Summary of the Development of the Roman Mass

By Laurence Gonzaga

Source: A Short History of the Roman Mass by Michael Davies (TAN, 1997)

There are five essential elements to the Christian Eucharistic Sacrifice:
1.                  Bread and wine brought to the altar.
2.                  The celebrant gives thanks.
3.                  He blesses the bread and says the words of Consecration.
4.                  He does the same with the wine.
5.                  The Consecrated Bread, now the Body of Christ, is broken and distributed among the people, and the Contents of the Chalice is likewise distributed.

Development of Rituals

Over time, things that were done for practical purposes became established customs, and these actions became ritualized. For example, the Lavabo, where the priest washed his hands was present in all developed rites of the Mass. No established prayers were prescribed in the beginning, but it became the practice that Psalm25 was appropriate, “Lavabo inter innocents manus meas?” (I shall wash my hands among the innocent). The only ritual actions in the first two centuries were posture, kneeling or standing, as well as the “kiss of peace” which were all inherited from the Jews. The general outline of the service would take form, since things which are repeated many times are often repeated in much the same way. Early on the people would participate by responding when it was appropriate; Amen, Thanks be to God, Lord have mercy, etc. During the persecution, formulas were shorter for obvious reasons, but when the persecution ended and Constantine allowed the practice of Christianity and later the established religion of the Empire by Theodosius I(379-395), this had a great impact on the ritual. From the 4th century, complete liturgical texts were compiled, and the Sacramentary and the Euchalogion were formulated. The Euchalogion contained the essential parts of the Missal, Pontifical, and Rituale in the Roman Rite. All ancient liturgies are derived from 4 parent rites, 3 of which are of the 3 old patriarchates: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. The 4th rite is the Gallican Rite. The Gallican Rite had influence in the development of the finalized Roman Rite. Until the 8th century, even though the Bishop of Rome was the patriarch of the entire West, the Roman Rite was the local rite of the city of Rome only. All these Western Rites (Latin, but not Roman) were called Gallican. After the 8th century, the Roman Rite began to spread. The Mozarabic rite was driven back by the Roman rite, and in Milan where there existed the Ambrosian rite, the people took up arms to resist the imposition of the Roman rite. Back to the ritual itself, the practice of reading until the bishop said to stop, gave way to a more planned structure of readings, a fixed amount of readings at each Mass. Some books which emerged were the liturgical Gospel book (evangelarium), the Epistle-book (epistolarium), and then the complete Lectionary (lectionarium). The older structure did not have it the way we have it today in the 1962 Missal, it did not have the Mass as a whole in mind, but in the service of its user. One book contained all that the bishop and priest needed, the deacon had his book (diakonikon), the choir had theirs (liber antiphonarius or gradualis, the liber responsalis and the psalterium; later on we had the hymnarium, liber sequentialis, troponarius, etc.), and so on. The bishop had the Sacramentary (Sacramentarium or liber sacramentorum). The core of the Canon of the Mass was already in place by the 4th century. The original Roman liturgies were originally in Greek, but were gradually replaced with Latin around the 3rd or 4th centuries. The reform of the Roman liturgy by St. Gregory the Great, who became pope in 590, was a great time for the liturgy; he simplified the rite that was already in place, and gave it more order. Except for a few minor changes and amplifications, the Mass we have today in the 1962 Missal, the Mass of Pius V (1570), is pretty much the same. St. Gregory was the last person to touch the most essential part of the Mass, the Canon of the Mass, according to Benedict XIV (1740-1758). After the introduction of Low Masses in the 9th century, the 10th century saw the implementation of the complete or perfect Missal (Missale plenarium), and by the 13th century onwards, one no longer heard of the Sacramentary. The Missal of Pius V, promulgated by papal Bull, Quo Primum Tempore (1570), was a restoration (not a creation) of the existing rite. It was an act not only of the pope, but truly, an act of the Council of Trent. So the real title of the Mass of Pius V is, “Missale Romanum ex decreto sacrosancti Concilii Tridentini restitutem “The Roman Missal Restored According to the Decrees of the Holy Council of Trent. This was not a “new Mass”, a “Novus Ordo Missae”, as the Mass of Paul VI is.


52-55 AD – Account of the Eucharist by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27
1st and 2nd centuries – There was not an absolutely unified liturgy.
2nd century – A Roman pagan, C. Plinius Caecilius, c. 62-113, wrote about the early liturgy: That on a certain day, Christians gather before daybreak, and sing alternately hymns, and bound themselves by an oath (sacramento), and would gather again later on to share a meal, of “harmless food”.
4th century – liturgical books used. Until this century, the only known book used was the Bible, where the lessons were read from. Psalms and the Lord’s prayer were known by heart, and other prayers were extemporaneous.
7th century – earliest surviving texts of the liturgy.
8th century – Roman rite began to spread outside of Rome.
9th century – musical notation was used in the West. The Low Mass was developed as a response to the multiplication of Masses that occurred, where priests would say several Masses a day. This led to the compilation of the Missal.
10th century – The use of the Perfect Missal (Missale plenarium) was developed.
11th century – The Mozarabic rite, still in use today in Toledo Spain, was driven back by the Roman rite.