Liturgical Books of the Roman Rite

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The term liturgical books means the official books of the roman rite published by authority of the Holy See. The official text of a liturgical book is contained in what is called a typical edition (editio typica ), one that is produced by the authority and under the supervision of the Congregation of divine worship and the discipline of sacraments.


It seems clear that in the earliest days the only book used at Christian worship was the Bible from which the lessons were read. The account of Justin Martyr (d. c. 165) in his first Apology (67; J. Quasten, ed., Monumenta eucharista et liturgica vetustissima [Bonn 193537] 1920) speaks of reading the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets before the Eucharist, but for the latter he mentions only that the president offered up "prayers and thanksgivings" to the "best of his power." This means that he improvised in accordance with a central theme, and although such solemn prayers would have been prepared in advance, there does not seem at first to have been any written formula that was used. The first written evidence of a formulary for the Eucharist, or at least for its anaphora (eucharistic prayer), is to be found in the Apostolic Tradition, although this, it appears, was not an official book (4; B. Botte, ed., La Tradition apostolique de saint Hippolyte: Essai de reconstitution [1963] 1016). It is possible that certain formulas became more or less stereotyped before they were written down, and after the Edict of Milan and the peace of the Church (313), the development of a systematic liturgy can be discerned. At the end of the fourth century St. Ambrose (De Sacramentis 4.5, 6) quotes what is clearly the central part of the Roman Canon.

Early Roman Books. The point had been reached when certain of the formulas were being written down; once this happened formulas naturally tended to become

fixed. Little books (libelli ) were provided for some celebrants as a form of aide-mémoire and appear to have been used in conjunction with the Roman stational churches and for domestic celebration of the Eucharist. The libelli were the immediate forerunners of the Sacramentaries. The most famous collection of Roman libelli is the leonine sacramentary (Veronense), a private compilation of various libelli missae collected outside Rome. An interesting feature of this collection is that certain sections of it are made up of libelli forming self-contained units that seem to belong to a transitional period, when formulas were gradually becoming fixed. The Old gelasian sacramentary (Vat Reg Lat 316) was an official compilation with both Roman and Gallican elements. In the evolution of the Roman liturgical books, the Sacramentaries are characteristic in that they are books for the use of a person performing a function and contain solely those formulae that were proper to the celebrant. The Sacramentaries contained the rite as used by the bishop in the celebration of the Eucharist, the conferring of Baptism, Orders, etc. The parts read or sung by othersthe choir, reader, deacon, etc. are found in other books and it is these that must now be examined.

Primitively, a Bible was used for the scripture readings. The readings were not yet fixed at this stage; the lector or reader concluded each reading at a signal from the president. As time went on and the course of Scripture readings tended to become fixed, points of beginning and conclusion were marked so that the pericopes could easily be found. This book was called the Comes or Liber comicus; from this developed the Evangeliarium (evangelary or Book of Gospels) and Lectionarium (Lectionary) for use by the lector. Similarly there emerged the book containing the parts for the choir (Antiphonarium Missae, Liber antiphonarius, or Gradalis ).

The Biblical lessons for the Office, the sermons of the Fathers, and the acts of the martyrs were gradually collected into separate books. The Lectionary, the Homiliary, the Legenda, etc. The last named, distinct from the Martyrology which was primarily a list of anniversaries, contained the account of the sufferings of each martyr; it was read at Rome up to the eighth century at the cemetery basilica of the martyr during the night Office. It was also called the Passionale. The Psalter was written out in the order that the Psalms were to be sung, and for the responsories and antiphons there were the Liber responsorialis and the Antiphonarium Officii. Hymns appeared in the West as part of the Church worship service in the fifth century. They were often included in the Antiphonary, but a separate collection also existed (Hymnarium ). At a later date when sequences were introduced, they were added to the Liber antiphonarius or Gradualis. Similarly when parts of the Ordinary of the Mass came to be padded with musical phrases, these pieces were added to the Gradual or Antiphonary, or else contained in a separate book, the Troper, as it was known in medieval England (or Troparium ); the earliest known example is the tenth-century St. Martial Troper (Cod. Par. 1240).

The early liturgical books contained very few ritual or ceremonial directions, although some of the Sacramentaries occasionally add a word or two in this respect. The rubrics were probably the last elements of the liturgy to be written down since tradition governed the ceremonial for some time. With increasing elaboration of the papal ceremonial and the use of the Roman rite all over Europe, particularly in Gaul, it became necessary to provide precise directions. This guidance was provided by the Ordinals (Ordines Romani ), the first of which was intended as an accompaniment in Gaul of the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. There is a series of 15 of these Ordines, dating from the seventh to the fourteenth centuries; they were printed first by J. Mabillon in his Musaeum Italicum (reprinted in Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne [Paris 187890] 88:8511408; critical edition, M. Andrieu, Les 'Ordines Romani' du haut moyen-âge [Louvain 193161]) and form the basis for any study of the development of the ceremonial of the Roman rite. The earliest is probably Ordo VII, the greater part of which is to be found in the Gelasian Sacramentary. Ordo I is of great importance and value for its depiction of a papal mass of the Roman Rite circa 700.

Medieval Developments. From around the beginning of the ninth century, the Sacramentary was divided into three books, and thus eventually emerged the Pontifical, Ritual, and Missal, the last named absorbing the parts of all ministers, choir, and people at Mass as well as the celebrant's part. Thus, the whole of the rite was in one book and could be used for low Mass, which was at that time becoming common. The Pontifical contained the complete text of all rites peculiar to a bishop and the Ritual (known also a century or two later as Manuale, Alphabetum Sacerdotum, Sacerdotale, Pastorale ), those rites ordinarily performed by a priest (see pontifical, roman; ritual, roman; and missal, roman).

On the other hand, the various books required for the Divine Office, by means of an abbreviation of the lessons, were finally contained within the covers of a single volume in the 12th and 13th centuries. Thus emerged the breviary, which, as its name indicates, was an abbreviation (at least of the lessons) of the choir Office, although it was not long before the shortened lessons were used in the choir also. Side by side with the Missal and Breviary, however, the use of separate books (Psalter, Hymnal, Antiphonary, Gradual) continued in use to provide the musical (plainchant) settings needed for the singing of the Office and Mass.


It would be a mistake to regard the emergence of these various medieval liturgical books as a sign of liturgical uniformity throughout the West. While the general pattern of the Roman rite as it had evolved was followed everywhere, there were great differences in detail: local "uses" of the Roman rite in whole provinces, dioceses, or religious orders, proliferated. In addition, the great number of feasts of saints observed in the local calendars, and particularly those of the religious orders, practically obscured the proper celebration of the liturgical year, and the text of the liturgical books in many instances (e.g., lessons at Matins and of the Martyrology) was in a corrupt state. Moreover, there were elements in some of the Breviaries and Missals, hymns and antiphons especially, that were really unworthy of worship in the Church. By the beginning of the sixteenth century the time was ripe for reform.

The Council of Trent decreed the general reform that was needed and appointed a commission to deal with the matter, but when the Council closed (December 1563), the commission had not finished its task; the matter was remitted to the pope, Pius IV. He died (1565) before the work was concluded, and the first of the reformed books of the Roman rite were issued by his successor, Pius V (d. 1572). The Roman Breviary appeared in 1568; the Roman Missal, in 1570. At the same time the pope abolished all rites and uses that could not show a prescription of at least 200 years.

In 1588 Sixtus V established the Congregation of rites for the purpose of carrying out the decrees of the Council of Trent regarding the public worship of the Church. Since that date this Congregation has been a potent influence for uniformity, particularly in watching over the correction and orthodoxy of text of the liturgical books. The first book to be issued as a result of this Congregation's work was the Roman Pontifical in 1596, which was made obligatory on all bishops of the Roman rite. The Ceremonial of Bishops was published by order of Clement VIII in 1600. The immediate source for this book was the Ceremoniale Romanae Ecclesiae of 1516, but as an official liturgical book the Ceremonial of Bishops was an innovation, giving directions for episcopal functions, as well as norms for the daily liturgy in cathedrals and collegiate churches. The reform that Trent initiated was complete with the issuance of the Roman Ritual by Paul V in 1614.

As they were issued in compliance with the instructions of the Council of Trent, the principal books of the Roman Rite remained essentially the same up to the twentieth century. Both Missal and Breviary underwent reform at the hands of Pius X in 1911 and Pius XII in 1955. A further change was the promulgation of Pius XII's Ordinal for Holy Week in 1955 (Ordo hebdomadae sanctae instauratus ), containing the restored Holy Week services. This necessarily entailed changes in the liturgical books affected. The Code of Rubrics (1960) resulted in the publication of new typical editions of Missal and Breviary in 1962.


The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Vatican Council II, promulgated in 1963, called for revision of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, with a view to simplifying the rites so that the texts and rites "express more clearly the holy things which they signify" and that "the Christian people, as far as possible, be enabled to understand them [the texts and rites] with ease and to take part in them fully and actively" (21). This reform marked the first revision of the official Roman liturgical books after a lapse of four centuries.

The task of reform through revision of service books was entrusted to the consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution in 1964, and subsequently in 1969 to the Congregation for Divine Worship. With permission being granted for vernacular translations of Latin editones typicae, bishops' conferences established language groups to facilitate the production and publication of vernacular editions of liturgical books. In the English-speaking world, the international commission on english in the liturgy was established by some dozen English-speaking episcopal conferences. Following the principles set forth in the Instruction on Translation of Liturgical Texts, (Comme le prévoit ), ICEL had produced the English version of liturgical texts of the Roman Rite that were adopted by the individual bishops' conferences.

These postconciliar liturgical texts, as all previous official books of the Roman Rite, are published by the authority of the Holy See. However, much distinguishes them from the liturgical books of the past: in variety of options, alternatives, and suggestions; in liturgical theory; in simplicity; and in pastoral concern. Apparent is the conciliar concern for intelligibility and careful restoration, as well as emphasis upon corporate action of the local church.

Bibliography: l. c. sheppard, The Liturgical Books (New York 1962). t. klauser, The Western Liturgy and Its History: Some Reflections on Recent Studies, tr. f. l. cross (New York 1952). c. vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources (Washington, DC 1986). e. palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century (Collegeville, Minn 1998).

[l. c. sheppard/

j. a. wysocki/

j. m. schellman/eds.]