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Cabrol F. Chapter II. The mass in the fourth and fifth centuries, and its division into liturgical families
THE MASS OF THE WESTERN RITES
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By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol
THE MASS IN THE FOURTH AND FIFTH CENTURIES, AND ITS DIVISION INTO
Divisions into liturgical families. — Analogies between the Oriental and
Latin Liturgies. — Divergencies between the different Western Liturgies.
The proposition developed in the previous chapter that in the three first
centuries, and even until the end of the fourth, hardly any distinction can
be made between the liturgies of different countries, may be taken for
granted. But from this moment certain customs which made it possible easily
to distinguish between the liturgies of these different lands were
established; on one hand between East and West; on the other, between the
different provinces of these two great halves of the Roman Empire. As Mgr.
Duchesne has justly remarked, the liturgical provinces fall into line with
the great ecclesiastical provinces — in the East, Antioch and Jerusalem,
closely united from their origin, as contrasted with Alexandria, in the
West, Rome, round which were grouped Italy, Africa Gaul, Spain, and, very
soon, England and Germany.
If we apply that principle, the first division necessary is that between
East and West.
The day on which Constantine in 325 founded Constantinople, and transported
to the city of Byzantium the seat of empire with all its functionaries,
that division was accentuated. Habits, standards of cultivation social,
political, and even religious tendencies present changed characteristics.
Each of the two parts of the Empire had its own language; Greek for the
East, Latin for the West; and this difference made itself felt in the
liturgy. The Roman liturgy had been Greek until towards the middle of the
third century; but the place of Greek was taken by Latin, and the traces of
the older language were gradually effaced. The Kyrie Eleison and other
similar words still to be found in this liturgy are not, as was formerly
wrongly believed, relics of the primitive language, but expressions of
universal usage, like Eucharist, acolyte, exorcist, etc., or else, terms
which have been introduced in later years.
Greek and, for some parts of the East, Syriac, were henceforth the
languages of the liturgies born in those countries. The liturgy of Rome was
in Latin, as that of Africa then was, and as those of Gaul, Spain, and
Milan soon would be. Few can refuse to see in this difference of language,
without mentioning political, administrative, or social differences, the
establishment of a profound separation between East and West on the one
hand, and, on the other, a certain relationship between the provinces of
Thus, in our opinion, the first division to establish between the various
liturgies is that between East and West.
In the East, as already noted, another division existed. The two churches
of Antioch and Jerusalem, neighbors, and closely allied as they were, had a
liturgy which spread over a part of the East, in Syria, Asia Minor
(Cappadocia, Pontus, Bithynia, and Caesarea), and later to Constantinople,
Mesopotamia, and Persia. It is represented by the liturgy of the Apostolic
Constitutions (fourth century), the Greek liturgy of St. James (sixth
century, and perhaps earlier), the Nestorian liturgies of Mesopotamia and
Persia (liturgy of Addeus and Maris), the Byzantine, or liturgy of
Constantinople (St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom), and the Armenian
The church of Alexandria followed a use which differed in several ways from
the preceding, as may be established by the anaphora of Serapion, and by
that of Balizeh, of which we have given a summary in the previous chapter.
In this chapter, too, may also be seen the plan and sequence of the prayers
in the Apostolic Constitutions and in other liturgies of this class.
In the Latin West various liturgical divergencies took shape at Rome, in
Africa, Milan, Gaul, Spain, and the Celtic countries. These correspond with
that rupture of political unity which was the consequence of the barbarian
invasions of the fifth century; of the breaking up of the Roman Empire in
476, and of the separatist tendencies which were the result of these
We arrive, then, at the following division:
ORIENT (EASTERN LITURGIES)
Antioch-Jerusalem (Syrian type), Alexandria
OCCIDENT (LATIN LITURGIES)
Rome, Africa, Milan, Gaul, Spain, Celtic
To this division we will return in Chapter V.; but it may be said at once
that as far as the West is concerned, some part of it is based on mere
conjecture, and that liturgiologists are by no means all agreed upon
particular points. There is, however, a distinct tendency to gather all
Latin liturgies into one and the same group.
But henceforward it must be noted that liturgical unity is not broken by
these divisions. The East and West had characteristics in common. The
various Latin liturgies, including the Roman, borrowed largely from the
Oriental, notably from that of Constantinople. Rome exercised considerable
influence over all the Latin churches, and fresh analogies are continually
visible between all these different liturgies, either as the result of
borrowing, or of their original unity.
It must not be forgotten that travel and other relations between East and
West were much more frequent than is sometimes imagined. There were many
Greek or Eastern Popes of Rome during the first three centuries. At Milan,
seven of the ten predecessors of St. Ambrose have Greek names. St. Ambrose
himself by his literary training was more Greek than Latin. One striking
example in the history of the liturgy is found in Etheria, who in the
fourth century came from the heart of Spain to Jerusalem, and while there
described with great precision all the Feasts of the year. She does not
fail to note that such and such functions are not carried out in her own
country in exactly the same manner as at Jerusalem; while others are
similar to those of her own liturgy. Upon her traces followed pilgrims in
increasing numbers, eager to visit the Holy Places. Numerous Bishops were
attracted to the East by the Councils, or else driven there by the fate of
exile, like St. Hilarius. All of which goes to explain the liturgical
exchanges. Mgr. Mercati has very truly remarked that connections were
established between the Arians of East and West, and that this also
contributed to the system of exchanges. It has, moreover, become possible
to discern this reciprocal influence of East and West through the study of
the most ancient calendars and creeds.
Thus there is nothing astonishing in the fact that Oriental elements can be
discovered in the Latin liturgies. It is indeed our own opinion that the
cause of the analogies between the two groups is to be found rather in the
common origin of all liturgies, whether Eastern or Western, or in the
exchanges just mentioned, than in the sudden transportation, by the act of
a Bishop or some other personage, of an Eastern liturgy into a Western
Here, then, are some of the divergencies which can already be distinguished
between the different Western liturgies. Gaul, Spain, and Upper Italy
followed the Oriental Use (notably that of the Church of Constantinople) as
regarded the place of the diptychs, the Kiss of Peace, and even the
"epiclesis;" while Rome stood apart, either because she had on these points
changed her primitive custom, or else because she had had a special Use
from the beginning. For the rest, such as the variability of the prayers of
the canon, the use of the "Qui pridie" for the Consecration, the importance
given to the story of the institution of the Mass, the tendency to compose
sacramentaries and other liturgical books, all the Latin countries seem to
follow the same current, and there is nothing to show that these books
presented special characteristics, whether they were composed at Rome,
Milan, Capua, in Gaul, or in Africa. Still, all such compositions reveal a
liturgical progress which affects only the West, while the East appears to
be unaffected by it.
The liturgical vocabulary, the calendar, and certain institutions like
Lent, and even the Ember Days, also offer characteristic analogies in the
During this period (fourth-fifth centuries) two liturgies alone, that of
Rome and that of Africa, are directly known to us through documents, or by
the texts of the authors. As to all the others — those of Upper Italy, Gaul,
Spain, and the Celtic countries — the sources from which we may study them
are of a much later age than the fifth century, or even than the sixth. I
do not say that there is nothing in them which makes for the earlier date,
but such inductions are necessarily based on hypothesis.
From this moment the design and the framework of the Mass appear with
sufficient clearness. In Chapter I we saw of what the first part is
composed: the Pre-Mass, or aliturgical synaxis is a preparation, with
psalms, readings, and a homily. We shall study it more in detail in the
developments which it has gained in the sixth and seventh centuries. Its
general characteristics have been outlined by St. Justin and other authors
quoted in the preceding chapter.
The second part, the Mass properly so called, or Mass of the faithful, was
to receive some additions, but henceforth we know that the catechumens and
unbaptized were dismissed at this point. The faithful alone remained for
the Offering, or Offertory; they had brought the bread and wine which
served for the Sacrifice, as well as other gifts which were also blessed at
Mass. A special prayer for the Church, or "Prayer of the Faithful," was now
said, and the Kiss of Peace was its natural conclusion; doubtless it was
only in consequence of the suppression of this prayer, or from other
circumstances, that in certain liturgies the Kiss of Peace has been placed
immediately before the Communion, where its existence is not less
The Eucharistic prayer, or "anaphora," follows; of this we have had
specimens in the "anaphora" of Hippolytus, Serapion, Balizeh, and the
"Apostolic Constitutions." The chant of the "Sanctus" took its own place in
the fifth century, and has divided the Eucharistic prayer into two
portions. The story of the Institution is the center of this prayer, which
ends with the doxology and "Amen." Then follow the Fraction and Communion.
The latter, like the Offertory, involved the passing up of the people,
which occupied some time, and from an early date (probably the fourth
century) the singing of a chant was instituted at both these moments. Psalm
xxxiii. was usually chosen for the Communion, chiefly on account of the
verse, "Gustate et videte quoniam suavis est Dominus," which is here so
applicable. Afterwards a prayer of thanksgiving was made; the Pontiff
blessed the people for the last time and sent them home.
Such were the general lines of the Mass in the fourth-fifth centuries. In
studying the Latin liturgies, especially that of Rome, we shall see how
these principal parts are adorned with new rites and more numerous
formulas. Other rites perhaps have been suppressed, but in the main, in the
East as in the West, according to the different rites, the framework
remains the same.
Nothing can be simpler, more logical, and, if we may say so, more rational
than this rite which is faithful to primitive tradition. There are certain
suppressions which break the general line, or additions which complicate
the original design. Certain truths had to be insisted on, certain errors
to be fought, new formulas had to be emphasized by the gestures of the
priest, or favor shown to recent devotions.
After having studied the Latin, Gallican, Mozarabic, Celtic, Ambrosian, and
Roman liturgies, we shall attempt, not to reconstitute the primitive Latin
liturgy, since this would be but a premature effort, but to establish some
of its general characteristics.
1. Mgr. Duchesne connects the Gallican and Syrian, and the Roman and
Alexandrine types of liturgy (fourth edition, p. 55).
2. Cf. "Books of the Latin Liturgy" (Sands, 3s. 6d.).
On the classification of liturgies:
H. LIETZMANN, "Messe u. Herrenmahl" (Bonn, 1926), P. 262.
Mgr. DUCHESNE, "Origines du Culte chretien," p. 64 seq.
SALAVILLE, "Liturgia, pp". 887 and 873.
FORTESCUE: "The Mass" (1914), a table of the liturgies, p. 76.
JANIN, "Les Eglises orientales".
Mgr. DUCHESNE, "Les Eglises separees," I vol. (Paris, 1896).
BRINKTRINE, "Die Heilige Messe," p. 19 seq.
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