Skip to content

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

Liturgy of the Mass

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

A. Name and Definition

The Mass is the complex of prayers and ceremonies that make up the service of the Eucharist in the Latin rites. As in the case of all liturgical terms the name is less old than the thing. From the time of the first preaching of the Christian Faith in the West, as everywhere, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated as Christ had instituted it at the Last Supper, according to His command, in memory of Him. But it was not till long afterwards that the late Latin name Missa , used at first in a vaguer sense, became the technical and almost exclusive name for this service.

In the first period, while Greek was still the Christian language at Rome, we find the usual Greek names used there, as in the East. The commonest was Eucharistia , used both for the consecrated bread and wine and for the whole service. Clement of Rome (d. about 101) uses the verbal form still in its general sense of "giving thanks", but also in connection with the Liturgy (I Clem., Ad Cor., xxxviii, 4: kata panta eucharistein auto ). The other chief witness for the earliest Roman Liturgy, Justin Martyr (d. c. 167), speaks of eucharist in both senses repeatedly (Apol., I, lxv, 3, 5; lxvi, 1; lxvii, 5). After him the word is always used, and passes into Latin ( eucharistia ) as soon as there is a Latin Christian Literature [ Tertullian (d. c. 220), "De pr scr.", xxxvi, in P.L., II, 50; St. Cyprian (d. 258), Ep., liv, etc.]. It remains the normal name for the sacrament throughout Catholic theology, but is gradually superseded by Missa for the whole rite. Clement calls the service Leitourgia ( 1 Corinthians 40:2, 5 ; 41:1 ) and prosphora (Ibid., 2, 4), with, however, a shade of different meaning ("rite", "oblation"). These and the other usual Greek names ( klasis artou in the Catacombs ; koinonia, synaxis, syneleusis in Justin, "I Apol.", lxvii, 3), with their not yet strictly technical connotation, are used during the first two centuries in the West as in the East. With the use of the Latin language in the third century came first translations of the Greek terms. While eucharistia is very common, we find also its translation gratiarum actio ( Tertullian, "Adv. Marcionem", I, xxiii, in P.L., II, 274); benedictio (= eulogia ) occurs too (ibid., III, xxii; "De idolol.", xxii); sacrificium , generally with an attribute ( divina sacrificia, novum sacrificium, sacrificia Dei ), is a favourite expression of St. Cyprian (Ep. liv, 3; "De orat. dom.", iv; "Test. adv. Iud.", I, xvi; Ep. xxxiv, 3; lxiii, 15, etc.). We find also Solemnia (Cypr., "De lapsis", xxv), "Dominica solemnia" (Tert., "De fuga", xiv), Prex , Oblatio , Coena Domini (Tert., "Ad uxor.", II, iv, in P.L., I, 1294), Spirituale ac coeleste sacramentum (Cypr., Ep., lxiii, 13), Dominicum (Cypr., "De opere et eleem.", xv; Ep. lxiii, 16), Officium (Tertullian, "De orat.", xiv), even Passio (Cypr., Ep. xlii), and other expressions that are rather descriptions than technical names.

All these were destined to be supplanted in the West by the classical name Missa . The first certain use of it is by St. Ambrose (d. 397). He writes to his sister Marcellina describing the troubles of the Arians in the years 385 and 386, when the soldiers were sent to break up the service in his church: "The next day (it was a Sunday ) after the lessons and the tract, having dismissed the catechumens, I explained the creed [ symbolum tradebam ] to some of the competents [people about to be baptized ] in the baptistry of the basilica. There I was told suddenly that they had sent soldiers to the Portiana basilica. . . . But I remained at my place and began to say Mass [ missam facere coepi ]. While I offer [ dum ofero ], I hear that a certain Castulus has been seized by the people" (Ep., I, xx, 4-5). It will be noticed that missa here means the Eucharistic Service proper, the Liturgy of the Faithful only, and does not include that of the Catechumens. Ambrose uses the word as one in common use and well known. There is another, still earlier, but very doubtfully authentic instance of the word in a letter of Pope Pius I (from c. 142 to c. 157): "Euprepia has handed over possession of her house to the poor, where . . . we make Masses with our poor " ( cum pauperibus nostris . . . missas agimus " -- Pii I, Ep. I, in Galland, "Bibl. vet. patrum", Venice, 1765, I, 672). The authenticity of the letter, however, is very doubtful. If Missa really occurred in the second century in the sense it now has, it would be surprising that it never occurs in the third. We may consider St. Ambrose as the earliest certain authority for it.

From the fourth century the term becomes more and more common. For a time it occurs nearly always in the sense of dismissal . St. Augustine (d. 430) says: "After the sermon the dismissal of the catechumens takes place" ( post sermonem fit missa catechumenorum -- Serm., xlix, 8, in P.L., XXXVIII, 324). The Synod of Lérida in Spain (524) declares that people guilty of incest may be admitted to church "usque ad missam catechumenorum", that is, till the catechumens are dismissed (Can., iv, Hefele - Leclercq, "Hist. des Conciles", II, 1064). The same expression occurs in the Synod of Valencia at about the same time (Can., i, ibid., 1067), in Hincmar of Reims (d. 882) ("Opusc. LV capitul.", xxiv, in P.L., CXXVI, 380), etc. Etheria (fourth century) calls the whole service, or the Liturgy of the Faithful, missa constantly ("Peregr. Silviæ", e.g., xxiv, 11, Benedicit fideles et fit missa , etc.). So also Innocent I (401-17) in Ep., xvii, 5, P.L., XX, 535, Leo I (440-61), in Ep., ix, 2, P.L., LIV, 627. Although from the beginning the word Missa usually means the Eucharistic Service or some part of it, we find it used occasionally for other ecclesiastical offices too. In St. Benedict's (d. 543) Rule fiant missae is used for the dismissal at the end of the canonical hours (chap., xvii, passim). In the Leonine Sacramentary (sixth cent. See LITURGICAL BOOKS ), the word in its present sense is supposed throughout. The title, "Item alia", at the head of each Mass means "Item alia missa". The Gelasian book (sixth or seventh cent. Cf. ibid.) supplies the word: "Item alia missa", "Missa Chrismatis", "Orationes ad missa [ sic ] in natale Sanctorum", and so on throughout. From that time it becomes the regular, practically exclusive, name for the Holy Liturgy in the Roman and Gallican Rites.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

The origin and first meaning of the word, once much discussed, is not really doubtful. We may dismiss at once such fanciful explanations as that missa is the Hebrew missah ("oblation" -- so Reuchlin and Luther ), or the Greek myesis ("initiation"), or the German Mess ("assembly", "market"). Nor is it the participle feminine of mittere , with a noun understood ("oblatio missa ad Deum", "congregatio missa", i.e., dimissa -- so Diez, "Etymol. Wörterbuch der roman. Sprachen", 212, and others). It is a substantive of a late form for missio. There are many parallels in medieval Latin, collecta, ingressa, confessa, accessa, ascensa -- all for forms in -io. It does not mean an offering ( mittere , in the sense of handing over to God ), but the dismissal of the people, as in the versicle: "Ite missa est" (Go, the dismissal is made). It may seem strange that this unessential detail should have given its name to the whole service. But there are many similar cases in liturgical language. Communion, confession, breviary are none of them names that express the essential character of what they denote. In the case of the word missa we can trace the development of its meaning step by step. We have seen it used by St. Augustine, synods of the sixth century, and Hincmar of Reims for "dismissal". Missa Catechumenorum means the dismissal of the catechumens. It appears that missa fit or missa est was the regular formula for sending people away at the end of a trial or legal process. Avitus of Vienne (d. 523) says: "In churches and palaces or law-courts the dismissal is proclaimed to be made [missa pronuntiatur], when the people are dismissed from their attendance" (Ep. i). So also St. Isidore of Seville : "At the time of the sacrifice the dismissal is [ missa tempore sacrificii est ] when the catechumens are sent out, as the deacon cries: If any one of the catechumens remain, let him go out: and thence it is the dismissal [ et inde missa ]" ("Etymol.", VI, xix, in P.L., LXXXII, 252). As there was a dismissal of the catechumens at the end of the first part of the service, so was there a dismissal of the faithful (the baptized ) after the Communion. There were, then, a missa catechumenorum and a missa fidelium , both, at first, in the sense of dismissals only. So Florus Diaconus (d. 860): " Missa is understood as nothing but dimissio , that is, absolutio , which the deacon pronounces when the people are dismissed from the solemn service. The deacon cried out and the catechumens were sent [ mittebantur ], that is, were dismissed outside [id est, dimittebantur foras ]. So the missa caechumenorum was made before the action of the Sacrament (i.e., before the Canon Actionis), the missa fidelium is made "-- note the difference of tense; in Florus's time the dismissal of the catechumens had ceased to be practised --" after the consecration and communion" [ post confectionem et participationem ] (P.L., CXIX 72).

How the word gradually changed its meaning from dismissal to the whole service, up to and including the dismissal, is not difficult to understand. In the texts quoted we see already the foundation of such a change. To stay till the missa catechumenorum is easily modified into: to stay for, or during, the missa catechumenorum . So we find these two missae used for the two halves of the Liturgy. Ivo of Chartres (d. 1116) has forgotten the original meaning, and writes: "Those who heard the missa catechumenorum evaded the missa sacramentorum " (Ep. ccxix, in P.L., CLXII, 224). The two parts are then called by these two names; as the discipline of the catechumenate is gradually forgotten, and there remains only one connected service, it is called by the long familiar name missa , without further qualification. We find, however, through the Middle Ages the plural miss, missarum solemnia , as well as missae sacramentum and such modified expressions also. Occasionally the word is transferred to the feast-day. The feast of St. Martin, for instance, is called Missa S. Martini . It is from this use that the German Mess, Messtag , and so on are derived. The day and place of a local feast was the occasion of a market (for all this see Rottmanner, op. cit., in bibliography below). Kirmess (Flemish Kermis , Fr. kermesse ) is Kirch-mess , the anniversary of the dedication of a church, the occasion of a fair. The Latin missa is modified in all Western languages (It. messa , Sp. misa , Fr. messe , Germ. Messe , etc.). The English form before the Conquest was maesse ,then Middle Engl. messe, masse --" It nedith not to speke of the masse ne the seruise that thei hadde that day" ("Merlin" in the Early Engl. Text Soc., II, 375) --"And whan our parish masse was done" ("Sir Cauline", Child's Ballads, III, 175). It also existed as a verb: "to mass" was to say mass; "massing-priest" was a common term of abuse at the Reformation.

It should be noted that the name Mass ( missa ) applies to the Eucharistic service in the Latin rites only. Neither in Latin nor in Greek has it ever been applied to any Eastern rite. For them the corresponding word is Liturgy ( liturgia ). It is a mistake that leads to confusion, and a scientific inexactitude, to speak of any Eastern Liturgy as a Mass.

B. The Origin of the Mass

The Western Mass, like all Liturgies, begins, of course, with the Last Supper. What Christ then did, repeated as he commanded in memory of Him, is the nucleus of the Mass. As soon as the Faith was brought to the West the Holy Eucharist was celebrated here, as in the East. At first the language used was Greek. Out of that earliest Liturgy, the language being changed to Latin, developed the two great parent rites of the West, the Roman and the Gallican (see LITURGY). Of these two the Gallican Mass may be traced without difficulty. It is so plainly Antiochene in its structure, in the very text of many of ifs prayers, that we are safe in accounting for it as a translated form of the Liturgy of Jerusalem-Antioch , brought to the West at about the time when the more or less fluid universal Liturgy of the first three centuries gave place to different fixed rites (see LITURGY; GALLICAN RITE). The origin of the Roman Mass, on the other hand, is a most difficult question, We have here two fixed and certain data: the Liturgy in Greek described by St. Justin Martyr (d. c. 165), which is that of the Church of Rome in the second century, and, at the other end of the development, the Liturgy of the first Roman Sacramentaries in Latin, in about the sixth century. The two are very different. Justin's account represents a rite of what we should now call an Eastern type, corresponding with remarkable exactness to that of the Apostolic Constitutions (see LITURGY). The Leonine and Gelasian Sacramentaries show us what is practically our present Roman Mass. How did the service change from the one to the other? It is one of the chief difficulties in the history of liturgy. During the last few years, especially, all manner of solutions and combinations have been proposed. We will first note some points that are certain, that may serve as landmarks in an investigation.

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome, Hippolytus (d. 235), and Novatian (c. 250) all agree in the Liturgies they describe, though the evidence of the last two is scanty (Probst, "Liturgie der drei ersten christl. Jahrhdte"; Drews, "Untersuchungen über die sogen. clement. Liturgie"). Justin gives us the fullest Liturgical description of any Father of the first three centuries (Apol. I, lxv, lxvi, quoted and discussed in LITURGY). He describes how the Holy Eucharist was celebrated at Rome in the middle of the second century; his account is the necessary point of departure, one end of a chain whose intermediate links are hidden. We have hardly any knowledge at all of what developments the Roman Rite went through during the third and fourth centuries. This is the mysterious time where conjecture may, and does, run riot. By the fifth century we come back to comparatively firm ground, after a radical change. At this time we have the fragment in Pseudo-Ambrose, "De sacramentis" (about 400. Cf. P.L., XVI, 443), and the letter of Pope Innocent I (401-17) to Decentius of Eugubium (P.L., XX, 553). In these documents we see that the Roman Liturgy is said in Latin and has already become in essence the rite we still use. A few indications of the end of the fourth century agree with this. A little later we come to the earliest Sacramentaries (Leonine, fifth or sixth century; Gelasian, sixth or seventh century) and from then the history of the Roman Mass is fairly clear. The fifth and sixth centuries therefore show us the other end of the chain. For the interval between the second and fifth centuries, during which the great change took place, although we know so little about Rome itself, we have valuable data from Africa. There is every reason to believe that in liturgical matters the Church of Africa followed Rome closely. We can supply much of what we wish to know about Rome from the African Fathers of the third century, Tertullian (d. c. 220), St. Cyprian (d. 258), the Acts of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas (203), St. Augustine (d. 430) (see Cabrol, "Dictionnaire d' archéologie", I, 591-657). The question of the change of language from Greek to Latin is less important than if might seem. It came about naturally when Greek ceased to be the usual language of the Roman Christians. Pope Victor I (190-202), an African, seems to have been the first to use Latin at Rome, Novatian writes Latin. By the second half of the third century the usual liturgical language at Rome seems to have been Latin (Kattenbusch, "Symbolik", II, 331), though fragments of Greek remained for many centuries. Other writers think that Latin was not finally adopted till the end of the fourth century (Probst, "Die abendländ. Messe", 5; Rietschel, "Lehrbuch der Liturgik", I, 337). No doubt, for a time both languages were used. The question is discussed at length in C. P. Caspari, "Quellen zur Gesch. des Taufsymbols u. der Glaubensregel" (Christiania, 1879), III, 267 sq. The Creed was sometimes said in Greek, some psalms were sung in that language, the lessons on Holy Saturday were read in Greek and Latin as late as the eighth century (Ordo Rom., I, P.L., LXXVIII, 966-68, 955). There are still such fragments of Greek ("Kyrie eleison", "Agios O Theos") in the Roman Mass. But a change of language does not involve a change of rite. Novatian's Latin allusions to the Eucharistic prayer agree very well with those of Clement of Rome in Greek, and with the Greek forms in Apost. Const., VIII (Drews, op. cit., 107-22). The Africans, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, etc., who write Latin, describe a rite very closely related to that of Justin and the Apostolic Constitutions (Probst, op. cit., 183-206; 215-30). The Gallican Rite, as in Germanus of Paris (Duchesne, "Origines du Culte", 180-217), shows how Eastern -- how "Greek" -- a Latin Liturgy can be. We must then conceive the change of language in the third century as a detail that did not much affect the development of the rite. No doubt the use of Latin was a factor in the Roman tendency to shorten the prayers, leave out whatever seemed redundant in formulas, and abridge the whole service. Latin is naturally terse, compared with the rhetorical abundance of Greek. This difference is one of the most obvious distinctions between the Roman and the Eastern Rites.

If we may suppose that during the first three centuries there was a common Liturgy throughout Christendom, variable, no doubt, in details, but uniform in all its main points, which common Liturgy is represented by that of the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions, we have in that the origin of the Roman Mass as of all other liturgies (see LITURGY). There are, indeed, special reasons for supposing that this type of liturgy was used at Rome. The chief authorities for it (Clement, Justin, Hippolytus, Novatian ) are all Roman. Moreover, even the present Roman Rite, in spite of later modifications, retains certain elements that resemble those of the Apost. Const. Liturgy remarkably. For instance, at Rome there neither is nor has been a public Offertory prayer. The "Oremus" said just before the Offertory is the fragment of quite another thing, the old prayers of the faithful, of which we still have a specimen in the series of collects on Good Friday. The Offertory is made in silence while the choir sings part of a psalm. Meanwhile the celebrant says private Offertory prayers which in the old form of the Mass are the Secrets only. The older Secrets are true Offertory prayers. In the Byzantine Rite, on the other hand, the gifts are prepared beforehand, brought up with the singing of the Cherubikon, and offered at the altar by a public Synapte of deacon and people, and a prayer once sung aloud by the celebrant (now only the Ekphonesis is sung aloud). The Roman custom of a silent offertory with private prayer is that of the Liturgy of the Apostolic Constitutions. Here too the rubric says only: "The deacons bring the gifts to the bishop at the altar " (VIII, xii, 3) and "The Bishop, praying by himself [ kath heauton , "silently"] with the priests. . ." (VIII, xii, 4). No doubt in this case, too, a psalm was sung meanwhile, which would account for the unique instance of silent prayer. The Apostolic Constitutions order that at this point the deacons should wave fans over the oblation (a practical precaution to keep away insects, VIII, xii, 3); this, too, was done at Rome down to the fourteenth century (Martène, "De antiquis eccl. ritibus", Antwerp, 1763, I, 145). The Roman Mass, like the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, xi, 12), has a washing of hands just before the Offertory. It once had a kiss of peace before the Preface. Pope Innocent I, in his letter to Decentius of Eugubium (416), remarks on this older custom of placing it ante confecta mysteria (before the Eucharistic prayer -- P.L., XX, 553). That is its place in the Apost. Const. (VIII, xi, 9). After the Lord's Prayer , at Rome, during the fraction, the celebrant sings: "Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum." It seems that this was the place to which the kiss of peace was first moved (as in Innocent I's letter). This greeting, unique in the Roman Rite, occurs again only in the Apostolic Constitutions ( he eirene tou theou meta panton hymon ). Here it comes twice: after the Intercession (VIII, xiii, 1) and at the kiss of peace (VIII, xi, 8). The two Roman prayers after the Communion, the Postcommunion and the Oratio super populum ( ad populum in the Gelasian Sacramentary) correspond to the two prayers, first a thanksgiving, then a prayer over the people, in Apost. Const., VIII, xv, 1-5 and 7-9.

There is an interesting deduction that may be made from the present Roman Preface. A number of Prefaces introduce the reference to the angels (who sing the Sanctus ) by the form et ideo . In many cases it is not clear to what this ideo refers. Like the igitur at the beginning of the Canon, it does not seem justified by what precedes. May we conjecture that something has been left out? The beginning of the Eucharistic prayer in the Apost. Const., VIII, xii, 6-27 (the part before the Sanctus, our Preface, it is to be found in Brightman, "Liturgies, Eastern and Western", I, Oxford, 1896, 14-18), is much longer, and enumerates at length the benefits of creation and various events of the Old Law. The angels are mentioned twice, at the beginning as the first creatures and then again at the end abruptly, without connection with what has preceded in order to introduce the Sanctus. The shortness of the Roman Prefaces seems to make it certain that they have been curtailed. All the other rites begin the Eucharistic prayer (after the formula: "Let us give thanks") with a long thanksgiving for the various benefits of God, which are enumerated. We know, too, how much of the development of the Roman Mass is due to a tendency to abridge the older prayers. If then we suppose that the Roman Preface is such an abridgement of that in the Apost. Const., with the details of the Creation and Old Testament history left out, we can account for the ideo . The two references to the angels in the older prayer have met and coalesced. The ideo refers to the omitted list of benefits, of which the angels, too, have their share. The parallel between the orders of angels in both liturgies is exact:

. . . . cum Angelis
et Archangelis, cum Thronis
et Dominationibus, cumque
omni militia cælestis exercitus
. . . . sine fine dicentes.

. . . . stratiai aggelon,
archallelon, . . . . thronon,
kyrioteton, . . . .
. . . . stration
aionion, . . . .
legonta akatapaustos.

Another parallel is in the old forms of the "Hanc igitur" prayer. Baumstark ("Liturgia romana", 102-07) has found two early Roman forms of this prayer in Sacramentaries at Vauclair and Rouen, already published by Martène ("Voyage littéraire", Paris, 1724, 40) and Delisle (in Ebner, "Iteritalicum", 417), in which it is much longer and has plainly the nature of an Intercession, such as we find in the Eastern rites at the end of the Anaphora. The form is: "Hanc igitur oblationem servitutis nostræ sed et cunctæ familiæ tuæ, quæsumus Domine placatus accipias, quam tibi devoto offerimus corde pro pace et caritate et unitate sanctæ ecclesiæ, pro fide catholica . . . pro sacerdotibus et omni gradu ecclesiæ, pro regibus . . ." (Therefore, O Lord, we beseech Thee, be pleased to accept this offering of our service and of all Thy household, which we offer Thee with devout heart for the peace, charity, and unity of Holy Church, for the Catholic Faith. . . for the priests and every order of the Church, for kings . . .) and so on, enumerating a complete list of people for whom prayer is said. Baumstark prints these clauses parallel with those of the Intercesison in various Eastern rites ; most of them may be found in that of the Apost. Const. (VIII, xii, 40-50, and xiii, 3-9). This, then, supplies another missing element in the Mass. Eventually the clauses enumerating the petitions were suppressed, no doubt because they were thought to be a useless reduplication of the prayers "Te igitur", "Communicantes", and the two Mementos (Baumstark, op. cit., 107), and the introduction of this Intercession (Hanc igitur . . . placatus accipias) was joined to what seems to have once been part of a prayer for the dead (diesque nostros in tua pace disponas, etc.).

We still have a faint echo of the old Intercession in the clause about the newly- baptized interpolated into the "Hanc igitur" at Easter and Whitsuntide. The beginning of the prayer has a parallel in Apost. Const., VIII, xiii, 3 (the beginning of the deacon's Litany of Intercession ). Drews thinks that the form quoted by Baumstark, with its clauses all beginning pro , was spoken by the deacon as a litany, like the clauses in Apost. Const. beginning hyper (Untersuchungen über die sog. clem. Lit., 139). The prayer containing the words of Institution in the Roman Mass (Qui pridie . . in mei memoriam facietis) has just the constructions and epithets of the corresponding text in Apost. Const., VIII, xii, 36-37. All this and many more parallels between the Mass and the Apost. Const. Liturgy may be studied in Drews (op. cit.). It is true that we can find parallel passages with other liturgies too, notably with that of Jerusalem (St. James). There are several forms that correspond to those of the Egyptian Rite, such as the Roman "de tuis donis ac datis" in the "Unde et memores" (St. Mark: ek ton son doron ; Brightman, "Eastern Liturgies ", p. 133, 1. 30); "offerimus præclaræ maiestati tuæ de tuis donis ac datis", is found exactly in the Coptic form ("before thine holy glory we have set thine own gift of thine own", ibid., p. 178, 1. 15). But this does not mean merely that there are parallel passages between any two rites. The similarities of the Apost. Const. are far more obvious than those of any other. The Roman Mass, even apart from the testimony of Justin Martyr, Clement, Hippolytus, Novatian, still bears evidence of its development from a type of liturgy of which that of the Apostolic Constitutions is the only perfect surviving specimen (see LITURGY). There is reason to believe, moreover, that it has since been influenced both from Jerusalem-Antioch and Alexandria, though many of the forms common to it and these two may be survivals of that original, universal fluid rite which have not been preserved in the Apost. Const. It must always be remembered that no one maintains that the Apost. Const. Liturgy is word for word the primitive universal Liturgy. The thesis defended by Probst, Drews, Kattenbusch, Baumstark, and others is that there was a comparatively vague and fluid rite of which the Apost. Const. have preserved for us a specimen.

But between this original Roman Rite (which we can study only in the Apost. Const.) and the Mass as it emerges in the first sacramentaries (sixth to seventh century) there is a great change. Much of this change is accounted for by the Roman tendency to shorten. The Apost, Const. has five lessons; Rome has generally only two or three. At Rome the prayers of the faithful after the expulsion of the catechumens and the Intercession at the end of the Canon have gone. Both no doubt were considered superfluous since there is a series of petitions of the same nature in the Canon. But both have left traces. We still say Oremus before the Offertory, where the prayers of the faithful once stood, and still have these prayers on Good Friday in the collects. And the "Hanc Igitur" is a fragment of the Intercession. The first great change that separates Rome from all the Eastern rites is the influence of the ecclesiastical year. The Eastern liturgies remain always the same except for the lessons, Prokeimenon (Gradual-verse), and one or two other slight modifications. On the other hand the Roman Mass is profoundly affected throughout by the season or feast on which it is said. Probst's theory was that this change was made by Pope Damasus (366-84; "Liturgie des vierten Jahrh.", pp. 448-72). This idea is now abandoned (Funk in "Tübinger Quartalschrift", 1894, pp. 683 sq.). Indeed, we have the authority of Pope Vigilius (540-55) for the fact that in the sixth century the order of the Mass was still hardly affected by the calendar ("Ep. ad Eutherium" in P.L., LXIX, 18). The influence of the ecclesiastical year must have been gradual. The lessons were of course always varied, and a growing tendency to refer to the feast or season in the prayers, Preface, and even in the Canon, brought about the present state of things, already in full force in the Leonine Sacramentary. That Damasus was one of the popes who modified the old rite seems, however, certain. St. Gregory I (590-604) says he introduced the use of the Hebrew Alleluia from Jerusalem ("Ep. ad Ioh. Syracus." in P.L., LXXVII, 956). It was under Damasus that the Vulgate became the official Roman version of the Bible used in the Liturgy ; a constant tradition ascribes to Damasus's friend St. Jerome (d. 420) the arrangement of the Roman Lectionary. Mgr Duchesne thinks that the Canon was arranged by this pope (Origines du Culte, 168-9). A curious error of a Roman theologian of Damasus's time, who identified Melchisedech with the Holy Ghost, incidentally shows us one prayer of our Mass as existing then, namely the "Supra quæ" with its allusion to "summus sacerdos tuus Melchisedech" ("Quæst. V. et N. Test." in P.L., XXXV, 2329).

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

C. The Mass from the Fifth to the Seventh Century

By about the fifth century we begin to see more clearly. Two documents of this time give us fairly large fraaments of the Roman Mass. Innocent I (401-17), in his letter to Decentius of Eugubium (about 416; P.L., XX, 553), alludes to many features of the Mass. We notice that these important changes have already been made: the kiss of peace has been moved from the beginning of the Mass of the Faithful to after the Consecration, the Commemoration of the Living and Dead is made in the Canon, and there are no longer prayers of the faithful before the Offertory (see CANON OF THE MASS). Rietschel (Lehrbuch der Liturgik, I, 340-1) thinks that the Invocation of the Holy Ghost has already disappeared from the Mass. Innocent does not mention it, but we have evidence of it at a later date under Gelasius I (492-6: see CANON OF THE MASS, s.v. Supplices te rogamus , and EPIKLESIS). Rietschel (loc. cit.) also thinks that there was a dogmatic reason for these changes, to emphasize the sacrificial idea. We notice especially that in Innocent's time the prayer of lntercession follows the Consecration (see CANON OF THE MASS). The author of the treatise "De Sacramentis" (wrongly attributed to St. Ambrose , in P.L., XVI, 418 sq.) says that he will explain the Roman Use, and proceeds to quote a great part of the Canon (the text is given in CANON OF THE MASS, II). From this document we can reconstruct the following scheme: The Mass of the Catechumens is still distinct from that of the faithful, at least in theory. The people sing "Introibo ad altare Dei" as the celebrant and his ministers approach the alter (the Introit ). Then follow lessons from Scripture, chants (Graduals), and a sermon (the Catechumens Mass). The people still make the Offertory of bread and wine. The Preface and Sanctus follow ( laus Deo defertur ), then the prayer of Intercession ( oratione petitur pro populo, pro regibus, pro ceteris ) and the Consecration by the words of Institution ( ut conficitur ven. sacramentum . . . utitur sermonibus Christi ). From this point (Fac nobis hanc oblationem ascriptam, ratam, rationabilem . . .) the text of the Canon is quoted. Then come the Anamnesis (Ergo memores . . .), joined to it the prayer of oblation (offerimus tibi hanc immaculatam hostiam . . .), i.e. practically our "Supra quæ" prayer, and the Communion with the form: " Corpus Christi, R. Amen ", during which Ps. xxii is sung. At the end the Lord's Prayer is said.

What is Ash Wednesday?

What is Ash Wednesday?

Speakin' with the Deacons
Live Wednesday Feb. 14th @ 10am PDT
Join US LIVE on YouTube

In the "De Sacramentis" then, the Intercession comes before the Consecration, whereas in Innocent's letter it came after. This transposition should be noted as one of the most important features in the development of the Mass. The "Liber Pontificalis" (ed. Duchesne, Paris, 1886-92) contains a number of statements about changes in and additions to the Mass made by various popes, as for instance that Leo I (440-61) added the words "sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam" to the prayer "Supra quæ", that Sergius I (687-701) introduced the Agnus Dei, and so on. These must be received with caution; the whole book still needs critical examination. In the case of the Agnus Dei the statement is made doubtful by the fact that it is found in the Gregorian Sacramentary (whose date, however, is again doubtful ). A constant tradition ascribes some great influence on the Mass to Gelasius I(492-6). Gennadius (De vir. illustr. xciv) says he composed a sacramentary; the Liber Pontificalis speaks of his liturgical work, and there must be some basis for the way in which his name is attached to the famous Gelasian Sacramentay. What exactly Gelasius did is less easy to determine.

We come now to the end of a period at the reign of St. Gregory I (590-604). Gregory knew the Mass practically as we still have it. There have been additions and changes since his time, but none to compare with the complete recasting of the Canon that took place before him. At least as far as the Canon is concerned, Gregory may be considered as having put the last touches to it. His biographer, John the Deacon, says that he "collected the Sacramentary of Gelasius in one book, leaving out much, changing little, adding something for the exposition of the Gospels " (Vita S. Greg., II, xvii). He moved the Our Father from the end of the Mass to before the Communion, as he says in his letter to John of Syracuse: "We say the Lord's Prayer immediately after the Canon [ max post precem ] . . . It seems to me very unsuitable that we should say the Canon [ prex ] which an unknown scholar composed [ quam scholasticus composuerat ] over the oblation and that we should not say the prayer handed down by our Redeemer himself over His body and blood" (P.L., LXXVII, 956). He is also credited with the addition: "diesque nostros etc." to the "Hanc igitur" (ibid.; see CANON OF THE MASS). Benedict XIV says that "no pope has added to, or changed the Canon since St. Gregory " (De SS. Missæ sacrificio, p. 162). There has been an important change since, the partial amalgamation of the old Roman Rite with Gallican features; but this hardly affects the Canon. We may say safely that a modern Latin Catholic who could be carried back to Rome in the early seventh century would -- while missing some features to which he is accustomed -- find himself on the whole quite at home with the service he saw there.

This brings us back to the most difficult question: Why and when was the Roman Liturgy changed from what we see in Justin Martyr to that of Gregory I ? The change is radical, especially as regards the most important element of the Mass, the Canon. The modifications in the earlier part, the smaller number of lessons, the omission of the prayers for and expulsion of the catechumens, of the prayers of the faithful before the Offertory and so on, may be accounted for easily as a result of the characteristic Roman tendency to shorten the service and leave out what had become superfluous. The influence of the calendar has already been noticed. But there remains the great question of the arrangement of the Canon. That the order of the prayers that make up the Canon is a cardinal difficulty is admitted by every one. The old attempts to justify their present order by symbolic or mystic reasons have now been given up. The Roman Canon as it stands is recognized as a problem of great difficulty. It differs fundamentally from the Anaphora of any Eastern rite and from the Gallican Canon. Whereas in the Antiochene family of liturgies (including that of Gaul) the great Intercession follows the Consecration, which comes at once after the Sanctus, and in the Alexandrine class the Intercession is said during what we should call the Preface before the Sanctus, in the Roman Rite the Intercession is scattered throughout the Canon, partly before and partly after the Consecration. We may add to this the other difficulty, the omission at Rome of any kind of clear Invocation of the Holy Ghost ( Epiklesis ). Paul Drews has tried to solve this question. His theory is that the Roman Mass, starting from the primitive vaguer rite (practically that of the Apostolic Constitutions ), at first followed the development of Jerusalem-Antioch, and was for a time very similar to the Liturgy of St. James. Then it was recast to bring if nearer to Alexandria. This change was made probably by Gelasius I under the influence of his guest, John Talaia of Alexandria. The theory is explained at length in the article CANON OF THE MASS. Here we need only add that if has received in the main the support of F.X. Funk (who at first opposed it; see "Histor. Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft", 1903, pp. 62, 283; but see also his "Kirchengesch. Abhandlungen", III, Paderborn, 1907, pp. 85-134, in which he will not admit that he has altogether changed his mind ), A. Baumstark ("Liturgia romana e Liturgla dell' Esarcato", Rome, 1904), and G. Rauschen ("Eucharistie und Bussakrament", Freiburg, 1908, p. 86). But other theories have been suggested. Baumstark does not follow Drews in the details. He conceives (op. cit.) the original Canon as consisting of a Preface in which God is thanked for the benefits of creation ; the Sanctus interrupts the prayers, which then continue (Vere Sanctus ) with a prayer (now disappeared) thanking God for Redemption and so coming to the Institution (Pridie autem quam pateretur . . .). Then follow the Anamnesis (Unde et memores), the "Supra quæ", the "Te igitur", joined to an Epiklesis after the words "hæc sancta sacrificia illibata". Then the Intercession (In primis quæ tibi offerimus . . .), "Memento vivorum", "Communicantes", "Memento defunctorum" (Nos quoque peccatores . . . intra sanctorum tuorum consortium non æstimator meriti sed veniæ quæsumus largitor admitte, per Christum Dominum nostrum).

This order then (according to Baumstark) was dislocated by the insertion of new elements, the "Hanc Igitur", "Quam oblationem", "Supra quæ" and "Supplices", the list of saints in the "Nobis quoque", all of which prayers were in some sort reduplications of what was already contained in the Canon. They represent a mixed influence of Antioch and Alexandrla, which last reached Rome through Aquilea and Ravenna, where there was once a rite of the Alexandrine type. St. Leo I began to make these changes; Gregory I finished the process and finally recast the Canon in the form if still has. It will be seen that Baumstark's theory agrees with that of Drews in the main issue -- that at Rome originally the whole Intercession followed the Canon. Dom Cagin (Paléographie musicale, V, 80 sq.) and Dom Cabrol (Origines liturgiques, 354 sq.) propose an entirely different theory. So far it has been admitted on all sides that the Roman and Gallican rites belong to different classes; the Gallican Rite approaches that of Antioch very closely, the origin of the Roman one being the great problem. Cagin's idea is that all that must be reversed, the Gallican Rite has no connection at all with Antioch or any Eastern Liturgy ; it is in its origin the same rite as the Roman. Rome changed this earlier form about the sixth or seventh century. Before that the order at Rome was: Secrets, Preface, Sanctus, "Te igitur"; then "Hanc igitur", "Quam oblationem", "Qui pridie" (these three prayers correspond to the Gallican Post-Sanctus). Then followed a group like the Gallican Post Pridie, namely "Unde et memores", "Offerimus praeclaræ", "Supra guæ", "Supplices", "Per eundem Christum etc.", "Per quem hæc omnia", and the Fraction. Then came the Lord's Prayer with its embolism, of which the "Nobis quoque" was a part. The two Mementos were originally before the Preface. Dom Cagin has certainly pointed out a number of points in which Rome and Gaul (that is all the Western rites ) stand together as opposed to the East. Such points are the changes caused by the calendar, the introduction of the Institution by the words "Qui pridie", whereas all Eastern Liturgies have the form "In the night in which he was betrayed". Moreover the place of the kiss of peace (in Gaul before the Preface ) cannot be quoted as a difference be

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Prayer of the Day logo
Saint of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.