Abbe Franck Quoëx: Ritual and Sacred Chant in the Ordo Romanus Primus

[Translated by Zachary Thomas* + Published in Antiphon, 22.2 (2018)]

Abstract: The Ordo Romanus Primus offers historians of the Mass in the West a complete picture of a normative liturgy, namely that of the Roman Pontiff. Sacred chant, inherent in the solemn public character of the Eucharistic assembly, is an essential element of this liturgy. It accompanies certain significant rites, expresses the prayers of the ministers and the faithful, and offers a meditation on the Word of God. The direct link between rite and chant permits an account of developments, adaptations, and simplifications that, since the Franco-Roman period, have been grafted onto the original structure.

+ + +

The royal decision to import the liturgy of the city of Rome into Frankish lands, beginning in the second half of the eighth century, required sending the proper books that contained the prayers for the celebration. In the case of the Eucharistic celebration, these books, or sacramentaries, contained certain fixed (Canon Missae) and mobile prayers (orations for Sundays and feasts of the year) for the use of the celebrant alone. However, these euchological books taken by themselves could not teach the Frankish clergy the rites of the Roman celebration. They had to be complimented by other books, among them collections of detailed descriptions of the stational office of the Urbs, collections known under the name Ordines Romani.[1] Even after their arrival at their destination, it had to be put into practice by inexperienced clergy.[2]

For the historian of the Roman Mass, familiarity with the Eucharistic ordines proves to be of primary importance. On one hand, the Ordo describes the course of the liturgical action, for which it articulates, in the form of detailed “rubrics,” the ritual prescriptions necessary to carry out the sacred action well. In this sense, for the historian of rite the Ordo is more informative than the sacramentary.[3] Again, the Ordo Romanus Primus (OR I),[4] first in the general classification and in the list of Eucharistic ordines in particular, constitutes the first detailed description of the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff, which is the most solemn form of the Eucharistic celebration. We know that the form described is the origin of other more or less simplified forms of this celebration: the celebration of the bishop, the solemn celebration of a simple priest, the private Mass—all modes of celebration that cannot be explained except by beginning with the “normative” celebration of the Roman Pontiff.[5]
The interest of OR I also lies in the fact that it represents an epoch when the Roman liturgy had not yet undergone a hybridization through contact with Franco-German uses. The author of the first redaction of OR I wrote from Rome at the end of the seventh century or the start of the eighth century, but one may argue that the liturgy he describes, apart from several modifications and developments, is in substance the stational liturgy of St. Gregory the Great. Though the redactor writes in poor Latin— “vulgar” Latin close to the Romance languages then in formation—he is distinguished by “a profound personal knowledge of the Roman liturgy. His description of the papal Mass comes from a witness intimately familiar with all the details of his subject.”[6] It also offers numerous indications about the hierarchical degrees and institutions of the Roman church, among which we will discuss what relates to the liturgical function of the scola[7] cantorum, focusing on the direct original link between ritus and cantus in the ancient liturgy. In this way we will be better able to define the role of sacred chant in the celebration of Christian worship.

OR I opens with these words: “Incipit ordo ecclesiastici ministerii romanae ecclesiae vel qualiter missa celebratur.” The ordo thus introduced is a long text, divided into 126 paragraphs in Michael Andrieu’s edition. To facilitate our reading, we will divide the text according to the various parts and sections of the Mass, and make it our task to point out and analyze in each of them whatever concerns the liturgical-musical structure of the rite described.


1.1 The Preparation (nos. 1–45)

From the Patriarchium Lateranense, the place of his residence, the Roman Pontiff proceeds on horseback to the church designated for the stational liturgy. In the cortège that escorts him, the sub-deacon charged with the lectio of the epistle carries the apostolum (the epistolary), while the archdeacon has charge of the evangelary (no. 20). The pope is received at the doors by the clergy of the stational church as well as by the acolytes of the region of the Urbs where the church is situated. The rest of the clergy who take part in the celebration are already in the church: the suburbicarian bishops and titular priests of the various churches (those who along with the deacons would later be called cardinals); other clergy, among them the acolytes defensores; probably numerous monks belonging to the various monasteries of the basilicas; and, of course, the members of the scola cantorum. The latter, following the modification ordered by Gregory the Great in 595— which had forbidden men to be ordained to holy orders solely on the grounds of their good voice[8] —was then composed of sub-deacons, minor clerics and children (infantes).[9] The sub-deacons formed the body of the four ranks of the scola: primicerius scolae (or archicantor), secundicerius, tertius and quartus scolae, with the last also having the title archiparafonista because he was put over the children parafonistae.

After entering the church, the pontiff does not go immediately to the altar but into the secretarium, a sort of chapel-sacristy, escorted by the deacons. The deacon charged to read the gospel receives the evangelary, removes it from its sealed case, finds and marks the pericope of the day, then consigns the book to an acolyte who, accompanied by a sub-deacon sequens (i.e., dedicated in a special manner to the service of the pope),[10] carries it to the altar on which the sub-deacon places it with certain signs of honor (nos. 30–31).

In the secretarium, the liturgical vesting of the pontiff takes place. At the end of this, a regional sub-deacon, holding the maniple of the pontiff placed on his left arm, exits the secretarium and cries: “Scola.” The archiparafonista, or quartus scolae, responds: “adsum.” The sub-deacon inquires from him the name of the cantor who is to perform the psalmody (“Quis psallit?”). This is probably the name of the one who will perform the versets of the gradual, alleluia, or tract. after he receives the response, the sub-deacon returns to the pope, dresses him in the maniple and announces to him the names of the regional sub-deacon who will read the epistle, and of the cantor who will chant: “Servi domini mei talis subdiaconus regionarius legit apostolum et talis de scola cantat” (no. 38). The following paragraph contains a severe prohibition against modifying the choice of persons already designated: if this happens, the archiparafonista is excommunicated (no. 39).

When reading the text one will note the difference in the verbs employed: psallere for the scola, legere for the sub-deacon and deacon. Psallere means to chant, or more precisely to chant the text of the Psalms, which forms the basis of liturgical chant. In the time of OR I, there exists a highly developed psalmodic, or antiphonic, or responsorial chant entrusted to the cantors. This ornate chant is strictly distinct from the reading, which is lightly ornamented and reserved to the sub-deacon and the deacon for the declamation of the sacred Text. The artistic execution of the chant is the privilege of the scola cantorum from which, as we have already pointed out, the deacons were excluded.

The archiparafonista has entered the secretarium; he places himself facing the pontiff, waiting until he makes the sign to commence the chant. The order received, the archiparaphonist leaves by the doors of the secretarium and tells the seven acolytes who are waiting with the candlesticks, as well as the sub-deacon sequens who holds a golden thurible: “accendite” (nos. 40–41). He then goes to the choir and says while bowing to the director of the scola (“ad priorem scolae, vel secundum sive tertium”): “domne, jubete” (no. 42). The cantors then take their places before the altar, opposite the apse, in front of the confessio. The liturgical space of the church of Saint Clement at Rome, as it has come down to us, permits us to know with accuracy the disposition of the scola cantorum. The cantors are arranged in two columns facing each other (“per ordinem acies duae tantum”), deployed in the interior of the choir from the doors of the chancel up to the confessio. The archiparaphonist stands near the chancel with the children, while the other cantors occupy the space closer to the altar, the higher-ranking members standing at the ends of each column (no. 43). The first cantor intones the antiphon ad introitum.

As the first notes of the melody fill the basilica, the deacons alert the pontiff. The pope rises from the small throne on which he had been sitting, gives his right hand to the archdeacon and his left to the second deacon, and exits the secretarium.

1.2. The Entrance Rites (nos. 46–54)

The pope moves toward the altar in procession. In front of him walk the sub-deacon sequens holding the thurible and the seven regional acolytes, each one with a candlestick. The procession arrives at the entrance to the choir where the choir is standing. The pontiff advances between the two columns of cantors to the level of the first cantors (“in caput scolae”). He bows toward the altar, rises, prays a moment in silence, crosses himself on the forehead, and gives the kiss of peace to his assistants. Then he gives the sign to the choir master to say “gloria [Patri];” the choir master bows and complies while the pope mounts into the apse. Meanwhile, the archiparaphonist has rolled out the oratorium, a sort of “prayer mat,” before the steps of the altar. In so doing, the archiparaphonist executes a ceremonial action, linked to a precise moment of liturgical chant. Arrived before the altar, the pope prostrates himself on the oratorium during the chant gloria [Patri] until the repetition of the introit verset (no. 50).

When reading the description of these entrance rites, the liturgical historian may very clearly distinguish the still silent origins of something that would appear later, during the Carolingian period: the prayers at the foot of the altar.

The pontiff rises, mounts to the altar, kisses the book of gospels and the altar, then goes to his throne (“ad sedem”) in the back of the apse. He stands there facing east (“versus orientem”), which in the case of an eastward facing church would have meant standing in the same position as the people (no. 51).

Next is sung the “Kyrieleison” (sic). When he deems fit, the pope makes the sign to the choir master to conclude what is already designated by the Gelasian term laetania.[11] Then the pontiff intones the “Gloria in excelsis deo.” Two manuscript witnesses (G and A) attest that the pope turns toward the assembly to intone the Gloria, then resumes his position turned toward the east until the end of the hymn. In any case, he remains standing. He turns again toward the people to say (which means to sing without ornamentation, recto tono): “Pax vobis,” then “Oremus.” Once again turned toward the east, he pronounces the oratio, in which he gathers the prayers of the whole assembly (hence the term collecta, received later to designate this prayer), and thus concludes the entrance rites.[12] After all have responded “Amen,” the pontiff sits at his throne (no. 53), then makes the sign to the bishops and priests to seat themselves.

1.3 The Instruction (nos. 55–65)

The designated sub-deacon, after pulling his chasuble up to his shoulders—so as to grant his arms more liberty of movement— climbs the ambo and reads the epistle (no. 55).[13] Likewise the designated cantor mounts the ambo—more precisely the steps of the ambo—where he performs the responsum gradale. In order to do this he holds in his hands the cantatorium, a book for the use of a soloist, of oblong shape, often decorated with a rich binding, and containing the interlectionary chants and sometimes the offertory versets.[14] The gradual chant is the occasion for the cantors to elaborate certain highly ornate melodies with grand artistic qualities that everyone listens to in silence.[15] He intones another chant with ample melismatic vocals, exulting, in the word of St. Augustine,[16] in the alleluia chant. During certain times this is replaced by the tract, unless it is only possible to sing the gradual (no. 57).[17] The number of readings at Rome having been limited to the epistle and gospel during the Gregorian period,[18] the interlectionary chants succeed one another without transition. at the end of the last interlectionary chant, the ceremonies attending the proclamation of the gospel are performed: the benediction of the deacon by the pontiff; the deacon’s coming to the altar to take the evangelary; finally, the procession of the ministers toward the gospel ambo (two regional sub-deacons, one of whom carries the thurible; two acolytes with candlesticks, and lastly the deacon with the evangelary). Having mounted the ambo, the deacon reads the gospel in a lightly ornamented tone. OR I does not mention the existence of an introductory dialogue.[19] After the chanting of the gospel, the pontiff says (to the deacon): “Pax tibi.” There follows the rite of kissing the gospel by the pope and the clergy in hierarchical order.

OR I does not attest a Credo chant. In fact, we know that it was not received in the liturgy of the city of Rome before the eleventh century at the request of Emperor Henry II.[20]


2.1. The Offertory (nos. 66–85)

In no. 63 we read that the pontiff, after saying “Pax tibi” to the deacon, addresses himself to the assembly with “dominus vobiscum.” Following the assembly’s response, the celebrant adds: “Oremus,” a solemn invitation to prayer, already uttered once before the prayer at the conclusion of the entrance rites. Yet we must be careful to note that this Oremus is not followed by any precise prayer. It is scarcely credible, at least to us, that we are dealing with a vestige of the oratio fidelium suppressed since the fifth century in favor of the Deprecatio Gelasii. Rather, as Johannes Brinktrine has remarked,[21] it is necessary to connect this greeting of the assembly and the invitation to prayer to the oration super oblata that will conclude the rite of offering. What is more, the invitation to prayer seems to be connected to the action that all the assistants are about to perform: the offering of bread and wine, the material of the Eucharistic sacrifice, by the whole Church—an offering whose entire meaning will be expressed by the oration super oblata.[22]

Setting aside the oration super oblata, the rite of offering is not the object of any private prayer or apology by the celebrant and the ministers. These remain silent while they receive the offerings of the assembly at the entrance of the choir, in a manner strictly established and proscribed. Meanwhile, the scola cantorum performs a chant, a sort of introit to the Eucharistic liturgy. The text of OR I does not indicate the precise moment when this chant is to commence. It only says that at the end of the offering, once the oblations have been placed on the altar, the pope again makes the sign to the scola to cease chanting (no. 85). Specialists still dispute the origin, development, and musical status of the offertory chant, and the discussion is linked to the very complex history of the rites of the Roman offertory. Nevertheless, it seems we must see in the Roman offertorium chant a response rather than an antiphon.[23]

In addition to performing the required chant, the scola cantorum participates in its own way in the rite of offering. We read in no. 80 that a sub-deacon sequens descends from the apse to the scola to receive the offering of water (“accipit fontem”) from the hands of the archiparaphonist. This is placed on the altar for the archdeacon so that he can mix it into the wine of the chalice while making the sign of the cross with the cruet. The offering of water on the part of the scola cantorum seems to be a consequence of the direct link between the act of offering the material for the sacrifice and the action of communion. He who offers bread and wine will receive Eucharistic communion. Now, during the distribution of communion, the scola is occupied with chanting; its members being incapable of communicating during the celebration, they therefore do not offer the material for consecration. Nevertheless, as by their chant they participate in the liturgical celebration, they manifest this participation by offering the water for the chalice. If we follow the teaching of St. Cyprian,[24] the offering of the water in fact manifests, in its own way, a true participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice—a mystical and spiritual participation of redeemed humanity in the sacrifice of Christ.

Once the oblations are placed on the altar, the pontiff stands alone and makes the sign to the scola to finish the chant (no. 85). A new difficulty presents itself for the historian of the offertory rite, because the text of OR I makes no mention of the prayer super oblata, passing immediately to “Per omnia secula” (sic) and to the dialogue: “dominus vobiscum,” “Sursum corda,” “Gratias agamus” (no. 87). The fact is all the more surprising since the oratio super oblata is found in every Mass formulary from the proto-sacramentary of Verona to the ancient Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries. For certain authors (among them Josef A. Jungmann, Mario Righetti, and more recently Philippe Bernard), it seems evident that the prayer super oblata would have been said; the redactor of OR I presumed this and merely neglected to indicate it. On the contrary, Antoine Chavasse thinks it would not have been said during the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff, and that it was reserved for less solemn Masses.[25]

2.2. The Canon Missae (nos. 86–90)

While the bishops, priests, deacons, and acolytes remain in the apse behind the pontiff, the seven regional sub-deacons stand on the other side of the altar, on the side of the confessio, facing the pontiff, arranged in a horizontal line. When the pope says “Per omnia secula” (sic), “dominus vobiscum,” etc., they respond to him. The pope chants the preface. At the Sanctus, they give a profound bow with the pontiff and all the assistants: “Et subdiaconi regionarii, finito offertorio, vadunt retro altare, aspicientes ad pontificem . . . stantes erecti usquedum incipiant dicere hymnum angelicum, id est Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” (no. 87).

Reading the text attentively, it seems that it devolves upon the sub-deacons to perform the Sanctus chant—even though it would seem difficult that they could do so with ease while bowing profoundly. Although this chant was not reserved exclusively to them, by the position they occupied and the chant they performed, they represented the choirs of angels who stand before the throne of the lamb. This position of the sub-deacons and the significance tied to it would be mentioned, emphasized, and developed very frequently in the course of the following centuries by means of allegorical rites. In this sense, knowledge of OR I is necessary in order to understand the role of the sub-deacon, from the offertory to the communion, during the so-called solemn Tridentine Mass. The Sanctus chant completed, the pontiff rises and begins to pray the canon: “. . . surgit pontifex solus et intrat in canonem” (no. 88). All the others, the bishops, priests, deacons, and sub-deacons remain bowed during the Eucharistic anaphora. As a matter of textual interpretation, we would like to remark with Michel Andrieu that “for the redactor of the long recension [of OR I], the canon begins at the Te igitur. On the contrary, according to the ancient conception, which was also that of the original redactor of the Ordo I, it included the preface and the Sursum corda dialogue.”[26]

OR I tells us nothing about the manner in which the pontiff pronounced the canon nor the liturgical actions that he performed. Following the mode of the preface, did he say the prayer while modulating the text with vocal inflexions, using a musical rhyme more or less similar to the ferial tone of the preface?[27] Did he read it in a loud voice recto tono, in a recitative manner? Or did he already say it in a low voice? In the context of the Roman basilica and its usually ample dimensions, it is difficult to imagine a simple reading of the canon in a loud voice and without chant, which would only have been intelligible only to those assistants standing nearest to him—unless of course it was understood that only the clergy should hear it.[28] The development toward the silent canon, attested in later ordines,[29] would then be nothing more than an inevitable consequence. In addition, there is no trace of a change in vocal tone for the doxology “Per ipsum.”[30]

From another point of view, it is evident from our text that only the pope pronounces the words of the Eucharistic anaphora. of course, the Eucharistic celebration described in OR I is public and collective; all the degrees of the hierarchy and the whole of the “people of God” participate in and unite themselves to it: in this sense it is possible to speak of a “concelebration,” if one means by it a celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice on the part of all the members of the mystical body, and especially certain members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy—bishops and priests of the second order. All participate in the same action led by the celebrating pontiff; all in some manner offer through his hands. but we do not witness here what today is called a “sacramental” concelebration, in the sense that the participation and action of the concelebrants consists in pronouncing the sacramental words along with the principal celebrant—not that this type of concelebration was not in existence at the time of OR I, but that it was limited to certain solemnities and circumstances.[31]

2.3. The Communion Rites (nos. 91–123)

The canon completed, OR I amply describes the complex rites associated with the communion. These rites are introduced by the Pater noster, the chanting of which, according to the practice attested by St. Gregory the Great, is reserved to the celebrant alone.[32] After the embolism Libera nos and the replacing of the paten on the altar, the pontiff says: “Pax domini sit semper vobiscum,” placing in the chalice a portion of the oblations from the preceding papal Mass (the first commingling).[33] The pontiff proceeds to the fraction of the Eucharistic bread of his own offering (the first fraction), leaves the part he has detached on the altar and places the rest of his oblation on the paten. He then leaves the altar for the throne (nos. 97–98). During this time, after the pope has said “Pax domini,” the archdeacon gives the peace to the first of the bishops, then to the other members of the clergy and finally to the people (no. 96).

After the rite of peace, there comes the general fraction of the Eucharistic bread.[34] The oblations are first transported from the altar to the pope, bishops, and priests (nos. 101–104). Then, at the precise moment when the fraction is to begin, the archdeacon makes a sign to the scola cantorum to begin the Agnus Dei (no. 105). This chant, commonly considered of Eastern origin, was introduced into the Roman liturgy by Pope Sergius I (687–701), who was of Syrian origin. With the Agnus Dei, a prayer takes place in the Roman liturgy that is addressed directly to Christ, the holy Victim to whom the whole assembly gives supplication at the moment of the fraction. Repeated uninterruptedly during the whole time of the fraction, this invocation is always concluded by “miserere nobis.” however, the concomitance of the kiss of peace would suggest to later generations an interpolation containing an allusion to the peace—“dona nobis pacem”—which prevailed everywhere except at St. John Lateran where the former usage was maintained until the twentieth century.

When the fraction of the oblations has been completed, the pope communicates at the throne (no. 106). In so doing, the pope detaches a part of the consecrated bread he is about to take. He places this part in the chalice held by the archdeacon (the second Commingling), saying: “Fiat commixtio et consecratio corporis et sanguinis domini nostri Iesu Christi accipientibus nobis in vitam aeternam. Amen.” He adds to the archdeacon: “Pax tecum.” The archdeacon responds: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The pope then takes the Precious blood in the chalice held by the archdeacon (no. 107). Then he descends to administer the communion to those from whose offerings he had received with his own hands at the offertory. He is followed by the archdeacon holding a great cup of wine in which a small amount of Precious blood had been mixed for the “confirmation” of the communicants (no. 113).[35] During this time, the bishops and priests administer communion to the rest of the assembly.

When the pope began to distribute communion in the senatorium, the scola cantorum intoned the communion antiphon, which they would draw out by means of versets from the Psalms, until the end of the general communion (no. 117). When the pope has finished distributing communion, he seats himself at his throne and washes his hands (no. 118). Once the communion of the people is finished, he orders the choir master to chant “Gloria Patri” (no. 122). The communion antiphon finished, the pope rises and comes to the altar to pronounce the oration ad complendum—the Postcommunion (no. 123).


At the pope’s signal, the deacon designated by the archdeacon says: “Ite missa est.” The response is: “Deo gratias” (no. 124).

Immediately the procession forms to return to the secretarium in the following order: the seven acolytes, the regional sub-deacon swinging the thurible, then the pope with his assistants (no. 125). At his passing all bow and ask his blessing (“Iube, domne, benedicere”). In the choir there are first the bishops, then the priests, monks, the scola, the standard-bearers,[36] other clergy and officers of the patriarchium. Outside the choir, there are the cross bearers of the various regions, then the mansionarii iuniores. The pontiff says to each group: “benedicat nos dominus.” All respond: “Amen.” The pope crosses the choir and reenters the secretarium (no. 126). OR I does not mention any chant to accompany the pontifical recessus, the liturgical significance of which was lesser in relation to the introitus, a veritable entry into the heavenly Jerusalem.

Josef A. Jungmann wrote:

If we mull over this description in its entirety we will get the strongest impression of a magnificent completeness. A great community exercise, heir of a thousand years’ culture, had produced its final form in the church, lending to the divine service the splendor of its noble tradition.[37]

But even further, for anyone who wants to understand the sources, the history, and the theology of the Roman Mass, the Ordo Romanus Primus is invested with the highest level of importance. Indeed, OR I presents the fundamental structure of the Ordo Missae onto which, beginning in the Carolingian period, other developments and adaptations would be grafted. These would concern principally three moments of the celebration: the entrance, the offertory, and the concluding rites. They were a matter of making certain pre-existent rites “speak” that until then had remained “silent” as the schola cantorum performed a chant: the prayers at the foot of the altar during the chant of the introit and the “apologies” during that of the offertory. Because of the progressive adoption of unleavened bread in the West, certain rites were simplified, such as the offering and the fraction. however, it is not only the heart of the Ordo, running from the preface to the “Pax domini,” which remained unaltered, but the structure itself of the solemn Mass, accented by the succession of chants, which would not be modified—until the missal promulgated by Pius V in 1570.

From another perspective, the examination of OR I permits us to highlight the foundational role of chant in the Eucharistic celebration. The chant does not function only as an ornamental quality, reduced to the merely figurative quality of a work of art, but possesses a true and proper liturgical function. One part of the celebration is actually reserved to the scola cantorum. The cantors proclaim a liturgical text drawn generally from Sacred Scripture. This proclamation sometimes envelops a complete rite, such as the entrance, offertory, and communion, as the integral expression of its meaning. Between the readings, the liturgical chant becomes a meditation on the Word of God. With the Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, and probably the Sanctus, the sacred chant is also the mode of expression and participation of the entire assembly. In addition, the liturgical dimension of chant is emphasized by ceremonial provisions: the intervention of the officials of the scola during the rites of preparation, their arrangement in the choir, the offering of water at the offertory, etc.

In the history of the documented and ascertainable origins of the Roman liturgy, sacred chant is a constitutive element of the celebration. It does not rate second place. It may develop, become more complex, and follow the evolution of musical art, but it remains the support of the liturgical text, as long as this text cannot be “read” in the context of simplified Masses. In other words, the Ordo Romanus Primus proves that the normative Mass is not the low or said Mass where all the parts of the rite are concentrated in the hands of a lone celebrant,[38] but rather the solemn celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, performed by the pontiff (the pope and to a lesser degree the bishop in his own diocese), with the assistance of all the orders of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the active collaboration of the scola cantorum, and in the presence and with the participation of the Christian people.

In OR I, the ecclesiological dimension of the liturgical assembly is manifested in its plenitude: it is in effect the entire community, hierarchically ordered under the direction of the Roman Pontiff, that takes part in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. The actions of offering, the solemn fraction, the general communion, and even the rite of the pope’s communion ad sedem, underline this concept of Eucharistic assembly (ecclesia). The Roman Pontiff appears in his quality as supreme pastor and, thus, of “liturgist” par excellence, while the sacred ministers and the scola cantorum forge the link between the throne-altar and the assembly of the faithful.

Rev. Franck Quoëx (1967–2007), S.T.D. was a priest of the Archdiocese of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, and a highly esteemed liturgical scholar.

* Editor’s note: This article was originally published as “Ritualité et chant sacré dans l’Ordo Romanus Primus (VII–VIIIème siècle),” in Aevum 76 (2002) 253–265. In the English translation, the editorial conventions of Antiphon are largely followed.


[1] See Antoine Chavasse, La liturgie de la ville de Rome du Vème au VIIIème siècle: Une liturgie conditionnée par l’organisation de la vie in urbe et extra muros, Studia anselmiana 112 (Rome: Centro Studi San Anselmo, 1993). The author holds that parallel to the systematization of the euchological formulary in the sacramentaries, the organization of the stational liturgy at Rome probably required, sometime during the fifth and sixth centuries, the codification of liturgical practices so as to give them an official status.

[2] It was certainly in order to alleviate certain misunderstandings and uncertainties that around 760 Remedius, bishop of Rouen and blood brother of Pepin the Short, made a voyage to Rome with the purpose of obtaining permission from Pope Paul I to send back with him a man called Simeon, secundus of the schola cantorum, so that he could teach the Frankish clergy the Roman ceremonial and musical practices. See Cyrille Vogel, “les échanges liturgiques entre Rome et les pays francs jusqu’à l’époque de Charlemagne,” in Le chiese nei regni dell’Europa occidentale e i loro rapporti con Roma sino all’800, Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 7 (Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1960) 185–295, at 242–243.

[3] See the seminal remarks of Michel Andrieu, Les Ordines Romani du haut moyen âge, 5 vol., Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense 11, 23, 24, 28, 29 (Louvain: Peeters, 1931–1961) vol. II, XII XIV. See also Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, trans. Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993) 185: “Their historical interest no longer needs any demonstration so important was their impact on the Latin liturgy in the West, especially at the time they made their way into the Frankish Empire. I shall simply limit myself to recalling the unique testimony of the nine small ivory plaques attached to the back cover of the Sacramentary of Drogo (Paris, B.N., lat. 9428, middle of the ninth century), showing nine scenes of a Eucharistic celebration in the cathedral of Metz, presided by the bishop. The different rites, presented with a meticulous attention to detail (number and placement of officiants, gestures, liturgical objects, and so on) reflect the historical fact that Metz adopted the Ordines Romani during the Carolingian period under the episcopate of Chrodegang (742–766); this is evident prove of the Romanization of the Gallican liturgy in one of its bastions, the cathedral of Metz” (translation modified).

[4] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 67–108.

[5] See Niels K. Rasmussen, “Célébration épiscopale et célébration presbytérale: un essai de typologie,” in Segni e riti nella chiesa altomedievale occidentale, 11–17 aprile 1985, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 33 (Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1987) vol. II, 581–603.

[6] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 53.

[7] This article reproduces the orthography of the OR I manuscripts.

[8] See the discourse of St. Gregory the Great during the synod held at St. Peter’s in July 595: “In sancta hac Romana ecclesia, cui divina dispensatio praeesse me voluit, dudum consuetudo est valde reprehensibilis exorta, ut quidam ad sacri altaris ministerium e cantores eligantur et in diaconatus ordine constituti modulationi vocis serviant, quos ad praedicationis officium elemosinarumque studium vacare congruebat. Unde fit plerumque, ut ad sacrum ministerium, dum blanda vox quaeritur, quaeri congrua vita neglegatur et cantor minister Deum moribus stimulet, cum populum vocibus delectat. Qua de re praesenti decreto constituo, ut in sede hac sacri altaris ministri cantare non debeant solumque evangelicae lectionis officium inter missarum sollemnia exsolvant. Psalmos vero ac reliquas lectiones censeo per subdiaconos vel, si necessitas exigit, per minores ordines exhiberi.” Ep. V, 57a (MGH, Epistolae, I, 363).

[9] Philippe Bernard, Du chant romain au chant grégorien (IV e –XIII e siècle) (Paris: Cerf, 1996) 412: “First conceived as the company of the senior soloists of the titular churches, a corporation for the masters of Roman chant, the Schola cantorum became progressively a stage in the Roman clerical cursus, receiving children who had been destined for the Church. after a solid formation—the seven liberal arts, probably with a particular insistence on the skills of reading and proclamation of sacred texts—the most gifted among them could enter the body of cubicularii at the Lateran, where they completed their formation, which set them on a course for the highest offices of the Church of Rome. . . . Thus it is not until the beginning of the eighth century or the end of the seventh that we see the Schola transformed into a sort of ‘professional craft,’ the classic image that comes down to us in the Ordines Romani.”

[10] On the various categories of sub-deacons and their functions in the papal liturgy over the centuries, see Armando Cuva, “Pagine di storia del ministero suddiaconale alla messa papale,” in Fons vivus—Miscellanea liturgica in memoria di don E.M. Vismara, ed. Armando Cuva (Zürich: PAS, 1971) 287–314.

[11] OR I, no. 52: “Prior vero scolae custodit ad pontificem, ut ei annuat quando vult mutare numerum laetaniae et inclinat se pontifici.” We know that when OR I was redacted during the sixth century, the practice of chanting the Deprecatio Gelasii had fallen into desuetude. Since they various invocations to which the people would have responded by Kyrie eleison no longer existed, the cantors took the place of the people in chanting these words. Thence came the development of the Kyrie from an almost syllabic melody into an ornamented chant.

[12] One manuscript (R), the work of a Frankish copyist, provides at this point after the oration, on Easter day and feast days, for the chanting of the Laudes Maiores, beginning with the words “Exaudi Christe.” These were liturgical acclamations in honor of the pope, emperor, or bishop, etc., along with an expression of the prayers of the assembly: that God and the saints would protect them, that they would be given victory, peace, happiness, etc. These Gallican Laudes entered the papal liturgy and maintained their place in the papal coronation Mass until the twentieth century.

[13] “Naturally the reading was done in Latin, but if the Pope had so arranged it, the Greek text was added by a second sub-deacon in honor of the Byzantine population which had emerged as a numerous and distinct population at Rome after the fifth century. OR I does not make mention of this practice, but there is no doubt that it was an ancient Roman tradition to allow in the Mass of certain major solemnities, such as the Vigil and feast of Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost, for the singing of the epistle and the gospel in both languages, Latin and Greek.” Mario Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, Vol. III: La messa, 3rd ed. (Milano: Editrice Àncora, 1966) 166–167.

[14] See Michel Huglo, Les livres de chant liturgique (Turnhout: Brepols, 1988). Today we still possess several cantatoria. The most ancient, produced in northern Italy around 800, is conserved inside the treasury of the basilica of San Giovanni in Monza (Cod. CIX).

[15] “Around the middle of the fourth century, after the peace of the Church and the consequence development of its public liturgical worship, the art of responsorial psalmody witnessed an extraordinary growth. On the basis of the ancient traditional melodies, and profiting from purest and noblest of Greco-Roman art, the Christian soloists composed modulations and vocalizations so luxurious and complicated that they even provoked certain people, such as St. Augustine, to scruples about the irresistible attraction of their art.” Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 650. See also Bernard, Du chant romain, 413: “The ancient responsorial psalmody between the readings was characterized by the alternation among one or more soloists who sang the versets of the psalm and the faithful who, between each of these versets, took up a short refrain. Later, this response was secured by the schola itself. but it would be too reductive to speak of a ‘clericalization’ of the Mass by presenting this evolution as a ‘confiscation’ of the chant on the part of the clergy, and the faithful thus henceforth reduced to the ‘passivity’ of simple listeners. In reality it was an indispensable progress in the development of musical art. If out of archeologism and excessive love of the past the old ossified forms had been fixed in place—i.e., the psalm without refrain and the responsorial psalm—this would have impeded any evolution and progress of liturgical chant, and any chance of reaching higher forms of elaboration and complexity. It would have been a brake on creativity and intellectual and musical discovery. As for the ‘passivity’ of the faithful, this is nothing more than a stale anachronism.”

[16] St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Ps. 99, 4 (CCSL 39, 1394): “Gaudens homo in exsultatione sua ex verbis quibusdam quae non possunt dici et intellegi, erumpit in vocem quamdam exultationis sine verbis; ita ut appareat eum ipsa voce gaudere quidem, sed quasi repletum nimio gaudio, non posse verbis explicare quod gaudet.”

[17] OR I, no. 57: “. . . cantor cum cantatorio ascendit et dicit responsum. Si fuerit tempus ut dicat Alleluia, bene; sin autem, tractum; sin minus, tantummodo responsum.”

[18] Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 230–234.

[19] The introductory dialogue at the gospel is found for the first time in OR V, a Romano-Germanic ordo from the second half of the ninth century.

[20] Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 294–298.

[21] Johannes Brinktrine, Die heilige Messe, 4th ed. (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1949) 131.

[22] For Antoine Chavasse, the Oremus in the context of the stational Mass is not meant to prepare for the collect super oblata, but to announce the Eucharistic prayer.

[23] On the question of the Roman offertoria, see Bernard, Du chant romain, 437– 438: “The most ancient offertoria may have been in place before the creation of the stational liturgy. They date from the end of the fifth century, just like the schola. . . . on the liturgical level, the Roman-style offertory is the introit of the Mass of the Faithful. It became a processional chant thanks to the addition of versets, but originally, when it was limited to the offertorium alone, it was the shortest of the chants of the Mass, along with the alleluia. It did not accompany the offertory procession, performed by the clergy, which was only created later, but simply marked the moment when the oblations were placed on the altar. As for literary form, the offertory became a sort of second gradual by the addition of one or more versets by the schola; the offertorium acquired the nature of a refrain very close to that of the gradual. Thus it appears to have evolved in an ambiguous relationship with the latter, which was the fruit of a revision of ancient responsorial psalms by the schola, and so a form familiar to the soloists of the schola. The offertory underwent another transformation when the versets were suppressed beginning in the tenth century finding itself more in line with the antiphons of the Mass, the introit and communion.”

[24] St. Cyprian of Carthage, Ep. 63 ad Caecilium (CSEL 3/2:711): “nam quia omnes portabat Christus qui et peccata nostra portabat, videmus in aqua populum intellegi, in vino vero ostendi sanguinem Christi. Quando autem in calice vino aqua miscetur, Christo populus adunatur et credentium plebs ei in quem credidit copulatur et iungitur.”

[25] Chavasse, La liturgie de la ville de Rome, 37: “The offertory unfolds in two ordered and complimentary movements: bringing (offerre, once; oblationes, three times; oblatas, five times) and reception (susceptio, no. 77; suscipere, seven times). Each movement is executed by the assembly as such, following a basic structure: the bringers, named in the order in which they come (men and women, pontiff, bishops, priests, deacons, etc.); the recipients, the ministers who receive the oblations (from the pontiff to the acolytes). Each of these two groups, acting together, has its own proper structure. On one hand: men and women in their hierarchies . . . on the other: the ministers, cooperating according to their position. . . . In itself, the rite of the Ordo I is an immense collective ‘gesture’ that corresponds to the structure of the celebrating assembly and by which the latter is expressed in its march toward the Eucharistic action. . . . a ritual arrangement so full and complete has no need of any ‘word.’ The chant of the scola suffices for its festive character. For this carefully disposed rite that takes place in the station where the Roman Pontiff is presiding, a concluding prayer (super oblata) is not present and actually not required. It is the great prex, announced by the initial Oremus and opening with the preface, which presents to God the assembly’s oblation.”

[26] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 95–96, fn. 88. This brief recension, which represents the most ancient form of OR I, is accessible in the manuscript Sangallensis 614.

[27] OR XXVIII, a Franco-Roman ordo redacted around 800 (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. III, 391–411) where we read a propos of the chanting of the Exsultet: “. . . decantando quasi canonem” (no. 62).

[28] OR XV, a Franco-Roman ordo redacted before 887 (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. III, 95–125): “. . . a circumstantibus altare tantum audiatur” (no. 39).

[29] See, for example, OR V, a Germano-Roman ordo redacted at the end of the ninth century (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 171–238): “. . . surgit solus pontifex et tacito intrat in canonem” (no. 58).

[30] The chant Per ipsum introduced in 1965 and designed to emphasize the doxology and the elevation that accompanies it, is not actually drawn from any manuscript source. We know that it was composed by Dom Eugène Cardine, who relied on an ancient melody.

[31] This is attested by an authentically Roman fragment contemporaneous with OR I, included in OR III, a Franco-Roman ordo from the second half of the eighth century (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 131–133): “In diebus autem festis, id est pascha, pentecosten, sancti petri, natalis domini, per has quatuor sollemnitates habent colligendas presbyteri cardinales, unusquisque tenens corporalem in manu sua et venit archidiaconus et porregit unicuique eorum oblatas tres. Et, accedente pontifice ad altare, dextra levaque circumdant altare et simul cum illo canonem dicunt, tenentes oblatas in manibus, non super altare, ut vox pontificis valentius audiatur, et simul consacrant corpus et sanguinem domini, sed tantum pontifex facit super altare crucem dextra levaque” (no.1).

[32] See the letter of Gregory to John of Syracuse about the place of the Pater after the canon in the Roman liturgy: “Sed et dominica oratio apud Graecos ab omni populo dicitur, apud nos vero a solo sacerdote.” Ep. IX, 12 (CCSL 140a:587).

[33] The reason for this first commingling is found in the ancient use of fermentum, but here with the difference that the fermentum links two successive Masses celebrated by the pope, and not the Mass celebrated by the priest of a titulus with the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff. See the commentary of Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 58–64.

[34] Note how the rite of fraction is surrounded by a great solemnity. The fraction of the pope’s oblations is made at the throne; all the bishops and priests perform it (and this for a very practical reason). The allegorical commentators did not leave glosses on the fraction and communion at the papal throne. Recalling that the expression fractio panis served in the early centuries to designate the Eucharistic sacrifice, we may ask ourselves whether the solemn fraction (and thus, the communion) ad sedem is not meant to manifest, in the Eucharistic celebration of the supreme pastor, the unity of the entire Church achieved by participation in this sacrament.

[35] OR I, no. 113: “. . . descendit pontifex a sede . . . ut communicet eos qui in senatorio sunt, post quem archidiaconus confirmat.” It seems that at this time the mixture of a little consecrated wine with non-consecrated wine was held to procure consecration by contact. Even though this opinion was not admitted completely, a certain sanctification of the wine was believed to be effected either by the infusion of the Precious blood, or by the commingling of a consecrated particle; see Michel Andrieu, Immixtio et consecratio: La consécration par contact dans les documents liturgiques du moyen âge (Paris: a. Picard, 1924).

[36] OR I, no. 126: “. . . deinde milites draconarii, id est qui signa portant.”

[37] Josef A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia), trans. Francis A. Brunner (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2012) vol. I, 73.

[38] On the subject of the progressive concentration of various functions in the hands of the celebrant, see the remarks of Cyrille Vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources, ed. and trans. William G. Storey and Niels K. Rasmussen (Washington, D.C: The Pastoral Press, 1986) 156.

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