Medieval Writing
Church Liturgy
liturgy There is no record of any liturgical books except the Bible in the early Christian church until around the 4th century. By the end of the middle ages there existed an array of books containing the texts, music and instructions for the complete performance of all the various ceremonial activities practised within the church. There were books containing all the components of various services, and special books for the use of the bishop, the priest, the deacon, the reader or the choir.
The precise content of the liturgy, including the mass and the divine office, was not absolutely fixed either in time or space. There were variants between different dioceses and orders. The Cluniacs, for example, were renowned for their lengthy and elaborate liturgy, while the mendicant preaching orders such as the Domincans and Franciscans, or the local parish priest, had other duties which prevented them filling their entire day with worship. Particular geographical areas included feasts to favoured local saints in their liturgical round.
(See De Hamel 1986, also Catholic Encyclopedia in hard copy or online). Examples from various liturgical manuscripts can be seen on the Celebrating the Liturgy's Books website. The website Cursus: An Online Resource of Medieval Liturgical Texts provides digital editions of some manuscript texts of liturgy.
Various categories of works were introduced for specific purposes, and over centuries were assembled into the larger compilations. One of the first works recorded was the diptych; lists of persons and churches for whom prayers were to be said, read by the deacon down to the middle ages. They consisted of two tablets folded like a book with the names of the living on one side and the names of the dead on the other.
The first books of the Western rite were the sacramentaries, originating in the 7th or 8th century. This was the book of the mass, but it did not contain the complete service, only the part of it spoken or chanted by the priest celebrating the mass himself. It contained no lessons or parts for the choir. It also contained services that were particular to a bishop and could not be performed by an ordinary priest, such as ordinations, consecration of a church or altar, exorcisms and certain blessings.

A decorative page from a 9th century sacramentary for the use of St Denis is shown in the Creating French Culture exhibition (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Manuscripts Dept, Western Section, Lat.2290).

Pope Gregory at mass
  Pope Gregory at mass depicted in a 15th century stained glass window in All Saints, North Street, York.
Separate books for the readers and for the choir were compiled for use in the mass. The evangelary or lectionary contained the Bible texts to be read during the service. A benedictional contained prayers for use in the service. Homilaries contained the Homilies of the Fathers, while the martyrologies contained the lives and deaths of the martyrs, to be read on their feast days.
Segment from an 11th century martyrology of Odo, bishop of Vienne, who died in the late 9th century (Avignon, Musée Calvet, MS 98). (From New Palaeographical Society 1905)
The parts of the mass sung by the choir were arranged in the gradual, sometimes referred to as the Liber Antiphonarius Missae. There were also separate collections of hymns arranged in hymnals. A troper contained the tropes, a short series of words added as embellishment to the text of the mass or divine office by the choir. Tropes went out of fashion around the 12th century, to be replaced by a different form known as sequences, although the term troper was still used to describe the book in which they were recorded. These manuscripts were usually very large so that a whole choir could use them at once.
choir stals
  The medieval choir stalls of Ripon Minster in Yorkshire.
Volumes called ordinals were produced from the 8th to the 15th century. These did not contain texts or prayers, but instructions as to what to do at particular stages of the ritual.
Columbia University Library displays an ordinal from Flanders, from the end of the 15th century (Western MS 39, f.79v, 80).
Changes to the conduct of the mass caused changes to the text used by the celebrant. At Low Mass the priest had to supplement personally what was chanted by the deacon and sub-deacon and sung by the choir. In High Mass he also began to sing quietly the parts sung by someone else. The sacramentary was expanded by the addition of the lessons which were read and the chants of the choir until it became the complete text of the mass, the missal. This work was exclusively for the use of the priest, and were not usually highly decorative illustrated works, although there are exceptions. The conduct of the mass depended on its place in the church calendar, and this is reflected in the structure of the work.
  Segment from a 12th century missal (British Library, add ms 16949, f,iv), by permission of the British Library.
The Wallace Library, Rochester Institute of Technology, reproduces a number of pages from missals, from 12th century Spain or southern France, from late 13th century France, from early 14th century Germany, from mid 15th century France, and from late 15th century Italy, among others.
Lectionaries, graduals and tropers were still produced for the use of the readers and the choir.
Wallace Library, Rochester Institute of Technology, displays a 12th century Italian lectionary wriitten in a large rounded script for reading from a lectern. A 14th century Italian gradual displayed by Columbia University Library shows the later medieval system for writing musical notation (Plimpton add MS 19).
The services that were obliged to be performed by a bishop, which had been in the sacramentary, were not included in the missal. These formed a separate work called the pontifical.
Prayers for the king in a 13th century pontifical of the Cathedral church of Sens (Metz, Stadtbibliothek, Salis MS 23, f.131). (From New Palaeographical Society 1904)


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