Erich Przywara, S.J.’s Eucharist and Work (1917)

German isn’t my best language, but here’s a sample of my attempt at Erich Przywara’s Eucharistie und Arbeit (Herder, 1917). The whole can be downloaded by clicking here.

It is a beautiful reflection on the cruciform, Eucharist heart of all Christian action.




“Christ lives in me” was the life motto of the Apostle of the Gentiles.[1]

In the power of this consciousness he worked more than any other, bore hardships on land and sea, “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked,”[2] bearing the Word of Christ “before Gentiles and kings.”[3]

In the power of his union with Christ, he snatched up an ancient world that was sinking into death and raised it to the Sunday of Christ. His world-renewing work and nothing else is the proof of his bold word: “Christ lives in me.”

“You yourselves are our letter…written not on tablets of stone but on tablets of living hearts.”[4]

Converted and sanctified Christians, the world renewed by him in Christ–that is the unique, unmistakable evidence that Paul carried the Lord in his heart; this is the statistic of the Eucharistic movement that dominated his fiery heart; it is the decree of the Eucharistic Congress, applauded by a thousand voices in his soul:

Lofty, passionate work as the only sure indication of a true Eucharistic movement;

Selfless, arduous world at every post;

Bold, fearless work, even when it appears contrary to “reputation” or “good old habit”;

Zealous, tireless word until the end, even when “the enjoyment of well-earned glory” seems more deserved;

Work ever looking forward, even when one is already hailed in every paper as “the master of our age.”


There is a principle in the life of grace, a crushing weight for the sluggish, uplifting for the tireless: the more grace we receive, the more work we must accomplish.

God does not give his grace as a sweet indulgence or a bed of roses: a firebrand is he, blazing in heart and hands, until in the smithy of the human will the holy deed of work is hammered out, a sword of St. Michael, that flashed and smote in the battles of Heaven.

This holds true for individual grace.

But in Holy Communion the fullness of Grace made flesh goes up into the human heart: man receives the giver of grace himself. It follows with an inexorable logic: the work of this man must now become the work of Christ.

The work of Christ: not merely a pious aspect, high-flown thoughts, well-polished intentions—work.

The work of Christ: not a dainty little chore; not work such as even the pagan in whom Christ does not live could perform; work that is worthy of a son of God who lives in you—Christ-work.

So Christ lives in you:

Not an ordinary man, a shrunken, work-shy man-child—

No, Christ, “in whom all things were made.”[5]

And Christ lives in you:

Not a fading memory hovering about your soul—

No, a life of electrifying work, flaming zeal for the Kingdom of God,

The greatest Life of all lives in you.


How often does he live in you?

Once a year?

Because it is true that in holy Communion Christ comes into our soul (that is an eternal truth);–

Because it is true that we are in an age of frequent, even daily Communion (and experience has taught us this):

How many people must be full of the Lord!

How must the working power of Catholics surpass the mass of non-Catholics, who only catch scraps from the table!—

How all troubles must disappear from Catholic families!

How gloriously the great Catholic organizations must flourish!

How brotherly love must shine serene in Catholic shops!

How the peoples of the earth must be amazed at the heaven-storming work-zeal of the Lord’s youth!

How the face of the earth must renew itself in the sunlight of the Savior!

Does this happen?


We would like to address ourselves alone in the quiet of our room:


Tell me, soul, how do you reckon your Eucharistic statistics?:

your work on your self,

your selfless cooperation in the great tasks of the Church?

Does the number of your Holy Communions measure up to the tally of your glorious works, glorious as only a Christian who receives Christ into his soul so often can make them?

Caritas Christi urget nos.[6]

Every Holy Communion is a flaming torch pricking you on to a fitting work.

Woe to thee, if the divine fire sputters out!

Woe to thee, if it must be put to use so shamefully to sear you out of your inertia!

Then are you like a prison for our Lord, which he will burst open the tomb in the Garden of Nicodemus!

Let Christ live in you, live for an untiring labor, a readiness for work that shies away from no task!

Whether Christ renews the whole world depends on you.

For he wanders no more on Earth, as once he did in Galilee, in his visible Person.

Now the Lord goes teaching and healing around the world through the work of the souls who receive him.

That is why the life of these souls must be a life of Christ, and their work a work of Christ.

This life and this work alone are to be the measure of your Eucharistic movement and the only authentic entrance card to the Eucharistic World Congress.

This truly Eucharistic World Congress is the cheerful cooperation of the Catholics of every land, unrestrained by the prejudice and petty conceits of the nation, in the universal tasks of the universal Church.


Interior Work


Christ is the eternal archetype of the interior and exterior world.

All the loveliness of the universe, the majesty of the mountains, the charming simplicity of the green valleys, the bright concert of bird song in the young spring woods, the crack of thunder and the lightning of night storms, the stilly solitude of the mountain hermitage and the confused hustle and bustle of the factory town:–

All so many images of his unity.

All the beauty of man’s interior life, the bell-bright laughter of a child, the stormy impulses of youth, the earnest zeal of manhood, the generous sacrifice of a wife, the gentle repose of age;

The anxious, probing meditations of the scholar and the laborer’s rough grappling with the forces of nature;

The merchant’s cool calculation along with the heart-wrenching intuitions of the artist:––

All so many images of his unity.

This one Christ,

Eternal ideal unity of the interior and exterior worlds,[7]

Unites himself with the soul of man.

What can his purpose be, if not: through the work of this human world to drawn the inner world and outer world ever closer to himself, to assimilate it to him, to make it one with him![8]


This is in fact the object of the Eucharistic Savior’s work:

Man’s soul must form its interior world according to his Image, so that it may renew the outer world in Him; all the outer work of culture must be rooted in the interior work of holiness, and all interior work toward holiness must radiate outward into the practical work of genuine culture, which in turn culminates in the sanctification of all humanity.

The root of this work-unity is the interior work of holiness. Every exterior work—be it ever so lofty and sublime—is soulless without the holiness of the worker: “sounding brass.”[9]

The profit it brings the world remains mired in the realm of matter: the world becomes corporally richer, but spiritually poorer.

The work of unsanctified hands is like a corpse; for it no longer has a soul.

But for the world of living men, only life has worth.

The content of this life of holiness is assimilation to the Eucharistic Savior. Because he is the “eternal life,” his replication is the authentic life of exterior work: the authentic interior work.

Two things are contained here:

Christ as the eternal Ideal Unity of all the efforts of the interior world, demands that each individual craft himself in the image of this Unity;

Christ as the omnipotent God working from his profound concealment in the Eucharist wills that the mighty power of works conformed to his Image be united with the greatest humility.


Interior Unity.


Man’s sinful condition is manifest in his spineless capitulation to every sort of temptation. As soon as he is carried away by the images of his own senses, he becomes the play-thing of his inclinations. There is no more unity or governing principle in him. His is not governed by his will, but by the multiplicity of his sense impressions and the passions.

But Christ is eternal Unity.

In his personality as the Gospels portray Him, meekness is united with terrible wrath, simplicity of speech with a chasmic profundity of thought, a cheerful soul with a stern spirit of penitence.

All his interior motions are balanced against one another in an imperturbable unity.

In this way he is “ the reflection of the Father,” in whom the multiplicity of creation has its unitive source, its unitive power, and its unitive end.

Therefore Christ, living Eucharistically in the human soul, can work for no other object than this one thing alone, that a kingly order of unity should reign inexorably over its life.

This order of unity is the holy will of God.

The neophyte must submit to it by keeping the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Church, the true Christian through obedience in the face of all worldly and spiritual authority, and the saint through cheerful readiness to face the most bitter way of the Cross.

“Obedient unto death, even unto death on a cross.”[10] With these words the Apostle of the Gentiles puts his finger on the deepest nature of Christ and of the Christian disciple.

Fiat voluntas tua, that is the human soul’s everlasting rock of unity, onto which, as he goes cheerfully into the harsh struggle, he attaches the entirety of his emotions and affections, and blossoms into one stem and one flower head.

Fiat voluntas tua, this is a motto to live by, clear to the humblest initiate, unplumbably deep for the young advancing in holiness, and eternally inexhaustible for its greatest masters.

The sign of a truly “Eucharistic” soul will be its ever-ready obedience.

He who brings Christ into himself, must draw near to the same food as He, and the food of Christ is:

“to do the will of him who sent me.”[11]


Supreme power united with supreme humility.

The peculiarity of the Eucharistic Christ is expressed well in this division of work.

As he traveled throughout Palestine, it is true that “power went out from him and he healed all.”[12] But the power was carefully ordered as he entirely resigned his Godhead to the cross: it is there he worked the Redemption.

Divinity and humanity are concealed in the Eucharist; here is power at its apex: for millions and millions of men he makes the fruits of Redemption effective in conversion and sanctification.

Where Christ works most secretly, he also works most mightily.

This must also become a feature of the “Eucharistic” soul.

In its life the Eucharistic Christ must radiate outward;

This demands the heights of its power and the depths of its humility.

The heights of its power:

It is no sign of the true Christ to place our hands quietly in our lap and leave all the work up to God;

Boldly intervening, valiantly pressing forward, ceaselessly struggling onward—

This is the Eucharistic personality; for him there is no fear, no hesitation, no standing still, no resting satisfied;

“more, always more”, this is his fiery watchword; precisely because the will of God is the foundation of the soul, its power is inexhaustible and its struggle is tireless;

for as God is endless, so is his will endless, endless in width and depth and height.

The depths of its humility:

Just as the eternal God works all things in the world and yet remains unseen, so the Eucharistic Christ governs and fructifies the spiritual life of all humanity, but is seen by no one;

The “Eucharistic” soul’s distinctive “I” must perish in its work. It is not the Christian’s object to make a name for himself through his work. He is like the seed corn that dies pushing up the sprout: the work lives, the worker dies.

Christ gave life to the world by his death, but he also wants to pass it on: through the death of his disciples.

It is not the number of Christians who should be reckoned, but rather Christian works;

Not the number of Eucharistic souls, but the number of Eucharistic works.


[1] Gal 2:20

[2] 2 Cor 11:27

[3] Acts 9:15

[4] 2 Cor 3:2,3

[5] Col 1:16

[6] “The love of Christ compels us.” 2 Cor 5:14

[7] Augustine: Cuius sapientia simpliciter multiplex and uniformiter multiformis (City of God 1.12, ch. 18) et omnes unum in ea (On the Trinity 1.6, ch. 11)

[8] Augustine (On the Trinity 1.4, ch. 7): Quia ab uno . . . Deo . . . evanueramus in multa, discissi per multa et inhaerentes in multis: oportebat . . . ut iustificaremur in uno iusto facti unum . . . per Mediatorem Deo reconciliati haereamus uni, fruamur uno, permaneamus unum.

[9] 1 Cor 13:1

[10] Phil 2:8

[11] Jn 4:34

[12] Lk. 6:19

Ritual and Sacred Chant in the Ordo Romanus Primus: An Article by Fr. Franck Quoëx

Ritual and Sacred Chant in the Ordo Romanus Primus

Franck Quoëx (†)

Translated by Zachary Thomas*

[Published in Antiphon, 22.2 (2018)]

Abstract: The Ordo Romanus Primus offers historians of the Mass in the West a complete picture of a normative liturgy, namely that of the Roman Pontiff. Sacred chant, inherent in the solemn public character of the Eucharistic assembly, is an essential element of this liturgy. It accompanies certain significant rites, expresses the prayers of the ministers and the faithful, and offers a meditation on the Word of God. The direct link between rite and chant permits an account of developments, adaptations, and simplifications that, since the Franco-Roman period, have been grafted onto the original structure.


The royal decision to import the liturgy of the city of Rome into Frankish lands, beginning in the second half of the eighth century, required sending the proper books that contained the prayers for the celebration. In the case of the Eucharistic celebration, these books, or sacramentaries, contained certain fixed (Canon Missae) and mobile prayers (orations for Sundays and feasts of the year) for the use of the celebrant alone. However, these euchological books taken by themselves could not teach the Frankish clergy the rites of the Roman celebration. They had to be complimented by other books, among them collections of detailed descriptions of the stational office of the Urbs, collections known under the name Ordines Romani.[1] Even after their arrival at their destination, it had to be put into practice by inexperienced clergy.[2]

For the historian of the Roman Mass, familiarity with the Eucharistic ordines proves to be of primary importance. On one hand, the Ordo describes the course of the liturgical action, for which it articulates, in the form of detailed “rubrics,” the ritual prescriptions necessary to carry out the sacred action well. In this sense, for the historian of rite the Ordo is more informative than the sacramentary.[3] Again, the Ordo Romanus Primus (OR I),[4] first in the general classification and in the list of Eucharistic ordines in particular, constitutes the first detailed description of the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff, which is the most solemn form of the Eucharistic celebration. We know that the form described is the origin of other more or less simplified forms of this celebration: the celebration of the bishop, the solemn celebration of a simple priest, the private Mass—all modes of celebration that cannot be explained except by beginning with the “normative” celebration of the Roman Pontiff.[5]

The interest of OR I also lies in the fact that it represents an epoch when the Roman liturgy had not yet undergone a hybridization through contact with Franco-German uses. The author of the first redaction of OR I wrote from Rome at the end of the seventh century or the start of the eighth century, but one may argue that the liturgy he describes, apart from several modifications and developments, is in substance the stational liturgy of St. Gregory the Great. Though the redactor writes in poor Latin— “vulgar” Latin close to the Romance languages then in formation—he is distinguished by “a profound personal knowledge of the Roman liturgy. His description of the papal Mass comes from a witness intimately familiar with all the details of his subject.”[6] It also offers numerous indications about the hierarchical degrees and institutions of the Roman church, among which we will discuss what relates to the liturgical function of the scola[7] cantorum, focusing on the direct original link between ritus and cantus in the ancient liturgy. In this way we will be better able to define the role of sacred chant in the celebration of Christian worship.

OR I opens with these words: “Incipit ordo ecclesiastici ministerii romanae ecclesiae vel qualiter missa celebratur.” The ordo thus introduced is a long text, divided into 126 paragraphs in Michael Andrieu’s edition. To facilitate our reading, we will divide the text according to the various parts and sections of the Mass, and make it our task to point out and analyze in each of them whatever concerns the liturgical-musical structure of the rite described.


1.1 The Preparation (nos. 1–45)

From the Patriarchium Lateranense, the place of his residence, the Roman Pontiff proceeds on horseback to the church designated for the stational liturgy. In the cortège that escorts him, the sub-deacon charged with the lectio of the epistle carries the apostolum (the epistolary), while the archdeacon has charge of the evangelary (no. 20). The pope is received at the doors by the clergy of the stational church as well as by the acolytes of the region of the Urbs where the church is situated. The rest of the clergy who take part in the celebration are already in the church: the suburbicarian bishops and titular priests of the various churches (those who along with the deacons would later be called cardinals); other clergy, among them the acolytes defensores; probably numerous monks belonging to the various monasteries of the basilicas; and, of course, the members of the scola cantorum. The latter, following the modification ordered by Gregory the Great in 595— which had forbidden men to be ordained to holy orders solely on the grounds of their good voice[8] —was then composed of sub-deacons, minor clerics and children (infantes).[9] The sub-deacons formed the body of the four ranks of the scola: primicerius scolae (or archicantor), secundicerius, tertius and quartus scolae, with the last also having the title archiparafonista because he was put over the children parafonistae.

After entering the church, the pontiff does not go immediately to the altar but into the secretarium, a sort of chapel-sacristy, escorted by the deacons. The deacon charged to read the gospel receives the evangelary, removes it from its sealed case, finds and marks the pericope of the day, then consigns the book to an acolyte who, accompanied by a sub-deacon sequens (i.e., dedicated in a special manner to the service of the pope),[10] carries it to the altar on which the sub-deacon places it with certain signs of honor (nos. 30–31).

In the secretarium, the liturgical vesting of the pontiff takes place. At the end of this, a regional sub-deacon, holding the maniple of the pontiff placed on his left arm, exits the secretarium and cries: “Scola.” The archiparafonista, or quartus scolae, responds: “adsum.” The sub-deacon inquires from him the name of the cantor who is to perform the psalmody (“Quis psallit?”). This is probably the name of the one who will perform the versets of the gradual, alleluia, or tract. after he receives the response, the sub-deacon returns to the pope, dresses him in the maniple and announces to him the names of the regional sub-deacon who will read the epistle, and of the cantor who will chant: “Servi domini mei talis subdiaconus regionarius legit apostolum et talis de scola cantat” (no. 38). The following paragraph contains a severe prohibition against modifying the choice of persons already designated: if this happens, the archiparafonista is excommunicated (no. 39).

When reading the text one will note the difference in the verbs employed: psallere for the scola, legere for the sub-deacon and deacon. Psallere means to chant, or more precisely to chant the text of the Psalms, which forms the basis of liturgical chant. In the time of OR I, there exists a highly developed psalmodic, or antiphonic, or responsorial chant entrusted to the cantors. This ornate chant is strictly distinct from the reading, which is lightly ornamented and reserved to the sub-deacon and the deacon for the declamation of the sacred Text. The artistic execution of the chant is the privilege of the scola cantorum from which, as we have already pointed out, the deacons were excluded.

The archiparafonista has entered the secretarium; he places himself facing the pontiff, waiting until he makes the sign to commence the chant. The order received, the archiparaphonist leaves by the doors of the secretarium and tells the seven acolytes who are waiting with the candlesticks, as well as the sub-deacon sequens who holds a golden thurible: “accendite” (nos. 40–41). He then goes to the choir and says while bowing to the director of the scola (“ad priorem scolae, vel secundum sive tertium”): “domne, jubete” (no. 42). The cantors then take their places before the altar, opposite the apse, in front of the confessio. The liturgical space of the church of Saint Clement at Rome, as it has come down to us, permits us to know with accuracy the disposition of the scola cantorum. The cantors are arranged in two columns facing each other (“per ordinem acies duae tantum”), deployed in the interior of the choir from the doors of the chancel up to the confessio. The archiparaphonist stands near the chancel with the children, while the other cantors occupy the space closer to the altar, the higher-ranking members standing at the ends of each column (no. 43). The first cantor intones the antiphon ad introitum.

As the first notes of the melody fill the basilica, the deacons alert the pontiff. The pope rises from the small throne on which he had been sitting, gives his right hand to the archdeacon and his left to the second deacon, and exits the secretarium.

1.2. The Entrance Rites (nos. 46–54)

The pope moves toward the altar in procession. In front of him walk the sub-deacon sequens holding the thurible and the seven regional acolytes, each one with a candlestick. The procession arrives at the entrance to the choir where the choir is standing. The pontiff advances between the two columns of cantors to the level of the first cantors (“in caput scolae”). He bows toward the altar, rises, prays a moment in silence, crosses himself on the forehead, and gives the kiss of peace to his assistants. Then he gives the sign to the choir master to say “gloria [Patri];” the choir master bows and complies while the pope mounts into the apse. Meanwhile, the archiparaphonist has rolled out the oratorium, a sort of “prayer mat,” before the steps of the altar. In so doing, the archiparaphonist executes a ceremonial action, linked to a precise moment of liturgical chant. Arrived before the altar, the pope prostrates himself on the oratorium during the chant gloria [Patri] until the repetition of the introit verset (no. 50).

When reading the description of these entrance rites, the liturgical historian may very clearly distinguish the still silent origins of something that would appear later, during the Carolingian period: the prayers at the foot of the altar.

The pontiff rises, mounts to the altar, kisses the book of gospels and the altar, then goes to his throne (“ad sedem”) in the back of the apse. He stands there facing east (“versus orientem”), which in the case of an eastward facing church would have meant standing in the same position as the people (no. 51).

Next is sung the “Kyrieleison” (sic). When he deems fit, the pope makes the sign to the choir master to conclude what is already designated by the Gelasian term laetania.[11] Then the pontiff intones the “Gloria in excelsis deo.” Two manuscript witnesses (G and A) attest that the pope turns toward the assembly to intone the Gloria, then resumes his position turned toward the east until the end of the hymn. In any case, he remains standing. He turns again toward the people to say (which means to sing without ornamentation, recto tono): “Pax vobis,” then “Oremus.” Once again turned toward the east, he pronounces the oratio, in which he gathers the prayers of the whole assembly (hence the term collecta, received later to designate this prayer), and thus concludes the entrance rites.[12] After all have responded “Amen,” the pontiff sits at his throne (no. 53), then makes the sign to the bishops and priests to seat themselves.

1.3 The Instruction (nos. 55–65)

The designated sub-deacon, after pulling his chasuble up to his shoulders—so as to grant his arms more liberty of movement— climbs the ambo and reads the epistle (no. 55).[13] Likewise the designated cantor mounts the ambo—more precisely the steps of the ambo—where he performs the responsum gradale. In order to do this he holds in his hands the cantatorium, a book for the use of a soloist, of oblong shape, often decorated with a rich binding, and containing the interlectionary chants and sometimes the offertory versets.[14] The gradual chant is the occasion for the cantors to elaborate certain highly ornate melodies with grand artistic qualities that everyone listens to in silence.[15] He intones another chant with ample melismatic vocals, exulting, in the word of St. Augustine,[16] in the alleluia chant. During certain times this is replaced by the tract, unless it is only possible to sing the gradual (no. 57).[17] The number of readings at Rome having been limited to the epistle and gospel during the Gregorian period,[18] the interlectionary chants succeed one another without transition. at the end of the last interlectionary chant, the ceremonies attending the proclamation of the gospel are performed: the benediction of the deacon by the pontiff; the deacon’s coming to the altar to take the evangelary; finally, the procession of the ministers toward the gospel ambo (two regional sub-deacons, one of whom carries the thurible; two acolytes with candlesticks, and lastly the deacon with the evangelary). Having mounted the ambo, the deacon reads the gospel in a lightly ornamented tone. OR I does not mention the existence of an introductory dialogue.[19] After the chanting of the gospel, the pontiff says (to the deacon): “Pax tibi.” There follows the rite of kissing the gospel by the pope and the clergy in hierarchical order.

OR I does not attest a Credo chant. In fact, we know that it was not received in the liturgy of the city of Rome before the eleventh century at the request of Emperor Henry II.[20]


2.1. The Offertory (nos. 66–85)

In no. 63 we read that the pontiff, after saying “Pax tibi” to the deacon, addresses himself to the assembly with “dominus vobiscum.” Following the assembly’s response, the celebrant adds: “Oremus,” a solemn invitation to prayer, already uttered once before the prayer at the conclusion of the entrance rites. Yet we must be careful to note that this Oremus is not followed by any precise prayer. It is scarcely credible, at least to us, that we are dealing with a vestige of the oratio fidelium suppressed since the fifth century in favor of the Deprecatio Gelasii. Rather, as Johannes Brinktrine has remarked,[21] it is necessary to connect this greeting of the assembly and the invitation to prayer to the oration super oblata that will conclude the rite of offering. What is more, the invitation to prayer seems to be connected to the action that all the assistants are about to perform: the offering of bread and wine, the material of the Eucharistic sacrifice, by the whole Church—an offering whose entire meaning will be expressed by the oration super oblata.[22]

Setting aside the oration super oblata, the rite of offering is not the object of any private prayer or apology by the celebrant and the ministers. These remain silent while they receive the offerings of the assembly at the entrance of the choir, in a manner strictly established and proscribed. Meanwhile, the scola cantorum performs a chant, a sort of introit to the Eucharistic liturgy. The text of OR I does not indicate the precise moment when this chant is to commence. It only says that at the end of the offering, once the oblations have been placed on the altar, the pope again makes the sign to the scola to cease chanting (no. 85). Specialists still dispute the origin, development, and musical status of the offertory chant, and the discussion is linked to the very complex history of the rites of the Roman offertory. Nevertheless, it seems we must see in the Roman offertorium chant a response rather than an antiphon.[23]

In addition to performing the required chant, the scola cantorum participates in its own way in the rite of offering. We read in no. 80 that a sub-deacon sequens descends from the apse to the scola to receive the offering of water (“accipit fontem”) from the hands of the archiparaphonist. This is placed on the altar for the archdeacon so that he can mix it into the wine of the chalice while making the sign of the cross with the cruet. The offering of water on the part of the scola cantorum seems to be a consequence of the direct link between the act of offering the material for the sacrifice and the action of communion. He who offers bread and wine will receive Eucharistic communion. Now, during the distribution of communion, the scola is occupied with chanting; its members being incapable of communicating during the celebration, they therefore do not offer the material for consecration. Nevertheless, as by their chant they participate in the liturgical celebration, they manifest this participation by offering the water for the chalice. If we follow the teaching of St. Cyprian,[24] the offering of the water in fact manifests, in its own way, a true participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice—a mystical and spiritual participation of redeemed humanity in the sacrifice of Christ.

Once the oblations are placed on the altar, the pontiff stands alone and makes the sign to the scola to finish the chant (no. 85). A new difficulty presents itself for the historian of the offertory rite, because the text of OR I makes no mention of the prayer super oblata, passing immediately to “Per omnia secula” (sic) and to the dialogue: “dominus vobiscum,” “Sursum corda,” “Gratias agamus” (no. 87). The fact is all the more surprising since the oratio super oblata is found in every Mass formulary from the proto-sacramentary of Verona to the ancient Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries. For certain authors (among them Josef A. Jungmann, Mario Righetti, and more recently Philippe Bernard), it seems evident that the prayer super oblata would have been said; the redactor of OR I presumed this and merely neglected to indicate it. On the contrary, Antoine Chavasse thinks it would not have been said during the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff, and that it was reserved for less solemn Masses.[25]

2.2. The Canon Missae (nos. 86–90)

While the bishops, priests, deacons, and acolytes remain in the apse behind the pontiff, the seven regional sub-deacons stand on the other side of the altar, on the side of the confessio, facing the pontiff, arranged in a horizontal line. When the pope says “Per omnia secula” (sic), “dominus vobiscum,” etc., they respond to him. The pope chants the preface. At the Sanctus, they give a profound bow with the pontiff and all the assistants: “Et subdiaconi regionarii, finito offertorio, vadunt retro altare, aspicientes ad pontificem . . . stantes erecti usquedum incipiant dicere hymnum angelicum, id est Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” (no. 87).

Reading the text attentively, it seems that it devolves upon the sub-deacons to perform the Sanctus chant—even though it would seem difficult that they could do so with ease while bowing profoundly. Although this chant was not reserved exclusively to them, by the position they occupied and the chant they performed, they represented the choirs of angels who stand before the throne of the lamb. This position of the sub-deacons and the significance tied to it would be mentioned, emphasized, and developed very frequently in the course of the following centuries by means of allegorical rites. In this sense, knowledge of OR I is necessary in order to understand the role of the sub-deacon, from the offertory to the communion, during the so-called solemn Tridentine Mass. The Sanctus chant completed, the pontiff rises and begins to pray the canon: “. . . surgit pontifex solus et intrat in canonem” (no. 88). All the others, the bishops, priests, deacons, and sub-deacons remain bowed during the Eucharistic anaphora. As a matter of textual interpretation, we would like to remark with Michel Andrieu that “for the redactor of the long recension [of OR I], the canon begins at the Te igitur. On the contrary, according to the ancient conception, which was also that of the original redactor of the Ordo I, it included the preface and the Sursum corda dialogue.”[26]

OR I tells us nothing about the manner in which the pontiff pronounced the canon nor the liturgical actions that he performed. Following the mode of the preface, did he say the prayer while modulating the text with vocal inflexions, using a musical rhyme more or less similar to the ferial tone of the preface?[27] Did he read it in a loud voice recto tono, in a recitative manner? Or did he already say it in a low voice? In the context of the Roman basilica and its usually ample dimensions, it is difficult to imagine a simple reading of the canon in a loud voice and without chant, which would only have been intelligible only to those assistants standing nearest to him—unless of course it was understood that only the clergy should hear it.[28] The development toward the silent canon, attested in later ordines,[29] would then be nothing more than an inevitable consequence. In addition, there is no trace of a change in vocal tone for the doxology “Per ipsum.”[30]

From another point of view, it is evident from our text that only the pope pronounces the words of the Eucharistic anaphora. of course, the Eucharistic celebration described in OR I is public and collective; all the degrees of the hierarchy and the whole of the “people of God” participate in and unite themselves to it: in this sense it is possible to speak of a “concelebration,” if one means by it a celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice on the part of all the members of the mystical body, and especially certain members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy—bishops and priests of the second order. All participate in the same action led by the celebrating pontiff; all in some manner offer through his hands. but we do not witness here what today is called a “sacramental” concelebration, in the sense that the participation and action of the concelebrants consists in pronouncing the sacramental words along with the principal celebrant—not that this type of concelebration was not in existence at the time of OR I, but that it was limited to certain solemnities and circumstances.[31]

2.3. The Communion Rites (nos. 91–123)

The canon completed, OR I amply describes the complex rites associated with the communion.

These rites are introduced by the Pater noster, the chanting of which, according to the practice attested by St. Gregory the Great, is reserved to the celebrant alone.[32] After the embolism Libera nos and the replacing of the paten on the altar, the pontiff says: “Pax domini sit semper vobiscum,” placing in the chalice a portion of the oblations from the preceding papal Mass (the first commingling).[33] The pontiff proceeds to the fraction of the Eucharistic bread of his own offering (the first fraction), leaves the part he has detached on the altar and places the rest of his oblation on the paten. He then leaves the altar for the throne (nos. 97–98). During this time, after the pope has said “Pax domini,” the archdeacon gives the peace to the first of the bishops, then to the other members of the clergy and finally to the people (no. 96).

After the rite of peace, there comes the general fraction of the Eucharistic bread.[34] The oblations are first transported from the altar to the pope, bishops, and priests (nos. 101–104). Then, at the precise moment when the fraction is to begin, the archdeacon makes a sign to the scola cantorum to begin the Agnus Dei (no. 105). This chant, commonly considered of Eastern origin, was introduced into the Roman liturgy by Pope Sergius I (687–701), who was of Syrian origin. With the Agnus Dei, a prayer takes place in the Roman liturgy that is addressed directly to Christ, the holy Victim to whom the whole assembly gives supplication at the moment of the fraction. Repeated uninterruptedly during the whole time of the fraction, this invocation is always concluded by “miserere nobis.” however, the concomitance of the kiss of peace would suggest to later generations an interpolation containing an allusion to the peace—“dona nobis pacem”—which prevailed everywhere except at St. John Lateran where the former usage was maintained until the twentieth century.

When the fraction of the oblations has been completed, the pope communicates at the throne (no. 106). In so doing, the pope detaches a part of the consecrated bread he is about to take. He places this part in the chalice held by the archdeacon (the second Commingling), saying: “Fiat commixtio et consecratio corporis et sanguinis domini nostri Iesu Christi accipientibus nobis in vitam aeternam. Amen.” He adds to the archdeacon: “Pax tecum.” The archdeacon responds: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The pope then takes the Precious blood in the chalice held by the archdeacon (no. 107). Then he descends to administer the communion to those from whose offerings he had received with his own hands at the offertory. He is followed by the archdeacon holding a great cup of wine in which a small amount of Precious blood had been mixed for the “confirmation” of the communicants (no. 113).[35] During this time, the bishops and priests administer communion to the rest of the assembly.

When the pope began to distribute communion in the senatorium, the scola cantorum intoned the communion antiphon, which they would draw out by means of versets from the Psalms, until the end of the general communion (no. 117). When the pope has finished distributing communion, he seats himself at his throne and washes his hands (no. 118). Once the communion of the people is finished, he orders the choir master to chant “Gloria Patri” (no. 122). The communion antiphon finished, the pope rises and comes to the altar to pronounce the oration ad complendum—the Postcommunion (no. 123).


At the pope’s signal, the deacon designated by the archdeacon says: “Ite missa est.” The response is: “Deo gratias” (no. 124).

Immediately the procession forms to return to the secretarium in the following order: the seven acolytes, the regional sub-deacon swinging the thurible, then the pope with his assistants (no. 125). At his passing all bow and ask his blessing (“Iube, domne, benedicere”). In the choir there are first the bishops, then the priests, monks, the scola, the standard-bearers,[36] other clergy and officers of the patriarchium. Outside the choir, there are the cross bearers of the various regions, then the mansionarii iuniores. The pontiff says to each group: “benedicat nos dominus.” All respond: “Amen.” The pope crosses the choir and reenters the secretarium (no. 126). OR I does not mention any chant to accompany the pontifical recessus, the liturgical significance of which was lesser in relation to the introitus, a veritable entry into the heavenly Jerusalem.

Josef A. Jungmann wrote:

If we mull over this description in its entirety we will get the strongest impression of a magnificent completeness. A great community exercise, heir of a thousand years’ culture, had produced its final form in the church, lending to the divine service the splendor of its noble tradition.[37]

But even further, for anyone who wants to understand the sources, the history, and the theology of the Roman Mass, the Ordo Romanus Primus is invested with the highest level of importance.

Indeed, OR I presents the fundamental structure of the Ordo Missae onto which, beginning in the Carolingian period, other developments and adaptations would be grafted. These would concern principally three moments of the celebration: the entrance, the offertory, and the concluding rites. They were a matter of making certain pre-existent rites “speak” that until then had remained “silent” as the schola cantorum performed a chant: the prayers at the foot of the altar during the chant of the introit and the “apologies” during that of the offertory. Because of the progressive adoption of unleavened bread in the West, certain rites were simplified, such as the offering and the fraction. however, it is not only the heart of the Ordo, running from the preface to the “Pax domini,” which remained unaltered, but the structure itself of the solemn Mass, accented by the succession of chants, which would not be modified—until the missal promulgated by Pius V in 1570.

From another perspective, the examination of OR I permits us to highlight the foundational role of chant in the Eucharistic celebration. The chant does not function only as an ornamental quality, reduced to the merely figurative quality of a work of art, but possesses a true and proper liturgical function. One part of the celebration is actually reserved to the scola cantorum. The cantors proclaim a liturgical text drawn generally from Sacred Scripture. This proclamation sometimes envelops a complete rite, such as the entrance, offertory, and communion, as the integral expression of its meaning. Between the readings, the liturgical chant becomes a meditation on the Word of God. With the Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, and probably the Sanctus, the sacred chant is also the mode of expression and participation of the entire assembly. In addition, the liturgical dimension of chant is emphasized by ceremonial provisions: the intervention of the officials of the scola during the rites of preparation, their arrangement in the choir, the offering of water at the offertory, etc.

In the history of the documented and ascertainable origins of the Roman liturgy, sacred chant is a constitutive element of the celebration. It does not rate second place. It may develop, become more complex, and follow the evolution of musical art, but it remains the support of the liturgical text, as long as this text cannot be “read” in the context of simplified Masses. In other words, the Ordo Romanus Primus proves that the normative Mass is not the low or said Mass where all the parts of the rite are concentrated in the hands of a lone celebrant,[38] but rather the solemn celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, performed by the pontiff (the pope and to a lesser degree the bishop in his own diocese), with the assistance of all the orders of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the active collaboration of the scola cantorum, and in the presence and with the participation of the Christian people.

In OR I, the ecclesiological dimension of the liturgical assembly is manifested in its plenitude: it is in effect the entire community, hierarchically ordered under the direction of the Roman Pontiff, that takes part in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. The actions of offering, the solemn fraction, the general communion, and even the rite of the pope’s communion ad sedem, underline this concept of Eucharistic assembly (ecclesia). The Roman Pontiff appears in his quality as supreme pastor and, thus, of “liturgist” par excellence, while the sacred ministers and the scola cantorum forge the link between the throne-altar and the assembly of the faithful.

Rev. Franck Quoëx (1967–2007), S.T.D. was a priest of the Archdiocese of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, and a highly esteemed liturgical scholar.

* Editor’s note: This article was originally published as “Ritualité et chant sacré dans l’Ordo Romanus Primus (VII–VIIIème siècle),” in Aevum 76 (2002) 253–265. In the English translation, the editorial conventions of Antiphon are largely followed.

[1] See Antoine Chavasse, La liturgie de la ville de Rome du Vème au VIIIème siècle: Une liturgie conditionnée par l’organisation de la vie in urbe et extra muros, Studia anselmiana 112 (Rome: Centro Studi San Anselmo, 1993). The author holds that parallel to the systematization of the euchological formulary in the sacramentaries, the organization of the stational liturgy at Rome probably required, sometime during the fifth and sixth centuries, the codification of liturgical practices so as to give them an official status.

[2] It was certainly in order to alleviate certain misunderstandings and uncertainties that around 760 Remedius, bishop of Rouen and blood brother of Pepin the Short, made a voyage to Rome with the purpose of obtaining permission from Pope Paul I to send back with him a man called Simeon, secundus of the schola cantorum, so that he could teach the Frankish clergy the Roman ceremonial and musical practices. See Cyrille Vogel, “les échanges liturgiques entre Rome et les pays francs jusqu’à l’époque de Charlemagne,” in Le chiese nei regni dell’Europa occidentale e i loro rapporti con Roma sino all’800, Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 7 (Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1960) 185–295, at 242–243.

[3] See the seminal remarks of Michel Andrieu, Les Ordines Romani du haut moyen âge, 5 vol., Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense 11, 23, 24, 28, 29 (Louvain: Peeters, 1931–1961) vol. II, XII XIV. See also Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, trans. Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993) 185: “Their historical interest no longer needs any demonstration so important was their impact on the Latin liturgy in the West, especially at the time they made their way into the Frankish Empire. I shall simply limit myself to recalling the unique testimony of the nine small ivory plaques attached to the back cover of the Sacramentary of Drogo (Paris, B.N., lat. 9428, middle of the ninth century), showing nine scenes of a Eucharistic celebration in the cathedral of Metz, presided by the bishop. The different rites, presented with a meticulous attention to detail (number and placement of officiants, gestures, liturgical objects, and so on) reflect the historical fact that Metz adopted the Ordines Romani during the Carolingian period under the episcopate of Chrodegang (742–766); this is evident prove of the Romanization of the Gallican liturgy in one of its bastions, the cathedral of Metz” (translation modified).

[4] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 67–108.

[5] See Niels K. Rasmussen, “Célébration épiscopale et célébration presbytérale: un essai de typologie,” in Segni e riti nella chiesa altomedievale occidentale, 11–17 aprile 1985, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 33 (Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1987) vol. II, 581–603.

[6] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 53.

[7] This article reproduces the orthography of the OR I manuscripts.

[8] See the discourse of St. Gregory the Great during the synod held at St. Peter’s in July 595: “In sancta hac Romana ecclesia, cui divina dispensatio praeesse me voluit, dudum consuetudo est valde reprehensibilis exorta, ut quidam ad sacri altaris ministerium e cantores eligantur et in diaconatus ordine constituti modulationi vocis serviant, quos ad praedicationis officium elemosinarumque studium vacare congruebat. Unde fit plerumque, ut ad sacrum ministerium, dum blanda vox quaeritur, quaeri congrua vita neglegatur et cantor minister Deum moribus stimulet, cum populum vocibus delectat. Qua de re praesenti decreto constituo, ut in sede hac sacri altaris ministri cantare non debeant solumque evangelicae lectionis officium inter missarum sollemnia exsolvant. Psalmos vero ac reliquas lectiones censeo per subdiaconos vel, si necessitas exigit, per minores ordines exhiberi.” Ep. V, 57a (MGH, Epistolae, I, 363).

[9] Philippe Bernard, Du chant romain au chant grégorien (IV e –XIII e siècle) (Paris: Cerf, 1996) 412: “First conceived as the company of the senior soloists of the titular churches, a corporation for the masters of Roman chant, the Schola cantorum became progressively a stage in the Roman clerical cursus, receiving children who had been destined for the Church. after a solid formation—the seven liberal arts, probably with a particular insistence on the skills of reading and proclamation of sacred texts—the most gifted among them could enter the body of cubicularii at the Lateran, where they completed their formation, which set them on a course for the highest offices of the Church of Rome. . . . Thus it is not until the beginning of the eighth century or the end of the seventh that we see the Schola transformed into a sort of ‘professional craft,’ the classic image that comes down to us in the Ordines Romani.”

[10] On the various categories of sub-deacons and their functions in the papal liturgy over the centuries, see Armando Cuva, “Pagine di storia del ministero suddiaconale alla messa papale,” in Fons vivus—Miscellanea liturgica in memoria di don E.M. Vismara, ed. Armando Cuva (Zürich: PAS, 1971) 287–314.

[11] OR I, no. 52: “Prior vero scolae custodit ad pontificem, ut ei annuat quando vult mutare numerum laetaniae et inclinat se pontifici.” We know that when OR I was redacted during the sixth century, the practice of chanting the Deprecatio Gelasii had fallen into desuetude. Since they various invocations to which the people would have responded by Kyrie eleison no longer existed, the cantors took the place of the people in chanting these words. Thence came the development of the Kyrie from an almost syllabic melody into an ornamented chant.

[12] One manuscript (R), the work of a Frankish copyist, provides at this point after the oration, on Easter day and feast days, for the chanting of the Laudes Maiores, beginning with the words “Exaudi Christe.” These were liturgical acclamations in honor of the pope, emperor, or bishop, etc., along with an expression of the prayers of the assembly: that God and the saints would protect them, that they would be given victory, peace, happiness, etc. These Gallican Laudes entered the papal liturgy and maintained their place in the papal coronation Mass until the twentieth century.

[13] “Naturally the reading was done in Latin, but if the Pope had so arranged it, the Greek text was added by a second sub-deacon in honor of the Byzantine population which had emerged as a numerous and distinct population at Rome after the fifth century. OR I does not make mention of this practice, but there is no doubt that it was an ancient Roman tradition to allow in the Mass of certain major solemnities, such as the Vigil and feast of Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost, for the singing of the epistle and the gospel in both languages, Latin and Greek.” Mario Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, Vol. III: La messa, 3rd ed. (Milano: Editrice Àncora, 1966) 166–167.

[14] See Michel Huglo, Les livres de chant liturgique (Turnhout: Brepols, 1988). Today we still possess several cantatoria. The most ancient, produced in northern Italy around 800, is conserved inside the treasury of the basilica of San Giovanni in Monza (Cod. CIX).

[15] “Around the middle of the fourth century, after the peace of the Church and the consequence development of its public liturgical worship, the art of responsorial psalmody witnessed an extraordinary growth. On the basis of the ancient traditional melodies, and profiting from purest and noblest of Greco-Roman art, the Christian soloists composed modulations and vocalizations so luxurious and complicated that they even provoked certain people, such as St. Augustine, to scruples about the irresistible attraction of their art.” Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 650. See also Bernard, Du chant romain, 413: “The ancient responsorial psalmody between the readings was characterized by the alternation among one or more soloists who sang the versets of the psalm and the faithful who, between each of these versets, took up a short refrain. Later, this response was secured by the schola itself. but it would be too reductive to speak of a ‘clericalization’ of the Mass by presenting this evolution as a ‘confiscation’ of the chant on the part of the clergy, and the faithful thus henceforth reduced to the ‘passivity’ of simple listeners. In reality it was an indispensable progress in the development of musical art. If out of archeologism and excessive love of the past the old ossified forms had been fixed in place—i.e., the psalm without refrain and the responsorial psalm—this would have impeded any evolution and progress of liturgical chant, and any chance of reaching higher forms of elaboration and complexity. It would have been a brake on creativity and intellectual and musical discovery. As for the ‘passivity’ of the faithful, this is nothing more than a stale anachronism.”

[16] St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Ps. 99, 4 (CCSL 39, 1394): “Gaudens homo in exsultatione sua ex verbis quibusdam quae non possunt dici et intellegi, erumpit in vocem quamdam exultationis sine verbis; ita ut appareat eum ipsa voce gaudere quidem, sed quasi repletum nimio gaudio, non posse verbis explicare quod gaudet.”

[17] OR I, no. 57: “. . . cantor cum cantatorio ascendit et dicit responsum. Si fuerit tempus ut dicat Alleluia, bene; sin autem, tractum; sin minus, tantummodo responsum.”

[18] Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 230–234.

[19] The introductory dialogue at the gospel is found for the first time in OR V, a Romano-Germanic ordo from the second half of the ninth century.

[20] Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 294–298.

[21] Johannes Brinktrine, Die heilige Messe, 4th ed. (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1949) 131.

[22] For Antoine Chavasse, the Oremus in the context of the stational Mass is not meant to prepare for the collect super oblata, but to announce the Eucharistic prayer.

[23] On the question of the Roman offertoria, see Bernard, Du chant romain, 437– 438: “The most ancient offertoria may have been in place before the creation of the stational liturgy. They date from the end of the fifth century, just like the schola. . . . on the liturgical level, the Roman-style offertory is the introit of the Mass of the Faithful. It became a processional chant thanks to the addition of versets, but originally, when it was limited to the offertorium alone, it was the shortest of the chants of the Mass, along with the alleluia. It did not accompany the offertory procession, performed by the clergy, which was only created later, but simply marked the moment when the oblations were placed on the altar. As for literary form, the offertory became a sort of second gradual by the addition of one or more versets by the schola; the offertorium acquired the nature of a refrain very close to that of the gradual. Thus it appears to have evolved in an ambiguous relationship with the latter, which was the fruit of a revision of ancient responsorial psalms by the schola, and so a form familiar to the soloists of the schola. The offertory underwent another transformation when the versets were suppressed beginning in the tenth century finding itself more in line with the antiphons of the Mass, the introit and communion.”

[24] St. Cyprian of Carthage, Ep. 63 ad Caecilium (CSEL 3/2:711): “nam quia omnes portabat Christus qui et peccata nostra portabat, videmus in aqua populum intellegi, in vino vero ostendi sanguinem Christi. Quando autem in calice vino aqua miscetur, Christo populus adunatur et credentium plebs ei in quem credidit copulatur et iungitur.”

[25] Chavasse, La liturgie de la ville de Rome, 37: “The offertory unfolds in two ordered and complimentary movements: bringing (offerre, once; oblationes, three times; oblatas, five times) and reception (susceptio, no. 77; suscipere, seven times). Each movement is executed by the assembly as such, following a basic structure: the bringers, named in the order in which they come (men and women, pontiff, bishops, priests, deacons, etc.); the recipients, the ministers who receive the oblations (from the pontiff to the acolytes). Each of these two groups, acting together, has its own proper structure. On one hand: men and women in their hierarchies . . . on the other: the ministers, cooperating according to their position. . . . In itself, the rite of the Ordo I is an immense collective ‘gesture’ that corresponds to the structure of the celebrating assembly and by which the latter is expressed in its march toward the Eucharistic action. . . . a ritual arrangement so full and complete has no need of any ‘word.’ The chant of the scola suffices for its festive character. For this carefully disposed rite that takes place in the station where the Roman Pontiff is presiding, a concluding prayer (super oblata) is not present and actually not required. It is the great prex, announced by the initial Oremus and opening with the preface, which presents to God the assembly’s oblation.”

[26] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 95–96, fn. 88. This brief recension, which represents the most ancient form of OR I, is accessible in the manuscript Sangallensis 614.

[27] OR XXVIII, a Franco-Roman ordo redacted around 800 (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. III, 391–411) where we read a propos of the chanting of the Exsultet: “. . . decantando quasi canonem” (no. 62).

[28] OR XV, a Franco-Roman ordo redacted before 887 (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. III, 95–125): “. . . a circumstantibus altare tantum audiatur” (no. 39).

[29] See, for example, OR V, a Germano-Roman ordo redacted at the end of the ninth century (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 171–238): “. . . surgit solus pontifex et tacito intrat in canonem” (no. 58).

[30] The chant Per ipsum introduced in 1965 and designed to emphasize the doxology and the elevation that accompanies it, is not actually drawn from any manuscript source. We know that it was composed by Dom Eugène Cardine, who relied on an ancient melody.

[31] This is attested by an authentically Roman fragment contemporaneous with OR I, included in OR III, a Franco-Roman ordo from the second half of the eighth century (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 131–133): “In diebus autem festis, id est pascha, pentecosten, sancti petri, natalis domini, per has quatuor sollemnitates habent colligendas presbyteri cardinales, unusquisque tenens corporalem in manu sua et venit archidiaconus et porregit unicuique eorum oblatas tres. Et, accedente pontifice ad altare, dextra levaque circumdant altare et simul cum illo canonem dicunt, tenentes oblatas in manibus, non super altare, ut vox pontificis valentius audiatur, et simul consacrant corpus et sanguinem domini, sed tantum pontifex facit super altare crucem dextra levaque” (no.1).

[32] See the letter of Gregory to John of Syracuse about the place of the Pater after the canon in the Roman liturgy: “Sed et dominica oratio apud Graecos ab omni populo dicitur, apud nos vero a solo sacerdote.” Ep. IX, 12 (CCSL 140a:587).

[33] The reason for this first commingling is found in the ancient use of fermentum, but here with the difference that the fermentum links two successive Masses celebrated by the pope, and not the Mass celebrated by the priest of a titulus with the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff. See the commentary of Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 58–64.

[34] Note how the rite of fraction is surrounded by a great solemnity. The fraction of the pope’s oblations is made at the throne; all the bishops and priests perform it (and this for a very practical reason). The allegorical commentators did not leave glosses on the fraction and communion at the papal throne. Recalling that the expression fractio panis served in the early centuries to designate the Eucharistic sacrifice, we may ask ourselves whether the solemn fraction (and thus, the communion) ad sedem is not meant to manifest, in the Eucharistic celebration of the supreme pastor, the unity of the entire Church achieved by participation in this sacrament.

[35] OR I, no. 113: “. . . descendit pontifex a sede . . . ut communicet eos qui in senatorio sunt, post quem archidiaconus confirmat.” It seems that at this time the mixture of a little consecrated wine with non-consecrated wine was held to procure consecration by contact. Even though this opinion was not admitted completely, a certain sanctification of the wine was believed to be effected either by the infusion of the Precious blood, or by the commingling of a consecrated particle; see Michel Andrieu, Immixtio et consecratio: La consécration par contact dans les documents liturgiques du moyen âge (Paris: a. Picard, 1924).

[36] OR I, no. 126: “. . . deinde milites draconarii, id est qui signa portant.”

[37] Josef A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia), trans. Francis A. Brunner (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2012) vol. I, 73.

[38] On the subject of the progressive concentration of various functions in the hands of the celebrant, see the remarks of Cyrille Vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources, ed. and trans. William G. Storey and Niels K. Rasmussen (Washington, D.C: The Pastoral Press, 1986) 156.

Claude De Vert: Preface to Volume 2 of the Explanation (1710)

PREFACE to Volume 1

Here De Vert shows that the frequent changes, variations, and dispensations of Church practices show that the Church does not hold mystical or symbolic reasons for the ceremonies as primary. Note especially his paragraphs on Baptism**.

Volume 2

In the preface of the first part of this work, I showed that this method of explaining the ceremonies of the Church according to their simple, natural and historic sense was nothing new, and that I have taken as my model a great number of authors renowned for their knowledge and piety.[1]

But this was insufficient. It still remains to show that the Church herself lends me this idea, and that my own mind differs in nothing from hers. God forbid I should ever think otherwise, or depart from her spirit and views in anything, even in trivial matters and points of less importance.

Nothing seems easier than to justify this proposition, and to show how at every step of the way and with all her conduct the Church approves as true, proper, and original meanings of her ceremonies those that I call simple, natural, and literal. If it were otherwise, and if she saw her ceremonies as founded solely upon spiritual reasons, and instituted for purely symbolic and mystical reasons, then because these sorts of reasons are not susceptible to change and because mystical realities are fixed and constant, once room is given to figure and allegory the ceremony must remain unaltered forever. It would follow that the Church herself was immovable–even in her customs and regulations. Her ordinances and laws, rites and ceremonies–once we supposed them to be founded upon such mystical reasons, as upon stable and permanent foundations–would thereby become essential and indispensable with no room for exception. In no circumstance would it be permitted to the Church to innovate or change anything in her whole exterior conduct. This would in no way accord with her discipline, which is variable and changing according to circumstances of time, persons, and place.

[Impediment to Orders for the Twice-Married]

Mariage sous le poêle au XVIIIème siècle


If it had always been true, for example, that those who have married more than once were excluded from Holy Orders merely because they had divided their flesh (as the mystical authors would say), and having shared it (so to speak) with others, they are no longer able to represent the union of JESUS CHRIST with his Church[2] which is one, and their marriage cannot be the image of the perfect love of this virgin Spouse for her virgin Groom,[3] this resulting defect of the sacrament constituting an irregularity; if, I say, it had always been true that this was the spirit and essential, primitive motive, principle cause and fundamental original reason that St. Paul prohibited a man who had more than one woman from the sacred ministry, then must also wonder why it is so easy, as it is, to lift this prohibition, founded as we have supposed on such sublime and serious, mysterious and thus respectable reasons. But if the apostle made this rule to accommodate the morals of his time and especially in order not to be less sensitive than the Jews and pagans, who also forbade from ministry at the altar those who had had more than one woman,[4] then we would easily judge that there are cases where this reason which is nothing more than mere convenience and pure convention, should give way to other considerations that justify dispensing this canonical impediment.

[Impediment to Marriage within a Certain Degree, Marrying in Penitential Seasons]

The same holds for some other customs that have come to us from the Jews and pagans, in which the Church has no trouble giving dispensations if she does not find just and legitimate reasons for them. Certainly she would be loth to do so if she thought that everything was mystical in the institution of all her practices. Thus in the case of the prohibition of marrying between parents of a certain degree (a prohibition that seems to have come to Christians through the Jews and Romans), indulgence is given very frequently. [5] This is true for innumerable other constitutions and ordinances, in which she gives dispensation so easily only because she regards them as being founded on opinions and motives that are subject to change and variation; such is the case for most of her practices and customs. Accordingly dispensation is nearly always granted for marrying in Lent and Advent (in this case we might even say the exception has become the rule), because we know that the Church’s prohibition on celebrating nuptials during those times is only the consequence of the ancient practice of continence on fasting days; since in our time such continence has become a matter of simple counsel, superiors have more leeway to relax the discipline on this point. Moreover, I have heard that in some diocese one is no longer even required to give a reason to obtain this dispensation, so well informed they are on the true reason and spirit of the law.

[Interval between reception of major orders]

In the same way, the Church finds it very easy to dispense with the usual interval of time between the reception of two orders, because there is reason to believe that the reason for the introduction of the span of one year between the reception of orders is that in ancient times ordinations were done only once a year in Rome, in the month of December, in accordance with the words repeated so often in the Lives of the first popes, fecit ordinationes mense decembri.[6] Consequently since orders were received only once a year it was necessary to wait an entire year before being promoted to the next order. But since at present orders can be conferred regularly on every Ember week, and even more often if desired, namely on the Saturday before Passion Sunday and Easter Saturday, several bishops have deemed that this span of three months can suffice for an interval between orders. […] Nothing is more frequent than these extra tempora, i.e. dispensations to be ordained outside of Ember days. And whence comes this facility of obtaining dispensations, if not because, in light of the fact that ordinations were done every Sunday in some centuries […] it seems less difficult to return to this use and that we may without scruple give an exception and condescension, even for cases without grave reasons? Thus it seems that what most facilitates the obtaining of these dispensations is nothing other than the recognition that there are reasons that form the basis of this regulations, and that these reasons were simple, indifferent, and variable. If on the contrary there were mysteries and spiritual senses hidden under these rules, these superiors would behave entirely differently and would be careful not to dispense anyone from them.

Now for practices of a different nature. If it were true, for example, that the clerical tonsure, at its origin and institution, had been nothing else than the image and symbol of the crown of thorns placed on Our Lord’s head, would we not be obliged by necessity to hold to this idea and practice, or would it be permitted in any case or for any reason to alter such a mysterious and significant sign as this? and would not the Church herself, on the contrary, have to require clerics in all times and from the very beginning, to wear a tonsure as similar as possible in form to the one worn by Our Lord, without permitting it to be enlarged or diminished at will? But the fact that the Church permits these ministers to have different tonsures, some more large or straight than others, us a visible sign that she does not at all regard the crown of Our Lord as the model and measure of what all clerics must wear. She gives another origin to this practice. Thus, she knows she has the freedom to regulate the form of the tonsure as she judges best, in accordance with circumstances of time and place.

Again, if it were true that infants are named at their baptism only in order to put them under the special protection of the Saint whose name they take, would the Church leave the choice up to the will of every individual to change this name at confirmation, clothing, or religious profession?

[Altar Decorations and Vestments]

Could we easily believe that the bishops would permit so many churches to have no antependium (parement) in front of the altar, if they were not informed that this antependium’s only purpose originally was to protect the relics that were placed under the altar; so that, in relation to this original use, the antependium has become entirely useless in churches where relics are no longer placed under the altar?

Is it conceivable that they would set their hands so readily to the destruction of the jubés, if they did not see that, since these types of tribunes were only erected to such a height so as to ensure that the reader’s voice would carry and be heard by the whole assembly, and that suffices to attain this purpose if the lector stands only a few feet above the others; and that there is no need to build these jubés in the form of galleries and to raise these huge masses of stone that can still be seen, especially in the cathedrals and collegiate churches, and that entirely block the faithful’s view of the choir and sanctuary?[7]

59 contemporary dove tabernacle copy
“From the time of Emperor Constantine a common form of tabernacle, both East and West, was a dove (called in the West columbae), which was hung over the altar from the ciborium canopy (55). It was high enough not to be stolen easily, and could be lowered with a pulley system. In some cases this rope was attached to the church bells so that people were alerted if someone tried to steal the columba.” Source: 

The same obtains for the practice of suspending the Blessed Sacrament above the altar. Would the re-establishment of this practice in many places be permitted, to the prejudice of tabernacles, unless we knew that this was the ancient custom (especially since the 6th century[8]), and that tabernacles have only been in use for about a hundred years?[9]

Image result for chasuble cuts diagram over time

Finally, it is the same for certain sacred vestments that would never be allowed to be cut, and which have been cut to the point we see today, if we had not learned from many renowned authors[10] that these vestments originally were not peculiar to the ministers at the altar, so that taking account of their original use, it doesn’t seem that there is anything amiss about letting them gradually take on a different form, more convenient and comfortable. Especially with regard to the chasuble, which formerly used to cover the priest entirely all around, if it were certain that it had this form for the sole purpose of being the symbol of charity that covers (in the words of St. Peter) a multitude of sins, would it have been, so to speak, relaxed to the secular arm, namely, left to chasuble-makers to cut them, shorten them, scallop them, and reform them to the point that they no longer cover the arms or legs? Truly, would it have been permitted to thus disfigure a sacred vestment consecrated by the moral idea that had been attached to it from the beginning?

Perhaps if people reflected well on all these consequences, they would be more hesitant to suppose that the Church has ideas and intentions that it is very doubtful and very uncertain that she has ever had. No priest and no bishop thinks any longer that the stole and maniple were destined since their institution to represent the bonds with which our Lord was tied when he was taken before Pilate.

If they imagined these vestments from this symbolic point of view, would they allow them to be so largely disguised by the ornaments embroidered onto them, so that today they have no resemblance to the cords with which the Savior of the world was tied and bound? If any bishop still believed that the action of kissing the altar at Mass contained any mysterious meaning, would he believe that it is sufficient to kiss only the wooden border that surrounds the altar? For, if we suppose that the altar was a figure of Jesus Christ, as certain mystical authors claim, could this symbol and image be applied to a simple wooden rail on which the antependium is set?


louis xiv 10
The baptism and anointing of Clovis

But how should we explain the fact that Pope Innocent II decided that there was no obligation for women to be churched after childbirth, if not because (without looking about for anything mystical in the ceremony), this great jurist and theologian saw that this practice belonged to a law that had been abolished by the Author of grace and truth, and so allowed the Church to use this blessing as a laudable pious custom, a custom of counsel and devotion and not a duty of precept? Moreover, how was it permitted that the full immersion of the whole body in the ceremony of baptism was changed to a simple pouring or infusion of one part of the body? It is because we know that this practice of plunging was originally a form of washing infants at the moment of their birth for reasons of physical health. Thus it can never be part of the essence of a sacrament, where the point is not to wash away physical uncleanness, and so the amount of water used does not matter, and as long as the sacrament is administered with water, then infusion, aspersion, or immersion or all equally good, and all forms are judged valid.[11] But if, on the contrary, the Church regarded immersion as essentially instituted to be an express representation of the fact that, being baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, we are also mystically buried with him, she would have taken great care to prevent this practice from changing, knowing well that whatever is the ground and substance of the sacraments is unalterable and indispensable. From this alteration of the discipline with regard to baptism we can see that the Church regards baptism by immersion as a simple custom that has come down to her from the tradition of the Jews or pagans, or perhaps from both together, and from all the nations of the world.[12] The same applies to the unction that precedes and follows the baptism. Understanding the physical, sensible causes for the institution of this practice, the Church has found it appropriate for good reasons to reduce it to only certain parts of the body, where formerly it was done on the whole body. On the other hand, if she had believed that this ceremony had been introduced only to give the catechumen power against the temptations and attacks of the devil, or to indicate that the neophyte takes part in a spiritual unction (reasons all used later on for the instruction and edification of the faithful), she would never have allowed it to be touched or reduced in any way, because that would have weakened the mystery, rendered its signification defective, and thus diminished the effects of the holy chrism and oil of catechumens.

[[NB footnote 12: “Though this did not keep the apostle Paul […] from finding excellent relations and wonderful allusions between this manner of plunging entirely into the water and the faithful’s being buried with Jesus Christ and rising from the water as Jesus Christ rose from the tomb. But it is one thing to make allusions and applications, metaphors and comparisons, and quite another to say that the original purpose for the institution of this action was to represent and signify the burial of the faithful with Jesus Christ. I mean to say that all these spiritual and symbolic viewpoints are not the cause and principle of the immersion, and played no part in the intention of those who instituted it. Rather, the fact of immersion merely provided the occasion for all these ideas and reflections.”]]

[Mystical Reasons Lead to Contradictions]

Creation (Hurlbutt)
Passauer Calendar Universitätsbibliothek Kassel, 2° Ms. astron. 1, fol. 70v.

Another thing that seems to demonstrate that the Church is very far from envisaging these sorts of reasons as the only reasons for the establishment of her ceremonies is the fact that if this was the case, she would often fall into contradiction in her practice. For instance, on the one hand the Church gives us to understand that the candles on our altars burn for no other reason than to express Jesus Christ who said that he was the light of the world; and at the same time they are not lit at Prime, Terce, Sext, or None, when Christ is no less the light of the world than at Matins, Lauds, and Vespers, when they are lit. This would not be coherent and the Church would be contradicting herself. Assuming this symbolic reason were true, we would have to leave the candles burning continually, and not only at certain divine offices, because, as the Apostle says, “(Heb. 13)” He is “the true light of man, who enlightens the world” (John 1) at all times of the day as well as during the hours of night. He is eternally the splendor of the “glory of his father,”  (Heb 1:3; Sap. 7:26).

If we ask the Church for the reason why she lights candles at certain hours of the office and not at others, she responds very simply and naturally, it is that there is no need for superfluous light during the day when Prime, Terce, Sext, and None are said, but only at night and dawn when Matins, Lauds, and Vespers are sung.

Are there many communities and famous corporations who are persuaded that the primitive reason for the institution of the hours of the office is precisely to honor and celebrate the various mysteries of Christ’s life? such as for example the birth of Our Savior at Matins, his resurrection at Lauds, the morning of his Passion at Prime, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Terce, the crucifixion at Sext, his death at None, his burial at Vespers, his lying in the tomb at Compline?

If it were true that in instituting the Divine Office, the Church had intended to honor in each of these hours the mysteries that took place during them–how Our Lord came into the world at night, how he rose at dawn, valde mane, how the Holy Spirit descended around Terce, cum sit hora diei tertia, how Our Lord was crucified around the hour of Sext, erat hora quasi sexta, that he died around None, circa horam nonam, and that he was buried in the evening–then it would never be permitted at all to change the order of the offices and thus obliterate all these intentions of the Church.

But an evident proof that all these congregations do not believe that the Hours were instituted for these sorts of sublime and mysterious reasons, is the freedom that they give to anticipate or postpone the Hours, to distribute them according to convenience or the will of their superiors. Thus, at Paris for example, they say Matins followed by Lauds at anytime during the night, between five o’clock in the evening of the previous day and six in the morning of the next day. Likewise they say Prime sometime between five thirty and eight in the morning; Terce between eight and ten; Sext between ten and eleven forty-five; None between mid-day and three; Vespers between one and six; and Compline between three or four and nine. Nothing could show more clearly how these hours are arbitrary, and how far the Church is from thinking that the primitive reason, the reason for the institution of these Hours was to honor the various mysteries.

Furthermore, would the whole Church have taken it upon herself in Lent to anticipate Vespers at noon and celebrate at that hour a mystery that happened in the evening? It is thus much more natural to believe that all these particular churches and the universal Church herself regard the determination of the Hours of the Office as a tradition coming from the Jews, who actually assembled for prayer at about the same hours as Christians; namely in the morning[13], at 6,[14] and 9,[15] and in the evening,[16] not to mention the night prayers.[17] Therefore the Churches can easily anticipate or postpone these Hours because in the final analysis, just as the jews had their reasons for choosing these hours, the Churches about which we are speaking also believe that they have sufficient reasons to change the times of the hours and choose other times.

Therefore, we have found proof of my thesis everywhere: that the ease of obtaining dispensations and the variability of the Church’s discipline, especially with regard to the rites and ceremonies, comes from the fact that this discipline is founded on simple reasons that are nearly all based either on the customs of the ancients, or on the relation between actions and words or between words and actions, or on necessity, or on propriety and convenience.[18] All such practices and reasons are subject to change, because what is convenient at one time is not at another. As soon as these reasons no longer hold, it would seem permissible at the same time to abolish the practices connected with them. If, on the other hand, all these practices were meant to figure and represent some mystery, then the respect superiors had for these reasons would prohibit them from permitting the changes that are introduced nearly every day in the ceremonies and exterior cult of our religion.


It was the changes introduced into the ceremonies that caused people to forget and lose sight of the sensible and natural reasons of their establishment. If people only wore their hair short and their clothes long once again, as they did less than 200 years ago, they would very quickly see the reason for the tonsure and the religious habit and the whole exterior vesture of ecclesiastics.[19] If they could see the chasuble in its ancient form, they would quickly see why it is lifted at the elevation of the host and chalice. If the maniple became a handkerchief once again, they would see what the manipulus fletus mentioned in the vesting prayer is. If on Holy Thursday all priests celebrated Mass together with the bishop in the cathedral churches, with the parish priest in the parishes, or with the superior in the monasteries, and therefore with the priests vested in their priestly habits, they would know why they take communion on that day with the stole.[20] If Tenebrae is restored to midnight, so that the office began in darkness and ended around dawn, they would see that the Church was not mistaken at first to light a great number of candles during this office and extinguish them gradually as the day approached, and to extinguish them all at the end of Lauds when day had broken. If on Sunday before Mass, we began once more to bless and sprinkle the holy water, inside and outside the Church, the cemetery, and the common places in the monasteries and cathedral chapters where the canons once lived in common, we would understand the origin and reason for the Sunday procession and why in monasteries and other churches the procession visits the four sides of the cloister. There is no other way to explain this procession or discover its object. [….]

[The Literal Sense and Church Reform]

Understanding the literal and historical reasons is useful for another reason: it allows bishops more easily to remove ceremonies that, through the change of manners and church discipline, no longer seem appropriate. Thus, for example, the archbishop of Sens thought it best to suppress most of the baptismal exorcisms in his new ritual, because it seemed to him that the repetition of these exorcisms, which were once performed on different days, no longer had a purpose after they were joined into one ceremony.

[On Burial Practices]

So there you have it, material already too much for one preface. If I were to give it the full extent of treatment it deserves, there would be enough to compose a book; indeed all the more so because the truth of the system I have proposed has already been sufficiently proved by many judicious and learned persons. It is also useless to speak again about the necessity of studying the simple, literal, and historical reasons for the ceremonies if one wants to understand what is happening at every moment in the Church, either at Mass or in the Office, or during the administration of a sacrament, or any other function. Above all, nothing is more shameful and scandalous than to see pastors and priests who are ignorant of what their ministry obliges them to know and teach to others. A learned bishop of the 16th century, complaining to a cardinal about the ignorance that reigned among most clergy of his day about church ceremonies, said:

“Since our understanding and right intention is the foundation of the sacred worship, whoever is ignorant of what he is doing performs sacred worship in vain, for he lacks the basis, namely the right understanding and intention. How many clergy put on their vestments entirely ignorant of why there are so many and various: priests who have celebrated mass for years, and bishops who have consecrated for years? If you ask them why they do these things, they are speechless and have nothing to respond.”[21]


[1] Among them we cannot fail to mention Dom Edmond Martenne, a scholar of the Congregation of St. Maur, who in the preface to his first volume on the ancient rites of the Church, openly declares that he prefers historical reasons to those commonly known as “mystical”: His igitur attente consideratis…post habitis rationibus mysticis, quas apud editos scriptores quique consulere potest, universos ecclesia ritus more historico representarem, etc.

[2] St. Paul takes what Moses says literally about the union between man and wife, using it to explain the union of Jesus Christ and the Church from a mystical point of view, calling it a great mystery and sacrament: Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico in Christo et in ecclesia (Ephes. 5:32).

[3] M. Nicole shows in his Instruction on the Sacrament of Order that, far from being St. Paul’s explanation, it was St. Augustine who was the first to invent it, and that before him the reason for the exclusion of the twice-married from orders was the incontinence that was implied in these second marriages.

[4] On the Jews, see Leviticus 21 and for the pagans, Titus Livius, (Decade 1.50.x, and Alex ab Alex. 50.6. To see that second marriage were detestable to the ancients, as showing some kind of incontinence or weakness, we have only to hearken to Dido, the widow of Sicheus, who reproaches herself for the grievous fault of merely thinking of marrying Aeneas (Huic uni forsan potui succumbere culpa, Aeneid 4).

[5] Trans. note: Consanguinity is forbidden by Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 20.

[6] Primi apostolici semper in decembrio mense, in quo Nativitas D. N. J. C. celebratur, consecrationes ministrabant usque ad Simplicium…ipse primus sacravit in Februario (Amalarius II.1). The Micrologus says the same thing. See also Dom Mabillon, in his Commentary on the Ordo Romanus, n. 16.

[7] See M. Bocquillot in his Traité historique de la liturgie, pg. 72.

[8] Following these words of the Council of Tours can. 3: Ut corpus Domini in altari, non in armario, sed sub crucis titulo componatur (The Body of Our Lord should not be placed in a tabernacle but on the altar under the cross.). This is what we find still in many churches where the holy ciborium is suspended at the foot of the great crucifix over the altar.

[9] It is thought that the first tabernacle seen in Paris is that of the Capuchins on the Rue Saint-Honoré.

[10] Among others, Fr. Thomassin, the Abbé of Fleury, etc.

[11] See M. de Meaux in his Traite de la communion sous les deux especes.

[12] Though this did not keep the apostle Paul […] from finding excellent relations and wonderful allusions between this manner of plunging entirely into the water and the faithful’s being buried with Jesus Christ and rising from the water as Jesus Christ rose from the tomb. But it is one thing to make allusions and applications, metaphors and comparisons, and quite another to say that the original purpose for the institution of this action was to represent and signify the burial of the faithful with Jesus Christ. I mean to say that all these spiritual and symbolic viewpoints are not the cause and principle of the immersion, and played no part in the intention of those who instituted it. Rather, the fact of immersion merely provided the occasion for all these ideas and reflections.

[13] Sacrificium matutinum.

[14] Ascendit Petrus in superiora ut oraret circa horam sextam (Acts 10:9).

[15] Petrus et Joannes ascendebant in Templum ut orarent ad horam orationis nonam (Acts 3:1).

[16] Sacrificium vespertinum

[17] Media nocte surgebam

[18] See vol. 1, p. 269, note b.

[19] See pg. 431 ff.

[20] See vol. 1, pg. 348 ff.

[21] To Saint-Pierre d’Abbeville, 25 September 1707.

Claude De Vert: Preface to Volume 1 of the Explanation (1709)

As we promised in the introductory post, here are excerpts from the Preface to the first edition of volume one of Claude de Vert’s Explication simple, littérale, et historique des cérémonies de l’Église (1709 – 1713).

PREFACE to Volume 2

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[1. Encouragement by Protestant Ministers]

It has been several years since M. Jurieu[1] undertook in one of his books to attack the ceremonies of the Mass and even to subject them to mockery. I found myself charged at that time by M. the Bishop of Meaux, and also by my own interest, to refute this minister, who had used me as a sort of witness and proof of his own ideas. Thus I wrote him a letter[2] on the subject. Since it was clear from certain places in his work that mystical and symbolic explanations were not to his taste and left no impression on him, I thought it best to accommodate myself to his dispositions. In other words, in my response the only explanations I admitted were those that were simple, natural, and historical, against which I judged M. Jurieu would have no objection. It pleased God to grant my attempt so much success, that my letter has remained without response for fifteen years.

But this is not the only effect that this manner of explaining the ceremonies of the Church has produced. It has also pleased a great number of new Catholics. Even several converted ministers were intrigued by my explanations and did me the honor of writing to say (and these are their own words):

“We have always been convinced that in order to give an account of the ceremonies of the Church, especially to new converts, one must make use of common sense, give the facts as simply as possible, and in the end explain things as naturally as possible. We have already experienced the cogency of your natural explanations with two completely opposite sorts of people, namely, with some grudging converts who saw only superstition and mummery in the Church’s rites; and with some old ecclesiastics who would hear nothing about the literal sense or about the traces of ancient customs in the liturgy, recognizing only mystery and speculation in it.”

They said that neither of these groups were able to resist my historical reasons, and the connection I made between the letter and the spirit left them speechless.

They were certain that a full discussion of all these things would be well received by both scholars and the unlettered, and even by stubborn opponents of the Church. M. Jurieu’s brief controversy had not provided the occasion for such a discussion, but the wish and need of the Church compelled me. The attempts that I had already made in my letter had given them so much pleasure that they were impatient for a complete treatment of the subject. Further, in my explanation of the Introit, Kyrie eleison, Collect, Secret, Supra quae propitio, etc., of the mingling of a part of the Host in the chalice, I had said things that no one had yet thought and that promised countless further discoveries.

Moreover these ministers plied me with innumerable questions and difficulties which they implored me to answer. And so this is the occasion and, so to speak, the foundation of the present work that I present to the public.

At the same time another ministers, one of my friends, who had also converted some years ago, but converted sincerely in good faith, through persuasion, intelligence, and knowledge, brought me one of his nephews who was still in the grips of error. […]

He was already very prejudiced against our ceremonies and especially against the exterior cult of our Religion. After having questioned me on many practices, he appeared so content with my responses (all literal and historical) that he said to his uncle (who later told me) that one more meeting with me would be enough to remove all his scruples and doubts.

[Another Successful Conversation with a Protestant Lady….]


[2. Support from Catholic Ecclesiastics]

To these proselytes, and others that I have not named, I could add a large number of Catholics: ecclesiastics and laymen of every state and personality. M. Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux especially (and all know that his name alone is synonymous with knowledge, eloquence, beauty, genius, and zeal for the Church) often did me the honor of urging me, face to face and in writing, to explain and develop all this material to its fullest extent. I did this in two or three conferences. He listened, made objections, gave counsel, and offered his advice on difficult and delicate points. I will always remember how he encouraged me not to attack the Mystical Authors or their reasons, telling me that all I had to do was lay out the facts and establish them soundly, and the truth speak for itself.

But he isn’t the only who encouraged me to work my ideas into a book. M. the Bishop of Chalons sur Saône, so well versed in this discipline, and engaged since the start of his episcopate in the correction of the usages of his church, which he is reforming wholesale and in a manner worthy of his zeal and intelligence: the Breviary, the Missal, the Ritual, and Ceremonial. After approving my Letter to the Minister Jurieu, he asked if:

“I might give a more ample, literal, and historical explanation of the ceremonies of the Mass and in general of the whole Office.”

Others told me:

“The quickest and easiest way to refute every calumny the Heretics advance against the practices of the Church is to trace them back to their origin and institution. Hence we learn the true reasons for the ceremonies, and we see their simplicity. We prove that it was necessity or utility that introduced them, and that they have been preserved either for decency or out of fear of innovation. Because the reasons are simple and natural, we see their connection to the ceremonies immediately. It has been said that the primary reason the ministers of the Protestant religion declaim against the ceremonies of the Catholic Church is that they see these ceremonies only through the mystical reasons that some Catholic authors have given to them, without seeing the natural sense that the same authors presume as the basis of everything they say.”


[On the Usefulness of this Method in Seminary Education]

M. Wateblé (who recently passed away), Superior of the seminary of Beauvais, also asked me many times to share my reflections on this question, assuring me that they would be welcomed in the seminaries of the Congregation of the Mission [….]. He said that, if he had only known these reasons a long time ago, then our seminaries would have embraced them, and this manner of explaining the ceremonies would be held in high regard. This holds as much for the priests of St. Lazare as for the Jesuits, the Fathers of the Oratory, for the congregation of St. Sulpice, and other ecclesiastics who form clergy in the seminaries. In these excellent schools, after having given the seminarians the primitive and fundamental reasons for the ceremonies, we could present them other reasons for their edification, to nourish their piety; I am referring to what I call secondary and subsidiary reasons: spiritual and symbolic ideas and pious moralities. In these holy congregations, in their frequent conferences on the practices and uses of the Church, we could develop the analogy of all these different senses and teach them to join the spirit with the letter, and figurative and allegorical explanations to literal and historical ones.

[The Catechism of Montpellier already does this]


[3. Justification for this Method from the Fathers]

In the interest of justifying this approach with examples and authorities, we see that always and in all times the practices and ceremonies of the Church have been interpreted in their proper, primitive, and necessary sense, and whenever people have understood them, they have given as far as possible simple and natural reasons in preference to those called mystical (mystiques) and figurative (figurées), and often enough even to their prejudice and exclusion. Therefore, my project is neither new nor unique. I am merely following and imitating nearly all of the authors who have ever written on this subject.

St. Jerome, for example, in his Letter to St Paulinus, St. Augustine says that the Host is broken at the Mass in order to distribute it to the faithful, ad distribuendum comminuitur. Behold: another entirely simple and natural reason for the Fraction of the Host, and very different, as we shall see, from the allegorical reasons to which the Protestants accuse us of having reduced this practice.

[Mass on Holy Thursday morning]

St. Isidore (7th c.) and the Rule of the Master written about the same time, teach us that the washing of the altars, which is still practiced today in many Churches on Holy Thursday and Good Friday is done in order to remove the dust and odors that may have collected on the tables throughout the year. In addition, they washed and purified the walls and sacred vessels, so that the whole Church was washed and set in order from the vaults to the pavement in preparation for Easter.

Amalarius, not content with the various mystical reasons given for the custom of reserving only the Body of Our Lord on Holy Thursday, without the Blood, concludes (along with the Bishop of Meaux[3]) that a more simple explanation is that this species is corrupted more easily than bread. Thus we see that this author seems to prefer this reason to the “mystical” reasons. The same author says that the priest washes his hands at Mass in order to clean and purify them from any uncleanness he may have come into contact with by touching the bread received during the Offertory. His testimony is all the more credible because Amalarius certainly cannot be accused generally of preferring simple and natural explanations. Indeed Cardinal Bona reproaches him for his excessive subtilty (quandoque nimium subtiliter). The Ordo Romanus VI, St. Thomas Aquinas, Durandus, the Jesuit P. Scortia, and others give the same reason.


[St. Thomas on the Use of Incense]

Now, what are we to make of St. Thomas’s response to the objection regarding the use of incense in the Church (this irrefragable doctor, who cannot be contradicted with impunity in the Schools of Theology, where he justly bears the excellent title of Angelic)? It is to dispel bad odors: Ut scilicet per bonum odorem depellatur si quid corporaliter pravi odoris in loco fuerit, quod posset provocare horrorem.[4] Dominic Soto, Cardinal Bellarmine, Genebrard, Scortia, Gavantus, M. Meurier, and others whom we cite later on in the work, all adopt the same reason.


[The Paschal Candle]

In the Benediction of the Paschal Candle, the Church herself teaches us that its purpose is to give light during the night: Cereus iste, in honorem nominis tui consecratus, ad noctis huius caliginem destruendam indeficiens perseveret. Thus it is left burning until the morning (flammas eius lucifer matutinus inveniat[5]).


The Council of Trent teaches us (along with the whole tradition) that water is mixed into the wine in the chalice as an imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ who, we think, did the same: quod Christum Dominum ita fecisse credatur.[6] And why did our Lord dilute his wine at the Last Supper? Because, as St. Thomas and many theologians and scholastics tell us, it was the custom of the place to do so (secundum morem illius terrae).

[4. Conclusion]

The method we have supposed is not novel, its purpose is not unusual or surprising. Rather to the contrary, there are authors who absolutely reject every mystical reason, regarding their different applications as impractical. And the truth is that since everything in ritual and discipline is subject to perpetual change, it is quite difficult to assign mysteries to the Church’s customs and practices. Let us say, for example, that I want the chasuble, which was once entirely round and reached down to the floor, to be a symbol of charity which (according to St. Peter) covers a multitude of sins. Today this vestment is significantly shortened, trimmed and open at the sides. What possible relation could this modern garment have with the proposed mystical reason?

Or again, the Cardinal bishops were once seven in number. They could represent the seven angels or seven Churches of Asia. But now that there are only six, what can they represent? The six wings of the Seraphim? Hence the difficulty or rather the impossibility of allegorizing practices that are subject to such variation.


[Apology for Mystical Reasons]

Thus, following the understanding and taste of all these different authors, I have seen fit to explain the ceremonies of the Mass in their simple, literal, and historical sense, but with this difference, that I do not go so far as some of them. God forbid that I should ever condemn the mystic writers or mystical reasons. On this point I hold to what I said in my Letter to M. Jurieu, and to what I shall say again in the present work. To put it simply, everything I say here about historical reasons is always without prejudice to the mystical reasons. Further, even if I seem to privilege these latter, it is not that I have made my own decisions, but that I have sought the truth, and I will always be happy to learn from not only pastors and superiors, but from the littlest disciples and smallest children of the Church. Quaero non affirmo.


[1] A Protestant leader.


[3] Communion sous les deux especes, pag. 167.

[4] De Vert omits the rest of Thomas’ response, which adds a spiritual explanation: “[The use of incense] has reference to two things: first, to the reverence due to this sacrament, i.e. in order by its good odor, to remove any disagreeable smell that may be about the place; secondly, it serves to show the effect of grace, wherewith Christ was filled as with a good odor, according to Genesis 27:27: “Behold, the odor of my son is like the odor of a ripe field”; and from Christ it spreads to the faithful by the work of His ministers, according to 2 Corinthians 2:14: “He manifesteth the odor of his knowledge by us in every place”; and therefore when the altar which represents Christ, has been incensed on every side, then all are incensed in their proper order.”

[5] Of course, even a cursory fair reading of the Exultet, with its florid descriptions of Christ as the Light of the World, and comparisons of the candle with the Pillar of Fire, would make it one of the strongest arguments against the validity of De Vert’s reductive literal sense.

[6] Again, De Vert neglects the spiritual reason given in the same chapter of Trent: “Monet deinde sancta Synodus, praeceptum esse a Ecclesia sacerdotibus, ut squam ino in calice offerendo miscerent: tum quod Christum Dominum ita fecisse credatur, tum etiam quia e latere ejus aqua simul cum sanguine exierit, quod Sacramentum hac mixtione recolitur; et cum aquae in Apocalypsi beati Joannis populi dicantur; ipsius populi fidelis cum capite Christo unio repraesentatur.”

Liturgical Beauty and Joyful Evangelization: The Experience of the Tridentine Mass (Fr. Roberto Spataro, SDB)

The following is a translation of a conference given by Fr. Roberto Spataro on 30 September 2017, in Mantua at the Chiesa dei Santi Simone e Giuda. The conference was entitled “La bellezza della liturgia si fa evangelizzazione (EV 28)”, given on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. It is included  in a volume of Fr. Spataro’s essays soon to be published by Angelico Press, along with “The Vetus Ordo for  Church Going Forth,” which also appeared here this month.


“Liturgical Beauty and Joyful Evangelization” (EG 24):
The Experience of the Tridentine Mass

Saint Peregrine of Laziosi, Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, WI. Altarpiece by Neilson Carlin.


Mantua, 30th September 2017

Dear Sirs and Distinguished Gentlemen,

It is a great joy for me to speak this evening in the artistic setting of the church of Saints Simon and Jude, in a city so rich in history, culture, and faith. Mantua, a city that boasts so many illustrious citizens: Virgil, quel savio gentil, che tutto seppe[1]; Sordello, the troubadour who inspired the Supreme Poet’s invective against Italy, di dolore ostello, nave senza nocchiere in gran tempesta,[2] a sentiment which is true today more than ever; Vittorino da Feltre, Christian pedagogue; the Gonzaga princes, who gathered famous artists in their court, among them the composer Angelo Monteverdi. The fiftieth anniversary of this eminent musician is related to another event. In 2017 we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by which Pope Benedict XVI restored dignity to the venerable Tridentine liturgy, calling it the “extraordinary form” of the one Roman rite. Reflecting on the characteristics of this liturgical form, a passage from the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium comes to mind as a springboard for this conversation:

Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.[3]

I would like to develop my thoughts in two points.

  1. The Tridentine liturgy is beautiful.

We might say that there have been two complimentary conceptions of beauty in the history of Western civilization . The first considers beauty as the pulchrum, a proportion and harmony of parts, the perfection of form, integrity and elegance. It is an Apollonian conception found especially in the art of Greece. It appeals to reason and insists on the objectivity of the beautiful. The other conception, expounded especially by Kant, interprets beauty as a species, a sort of luminosity that breaks in upon an object, expands its substance, orienting it outside of itself and putting it in relation with the subject . The whole is in the fragment, as Urs von Balthasar would have said, that great Swiss theologian who, in his monumental work The Glory of the Lord, developed a convincing re-reading of theology in an aesthetic key. It is not by chance that there was a great harmony of thought and feeling between Hans Urs von Balthasar, theologian of beauty, and Joseph Ratzinger, pope of the liturgy and vindicator of the rights of the Latin Mass. They share a Dionysian conception of beauty that appeals to the senses and focuses on the subject. Both these aesthetic conceptions are in agreement that beauty is always very attractive. For this very reason, in Thomistic philosophy it is associated with the other transcendentals of being–unity, truth, and goodness–as part of the moral and spiritual fruition of the subject who experiences it. Now if we apply these categories to the Tridentine liturgy, we will easily grasp why it is beautiful.

Spataro (diptych).jpg
Diptych of Jeanne of France, by Rogier van der Weyden

The Tridentine liturgy is harmonious. Like a perfect diptych, its first panel opens with the “Mass of the Catechumens,” and the second with the “Mass of the Faithful.” The second part is the more important since during it the Sacrifice is offered, and so it also lasts longer. The first part has its own interior coherence: it humbly leads us into the presence of God through the prayers at the foot of the altar, with their sublime penitential orientation. Out of this humility, which is the proper basis of the relationship between creature and Creator, sinner and Redeemer, springs the supplication of the Kyrie and the prayer of the Collect. At this point, we are ready to be instructed by the Wisdom of God that is revealed in salvation history and unfolds the truth that leads us to Heaven, for only the humble will “hear” and be glad, as the Psalm says. We find a copious sprinkling of Scripture passages and Psalm verses—a prayed Bible!—that make up the text of the Introit, Gradual, Tract, Alleluia, and then the pericopes of the Epistle and the Holy Gospel. In every place we find the proportion that is the intrinsic property of beauty: texts that, except on a few special occasions, are neither too long nor too many, as is the case with the biennial or triennial cycle of the Novus Ordo. Though it had the laudable intention of offering a semi-continuous reading of the entirety of Sacred Scripture, this cycle ends up “wasting” a great number of texts that the average faithful cannot remember and, sometimes, not even hear, not only because of the length and difficulty of certain passages, but also because they are read by lectors insufficiently prepared for their task, chosen in obedience to the equality called for by an erroneous understanding of actuosa participatio. Length and bad diction are signs of vulgarity, not beauty.

The Offertory begins. The sacred silence and the kneeling position of the faithful give the moment its peculiar solemnity. The prayers of the priest have an especially harmonious structure: the offering of the host and chalice, the personal apologies, the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity. As these ancient and venerable prayers are being offered, they are accompanied by the precise, delicate gestures typical of the Tridentine liturgy, and that give the rite its unmistakable pulchritudo. These gestures are just one example of the ordered variety that makes the liturgy Vetus Ordo so truly beautiful. There are also the bows toward the cross, the kissing of the cruets by the ministers and of the altar by the priest, and even the affectionate glances toward the sacred vessels and their contents. Christ, Our Lord, is loved because he is beautiful and is beautiful because he is loved. I could go on showing how the extraordinary form of the Roman rite is beautiful because it unfolds without excess or imperfection, with calm and proportion like a melodious chant. But we should move on to other considerations.

Let us try to apply the other conception of beauty to the Tridentine liturgy. The senses of one who assists at it are touched by the Sacred, the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, to use the famous definition of Rudolf Otto. They are pervaded by a thrill of spiritual joy, to invoke the great bard of the divine beauty, Augustine of Hippo. The Sacred, i.e. the perception of God that follows his manifestation, excites both reverence and adoration, because he is tremendum; and love and attraction, because he is fascinans. Can anyone deny that reverence and adoration are especially present in the Tridentine liturgy, while unfortunately they are not well preserved in the Novus Ordo? Who would not agree with the claim that the priest—mark you, the priest, the sacrum dans and not the president of the assembly—ministers, and faithful, are all intimately drawn, (while each remaining in his proper place), toward the center of all and everything, the Crucified One enthroned on the altar, where the Sacrifice of the Cross is presented to everyone’s gaze, so that everyone may love it? This manifestation of the Sacred, transcendence and immanence, Heaven and earth, divine and human, is not merely the religious archetype identified by Otto, but the incarnation of the divine Word that wills to use the Sacred to reveal his Beauty in a human form: the divine person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has united human nature to his divine nature, and thus rendered his divinity accessible to human senses. This logic of the incarnation extends to the sacred liturgy because—as the Fathers of the Church taught and the Catechism of the Catholic Church has recalled in a timely manner—quod redemptoris nostri conspicuum fuit, in sacramenta transivit (“what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries”: CCC 1115, citing Pope St Leo I, Sermon 74, 2). Beauty strikes the senses, and the Tridentine liturgy strongly affirms the aesthetic dimension.

Related image
St. Paul Miki and Companions

In the Latin Mass, our view is directed to a triple focal point: the crucifix, the altar and what takes place there, and the tabernacle. Our attention is seized by the fairest among the children of men: “they will look upon the one whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Our eyes linger, feasting on the beauty of the colors of the walls, their costly ornament. We follow the ministers’ sacred dance, sober and constrained to careful, rhythmic movements, and from time to time our eyes wander to the decoration of the Temple, which recounts, in various styles, the story of the salvation recalled in each holy Mass. We hear words uttered in a raised voice, in a language different from our ordinary language, because it is reserved for dialogue with God, like a code that heightens understanding and connection between those who adopt it, a sort of familial register sons use to address their Father. It is a beautiful language, as only Latin can be, with its figures of sound and word, with a compact but still mobile construction that comes from its unmistakable literary style. Further, we hear the great silence that shrouds the priestly prayers, above all the Canon Missae, because the Mystery of God who pours out his blood for me, a sinner, because he loves me and saves me, can only be uttered submissa voce. Like all great and sublime things, he loves silence, which invites everyone to recollection and earnest prayer. We are charmed by the celestial charms of the sacred music, the sound of the organ, the Gregorian chant that floats mystically on high. We smell the delicious perfume of the incense that rises to Heaven just like our prayer, and the odor of the candles, symbols of the hearts that pine with longing for Heaven. All this proclaims a hope that the world does not know, and the Church of the last few years, not comprehending the grandeur of the Vetus Ordo, seems to have forgotten. Immersed in secular matters, and entranced by transient fashions, she has become like chaff scattered in the wind.

The sense of touch is also involved: kneeling at various points in the Holy Mass permits the faithful to touch the earth, and from this position to render adoration, thanksgiving, supplication, and impetration. The sense of touch is denied contact with the eucharistic species because the consecrated Host is received directly on the tongue, an eloquent gesture that expresses all the sanctity of the Sacrament received with faith. Only the priest is permitted to touch the Body and Blood of Christ, and only with extreme delicacy, as if caressing it. In fact, on the day of his priestly ordination, his hands were anointed with the chrism, a biblical-liturgical sign of the Holy Spirit, the divine Person who through the epiclesis performs that miracle of miracles, the consecration. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 33:9), the Psalmist exclaims. The Vetus Ordo liturgy frequently repeats this verse to dispose the faithful to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ with a hunger at once spiritual and material, provided they are suitably disposed to do so.

To sum up, dear friends, we must find, perceive, and enjoy the beauty of the One who has been pierced. This is a “synaesthetic” experience that affirms sensual richness—for the sacraments are propter homines (“for us”), as Thomas Aquinas would say—so that the manifestation of the All in the fragment, of God in the space and time of the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice hic et nunc, may irradiate the Divine Mystery that is in itself the revelation of beauty. Confronted with this liturgy that is so potently theocentric and therefore respectful of all anthropological structures, we cannot help but remark, with a note of sadness, that the Novus Ordo is more impoverished, more rational, more prolix, even to the point that it becomes irritatingly and insufferably wordy in the hands of certain showman priests and ministers. A liturgy celebrated in this way is relentlessly narcissistic and vulgar.

Permit me to conclude this point about the beauty of the old liturgy with a Marian reflection. Our Lady, Tota Pulchra, is the creature in whom all beauty, insofar as it is pulchritudo and speciositas, is gathered to a Mass. The Tridentine liturgy cannot help but invoke her in the heart of the Mass: in the prayer that offers the sacrifice to the Most Holy Trinity, and in the Communicantes of the Canon. An irrepressible longing for Heaven rises from the thought of the Holy Virgin, who descends more beautiful than the dawn (Cant. 6, 9) to soften the pains of this life, where we can always count on her powerful patronage.

  1. The Beauty of the Tridentine Liturgy and Evangelization

Recall the opening citation from Evangelii Gaudium, which pointed out the relationship between the via pulchritudinis of the liturgy and the two-fold evangelical movement of the Church. The Church first allows herself to be evangelized so that she can then evangelize the world. Let us explicate this point. More than ever, the Church today needs to be oriented to Christ, her Head, her Spouse, her Founder. Christ is her Gospel, the good news that brings joy to her youth and fills her with authentic joy and hope. Unfortunately in the past few years, with a rapidity that should raise serious questions and concern, the Church has become engrossed with issues of a sociological nature, all affecting more or less the Church’s moral teaching. Many dubious proposals have been made by pastors, even those who bear serious ecclesial responsibilities, that are frankly incompatible with Gospel. The Church feels the need to be re-evangelized and led back to Christ. Pope Benedict XVI made extraordinary efforts in this direction, and his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth is an expression of a Christocentrism founded on Scripture and the sound doctrine of Tradition. He always wanted to promote a reform of the liturgy, and this program found a great expression in Summorum Pontificum.

The Tridentine Mass is truly evangelical because it is Christocentric. Just think of its conclusion: the proclamation of the prologue of the Gospel of John. It is like a hinge joining the liturgy to the daily life to which we are about to return. It proclaims the heart of the Gospel, the Mystery of the incarnation, with the beauty we have been speaking of: the hieratic movement of the priest toward, cornu evangelii (“the Gospel side”), the reading, the genuflection at the words et Verbum caro factum est, and during the Sung Mass, the musical piece performed by the schola cantorum. The Church is evangelized during the celebration of the Tridentine Mass because, as the fourth-century Father of the Church and author of very valuable liturgical-mystagogical catecheses, Cyril of Jerusalem, said, the teachings of Sacred Scripture must be gathered into a summary, the regula fidei (“the rule of faith”), the Creed of the catechism. But the Tridentine Mass itself is a catechism in action, tying us intimately to the Gospel of Christ. “What are the two principal mysteries of the Faith?” asked the unsurpassable Catechism of St Pius X. The Mass tells us. We profess our faith in God’s unity and trinity when we turn to the three divine Persons at the beginning of the Mass in the nine-fold Kyrie eleison, three times invoking the Father, three times Christ, and three times the Spirit. We adore their majesty when we sing the Gloria. We implore them to accept our offering at the Offertory. We express our desire for them to accept the sacrifice in the prayer just before the final blessing. As for the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation, passion, and death: how many signs of the cross does the priest trace out, especially during the Canon? The whole ancient liturgy and all of its texts are steeped in the theology of the Fathers of the Church, rather than the ideas of the experts and specialists of the twentieth century, and its rites are a compendium of the Holy Gospel, the Church’s real treasure that has been translated into doctrine and summarized in the Catechism.

We could continue to multiply examples of how the Tridentine Mass is a catechism for everyone, including faithful evangelizers and non-believers in need of evangelization. The plan of salvation history—creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, grace, glory, and eternal life—is taken up and synthesized in the great prayers of the Church. For instance, think of the words that the priest says as he pours the water into the chalice:

Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti [creation] et mirabilius reformasti [redemption], da nobis per huius aquae et vini mysterium eius divinitatis esse consortes [divinization and the life of grace], qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps [incarnation]. (O God, who did wonderfully create human nature, and more wonderfully still restore it, grant us through the Mystery of this water and wine, that we may be made partakers of His divinity, who deigned to become a partaker in our humanity.)

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The Confiteor in the Carthusian liturgy

Now take the Confiteor. The ritual gestures surrounding it reinvoke the whole drama of sin with great clarity and poignancy, as we kneel, beat our chests, recite the prayer, and await the priest’s absolution so sadly abolished in the Novus Ordo: Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum vestroum tribuat vobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus. In the Roman Canon, the priest asks the Father for the grace to pass the final judgment, the judgment that should be our only concern, though a serene one for Mary is praying for us: ab aeterna damnatione nos eripi et in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari.

Once she has been evangelized, the Church is ready to evangelize. The Tridentine Mass furnishes the grace that makes her disciples into zealous apostles, and her faithful into courageous missionaries. Is this not the Mass that inspired generation upon generation of our forefathers to spread the Gospel to faraway lands, often in the midst of grave dangers? When we read the chronicles of the missionary expeditions of the Jesuits and Franciscans in Asia and Latin America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we are surprised and moved by how concerned they were to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in this liturgical form that casts itself completely upon God as the giver of all things, especially the grace to make efforts of evangelization fruitful.

The usus antiquior is an effective evangelizer for another reason: it speaks to the heart of those who have lost the faith or never had it. For example, today in our western society that denies its Christian roots, some people, thirsting for recollection and interior peace, turn to oriental philosophies that, despite whatever good is in them, leave the soul in its existential loneliness. They have no God to love them, to feel loved, to love. The silence and sacrality of the Tridentine Mass is a discovery that often becomes the first step toward the faith. Others, especially the young, find our “pastoral initiatives” banal, if not outright heterodox! They are looking for solid spiritual food. The Tridentine Mass offers them this substantial nourishment. Its theology coincides completely with the fides quae (“what is believed”); here the lex credendi is the lex orandi. The simple, who are the beloved of God, intuitively recognize that something very great is taking place in the Tridentine Mass, where the priests speaks with God and all are on their knees before him. The sacred mysteries teach and evangelize them too. Every kind of person feels the fascination of the splendor of this Mass that, even when offered in a small place or with modest means, is always solemn and majestic because it is truly beautiful, beautiful with a beauty mediated through vestments, words, gestures, but founded in God the supremely beautiful. To be at this Mass is to set out on a Platonic itinerarium pulchritudinis in Deum, which begins from material signs and ascends in steps up to Reality itself. It gazes upon creation in order to rise to the creator. The experience was described by Augustine, and I will close our conversation with his words:

Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air, amply spread around everywhere, question the beauty of the sky, question the serried ranks of the stars, question the sun making the day glorious with its bright beams, question the moon tempering the darkness of the following night with its shining rays, question the animals that move in the waters, that amble about on dry land, that fly in the air; their souls hidden, their bodies evident; the visible bodies needing to be controlled, the invisible souls controlling them; question all these things. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look ; we are beautiful.’ Their beauty is their confession. Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not unchanging Beauty?[4]

Balthasar (The Creation, Fouquet)


[1] “That gentle sage, who knew all things” (Inferno, Canto VII).

[2] “Inn of sorrows, ship without a helmsman in harsh seas” (Purgatorio, Canto VI), Mandelbaum translation.

[3] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 24:

[4] Augustine, Sermon 241. Translation slightly modified from the Vatican website