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The Western Rites of the Early Church

From Lux Occidentalis, by Fr. John Connely
Used by permission

The Liturgy of St. Peter (commonly known as the Liturgy of St. Gregory), is found, substantially as it has been used in the Latin Church until Vatican II (1969)1, in the Sacramentaries of St. Gregory [590], Gelasius [491] and St. Leo [483]. The Roman Liturgy is attributed to St. Peter by ancient liturgical commentators, who founded their opinion chiefly upon a passage in an Epistle of Innocent [fifth century], to Decentius, Bishop of Eugubium. St. Gregory revised the variable parts of the liturgy, the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels; but the only change which he made in the Ordinary was by the addition of a few words which is noticed by the Venerable Bede [Hist. Eccl. Lib.2, c.I.].2

Since the time of St. Gregory the Roman Liturgy has been used over a large part of the Western Church, and, until 1969, was practically the only one allowed by Rome. From the Roman Liturgy in its primitive form were derived that used by the Churches of North-western Africa, and the Ambrosian Rite of the Church of Milan.

The Liturgy of St. John, or of St. Paul, i.e. the Ephesine Liturgy, was the original of that which was used, probably in three forms, in Spain, France, and England during the earlier period, and the only one besides the Roman which obtained a footing in the Western Church. This appears to have been abandoned in Ephesus at the time of the Council of Laodicea in Phrygia in the fourth century. The 19th Canon of that Council giving directions for the substitution of the Liturgy of St. Basil, which use continued to modern times. However, at a much earlier date, missionaries had taken the Liturgy of St. John to Lyons, the city from which Christianity spread throughout France. As late as A.D. 177, the Christians of Lyons wrote to the Churches of Asia respecting the martyrdoms which had occurred in that city. The primitive Liturgy of Ephesus thus became the liturgy of France and by additional missionary work, that of Spain also. This Liturgy continued in the French Church until the time of Charlemagne [742-814]. Minor additions had been made by Musæus, Sidonius, and St. Hilary of Poitiers. These additions were restricted to the Introits, Collects, and Minor Propers. This 'Gallican' Liturgy was partly supplanted by the Roman at the time of Pepin, who introduced the Roman system of chant and psalmody and finally it was altogether superseded through Charlemagne, who obtained the Sacramentary of St. Gregory from Rome and issued an edict that all priests should celebrate only in the Roman manner. In Spain the same Liturgy had been used in a form called Mozarabic; but Pope Gregory VII, caused Alphonso VI., king of Castile and Leon, to abolish the national rite and substitute that of Rome. The Mozarabic Rite was restored in the sixteenth century by Cardinal Ximenes who endowed a college and chapel for its use at Toledo, which continues to this day.

When Augustine [of Canterbury] came to England in 595, at the direction of St. Gregory of Rome, he expected to find a heathen land. What he discovered was an ancient and regularly organized Church and that its usages were in many ways different from those of his native Rome. By the advice of St. Gregory, he introduced some changes into the existing Liturgy, not from the Roman Sacramentary but rather from forms already in use in the south of France. The English Church of St. Augustine's day and for long after, consistently claimed that its customs derived from St. John and from the Church of Ephesus, by way of Lyons. This is the Liturgical heritage that was revised by St. Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, in 1085. A directory of services was compiled by Richard le Poore [d.1237] and soon the Sarum Use [Salisbury] was followed in nearly the whole of England, Wales, and Ireland.

Most interesting is the recent reprinting of an English Sacramentary that predates St. Osmond and the Norman Conquest [1066] by nearly a century. The Sacramentary is known as the Missal of Robert of Jumièges. Robert served as Bishop of London from 1044, and, in 1051, on St. Peter's Day [29 June], was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury. Robert had given this Missal to the monastery of Jumièges in France as a memorial of himself as he had once presided there as abbot. The book remained at Jumièges until the dissolution of the monastery in 1791, when it passed to the Public Library of Rouen, where it is still preserved! At Rouen it has been known as "the book of S. Guthlac" as the first leaf of the manuscript contains a Mass for the Feast of S. Guthlac. The manuscript is a fine specimen of English writing and illumination from about the year 1000, as evidenced by the Votive Mass and Vespers of St. Edward Martyr [†978]. The Missal now contains 228 numbered leaves, measuring nearly 13 1/4 inches by 8 3/4 inches. This Missal is available in an edition by the Henry Bradshaw Society, the Boydell Press, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, 1994.

It is a simple matter to compare the Orthodox Missal (1995) containing the Western Rite Liturgy of today, with the vast tradition of old Roman Missals from the time of the Sacramentary of St. Gregory [590]. The obvious differences in the "Rite of St. Gregory" in the Orthodox Missal and in the old Missals from the sixth century on is 1) the translation into English from Latin; 2) the commemoration of the Patriarch and Synod of Antioch rather than Rome; and 3) the addition of an explicit "descending" invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Ghost (following the Institution Narrative) in the Canon of Consecration (anaphora).


The Revd. John Connely is a graduate of the University of Colorado and holds the degree Artium Magistri Religionem from Yale University. He is Pastor of St. Mark's Parish, Denver, Colorado and Dean of the Central States Deanery, Western Rite Vicariate, The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

1 The Novus Ordo Missae, as promulgated (1969) by Pope Paul VI, was soon copied by Lutherans, Episcopalians, and other protestants. It is allegedly a reintroduction of disused liturgical forms which the Catholic Church had discarded before the Patristic period. Western Rite Orthodox regard the Novus Ordo Missae as a work of modernist liturgical fiction.

2 "The holy Pope Gregory, among other things, caused masses to be celebrated in the churches of the apostles, Peter and Paul, over their bodies. And in the celebration of masses, he added three phrases full of great goodness and perfection: 'And dispose our days in thy peace, and preserve us from eternal damnation, and rank us in the number of thy elect, through Christ our Lord.'" -Everyman's Library No.479. J. M. Dent & Sons, LTD. The Aldine Press, 1910