Catholic CornucopiadCheney

Part II: The Middle Ages

Chapter II: From Charlemagne to the End of the Fourteenth Century

From St. Gregory to Charlemagne, 591-814

Section 1.—Alterations in the Roman Breviary During the Ninth and Tenth Centuries

The Roman Breviary: Its Sources and History

Although the Franks adopted the Roman liturgy, it was not long before they introduced changes into it; they transformed the Responsory, altered the system of lections, and increased the number of liturgical texts.

1. Transformation of the Responsory : — We have already spoken of Alcuin’s work under Charlemagne; he had many disciples and imitators in the domain of liturgy.

Under Louis le Débonnaire, Amalarius of Metz went to Rome to study the divine office, and to learn the order and rules regulating its celebration; he was informed that a copy of the Roman antiphonary had been taken to Corbie, and on his return to France never rested until he had studied its contents. He found it differed from the antiphonary brought from Rome to Metz under Chrodegang, and from a comparison of the two resulted a new text, to which Amalarius made some additions. Not satisfied with this first attempt, Amalarius soon published a book, De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, in which he speaks of the different parts of the office. Another book, De Ordine Antiphonarii, followed, being the result of a fresh combination of the Roman antiphonary with the antiphonary of Metz. He showed little scruple in making changes, but we find reliable information in the book concerning the origin of the responds and antiphons, and of the two Roman night offices for certain festivals (we mention only what concerns the Breviary).1

A chancellor of Louis le Débonnaire, Helisachar, abbot first of St. Riquier and then of St. Maximin at Trier, also took great pains in correcting or replacing the responds of the antiphonary. He found himself arrested by the difficulty that in Gaul and in Rome the responds were not recited in the same way. In Rome the respond was repeated entire after the versicle, but in Gaul the repetition consists of only the first half of the respond, which in some cases led to strange results, as in the following example:—

In Rome: ℟. Tu es Petrus* ait Dominus ad Simonem.
℣. Ecce sacerdos magnus qui in diebus suis placuit Deo.
(Repetition) Tu es Petrus ....
In Gaul : ℟. Tu es Petrus * ait Dominus ad Simonem.
℣. Ecce sacerdos magnus qui in diebus suis placuit Deo.
(Repetition) ait Dominus ad Simonem.

Helisachar, in his desire to get at the sense of what was sung, found such combinations quite intolerable, and sought to remedy them by corrections. Amalarius, while praising the work of Helisachar, is more conservative; he retains what was traditional and ancient, introduces versicles and responds taken from ancient Roman books, and from books belonging to Metz, selects passages from the gospels which seem to fit in with the antiphons, and adds them to what he found in the Roman books, makes alterations in the order here and there, and gives completion to the whole by adding some offices for saints days proper to the church of Metz.

The work of Amalarius gave rise to violent opposition. Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons, has no mercy for him. Without actually naming Amalarius, it is sufficiently plain that he attacks him in his book De Divina Psalmodia. Still, on his own part, he considered that he also could improve the divine office, as St. Gregory had done, while adapting it to the usages of his church. Accordingly, he rejected certain psalms, which he called “plebeian,” suppressed poetical compositions, excluded everything not taken from Holy Scripture — a principle strangely abused by Protestants and Jansenists. In his work De Correctione Antiphonarii, he assumes and develops his thesis concerning the exclusive employment of Holy Scripture, cuts down what he calls superfluities and frivolities, and also what he considers to savour of lying and blasphemy. He went to even greater lengths in attacking Amalarius, whose mystical interpretations he undertakes to censure in his Contra Libros iv. Amalarii.2

In spite of all, the reform of Amalarius held its ground, first in Metz, and then in the greater number of the churches north of the Alps. In the twelfth century Gallican usages made their way even into the Eternal City; and so the introduction of the Roman chant into the Frankish empire resulted in the alteration of a considerable part of the text of the Roman responsory.

2. Modification of the system of Lections: —The great length of the lections led to the repetition of St. Paul’s epistles several times in the course of the year. An attempt was made to so distribute the epistles throughout the course of the year that they would be read only once in the first nocturn. In the Carolingian period a desire was shown to conclude Matins with a homily on the Gospel, in the same way as the commentaries and the sermons of the Fathers on the Old Testament are introduced into the second nocturn. Among the works of revision and codification undertaken by Alcuin is generally numbered a Homilarium or selection of passages from the Fathers on the gospels occurring in the divine office.3

The first Ordo Romanus implies the existence of this tendency in Rome, and the Ordo Romanus XI. proves it explicitly. The canon, Benedict, to whom this latter ordo is ascribed, says: “At Rome, in St. Peter’s and in the Papal chapel, we read on the Sundays of Advent and Lent at the third nocturn two lections de Epistola (S. Pauli), i.e. the seventh and eighth lections, and then, for the ninth lection, a homily on the gospel for the Sunday. But at Easter and on great feasts, with the exception of Pentecost, the whole gospel as well as a homily on it are read at the third nocturn.”4

Paul the Deacon, who was a monk at Monte Cassino and became the historian of the Lombards, was entrusted by Charlemagne with the compilation of a series of lections for the whole year and for each festival. He compiled two volumes containing not only sermons for the second nocturn and homiliæ in evangelium for the third nocturn, but also, among the latter, commentaries on St. Paul’s epistles.

From this work of Paul the Deacon, as well as from a passage in Hildemar, and from the Ordines Romani I. and XI., it is evident that in the period between St. Gregory the Great and Innocent III. the gospel with a homily was read for the most part at the third nocturn on Sundays, and often either the epistle of the Sunday or a passage from the epistles of St. Paul with a commentary in addition. Since Charlemagne’s time, both the homilies and the lections of the first nocturn have undergone a slight modification. St. Paul’s epistles are no longer found as before in the third nocturn on Sundays and festivals throughout the year, but only in the period of the liturgical year actually assigned to them, i.e. from the Sunday in the octave of Christmas to Septuagesima Sunday.5 The reading of the epistle at Matins along with the homily on the gospel was kept up during a long period—in Rome probably to the reign of Innocent III. It was omitted on great festivals from the seventh century onwards, and gradually on all Sundays and festivals as well.

3. Growth of new liturgical texts:—In consequence of the incursions of the Lombards, Saracens, and Normans, many churches and tombs of Saints in the neighbourhood of Rome were destroyed (seventh to ninth centuries), and others were either threatened with the same fate or severely damaged by floods, tempests, and earthquakes. The popes found themselves compelled either to restore these sanctuaries or to translate the relics of the Saints to places of security without the walls of Rome. Numerous translations of relics took place in Germany and France also. This gave rise to the existence of a large number of festivals, at first only of local interest, but which, during the following period, were introduced into the calendar of the universal church. On the other hand, out of compliment to the Franks, some of their customs were adopted in Rome. The Liber Pontificalis gives us an illustration of this when it informs us that under Leo III. († 816) the Rogation days, which had long been observed in Gaul, were introduced in Rome. This tendency was even more marked under Louis le Débonnaire and Charles the Bald.

It is interesting to witness the influence exercised over the popes of the eleventh century by two monarchs deeply attracted by all that belonged to the liturgy. One of these, Robert the Pious. King of France, gained the distinction of having a respond of his own composition sung at the divine office in St. Peter’s, and in France it continued to be sung as late as the eighteenth century. The other, St. Henry, Emperor of Germany, when at Rome for his coronation, was astonished to find that the creed was not sung at the Mass (Sunday, 14th February 1014), whilst everywhere else throughout the West it was sung on Sundays. He was able to bring it about that, for the edification of the pilgrims who came to the Eternal City, the creed was inserted into the formulary of the Mass.

1 For further details see the Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie, under Amalaire, i. 1323.
2 Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie, Agobard, vol. i. 971.
3 Op. cit., Alcuin, vol. i. 1077.
4 Migne, Patr. Lat., lxxviii., ordo i. 958, ordo xi. 1027-1039.
5 See Coutumes de Cluny; Migne, Patr. Lat., cxlix. 613, and Jean d’Avranches; Migne, Patr. Lat., cxlvii. 43.