Gemma Animae (40-43): The Secret and Preface

Ch. 40

On the Secret

The silence of the secret recalls the silence of Christ hidden under the veils of the old sacrifices

The sacrifice completed [i.e. the Offertory], the priest recites a prayer in silence, for the same sacrifice lay hidden in the sacrifice of the Fathers. For he lay hidden in Abel’s lamb, and concealed himself in the ram, taking Isaac’s place. In the Paschal Lamb, in the red calf, in the scapegoat he was disguised (Levit. 16). Then the pontiff offers the sacrifice for the people, because Christ offered himself for the Church. Then the sacrifice is incensed, because when Christ is offered to God he is accepted as a pleasing odor.


Ch. 41

On the Preface

Next, in the Preface, comes the sacrifice of the angels [1], who we believe are present to this sacrifice. For like soldiers they stand by assisting the Supreme Emperor and singing prayers to Him. Now, they honor the Trinity by a three-fold sacrifice of praise three-times distinguished, and they perpetually sacrifice a host of praise. Therefore the priest sings this in a loud voice, because he represents the sacrifice of the angels, which is praise.

[1] Honorius has identified several particular sacrifices so far. The women and men, the cantors, and the priests have all offered their sacrifices, and now the angels offer their three-fold sacrifice of praise.

Ch. 42

On the Sacrifice of the Angels [and Saints]

Angeli Musicanti, Stefano da Zevio (1374-1451)

Notice the ease and relish with which our medieval author invokes the angelic choirs.

Therefore the Angels praise the majesty of God together with the Archangels, and the Dominions adore him [1]. The Powers and Principalities tremble in admiration. The heavens, which means the Thrones, and the Virtues exult. The Cherubim and Seraphim sweetly concelebrate. David and Salomon imitated this sacrifice of the concert of angels when they ordered hymns to be sung in the sacrifice of the Lord, and for organs and other musical instruments to be played, and for the people to sing praises. Hence comes our custom of playing the organ [2] during the office of sacrifice, and the clergy is accustomed to sing, and the people to join in with shouting [3]. Thus the angels immolate a sacrifice of praise, while the Holy Spirit resounds with them. Sanctus is repeated three times, because the Trinity is being praised; Dominus Deus is said once, because its unity is venerated.

The sacrifice of the angels is joined by the sacrifice of the spirits of the just, who adore Christ’s humanity [4] and sing out the redemption of the human race: Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. This hymn is sung partly by the angels, partly by men, since by Christ’s sacrifice the human race is joined with the angels [5]. Now, the praise of the angels is: Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis. And the praise of men is: Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis [6]. During this chant they cross themselves, in order to show that they receive the sign of Christ who is a sign of contradiction.

[1] A reference to the text: Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus.

[2] In keeping with his general interest in finding Old Testament precedents for the ceremonies of the Christian rite, Honorius is also careful to make David and Salomon the founders of Christian art forms. Here, David and Salomon instituted Psalmody, which is the prayer of the Church par excellence. Later (Ch. 132) we learn that they are also the founders of painting and sculpture, and other elements of Church architecture.

[3] I am not sure precisely what Honorius is referring to here. We have already seen, in the chapter on the Creed (Ch. 25) how a tradition of vernacular litanies and hymnody had developed as a vernacular substitute or gloss for the Latin texts of certain prayers, such as the Creed, in which it was fitting for them to take part. Perhaps the Preface and Sanctus was another moment when, depending on the place and time, vernacular hymnody took place concomitantly with the clergy’s part. Perhaps the plural invitation (Cum Angelisdicentes) to join with the Angels in this moment of intense thanksgiving and joy before the sacrifice was even enough to elicit unregulated “shouting.” Which ever was the case, I think we have another instance in which Honorius’s text bears witness to the deep fervor and intelligent interest the Christian people took in the liturgical rites. Here, as elsewhere, the downright Old Testament joy of the Church assisting at the Sacrifice can hardly be contained. It will spill out raucously in the closing procession!

[4] The medievals grasped the unity between the heavenly and earthly liturgy far better than we do. For them liturgy was a theophany in which they truly joined the choirs of saints and angels in praising the glorified Christ in Heaven, who was also the one presiding over the liturgy in the person of the priest. 

[5] See ch. 140, where the choir is the tangible manifestation of these two heavenly orders: 

“The two choirs of psalmists signify the angels and the spirits of the just, who praise the Lord in turns. The stalls (cancelli) in which they stand signify the many rooms in the Father’s house (John 14). When they leave the choir in procession to an altar and sing there in station, it means that the souls leaving this life come to Christ and praise God together in company with the angels.”

[6] Perhaps because the Hosanna in excelsis is sung by the Angels in Isaiah’s vision (Is. 6) and the Benedictus by the pueri Hebraeorum?


angels 2 (Giotto)
Giotto’s Lamentation


Ch. 43

On the Four Orders

Note that the men make their offering first, because in the earliest time the patriarchs offered this sacrifice in their own sacrifice. The women make their offering secondly, because in a second time the Jews prefigured this sacrifice in the sacrifices of the Law. The priests make their offering in third place as ministers, because in a third time the Apostles received the sacrifice itself, and taught it to the faithful, who daily offer the seven aforementioned sacrifices [in ch. 30], because after this life the angels along with all blessed men will praise the Lord for ever and ever.

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