Gemma Animae (63): On the Papal and Episcopal Fraction Rites

Chapter 63

On the Fraction of the Oblation
[Christ Leaves Hell with the Redeemed, and the General Resurrection]

Papal Mass 2

The oblation is broken because the bread of angels is broken for us on the cross, so that the wreckage (
fractio) of our sins may be repaired by eating him.

The pope [1] does not break the oblation, but rather tears a morsel off with his teeth and places the rest in the chalice [2], for Christ bit Hell, and thence placed those whom he had saved in paradise. The deacon holds the chalice while the pope receives the blood, signifying the angel who, at Christ’s resurrection, moved the stone from the tomb. Once the priest has communicated, the chalice is taken from the altar because Christ having risen will die no more, and his body is not found in the tomb. The deacon distributes the blood, because the angel made known the Lord’s resurrection. The subdeacon receives the Lord’s body from the deacon and carries it to the priests to be broken for the people [3], thereby signifying that the women understood the angel’s words about Christ’s resurrection and carried it to the apostles, who distributed it to the whole people by their preaching. When the apostolicus descends from the altar, he gives the people communion because the people, descending with Christ from the altar of the cross, rise from the dead and participate in eternal glory.

The bishop breaks the oblation, because the Lord broke bread for his disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24). He divides the oblation into three parts: one for himself, and two he gives to the deacon and subdeacon, because at Emmaus the Lord, having broken the bread, divided one part for himself and two for Cleophas and Luke.


papal mass

De fractione oblatae

Oblata frangitur, quia panis angelorum nobis in cruce frangitur, ut fractio peccatorum nostrorum per comestionem ipsius reintegretur. (0563C) Papa oblatam non frangit, sed partem ex ea mordet, reliquam in calicem mittit, quia Christus infernum momordit, et inde sumptos in paradisum misit. Diaconus calicem tenet, dum papa sanguinem sumit, significans angelum qui, Christo surgente, lapidem de monumento tulit. Communicato sacerdote, mox calix de altari tollitur, quia Christus resurgens ultra non moritur, et corpus eius in sepulcro non invenitur. Diaconus sanguinem distribuit; quia angelus resurrectionem Domini innotuit. Subdiaconus corpus Domini accipit a Diacono et fert presbyteris frangendum populo, designans quod mulieres verba de resurrectione Christi ab angelo perceperunt et apostolis detulerunt, ipsique omni populo praedicando distribuerunt. (0563D) Cum apostolicus ab altari descendit, populis communicat; quia cum Christo ab ara crucis descendens a morte resurgit, populus aeterua gloria participat. Episcopus oblatam frangit, quia Dominus panem in Emmaus discipulis fregit (Luc. XXIV) . In tres partes oblatam dividit: una sibi retenta, duas diacono et subdiacono tribuit, quia Dominus, fracto pane, unam partem sibi, duas Cleophae et Lucae divisit.


[1] Until now Honorius has preferred to use the term “bishop” (episcopus) or “priest” (sacerdos) when referring to the chief celebrant of the pontifical liturgy he is commenting on. Curiously, in the last two chapters he has suddenly preferred “pontiff” (pontifex) and here even “pope” (papa, apostolicus). What explains this? The entries in Du Cange suggest that in antiquity it was custom to call all bishops “papa,” and even “apostolicus,” as in “apostolicus vir,” but that by the Middle Ages the terms were almost always reserved to the pope, a fact Honorius himself explains in Ch. 188.

The ceremonies of the Fraction and Communion in the ancient papal rite were extremely elaborate, and for several reasons had been simplified and confused during their transmission to the Frankish kingdoms, such that there was much debate on how they ought to be performed. For a discussion of these problems, see Jungmann (MS II, 303-321). Given this controversy and the peculiarities of this chapter (e.g. the general fraction), it isn’t clear to me whether Honorius is describing an actually existing papal rite, or merely his own interpretation of the Ordines, or something in between.

It may be that the text beginning with “The pope does not break the oblation (Papa oblatam non frangit)…” represents his understanding of a papal rite, while the last part beginning with “The bishop breaks (Episcopus oblatam frangit)…” describes the simplified ceremony that he knows. I have divided the text accordingly.

[2] It will be good to describe the ancient Fraction and Communion ceremonies in more detail, in order to help make sense of details like this. Here is Fr. Quoëx:

“In the Ordo Romanus I, following the embolism Libera nos and the return of the paten to the altar, the pontiff says ‘Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum’ while placing in the chalice a portion of the oblations consecrated during the previous pontifical Mass—this is the first commingling, or the commingling of the fermentum (OR I, nos 94–95). The pontiff then proceeds to the fraction of a Eucharistic bread from his own offering (first fraction), leaves the part he has detached on the altar and places the rest of his oblation on the paten (no 97). Then he leaves the altar for the throne (no 98). Meanwhile, after the pope says ‘Pax Domini,’ the archdeacon transmits the peace in hierarchical order: first to the bishops, then the other members of the clergy, and finally to the people (no 96). After the rite of peace the general fraction of the Eucharistic bread takes place. The oblations are first transported from the altar to the pope, bishops, and priests (no 100–104). Then at the precise moment when the fraction is about to begin, the archdeacon makes the sign to the schola cantorum to commence the Agnus Dei (no 105) […].

The fraction of the oblations completed, the pope communicates at the throne (no 106). While doing so, the pontiff bites off a piece from the consecrated bread that he will consume. He places this part in the chalice held by the archdeacon (second commingling), saying: Fiat commixtio et consecratio corporis et sanguinis domini nostri Jesu Christi accipientibus nobis in vitam aeternam. Amen. He addresses the archdeacon a Pax tecum. The archdeacon responds: Et cum spiritu tuo. The pope then takes the Precious Blood in the chalice which is held by the archdeacon (no 107). Then comes the communion of the whole assembly, clergy and people, administered in hierarchical order (nos 109–118)” (Thomas Aquinas as Mystagogue, Revue Thomist 105 (2005): 179–225. Translation my own.)

Fr. Quoëx continues, commenting on the theological import of this ceremony:

“One thus observes a very direct progression and overlapping of the elements of the commingling, fraction, peace, and the communion proper. The key to reading this complex ritual resides evidently in the conception of the Eucharist as a sign of the unity of the Church. In imitation of Christ’s action, the bread is broken. The fraction rite is surrounded with a great solemnity: the pope performs it at the throne; all the bishops and priests also take part it in—and this for a very practical reason. Recalling that the expression fractio panis served—following the Acts of the Apostles (2:42)—to designate the Eucharistic action itself, one might ask whether the solemn fraction, and with it the ad thronum communion of the Ordo Romanus I, is not meant to emphasize, in the exemplary context of the Eucharistic celebration of the supreme pastor, the unity of the entire Church.”

[3] In the papal station rite, the Eucharistic bread was given by the subdeacons to the bishops for the general fraction. Of course, this presumes the use of bread loaves, a form of Eucharistic species largely displaced by the denarius wafer throughout the 12th century.


Gemma Animae (61-62): The Fraction and Pax


Chapter 61

On the Seventh Office and the Lord’s Resurrection
[Or, Christ’s Soul Returns to His Body]

Joshua 4
Joshua stops the sun and moon, Syriac Bible (Paris).

The seventh office initiates us (insinuat) into the Lord’s resurrection, when, having conquered death and despoiled hell, he gave peace to the whole world. For he had pacified all things in heaven and on earth, supped with his disciples, and gave to them his relics (reliquias). Thus the pontiff, having bested the devil in spiritual warfare, says Pax vobis, extending peace to those in attendance, and distributes the heavenly bread. Jesus did this too, but was prefigured by Joshua, who after besting his enemies distributed the land to the people by lot (Joshua 32). The pontiff places a part of the oblation in the chalice, signifying that the soul of Christ returns to its body [1].

[1] The identification of the Commingling with Christ’s resurrection was already made in various ancient sources, e.g. Theodore of Mopsuesta (Cf. MS II.318). It comes now just after the end of the Canon, which, as we have seen, is the period of Christ’s silent Passion on Golgotha, and his burial in the action surrounding the Our Father.

Joshua 1
Psalter of Saint Louis: Joshua Bids the Sun to Stand Still French Gothic, 1256, Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale (Source)

Chapter 62

On the Lord’s Peace

Then Pax vobis is said, because when Christ appeared to his own he said Pax vobis (John 20). He extends the peace because by his resurrection Christ restored to the human race the peace it had lost. The kiss of peace is given for three reasons. The clergy and people kiss one another for one reason, because men congratulate one another for having won the grace of their Lord and the friendship of the angels through Christ, who is our peace [1]. Another cause is that through this kiss of peace they demonstrate that they are all brothers in Christ, and sons of the Church’s ministers through Christ’s reconciliation, and that they desire to be refreshed by the one bread of Christ, who is the God of peace, concord, and love [2]. The third cause is that, just as the physical kiss unites flesh to flesh and spirit to spirit, so it is a precept that every man is to be loved with regard to the flesh through love of neighbor, and with regard to the spirit through love of God. Those who eat the Body of Christ without being bound together by this kiss of peace, are like Judas, who eat and drink condemnation on themselves through their false peace.  

[1] It is not entirely clear from Honorius’s description how the kiss passes from the clergy to the people. But he seems to be describing a kiss that includes in some way all members of the Church: ministers and faithful. This first allegory is based on the fact that the clergy in the choir represent the angels (see Chapter 140). He makes no mention of substitutes for the kiss, such as the

[2] The Gemma Animae bears no marks justifying the stereotypical accusation against Medieval liturgy, that it was a preserve of the clergy and not meant for popular participation. The unswerving focus on the unity of the “people of God,” ministers and people, Head and Members, Church Triumphant and Church Militant, all throughout the joyful celebration of the Eucharistic action, is what constantly impresses the unbiased reader.


Joshua 3
Sainte-Chapelle: Joshua Takes Hazor, French Gothic stained glass, ca. 1245, Paris (Source)


Gemma Animae (61): The Descent into Hell


Chapter 60:
On the Sixth Office and the Episcopal Blessing

[The Descent into Hell]

Desent into Hell (Pascher)
Christus in der Vorhölle, Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest (Source)

The sixth office, in which the pontiff blesses the people, expresses Christ’s descent into the nether regions. Moses acted as a figure of this when he blessed the sons of Israel just before he died, and ordered them to be led from Egypt into their homeland through Jesus, who is Joshua (Deuteronomy 31). Jacob also expressed this in his death, when he blessed his sons and predicted many things about their future inheritance (Genesis 49). Christ fulfilled both this blessings, when dying he descended into hell, to the people sitting in the darkness and the shadow of death, and blessed them with his visitation, and led them out of prison to their heavenly homeland.

The bishop performs all of this when he blesses the people, and soon after refreshes them with spiritual food. However, we must note that he always blesses in three parts (ternis capitulis); then, fourthly, he will confirm all with quod ipse praestare dignetur; fifthly, he concludes with benedictionem Dei Patris: for God blessed this world three times, fourthly confirms the rest, and with a fifth blessing he shall give it possession of its inheritance.

Firstly God blessed the first men when he commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. He blessed men a second time when, after the world had been destroyed by flood, he ordered Noah and his descendants to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9). Thirdly, God blessed the world through Abraham, when he promised him Christ as a blessing (Genesis 18). He blessed the world a fourth time when he sent us his Son, who came with blessing, who blessed his own before ascending to heaven and confirmed the rest through the Holy Spirit (Luke 24). He will bless the world a fifth time when he completes those about to enter into the homeland with a final blessing: Venite, benedicti Patris mei, possidete regnum vobis praeparatum (Matthew 25).

Descent into Hell.jpg


[1] In all the liturgies of East and West the Communion is accompanied by some form of blessing of the people, though in the Roman rite this form has not much developed. The pre-Communion episcopal blessing was a highly prized element of the Gallic liturgies that resisted many Roman attempts to expunge it, before finally making its way into the solemn Roman service (Cf. MS II. 294-97). As Jungmann explains:

“The Gallic pontifical blessing, like the blessing in the Orient, was usually preceded by the deacon’s exhortation ‘Humiliate vos ad benedictionem,’ which was answered by a Deo gratias; then the bishop, with mitre and staff, turned to the people and read the formula of blessing from the Benedictionale held before him; at the concluding sentence he made the sign of the Cross three times in three directions. The formula of blessing itself was regularly composed of three members, following the model of the great priestly blessing in the Old Testament (Numbers 6:22- 26), which also appeared in the most ancient collections. After each of these three members (usually consisting of well-rounded periods) there was a response, Amen, and at the end a special concluding clause. As for content, most of the formulas clung to the pertinent festal thoughts” (296).

Jungmann cites one example from Magdeburg, for the First Sunday of Lent:

(1) Omnipotens Deus, cuius Unigeniti adventum et praeteritum creditis et futurum expectatis, eiusdem adventus vos illustratione sanctificet et sua benedictione locupletet. Amen. — (2) In praesentis vitae stadio vos ab omni adversitate defendat et se vobis in iudicio placabilem ostendat. Amen. — (3) Quo a cunctis peccatorum contagiis liberati illius tremendi examinis diem expectetis interiti. Amen.— (4) Quod ipse praestare dignetur, cuius regnum et imperium sine fine permanet in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

In the cathedrals of Lyons and Autun this blessing had been retained up to the time Jungmann was writing.

[2] This chapter is a good illustration of the how the literal and spiritual senses can be complimentary for the interpreter of liturgy.

The literal purpose of this pontifical blessing is to as a preparation for Holy Communion, one that raises the faithful’s minds one last time to contemplate the great Mystery they are about to receive, just before the great action of the Communion itself.

But Honorius has also provided a wholly fitting spiritual interpretation that does not depart from the literal foundation. Whether or not we accept his five-fold division of God’s blessings or their relevance to the five-fold division of the Gallican Pontitfical blessing, is our own concern. But one would be hard pressed to deny that it makes good typological sense for a commentator to recall the relation of this particular blessing to the Old Testament. The Eucharist is, from a typological point of view, precisely the fulfillment of every grace and blessing promised to the people of Israel from the time of Abraham, and the promise of the eternal joy of the Kingdom. The celestial food taken from the altar of the Cross is the final result of the promises made to the Jewish people through the patriarchs, prophets, and kings. In the Christian Mysteries, Christ dwells among us, and we are filled with every grace, truth, and heavenly blessing. Therefore, that we should recall this recapitulation of all Scriptural blessing now, just before Communion is eminently fitting.

From the standpoint of practical piety, recalling this fact can excite feelings of gratitude, devotion, and foster a more mystical participation in the Eucharist. Theologically, it is an excellent exegesis of the nature of the Eucharist. The same is true, by the way, for Honorius’s typological explanation of the people’s offertory in Chapters (27-30), where he shows with exquisite clarity how the Christian sacrifice is the fulfillment and recapitulation of all sacrifices made by Gentile and Jew, out of the virtue of natural religion or divine precept, since the beginning of time.

Interpretation like these furnish one more way of opening the riches of Scripture to the faithful in the context of the liturgy. The medievals, in fact, so steeped in both lectio divina and liturgy, experienced the liturgy as the natural fulfillment of their reading, as a living revelation seamlessly connected with the Word of Scripture. Their faith-inspired reading of Scripture and its types invited a Eucharistic consummation that the medievals were only too eager to discover in their inherited rites. We would do dwell to unite our reading of liturgy more closely with our reading of Scripture.

Nor, to stave off one more objection, could this spiritual meaning possibly be incompatible with the literal sense of whatever prayer text that is actually read, since whatever the particular blessing invoked in the prayer might be, it may still be understood in the same light, as one of the particular gifts of redemption that the Lord has secured for us in fulfillment of God’s promises to the patriarchs.


De sexto officio, et benedictione episcopi.

Sextum officium, in quo pontifex populum benedicit, Christi descensionem ad inferos exprimit. Huius rei figuram Moyses gessit, quando moriturus filios Israel benedixit, eductosque de Aegypto in patriam introduci per Iesum, qui et Iosue, iussit (Deut. XXXI) . Hoc et Iacob moriens expressit, qui filios suos benedixit, et de eis futura haereditate multa praedixit (Gen. XLIX) . Has utrasque benedictiones Christus complevit, cum moriens ad inferos descendit, populum sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis, visitando benedixit, de carcere eductos coelesti patriae induxit.

Quod episcopus ostendit, dum populum benedicit, moxque eum spirituali cibo reficit. Notandum autem quod semper ternis capitulis benedicit, et omnes quarto scilicet, quod ipse praestare dignetur, confirmabit. Quinto vero, reliquis per benedictionem Dei Patris concludit, quia nimirum Deus tribus vicibus huic mundo benedixit, quarta reliquis firmavit, quinta benedictione haereditatem possidere dabit. Primo primis hominibus benedixit, dum eos crescere et multiplicari praecepit, Secundo hominibus benedixit, dum, mundo diluvio deleto, Noe et suos posteros crescere, et multiplicari iussit (Gen. IX) . Tertio per Abraham, Deus mundo benedixit, cum ei in benedictione Christum repromisit (Gen. XVIII) . Quarto mundo benedixit, dum Filium suum nobis benedicentem misit, qui coelos ascensurus suis benedixit, et per Spiritum sanctum reliquos firmavit (Luc. XXIV) . Quinto mundo benedicet, dum patriam intraturos benedictione ultima sic complet: Venite, benedicti Patris mei, possidete regnum vobis praeparatum (Matth. XXV).




Gemma Animae (47-48): Christ’s Burial

Ch. 47

On Joseph

Deposition 2.jpg

When the priest says Per omnia saecula saeculorum, the deacon comes, raises the chalice before him, covers it with the cloth (cum favone), places it back on the altar, and covers it with the corporal. In all this he symbolizes Joseph of Arimathea as he laid Christ’s body to rest, covered his face with the sudarium, placed him in the tomb, and sealed it with a stone [1]. Here the oblation and the chalice are covered with the corporal, which signifies the white sindon, in which Joseph wrapped the Body of Christ. The chalice represents the tomb; the paten, the stone that sealed the tomb. The three articles, namely Oremus, Praeceptis, and Pater noster, and Libera nos, Domine signify the three days Christ lay in the tomb.

[1] This allegory would have more forceful in previous times when the corporal had not yet been reduced to its current form. In the papal stational rite and until the Late Middle Ages, the corporal was a full-length altar cloth in its own right. The subdeacon carried it in folded on top of the chalice at the start of the Offertory–as it is today in the burse. It was unfolded by the deacons to cover the whole altar, a ceremony usually accompanied by prayers. During the Mass, the chalice would be covered with the back part of the corporal, as we can see in the image below; this, at least, until the invention of the pall.

Some Missals even call the paten a gravestone. In the Regensburg missal about 1500 (Beck, 267; cf. 266) the pall is de­scribed as the gravestone: Accipe lapidem et pone super calicem. Likewise in a Brixen missal printed in 1493, p. 130v: Hic ponitur lapis super calicem (MS 55).

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Pontifical of Sens, 14th century

Chapter 48

On the Acolyte Who Holds the Paten, Which is the Figure of Nicodemus

During the Canon the acolyte holds the wrapped paten, when the subdeacon now takes and brings to the altar [1]. The subdeacon gives it to the archdeacon, who kisses it and hands to to one of the deacons to hold, so that our Lord’s Body may be broken upon it. The acolyte who holds the paten bears the form of Nicodemus (John 19). The subdeacon and archdeacon along with the other deacon holding the paten, are figures of the three Marias, who came to the tomb with perfumes and spices. As the seven petitions in the Lord’s prayer are said, the deacons stand bowed [2], and wait to be confirmed by the communion [3]; for the seven apostles awaited the confirmation of the Holy Spirit for seven weeks after the death of Christ.  Now the subdeacons are at rest in the meantime, for the women kept silence on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day [4].

Chapel of Crucifixion.jpg
Chapel of the Crucifixion, Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

[1] In modern times this is the role of the subdeacon, but in the Ordo Romanus Primus it was the acolyte, standing next to the subdeacon, who held the paten:

Nam quod intermissimus de patena ; quando inchoat canonem, venit acolythus sub humero, habens sindonem in collo ligatam, tenens patenam ante pectus suum in parte dextra usque in medium canonem. Tune subdiaconus sequens suscipit earn super planetam et venit ante altare, exspectans quando earn suscipiat subdiaconus regionarius (OR I, 17).

[2] In the ancient papal stational liturgy, all the assisting ministers remained in a profound bow throughout the entire Canon, until they were called to their functions:

Episcopi vero, diaconi, subdiaconi, et presbyteri in presbyterio permanent inclinati. Et cum dixerit : Nobis quoque peccatoribus, surgunt subdiaconi : cum dixerit : Per quem haec omnia Domine, surgit archidiaconus solus (OR I 16).

[3] Confirmare is used in the OR I and later liturgical literature to refer to reception of the chalice. One first communicates, and is then confirmed by the one holding the chalice.  

[4] The subdeacons represent the women, as explained in Chapter 46.



Ad Mariæ Gloriam: A Trope for Our Lady

Gloria in excelsis Deo. Et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis. Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Glorificamus te. Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. Domine Deus, Rex cœlestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe. Spiritus et alme orphanorum Paraclite. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris. Primogenitus Mariæ Virginis matris. Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecatiónem nostram, ad Mariæ gloriam. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis. Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, Mariam sanctificans. Tu solus Dominus, Mariam gubernans. Tu solus Altissimus, Mariam coronans, Jesu Christe. Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen. Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will. We praise Thee. We bless Thee. We adore Thee. We glorify Thee. We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory. O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty. O Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son. O Spirit and kind comforter of orphans. O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father. First-born of the Virgin Mother Mary. Who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Who takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer, to the glory of Mary. Who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For Thou only are holy, sanctifying Mary. Thou only art the Lord, ruling Mary. Thou only art most high, crowning Mary, O Jesus Christ. Together with the Holy Ghost in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
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Click here to download the sheet music for the Gloria with the Sanctus et alme trope.

As we mentioned in our introductory post on tropes, these were never explicitly banned by any decision taken by the Council of Trent or appearing in the liturgical books produced in its wake, with one exception: the 1570 Roman Missal includes a rubric insisting that the Gloria in excelsis must always be said as written in the Missal, even in Masses of Our Lady. This was a reaction to one of the most enduringly popular of all liturgical farcings, viz. the Spiritus et alme trope, which adorns the Gloria with sundry acclamations praising the marvels God has wrought in Our Lady.

Our exploration of the rich world of tropes has been heretofore confined to tropes on the Kyrie and, as we have seen, these are almost always melogene tropes: i.e. additional text has been added to the preëxisting melody. The melismatic character of the Kyrie obviously favours this sort of farcing, but tropes on most other parts of the Mass are generally logogene: new verses—comprising both text and melody—have been interspersed between the phrases of the original chant, a practice that makes the nature of tropes as sung commentaries especially manifest.

This is the case for tropes on the Gloria in excelsis. The earliest recorded Gloria tropes date back to the 9th century, and through the course of the following centuries over a hundred examples thereof have been catalogued; it constitutes one of the largest trope repertoires after the Kyrie and Introit tropes. They were, howbeit, obsolescent by the 13th century, with one notable exception: the Spiritus et alme trope.

This set of verses grafted onto the Angelic Hymn is a relatively late composition, being first attested in Rouen MS. 1386 (U. 158), from Jumièges in Normandy, which dates to around 1100. These verses were associated with the melody of Gloria IX in the Vatican edition from the very beginning; indeed, this melody rarely appears in the earliest sources without the trope, which might indicate that it was originally composed for the Gloria thus farced. Indeed, this would explain why this particular melody has always been associated with Our Lady. Most Gloria trope verses were prone to melodic promiscuity, withal, and there are a few instances of the Spiritus et alme verses attached to other melodies, including Gloria IV, XIV, and XV.

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Part of the Spiritus et alme trope in the Codex Sangallensis 546 (f. 15r).

From its birthplace in northern France, the Spiritus et alme trope spread to Aquitaine, England, and Italy, where it is attested in 12th century sources. In the following century, even as other Gloria tropes were falling into general disfavour, the Spiritus et alme verses continued to propagate relentlessly throughout Christendom, showing up in manuscripts from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Bohemia, Scandinavia, and Yugoslavia, where it even entered into the Old Slavonic use. The trope also appears in the liturgical books of various religious orders, including, fascinatingly enough, in ten Cistercian sources. The Order of Cîteaux’s approach to liturgy, as in other matters, was marked by an austere simplicity—one might even say by a certain Puritanism—wholly noxious to the flights of exuberant fancy that gave rise to tropes. Nevertheless, as Joaquim Bragança notes in his study of one of these sources, mediæval devotion to Our Lady—what Henry Adams called the “highest creative energy ever known to man”—was so powerful it could even vanquish the dour Cistercian hostility towards liturgical ornamentation.

Missale Tornacense (Tournai), 1498

Missale Salisburgense (Salzburg), 1507.

Missale Viennense (Vienne), 1519.

The Gloria farced with the Spiritus et alme verses was the subject of polyphonic settings as well, including one for three voices with the Gloria IX melody as a tenor in the 12th-century Las Huelgas Codex (another Cistercian source, despite attempts by the Order to prohibit polyphony in its monasteries), two by Johannes Ciconia, and one by Guillaume Dufay. The composers of these works delighted in musically highlighting the Marian tropes, to the greater exaltation of Our Lady.

By the 15th century, then, the Spiritus et alme trope had become an established part of the Gloria in Masses on feasts and Saturdays of Our Lady nearly everywhere in Europe, featuring also in the pre-Tridentine printed editions of the Missale Romanum.

Missale Romanum, 1543

Alas, however, the Spiritus et alme trope fell afoul of the reforming humanist spirit that arose during this age, with its “tendency towards rationalism and desire for sobriety in Catholic worship” [1], and this would lead to its outright prohibition. On 20 July 1562, during the 22nd Session of the Council of Trent, a commission of seven prelates was appointed to examine the question of liturgical abuses. Among the Postulata nonnullorum patrum circa varios abusus in missis subinductos (Petitions by certain Fathers about various abuses introduced into Mass), one finds the following: “Let those additions Mariam gubernans, Mariam coronans be removed from the hymn Gloria in excelsis; they seem an unbefitting insertion” [2]. The members of the commission agreed that farcing the Gloria to extol Our Lady was unbefitting, and the memoir they presented to the papal legate Hercules Cardinal Gonzaga on 8 August 1562, under the heading Abusus, qui circa venerandum Missæ sacrificium evenire solent, partim a Patribus deputatis animadversi; partim ex multorum Prælatorum dictis, et scriptis excerpti (Abuses, which often occur during the venerable sacrifice of the Mass, in part noted by the delegated Fathers, in part taken from the sayings and writings of many Prelates), lists the “added words about the Blessed Virgin” as one of the abuses that had crept into the celebration of the Mass [3]. The commission called for the production of reformed missals purged of such putatively abusive accretions [4].

As a result, the Missale Romanum promulgated by Pope St Pius V in 1570 included a rubric forbidding the farcing of the Gloria, even in Masses of Our Lady [5]. The Spiritus et alme trope was therefore abandoned in all dioceses that adopted the Tridentine missal, and, having been smirched as an abuse, it also soon disappeared in those dioceses that kept their local uses as they reformed their books following the Tridentine model. The Parisian Missal ad formam Sacrosancti Concilii Tridentini emendatum, for example, expunged the farced Marian Gloria and added the rubric Sic semper dicitur Gloria in excelsis.

The trope survived for a while in the extremely conservative Lyonese use, until its missal was reformed by Archbishop de Rochebonne in 1737 to bring it closer to the Tridentine model. It also remained in the use of Braga. In 1779, Archbishop Gaspar de Bragança, seeking to bring the Bragan use closer to the Roman, proposed, inter alia, the suppression of the Gloria de Domina, but was rebuffed by the chapter. The canons did deign to discuss the elimination of the Marian Gloria on 7 April 1780, but they finally decided to inform the subcantor and master of ceremonies that the Gloria was to be sung “according to the use of Braga”, thus preserving the trope. But finally, in 1924, a new edition of the Bragan Missal, approved by Pius XI, was promulgated which no longer included the farced Gloria, and thus disappeared its last vestige.

Missale Lugdunense (Lyons), 1620

The Spiritus et alme trope represents a fascinating instance where the use of a trope was so popular and universal it nearly became an established part of the Roman rite. It raises intriguing questions about what ought to be considered a legitimate and organic development of the liturgy, and what constitutes an illegitimate accretion and abuse. Whatever the terse declarations of the Tridentine liturgical commission, it is hardly obvious that the Marian Gloria is a case of the latter, and one might be excused for considering its disappearance a matter for regret.


[1] Chadwick, Anthony J. “The Roman Missal of the Council of Trent” in T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy, ed. Alcuin Reid, 2016, p. 107.

[2] Ab hymno: Gloria in excelsis, tollantur illa additamenta: Mariam gubernans, Mariam coronans: quæ videntur inepte inculcari. 

[3] Item forte essent animadvertenda in hymno Angelorum verba illa addita de Beata Virgine, Mariam gubernans, Mariam coronans ec.; videntur enim illa omnia inepte inculcari. 

[4] Missalia secundum usum et veteram consuetudinem S. R. E. reformentur, omnibus iis, quæ clanculum irrepserunt, repurgatis, ut omni ex parte eadem pura, nitida et integra proponantur.

[5] Sic dicitur Gloria in excelsis etiam in missis beatę Marię. This rubric was dropped in the editio typica of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.