We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Early Roman Liturgy

Consider next the contents of the Sacramentary. The series of days for which masses were appointed reveals to us the nature of the Dominical year and the cycle of the Sanctorale. Notice first the character of the Vigils or rather pervigilia. These were held during the nights before the Ember Sundays (i.e. the nights before the fourth Sunday of Advent, the second Sunday in Lent, the first Sunday after Pentecost, and a Sunday in September); also the nights before Easter, Pentecost, the Nativity of St. John Baptist and the festivals of St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Laurence. The service began in the evening and consisted of a series of lessons (with chants and collects interspersed) constituting a long missa catechumenorum which was extended throughout the night and till the early morning when it was continued into the missa fidelium. This was the mass of the day which had just begun and was the only mass of the day. In later times when this mass of the Vigil was pushed back to midnight or even earlier the day itself was left without a mass and a rubric was inserted 'Dominica vacat': and later still when a proportion of the faithful declined to sit up all night and demanded a mass at the usual hour on these Sundays new masses were provided for them — although the rubric 'Dominica vacat' was retained; and the original mass of the day was then denominated the mass of the Vigil. Hence (though after St. Gregory's time) arose the new masses for the Sundays in the Ember-tides. The second mass for Easter Day arose in a similar way, but earlier than St. Gregory. The cases of Christmas and Pentecost were somewhat different and will be mentioned presently. It would have been better to have repeated on the day the mass which had been said in the Vigil — with any alterations that might be absolutely necessary.

We notice that Advent is placed at the end of the annual cycle instead of the beginning. This is merely a difference of arrangement, although it shews that the cycle was formed before the introduction of the season of Advent. There is practically no reference in the Advent-services to the second coming of Christ: the character of the services is festal and if we compare the masses with those of the choir-offices we remark a gradual increase of this festal character up to the Ember-tide but not beyond. The Advent Ember-tide had a quasi-festival significance which has been almost entirely forgotten. It has been noticed that in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory there were no festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as the Purification on February 2, the Annunciation on March 25, the Visitation on July 2, the Nativity or the Assumption, nor a fortiori any festival of the Conception, which was not introduced for centuries. The Annunciation was commemorated as an event in our Lord's life on the Ember Wednesday in Advent, and the Visitation on the following Friday; and the 1st of January — ‘the Octave of the Lord’ — was treated as a kind of Lady-Day — a commemoration of ‘the Divine Maternity’ as Dom G. Morin calls it — with the Gospel containing the account of the Circumcision and the presentation in the Temple. The circumcision of our Lord was not alluded to except in the Gospel. In a similar manner Sexagesima Sunday was treated as a festival of St. Paul — somewhat parallel to the Gallican festival of the Conversion — and the Transfiguration was commemorated on the second Sunday in Lent — a much more suitable date than August 6. There was therefore no “Candlemas” nor (of course) any procession on that day: no mass appointed for January 2, 3, 4 or 5, no Octaves of St. Stephen, St. John or Holy Innocents. There were no vigils or Octaves of Epiphany or Ascension. Though the fast of Lent began in St. Gregory's time on the Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday and masses were appointed for Wednesday and Friday, yet there was no sprinkling of ashes nor any special ceremony on this Wednesday; and the expulsion of penitents took place on Quadragesima Sunday. There were no masses on the Thursdays in Lent except Maundy Thursday, and the mass on this day had no Epistle or Gospel. There were apparently no masses on any Thursday in the year unless a saint's day occurred on a Thursday. No saints' days were kept in Lent: the only saint's day which could occur in Lent was that of St. Tiburtius and his companions on April 14. The Sacramentary shews that this day was supposed to fall in Easter-tide: we do not know what was done if in any particular year this day happened to come in Lent. There was no procession of palms on Palm Sunday, nor any ‘mass of the presanctified nor veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. Till the end of the Seventh century the service on this day was missa catechumenorum or ‘Antecommunion service. There was as yet no blessing of the Paschal candle or of the new fire on the Easter Vigil. As noticed before, there were no Rogation-days, nor any Vigil of the Ascension.

Among the fixed festivals there was no Invention nor Exaltation of the Cross, no All Saints' Day on Nov. 1, nor any of the Gallican feasts — Conversion of St. Paul, St. Peter's chair, the Beheading of St. John Baptist or St. Martin. The only festivals of Apostles or Evangelists were St. Andrew, St. John, St. Philip and St. James, St. Peter and St. Paul. Mr. Edmund Bishop remarks very justly:

‘What is considered most picturesque or attractive or devout — in a word what is most “interesting,” as the saying is, in the services of [the Roman Catholic] religion ... form precisely that element in it which is not originally Roman at all, but had been gradually borrowed ... in the course of ages.’

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