Part III: A matter of Rites and Wrongs – The Mass In the English Reformation

The Devil is in the detail……. 


Pope St Gregory I ( the Great b.540 d.604) reigned 590-604 responsible for creation of complete service books

Pope St Gregory I ( the Great b.540 d.604) reigned 590-604 responsible for creation of complete service books

 “ Hail for evermore, Thou most Holy Flesh of Christ; sweet to me before and beyond all things beside. To me a sinner may the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ be the Way and the Life.” 

These were the ritual words that were spoken inaudibly by the priest just before he took Holy Communion; that is, consumed the consecrated elements of bread and wine. Holy Communion composed the final ritual action of the Mass. The Mass was the medium in which the bread and wine were consecrated. But it was not its only function. The Mass was also a medium for commemorating the ritual sacrifice of Christ – as he instructed when he said: do this in memory of me.

For the reformers the questions were what precisely constituted these two elements: first, what happened to the bread and wine at consecration; secondly, what precisely was effected by this act of commemoration. In practice it was agreed that the ‘Mass’ was media for both sacred actions, the questions  was what being transmitted and being received, both on earth and also in heaven? It was a question of hard truth to which it turned there was no easy answer.

it is possible to see the viciousness of the allegory of Gardiner  as the wolf dressed as the lamb beguiling the flock of God if you compare it to the picture of Gregory the Great saying Mass

it is possible to see the viciousness of the allegory of Gardiner as the wolf dressed as the lamb beguiling the flock of God if you compare it to the picture of Gregory the Great saying Mass

The words above were particular to the Mass according to the use of Salisbury. The rite of Salisbury is known usually as the Sarum rite. It was the principal usage of the English church until 1558 – save for the brief interlude between 1549 and 1553. It was the use of the Canterbury Convocation; the rite of its secular clergy; it was also the liturgical form used at court. It was also used in the Northern Convocation where there were other common uses notably those of Hereford, Chester and York. The regular clergy often had their own rite or would have used the Sarum rite with ritual emendations of their order.

Before the Council of Trent, all across Christian Europe, there were similar authorised local rites or uses for the Mass. These different rites incorporated many local practices. Forms of ritual practice or gestures of litugical greeting varied from region to region; sometimes from city to city. Some prayers and liturgical additions were often particular and differed between say Celtic, Anglo Saxon, Gallican or Mozarabic rites. Prominent in the Sarum rite were medieval poetic prayer-forms adapted for the use of the choir; they were called Tracts and Sequences and were inserted before and after the epistle and before the gospel. Their vivid language is luminous with the preoccupations of medieval religious faith. There were other significant variants in ritual actions – for example after the consecration the Anamnesis was said by priest with hands extended, visually replicating the position of the arms of the crucified Christ on the cross.

massPio V wavingWhen Pius V promulgated the new Roman Missal in 1570 this local liturgical diversity characteristic of medieval Christianity was formally ended. Generally, from this point forward the Catholic rite was the single rite of the Roman missal. The Reformed rites remained more various; these were conducted in the vernacular; but nevertheless, they were usually prescribed to one uniform practice in each single political entity. The practical diversity of the old Mass was just another casualty of the religious revolutions that convulsed the Western Church in century or so after 1517 and which we know by the shorthand: Reformation; and Counter Reformation.

By 1500 the structure Mass by and large had been unchanged for five hundred years; its principal elements were recognisable from the missals a thousand years old. Prior to that,  its broad form, if not its language, would have been similar for another three hundred years. The mass directly touched the stones of ancient Rome as well as being conducted in the language of her Empire. It both East and West it was the church’s oldest act of collective worship. It had bound Christians together in life and in death since early in the second century. Its pedigree stretched back yet further, through the practices of the early church to the very actions of Christ himself at the Last Supper as recorded in the Gospels. According to the Gospels it was the means by which the Christ made himself known to his followers after the Resurrection. Most compellingly, something of this same ceremony was practised even earlier than the time when the Gospels were composed. For this ceremony is discussed in the epistles, or letters, of St Paul to the Corinthians whose composition can be dated to the two decades after Christ’s crucifixion.

Frontice piece from Roman missal prmulagted by Pius V & known as the Tridentine Missal - named from Tridentum the Latin name for city of Trent

Frontice piece from Roman missal promulgated by Pius V & known as the Tridentine Missal – named from Tridentum the Latin name for city of Trent

Missal is the name given to the manuscript books used to conduct this principal prayer of the church which, until the Reformation, had remained the church’s only continuous act of communal worship. The English word Mass had derived from the Latin, Missa – hence missal. The term Missa or Mass seems to come from the words spoken by the priest towards the end of the service when he or a deacon dismissed the congregation using the phrase: ‘ite missa est’. It is a corruption of the Imperial Roman command at the end of an audience, or the adjournment of a court or such : ‘(ite) dimissa est’ – (go forth) you are dismissed.

A depiction of the elevation in the Western Rite, which occurs after the words of institution - this is my body; this is my blood.

A depiction of the elevation in the Western Rite, which occurs after the words of institution – this is my body; this is my blood.

In the early church this service, the ‘Mass’, was known as ‘Breaking of Bread’; or  simply ‘Liturgy’; or the ‘Supper of the Lord’; or ‘the Sacrifice’; or ‘Synaxis’ ( Greek for congregation or gathering and from which the word synagogue derives). Although not unreasonably the reformers assumed this worship had been conducted in those times in the common vernacular this conclusion overlooked the fact that the Greek rite was predominantly used in the Western Church until the third century. Moreover, in the Roman Empire, Greek was as much a language of the educated as Latin was in sixteenth century Europe. Additionally all the Apostles would have familiarly used a language for worship in the Temple rites which was not a spoken language. It is safe to assume that as with most sweeping generalisations those of the reformers about the language of worship in the early church brushed aside as many details as their scholarly study of ancient texts had swept together.

The Mass or congregation or Lord’s Supper usually took place at least on Sunday (Dominica – the Lord’s Day). Sunday was the day on which Christians believed Christ has risen from the dead. It was, therefore, not the same day as the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday). The service from earliest times included a number of different elements,  only one of which was ‘the Eucharist’ (which means ‘thanksgiving’) or ‘Holy Communion’. This nomenclature specifically referred to the sacrament (sacred action) instituted at the Last Supper when Christ, gave thanks, blessed bread and wine, gave it to the Apostles saying: ‘this is my body’; ‘this is my blood’. It was the nature of this sacrament that was hotly contended over by reformers and traditionalists in the sixteenth century.

Holy Communion as imagined by Reformed liturgists - a table with bread and a cup

Holy Communion as imagined by Reformed liturgists – a table with bread and a cup

The Reformers suggested the relative novelty that Christ’s Real Presence in this sacrament under these species of bread and wine was (solely) ‘spiritual’. The traditional belief was that the ‘Real Presence’ signified in some undefined both sense both the physical and spiritual reality of Jesus. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century had explained the Real Presence in terms of  the doctrine of accidents and substance known by the shorthand ‘transubstantiation’ – a term coined sometime in the ninth or tenth century but never previously narrowly defined. Aquinas’s notion was that the accidents (outward form) of the bread and wine remained unchanged but their substance (inward reality) became completely the body and blood of Christ.

During the course of the sixteenth century this doctrine of the Real Presence in Holy Eucharist was fiercely disputed. Both sides made their arguments from Scripture; from the confirming practices of the early church as related by Ignatius of Antioch, John Chrysostom and others. The reformers denied the efficacy of any later authorities; the traditionalists upheld them. Unlike the matter of justification by faith alone, over the nature of the Eucharist there was little room for compromise. Therefore on both sides of the confessional divide it became an easy litmus test for doctrinal orthodoxy.

From here the historian needs to tread with some care since the debate about the nature of the sacrament was not of itself the same as the debate about the Mass. These debates were closely allied but they were not the same. This is demonstrated by the fact that the sacrament of  ‘Holy Eucharist’ and the associated doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’ were debated and settled in the second session of the Council of Trent in 1551-2 whereas the council did not discuss the nature of the mass and its meaning until well into the third session in the 1560’s. Similarly, the followers of Wycliffe and Huss in the early fifteenth century held to the traditional nature of the Real Presence in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist whilst dismissing the Mass as idolatry.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury 1532-1555 author of both 1549 & 1552 Books of Common Prayer

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury 1532-1555 author of both 1549 & 1552 Books of Common Prayer

The sixteenth century protagonists ranged freely over these doctrines as they saw the two as inextricably connected; but they also understood the Mass and the Eucharist were separate. It particularly suited the reformers to argue that in the early church the service of ‘the Lord’s Supper’ was simply the exclusive medium for distribution of the sacrament amongst the faithful. They used empirical evidence to demonstrate that the term transubstantiation was unknown to the early church; and that the corporal, physical or carnal presence of Christ’s flesh and blood in the sacramental bread and wine was not made explicit in the writings of the early Fathers; they argued that what was not explicit was not implicit or implied. They also downplayed the other elements contained in the service of which the Holy Eucharist was only a part and ignored in its other ancient names: Liturgy; Synaxis; and Sacrifice Thus, when in 1552 Cranmer’s Second Prayer Book (1552) eliminated any mention of the Mass describing the new service as:

‘ The order for the administration of the Lordes Supper or Holy Communion.

the archbishop was making a profound statement about doctrine. In the First Prayer Book of 1549 the service had been entitled:

The Supper of the Lorde and Holy Communion, commonly called the Masse.

To the casual eye these few words arranged slightly differently may seem to say much the same thing. Yet that different arrangement of those few words encompasses the two sides of the confessional divide. The ‘and’ Cranmer used to link the ‘Lordes Supper’ to ‘Holy Communion’ bridged the distinction between Catholic and Protestant. It is a bridge of meaning Cranmer only deliberately and publically crossed after 1549. Two worlds of difference lie on either side of that singular conjunction.

Bishop Gardiner’s eye was not casual. It had correctly taken the title applied in the book of 1549  to be doctrinally significant. He indeed used it specifically to justify his acceptance of the prayer book rite of 1549 as a truly constituting the Mass. The service of 1549 recognised the term Mass as properly cognate for the Supper of the Lord; it recognised by the use of ‘and’ that Holy Communion was only an element of the service, called the Mass or the Supper of the Lord. From that Gardiner was able to argue that, together with the preservation of the canon in the Mass, the prayer book of 1549 still contained the necessary elements to constitute true doctrine.

Thus, before historians or theologians even consider the content of these two services it is perfectly clear that Cranmer had intended by the two titles alone to convey two very distinct doctrinal meanings. However, before proceeding, to the debate itself and to Gardiner’s contribution, it will clarify his arguments to briefly outline the elements that comprised the Mass as established by the sixteenth century and what these various parts had been traditionally been taken to mean and what the reformers suggested they originally meant.

First there was a penitential rite. This can be certainly dated at least to the early Greek rite as the Greek  prayer: ‘Kyrie eleison’ and ‘Christe eleison’ , still used today, it oddly survived in the otherwise Latin text from third century. All scholars of the sixteenth century took this to be a sure sign of the antiquity of this element of the service. A penitential or cleansing ritual would also have been consistent with public gatherings of Jews for Sabbath and most particularly for the rite of  the Passover.

Nicene Creed approved at Council of Nicaea

Nicene Creed approved at Council of Nicaea

The penitential rite was succeeded by two elements: singing of the psalms interspersed with readings from Scriptures – both again conforming to Jewish practice, save the majority of readings were usually taken from the New Testament, usually only one from a prophet, Isaiah and Malachi in particular; one from an epistle and one from a gospel. There were readings taken from the Act of the Apostles from Easter and into Whitsun. After the Council of Nicaea in 325 this section of the Mass ended with all those present saying together the Nicene creed. This ended what was known from the early church as the Mass of the Catechumens. The un-baptised left the service at this point.

There followed the Mass of the Faithful which consisted of  three principle elements: the Offertory; the Preface and Canon; the Communion rite, including the Agnus Dei; after which there was the dismissal, blessing and last Gospel. At the Offertory, the bread and wine were prepared and offered by the  priest at the altar on behalf of all those present and the entire church. This was a moment when those present might offer also gifts in lieu of the sacrifice being prepared by the priest on the altar. The Offertory was ended with a whispered prayer (The Secret). The priest then invited all present to lift up their hearts as he gives thanks and praise to God on their collective behalf. This doxology led directly to the Preface.

The Preface was directed to God the Father through the Son and invoked the worship of all creation including the angels.  It was answered by the ‘Sanctus’  – a prayer attributed to the angels in Isaiah and also alluded to by St Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians; and it was mentioned by (St) Clement I around 104 A.D as being said at this point of the ‘Mass’.  Originally the priest had started the Sanctus and gradually it had been taken up by the deacon, sub deacons and then by the choir. It became conventional for altar bells to be rung three times.  At its end the priest began saying in a low voice the long central prayer of the Mass; what is today called the Roman Canon.

This prayer is called the anaphora. Much unknown in the sixteenth century has subsequently now been revealed by painstaking and patient research on the range of anaphora in the Eastern and Western traditions. It is always tempting to read the known back into a world where it was unknown. In the sixteenth century humanist scholars understood that the order of the prayers that composed the Roman Canon or anaphora did not  appear to follow in a logical sequence. They also knew from patristic studies that the words of institution were followed by the Anamnesis –  a prayer acknowledging the transformative effect of Christ’s Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Ascension on the bread and wine offered as a sacrifice. Otherwise the elements which are now regarded as essential to an anaphora were less clearly understood by sixteenth century scholars.

elevation in the Orthodox right similar to that in the Roman rite which takes place at the ensd of the anaphora with the Prayer....Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso....

Elevation in the Orthodox right similar to that in the Roman rite which takes place at the end of the anaphora with the Prayer….Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso….

In the Orthodox tradition, for example, the prayer of Epiclesis, a prayer which summoned the Holy Spirit to descend on the bread and wine being offered to change it into the Holy Eucharist, was regarded as essential. It came shortly before the words of institution: this is my body; this is my blood. This was held in the Eastern tradition to be the transformative moment of the anaphora or canon. In the Western church the epiclesis came after the words of institution, probably by accident more than conscious design. As a consequence, and over time, the consecration, or words of institution, came to be revered as the transformative moment in the rite; in the West the moment of transubstantiation. This development, together with the theology of Aquinas, led to the ritual practice of the elevation of the bread after the words of institution. This practice can certainly be dated from the eleventh century; whilst the elevation of chalice was adopted later; it dated from the fourteenth century. The elevation of the chalice was not adopted in St Alban’s Abbey until 1429. The Carthusians never elevated the chalice. At the end of the canon, during the last prayer of the anaphora, in both Eastern and Western rites both the bread and the wine were ‘elevated’ simultaneoulsy, but not above the head of the priest.

After the canon, came the Holy Communion. This section opened with saying of the Lord’s Prayer; included the Peace; the Agnus Dei, using the words of John the Baptist;  the presentation of the consecrated elements, using the words of the centurion (Luke,7v6-7); the priest’s communion; and where appropriate, the communion of the faithful.

It is worth noting that although repeated emphasis was laid on the desirability for communion by the faithful the 12 hour fast tended to make its reception the exception rather than the rule for those attending mass. The institution of the so-called Easter duty which imposed a minimum annual attendance at confession and reception of Holy Communion between Easter and Whitsun illustrates the reality.This is now unimaginable to most Catholics who routinely associate attending Mass as synonymous with receiving the Eucharist. (Here the ritual practices of modern catholicism and protestantism have coalesced). The Reformers took the opposite view: Holy Communion was only to be said if there were communicants among the faithful This led to a gradual tendency for Holy Communion to be celebrated weekly at best and oftentimes in the eighteenth century only at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun. On the other hand in medieval piety attendance at Mass was regarded as a sacred grace in its own rite. Each mass brought each of congregation to the foot of the cross. Tudor sovereigns often attended mass four or five times a day – sometimes transacting business in their private oratories whilst hearing mass said.

After the post-communion prayer, the dismissal incongruously was followed by a further prayer and the concluding blessing. In the Sarum rite the last gospel had been said by the priest on his way from the altar but by the middle of the sixteenth century this in fact was said silently at the altar at the end of the Mass. The last Sarum missal was issued in 1557 as part of the reforms of Cardinal Pole.

Manuscript missals of the Medieval church were varied and various. They all, however, rested heavily on the Roman rite. This Roman rite itself, as known then and to some considerable extent as still known today, was based upon the ceremonial usage committed to manuscript in Rome during the pontificate of Gregory I (the Great)  in the sixth century. It was Pope Gregory’s initiative which brought together all the offices, ceremonies, services then used by the church into a single written collection which became known as the Pontifical. Thus, the term Pontifical High Mass is literally a mass said and sung using the book(s) commissioned by Pope Gregory. Other metropolitan bishops took their cue from Roman practice and also had a manuscript compiled based upon Gregory’s pontifical and local practices. These were placed in each cathedral’s library or scriptorium.

Manuscript of the first page of the Roman Canon - Te igitur clementissime Pater....

Manuscript of the first page of the Roman Canon – Te igitur clementissime Pater….

Initially, the canon was placed at the front or back of the book of the missal written on a thicker paper or mostly on vellum. This convention drew attention to the significance of the text of the canon. All these manuscript books also included notation for the chants to be used in the services – hence Gregorian chant. This “plain” chant became the basic form of singing and was used by monastic communities to say all the offices of the church from morning prayer to evening prayer and of course including the mass itself. The manuscript books for parishes did not necessarily require all the service elements contained in the master pontificals.Thus,  missals; pontificals; breviaries; graduals; and other books of ceremony copied to suit parish needs by the monks and cathedral chapter scriptoria were often abbreviated to suit parochial use. This tradition of reduction and abbreviation provided a blueprint for the ‘books of hours’ which became popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and which were commissioned by high ranking members of the laity for their personal use.

Similarly, in order to make it easier for the reader of the missal to distinguish between the sacred prayers themselves and the other sacred instructions: hand gestures; signs of the cross; whether to speak or to chant; or anything else to be used with the prayer, it became practice for the former,  that is the prayers to be written in black ink, and for the latter, that is instructions, to be written in red ink. Latin for red is ruber;  hence these manual instructions were known as rubrics.

The same missals also come conveniently to have a calendar at their front. The calendar followed the three hundred and sixty five days of the church year from Advent through to last Sunday after Pentecost (or in the Sarum rite, the last Sunday after Trinity) and directed the priest to the appropriate proper prayers to be used on each day. These too conveniently divided between ordinary days which were  listed in black as ‘feria’; and Sundays and other Feast and Saints or Holydays, which were listed in red. This manuscript practice carried over in the fifteenth century into printed books and was even continued into the Book of Common Prayer. Those days in red were colloquially known ‘red letter days’. It is a term that has passed into more general use to denote an important day.  Famously, in 1552 John Knox’s sermon before Edward VI on the matter of the reception of Holy Communion kneeling led to a very late addition to the rubrics of the Second Prayer Book. As the printers had completed the printing of the rubrics and were engaged in printing the black sections the late addition was also printed in black. It is known as ‘the black rubric’.

Fifteen hundred years on from what happened that Passover in the upper room where Jesus broke bread with his Apostles the meaning of his actions filled the printing presses of Europe afresh with controversy. It is not for the historian to weigh these religious arguments in the balance and judge them.  Historians are confined to cold facts that avoid the hot passions of the time. The men and women of the sixteenth century chose to rush to judgements often on the basis of what they read hot off the press; more often than not based upon a garbled account of what was in print. The whys and wherefores that drove their passionate beliefs are to some degree beside the point. They were carried along by the logic of argument to occupy absolute philosophical positions. They did not lack reason; they did not want for reasoning; they were not unreasonable; yet the effect of their cause ran quite beyond the restraints of reason.

Mass in the Dominican rite - the order of theologians known as 'black friars' from their habits. Thomas Aquinas was most famously a Dominican

Mass in the Dominican rite – the order of theologians known as ‘black friars’ from their habits. Thomas Aquinas was most famously a Dominican

The reformers did not see the prayers used in either the Offertory or the Anaphora as in continuity with ancient Christian practice; rather they saw them as embellishments of false doctrine. They struck them from their services believing they had no good provenance in the early church.Their religion needed no priests to stand in place at an altar of the single High Priest, Christ. His single sacrifice for once in time and for all time stood in place of all sin for all men forever. Instead the reformers stood by their local elders around a table commemorating the actions of the Last Supper as a sign to each other of their faith in Christ within their hearts. There was no need for vestments or other appurtenances of the religion destroyed by the crucifiction and by the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem as Christ prophesied. This was swept away by the new covenant. Countervailing were the doctrinal novelty that communion in both kinds – bread and wine – was essential. They also rejected the validity of a communion service if the laity did not communicate.

The traditionalists saw the mass as ritually the same as the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross. They saw the language of oblation and of sacrifice signified the continuing reality of the mass as the continuum of the sacred reality of Christ’s sacrifice. The Mass and Calvary were one and the same. They were made a continuous act of redemption across time by the Words of Institution and Christ’s instruction ‘do this in memory of me’.  The priest stood both in the place of the faithful and in Christ’s place at the Last Supper. The priest’s blessing the gifts and making them holy by repetition of the Christ’s actual Words of Institution; invoking of the Holy Spirit; and memorialising Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension made the Mass one in reality with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It thereby became the good work which could be shared by all Christians living and dead. The spiritual and sacred power of the Mass was therefore no less astonishing than the sacrament to which it was directed. Therefore, it surely might only be that the bread and wine truly were by the same sacramental mystery made the same body and blood of Christ; the same divine gift of himself that Christ was able to gave to the Apostles at the last supper, the night before he was betrayed.

As we shall see Stephen Gardiner made this doctrine his own. He brought to it these old beliefs new ways to express the mysteries of his faith in the holiness of the Mass.

These distinctions over detail ended the single church; the single Christendom; the one faith were made by this debate into two churches; two religions; two different faiths, both anathema one to the other. There was only the devil in the doctrine of the opposite confession.



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