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Cabrol F. Chapter VIII. The Celtic Mass


By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol



The Celtic liturgical books. — The Celtic Mass.

The title "Celtic liturgy," or rather "Celtic liturgies" (the plural is used on account of the various forms which this liturgy takes), designates the rite which was in use amongst the populations of Ireland, Wales, and Cornwall, Scotland, and Armorican Brittany. I have stated elsewhere what may be thought as to this expression "Celtic liturgies." For, as a matter of fact, in the sense in which the term is used to describe the Mozarabic or Gallican rites, there is really no Celtic liturgy.


The Celtic monks, missionaries, and travelers, whom we may consider as the authors of the above, had no intention of composing a new liturgy, or even one which differed from those already existing. What they did was to take what suited them from one or the other rite, and then to combine these various elements. That in itself is not enough to constitute a new liturgy. It is none the less true that their liturgical books, transcribed and arranged as they are by Celtic copyists, have a very real interest. We have made a study of them in another volume, entitled "Books of the Latin Liturgy" (Sands & Co., London), pp. 107 — 112.

Of these books the most important is a Sacramentary, or Missal, the "Missal of Stowe;" and in it the Celtic Mass may be studied. Some critics have placed the date of this MS. as far back as the eighth, or even the seventh, century. Certain doubts may be felt as to this great antiquity; but whatever the date of the MS., it certainly describes a liturgy older than the ninth century.


In the "Missal of Stowe" the preparation for the Mass comprehends a confession of sins, a long litany in which are found the names of all the Irish and Celtic Saints, and a "Apologia sacerdotis," or prayer of preparation for Mass. This feature is not confined to the Celtic rites; and we have studied elsewhere these liturgical "Apologies" (cf. article, "Apologies," in DACL).

It would seem that the preparation of the oblations took place before the entrance of the celebrant, as in the Gallican rite. It comprised several prayers, as follows: in pouring water into the chalice: "Peto Te, Pater; Deprecor Te, Fili; Obsecro Te, Spiritus Sancte;" in pouring the wine: "Remittat Pater, Indulgeat Filius, Misereatur Spiritus Sanctus." Another Celtic book, the "Leabhar Breac," notes that a single drop, both of water and wine, should be allowed to fall as the Name of each Person of the Trinity was pronounced. We first notice here the insistence, found nowhere else in the same degree, on emphasizing each Person of the Blessed Trinity in the Eucharistic Mystery.

The setting of the Pre-Mass is almost the same as that of the Roman rite: a prayer, the "Gloria in Excelsis," one or several Collects (which Celtic priests habitually multiplied to an extent which sometimes caused the faithful to protest), an Epistle taken from St. Paul, a Gradual chant, and the "Alleluia." A celebrated litany, the "Deprecatio Sancti Martini, Dicamus omnes," was said here.

This is borrowed from the Eastern liturgies, which have prayers of the same type; the above litany is merely the translation of a Greek text. It has indeed been adopted by other Latin liturgies.[1]

Two prayers followed this. Then the chalice and oblations were partially unveiled, probably by the removal of the first veil; they were not completely uncovered until the Offertory. The formula, "Dirigatur Domine," was sung thrice; then one veil of the chalice was taken away, and the prayer, "Veni, Domine, Sanctificator omnipotens, et benedic hoc sacrificium praeparatum tibi, Amen," was said three times.[2]

The Gospel followed. One of the fragments discovered by Bannister gives as that for the Circumcision an apocryphal Gospel of James, the son of Alphaeus.[3] The "Credo" included the "Filioque," but as an addition to the primitive text, and with several variants. After the Gospel there was a chant, which perhaps corresponds to the Mozarabic and Gallican "Laudes" and to St. Benedict's "Te decet laus."

The Offertory included the complete unveiling of the chalice, which was elevated, sometimes with the paten; and different formulas given in the "Missal of Stowe," which have no particular characteristics.

Then came the "Memento of the Dead," with the reading of the "Diptychs." This is the Mozarabic and Gallican use. The following is the characteristic formula:

"Has oblationes et sincera libamina immolamus tibi domine ihesu christe, qui passus es pro nobis et resurrexisti tertia die a mortuis pro animamus (animabus) carorum nostrorum N. et cararum nostrarum quorum nomina recitamus et quorumcumque non recitamus sed a te recitantur in Libro vite."

The Preface begins with "Sursum corda." The text given in the "Missal of Stowe" is a combination of the "Trisagion" and the Roman Preface of the Trinity; it also deserves to be quoted. We have already noted this insistence of the Celtic Mass upon confessing the Trinity.

"Pater omnipotens . . . qui cum unigenito tuo et spiritu sancto Deus es unus et immortalis, Deus incorruptibilis et immortalis, Deus invisibilis et fidelis . . . te credimus, te benedicimus, te adoramus et laudamus nomen unum in aeternum et in saeculum saeculi, per quem salus mundi, per quem vita hominum, per quem resurrectio mortuorum, per quem maestatem tuam laudant angeli, etc."

The "Sanctus" is paraphrased like the Preface:

"Benedictus qui venit de celis ut conversaretur in terris, Homo factus est ut delicta carnis deleret, hostia factus est ut per passionem suam vitam aeternam credentibus daret per dominum."

Like the Gallican and Mozarabic books, those of the Celtic rite usually have a "Post sanctus." The Canon of the "Missal of Stowe," under the title of "Canon dominicus papae Gilasi" (edn. Warren, p. 274 seq.), is famous among liturgiologists. This precious text, which by some is believed to be the most ancient text of the Roman Canon, contains the "Te igitur," the "Memento of the Living," and other prayers of the latter rite, but with notable variants, the chief of which are as follows:

"Te igitur clementissime pater . . . una cum beatissimo famulo tuo, n. papa nostro, episcopo sedis apostolicae, et omnibus orthodoxis atque apostolica fidei cultoribus, et abbate nostro, N. episcopo."

"Hic recitantur nomina vivorum."

"Memento etiam, domine, famulorum tuorum, N . . . qui tibi offerunt hoc sacrificium laudis pro te suisque omnibus, pro redemptione animarum suarum, pro stratu (sic) seniorum suorum, et ministrorum omnium puritate, pro integritate virginum, et continentia viduarum, pro aeris temperie, et fructum (sic) fecunditate terrarum, pro pacis redetu et fine discriminum, pro incolimitate regum, et pace populorum, ac reditu captivorum, pro votis adstantium, pro memoria martirum, pro remissione peccatorum nostrorum, et actuum emendatione eorum, ac requie defunctorum, et prosperitate itineris nostri, pro domino papa episcopo, et omnibus episcopis et presbyteris et omni ecclesiastico ordine, pro imperio romano et omnibus regibus christianis, pro fratribus et sororibus nostris, pro fratribus in via directis, pro fratribus quos de caliginosis mundi hujus tenebris dominus arcisire dignatus est, uti eos in aeterna summae lucis quietae pacis divina suscipiat, pro fratribus qui varis dolorum generibus adfliguntur, uti eos divina pietas curare dignetur, pro spe salutis et incolimitatis suae, tibi reddunt vota sua eterno Deo vivo et vero communicantes, in natale domini et diem sacratissimam...."

(Then follows the enumeration of other feasts — Circumcision, Epiphany under the title of "Stella," Holy Thursday as "Natalis calicis domini nostri," Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.)

"Et memoriam venerantes imprimis gloriosae semper virginis. . . .

Hanc igitur oblationem . . . quam tibi offerimus in honorem domini nostri ihesu christi et in commemorationem beatorum martirum tuorum, in hac cecclesia quam famulus tuus ad honorem gloriae tuae aedificavit, quesumus, domine, ut placatus suscipias, eumque, adque omnem populum ab idulorum cultura eripias, et ad te Deum verum patrem omnipotentem convertas, diesque nostros in tua pace disponas, atque ab aeterna damnatione nos eripias, et in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari per, etc."

"Quam oblationem te, deus, in omnibus, quesumus benedictam, ascriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere dignareque nobis corpus et sanguis fiat dilectissimi fili tui domini nostri ihesu Christi."

"Qui pridie...."

"Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis, passionem meam predicabitis, resurrectionem meam adnuntiabitis, adventum meum sperabitis, donec iterum veniam ad vos de caelis."

Passages which bear an analogy with this formula can be found in the "Apostolic Constitutions," in the liturgies of St. James and St. Basil, in the Ambrosian and Mozarabic liturgies, etc.

Irish treatises upon the Mass emphasize the importance of the formula of Consecration. The Priest bows thrice at "Accepit Jesus panem;" the people prostrate themselves when he offers the bread and wine to God. This prayer has been called the "periculosa oratio," and none must dare to break silence. The "Penitential of Cummean" inflicts a penance of fifty strokes upon the Priest who has hesitated once in speaking these words. In some Missals the word "Periculum" is written in the margin. Unfortunately to all these marks of attention and respect, so well justified, must be added certain other features which sometimes betray a meticulous and complicated piety. According to some treatises the celebrant had to take three steps forward and three backward, "a triad which recalls the three ways in which man sins, that is, by thought, word, and deed, and the three ways in which he is renewed in God."[4]

After the Consecration we have the prayers "Unde et memores sumus, Supra quae propitio, Supplices Te," as in the Roman Canon. The "Memento of the Dead" presents a very interesting formula also, which has analogies with the Mozarabic and Gallican prayers:

Memento etiam, domine, et eorum nomina qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei, et dormiunt in somno pacis, cum omnibus in toto mundo offerentibus sacrificum spiritale deo patri et filio et spiritui sancto sanctis ac venerabibus (sic) sacerdotibus offert senior noster, n. praespiter, pro se, et pro suis et pro totius ecclesiae cetu catholicae; et pro commemorando anathletico gradu venerabilium patriarcharum, profetarum, apostolorum et martirun, et omnium quoque sanctorum, ut pro nobis dominum deum nostrum exorare dignentur."

To this formula must be joined another, which in Warren's edition is separated from it in mistake by a list of names (pp. 238-240).

"Et omnium pausautium qui nos in dominica pace precesserunt, ab adam usque in hodiernum diem, quorum deus non nominavit et novit, ipsis et omnibus in christo quiescentibus locum refrigerii," etc.[5]

Then "Nobis quoque" with "Patricio" after "Petro" and "Paulo;" "Per quem haec omnia...."

We do not think, with certain critics, that it is necessary to see the most ancient form of the Roman Canon in this formula. The addition "diesque nostros," made by St. Gregory; that of "Pro fratribus in via directis," borrowed from the Rule of St. Benedict, and other indications are opposed to this view. As with the other Celtic prayers, the author has made a mixture of fragments culled from different sources; but there can be no doubt that some of these fragments are very ancient, as, for example, the two "Mementos."

The rites of Fraction, Immixtion, and Communion in the Celtic Mass present no less interesting features. On these points there was great liberty.

Following the "Per quem haec omnia," the rubric of the "Missal of Stowe" adds "ter canitur," and in Irish: "here the oblations are raised above the chalice, and half the bread is plunged into the chalice." This is the rite of Intinction practiced in the Syrian liturgy. The versicle "Fiat domine misericordia tua super nos quemadmodum speravimus in te" follows.

Then the Fraction takes place. "The bread is broken," says the Irish rubric. This is the usual place for the Fraction in the Latin liturgies, even in the Roman Mass before St. Gregory's time. The versicles which follow comment on the actions of the Priest, and emphasize the special importance of the rite. "Cognoverunt dominum alleluia, in fractione panis, alleluia." This is the "Confractorium," or "Antiphona ad confractionem" of the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites, and of which a few vestiges remain in certain Roman books.[6] With regard to the Fraction it has been shown that in the Celtic, and perhaps in other churches, a Priest here joined the celebrant, if the latter were a simple Priest, to break with him the Body of the Lord. It was the Confraction. But were the celebrant a Bishop he broke the Host alone.[7] These other versicles of the Fraction followed:

"Panis quem frangimus corpus est domini nostri ihesu cristi. Alleluia."

"Calix quem benedicimus (alleluia) sanguis est d. n. I. C. (Alleluia) in remissionem peccatorum nostrorum (Alleluia)."

"Fiat domine misericordia tua super nos. Alleluia. Quemadmodum speravimus in te. Alleluia."

"Cognoverunt dominum. Alleluia."

"Credimus, domine, in hac confractione corporis et effsione sanguinis nos esse redemptos et confidimus, sacramenti hujus adsumptione munitos, ut quod spe interim hic tenemus mansuri in celestibus veris fructibus perfruamur, per d.," etc.

The Host was divided in seven different ways, according to the Feasts: into five parts at Common Masses; into seven on the Feasts of Saints, Confessors, and Virgins; into eight on the Feasts of Martyrs; into nine on Sundays; into eleven on the Feasts of Apostles; into twelve on the Kalends of January, and on Holy Thursday; into thirteen on the Sunday after Easter and on the Ascension; and into sixty-five on the Feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The particles were arranged in the form of a Cross, and each group received a part of this Cross according to grade. Everything here seems to have been invented to distract attention at the very moment when it should have been concentrated on the One Essential Object. Happily those chants of the Fraction already mentioned led to more serious thoughts.

As in the greater number of liturgies the "Pater," said after the Fraction, is set between a prelude and an embolism, which differ little from the Roman formulas; the name of St. Patrick is read after those of SS. Peter and Paul. There is a blessing here, as in the Mozarabic and Gallican rites, and it runs thus:

"Pax et caritas D.N.I.C. et communicatio sanctorum omnium, sit semper vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo.

The Kiss of Peace was then given, as in the Roman Mass. The "Missal of Stowe" contains at this point many anthems on Peace, mingled with anthems and chants for Communion.

The Commixtion of the Body and Blood was carried out as in the Roman rite. The Communion was encircled with rites and chants which gave it great solemnity. We mention a few: "Novum carmen cantate, Omnes sancti venite, Panem caeli dedit eis, Sinite parvulos venire ad me, Venite benedicti Patris mei." Psalm xxxiii., of almost universal tradition at Communion, was also sung. The famous hymn, "Sancti venite, Christi corpus sumite," preserved in the "Antiphonary of Bangor," is of lofty inspiration, and would cause the wearisome prolixity of some other prayers to be pardoned.

The text of the Post-communions is borrowed from the Roman books. The dismissal was given in these words: "Missa acta est. In pace."

Beyond a few formulas and rites which seem particularly to belong to the Celts, it can easily be seen that nothing really original can be found in this Mass. What does distinguish it is the almost equal mixture of Roman and Gallican rites, with a few features borrowed from the Mozarabites, the Ambrosian liturgy, or from the Eastern rites. It is composite. And the rite of Baptism, which we need not study here, presents the same characteristics.


1 This very interesting but not specially Celtic text will be found in  Duchesne, "Origines," edition 1908, p. 202.
2. For all this cf. Dom Gougaud's article in DACL., cols. 3008,
3. Cf. "Journal of Theological Studies," 1907-8, Vol. IX, pp.
4. Cf. also Dom Gougaud, loc. cit., col. 3011, and our article "Messe," in  "Dict. de theol." cath., cols. 1381-85.
5. The "Quorum deus nomina scit," or analogous formulas, have been pointed  out by Le Blant, in his "Inscriptions funeraires de la Gaule, lnscr. chret.  de la Gaule," p. 563, and notes,
6. Cf. our article "Messe," in "Dict. de theol. cath.," col. 1400.
7. Cf. Dom. Gougaud, loc. cit., col. 3011.


"Celtiques (Liturgies) "in DACL, the very complete article by Dom Gougaud, with a good bibliography at the end. Cf. also in the same dictionary the articles "Bobbio (missel)" and "sangor (antiphonaire de)." '

"Liturgia," p. 822, an article by Dom Gougaud on the Celtic liturgy; and his work: "Christianity in Celtic Lands," Chapter IX, "Liturgy and Private Devotion."


This title is ambitious. It would indeed be over-bold to attempt to reconstitute the Latin liturgy as it was before the seventh century. But, taking all the liturgies together — the African, Gallican, Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Celtic, and Roman, which have just been studied in the preceding chapters — a few general features may be noticed as standing out clearly, and these will throw some light upon the first-named.

(1) The Pre-Mass was composed of three Lessons (there are actually two in the Roman liturgy); each was usually followed by chants or psalmody, and by a prayer. The chants and psalmody comprise verses of the Psalms, in the form of responsories, or anthems. The "Alleluia" and "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" or another canticle also belong to it, as does a special prayer, the Diaconal litanies with the "Kyrie Eleison."

(2) The Pre-Mass terminated with the dismissal of the catechumens and others outside the fold.

(3) The Mass properly so called began with the "Prayer of the Faithful," of which some traces still survive.

(4) The Offertory presents analogous characteristics in all these different liturgies.

(5) The reading of the "Diptychs," whatever its actual place was, also formed part of it.

(6) The Preface, preceded by a dialogue and ending with the "Sanctus," was often freely improvised in these churches; but it always began with the same theme: "Vere dignum et justum est," etc.

(7) The "Sanctus" was followed by the "Benedictus qui venit," while in the East the "Sanctus" is composed of the formula of the Prophet Isaias, and as a rule admits of no complement.

(8) The "Vere Sanctus," which existed amongst the Mozarabites and Gallicans, is seemingly absent from Rome.

(9) The "Qui pridie" was attached to the "Sanctus," or the "Vere Sanctus,' by a short formula, of which the book "De Sacramentis" gives an example which is probably the most ancient.

(10) The "Anamnesis" followed the Consecration in most rites.

(11) The "Post pridie" and "Epiclesis," which hold so large a place in the Gallican and Mozarabic liturgies, have quite disappeared in that of Rome. But was it always so? The "Anaphora" of the "Paradosis" of Hippolytus, composed at Rome in the third century, has an "Epiclesis," which, however discreetly worded, is none the less an invocation of the Holy Ghost; while certain ancient texts seem to allude to a Roman "Epiclesis." But while the Roman Church always tended to abridge, and even to suppress entirely, that of Spain on the contrary amplified, developed, and multiplied formulas and rites.

(12) The same thing may be noted with regard to the Fraction. While Rome simplified the rite and suppressed the anthem "Ad confringendum," both these were singularly complicated in Spain and among the Celts.

(13) The Pater, with prelude and embolism, usually had its place here.

(14) The same differences and the same analogies may be remarked in the rites of Communion and Dismissal.

(15) The composition of the Latin liturgical books presents similar characteristics, while in the East such books are subject to other laws.

All this evidently shows that each church had its own tendencies, which appear to separate them one from another in the accomplishment of liturgical functions, though they betray a common origin, and display even more numerous analogies in the primitive period.

The comparison of the calendars, the divisions of the liturgical year, of the "cursus" of the Office, and of the administration of the Sacraments will lead, we think, to the same result.

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