Missale Romanum

Author: Joseph Pope


by Joseph Pope

If ever a tome were incorrectly and inappropriately named, it must be that which these days is all too often referred to as the Tridentine Missal. It will be the object of this article to show that the Latin rite used for the celebration of the Mass by those members of the Catholic Church who come under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of the West, which rite had its use severely diminished in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, was not formed or brought into use by a decree of the Council of Trent.

While the missal generally in use today is quite properly called the Roman Missal, that name, or perhaps (M.R.), is actually the proper name for the missal which had been in general use for a great deal longer than the four hundred odd years that elapsed between Pope Saint Pius V's decree of July 14th, 1570 and Pope Paul VI's decree of 1969.

The decree of Pope Saint Pius V was not drafted to impose a new rite on Latin Christianity as did the decree of Paul VI.

Its main purpose was to bring about conformity by insisting that a very old rite would henceforth be used in uniform fashion throughout the Western Church. Before the Council of Trent the M.R., while actually in use throughout the Western Church, had been adapted in various ways to suit the uses of different dioceses and different religious orders. With the advent of printing in the second half of the fifteenth century, these numerous adaptations found their way into print, so that by the first half of the sixteenth century printed missals could be found for the uses of the dioceses of Paris, Lyons, Le Mans, Salisbury, Milan, Venice, Wurzburg, and Tournai to name just a few. Then for the religious orders missals had been printed for the use of Benedictines, Carmelites, Carthusians, Cistercians, Dominicans, and Premonstratensians. There was even a missal for the use of the abbey of Monte Cassino itself. Admittedly it differed only slightly from the one for general Benedictine use. According to the catalogue of Weale and Bohatta there were all of 208 differing missals, all M.R.'s of course, for the use of various dioceses and even towns, quite apart from at least 32 for the use of various religious orders and congregations. The Benedictines rather outdid things in having different uses for 13 of their abbeys. Of course the printers had a wonderful time of things, creating as they did any number of differing missals by the substituting of title pages onto books that did not always differ that much one from the other.

This lack of uniformity was not appropriate to the spirit of the Counter Reformation; it bordered rather on the chaotic. Accordingly Pope Saint Pius V by his decree of 1570 attempted to change chaos to order by declaring that the missal was to be used throughout the Western Church. That it was not a new missal at all was made clear enough by the use of the word on the title page. He did allow exceptions for those places which could claim having had a particular use for at least two hundred years. Some did make such a claim. The Dominicans for instance kept their use until the advent of the Paul VI missal. Paris kept its until the French Revolution.

We see then that to call the missal of the use of Rome the Pius V or Tridentine Missal is to ignore for instance that on September 16th, 1549 Pope Paul III authorized the use of virtually the same missal . One has only to compare at random the prayers for any Sunday of the year to find that they are identical. It is also to ignore that since 1570 the M.R. has undergone numerous revisions, quite minor however in nature, none of which changed the propers of time. The first of these took place in 1604 during the reign of Clement VIII. One can say then to those who like to use the term Tridentine that quite unwittingly and ironically they are referring to a missal that enjoyed a rather short life of some thirty-four years, as it was in authorized use only from July 14, 1570 to July 7, 1604. Other revisions that followed were those of Urban VIII in 1634, Leo XIII in 1884, Pius XII in 1955, and even John XXIII who is remembered for having arranged that due honour be paid to St. Joseph during the canon. It makes as much sense then to call M.R. the missal of John XXIII as it does to call it the missal of Pius V.

Missal dates back to c.1025

Now this missal of John XXIII (M.R.) goes back a very long time indeed. Recently this writer was accorded the very high and special privilege of being allowed to examine in depth over a period of many weeks a missal written on parchment c.1025 in the very scriptorium at Tours which was founded by Alcuin himself c.795. Its shelf-mark is Bergendal MS 46.

Unfortunately, as well might be expected for a manuscript codex nearly one thousand years old, this Tours missal is not complete. Not a page nor a folio is to be found for the canon. As for the Proper of Time while it does run from the First Sunday in Advent to the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, there is a gap from Low Sunday up to and including the Third Sunday after Pentecost. As for the Proper of Saints it starts with December 26th, the Feast of Saint Stephen, and runs with no gap to August 28th, the Feast of Saint Augustine. Missing then are the feasts for all of September, October, November, and most of December.

For those who imagine that the M.R. originated in 1570 with Saint Pius V it will be quite a surprise then for them to learn of the very great similarities that are to be found between missals used in the first part of the twentieth century and those that were used in the first part of the eleventh century. To choose for example practically at random the Wednesday of the Second Week in Lent we find that all the prayers from the Propers are the same in each case namely:

Introit: Ne derelinquas me Domine Deus . . . Psalm 37 Collect: Populum tuum, quaesumus Domine. . . Epistle: Book of Esther IV 17 Gradual: Salvum fac populum tuum . . . Psalm 27 Gospel: St. Matthew XX 17-28 Offertory: Ad te Domine levavi animam . . . Psalm 24 Secret: Hostias Domine quas tibi . . . Communion: Justus Dominus et justitiam . . . Psalm 10 Postcommunion: Sumptis Domine sacramentis . . . Prayer over the People: Deus innocentiae restitutor . . .

In the present Roman Missal of Paul VI only the introit for this Lenten Wednesday has not been changed, but these days it is rarely used given that the entrance hymn is now of the pastor of the place if used at all. For the Masses after Pentecost certain inconsistencies in the Epistles and Gospels are to be noted between Bergendal MS 46 and M.R. However bearing in mind that we are dealing here with a missal prepared in all likelihood for the use of the Abbey of Saint Julian in Tours (to judge for one thing by the litany for Holy Saturday) a reference to any early sixteenth century printed M.R. for the use of either Tours or Le Mans quite resolves the problem.

Our eleventh century Propers for Sundays after Pentecost are identical with those used in Tours until that place conformed to the standardization ordered by Saint Pius V.

A point of interest is that in the eleventh century there were ferial Masses for most of the Wednesdays in the weeks after Pentecost. This is a relic of the times in the Church's early history when fasts were practised on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays to replace the Jewish fasts of Mondays and Thursdays. The ember days during one week in each of the four seasons, which were abrogated a generation ago, were the last vestige of this admirable practice.

Of course knowledgeable liturgists are aware that the M.R., as used in the Latin rite in the first half of the twentieth century, did not originate with St. Pius V in 1570, but had been in use for centuries previous to that date. There is general agreement that prior to the development of a book known as missal that there were three books used at Mass, that is, for the celebrant himself there was the sacramentary containing collects, secrets, prefaces, the canon, and postcommunions, for the deacon there was the lectionary containing the epistles and gospels, and lastly the gradual or antiphonary for the parts sung by the choir, being the introits, graduals, sequences, offertories, and communions.

There is no general agreement among students of the liturgy as to when the three books were combined. Some suggest that this did not happen until well into the thirteenth century. Those holding to this view point to the fact that the missal of the Roman Curia as reformed by Innocent III was adopted by the newly established Franciscan order and propagated by them throughout most of Europe. Later this Curia missal as used by Franciscans was imposed on the diocese of Rome in 1277 by Nicholas III.

It is not easy to find agreement on this matter as manuscript witnesses of any missal for the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries are so very rare. It would appear that on the evidence of Bergendal MS 46 those who hold to a thirteenth century date for the merging of the three liturgical books into the missal may have to acknowledge that they are out in their reckoning of things by some two hundred years at least. What seems the safest opinion is that throughout the eleventh century both missals and sacramentaries were used for the celebration of Mass but that from the beginning of the twelfth century missals more and more quite replaced sacramentaries.

That missal done for use in Tours can be dated on script and other internal evidence as having been written c. 1025. As has been explained it contains complete propers with introits, collects, epistles, graduals, sequences, gospels, offertories, secrets, communions, and postcommunions. A point of considerable additional interest for students of music is that it contains as well the earliest form known of mediaeval music notation expressed in neumes without staff for those parts derived from the gradual.

In the bibliography of things liturgical over the past three hundred years no mention is to be found, in any book written by a competent authority, of the existence of this codex. It had lain unsold for several years on the shelves of a second hand book dealer until it was discovered in 1983 by the present curator of the little-known Bergendal Collection. One may opine that in time it will be recognized as being of considerable significance and interest to students of the development of the liturgy in general and the M.R. in particular. At the same time the codex is not without interest for students of both palaeography and musical notation. In this latter respect it is similar in many ways to the manuscript of a gradual done in Toulouse c 1050 and known now as MS Harleian 4951 in the British Library.

Bergendal MS 46 is a witness then to the fact that the sacramentary, lectionary, and antiphonary had been merged into the M.R. by the very beginning of the eleventh century in at least some places. As for the prayers and Mass formularies themselves there is general agreement that they go back possibly to the time of Saint Gregory the Great, who reigned towards the end of the sixth century.

These things are not easy to determine as so few early missals or sacramentaries remain in existence. They were subject to much wear and use. In the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana there exists a very early one known as or in English the Gelasian Sacramentary. It is named after Pope St. Gelasius I (492-496) who composed many of its propers. There is general agreement that it was written c.740 in northern France. It is also accepted that it was a copy of a sacramentary from the fifth or sixth century. It is famous and of great importance for being the most ancient and the most complete manuscript of the oldest sacramentary. It is known by its shelf mark of 316. If, when in Rome, one asks politely of the present Prefect of the Vatican Library, who is a most obliging, patient, and kind Dominican priest from Ireland, one stands just a chance of being allowed to examine it, even if one is lacking the usually necessary qualification of being acknowledged as a doctoral student engaged in research or else at the very least of being a curator from a recognized library. Points of similarity between it and the M.R. are the Collect for Palm Sunday on folio 51r, the Collect for the Feast of Saint Thomas Apostle on folio 162v, and the Collect for the Feast of the Holy Innocents on folio 10r. The canon from the through to the and to the are virtually identical to the same prayers in the M.R. Accordingly those celebrants who choose to recite a canon other than the Roman Canon, or first eucharistic prayer, are abandoning then a tradition going back some fifteen hundred years at least. Then too one can find in it most of the Collects, Secrets, and Postcommunions running from the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost to the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost as are found in M.R.

In the solemn prayers for Good Friday, in the Gelasian Sacramentary, one reads "" This prayer is found unchanged in sacramentary after sacramentary and missal after missal, including Bergendal MS 46, until well into the nineteenth century. Apparently by the turn of the twentieth century it was felt no longer appropriate to pray that savage peoples for the sake of peace and good order become subject to a most Christian Emperor, and that possibly because a most Christian Emperor had become a pretty hard thing to find by then anyway.

Bergendal MS 46 is a true missal combining as it does the prayers from the sacramentary, the lectionary, and the gradual. It is an important documentary witness to two facts. The first is that the missal as such came into use quite a bit earlier than has been recognized by many writers on the subject. The second is that our M.R. of John XXIII goes back at least one thousand years, and not just to 1570, given the virtual complete similarity to be found between readings and prayers printed around 1965 and those of the Bergendal MS 46 written around 1025.

It remains to be determined how far back into time one can find examples of such extraordinary similarity. The lack of manuscript witnesses does not help one find an answer. This writer does not know of the existence of a complete missal done during the first millenium. Then there is the virtual impossibility of finding a sacramentary, a lectionary, and a gradual all written at about the same time during either the ninth or tenth centuries. Some are tempted to suggest that the prayers of the M.R. reached their definite form at the time of the reform of the liturgy during the reign of Gregory the Great (590-604). While quite possibly so, it could well prove rash to succumb to the temptation as the earliest copy known of a Gregorian Sacramentary dates from c.800. One would actually be on firmer ground in suggesting that the Sacramentary which resulted from the reforms instigated by Charlemagne and Alcuin in the years 801-804 is the first one to have prayers virtually identical to the ones used during the times of both Saint Pius V and John XXIII.

We know that Charlemagne (768-814) was anxious that uniformity prevail throughout his kingdom in the matter of liturgy. To this end he prevailed on Pope Adrian I (772- 795) to send him a copy of the , which owed its origin to the reforms of Gregory the Great (590-604). It seems that Alcuin (735-804) modified it and ensured its use throughout the Frankish Kingdom. Precision is difficult on this point as some authorities hold that the modifications were done actually by Saint Benedict of Aniane (750-821). Then by the tenth century this modified Gregorian Sacramentary had returned, as it were, to Rome and became the one used throughout the West.

The existence of the Gelasian Sacramentary proves the Mass for many centuries prior to 800 was very similar in form but tended to differ from M.R. in choice of prayers and readings. Even at that, as has been shown, many of the propers adopted by Alcuin had been in use two or three hundred years earlier.

What can be said with relative certainty is that the M.R. as used during the reign of John XXIII had taken its form as a complete missal by the turn of the second millenium. There is general agreement that the very same prayers were in use from 800 AD to 1000 AD but were to be found in sacramentaries, lectionaries, and graduals rather than in missals. In other words over a period of one thousand two hundred years the ordinary and propers of the Mass hardly suffered the slightest change. We can say too that the canon as we know it was used in the fifth century and that many propers of Time and propers of saints used in the middle of the twentieth century were also used in the fifth century. What is intriguing is that the Roman Canon has come down to us unchanged from the very earliest times of Christianity of which we have the slightest liturgical record.

One is allowed to wonder whether or not the composers of the Paul VI Roman Missal truly realized the extent of the tradition they were throwing overboard when they put together the prayers of the Mass now in general use in the Latin rite. It was an unbroken tradition of about twelve hundred years of use of virtually identical prayers and a tradition of more than 1,500 years of use of any number of prayers and readings that were unchanged during all that time.

Fortunately the M.R. of Saint Leo III, Saint Pius V, and John XXIII is still with us as its use was never entirely abrogated. During the reign of Paul VI it is true that its use was restricted to priests whose advanced age made it difficult for them to adapt to anything new. However during the reign of John Paul II its use has been increased considerably. In law, if not in practice, its use should be available to one and all. There is no reason why one can not contemplate this renewed use increasing rather than not. A tradition of one and a half millenia is not one to be given up lightly.

A liturgical calendar has been pre pared which shows all the saints' days as found in Bergendal MS 46. It bears a striking resemblance to the calendar that was used during the reign of Pope John XXIII. Naturally enough those who have been canonized in relatively recent times such as St. Anthony of Padua (1232), St. Thomas Aquinas (1323), and St. Pius V (1712) are not to be found in it. However many old favorites such as Saints Sixtus, Lawrence, Stephen, Mathias, Barnabas, Agnes, and Agatha are there in full holy force. May those martyrs from the dawn of Christianity pray for us.

This article appeared in the March 1995 issue of "The Homiletic & Pastoral Review," 86 Riverside Dr., New York, N.Y. 10024, 212-799-2600, $24.00 per year.