Catholic CornucopiadCheney

Part II: The Middle Ages

Chapter I: The Formation of the Breviary in Its Early Stages

From St. Gregory to Charlemagne, 591-814

Section 2.—Diffusion of the Roman Office After the Time of St. Gregory the Great

The Roman Breviary: Its Sources and History

I. The development of the Roman liturgy seemed to come to an end, at least provisionally, with St. Gregory the Great, by the codification of the texts and the formation of a system of ecclesiastical chant for both the canonical hours and the Mass. The successors of St. Gregory encouraged the solemn celebration of divine service in Rome by the foundation of numerous monasteries attached to the chief basilicas, the monks of which were enjoined to celebrate the divine office in the basilica with which their monastery was connected (Duchesne, Origines du Culte, p. 437). The enthusiasm of the numerous pilgrims who visited Rome and witnessed the magnificence with which the office was celebrated led to the creation of similar means for edification among the newly converted peoples. Then again, the monasteries founded by missionaries in Germany, Flanders, and Great Britain were schools of the Romano-Gregorian liturgy. In Rome, the ecclesiastical authorities, and, within their own limits, the members of the Schola and of the monasteries, took pains to preserve St. Gregory’s creations, and to maintain and still further develop all that he had restored. The anonymous Frank who described the Ordo Romanus in the eighth century in codex 349 of the library of St. Gall, states that first of all Pope St. Damasus, with the assistance of St. Jerome, instituted and regulated the ecclesiastical ordo of Jerusalem.1

2. The chant of the Roman Benedictines took root in England among the Anglo-Saxons through the zeal of St. Benedict Biscop and St. Wilfrid. In 668 St. Wilfrid, delighted with the fine chants used at Canterbury, obtained thence two chanters, Hædde and Æona, for his monastery at Ripon. These two chanters had been trained by the Roman disciples of St. Gregory in all branches of ecclesiastical knowledge and discipline. Ten years later, St. Benedict Biscop, on the occasion of his fourth voyage to Rome, obtained leave from Pope Agatho to take back with him John, arch-chanter of St. Peter’s and abbot of St. Martin’s, who was to instruct the monks of Wearmouth in ecclesiastical chant. This he did “according to the use of the Roman and Apostolic Church.” Before returning to Rome, John left at Wearmouth an ordo written out for all the festivals of the entire ecclesiastical year. We learn these details from the Venerable Bede († 735), in whose time this ordo was still in existence, preserved in the library of the monastery, and had often been copied. It was doubtless the same chant and the same ordo which Canterbury had received about the same time from Theodore and Adrian, who had been sent from Rome. Seventy years later (747), the Council of Cloveshoe decreed that in the principal festivals of the year the chant should be executed in the Roman manner, “Juxta exemplar quod scriptum de Romana habemus Ecclesia.”

The Anglo-Saxon church, the favourite child of St. Gregory the Great and the faithful interpreter of his teaching, was soon to extend his spirit and influence to Germany and the Frankish empire. But as early as 716 St. Gregory II. instructed his legates in South Germany to see that every church had the necessary ministers for the celebration of the day and night offices. The text of this instruction shows that there existed in the Roman church an ancient ordinance respecting the Holy Mass, the day and night office, the lections, and even preaching.2 3. The Frankish Empire:—The introduction of the Roman psalmody and the Roman arrangement of the office was apparently connected with the influence exerted over the Frankish court at the rise of the Carolingian dynasty by the English missionaries, St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, in particular. The Frankish court soon entered into close relations with the Apostolic See, and the first decided step towards the introduction of the Roman chant wit the empire coincides with the embassy sent to Rome by King Pepin in October 753. Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, the chief personage in this embassy, immediately on his return from Rome imposed on his clergy not only the Roman chant, but, to some extent, the Roman rite as well. The sojourn of Pope Stephen north of the Alps seems to have given a new impulse to the adoption of Roman customs, as is proved from the Caroline Books written shortly afterwards. St. Remedius of Rouen received a chanter called Simeon, between 758 and 768, who had been sent from Rome to instruct the monks in the Roman chant. Simeon having been recalled shortly afterwards, Bishop Remedius made choice of some monks, and asked Pepin to send them to Rome with an urgent recommendation. The pope received the king’s petition, and placed the monks under Simeon’s care until they were thoroughly grounded in the Roman chant and psalmody. There are also other traces of the intimate union between Rome and the regulation of the Frankish office. About 787 Charlemagne states that, owing to the care and zeal of his father, Pepin, the Roman chant had been established in all the churches of Gaul. A sweeping statement like this may require some qualifications; still it must be acknowledged Charlemagne was a man capable of carrying through an undertaking of this kind ; that he did so is stated in the Caroline Books written under his direction in 790. “We have ordered,” he says, “that all the churches which have so far refused to follow the tradition of the Apostolic See in the matter of chanting, adopt the Roman usage with zeal.” We find references to the same attempt in the Capitularies.

Among the liturgical scholars of the time of Charlemagne, Alcuin must not be passed over. If, as everything seems to show, he was the author of the recension of the Gregorian books for use in Gaul, his influence must have been of great moment in all that concerns the history of the Roman liturgy and liturgical books.

“It is affirmed,” says the author of the Micrologus, “that Alcuin brought together in the Sacramentary the prayers of St. Gregory, to which he added a few new prayers, and that he was careful to mark these by an obolus; and then he added to these other prayers, which, although they did not come from St. Gregory, were nevertheless necessary for the celebration of the divine office.”

There are two other books of Alcuin which, although dealing with matters of private devotion, enlighten us upon the history of the liturgy in general—the De Psalmorum Usu and the Officia per Ferias. In the former, after pointing out the use we ought to make of the psalms, he gives seventeen prayers for special occasions, and in the second he sets down a certain number of psalms, prayers, versicles, litanies, and hymns for each day. Among these appear numerous fragments of more ancient works.

Thus, in the reduction of the liturgy to uniformity dreamed of by Charlemagne, Alcuin was the chief agent, and it was he who hit upon the principle through which unity was to be effected, a principle adopted by the Church of Rome herself. The Roman liturgy returned to Rome from Gaul arranged and co-ordinated.3

4. Other Countries:—(A) A document, only recently come to light, gives us to understand that towards the middle of the ninth century the Gregorian liturgy was, with a few exceptions, generally followed by the Latins for the Mass and divine office. This is a letter of Pope Leo IV. (847-855) to an abbot Honoratus, probably of Farfa in the neighbourhood of Rome. The pontiff complains that the abbot showed his aversion to the Gregorian chant, and to the manner of singing and reading regulated and taught by Gregory, which are followed by the entire Western church. Then he orders the abbot to follow the ordo arranged by St. Gregory and not to depart therefrom again under pain of excommunication.

(B) The church of Milan claimed the right of maintaining her privileges. All the same, just as her rite was derived from the Roman use of the fourth and fifth centuries, so she borrowed largely from the latter during the Middle Ages.

(C) The Mozarabic Rite: — The most difficult questions concerning the origin of the liturgy which enjoyed the most widespread acceptance throughout the Iberian peninsula in the seventh century are still far from being satisfactorily answered. It is evident from the fact that Pope Vigilius, in 538, sent a copy of the Ordinarium Missæ to Bishop Profuturus of Braga and from the acceptance of the papal letter at the Council of Braga in 563, that the Roman liturgy was used in the catholic parts of Spain, and that the orthodox bishops, surrounded as they were on all sides by Arian intruders, turned to Rome as the source of orthodoxy. But St. Leander realized the necessity of organizing the celebration of the Holy Mysteries and Canonical Hours in a way which would not give offence to the Goths who had been recently converted from Arianism, and whose faith was still feeble. St. Isidore of Seville gave this liturgy its definite form. Afterwards, additions of a suspicious character were added, and that to such an extent that the Council of Frankfort in 791 appealed to the authority of the liturgical books of St. Gregory the Great against the Adoptionists, who sought to support their heresy by quoting the prayers of the Mozarabic missal.

Thus, since the end of the ninth century, the Roman office has been used throughout the whole Latin church, the exceptions of Milan and Toledo only proving the rule.

1 Batiffol, History of the Roman Breviary, gives some fragments from this document. See p. 375 (Eng. trans.) for the reference to St. Damasus.
2 See the text in Migne, Patr. Lat., lxxxix. 332.
3 Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie, under the word Alcuin, especially the conclusion, vol. i. 1090.