July 15, 2013

The Origins of the Modern Roman Liturgy (Van Dijk, Hazelden Walker)

‘Innocent III’, wrote friar Salimbene of Parma, ‘improved the ecclesiastical Office by correction and re-arrangements, adding things of his own and suppressing those of others’. In his talkative way he continued: ‘For all that, it is not yet really in order, as many people feel. There is still much that could be safely omitted, since it is more wearisome than devotional, as well for those who have to say the Office as for those who assist. Sunday morning prime, for instance, is too long; people are waiting for Mass but the priests do not appear because prime is still going on. Moreover, the eighteen psalms at Sunday matins are tedious not only in winter but especially in summer when the fleas annoy you, the nights are short and the heat intense. In brief, there are many thing in the ecclesiastical Office that could be put right. And it would be worth while, for it is full roughness, although this is not always recognized’. Salimbene’s writings about the liturgy – he was many a passage on the subject – do not make his chronicle suitable for devotional reading. Nor car its author be held up as an example of what spiritual writers call regular observance. Be that as it may, this Franciscan live-spark was regularly a good observer.

A keen eye for the wide and colourful world, which often we see so distorted, is a precious gift for a chronicler. Salimbene noted, felt and sympathized with things that many of his contemporaries overlooked. Yet he is a perfect child of the century which lies, nameless, between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; he and his age belonged to both. The heritage of the past is in his love for tradition and tall stories, in his tales of prophets and miracles everywhere. The light of a new day shines through his desire for international relationship, through his personal views on and criticism of things he heard, read or saw. Thus ideas about the liturgical activity of Innocent III and the attitude of his contemporaries are typical of both Salimbene himself and his age. Since the late twenties, the Friars Minor had been following the liturgy as revised by the great pontiff. Salimbene, many of his confrères and a still greater number of clerics outside the Order were all agreed: something was thoroughly amiss with the liturgy. Innocent’s work had improved matters but much had still to be done.


And after all, however interesting, important or even vital medieval and moderns discussions on the Office may have been, in reality, the underlying problems never existed in isolation. The Divine Office has always been the setting of the supreme jewel of public worship, holy Mass. And this truth neither directed nor even entered into the discussions. Maybe this is a warning that further study should link Office with Mass and motives with facts.

In the following pages, therefore, the whole thirteenth-century Roman liturgy is set within the development of public worship and of its books, within the history of the papa court and the Order of St Francis. These very different aspects of the one problem are brought together in three parts. The first is a three-fold enquiry into the history of the Daily Office and private Mass until the thirteenth century, into the nature and terminology of the books used, and into the relationship between the twelfth-century Offices of the Lateran basilica and the adjacent papal palace. The second part deals with the thirteenth-century background and development of the court liturgy. The third studies the Franciscan dossier, mainly in connection with the two editions issued by the Order.

The value of these parts is very different, not only because of the nature of the questions involved but also for external reasons. Although the twelfth century produced vast quantities of liturgica, they still await the editor and the publisher. Much of this is due to a certain lack of interest on the part of liturgists for whom the changing attitude of mind and the unrest, typical of this period, have signified little more than sterility or even the beginning of the end. The limits imposed by the present subject excuse us from going on untrodden paths. This does not mean that, in going the way indicated by others, we are always looking in the same direction as they were wont to do. – By the thirteenth century, records become more numerous; the field of public worship is no exception. Moreover, the Roman liturgy, particularly that of the friars, shares in a wealth of documents which in unique in the history of the religious Orders. Here as elsewhere, the coming of the friars changed the scene in less than half a century. To establish this is easy enough – in matters liturgical it is often simply the discovery of the right manuscript. But as soon as one realizes that the change is the sum of many problems, succeeding each other with the complexity proper to the quickly growing brotherhood, then the parchment always appears to be too patient and too silent. To say that this is the first attempt to see the thirteenth-century Roman liturgy in its entirety and as part of early Franciscan history, is little more than a confession of incompleteness. More problems seem to have been left unsolved than explained. This too can be an advantage.

The special difficulty which runs through the greater part of this study is its dual chronology. The ordinal of Innocent III was compiled in the years 1213-6. The revision of the court books and the liturgical activity of the Friars Minor bore fruit in the late twenties. When the Franciscan adaptation proved unsatisfactory, Haymo of Faversham undertook another revision early in the forties. This became the basis of new books issued and copied in the course of the following decades. Thus the proper subject of this study is limited to about fifty years, 1213-63, but most of the documents available range over more than one and a half centuries and were written much later. The only copy of the papal ordinal dates from 1365. As for the Franciscan books, Haymo’s work did not at once do away with the old editions. The friars copied them just the same, making corrections more or less accurately according to their knowledge. Only as the years went by, the revised books slowly replaced the old ones. This dual character of the sources, namely the disparity between their age and content, is the reason why, again and again, their authenticity has to be checked in every detail and their discordance explained. The process of looking backwards and forwards far over the limits of 1213-62 is the most exhausting part of this study. It is a necessary evil caused by the documents themselves. Whether we have succeeded in threading our way through this maze… the reader may judge.