitled Antiphona ad Introitum. But for a long time now Antiphonals have only contained the antiphons of Matins, Lauds, and the other canonical hours.

ROMAN ORDO. The book that contains the material for celebrating the Mass and the offices of the principle days of the year, especially the last four days of Holy Week and the Octave of Easter. This ordo was expanded later and called a CEREMONIAL.

ORDINARY. The name of the book that, for five or six centuries, has indicated what is to be said and done each day at the altar and in choir. Ancient communities have even added to it what is generally observed during the day. This is why the Cistercians have called it THE USE and the Premonstratensians THE CUSTOMARY.

ORDINARY OF THE MASS. This is what we call what is said at each Mass, to distinguish it from what is proper to feasts and other days of the year.

AMALARIUS is the author of a Treatise on the ecclesiastical Offices composed around 820.

MICROLOGUE is a word taken from Greek, composed of μικρὸς and λόγος, which together mean “short discourse.” An author of the 11th century wrote a treatise on the Mass and the other divine offices under the title Micrologus de ecclesiasticis observationibus, and since the author is never named, he is cited interchangably with his book under the name Micrologus, the Micrologue. He was a contemporary of Pope Gregory VII but wrote after the death of this pope in 1085. That is why this treatise, often cited in this work, is placed around the year 1090.

Deo gratias!—

Belleville Breviary
The Sacrifice and Allegory of Charity, in the Belleville Breviary (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)


Lebrun (4): On the Interpretation of Liturgical Symbols

Wherein Lebrun explains his own method of liturgical commentary. (See Part 1, 2, 3, or download the entire Preface here.)


What the literal sense is

The true literal and historical sense of a writing or a ceremony is that which the author or institutor had in mind, and it is often a figurative sense, one of symbol and of mystery. If we consider the scepter of kings and the crosier of bishops and abbots in a coarse and material fashion, we might say that it is given to them for support while walking, because this is the more ordinary use of staves[1] and because in fact in ancient times bishops and abbots availed themselves of staves in their travels. But since we are seeking the reason for the institution of the ceremony of the pastoral staff, we would distance ourselves from the true sense of the Church if we gave, as a reason of institution, the ordinary usage of support while walking; for the scepter and the crosier are given to both young and old to be used only in actions of magnificence and ceremony. The proper and historical significance of the scepter is to be the symbol of the power of the king in all his dominions, just as the pastoral staff is given by the Church to bishops and abbots to indicate their authority in their dioceses and in their monasteries,[2] and because as pastors they have the crook to protect their flock and to chastise those who trouble its peace and good order. The Church herself teaches us these symbolic senses in her pontificals.

A flawed principle of action drawn from the sound of words

If the false origin of the usage of candles in daytime and a misunderstanding of the proper and literal sense sense led M. de Vert astray, he was no more felicitous in the principle he set himself for finding the physical causes of the actions of the priest and his assistants that are ordinarily joined to words. He might have attributed these actions to the movements that sentiments of a lively and intelligent piety produced. But that would have been moral and mystical, so against his design. He thus had to find those whose whose sound alone was the physical cause of these actions.

He applied himself to this goal in the first volume. The whole second volume, divided into only two chapters, trots out similar attempts. He stuffs it with a confused melange of practices that are holy and respectable alongside usages that are little known, introduced without good cause, and which should be abolished. He informs us that at Abbeville, and in two other places, the chanters act fearful when they sing robustos Moab obtinuit tremor, and that at Péronne the chanter, on Christmas day, at the antiphon De fructu, presents a basket of fruits to the deacon and the sub-chanter. The common practices of the Church are not susceptible to this kind of interpretation, but M. de Vert does not hesitate to attribute them to his pretended physical causes.

If we genuflect at the words of the Credo: Et incarnatus est, that is because a little before we say descendit. “It is quite easy to perceive,” M. de Vert says, “that this ceremony is nothing more than the effect of the impression of the sound and the letter of the word descendit, for genuflection is a sort of descending.”[*] And if in many churches the genuflection is maintained until the word sepultus has been said, do not think that this comes from the desire to adore through this posture of voluntary abasement the humiliations of the incarnate Word. No! It is because we are waiting for a word that tells us us rise, and this word is resurrexit, “for,” he adds in a note, “RESURGERE in its proper sense signifies to rise, to stand erect.” Who else but M. de Vert would be able to divine that this word descendit, pronounced on another occasion, was the cause of the unction and the consecration of the bishop’s hands: “At these other words,” he says, “employed similarly in the same ceremony—unguentum in capite, quod descendit in barbam, barbam Aaron, quod descendit in oram vestimenti eius—his hands are anointed, apparently because of the word descendit, which signalled the actual ‘descent’ and pouring out on the hands of the oil first placed on the head.”

At the place in the Passion when Christ’s death is told, do the Christian people prostrate themselves on the earth in order to adore in the humblest manner possible this precious death that Jesus Christ has suffered for our sins? M. de Vert sees nothing in this ceremony but the attempt to represent a man expiring: “We lay ourselves on the ground,” he says, “and bow our heads in the manner of one expiring and giving up the soul and falling down dead. What’s more,” he adds, “in the Roman Rite a pause is observed here, as if to express, perhaps, the repose of the dead, which is to say, the state of human bodies after death.”

In the High Middle Ages we find several Missals full of certain puerile rubrics, because they were created in coarse times, and M. de Vert, who had read a great number of these rubrics, believed he had to include them in his own work, and he very carefully reports the minute practices of the places he has visited, but he has never once actually found an explanation such as the one above.[3] Really now, should we instruct the faithful to act out what the words so clearly say, and so make their assembly nothing but a company of bad actors?

The true cause of gestures

M. de Vert should have known what good authors have observed,[4] that gestures are made to express sentiments that suffuse the soul at any given time, and not to mimic or act out to spectators everything that the words might signify. M. the Bishop of Soissons hit on the true reason for liturgical gestures according to the sentiments of the Church when he said: “It is the faith, a lively faith that inspires me to prostrate myself before the altars of my God. It is not the bare sound of these words supplex or supplci or adorare or descendit, etc., that make me do it, as M. de Vert would have it. It is solely the desire to show to God by this humiliating posture the humiliation of my heart. It is a lively faith that inspires me to raise my hands and my eyes toward heaven while praying, not only to express through these gestures the sense of the words of my prayer, as M. de Vert says,[5] but to express the liveliness of my desires, which rise toward God, as St. Augustine said,[6] and to excite myself thereby to groan with greater fervor and pray more fruitfully.”[7]

Novel notions about banning mysticism entirely

M. de Vert, in order to banish everything that smacks of mysticism, is obliged to find other reasons besides what he finds in the impression made by the sound of words. St. Benedict, in the 6th century, tells us that the Gloria Patri was said standing to note the honor due to the Holy Trinity to whose praise this versicle is dedicated. M. de Vert observes that at the end of each Nocturn the choir, which had been sitting, rises at the last response when the Gloria Patri is said, and has another perspective than that proposed by St. Benedict: “We stand,” he says, “as if to leave the choir,” because formerly one departed at the end of every Nocturne. What can we expect from an author who is only looking for causes like this? In the last two volumes that appeared in 1713, he comments on the rubrics in detail, accompanying them with short discussions about the more difficult passages. In this he sometimes appears to be more equitable toward that which is evidently mystagogical, but it is also true that he continues to put forward reasons that are entirely the product of his fantasy. He still spares no effort to exclude any other cause for the actions of the priest than the sound of the worlds he pronounces! When the priest ends the collects, does he join his hands according to the usual custom throughout the whole world, to ask for some grace with earnestness? M. de Vert finds no other reason for this gesture than the words in unitate: “Whether he joins his hands at the Per Dominum or at in unitate, it is always in consequence of these last words that he makes this movement, in order to express the words.” Again, he pretends to have found the better physical reason for it when the priest says Per eundem: “The priest joins his hands at this moment, as if to make one thing out of two, making one joined hand, because of the eumdem.”

The mistaken origin of the elevation of the Host

When discussing developments in ceremonial, M. de Vert is satisfied with his usual manner of conjecture, instead of seeking the true historical reasons. He knows that the elevation of the Host began in the twelfth century. What is the origin of this new ceremony? Here it is, according to him: “Since it was necessary for the priest, taking the Host in his hands at the accepit panem and the accipite, to elevate it just a little, as we observe in rubric 27, n. 1, it happened that imperceptibly priests began to elevate it so much, especially after the consecration, when they wanted to adore It, that finally, seen and noticed by the servers who did not fail to render homage to It and worship It, around the beginning of the twelfth century this elevation started to become solemn.” There you have a pretty slow physical explanation. Did a thousand years need to pass for the Host to be elevated thus, little by little, such that It could be perceived by all the servers? What is more: Is it that hard to see that in the eleventh century Berengar impugned the real presence, and that after his penance and death in 1088, many saintly characters introduced various uses to lead the faithful to publicly acknowledge the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, in a show of contempt for Berengar’s heresy, and that this is the origin of the elevation of the Host? But M. de Vert is neither aware of nor investigates this kind of origin.

Infidelity to the facts

What is most annoying for those of us who work in this field is that one cannot trust what he reports about the books he has read. It seems that he was blind to whatever did not fit with his conjectures or his system. From the fact that the Carthusians and the Dominicans do not say the psalm Judica me Deus at the beginning of the Mass, he infers that the recitation of this psalm is very recent. “The Church of Rome,” he says, “has deemed it appropriate to admit it only after about two centuries. It is still not mentioned in the Ordo Romanus of the 14th century.”[8] He repeats this again in the fourth volume: “Until then,” he says, “as we see, there is still no trace of the Judica.”[9] Nevertheless, in addition to the ancient manuscripts we have cited, the Judica has been for the past six or seven hundred years mentioned by many well-known authors, such as the Micrologus, Innocent III, Durandus, etc. And could it have been more clearly marked than it is in the Ordo Romanus of the 14th century, where M. de Vert failed to find it? These are the words of that Ordo: “The Pope, clad in his pontifical vestments, says, before the altar, Introibo ad Altare Dei; one responds, Ad Deum, etc., after which he behinds the psalm Judica, which he says with his assistants.”[10] It is this kind of untrustworthy assertion, which is all too frequent in the work, which has obliged me for the sake of my readers to highlight some of them,[11] even if I had no intention to speak about M. de Vert. I have to say that his infidelities have truly bothered me, because they have prevented me from profiting from his research. He names many old Church books, and unfortunately it is necessary to re-read everything he cites, and do much more research than he did to avoid stumbling about, and reach a just middle ground between him and the pretended mystics.

What must be done to avoid the defects of the pretended mystics and of the pretended men of letters

In order to avoid the defects of both these camps, first, one must not to lose sight of the nature of the question, which consists in finding the origin of the ceremonies and not the origin of things the Church uses in the ceremonies. For example, if I am asked for what reason the Pope gives a red hat to cardinals, it would be facetious to respond that it is to cover his head, because I was not asked why the cardinals wear a zucchetto, a biretta, or a hat, but why they wear a red one. It is the origin of this color, proper to cardinals, that we are looking for, and not the origin of birettas and hats. This is what M. de Vert never fails to miss, and it makes him give so many poor explanations of the sacraments and of the most holy ceremonies. The whole world knows that the purpose of washing hands and the entire body is to clean ourselves, but if we are asked whences comes it that water is the matter for the sacrament of Baptism, why water is poured on the head of the baptised, or why he is plunged into the water, it would be a very poor response indeed to say that it was originally to wash the body, because baptism is not done, as St. Peter says, “to put away the filth of the flesh”[12]; and St. Augustine teaches us that those who are to be baptized on Holy Saturday bathed on Maundy Thursday so as not to bring their bodies filthy to the baptismal fonts. The origin of baptism is thus neither in the need to wash the body, nor, as M. de Vert would have it, the use of certain people who washed their infants after their birth, and through superstition carried them to a river to do so. The origin of Baptism is purely symbolic, which is to say that the water, which is an element very suited to washing all manner of things, is employed to show that when it touches the body, God purifies the soul of all its blemishes.

Secondly, we must discover as much as possible the time and place when each ceremony began. This was something always neglected by the mystics and often by M. de Vert. Cardinal Lothar (Innocent III), supposing that there had always been, as there are now, 25 signs of the cross in the Canon, considers that this number is employed by “five times five, which always returns to itself when it is multiplied ad infinitum, for however much the Sacrament of the Eucharist is multiplied it always remains the same sacrifice.”[13] The cardinal might have seen that even in his day  , in various churches and among the Carthusians there were not 25 signs of the cross, that 150 years before him the Host and Chalice were raised at the words per ipsum, etc, in place of the five signs of the cross made in this place thereafter, and that thus the relation between these 25 signs of the cross and the Eucharist is a relation he has imagined and had never been taught by the Church.

Thirdly, we must look in the contemporary authors and the prayers of the most ancient books of the Church for the ideas they had of these ceremonies, for it is these prayers themselves that reveal their own spirit and true sense.

Fourthly, we must not to create a system, in order to lay out what we find with more fidelity, and not to let our imaginations run wild.

Fifthly, we propose as our model of investigation that we should take, as the true explanations of the Church, the ceremonies where these reasons, of whatever sort they may be, render themselves, so to speak, manifest: for there have been many sorts. Several examples will serve to illustrate this clearly.

Example of discerning the various causes of ceremonies

  1. There are some usages that have no other cause than seemliness and convenience. We need look no further for the reason why the Missal is not left on the altar on the Epistle side during the Offertory other than that this side must be left free for everything required for the Oblation. Similarly, we cover the chalice for precaution, and not for any mystagogical reason, for fear that something might fall in it. If the Micrologus, which recognizes this reason, adds several other mystagogical reasons,[14] these are accretions at root, rather than the Church’s own sense.
  2. There are those which have a double cause: one of convenience and another of mystery. The first reason of the cincture put around the alb is to prevent it from flying about and trailing on the ground, and this physical reason does not prevent the Church, by means of the prayers that she makes priests say, from taking the cincture as a symbol of purity, since St. Peter commanded us to put on a spiritual cincture: succincti lumbos mentis vestrae, etc.[15] Further, it is of course true that the fraction of the Host is made to imitate Jesus Christ who broke the bread, and because it must be distributed. This has not stopped various churches from adding spiritual interpretations of this fraction, dividing the Host into three, four, or nine parts.[16]
  3. Sometimes when a physical cause of convenience or seemliness has ceased, a symbolic reason has been added [[cite Taft]] with the result that the practice is preserved. The maniple was originally only a handkerchief for the convenience of those who worked in the church and needed to clean themselves. After six or seven centuries, it no longer served this use, but the Church continues to employ it to remind her ministers that they must work and suffer to merit their recompense.[17]
  4. Sometimes a use established for a reason of convenience was changed for a mystagogical reason. Until about the end of the 9th century, the deacon chanting the Gospel faced south, towards the men’s side, because it was more fitting to announce the holy word to them than to the women who were placed on the opposite side. But since the end of the 9th century in the churches of France and Germany, the deacon has turned to the north for a purely spiritual reason, which is explained on pages 199 and 200.
  5. We also see that a reason of propriety has displaced a practice that had been introduced as a symbol of interior purity. In the Greek Church the priest washes his hands at the beginning of the Mass, and in the Latin Church too he once washed them before the Oblation, something bishops, the Canons of Arras, and the Carthusians still observe. Now this use had been established, according to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “not because of need, since he washed on entering the church, but to point out the interior purity that is fitting to the holy Mysteries.”[18] Later, according to Amalarius[19] and the sixth Roman Ordo according to the use in the churches of France, the bishop or priest washed his hands between the Offertory of the faithful and the oblation at the altar, in order to purify his hands, which could have been dirtied by touching the bread brought by the laity. And since according to the same Ordo the incensation of the oblations followed, the ablution of the fingers was finally placed after this incensation in view of a greater propriety, but without abandoning the primitive spiritual reason, which joined a prayer to this ablution.[20]
  6. There are some uses that have never had anything but symbolic and mystagogical reasons. Some persons doubt that this has been the case from their origin, but it will be easy to persuade them, if we consider that the first Christians always had in view the raising of the mind to God; that everything that passed through their hands became, so to speak, symbolic; and that, as the sacraments were instituted under the form of symbols, they were inclined always to spiritualize everything. This is easy to see in the Epistles of St. Paul, in the writings of St. Barnabas, St. Clement, St. Justine, Tertullian, Origen, etc. The ancient author of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy writing under the name of St. Dionysius, even tells us that the symbolic reasons for the ceremonies were kept in secret, and that only the heads of the Church knew them and revealed them to the people on certain occasions.


St. Paul gives nothing but mystagogical reasons for the practice of praying with heads uncovered which men must observe in church, and the Fathers of the Church who explain the words of St. Paul also give nothing but mystagogical reasons for this use. It is also for a mystagogical reason that throughout many centuries the newly baptized were vested in a white robe, and that Constantine, the first Christian emperor, dressed his bed and chamber in white after having received Baptism during the illness of which he died. When the first Christians turned toward the sun as they raised their prayer, it is because they regarded the orient as the figure of Jesus Christ; and when they went to pray in places that were elevated and well lit whenever that was possible, it is because the exterior light represented the light of the Holy Spirit, as Tertullian teaches us.[21] All the ceremonies that precede the Baptism are also mystagogical symbols. St. Ambrose, who explains them in the book of the Initiated or on the mysteries, said that catechumens were turned toward the west to signify that they renounce the works of Satan and resist him to the face, and they then turns toward the East as if to look upon Jesus Christ, the true light.

Nothing is more commended in the first four centuries than praying standing on Sundays and the whole of Paschaltide. Tertullian says that it was a kind of crime to pray on one’s knees at these times, as well as to fast.[22] The first general Council made this law in the 25th canon. St. Jerome and St. Augustine, independently of this canon, which they were long unaware of, always spoke of this usage with great veneration. It was a tradition that had the force of law, according to St. Jerome;[23] and St. Augustine doubted only if it was observed everywhere on earth. St. Hilary and many other ancient doctors believed that this custom came from the apostles. Now, all these doctors, as well as St. Basil, St. Ambrose, Council canons, and all the ancient documents, only give mystagogical reasons for this practice; and indeed what other reason can one give, except that the faithful wished to honour the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and manifest their hope to participate in His resurrection and ascension by by the elevation of their bodies.

It is therefore to distance oneself from the spirit and views of the first doctors of the Church, and to waste one’s time, to spend one’s efforts in rejecting all mystagogical origins. On the contrary, the Church wants her children to dedicate themselves to investigating the mysteries that the ceremonies contain. We find in the ancient sacramentaries this collect said every year for the blessing of palms: “Grant, we beseech thee, that the devout hearts of thy faithful may savingly understand the mystical meaning of that ceremony”, and it is for this reason that the councils ordered priests to learn what is mysterious in the ceremonies and explain it to the people.

The necessity of a work that strikes the right balance

When we consider the spirit of the Apostles, of the first Christians, of the prayers of the Church, and the decrees of the councils, is it possible to find nothing but crude meanings in all the usages of the Church, and to regard the mystagogical reasons as so many arbitrary interpretations of the over-pious with which the Church has nothing to do? Without a doubt that is a more unhappy extreme than that of the pretended mystics, and which demands, in these times more than ever, a work that strikes a just balance. And this is what has caused me to quit all my other work to try to give an exact explanation of all the prayers and all the ceremonies of the Mass that in all our churches occupy the better part of each day.

Besides the research that such a work demands, it has been necessary to make sure that it is within reach of all people, and to make it neither too short nor too long. For this reason we believed that it was fitting to begin with an explanation of all the prayers and an appreciation of the origin and reasons of the ceremonies, which would satisfy the greatest number of people. This is the work of the first volume.

There is no Rite of the Latin Church as in the Greek Church. Since time immemorial the Greeks have held exactly to the liturgy of St. Chrysostom for the entire year, and to that of St. Basil for a few solemn feasts, but among the Latin Churches, from the 4th century to our day there have been so many varieties that it were not possible to note their origins without studying all the monuments of the churches. The travels I have made have been very useful to me, but it was not possible to go everywhere, and I cannot sufficiently praise the zeal and generosity of the great number of persons who have sent me documents, of which I will make mention, as is due, in the Bibliothèque Liturgique.


[The Preface is followed by approbations from the bishops of Auxerre, Fréjus, Senez, and Condom; the Superior General of the Oratory; several doctors of the Sorbonne; and the permission of the Archbishop of Paris.]

Any comments or criticisms on the translation are very welcome.

[1] The sceptre was often a very long stave. Charlemagne’s was seven feet tall, according to Einhard, and the monk of St. Gall says that Charlemagne complained about a bishop whom he had left with the Queen, who wanted to make use of this sceptre in place of the pastoral staff: Sceptrum nostrum, quod pro significatione regiminis nostri, aureum ferre solemnus, pro pastorali baculo, nobis ignorantibus, sibi vindicare voluisset. L. 1 c. 19.

[2] St. Isidore of Seville, around the year 600, speaks thus about the baton given to bishops at their consecration: Huic autem, dum consecratur, datur baculus, ut eius indicio subditam plebem vel regat, vel corrigat, vel infirmitates infirmorum sustineat (Isid. de Eccl. Offic. l. 2 c.5)

[3] It is not that M. de Vert wanted to absolutely exclude reasons of piety, in order to substitute his own ideas: “God preserve me,” he says, “from every condemning either the mystics or mystagogical reasons….” He adds that he is only searching, quaero, non affirmo (Pref. tom. 1 p. xliv et xiv). But as for the work itself and especially its title, they give another idea. To avoid embarrassing his reader, he ought to have called the book Conjectures sur les Ceremonies, and not Explication litterale et historique.

[4] See the poetry of Julius Caesar Scaliger.

[5] Tom 2. p. 147.

[6] Omnes genua figunt, extendunt manus, vel prosternuntur solo, hoc magis se ipsum excitat homo ad orandum, gemendumque humilius atque ferventius (St. Aug. lib. de cura pro mort. c. 5).

[7] Refut. de M. de Vert, p. 177.

[8] Tom. 3, p. 19.

[9] Tom. 4. p. 3

[10] Ordo Romanus XIV n. 71, p. 329

[11] Page 201, 497, etc

[12] Non carnis depositio sordium (1 Petr. 3:21).

[13] Simul omnibus quinques quinque, quae sunt simul viginti quinque: qui numerus per se ductus semper in seipsum reducitur, si ducatur in infinitum. quantum libet enim multiplicetur Eucharistiae Sacramentum semper est idem Sacrificium. (v. 5. c. 11)

[14] Huc usque Calix pro cautela coopertus videbatur, deinceps autem magis pro mysterio coperitur, etc. Microl. c. 17.

[15] 2 Peter 1:13.

[16] Respectively, the churches of Italy and France, of the Greeks, and in the Mozarabic rite.

[17] Ut recipiam mercedem laboris

[18] Cathec. 5. Myst.

[19] Amal. de Eccles. Offic. vol. 3, c. 19

[20] Pontifex vero, postquam thuribulum Diacono reddiderit, potest ad maiorem munditiam abluere digitos suos (Ord. Rom. XIV, p. 303).

[21] Nostrae columbae etiam domus simplex in editis semper et apertis, et ad lucem amat figuram Spiritus sancti, Orientem Christi figuram (Tert. lib. advers. Valent. c. 3).

[22] Die Dominico jejunium nefas ducimus vel de geniculis adorare (Lib. de cor. mil. c. 3)

[23] Multa quae per traditionem in Ecclesiis observantur auctoritatem sibi scriptae legis usurpaverunt, velut die Dom. et per omnem Pent. non de geniculis adorare (Contra Lucif. et Prolog. in Epist. ad Ephes.).

[*] Ed. note– Jungmann mentions this claim in a footnote (Missarum Solemnia, vol. 1, pg 108) to his discussion of the medieval allegorical method and its influence on liturgical praxis. The whole discussion in this chapter (“The Gothic Period”) is worth reading, as it has become the consensus opinion, for good or ill, about the allegorical tradition :

“Ceremonies of this sort of imitative symbolism were developed in great number, as is well known. And they often turned into something quite playful, as (for instance) when the boy-abbot in the monastery schools on the Feast of Holy Innocents (Dec. 28) at Vespers, when the words deposuit potentes de sede were sung, was summarily shoved from his chair. The same dramatic instinct was at work here which produced the mystery plays.

Cl. de Vert, Explication simple litterale et historique des ceremonies (Paris, 1706-1708), wanted to use this imitative symbolism of the late Middle Ages as the main principle for the explanation of the ceremonies.”

Gemma Animae (25): On the Sermon

Ch. 25

On the Sermon

Then the bishop delivers a sermon to the people, for after Christ made himself known to the people by the apostles, he himself began to preach to all. The bishop instructs the people on penance, faith, and confession, for Christ taught penance, faith in God, and the remission of sins by confession and baptism.

After this the people sing Kyrie eleison and the clergy sing Credo in unum Deum [1]; for they affirm that they believe what the deacon read and what the bishop preached. Thus, after Christ and the apostles taught the people, they sounded praises to God on account of the faith received.

Meanwhile, the Gospel-book is carried through the choir with incense, and extended for each one to kiss, for the apostles carried Christ, the odour of life, through the world, and proffered eternal peace to all peoples through his word [2].

[1] Cf. Jungmann (vol. 1, pg. 472). It seems Honorius may be referring to the genre of “Credo-songs” sung by the people in lieu of the Credo itself, and using the refrain Kyrie eleison. Since it was often too much to expect the people to chant the whole text of the Creed in Latin, various substitutes were contrived, to be sung while the clergy sang the Credo. Sometimes these songs were even in the vernacular:

“For Germany Berthold of Regensburg (d. 1272) mentions with praise the practice he found in several places where the people joined the “Credo” by singing a German song which he cites as follows: Ich gloube an den Vater, ich gloube an den Sun miner frouwen sant Marien, und an den Heiligen Geist. Kyrieleys.”

[2] Jungmann explains the origin of this practice in the ancient papal stational liturgy:

“When the Gospel ended it was customary in the Roman stational services for a subdeacon to take the book (not with bare hands, however, but holding it super planetam), and to bring it around to the attending clergy to be kissed before it was returned again to its casket, sealed and brought back to its place of safekeeping.

In countries of the North, the people were, for a time, permitted to share in this veneration of the Gospel book” (Missarum Sollemnia, vol. 1, 449).

In a footnote, he continues: “According to WIlliam of Hirsau […] the priest at a private Mass kissed the book after the reading, then handed it to the Mass-server et aliis communicare volentibus to be kissed.”



De sermone.   

Deinde episcopus sermonem ad populum facit, quia postquam Christus populo per apostolos innotuit, ipse omnibus praedicare coepit. Episcopus populum de poenitentia, et fide, et confessione instruit, quia Christus poenitentiam, et fidem in Deum et remissionem peccatorum per confessionem et baptisma docuit. Post haec populus Kyrie eleyson, et clerus Credo in unum Deum, cantant; quia quod diaconus legit, et quod episcopus praedicavit se credere affirmant. Ita postquam Christus et apostoli populum docuerunt, fide recepta, laudes Deo personuerunt. Interim Evangelium cum incenso per chorum defertur, et singulis ad osculandum porrigitur; quia apostoli Christum (odorem vitae) per mundum portaverunt, et cunctis gentibus per verbum eius pacem aeternam praebuerunt.

Lebrun (3): On the Literal Interpretation of Liturgy

Lebrun explains de Vert’s project and his criticism. (See Part 1, 2).


How the ceremonies ought to be explained

If an explanation of the prayers of the Mass is necessary, that of the actions and ceremonies is not less so. They are also signs that can express thoughts more vividly even than words, are are established for our edification, instruction, and keener attention. The ceremonies of the divine service must not be regarded as indifferent. Scripture teaches us that God attached particular graces to them. Moses prayed with his hands raised up toward heaven. This was a ceremony. And we know that God made the Jews’ victory depend on this elevation of his hands.[1] St. Paul, who often reminded Christians that they had been freed from the ceremonies of the Law, highly valued those of the Church, and saw no reason to change or omit them. He was content to say: “if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the church of God”[2]. We must therefore apply ourselves to understand the true reason of every ceremony of the Mass. But it is not easy to discover them. Sometimes necessity, sometimes seemliness or convenience, and often symbolic and mystagogical reasons caused them to be established, and these reasons are rarely mentioned. One must seek them in scattered places. We cannot discover the true reason for some of them except by analogy with those for which we have found the true cause.

Defects of the authors who have given mystical explanations

For five or six centuries, several famous authors dedicated long works to the Mass. The works of Cardinal Lothar, who became Pope under the name Innocent III in 1198, and of Durandus, Bishop of Mende, both divided into six books, were copied a hundred times by later authors as the best thing available. But these authors, as able as they were in other matters, were not very well versed in antiquity, and did not have the time to complete the necessary research. They recognized this and even declared at the outset and conclusion of their works, and we sense on each page that they had reason to say it. Their genius is principally exercised in discovering and positing alleged mystical explanations in every place. Their allegories were within reach of the devotion of a great number of the faithful, but they they were never universally appreciated. For a long time many learned and experienced men have desired that what is mysterious should not be confused with what is not. But however edifying be the views that are presented in order to nourish the piety of the faithful, they must cede their place to the chief ideas that have been held by the Church. Whether it was necessity, convenience, or seemliness that was the first cause of the ceremony in question, that we must say; and then rise as high as possible to discover the spiritual reasons the Church has, so to speak, superimposed upon the reason of institution. The most recent ideas that propose themselves must come last in our consideration. The authors in question did not follow this order, and this is what renders their works less useful and obliges us to complete the researches that they have neglected.

M. de Vert’s project of literal explanation

We have understood better than ever in our century how much it is important to return to the origins of the usages of the Church. Certain authors have made various studies on the subject, but none has given us a reason to hope for a comprehensive work except Dom Claude de Vert. He proposed this study almost as soon as he was in a position to undertake it, and soon afterwards the world understood that he had certain ideas on this matter that differ from most authors. About this the [Protestant] Minister Jurieu wrote that “a learned man of the Order of Cluny is preparing a work that would surpass Durandus, Biel, Innocent, and all their disciples who have written on the Mysteries of the Mass, and prove that all the ceremonies are empty of mystery.” M. de Vert wisely distanced himself from this elegy in a letter to M. Jurieu himself, and in a few short, simple, and literal reflections, repudiated all the vapid pleasantries that the Minister had made about the ceremonies of the Mass. This letter was published at Paris in 1690. The public applauded it and conceived new hopes for the awaited work. M. de Vert was seemingly in a position to make it excellent. Already treasurer of the Abbey of Cluny, he had been made Visitor of the Order, which opened for him the most direct channels by which to become acquainted with the usages of the churches and discover their ancient monuments. The benefits he enjoyed gave him besides the means to provide for the expenses he would engage for these researches. What could not be expected from this author? Even after his two first volumes appeared in 1707 and 1708, more effort was given in praising them than examining them with care. And indeed the author’s intention to dispense with the imaginary reasons given by the pretended mystics, his efforts to discover literal reasons, and his accumulation of a great number of curious facts, unique practices and observations, which may at least serve as reminders for those who work on this material in the future, certainly merited praise. We give it without hesitation on those points that do not regard the faith. But readers give praise all the more easily since, when they are not experts in a subject, however learned they might be in others, they can be satisfied with probabilities that seem to be true. But when more attentive readers well-versed in ecclesiastical antiquity and experienced in studying the ancient sources have read the work with the proper caution against anything that might be imaginary, they have judged that M. de Vert has depended too much to the hypotheses of some moderns; that he too often relies on his own hypotheses; and that these conjectures, based on some practices of the High Middle Ages, have led him to construct a system that attributes only physical origins of convenience or necessity to all the ceremonies of the Church. It would have been necessary to warn him and explain his mistakes, which would undoubtedly have influenced his candor and sense of justice to rectify his system in the subsequent volumes he was supposed to write on the Mass. But sadly he died[3] just as I was on the point of writing to him. We can thus do nothing more than address ourselves to the readers who have too easily adopted his conjectures, and as we have proposed to explain to the faithful the origin and meaning of the prayers of the Mass and the authentic spirit of the Church in her ceremonies, we also feel ourselves obliged to show, in the work of M. de Vert, where these sort of hypotheses lead. The interest of the faithful should always be preferred to the consideration an individual might deserve, however good his intention might have been, and whatever respect we had for him. We turn first to the source of his project and his research.

M. de Vert’s system founded on a false supposition

“Having heard, more than thirty years ago, from a very intelligent man and besides well-versed in antiquity, that candles were not originally used in the Church for any other reason than for illumination, the idea struck me, and set me on the track of the natural and historic meaning of the ceremonies, and I understood at that moment that that all the other practices of the Church must also have had an original physical cause and reason for their institution. I thus set myself to investigate the causes and reasons [….] I have drawn my conclusions, formed my opinion, taken my side, and drawn up my system.” A bad start. Any man that begins with a system only looks for and discovers what he can favor his theory.

Why make a system to explain the ceremonies? There are some that have been introduced by necessity, others for convenience or seemliness, and a great number for mysterious reasons. Thus they cannot be reduced to only one cause. It pleased M. de Vert to craft a system, because at the outset he wanted them to have only physical reasons of convenience or necessity. He did not make his system after his researches, it was only after making it that he sought for or imagined what would justify it. From the moment he heard someone say that candles were not originally used in Church for any other reason than for illumination, his system was created for all the ceremonies. He understood at that moment THAT ALL THE OTHER PRACTICES OF THE CHURCH MUST ALSO HAVE HAD ORIGINAL PHYSICAL CAUSES. Following a system so conceived, every glimpse or hint that could support it would be admitted in whatever place he found it; and anything that appeared to contradict it, however ancient or respectable it might be, would be rejected as bad taste.

False origins of the use of candles

This was the project M. de Vert set up for himself. His first concern should have been to examine whether what he had been told about the origin of candles in the Church were true, whether the custom of lighting them at Mass during the day came from the fact that Mass was originally said in underground spaces, and thereafter by force of habit people continued to light them even in plain daylight, as he repeats so often in all his volumes. If he had begun with this question, he might have seen that the reflection that charmed him was false, that candles have been used in the Church from the beginning, just as they are today, as much as for simple illumination, as to mark the joy excited by the vigils of the great feasts, and to honor the relics of the saints and the tombs of the faithful; and that they were lit in plain daylight not at all because of custom but for mystagogical reasons. We have shown that in the 4th century until about 400 in every church in Europe, candles were not lit during the day time; and they began to be lit at the Gospel, and thence during the prayers of the consecration for nothing other than reasons that were purely symbolic and mystagogical.

On incense

Thus M. de Vert went astray from the start when he set out on the track. Was he more lucky on the road? Incense, according to him, was first employed in the Church to dispel bad odors, and that lit candles were given to the newly baptized to light their way to the fonts and the altar. On this point there would have been no need for study to discover the falsity of these pretended physical reasons. A little attention would have brought out its absurdity. Indeed, if incense was only burned to spread good odors in the church, it would have sufficed to have placed a box of perfume to accomplish this. The pontiff would not have been charged with incensing the altar himself in ceremony, as we see it is in the Apostolic Constitutions, in the Treatise on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and in St. Ambrose. It would not have been required to bless this incense, or, while offering it, to make these beautiful prayers that are read in the most ancient liturgies of Saint James and Saint Chrysostom,[4] and that the Greek Church recites to the present day.[5]

The candles of the newly baptized

If the newly baptized lit their candles only to guide their way from the fonts to the altar, why would they not light them going to the fonts in the first place, since it was already night? The priests, deacons, godparents, and other faithful who accompanied the newly baptized, would not they have the same reasons to light candles? But it is only the newly baptized who carry candles in their hands, and certainly not out of any need: for in this ancient solemnity there were such a great number of lights that the shadows of the night were changed into brilliant day. M. de Vert knew this, and that is why he says that candles were not lit during the Gospel, since the Deacon would have been able to see very clearly. Were these great candles sufficient for reading, but not for leading the way? M. de Vert would rather defend his side, than recognize, with the ancient Fathers, that the candles lit when leaving the fonts are a symbol that shows the newly baptized that through baptism they have just passed from the shadows to the light. M. de Vert refuses to put up with these mystical reasons. He even seems to refuse to grant mystagogical origins to the institution of the sacraments, as one can see in several places in his work.

The deceptive nature of the simple and literal sense

M. de Vert claims that his ideas introduce us to “the taste of learned men, who in every genre of science and literature always come back to the simple and the natural, and thus to the truth.” There is nothing more excellent than such taste, as long as it is retrained in within its just bounds, just as nothing is more pernicious than a taste that is ruined for not knowing how to restrain itself. We must acknowledge, to the glory and the shame of our century, that we have both conceived good taste, and so often spoiled it; that spirits otherwise capable of good things are given to deplorable excesses even while explaining the word of God. Origen and many ancient interpreters depended too much on allegory, enough to lead their so-called critics to dispense with them entirely. These latter have carried out their design so thoroughly, that it is no longer acceptable to find in Moses, the Prophets, and the other Holy Books, that which Jesus Christ revealed there to his disciples, and that which they later elaborated for the entire Church.[6] These pretended critics are all grammarians at best, whose works are pernicious to the faithful, and useful only to good theologians to help them understand the scope of certain terms. They are strangers in the Old and New Testament, hospites Testamentorum.[7] On the specious pretext of looking for the simple, literal, and historical sense, M. de Vert has allowed himself like them to be blinded, but also like them, he has allowed himself to be duped.

(to be continued….)

Any comments or criticisms on the translation are very welcome!


[1] Ex. 17:11.

[2] 1 Cor 11:16.

[3] At Abbeville, 1 May 1708.

[4] Euchol. Graec. p. 62.

[5] We have shown based on the testimony of the ancient Fathers that the use of incense was introduced in the Church for symbolic and mystagogical reasons.

[6] Illae sunt Scripturae quae testimonium perhibent de me…….De me enim ille Moises scripsit (John 5:39, 46). Incipiens a Moyse, et omnibus Prophetis, interpretabatur illis in omnibus Scripturis quae de ipso erant (Luke 24:27).

[7] Ephesians 2:12.


Lebrun: On the Diffusion of Hand-Missals in France

Wherein Lebrun explains the history of the vernacular hand-Missal and why its use has become wide-spread in France. (This is Part 2 of the Preface. See Part I)


How the Ordinary came into the hands of the people

The Ordinary of the Mass was accessible to few people besides the priests until the end of the 14th century. At that time the use of the printing press, which allowed the printing of any number of Missals in large and small volumes, no longer permitted it to remain hidden as it had been, and in the following century the heresies of Luther and Calvin, who dared to blaspheme against the Mass, obliged many of the laity to read it and examine its prayers, because it was so hotly disputed. The Councils of Mainz and of Cologne, in 1547, ordered it to be explained to the people. This decision was confirmed at the Council of Trent,[1] which enjoined priests to explain, on Sundays and Feasts, some of the mysteries of the Mass, and what was read in it, so that the faithful would be not only well instructed concerning the truth of the mystery, but also the meaning of the prayers and ceremonies. The Council desired further[2] that priests explain the sacramental formulas, and that bishops have them translated into the vulgar languages to facilitate their understanding by the people.

The Church has never pretended to hide the mystery from the faithful in an absolute sense. She has only feared that their lack of comprehension might cause them to misunderstand the words they express, and she has desired that these words not be given to them unless they are explained at the same time. Several centuries before the Council of Trent, priests were ordered to explain to the people in the vulgar tongue what is said at Mass and at Baptism. This was expressly recommended in a national council of England, held at Clovesho in 747 under the direction of St. Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury. The King Ethelbald and the great men of the realm also assisted. There were read the letters of Pope Zachary and of St. Boniface, who for a long time was the soul of councils in Germany, France, and England. This is the decree of this council: “May priests know how to administer all that which pertains to their functions properly and according to the prescribed form; may those who do not know learn to be able to interpret and expound in the particular tongue the Symbol of Faith and the Lord’s Prayer and the most holy words which are solemnly said in the celebration of the Mass and the office of Baptism; and may they ensure they learn what the sacraments themselves, which are visibly confected in Mass and Baptism, or in other ecclesiastical offices, spiritually signify; lest either in the very intercessions by which they are known to pray to God for the sins of the people, or in the offices of their ministry, they might be found mute and ignorant, as it were, if they do not understand neither the sense of their words nor the sacraments by which through them others attain eternal salvation.”[3]

Virgin_with_Chancellor_Rolin_Luber (1).jpg

French version of the Ordinary of the Mass.––The necessity of explaining the ordinary of the Mass

At the end of the 16th century the Cardinals of Lorraine and of Guise, successively Archbishops of Rheims, ordered a French translation of the Ordinary of the Mass to be published. Later many others appeared, that of Jouyac,[4] of Veron, of M. d’Illaire, and of M. de Harlay, Archbishop of Rouen, printed with the Manual of the diocese and separately; that of M. de la Miletière in 1646, of M. Catalan in 1651, and in 1654, M. Desplats, doctor of theology, translated the entire Missal which has often been reprinted[5]. In 1660 M. de Voisin published a new translation of the Missal with the approbation of several bishops, the vicars general of Paris, and a great number of doctors. It is true that at the insistence of M. the Cardinal Mazarin, the assembly of 1660, under the presidency of M. de Harlay Archbishop of Rouen, condemned this version. But the same president having become the bishop of Paris ten years later did not disapprove of the translation introduced the beginning of Holy Week in Latin and French;[6] and permitted a new edition to be published in 1673, including an explanation of the ceremonies, and this edition has been republished often.[7] As a matter of discipline the Church can forbid or permit the same thing depending on the various times and places it can be harmful or faithful to the faithful. Every day we see return to the Church a great number of persons who since their childhood had heard the offices celebrated in their mother tongue and whose ministers had told them a hundred times that the Roman Liturgy was full of impieties. How can they avoid reading this liturgy in a language they can understand? M. Pélisson, who after tasting the sweetness of Catholicism knew very well what consolation it was for new converts to read the words of the Mass, worked with the Court and the Bishops to publish and distribute a Latin-French Missal throughout the realm in 1676, in 5 small volumes. He also published separately, in the same year, the Ordinary of the Mass with short prayers, which the lord bishop of Saintes in 1681, and other bishops afterwards had printed in their dioceses. Finally, after the editions made by order of the King for the benefit of new converts after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, such a large quantity have been printed every year, with the authority of the bishops, that it is no longer a question at present to ask whether vernacular translations are proper and whether they ought to be read by the people. It is an established fact. We find them in everyone’s hands, and there is nothing more to be done except to give them, by means of an exact explanation, as much or more respect for it than was attempted to inspire in them by the secrecy with which it was kept from them. It is this that compelled many persons of distinction to demand with earnest the work that we here present.

Since I began to apply myself seriously to this task, I have realized that one cannot understand the true sense of the words of the Mass without explaining all of them word by word, and that the principal defect of all the treatises that have been made on the Mass stems from the fact that it has never been explained in its entirety;[8] that explanations have been given based on mere conjecture; that it was necessary to try show which paths the Church took; that it was necessary to draw as much as possible from the Fathers, the most ancient ecclesiastical writers, and from tradition an understanding of the terms, dogmas, and mysteries contained in it; and that for this a literal, historical, and dogmatic explanation of all that goes to compose the Mass is required. We do not need to propose any other views than those of the Church, or fix our souls on anything but the thoughts with which she desires we occupy ourselves, or excite in ourselves other sentiments that those that she wants us to form in our hearts, so that we have the advantage of praying and offering along with her, and that we do not forego the fruit that is attached to an understanding of the words, rich in meaning and mystery, that she places in our mouths.

Cruelties of the Huguenots

(to be continued…)

Any comments or criticisms of the translation are welcome!

**A PDF of the Preface in French can be seen here.


[1] Ut frequenter inter Missarum celebrationem, vel per se, vel per alios, ex iis quae in Missa leguntur, aliquid exponant, atque inter caetera sanctissimi huius Sacrificii mysterium aliquod declarent, diebus praesertim Dominicis et feriis (Conc. Trident. sess. 22, c. 8).

[2] Juxta formam a sancta synodo in catechesi singulis sacramentis praescribendam, quam episcopi in vulgarem linguam fideliter verti atque a parochis omnibus populo exponi curabunt (Sess 24, c. 7).

[3] Ut presbyteri omne sui gradus officium legitimo ritu per omnia discant exhibere nosse: deinde ut symbolum fidei, ac dominicam orationem, sed et sacrosancta quoque verba quae in Missae celebratione et officio Baptismi solemniter dicuntur, interpretari atque exponere posse propria lingua qui nesciant discant: nec non et ipsa Sacramenta, quae in Missa ac Baptismate, vel in aliis ecclesiasticis officiis visibiliter conficiuntur, quid spiritaliter significent, et discere studeant: ne vel in ipsis intercessionibus quibus pro populi delictis Deum exorare noscuntur, vel ministerii sui officiis inveniantur quasi muti et ignari, si non intelligant nec verborum suorum sensum, nec sacramenta quibus per eos alii ad aeternam proficiunt salutem.

[4] Printed with permission of the ordinary of Lyon in 1607, reprinted at Rouen in 1609, etc.

[5] At Le Petit and at Angot, in 1655, 1687, and 1697.

[6] In 1662, M. de Voisin published with privilege, and dedicated to the Queen mother a translation of the offices of Holy Week, including the Ordinary of the Mass and the entire Canon.

[7] At Pierre le Petit, in 1673.

[8] Gabriel Biel, toward the end of the 15th century, undertook to explain all the words of the Canon in Latin. But he filled his Commentary with so many questions and scholastic authorities that he lost himself and often lost sight of the true sense of the letter, so that he finds few readers who have the patience to follow him to the end.