The Greek Mass of St-Denys

Until the French Revolution, the custom prevailed in the Royal Abbey of St-Denys to celebrate the Octave Day of its patron St Dionysius on 16 October with a Mass where all the sung parts—the Ordinary, the Propers, and the Preface—were chanted in Greek. The text was translated from the Latin original and set to the same music. The parts said silently by the ministers, including the Canon, remained in Latin.

The Greek Mass in for the Octave of St Dionysius, from an 18th century edition (Paris Bibliothèque Mazarine 4465).

This Greek Mass was manifestly an expression of the tradition that St Dionysius, first bishop of Paris, was St Dionysius the Areopagite, the Greek disciple of St Paul, philosopher, and first bishop of Athens, who abdicated his Hellenic see to go evangelize Gaul with his companions SS. Eleutherius and Rusticus. However, this custom was only the longest-lived instance of an erstwhile more widespread practice of singing Roman Rite masses partly in Greek. Several mediæval manuscripts survive that contain the Ordinary of the Mass in Greek, written in Latin characters: Doxa en ipsistis Theo; Pisteuo eis ena Theon; Agios, Agios, Agios; and O amnos tu Theu. The fascinating question of the origin of these missae graecae has not been conclusively settled, as we hope to discuss in a future post.

Here we provide a translation of the introduction to an edition of the Greek Mass in honour of St Dionysius published in 1777. The author discusses the origin of the Greek Mass, as well as the practice among the monks of St Denys and elsewhere to receive Communion under both species, also a vestige of a once more common practice.

* * *

Messe Greque en l’honneur de S. Denys
selon l’usage de l’Abbaye de S. Denys

Three things demand some remark and explanation: first, the origin of this Greek Mass, and of the Prose[1]chanted therein; secondly, the Edition here provided; and thirdly, the custom of Communion under two species observed during this Mass.

  1. On the Origin of this Greek Mass and its Prose.

As the learned Dom Michel Félibien writes in his History of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denys, the moment when this Mass in Greek began to be celebrated in the Abbey cannot be pinpointed exactly. This use seems to have arisen from the identification of St Dionysius the Areopagite with St Dionysius the first bishop of Paris. This opinion originated, according to some, or was accepted, according to others, from the time of Hilduin, Abbot of St-Denys around the year 826, when ambassadors from Constantinople presented Emperor Louis the Pious with certain works attributed to St Dionysius the Areopagite, wishing, perhaps, to thereby suggest to the French that the first bishop of Paris, venerated from that time as one of the main Apostles of the Gauls, was the Areopagite himself.

A page of the manuscript of the works of St Dionysius the Areopagite given to Emperor Louis the Pious.

Huilduin believed it, and in his thanksgiving letter to Louis the Pious—who had ordered that these works be placed over the tomb of St Dionysius, to whom offered them—assured the Emperor that nineteen miracles had occured at the tomb of the holy martyr the very night the works were placed there. Around the year 835, then, Louis the Pious, attributing his recovery of the throne to the protection of St Dionysius, assigned Hilduin to write a life of this holy bishop, whose relics were kept in his monastery. Huildin, happy to enhance the glory of his abbey and honour its patron, gladly carried out the Emperor’s orders. He says that everything he writes is taken from Greek and Latin authors, from the works of St Dionysius, from his ancient Acts, and, inter alia, from two Masses and some hymns. Were these Masses in Greek or Latin? We do not have the answer, but, as his view that St Dionysius the Areopagite was the same as St Dionysius the first bishop of Paris was prevalent throughout France from the time of his writing until the 17th century, it is quite possible that the monks of this abbey took the occasion to celebrate this Greek Mass every year on the Octave Day of their holy patron. Hulduin died shortly after Louis the Pious, around 22 November 840.

But whatever the origin of this use, it is certain that it is ancient, for this Greek Mass in the Roman Rite, as it is sung today, is marked by a ceremonial over five hundred years old. Moreover, as it is certain that Charlemagne and Louis the Pious introduced the Roman Rite into France at the beginning of the 9th century, the origin of this Mass must lie between the 9th and 13th centuries.

St Dionysius holding his head after being decapitated.

When the Congregation of St Maur took over the Abbey of St-Denys in 1633, it did not think it needful to change its customs, and hence has continued to celebrate the Greek Mass, without presuming to enter into a debate about the three different views that the scholars hold about St Dionysius. Some, like Hilduin, assert that St Dionysius, the first bishop of Paris, was the same as St Dionysius the Areopagite, first bishop of Athens. Others believe, following the Acts of the Martyrdom of St Dionysius, which are recognized as predating Hilduin, that another St Dionysius, different from the Areopagite, was sent to the Gauls by Pope St Clement. The third party holds, following Sulpicius Severus, that the faith did not reach the Gauls until the second century, and, following St Gregory of Tours, that St Dionysius was one of those sent to the Gauls in the middle of the third century. But ALL ARE AGREED in honouring St Dionysius as the first bishop of Paris.

The monks of St Dionysius have preserved the ancient Mass as it was handed down to them by their predecessors.

An extract from the Ordo officii ad usum Sancti Dionysii (13th-14th century), containing the order of service for their patronal feast.

And so one should hardly be surprised to find in this Mass an Epistle taken from the Acts of the Apostles that makes reference to St Dionysius the Areopagite, and in the Prose, the martyrdom of St Dionysius is placed during the rule of the Emperor Domitian, whose persecution began in the year 95, and ended with his death in 96. It is remarkable that this Prose certainly supposes that St Dionysius came from Greece, as is clearly enough shown by his name, but does not say that he was the same as the Areopagite. The Greek Prose is simply a translation of the Latin Prose, and the Latin Prose or Sequence might have been written by King Robert, son of Hugh Capet, who died in 1031. It is essentially the same as the one sung in the diocese of Paris; only a few stanzas have been changed in the last few centuries. The chant is also essentially the same, with only minor differences.

François de Harlay, Archbishop of Paris († 1695), after having consulted the theological faculty of Paris about the reform of the Parisian breviary, decided that this breviary would follow the ancient tradition of the Gallican church about the identity of St Dionysius the Areopagite and St Dionysius bishop of Paris.

The Gloria in excelsis in Greek, from a 9th century sacramentary of St-Denys.


  1. About Communion under Two Species 

Most people who attend the main Mass in the Abbey of St.-Denys on Sundays and feasts pay no heed to something that might prove edifying to their piety, and remind them of one of the most respectable customs of the early Church: viz., that the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon receive communion under both species.

Immediately after the Kiss of Peace, which those in choir give one another during the Agnus Dei, the deacon goes up to the left of the celebrant, while the subdeacon betakes himself to the credence to pick up an empty chalice and a golden reed (chalumeau; Latin calamus, fistula) which he takes to the altar at the celebrant’s right.

Fistula 2
Pope Paul VI using the fistula to consume the Precious Blood.

While the celebrant receives the Body of Our Lord under the species of bread, these two ministers bow profoundly and say the Confiteor. Then, the subdeacon present the golden reed to the celebrant, who uses it to drink part of the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ in the large chalice by sipping it.[2] At this moment, all those in choir come together beneath the altar steps, with the deacon and subdeacon above them, and make a profound genuflection.

The celebrant, after having taken part of the Precious Blood, gets up and the deacon takes the chalice with one hand and the reed with the other. He remains beside the altar for an instant to give the celebrant time to adore the Saviour’s Blood. Then, the deacon and subdeacon, to the former’s left, go together to the Altar of Communion, preceded by part of the clerics in choir. This Altar stands against a pillar of the sanctuary, on the Gospel side. Here, the deacon, after having put down the chalice and reed in the hands of the subdeacon, goes back to genuflect before the middle of the high altar, where he receives Communion from the hands of the celebrant under the species of bread, as usual. He then comes down, genuflects again, and returns to the small altar. When he arrives, he again adores Our Lord and takes the reed from the hands of the subdeacon, with the end of which he takes the particle that the celebrant placed there after the fraction of the host. He takes it up to his mouth and swallows it, and then takes portion of the Precious Blood by sipping it.

A view of the old choir of the Basilica of St-Denys.

Meanwhile, the sub-deacon does the same thing. He leaves the little altar after having adored the Saviour’s Blood and goes to the base of the high altar to make a genuflection, climbs the steps, receives Communion from the hands of the celebrant, and returns to take the rest of the Precious Blood with the reed which the Deacon gives to him.

This done, the deacon pours wine into the chalice for the ablution, drinks a portion of it with the reed, and ascends the altar to change the celebrant’s book to the other side. The subdeacon, after having taken his own part of the ablution, takes the chalice and carries it to the altar, where he purifies it along with the one used by the celebrant for his particular ablutions, then carries everything back to the credence.

On Maundy Thursday, although all the religious of the community communicate at the High Mass under the species of bread, a Communion under two species is made nevertheless by the deacon and subdeacon immediately before the general communion.

On the opening day of the general Diet that takes place at St-Denys every three years with a Solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit, on the Second Sunday after Easter, the ministers at the altar are members of this assembly. Nevertheless the deacon and subdeacon commune under the two species because they are monks of the same body of a single Congregation, which justifies the same privilege.

This ceremony, or rather this communion under two species, which appears to be a privilege and which is today effectively a very singular prerogative, is nothing more than the ancient custom of many churches of France.

Our Holy Father the Pope, in Masses at which he celebrates, gives the deacon and subdeacon communion not with two individual hosts but from half of the large host he consecrates at Mass, of which he puts a portion in the chalice after the fraction. Thus the pope communicates with only half of the host and then takes a portion of the Precious Blood with the reed. Thereafter, having divided the half of the host already eaten into into two parts, he gives one to the deacon, who takes with the end of the reed the part the Pope has left in the chalice. Then he takes a portion of the Precious Blood. The Pope thereupon gives the other part of the large host to the subdeacon, to whom the deacon gives the reed that he might take the rest of the Precious Blood. The deacon then puts a bit of wine into the chalice for the ablution, of which he takes a portion and the subdeacon the other.

The Lord Bishop of Chartres has informed us that on Maundy Thursday, he receives communion with the deacon and subdeacon under both species, with the difference that the bishop himself consumes the portion of the host he put into the chalice.

In the Abbey of Cluny, communion is received under both species on all Sundays and all Major and Minor Solemnities, which are called Feasts of the First and Second Order in the Congregation of St Maur.

A reconstruction of interior of the Abbey of Cluny as it stood around the beginning of the 12th century.

Before Mass, the Sacristan prepares a credence on the Gospel side. He covers it with a very clean cloth, two candlesticks with their candles, a cross in the middle, and a chalice to give the ablution to those who received communion under the species of bread and wine, who use a reed given to them for this purpose during communion.

The deacon always performs this ceremony. After consuming the large host, the celebrant drinks a bit of the Precious Blood with the particle that is in the chalice. He then goes to the epistle side to make way for the deacon, who takes the chalice, takes it to the credence that has been prepared, upon which lies a corporal and a purificator. The two acolytes accompany him with their candlesticks on hand.

After the due inclinations and genuflexions, the deacon remains on his knees next to the credence, while the celebrant gives communion to the subdeacon (if he is not a priest) and to the two acolytes, professed monks who are called assistants.

The subdeacon and these two acolyte assistants then go to the small altar or credence and there receive communion under the species of wine by means of the reed. The deacon gives this reed to the subdeacon, putting it between his fingers, and then to the two others.

When all three of them have partaken of the Precious Blood, the deacon takes the chalice, in which there is still wine left, and carries it to the high altar accompanied as before by the acolytes with their candles. The celebrant consumes the remaining wine. Then the necessary ablutions take place, for the celebrant as well as for those who have communicated under two species.

This communion is not done under two species at Cluny at the great masses in commemoration of the dead, as it in at St-Denys.

The deacon who serves at the altar on the days of this communion is always a priest and he does not take part in it. It is his duty to keep the chalice on the credence and present the reed to the three communicants.

On the opening day of the General Chapter at Cluny, a ceremony is performed in the church which is considered a vestige of venerable antiquity. At the offertory, each of the capitulars goes up bearing a small bread to be consecrated for communion. They put it upon a paten held by the Lord Abbot General, kissing his ring and the paten. During communion, all the capitulars go up to the altar to receive the species they have offered, but they do not receive communion under the species of wine, except for the two acolytes assistants, as mentioned above.

This communion is a remnant of the ancient practice of many churches, which since the holy Council of Trent has become the precious prerogative of those churches that have preserved it. Indeed, the in records of this Council, collected by M. Dupuy, one finds that the ambassadors of the King of France pointed out to the Council legates that, if anything would be changed in what had been planned in the 21st session, it should be without prejudice to the prerogative of the Kings of France, who received communion under both species on the day of their Coronation and Anointing, and to the ancient custom of certain Monasteries of the Realm where the monks who were not yet priests also communicated under both species on certain days of the year. Although the Abbey of St-Denys was not mentioned specifically, it is certain that it was included in the ambassadors’ Instruction, as was the Abbey of Cluny. To-day, only these two monasteries have retained communion under both species, not by special privilege, as many suppose, but by uninterrupted practice in these two churches during the Solemn Mass of Sundays and the main feasts of the year.

King St Louis IX receiving communion.

[1]Prose (prosa) is the usual Gallican term for a Sequence (sequentia).

[2]Akin to the fistula, the reed used by the Pope to receive the Precious Blood in Papal Mass.

Cardinal Schuster on To-day’s Offertory

The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, with verses and St Gall neums, from the Offertoriale restitutum.

Unhappily, far too few of our readers will have had the opportunity to hear the entirety of today’s sublime Offertory, Sanctificavit Moyses. The Offertory chant was originally a responsory, like the Gradual: a respond was followed by one or more verses, whereafter the entirety or part of the respond was repeated. During the course of the Middle Ages, however, the verses fell into obsolescence, and the Tridentine books ratified this situation by keeping only the Offertory respond. 

It is curious that the Offertory verses did not see much of a revival in the 20th century, when so many liturgical scholars and reformers set themselves to counteract the results of what they saw as the issue of mediæval liturgical decadence. In fact, both scholars and reformers generally ignored the Offertory chant; as we shall discuss in a future post, this is likely because the Offertory responsory challenged the prevailing liturgical shibboleths of a fervidly reformist age.

The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, sung by Les Chantres du Thoronet.

Today we shall limit ourselves to reproducing a meditation on the respond and verses of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses of the 18th Sunday after Pentecost by Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, Archbishop of Milan:

Sanctificavit Moyses altare Domino, offerens super illud holocausta, et immolans victimas: * fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Locutus est Dominus ad Moysen dicens: Ascende ad me in montem Sina et stabis super cacumen eius. Surgens Moyses ascendit in montem, ubi constituit ei Deus, et descendit ad eum Dominus in nube et adstitit ante faciem eius. Videns Moyses procidens adoravit dicens: Obsecro, Domine, dimitte peccata populi tui. Et dixit ad eum Dominus: Faciam secundum verbum tuum. 

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Oravit Moyses Dominum et dixit: Si inveni gratiam in conspectu tuo, ostende mihi te ipsum manifeste, ut videam te. Et locutus est ad eum Dominus dicens: non enim videbit me homo et vivere potest: sed esto super altitudinem lapidis, et protegam te dextera mea, donec pertranseam: dum pertransiero, auferam manum meam et tunc videbis gloriam meam, facies autem mea non videbitur tibi, quia ego sum Deus ostendens mirabilia in terra.

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

Moses hallowed an altar to the Lord, offering upon it holocausts, and sacrificing victims: * he made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. The Lord spake unto Moses saying, Come up to me in Mount Sinai and thou shalt stand upon the top thereof. Arising, Moses went up into the mount, where God appointed him, and the Lord came down to him in a cloud and stood before his face. Seeing him, Moses falling down adored him, saying: I beseech thee, Lord, forgive the sins of thy people. And the Lord said unto him: I will do according to thy word.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. Moses prayed to the Lord and said: If I have found favor in thy sight, show me thyself manifestly, that I might see thee. And the Lord spake unto him saying: for man canst not see me and live: but go up to the height of the rock, and I will protect thee with my right hand, till I pass: when I shall have passed, I will take away my hand, and then thou shalt see my glory; but my face shall not be seen by thee, for I am God, showing wonderful things in the land.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odor of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

The Offertory is epitomized from Exodus xxiv, and tells of the solemn sacrifice with which Moses ratified the alliance between Jehovah [sic] and Israel in the blood of the victims. It is to be regretted [the original is stronger: è un danno], however, that in the Roman Missal this splendid Offertory is cut down to a single verse. In the ancient Antiphonaries this Antiphon [sic] rises to the grandeur of a true liturgical drama. The Law-giver, at the command of the majesty of God, intercedes for the apostate people, imploring mercy for them. The Lord answers him: “I will do according to thy word.” Then Moses, taking courage, begs the Lord to reveal him his glory. “No one,” replies Jehovah, “can see my glory and live; but stand upon this rock, and when my glory shall pass, I will set thee in a hole of the rock and protect thee with my right hand till I pass, lest my glory shall blind thee. When I shall have passed I will take away my hand and thou shalt see my back, but my face thou canst not see” (Exod. xxxiii, 13-23).

This narrative, clothed in the splendid melodies of the Gregorian Antiphonary, has a deep significance. The vision of the Godhead is not for those who are still wayfarers in this life, and probably, as the doctors of the Church hold, it has never been granted to any living man, being the privilege of Christ alone. Our mortal nature is unsuited to such a condition, which in itself would imply the actual but inadmissible possession of the highest Good. Faith, however, here comes to our assistance, and acts as a veil before the face of God, in such a manner that the rays of his glory enlighten our path without too greatly dazzling us, and without taking away from us the merit of virtue, which presupposes the liberty of the human will. 

(Translation by Arthur Levelis-Marke.)

Part of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, in the Codex Sangallensis 376.

Dom Guéranger on Translating the Missal

Dom Prosper Guéranger, founder and abbot of Solesmes Abbey

As a follow-up to our post about Pope Alexander VII’s brief Ad aures nostras condemning de Voisin’s translation of the missal for use by the laity, and Lebrun’s defence of such translations, we herewith post a translation of Dom Prosper Guéranger’s reflexions on the matter in volume 2 of his Institutions liturgiques.

Guéranger has been called the “father of the Liturgical Movement”: although the movement proper actually began in the 20th century through the efforts of Dom Lambert Beauduin, Guéranger did pioneer the rediscovery of liturgical piety and worked tirelessly to restore the liturgy to the centre of Christian life, through works like the Institutions liturgiques, written for use by seminarians and clergymen, and L’année liturgique, aimed at the general public. As one sees in the latter work, however, Guéranger refused to print a literal translation of the Roman Canon. He interpreted Ad aures nostras not as addressing particular problems of the 17th century French church, but as a general prohibition on full literal translations of the missal.

Guéranger was keenly aware of the importance of veiling in the liturgy, through which it expresses mystery and revelation (cf. Martin Mosebach, “Revelation Through Veiling in the Old Roman Catholic Liturgy” in The Heresy of Formlessness), and the use of Latin (and the silent Canon) is one of the foremost of these “veils”.

In the excerpt reproduced below, Guéranger warns against allowing the uneducated to have full access to the literal words of the holiest of the Church’s prayers, for it would constitute a rupture of this veil. He alludes to the disastrous consequences that easy access to literal translations of Holy Scripture had during and after the Protestant Revolt, and concludes with poses the rhetorical question: if it is so important that the laity be able to follow what the priest says during Mass word by word, why not just have Mass in the vernacular?

Any Catholic can doubtlessly see, given the gravity of the Roman Pontiff’s language, that [the translation of the Missal] was a grave matter, but more than one of our readers will perhaps be shocked, after what we have just reported, at the indifference wherewith an abuse which so aroused the zeal of Alexander VII is treated to-day. In our times, all the faithful in France, as long as they can read, can scrutinize the most mysterious parts of the Canon of the Mass thanks to the innumerable and ubiquitous translations thereof; and the Bible, in the vulgar tongue, is everywhere placed at their disposal. What are we to think about this state of affairs?

There is no need to bother Rome with the question: many a time, after Alexander VII, she has expressed herself so clearly as to leave no room for doubt. Yet let us keep in mind that the councils of the last three centuries have declared that the use of translations of Holy Scripture—as long as they are not accompanied by a gloss or notes drawn from the Church Fathers and the teachings of tradition—is illicit, and, on the authority of the Holy See and the clergy of France, we aver that any translation of the Canon of the Mass not accompanied by a commentary addressing any difficulties is akin to those prohibited translation of Scripture.


[On the argument that vernacular translations were necessary to facilitate the conversion of Protestants after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.]

Could there really have been no alternative but an outright translation of the Canon of the Mass? Was it necessary to ignore the prescriptions of the Holy See and the Council of Trent, when it is so easy to attach to the text a commentary putting an end to all objections, a gloss that prevents the eye of a profane and illiterate reader to pierce the shadows that protect the mysteries against his curiosity, as is done everywhere except France?

From the moment the people can read in their own tongue, word by word, what the priest recites at the altar, why should the latter use a foreign language which at that point no longer hides anything? Why should he recite in a low voice what the lowliest charwoman or the coarsest drudge can follow and know as well as he? Those audacious proponents of the anti-liturgical heresy did not neglect to take advantage of these two terrible consequences, as we shall see in the rest of this story.

Tout catholique verra, sans doute, à la gravité du langage du Pontife romain, qu’il s’agissait dans cette occasion d’une affaire majeure ; mais plus d’un de nos lecteurs s’étonnera, peut-être, après ce que nous venons de rapporter, de l’insensibilité avec laquelle on considère aujourd’hui un abus qui excitait à un si haut degré le zèle d’Alexandre VII. Aujourd’hui, tous les fidèles de France, pour peu qu’ils sachent lire, sont à même de scruter ce qu’il y a de plus mystérieux dans le canon de la messe, grâce aux innombrables traductions qui en sont répandues en tous lieux ; la Bible, en langue vulgaire est, de toutes parts, mise à leur disposition : que doit-on penser de cet état de choses ? Certes, ce n’est pas à Rome que nous le demanderons : bien des fois, depuis Alexandre VII, elle s’est exprimée de manière à ne nous laisser aucun doute; mais nous dirons avec tous les conciles des trois derniers siècles, que l’usage des traductions de l’Écriture sainte, tant qu’elles ne sont pas accompagnées d’une glose ou de notes tirées des saints Pères et des enseignements de la tradition, sont illicites, et, avec l’autorité du Saint-Siège et du clergé de France, nous assimilerons aux versions de l’Écriture prohibées, toute traduction du canon de la messe qui serait pas accompagnée d’un commentaire qui prévienne les difficultés. 

[…] Mais n’y avait-il pas d’autre mesure qu’une traduction pure et simple du canon de la messe ? fallait-il compter pour rien les prescriptions du Saint-Siège, du concile de Trente, lorsqu’on avait le moyen si facile et mis en usage en tous lieux, excepté en France, de joindre au texte un commentaire qui arrête les objections, une glose qui ne permet pas que l’œil du lecteur profane et illettré perce des ombres qui garantissent les mystères contre sa curiosité. Du moment que le peuple peut lire en sa langue, mot pour mot, ce que le prêtre récite à l’autel, pourquoi ce dernier use-t-il d’une langue étrangère qui dès lors ne cache plus rien ? pourquoi récite-t-il à voix basse ce que la dernière servante, le plus grossier manœuvre suivent de l’œil et peuvent connaître aussi bien que lui ? Deux conséquences terribles que nos docteurs antiliturgistes ne manqueront pas de tirer avec toute leur audace, ainsi qu’on le verra dans la suite de ce récit.

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

Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz

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

Pope Alexander VII

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

Pope Alexander VII
for future memory

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander Papa VII,
ad futuram rei memoriam.

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

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

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

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

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

Gemma Animae (18): De figura alia

Ch. 18
On Another Figure


The bishop sits three times during the Mass: namely as the Epistle is read, and while the Gradual and Alleluia is sung; for we read that Christ sat for three days among the doctors in the temple. The subdeacon who reads the Epistle signifies John the Baptist, who preached before Christ. For by the Epistle John’s preaching is signified, and through the Gospel Christ’s preaching. Thus the Epistle precedes the Gospel, because John’s preaching preceded Christ’s. And just as John is remembered as the Forerunner of Christ, so the Epistle comes before the Gospel, which is Christ’s.

The Gospel is proclaimed in a higher place than where the Epistle is read, because Christ’s preaching is known to be more worthy than John’s. But the subdeacon reads in the same pulpit as the deacon; because the whole people thought that John was Christ.  The Gradual signifies the calling of the Apostles, by which they were converted to Christ. The Alleluia signifies the happiness they had in the presence of Christ and his miracles. The Sequence means the jubilation of their souls by which they rejoiced in the promised hope. This bishop ordains the ministers of the Church because Moses ordained Aaron and the Levites into the ministry of the tabernacle, and Christ ordained the seventy-two and destined them for preaching.

De figura alia.

Episcopus tribus horis missae sedet: scilicet dum Epistola legitur, dum Graduale et Alleluia canitur; quia Christus tribus diebus inter doctores in templo sedisse legitur. Subdiaconus, qui Epistolam legit, significat Ioannem Baptistam qui ante Christum praedicavit. Per Epistolam quippe Ioannis praedicatio accipitur; per Evangelium Christi praedicatio innuitur. Ideo Epistola Evangelium praecedit, quia Ioannis praedicatio praecessit. Et, sicut Ioannes praecursor Christi memoratur, ita Epistola ante Evangelium, quod est Christi. Praeconatur Evangelium in altiori loco quam Epistola legitur, quia Christi praedicatio dignior quam Ioannis cognoscitur. Subdiaconus tamen in eodem pulpito, quo et diaconus, legit; quia omnis populus Ioannem Christum esse putavit. Graduale, significat vocationem apostolorum, qua se ad Christum converterunt. Alleluia vero, laetitiam eorum quam de praesentia Christi et miraculis eius habuerunt. Sequentia vero, animae eorum iubilationem qua de promissa spe exsultaverunt. Hic Episcopus ministros Ecclesiae ordinat; quia et Moyses Aaron, et levitas in ministerium tabernaculi ordinavit, et Christus septuaginta duos ordinavit, quos in predicatione destinavit.