In the Western Church of the Early and High Middle Ages, a sacramentary was a book used for liturgical services and the mass by a bishop or priest. Sacramentaries include only the words spoken or sung by him, unlike the missals of later centuries that include all the texts of the mass whether read by the bishop, priest, or others. Also, sacramentaries, unlike missals, include texts for services other than the mass such as ordinations, the consecration of a church or altar, exorcisms, and blessings, all of which were later included in Pontificals and Rituals instead.[1]

In the late 20th century, the word sacramentary was used in the United States and some other English-speaking countries for the English translation of the Roman Missal, particularly those that, like earlier sacramentaries, omitted parts of the Mass not said by the priest.

Decline of the sacramentary

A leaf from the Tyniec Sacramentary, National Library of Poland. Written for the Brauweiler Abbey, it was a kind of sanctuary for the palatines of Lotharingia.[2]

Other books used in the celebration of Mass included the Graduale (texts mainly from the Psalms, with musical notes added), the Evangeliarium or Gospel Book, and the Epistolary with texts from other parts of the New Testament, mainly the Epistles (letters) of Saint Paul.

In late mediaeval times, these books began to be combined, for the use of priests saying Mass without the assistance of a choir and other ministers. This led to the appearance of the Missale plenum ("full or complete Missal") containing all the texts of the Mass (without the music of the choir parts).

Pope Pius V published in 1570 an official version of such a Missal, known as the Roman Missal.

At the behest of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI greatly increased the amount of Sacred Scripture read at Mass and, to a lesser extent, the prayer formulas. This necessitated a return to having the readings in a separate book, known as the Lectionary. A separate Book of the Gospels, with texts extracted from the Lectionary, is recommended, but is not obligatory. The Roman Missal continues to include elaborate rubrics, as well as antiphons etc., which were not in sacramentaries.

Textual groups

Of the textual groups of sacramentaries of the Roman Rite still extant, either complete or in part, the most important are the three known by the names Leonine, Gelasian, and Gregorian.

The Leonine Sacramentary

Main article: Leonine sacramentary

The "Leonine Sacramentary" is the oldest. Only one manuscript of it is known, written in the seventh century. This manuscript was found in the library of the cathedral chapter of Verona, was published by Joseph Bianchini in 1735, and was by him attributed arbitrarily to Pope Leo I (440-61). On the strength of this attribution the book still bears the name Leonine. It represents a pure Roman use with no Gallican elements. But it is not a book compiled for use at the altar. The confusion of its parts shows this. It is a fragment, containing no Canon nor Ordinary of the Mass, but a collection of Propers (Collects, Secrets, Prefaces, Postcommunions, and Orationes super populum), of various Masses with ordination forms, arranged according to the civil year. It begins in the middle of the sixth Mass for April, and ends with a blessing for the font "In ieiunio mensis decimi" (i. e. the winter Ember days). In each month groups of Masses are given, often very large groups, for each feast and occasion. Thus, for instance, in June we find twenty-eight Masses for St Peter and St Paul, one after another, each headed: "Item alia"; there are fourteen for St Lawrence, twenty-three for the anniversary of a bishop's consecration, and so on. Evidently the writer has compiled as many alternative Masses for each occasion as he could find. In many cases he shows carelessness. Many of his Masses in natali episcoporum have nothing at all to do with that anniversary, and are really Masses for Sundays after Pentecost; in the middle of a Mass of St Cornelius and St Cyprian he has put the preface of a Mass of St Euphemia, a Mass for the new civil year is inserted among those for martyrs; Masses for St Stephen's day (26 December) with evident allusions to Christmas are put in August, obviously through a confusion with the feast of the finding of his relics (3 August).[1]

That the collection is Roman is obvious. It is full of local allusions to Rome. For instance, one of the collects to be said by a bishop on the anniversary of his consecration could only be used by the pope of Rome: "Lord God ... who, although Thou dost not cease to enrich with many gifts Thy Church spread throughout the world, nevertheless dost look more favourably upon the see of Thy blessed Apostle Peter, as Thou hast desired that it should be most exalted, etc." The Preface for St John and St Paul remembers that they are buried within "the boundaries of this city"; the Masses of the Patrons of Rome, St Peter and St Paul, continually allude to the city.[1]

Louis Duchesne concluded that the Leonine book is a private collection of prayers copied without much intelligence from the official books at Rome about the year 538. He arrives at this date especially through an allusion in the Secret of a Mass placed in June (but really an Easter Mass), which refers to a recent deliverance from enemies. This allusion he understands to refer to the raising of the siege of Rome by Vitiges and his Goths at Easter-time, 538. Another writer attributed the allusion to Alaric's invasion in 402, and held that the compilation was made between 366 and 461. Another considered that the book was composed under Pope Felix III (483-492). Yet another suggests that the book is a compilation of Roman Masses made in the sixth or seventh century for use in Gaul, so that the composers of Roman books who were at that time introducing the Roman Rite into Gaul might have a source from which to draw their material. He suggests Gregory of Tours (died 594) as possibly the compiler.[1]

The Gelasian Sacramentary

Main article: Gelasian Sacramentary

The "Gelasian Sacramentary" contains everything needed by a priest in charge of a Roman titular or parish church. The archetype, now lost, was likely written in the mid-7th century, possibly for the Church of St Peter in Chains in Rome. It features modifications introduced by Gregory the Great (590–604) in the canon of the Mass (notably the insertion of the prayer Hanc igitur), but does not yet contain either the Agnus Dei made official by Pope Sergius I (r. 687–701) or the Masses for the Thursdays in Lent added by Pope Gregory II (r. 715–731).

The oldest extant copy of the sacramentary, a book now often called the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, Vatican Reg. lat. 316, was made in the 7th or early 8th century for use in the abbey of St Denis at Paris. It includes five interpolated sections that introduce liturgical practices of Gaul from the time the manuscript was copied, but the interpolations are easily distinguished from the Roman sections of the text.

The Old Gelasian Sacramentary consists of three books. Book I includes masses for feasts and Sundays from Christmas Eve to the octave of Pentecost (there were at the time no special masses for the season after Pentecost), together with ordinations, prayers for all the rites of the catechumenate, blessing of the font and oil at the Easter Vigil, dedication of churches, and reception of nuns. Book II includes the Proper of Saints throughout the year, the Common of Saints, and the Advent Masses. Book III includes a great number of masses marked simply "For Sunday" (i.e., any Sunday), the Canon of the Mass, what would today be called votive masses (e.g., for travellers, in time of trouble, for kings, and so on), masses for the dead, some blessings (of holy water, fruits, trees and so on), and various prayers for special occasions.

The Gelasian Sacramentary was revised in the 8th century at the prompting of Pepin the Short, work that was likely undertaken at Flavigny Abbey and completed between 760 and 770. The sacramentary, now lost, is sometimes called the Sacrementary of King Pepin. The family of manuscripts copied from it are generally called Frankish Gelasian or Eighth-Century Gelasian sacramentaries. The most faithful copy is considered to be the Sacramentary of Gellone, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS Latin 12048, copied around 780. About a dozen other manuscripts of the Frankish Gelasian type are extant.

The Frankish Gelasian is a meticulous re-working of material from the Old Gelasian Sacramentary and certain other sacramentaries of the Gregorian type usually called Type 2 Gregorian (known today only from a single extant manuscript, the Paduense Sacramentary, Padua, Bibl. Cap., cod. D.47). The Gellone Sacramentary is divided into two parts. The first part includes the Temporal and Sanctoral in one continuous series, following the usual Gregorian structure, with the canon of the mass given at Easter. The second part includes the episcopal blessings and other episcopal material, prayers for monastic use, the ordo of baptism, and a summary of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum.

The attribution to Pope Gelasius (r. 492–496) likely derives from the Liber Pontificalis, which states that Gelasius wrote various prefaces to the sacraments and prayers, but Gelasius did not compile the later sacramentary that bears his name.[3]

Alongside the sacramentaries of the Gelasian type, all of them hybrids of Roman and Frankish practices, several older Gallican sacramentaries survive from the Merovingian period, all based on a mix of Gallican and some Irish traditions with little emphasis on Roman practices.

The Gregorian Sacramentary

We know most about the third of these books, the so-called "Gregorian Sacramentary", which is in three parts:

  1. The Ordinary of the Mass;
  2. the Propers for the year beginning with Christmas Eve. They follow the ecclesiastical year; the feasts of saints (days of the month in the civil year) are incorporated in their approximate places in this. The Roman Stations are noted. There are still no Masses for the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost;
  3. the prayers for ordinations.

Charlemagne, anxious to introduce the Roman Rite into his kingdom, wrote to Pope Adrian I between the years 781 and 791 asking him to send him the service-book of the Roman Church. The book sent by the pope is the nucleus of the Gregorian Sacramentary. It was then copied a great number of times, so that there are many versions of it, all containing additions made by the various scribes. The original book sent by Adrian to Charlemagne is easily distinguished from the different editions because the first to supplement Adrian's book from other sources was a conscientious person who carefully noted where his additions begin, adding a note: "So far the preceding book of Sacraments is certainly that edited by the holy Pope Gregory." In the earlier versions we may take the first part, down to this note, as being the book sent by Adrian.

However, its attribution to Pope Gregory I (590-604) shows us that Gregory did much to reform the liturgy. A constant tradition ascribes such a work to him, as to Gelasius. John the Deacon (eighth century) in his Life of Gregory expresses this tradition: "He collected the Sacramentary of Gelasius in one book, leaving out much, changing little, adding something." Pope Adrian himself, in sending the book to Charlemagne, said that it was composed "by our holy predecessor, the divinely speaking Pope Gregory". The fact that the essential foundation of this sacramentary goes back to St Gregory, indeed to long before his time, is certain. We do not doubt that he made such changes as those that are acclaimed to him by his biographer, and that these changes stand in this book. But his work has not remained untouched, additions have been made to it since his time. For example, the addition of his own feast as well as other feasts that had not been celebrated before the seventh century. The book sent by Pope Adrian to Charlemagne has gone through inevitable development over the centuries since Gregory finished it. It represents the Roman Rite of the time when it was sent - the eighth century. In the Frankish kingdom, copies were made for churches and additions of other Masses and prayers were added according to the specific church's requests. These additions were taken partly from the Gelasian book, partly from Gallican sources. Though at first the additions were carefully distinguished from the original book, they were eventually incorporated in it. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries the book, including the additions, returned to Rome, took the place of the original pure Roman Rite, and so became the foundation of the Roman Missal.[1]

Specific manuscripts

A non-comprehensive list of significant sacramentaries from the 7th to the 13th centuries.

6th/7th century

7th century

8th century

9th century

10th century

Sacramentary of St Gereon

11th century

12th century

13th century

In addition:


The benedictional is a related type of book containing a collection of benedictions or blessings in use in the Roman Catholic Church, essentially collected from those in sacramentaries.[6]

The Anglo-Saxon Benedictional of St. Æthelwold is the most famous of the relatively infrequent illuminated manuscript examples, which are mostly Early Medieval.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Liturgical Books
  2. ^ (in English) Oskar Halecki; W: F. Reddaway; J. H. Penson (1950). The Cambridge History of Poland. Cambridge University Press. p. 68. ISBN 1-00-128802-5.
  3. ^ Palazzo, Erix (1998). A history of liturgical books from the beginning to the thirteenth century. Translated by Beaumont, Madeleine. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
  4. ^ Cardinal Schuster, Alfredo Ildelfonso (1930). The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum): Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal;[Vol. V (Parts 8 and 9); trans. Arthur Levelis-Marke and W. Fairfax-Cholmeley. New York, NY, USA: Benziger Brothers.
  5. ^ Cardinal Schuster, Alfredo Ildelfonso (1930). The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum): Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal. New York, NY, USA: Benziger Brothers.
  6. ^ Benedictional - Catholic Encyclopedia article