Lay Hand-Missals: “Damnata, reprobata et interdicta”

Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz

In 1660, Joseph de Voisin, a priest and doctor in Theology of the Sorbonne, published the first missal destined for use by the laity with a full translation of the Mass into the vernacular. The five-volume work had the approbation of Cardinal de Retz, archbishop of Paris, and his vicars general, but its appearance met with immediate controversy. The Faculty of Theology of the Sorbonne disavowed the work, noting that they had already refused to countenance a French translation of the Roman Breviary in 1655 and a translation of the New Testament in 1649, and recalling their 1527 censure of a series of propositions of Erasmus, amongst which was a call for vernacular versions of the Scriptures.

Pope Alexander VII

When the Assembly of the Clergy of the Kingdom of France met on 7 December 1660, they too condemned this bilingual Missal, and Pope Alexander VII ratified their sentence on 12 January 1661, in the bull below. The bull was, however, widely ignored, and the Council of State eventually appealed to the king to search for and destroy all remaining copies of the book. Yet Cardinal de Retz continued to defend it, even after both the Assembly of the Clergy and the Holy See renewed their condemnations. But these were quickly forgotten, for after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, many converts from Protestantism were deliberately given translations of the missal by the authorities, “for their instruction,” as Bishop Bossuet noted in a letter.

Pope Alexander VII
for future memory

To our immense sorrow it has come to our ears that in the Kingdom of France certain sons of perdition, eager for novelties unto the ruin of souls and despising ecclesiastical sanctions and practice, have recently come upon this madness: they dared to translate the Roman Missal, written in the Latin language by long and approved use for so many centuries, into the vulgar French tongue, and thus rendered to divulge it by publishing it through the press, and to impart it to persons of any station or sex whatsoever, and thus overthrow and crush the majesty of the most holy rite contained in the Latin tongue. And by this temerarious enterprise they have tried to expose the dignity of the holy mysteries to the vulgar.

§1. To us, however unworthy, was entrusted the care of the vine of the Lord of Hosts planted by Christ our Saviour, and watered by his precious blood, in order that we might counter the growth of thorns of this sort, which might bury the vine, and cut them down to their roots, as much as we are able by God’s help, insofar as we abhor and detest this novelty, which mars the perpetual beauty of the Church, and easily produces disobedience, temerity, effrontery, sedition, schism, and many other evils.

§2. Therefore, of our own accord, and with certain knowledge and our mature deliberation, we perpetually condemn, reject, and prohibit the aforesaid Missal from being published by anyone, or at some future time from bring published and distributed in any way, and we wish to hold it as condemned, rejected, and prohibited, and we perpetually forbid its printing, reading, and possession by each and every Christian faithful of either sex, of whatever position, state, condition, dignity, honour, or preëminence, notwithstanding any special or individual pleading that shall be made in their favour, under the pain of excommunication latae sententiae to be incurred by vigour of the law itself.

§3. We order that whosoever has a copy thereof, or whensoever in the future they might have one, should forthwith truly and with effect present it and bring it to the Ordinaries of places or to the inquisitors, who, broaching no delay, should burn those exemplars with fire and make them be burnt. Valid, notwithstanding anything thereunto contrary.

Given at Rome, at St Mary Major, under the ring of the Fisherman, 12 January 1661, the sixth year of our pontificate.

Alexander Papa VII,
ad futuram rei memoriam.

Ad aures nostras ingenti cum animi moerore pervenit, quod in Regno Galliae quidam perditionis filii in perniciem animarum novitatibus studentes, et ecclesiasticas sanctiones ac praxim contemnentes, ad eam nuper vesaniam pervenerint, ut missale romanum, latino idiomate longo tot saeculorum usu in Ecclesia probato conscriptum, ad gallicam vulgarem linguam convertere, sicque conversum typis evulgare, et ad cujusvis ordinis et sexus personas transmittere ausi fuerint, et ita sacrosancti ritus majestatem latinis vocibus comprehensam dejicere et proterere, ac sacrorum mysteriorum dignitatem vulgo exponere, temerario conatu tentaverint.

§1. Nos, quibus, licet immeritis, vineae Domini Sabaoth a Christo Salvatore nostro plantatae , ejusque pretioso sanguine irrigatae, cura demandata est, ut spinarum hujusmodi, quibus illa obrueretur, obviemus incremento, earumque quantum in Deo possumus, radices succidamus, quemadmodum novitatem istam perpetui Ecclesiae decoris deformatricem, inobedientiae, temeritatis, audaciae, seditionis, schismatis aliorumque plurium malorum facile productricem abhorremus et detestamur,

§2. ita missale praedictum gallico idiomate a quocumque conscriptum, vel in posterum alias quomodolibet conscribendum et evulgandum, motu proprio, et ex certa scientia ac matura deliberatione nostris, perpetuo damnamus, reprobamus, et interdicimus, ac pro damnato, reprobato et interdicto haberi volumus, ejusque impressionem, lectionem et retentionem universis et singulis utriusque sexus christifidelibus cujuscumque gradus, ordinis, conditionis, dignitatis, honoris et praemminentiae, licet de illis specialis et individua mentio habenda foret, existant, sub poena excommunicationis latae sententiae ipso jure incurrendae, perpetuo prohibemus,

§3. mandantes quod statim quicumque illud habuerint, vel in futurum quomodocumque habebunt, realiter et cum effectu exhibeant, et tradant locorum Ordinariis vel inquisitoribus, qui, nulla interposita mora, exemplaria igne comburant, et comburi faciant, in contrarium facientibus non obstantibus quibuscumque.

Datum Romae, apud S. Mariam Majorem, sub annulo Piscatoris, die XII januarii MDCLXI, pontificatus nostri anno VI.

6 thoughts on “Lay Hand-Missals: “Damnata, reprobata et interdicta”

  1. “[…] which mars the perpetual beauty of the Church, and easily produces disobedience, temerity, effrontery, sedition, schism, and many other evils.”


  2. A helpful comment from Gregory DiPippo on the Facebook page:

    I make bold to suggest that some questions arise for further research which needs to be done on this topic, if such research hasn’t been done already.

    1. How many people were there at the time who could read a good literary translation of the Missal, but couldn’t read Latin; which is to say, how much need for this was there really?

    2. Considering how expensive books were generally at time, considering that the literacy rate was not very high, how many people could afford such a 5 volume set, and (going back to the first question) would such people have needed a French translation because they couldn’t really understand the Latin?

    3. At the time this was printed, the neo-Gallican experiment was right around the corner. (The Rituale of Alet was published in 1667, the first Parisian Breviary in 1680.) Was the concern about a vernacular Missal perhaps in part that it would be used to celebrate the liturgy in the vernacular, given the French taste for “créativité liturgique” which they STILL haven’t gotten over?

    4. Et similiter, Louis XIV was stepping up the pressure on the Huguenots to convert; the edict of Fontainebleau is coming up in 1685. Was the concern about a vernacular Missal perhaps in part that it would be used to celebrate the liturgy in the vernacular, as a concession to Huguenots to get them to convert?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Though of course the Council of Trent thought that telling people what was said at Mass was important:-
    Trent session XXII decree ch. 8
    … the holy synod charges pastors, and all those who have the cure of souls, that they frequently, during the celebration of mass, expound, either by themselves or others, some portion of those things which are read at the mass, and that, amongst the rest, they explain some mystery of this most holy sacrifice, especially on the Lord’s days and festivals.


    1. Quite so: we are in fact translating Pierre Lebrun’s Explication littérale historique et dogmatique des prières et des cérémonies de la Messe & he defends the use of hand-missals based on this and other decrees of the Council of Trent


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