Mass from English Book of Hours (c. 1300-1400)

Pre-Tridentine Mass refers to the evolving and regional forms of the Catholic Mass in the West from antiquity to 1570.

Following the Council of Trent's desire for standardization, Pope Pius V, with his bull Quo primum, made the Roman Missal, as revised by him, obligatory throughout the Latin Church, except for those places and congregations whose distinct rites could demonstrate an antiquity of two hundred years or more.

Earliest accounts

The earliest surviving account of the celebration of the Eucharist or the Mass in Rome is that of Saint Justin Martyr (died c. 165), in chapter 67 of his First Apology:[1]

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.

In chapter 65, Justin Martyr says that the kiss of peace was given before the bread and the wine mixed with water were brought to "the president of the brethren". The initial liturgical language used was Greek, before approximately the year 190 under Pope Victor, when the Church in Rome changed from Greek to Latin, except in particular for the Hebrew word "Amen", whose meaning Justin explains in Greek (γένοιτο), saying that by it "all the people present express their assent" when the president of the brethren "has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings".[2]

Also, in Chapter 66 of Justin Martyr's First Apology, he describes the change which occurs on the altar: "For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Saviour was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus". (First Apology 66:1–20 [AD 148]).

Early changes

See also: History of the Roman Canon § Before St. Gregory I (to 590)

It is unclear when the language of the celebration finished changing from Greek to Latin. Pope Victor I (190–202), may have been the first to use Latin in the liturgy in Rome. Others think Latin was finally adopted nearly a century later.[note 1] The change was probably gradual, with both languages being used for a while.[note 2]

Before the pontificate of Pope Gregory I (590–604), the Roman Mass rite underwent many changes, including a "complete recasting of the Canon" (a term that in this context means the Anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer).[note 3]

With regard to the Roman Canon of the Mass, the prayers beginning Te igitur, Memento Domine and Quam oblationem were already in use, even if not with quite the same wording as now, by the year 400; the Communicantes, the Hanc igitur, and the post-consecration Memento etiam and Nobis quoque were added in the fifth century.[3][4]

Middle Ages

Renaissance painting of St. Gilles conducting mass in the side chapel of a cathedral: he is elevating the host. Charlemagne (bearded, crowned) is kneeling alongside on left. Charlemagne had a sin too terrible to confess. A winged angel from heaven is coming down top-left, with a scroll naming the sin which, through St Gilles' intercession, will be forgiven.
Mass with St. Gilles and Charlemagne (c. 1500)

Towards the end of the eighth century Charlemagne ordered the Roman rite of Mass to be used throughout his domains. However, some elements of the preceding Gallican rites were fused with it north of the Alps, and the resulting mixed rite was introduced into Rome under the influence of the emperors who succeeded Charlemagne. Gallican influence is responsible for the introduction into the Roman rite of dramatic and symbolic ceremonies such as the blessing of candles, ashes, palms, and much of the Holy Week ritual.[5]

The chants and musical settings of the Mass were divided into

The recitation of the Credo (Nicene Creed) after the Gospel is attributed to the influence of Emperor Henry II (1002–24). Gallican influence explains the practice of incensing persons, introduced in the eleventh or twelfth century; "before that time incense was burned only during processions (the entrance and Gospel procession)".[7] Private prayers for the priest to say before Communion were another novelty. About the thirteenth century, an elaborate ritual and additional prayers of French origin were added to the Offertory: previously, the only prayer said by the priest was the Secret; these prayers varied considerably until fixed by Pope Pius V in 1570.[note 4] Pope Pius V also introduced the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, previously said mostly in the sacristy or during the procession to the altar as part of the priest's preparation, and also for the first time formally admitted into the Mass all that follows the Ite missa est in his edition of the Roman Missal. Later editions of the Roman Missal abbreviated this part by omitting the Canticle of the Three Young Men and Psalm 150, followed by other prayers, that in Pius V's edition the priest was to say while leaving the altar.[8]

A Pontifical Sung Mass at the close of the Middle Ages or early Renaissance (15th century)

Between 1478 and 1501, the bishops of 52 dioceses, including the primates of France, Castile, England, the Holy Roman Empire and Poland, each independently published official liturgical texts for their diocese, because of the extent of parish and monastery variation. [note 5] In some places, this involved stripping variations back to the Cathedral's missal; however in others it involved adding material for new saints, offices and customs.

From 1474 until Pope Pius V's 1570 text, there were at least 14 different printed editions that purported to present the text of the Mass as celebrated in Rome, rather than elsewhere, and which therefore were published under the title of "Roman Missal". These were produced in Milan, Venice, Paris and Lyon. Even these show variations. Local Missals, such as the Parisian Missal, of which at least 16 printed editions appeared between 1481 and 1738, showed more important differences.[9]

Other rites

Apart from the Roman rite, before 1570 many other liturgical rites were in use, not only in the East, but also in the West. Some Latin liturgical rites, such as the Mozarabic Rite, were unrelated to the Roman Rite which Pope Pius V revised and ordered to be adopted generally, and even areas that had accepted the Roman rite had introduced changes and additions. As a result, every ecclesiastical province and almost every diocese had its local use, such as the Use of Sarum, the Use of York and the Use of Hereford in England. In France there were strong traces of the Gallican Rite. With the exception of the relatively few places where no form of the Roman Rite had ever been adopted, the Canon of the Mass remained generally uniform, but the prayers in the "Ordo Missae", and still more the "Proprium Sanctorum" and the "Proprium de Tempore", varied widely.[10]


In most countries, the language used for celebrating Pre-Tridentine Masses was Latin, which had become the language of the Roman liturgy in the late 4th century. However, there have been exceptions:[11]

Vernacular and laity in the medieval and Reformation eras

Duke of Berry Christmas Mass. An illuminated manuscript featuring an image of a cathedral, mainly brown, blue and white with some red highlights. Priests and assistants are saying mass at the left at the high altar. Choristers are singing in the mid-right background. Two literate aristocratic ladies are settled in front attending to their prayer-books. Other lay participants are watching from standing and kneeling positions at far right.
Duke of Berry Christmas Mass (c 1485-1486)

In the Carolingian period, the mass was increasingly performed as sacred drama, with the people as active participants not passive spectators:[13]: 460  Archbishop Amalarius of Metz (c.830) was accused of imparting "theatrical elements and stage mannerisms" to the Frankish liturgy.[14]

The medieval lay experience was often highly sensory:[15] churches featured singing, bells, high-tech organs, incense, paintings, brilliant robes, rare colours, shiny utensils, clouds of saints and angels, and stained-glass light, not to mention the taste of the host, the splashing of baptism, or even, perhaps, the feel of the silk of the priest's violet stole in absolution.[note 8] Some larger churches even had articulated puppet/statues to delight and inspire the congregation.[16]

Historian Viginia Reinburg has noted that the medieval eucharistic liturgy as experienced by (French) lay people, and shown in their prayer books, was a distinct experience from that of the clergy and the clerical missal.[17]: 529 

"What the lay prayer books reveal—and missals do not—is the pre-Reformation mass as a ritual drama in which the priests and the congregation had distinct, but equally necessary parts to play."[17]: 530 

— Reinberg

The priest attended to the ceremony:

"For the priest, the most important important parts of the mass would be scripture readings, offertory of bread and wine, consecration, and priest's communion."[17]: 532 

— Reinberg

The laity enjoyed the ceremony:

For the lay congregation, however, the mass was a series of collective devotions and ritual actions; the most important elements would be the Gospel, prône ("bidding prayers", see below), offertory procession, and distribution of the French: pain bénit at the end of the mass.…The laity's mass was less sacrifice and sacrament than a communal rite of greeting, sharing, giving, receiving and making peace."[17]: 532 [note 9]

— Reinberg

Lay prayer-books, for the educated middle and upper classes, not only gave the communal actions of the liturgy, but provided almost an unofficial parallel liturgy of silent prayers and devotions for the laity to perform in between and in preparation for the actions.[18]: 59 

"For the congregation, which would not have heard the sacred words "This is my body", the elevation was the emotional climax of the mass. It was also the focus of popular liturgical devotion. Virtually no lay books actually explain the consecration…(or) the doctrine of transubstantiation.…Yet the ritual of the elevation was intended to express the real presence of Christ on the altar."[17]: 533 

— Reinberg

Notable parts of the lay experience of the liturgy (especially the Sunday mass) included:

It was universally folded into the Sunday mass by the Council of Trent and with collated bidding prayers such as Peter Canisius' German: Allgemeines Gebet.[25] (In Ireland (c. 1785), "the prône" became the name for a book of prepared sermons and prayers which were "a key tool in remodelling older oral versions of the (vernacular portion of the) liturgy to newer standardised ones."[26]: 93 )


The Pre-Tridentine Mass survived post-Trent in some Anglican and Lutheran areas with some local modification from the basic Roman rite until the time when worship switched to the vernacular. Dates of switching to the vernacular, in whole or in part, varied widely by location. In some Lutheran areas this took three hundred years, as choral liturgies were sung by schoolchildren who were learning Latin.[28]

Comparison of the Mass, c. 200 to c. 2000 AD

This table is indicative. Depending on calendar, occasion, participants, region and period, some parts might be augmented or commented on (tropes)[29] or removed or rearranged or varied from standard forms. The specific collects, readings, sequences, psalms, saints, blessings, and performance instructions (or rubrics), similarly vary. The Canon of the Mass (the key section with consecration and elevation) had less textual variation in the West, and often was the standard Roman Canon.

Such local variants are called Uses (of a Rite) when relatively minor, or a new Rite when relatively major, and typically reflect the living practice at a cathedral, whose liturgical books might then be copied by other dioceses. Mixing was common: a cathedral might adopt the Liturgy from one Rite, but keep its traditional Rubrics, Sequences etc., and use the Psalms or Calendar of some other rite. Over time, the parts may be grouped or re-named to reflect the contemporary theological or pastoral priorities, but were typically known by the first words of the Latin of the prayer.

For example, the Ambrosian Rite has different prayers, prefaces, readings, calendar and vestments to the Roman Rite. It omits the Agnus Dei. The Gesture of Peace occurs before the Offertory.[30][31]

Note: Below, "Gifts" primarily means the unconsecrated bread, wine and water.

c. 200-350 [32]: xvi, xxxi [33] c. 400 [34] c. 1000 [34] c. 2000 [35]
Synaxis (Meeting) Misa of the Catechumens Fore-Mass Liturgy of the Word
Greeting: "Grace of our Lord" Introductory greeting Entrance ceremonies Introductory Rites
Lessons (Readings)

interspersed with Psalmody

Service of readings Liturgy of the Word

Sermon - "words of comfort"



  • Dismissal of "hearers" and unbelievers[note 12]
  • Bidding prayers
  • Collect for the catechumens
    and their dismissal
  • Collect for the energumens
    and their dismissal
  • Collect for the competentes and illuminandi
    (candidates for baptism)
    and their dismissal
  • Collect for the penitentes
    and their dismissal
Eucharist (Thanksgiving) Communion of the Faithful Sacrifice-Mass Liturgy of the Eucharist
Offering of gifts

Prayer over the offerings
Offertory rites
  • Offertory
  • Prayers and Psalm 25
  • Little Canon (Preparation of gifts)
  • Secret (Preparation of the altar)

Anaphora (Canon):

Eucharistic prayers

Eucharistic prayers Eucharistic prayers
Communion rites
  • Psalm accompanying Communion
  • Prayer
Communion cycle
Collection for the needy Dismissal of the faithful Ite, missa est or Benedicamus Domino Concluding rites
  • Announcements
  • Final Blessing
  • Dismissal

See also

Western Catholic

Eastern Catholic


  1. ^ "The complete and definitive Latinization of the Roman liturgy seems to have happened toward the middle of the fourth century." Mohrmann, Christine (1961–77), Études sur le latin des chrétiens [Studies on the Latin of the Christian], vol. I, Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, p. 54
  2. ^ "The first Christians in Rome were chiefly people who came from the East and spoke Greek. The founding of Constantinople naturally drew such people thither rather than to Rome, and then Christianity at Rome began to spread among the Roman population, so that at last the bulk of the Christian population in Rome spoke Latin. Hence the change in the language of the liturgy. [...] The liturgy was said (in Latin) first in one church and then in more, until the Greek liturgy was driven out, and the clergy ceased to know Greek. About 415 or 420 we find a Pope saying that he is unable to answer a letter from some Eastern bishops, because he has no one who could write Greek." Plummer, Alfred (1985), Boudens, Robrecht (ed.), Conversations with Dr. Döllinger 1870–1890, Leuven University Press, p. 13.
  3. ^ "...the Eucharistic prayer was fundamentally changed and recast" "Liturgy of the Mass", Catholic Encyclopedia, New advent.
  4. ^ Ghislieri, Antonio Michele (14 July 1570), Quo primum (bull), Papal encyclicals, We decided to entrust this work to learned men of our selection. They very carefully collated all their work with the ancient codices in Our Vatican Library and with reliable, preserved or emended codices from elsewhere. Besides this, these men consulted the works of ancient and approved authors concerning the same sacred rites; and thus they have restored the Missal itself to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers. When this work has been gone over numerous times and further emended, after serious study and reflection, We commanded that the finished product be printed and published.
  5. ^ At least 107 of these still exist: regions also included modern Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland and even two dioceses in the Kingdom of Naples. Furthermore, at least 490 editions were made by private publishers before 1501 for clergy. Nowakowska, N. (1 November 2011). "From Strassburg to Trent: Bishops, Printing and Liturgical Reform in the Fifteenth Century*". Past & Present. 213 (1): 3–39. doi:10.1093/pastj/gtr012.
  6. ^ "The right to use the Glagolitic [sic] language at Mass with the Roman Rite has prevailed for many centuries in all the south-western Balkan countries, and has been sanctioned by long practice and by many popes." Krmpotic, M.D. (1908). "Dalmatia". Catholic encyclopedia. Retrieved March 25, 2008.
  7. ^ "In 1886 it arrived to the Principality of Montenegro, followed by the Kingdom of Serbia in 1914, and the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1920, but only for feast days of the main patron saints. The 1935 concordat with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia anticipated the introduction of the Slavic liturgy for all Croatian regions and throughout the entire state." Japundžić, Marko (1997). "The Croatian Glagolitic Heritage". Croatian Academy of America. Retrieved March 25, 2008.
  8. ^ There is an obscure report of an improvised pre-medieval practise of a bishop to whack penitants with his pallium in proportion to their sins. Murray, Alexander (1993). "Confession before 1215". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 3: 51–81. doi:10.2307/3679136. ISSN 0080-4401. JSTOR 3679136.
  9. ^ "The central contention of (John) Bossy’s …Christianity in the West was that medieval Christianity had been fundamentally concerned with the creation and maintenance of peace in a violent world. “Christianity” in medieval Europe denoted neither an ideology nor an institution, but a community of believers whose religious ideal—constantly aspired to if seldom attained—was peace and mutual love. The sacraments and sacramentals of the medieval Church were not half-pagan magic, but instruments of the “social miracle,” rituals designed to defuse hostility and create extended networks of fraternity, spiritual “kith and kin,” by reconciling enemies and consolidating the community in charity." Duffy, Eamon (1 November 2016). "The End of Christendom". First Things. Retrieved 27 November 2023.
  10. ^ Corresponding to the Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Norman/Middle English "bidding the beads" Rock, Daniel (1849). The Church of Our Fathers as Seen in St. Osmund's Rite for the Cathedral of Salisbury: With Dissertations on the Belief and Ritual in England Before and After the Coming of the Normans. C. Dolman.
  11. ^ See, for example, the Middle English Old Kentish Sermons (c. 12th century) in Morris, Richard (2006). "An Old English miscellany containing a bestiary, Kentish sermons, Proverbs of Alfred, religious poems of the thirteenth century".
  12. ^ Maskell suggests that the dismissals and simplicity are caused both because of unwillingness to "cast pearls before swine" (p. xxviii) and immanent danger from persecution (p. xxi).


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