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Celtic rite


Lack of evidence about liturgical practice in the localities in which the Celtic rite is said to have existed precludes arriving at a clear picture. There has never been a distinct Celtic rite in the strict sense of the term ''rite'' as we apply it to the MOZARABIC or AMBROSIAN rites.

Origins. The Celtic monks, tireless missionaries who traveled widely, did not intend to draw up a new liturgy. They seem to have chosen elements from different rites and combined them. The Celtic rites, therefore, were an eclectic composition of foreign customs, Roman and Gallican. We know indeed that in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany -- the regions to which the Saxon invasion had conÞned the remains of Celtic culture and ChristianityÑthere were certain disciplinary differences from Roman customs and those introduced by St. AUGUSTINE of Canterbury, who landed in Kent in the summer of 597. These differences applied principally to the form of the TONSURE, the date of Easter, and the general form of ecclesiastical organization, heavily influenced by the monastic element. After the abortive synod to which the Celtic Christians were summoned by St. Augustine in 603, the Synod of Whitby (664) witnessed their complete submission. Yet traces of an independent liturgy lingered on for about 500 years in parts of Ireland and Scotland until the Synod of Cashel (1172) when the Anglo-Roman liturgy was introduced into Ireland. Brittany probably lost its distinctive rites at the time of Louis I, the Pious (817), and Scotland lost its rites in the 11th century through the efforts of Queen Margaret (d. 1093, canonized 1250).

Sources. The principal sources are to be found in hree liturgical books -- the Bangor Antiphonary, the Bobbio Missal, and the Stowe Missal, all of monastic origin. As its name implies, the Bangor Antiphonary is a collection of antiphons, versicles, hymns, canticles, etc., and was compiled probably for the use of the abbot of the famous monastery of Bangor in Ireland. The book dates from the end of the 7th century (between 680 and 690); it is now in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. The Bobbio Missal, a 7th-century manuscript discovered by J. Mabillon at Bobbio, Italy, is one of the earliest witnesses for the history of the Roman Canon; it represents a local liturgy inßuenced by Rome and includes certain borrowings from Rome, despite a different Mass order. Lastly, the Stowe Missal, a manuscript of the late 8th or 9th century, was composed probably for the abbey of Tallaght near Dublin. It contains, in addition to part of the Gospel of St. John (with which it is bound), the Ordinary of the Mass, three Mass Propers, and the rites of Baptism, Anointing, and Communion of the Sick. In addition there are various liturgical fragments to be found in several manuscripts of Irish origin. From the slender evidence at our disposal, the most that can be asserted is that the Gallican rite was the principal formative factor of the Celtic liturgy, which in course of time became increasingly Romanized.

Characteristics. The preparation of the oblations took place before the celebrant's entrance, as in the GALLICAN RITES . The introductory prayers include a confession of sins and examples of lengthy apologies, as well as a litany of Irish saints. The Þrst part of the Mass, in its later form in the Stowe Missal, follows the Roman form: Gloria, one or more Collects, Epistle, Gradual, and Alleluia. At this point was said a litany, borrowed from the East, the Deprecatio Sancti Martini (which occurs also in the Ambrosian rite). After two prayers and the partial unveiling of the offerings with a threefold invocation over them, the Gospel was sung, followed by the Credo (including the FILIOQUE ). At the Offertory, after the complete unveiling of the offerings, the chalice, and sometimes the paten, were elevated. There followed a commemoration of the dead and reading of the DIPTYCHS . The Preface with the usual preliminary dialogue and followed by the Sanctus came next with, usually, a postSanctus. Though the Canon in the Stowe Missal is headed Canon dominicus papae Gilasii, it is in fact the Gregorian Canon with several Irish saints named in it. It is evidence of the use of the Roman Canon in the Celtic Church at the beginning of the 9th century. After the Memento of the living occurs a list of more than 100 holy people (Old Testament and Irish saints among them). Various chants were designated for Communion, including (in the Bangor Antiphonary) the beautiful hymn Sancti venite.

Great latitude appears to have been allowed to individual monasteries in the arrangement of the Divine Office, and details of it are to be found in the various monastic rules. The Celtic monks exerted their greatest inßuence in the evolution of the Sacrament of Penance, for it was largely through them that the practice of private (as opposed to public) satisfaction for sin became popular.

Bibliography: L. GOUGAUD, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. F. CABROL, H. LECLERCQ, and H. I. MARROU, 15 v. (Paris 1907--53) 2.2:2969Ð3032 treats the subject exhaustively with full bibliographical references. A. A. KING, Liturgies of the Past (Milwaukee 1959) 186Ð275 has full bibliography and list of sources, including those of liturgical fragments in various MSS. Bobbio Missal, ed. A. WILMART, et al. (Henry Bradshaw Society 61; London 1924). Antiphonary of Bangor, ed. F. E. WARREN (Henry Bradshaw Society 4, Pt. 1, 1893; 10, Pt. 2, 1895). Stowe Missal, ed. G. F. WARNER, (Henry Bradshaw Society 32; 1915). F. E. WARREN, Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church (Oxford 1881).


New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2003. Vol. 3. P. 331-332.

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