Rupert of Deutz on the Beginning of the Mass (De divinis officiis 1.17)

In this passage, Rupert of Deutz shows how David instituted Jewish worship to signify the perfect worship that would be offered by his descendant Jesus Christ.

In the proposed order of the daily cursus, we are obliged to draw nigh unto the treasury of the highest sacrament, that is unto the sacristy[1] of the Mass. And if the treasurer of salvation and orderer of charity[2] leads the way, and the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, opens the door, then my soul will rejoice and sing because the king has brought her into the cellar of wine.[3]

For it is the sanctuary of propitiation, that propitiatory upon which two cherubim with facing faces, that is, the two Testaments, gaze upon one another.[4] For what in the Old Testament was promised, prefigured, and hailed from afar, but in the New is given, revealed, and made public, is present here and now, not in shadow but in truth, not in figure but in reality. 

Here is accomplished that in which our David seemed mad to King Achis[5] when he struck the timbrel[6] by hanging on the Cross and stumbled against the doors of the gates of the city, which is to say against the closed hearts of those who did not believe in him; when he was borne in his own hands[7] while holding bread and wine and saying: “This is my body; this is my blood, the new testament”;[8] when his spittle ran down upon his beard, that is, when he seemed utter childish things, saying, “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.”[9] He fled therefore, from that people of his,[10] which he now calls “Achis,” which means “How can it be?” because they had said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?[11] But formerly he called them “Abimelech,” which means “my Father’s kingdom,” and having taken up rule over the true Judæa and the true Israel, now the glorious precentor, clothed in a robe of fine linen and clad with an ephod of linen according to the mystical sense of Paralipomenon,[12] leads the choirs as he sacrifices and leaps[13] before the Lord’s ark of the covenant.[14]  

David feigns madness before King Achis, from the Golden Psalter of St. Gall, 9th century

O King, O Prince of the sacred rites! What does it portend, this mighty leaping of the famous chief as he heads to the tent of God’s ark, offers a holocaust in the ephod, and blesses the people in God’s name, even though, being of the tribe of Judah, he had no share of the priesthood? Yet the Lord put away the tabernacle of Silochose the tribe of Judah, chose his servant David.[15]Behold, the king from the tribe of Judah lusts to take part boldly in the rites he knew were due to his son, his Lord, about whom he said: The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.[16] So behold how he bids the priests, orders the levites to sanctify themselves,[17] establishes the cantors, picks out some to sing the sacred mysteries, to sing for the octave, others to blare trumpets, to sound horns, to strum lyres, cymbals, psalteries, and organs.[18] In all this celebration, he had his Son in mind: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men.[19]

The Lord’s ark, which has sometimes been taken to represent any ecclesiastical ruler, much more appropriately designates the humanity of Christ our Savior, which has a window on its side, that is the wound made by the lance, whence flowed water and blood. Within, it contains manna, that is God’s Word united to itself, and the tables of the testament, for in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,[20] and the rod of priestly and royal power. David, therefore, brought the ark of our God into Jerusalem after the destruction of death’s empire,[21] that is, of Saul’s kingdom, and placed it upon the tabernacle of heaven, which he himself pitched.[22]  Beholding the ark, the Church’s choir rouses itself in the days following Easter to follow the example of the older people and sing to her David, singing this responsory:[23] The people sang in Israel, alleluia.[24]

So the whole multitude of Jacob sings as the law prescribes and in the Lord’s house David himself strikes the zither with the cantors. For Israel has learned whatever she sings from this teacher, from this precentor, who struck the zithers of their hearts with God’s fingers. Thus prompted, the heart’s joy erupts exultantly into bodily words and the choirs into a harmony, now grave, now higher and piercing, and since she resounds with one faith, David hears the sweet song of that great body of the Church, spread throughout all peoples, equally, everywhere and all at once, and manifold from all sides, and one.


Iam nunc ad thesaurum summi sacramenti, scilicet ad missae secretarium, accedere quotidiani cursus ordo propositus exposcit. Quod si mihi pervium fecerit thesaurarius salutis atque ordinator caritatis, si aperuerit clavis David, qui aperit et nemo claudit, claudit et nemo aperit, gratulari et cantare licebit animae meae, quod eam rex in cellam vinariam introduxerit.

Hoc enim sacrarium propitiationis est, hoc illud propitiatorium, in quod versis vultibus duo cherubim, id est duo Testamenta, mutuo se aspiciunt. Nam quod in Veteri Testamento promissum, praesignatum et a longe salutatum, in Novo autem datum, revelatum et palam factum est, hic praesentialiter exhibetur, non in umbra sed in veritate, non in figura sed in re. 

Hic illud agitur, in quo noster David insanire videbatur regi Achis, quando tympanizabat pendens in cruce et impingebat ad ostia civitatis, id est ad conclusa corda non credentium sibi, quando ferebatur in manibus suis tenens panem et vinum, et dicens: “Hoc est corpus meum, hic est sanguis meus novum testamentum,” quando defluebant salivae in barbam, id est videbatur loqui infantilia, dicens: “Nisi manducaveritis carnem meam et biberitis meum sanguinem, non habebitis vitam in vobis.” Fugit quippe ab illo populo suo, quem nunc vocat Achis, id est “Quomodo est,” eo quod dixerit: “Quomodo potest hic nobis carnem suam dare ad manducandum?” Vocabat autem eum prius Abimelech, id est “Patris mei regnum,” et accepto regno super verum Iudam verumque Israel, nunc iuxta mysticum sensum Paralipomenon indutus stola byssina, vestitus Ephod lineo praecentor inclytus choros ducit sacrificans et subsilit coram arca foederis Domini.

O regem, o sacrorum principem! Quid sibi vult tantum tam clari capitis tripudium, dum tendit arcae Dei tabernaculum et indutus Ephod offert holocaustum et in nomine Domini benedicit populum, ad quem, cum esset de tribu Iuda, non pertinebat sacerdotium? Sed repulit Dominus tabernaculum Silo et occisis sacerdotibus Silo elegit tribum Iuda, elegit David servum suum. Ecce praegestit rex de tribu Iuda confidenter agere in his, quae deberi sciebat filio suo, Domino suo, in quem haec dicebat: Iuravit Dominus et non paenitebit eum, tu es sacerdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech. Ecce imperat sacerdotibus, mandat levitis, ut sanctificentur, cantores constituit, eligit qui cantent arcana, qui canant pro octava, qui clangant tubis, qui personent buccinis, qui concrepent lyris, cymbalis, nablis, organis. In his omnibus ad Filium respicit: Ascendens enim in altum captivam duxit captivitatem, dedit dona hominibus.

Sciendum namque arcam Domini, quae interdum pro quovis rectore ecclesiae accipi consuevit, multo magis convenienter designare humanitatem salvatoris Christi, quae in latere fenestram habet, id est vulnus lanceae, quo fluxerunt aqua et sanguis, intus continens manna, id est unitum sibi Verbum Dei, et tabulas testamenti, quia in ipso sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae absconditi, et virgam sacerdotalis et regiae potestatis. Arcam ergo Dei noster David mortis imperio quasi regno Saul destructo deducit in Ierusalem et collocat in tabernaculo caeli, quod ipse tetendit. Quod respiciens ecclesiae chorus diebus proximis sanctae resurrectionis exemplo prioris populi sese excitat ad concinendum suo David, dum hoc responsorium cantat: Decantabat populus in Israel alleluia.

Canit ergo universa multitudo Iacob legitime et ipse David cum cantoribus citharam percutit in domo Domini. Quidquid enim Israel canit, hoc magistro, hoc praecentore, citharas cordium digitis Dei percutiente didicit. Ad hoc concitatus iubilus cordis in voces corporeas chorique concentum nunc graviter, nunc acute aut excellenter erumpit et magni corporis ecclesiae per omnes gentes diffusae, quia una fide resonat, cantus pariter et in simul ubique et undique multiplex et unus ab ipso suaviter auditur. 


[1] The secretarium was a place set aside for magistrates in the Roman basilica. Christians used it as another word to designate the sacristy (sacrarium). Whether sacred or secret, the sacristy was seen as a symbol of Christ’s hidden origin in the Blessed Trinity, from which, like the priest, he came forth into the world.

[2] Cf. Canticle of Canticles 2:4.

[3] Cf. Canticle of Canticles 2:4.

[4] Propitiatorium was another name for the tabernacle. 

[5] 1 Kings 21:13. Rupert follows the version of this passage used by Augustine in Enarrationes in Psalmos 33.2, which differs considerably from the version found in the Vulgate. 

[6] According to Augustine, Enarr. in ps. 149.3 – CC 40, 149.8.8-10 (pg. 2183), the stretched skin of a timbrel signifies crucifixion of the flesh.

[7] Old Latin version

[8]  Mark 14; Matthew 26, Luke 22

[9] John 6:54

[10] David first departs from Abimelech the priest (thus in Psalm 33:1, but in 1 Kings the priest is named Achimelech) and, while fleeing from Saul meets Achis (1 Kings 21:10). He feigns insanity so that Achis will not receive him, and then he flees to the cave of Odollam (1 Kings 22:1).

[11] John 6:53. Jesus is forced to flee from the Jews after this episode. 

[12] 1 Paralipomenon 15:27. Since they performed the Scriptural readings and offices, they clergy were seen to represent Old Testament figures. Here the precentor is styled as David. The precentor was a very important officer in the choir. He was responsible for overseeing the scriptorium, training singers and assigning their parts, writing out and selecting liturgical material, and ruling the choir on certain days.  In the cathedral of Sens, the precentor was actually required to dance each year.

[13] 2 Kings 6:16

[14] Rupert’s claim relates to Augustine’s attempt to explain the titulus of Psalm 33 (“For David, when he changed his countenance before Abimelech [sic, Vulgate Achimelech], who dismissed him, and he went his way.”) In the Book of Kings, it is Achis who dismisses David, but the psalm title changes the name to Abimalech. For Augustine, that is because David’s playing the madman, like his slaying of Goliath, was an allegory for Christ’s crucifixion. The psalm title represents the allegory by calling Achis Abimelech, meaning, according to Augustine, “kingdom of my father,” because the Jews, who were the Father’s kingdom, rejected Christ and his sacraments. (CC 38, 33, pg. 272 – 281).

[15] Psalm 77:60, 68, 70.

[16] Ps 109:4.

[17] 1 Paralipomenon 15:12: Vos, qui estis principes familiarum Leviticarum, sanctificamini cum fratribus vestris.

[18] 1 Paralipomenon 15:28: Universusque Israel deducebant arcam foederis Domini in jubilo, et sonitu buccinae, et tubis, et cymbalis, et nablis, et citharis concrepantes.

[19] Ps 67:19; Eph 4:8

[20] Cf. Heb. 9:4, Col. 2:3.

[21] Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26

[22] Cf. 2 Kings 6.

[23] 1 Chronicles 15:16

[24] Cantus Index 006400, sung at Matins in the weeks following Easter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s