THE MASS OF THE WESTERN RITES By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol
IV. THE BOOKS OF THE MASS
This subject having already been treated in another book ("Books of the
Latin Liturgy," see p. 28 et seq.), we may be allowed to sum it Up shortly
here. It may be believed that in the beginning no book was used for Mass.
The Consecration of the bread and wine was made after the Formula used by
Christ Himself, handed down by St. Paul and the synoptic Gospels. The
prayers of preparation or thanksgiving were left to the improvisation of
the celebrant, who did this on a fixed theme, from which it was not allowed
to depart; for the most ancient formulas studied reproduce always the same
In the aliturgical synaxis which became the Pre-Mass (cf. Chapter I) the
Old and New Testament were read, and psalms were sung. Thus the Bible
proved sufficient. But very soon the formulas mentioned were put into
writing, and we have an example of this in the "Didache," which dates,
perhaps, from the year 100, while the "Anaphora" of Hippolytus dates from
the first quarter of the third century. In the fourth and fifth centuries
liturgical literature was in full flower, especially in the East. St.
Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Paulinus of Nola, Voconius, Musaeus, and many
others are quoted amongst the authors who composed hymns, prayers, and
Prefaces, or who chose Lessons drawn from the Old and New Testaments to be
read at Mass or during the Offices. In other books the parts that were
be sung were collected. From this time, especially during the period
immediately following — from the sixth-ninth centuries — as the taste for
these compositions developed, we have books specially devoted to the
various liturgical functions: one for the readings from the Testaments
generally called the Lectionary, or book of lectures, this, when intended
for the Mass alone, was called "Epistolarium" (book of Epistles, or
sometimes of Prophecy, or the Apostolic book) . There was also the
"Evangeliarium," containing nothing but readings from the Gospels.
The chants of the Introit, Gradual, Tract, "Alleluia," Offertory, and
Communion were collected in a book called the "Cantatorium," or book of
chants. This was also sometimes styled "Liber Gradualis," since the Gradual
was the most important and most ancient of these chants.
The Priest used tablets ("plaquettes," "Libelli") in which he found the
prayers and Prefaces with the Canon of the Mass; he also had "Diptychs:"
all these, collected together, were called "Sacramentaries." This is the
most ancient type of Missal, in use from the sixth-ninth centuries; it
contained only those parts recited at Mass by the celebrant. When the
custom of Low Masses was introduced and multiplied, and the Priest was
obliged to accomplish by himself all those functions which, in High Masses,
fell to the lot of the Deacon, sub-Deacon, lectors, and cantors, it was
necessary to add the Epistle, Gospel, Gradual, and other chants to the
Sacramentary, which thus changed its name and its nature, and was
henceforth called "Plenary Missal," or simply "Missal." The most ancient of
these go back to the tenth century, or perhaps a little earlier. They went
on multiplying through the eleventh century, and very soon after they
eliminated and replaced the Sacramentary almost completely.
These liturgical books, some of which were illuminated and bound in the
most luxurious manner, have always attracted the attention of artists,
liturgiologists, and archaeologists; but at the present time it may be said
that they are sought after and studied more than ever, so that erudite men
have set themselves to describe them carefully (see Bibliography). The
price of some of them represents a fortune. It is necessary to add that
this subject is very far from being exhausted, and that in many ancient
libraries precious manuscripts and early printed books still exist which
deserve to be studied with care.
Prayer Books ("Paroissiens"). — The history and bibliography of these
is yet to be written. That of the Books of Hours, which has tempted certain
scholars, may serve as an introduction to it (cf. "Books of the Latin
Liturgy," pp. 128 seq. and 151 seq.). In that the history of the different
Catholic devotions may be studied, according to period and country. Still
more recently, in his "Sentiment religieux en France," the Abbe Bremond has
shown how much may be drawn from these little books. In them the Mass
naturally has its place, whether the Latin text is given, with a
translation, or whether we find merely explanations and commentaries, as
was the usual practice at a certain period, when translation into the
vulgar tongue was looked on with very little favor if not actually
To-day the liturgical movement has driven the faithful more and more
towards requiring the complete text of the Latin Mass, with its
translation. Thus certain prayerbooks are indeed real Missals for their
1. "Books of the Latin Liturgy" (Sands, 3s. 6d.), p. 24 seq.
2. The word cannot be translated literally. A "Paroissien" is a kind of
abridged Missal which includes the office of Benediction, several Litanies,
morning and night prayers, etc. Vespers of Sunday (and sometimes Compline)
are also included. (Note by translator.)
LEOPOLD DELISLE, "Memoire sur d'anciens sacramentaires" (Paris, 1886). He
has also written dissertations on the Psalters and other liturgical books
(see catalogue in DACL, "Delisle").
A. EBNER, "Quellen u. Forschungen zur Gesch. des Missale Romanum in
Mittelalter" (Freibourg-im-Breisgau, 1896).
V. LEROQUAIS, "Les Sacramentaires et les missels manuscrits des
bibliotheques publiques de la France," 3 vols. (Paris, I 924). Cf. also
other works on the same subject "Books of the Latin Liturgy," pp. 151, 156,
and our article "Missel" in DACL.