The Sources and Shape of the Carthusian Liturgy

[The following was originally published in 1940-41 in Magnificat, a quarterly liturgical periodical published in Great Britain. To augment the original article, we have added images which are not part of the original piece.]

The Carthusian Liturgy

by a Monk of Parkminster

I. The Sources of the Carthusian Liturgy

In the year 1084, near the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, St. Bruno with six companions entered the desert of the Chartreuse in order to seek God in solitude. Without any idea of founding a Religious Order, but prompted solely by an intense longing for God which could be satisfied only by a complete separation from the world, he formed in that desolate, ragged, mountainous tract of Dauphine, with his companions of like mind, a little group of hermits living in community. Since resigning the chancellorship of Rheims, he had already for about two years experienced Benedictine monastic life at Molesme under St. Robert, the future founder of the Cistercian Order, and, for a little while, had even lived in a hermitage at Seche-Fontaine. But he was unsatisfied, for the voice of God was inviting him into greater solitude.

It was while they were seeking a place sufficiently remote that the seven travellers called upon St. Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, to ask for his blessing. In a dream, St. Hugh had seen seven stars; they fell at his feed, then rose up and lead him over wild, mountainous country, to a place known as the Chartreuse. In the midst of this solitude the stars came to rest and there God raised a temple to His glory. When St. Bruno and his six companions knelt before him and spoke of their longing to seek God in solitude, St. Hugh recognised the seven stars of his dream, and with great joy guided them to the desolate stretch of land which was part of his own diocese, about fifteen miles from Grenoble. The saintly Bishop not only helped them materially in the work of building cells, a church and a cloister linking all together, but became their lasting friend and protector; he consecrated the little church and frequently visited the solitaries, sharing their simple life.

Such an introduction is necessary if a true idea of the Carthusian liturgy is to be obtained, for it embraces at once the causes which brought it into existence, the reasons for its characteristics, and the spirit which has preserved its faithful continuity. St. Bruno and his companions were seeking God by means of a solitary contemplative life lived in community. Their intention was to gather the advantages of the eremitical life and at the same time to lessen its dangers by mitigating with it as much of the coenobitical life as experience would prove to be the best proportion. It followed therefore that the usual monastic routine and life of prayer would need modification and adaptation in order that greater solitude might be obtained.

St. Bruno himself was to spend only six years in his beloved solitude at the Chartreuse, for in 1090 he was summoned to Italy by the Pope, Blessed Urban II, an old pupil, who needed the counsel of his former master. He never returned to Dauphine but died in the year 1101 at La Torre in Calabria, where he had made a second foundation when at length he had been allowed by the Pope to return to solitude on condition of remaining near at hand. As has been said, our holy Father had no intention of founding a Religious Order; he therefore wrote no Rule, but was content to take what he needed from the writings of St. Benedict and those who had treated of the solitary and monastic life. For six years he instructed his little community chiefly by his example. For the Divine Office he continued the manner to which he was now accustomed after his period at Molesme, namely, the monastic psalter and the arrangement of the Office according to the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. And for Mass he followed the books and the manner of the place to which God had led him, that is to say, the diocese of Grenoble, which was that of the ancient See of Lyons, to which it was neighbour. Here, too, modifications were necessary both in Mass and Office, to make them suitable for monks living in solitude. Far from the haunts of men, there was no need for pomp or ceremony to surround the worship of God, which would but defeat the end of such a calling. 

There is about the Carthusian life a certain element of changelessness which arises from its very nature, and by which its spirit and its purpose have been maintained from the beginning. The reason for its existence does not change, neither does its appeal nor the mean by which it fulfills its end. The call to leave the world in order to live for God alone in solitude is the concern of God and the soul; it is a circumstance detached from time, nor need it suffer alteration therefrom. Similarly, as the Carthusian vocation remains the same in any age, to fulfill its purpose there is never any need to adopt new means or re-fashion old ones in order to lead a changing world to God. We have no contact with the world, nor parochial ministry of any kind, no call for popular devotion, and hence it is that the principles and practices which seemed best to our Fathers have been preserved. For such reasons as these the Carthusian liturgy is the simplest and most austere in the Church.

For forty-three years there was no written record of the life at the Chartreuse but in 1127 Guigo, the fifth Prior, wrote the "Consuetudines" -- the Customs. (P.L CLIII, col. 631-760.) The circumstances were as follows. At three places near Chartreuse -- Portes, Saint-Sulpice and Meyriat, groups of men had begun to live a similar life. They had written to the Prior asking him what rule of life they were to follow. He was unwilling to fall in with their request because, as he explains in the Prologue to the Consuetudines, there was really no need for him to write their customs since almost everything was contained in the Letters of St. Jerome, the Rule of St. Benedict and writers of such a character. It was only when the Bishop, St. Hugh, ordered him to do so that he committed to writing the things that they were accustomed to do. Actually, of course, he is describing the manner of life instituted by St. Bruno, for Guigo makes it quite clear that he is describing the things of which he is a witness, and is not in any way a lawgiver. In the Consuetudines is contained the basis of the whole of the Carthusian life, both for the Fathers and the Brothers. He begins with what he terms "the section of greater dignity, that, namely, which concerns the Divine Office, in which for the most part, we follow the way of other monks, especially in the ordering of the psalms."

At the same period, and again at the bidding of the holy Bishop, Guigo arranged the Antiphonary to which he wrote a preface setting forth the principles which guided him in his work. This preface, which is found in a few old Antiphonaries is given in full by Le Couteulx, Annales Ord. Cartus. Vol. I, p. 308. It is as follows: "The gravity of the eremitical life does not permit much time to be spent in the study of chant. For according to the Blessed Jerome, any monk, in so far as he is a hermit has not the office of teacher, and much less of a chanter, but rather of one who laments; one who mourns for himself and the world, and in fear awaits the coming of the Lord. Wherefore we have considered that certain things should be removed from the Antiphonary, or shortened. Things, namely, which for the most part, were either superfluous or were unsuitably composed, inserted or added, or had but little or doubtful guarantee for their authenticity, or none at all; or were guilty of levity, awkwardness or falsity. Further, anyone who carefully reads the Sacred Scriptures, namely, the Old and New Testaments cannot but know whether what has been emended or added is correct. We have done this in the presence of our most Reverend and most dear Father, the Lord Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble." In this preface Guigo adopts as his own the principles and sometimes the very words of Agobard, the strenuous reformer of the liturgy of Lyons, who three centuries earlier had been Archbishop of that See. (cf. "Liber de Correctione Antiphonarii" by Agobard, P.L. CIV, col. 329 seq.) Guigo's intention there is quite clear. Since monks leading a hermit life must not devote much time to the study of chant, Guigo's task was to fix the repertory of the Divine Office, both of the words and the music; in that way its integrity would be safeguarded and it could be learnt by heart, and would be known once and for all. 

Far from any intention of devising something new, which is a temptation in such circumstances, his endeavour was to return, as far as possible, to the text of St. Gregory, and whatever had been added to that was to be excluded. With this end in view he undertook a deliberate simplification by admitting only that which was considered authentically Gregorian. He refused place to all antiphons and responsories which were unscriptural; to all sequences, tropes, proses, hymns, in fact to all those additions which in the 11th century began to encrust the primitive offices. There were sometimes strange novelties. The sources of which is unquestionably Roman in its foundation; compared with a Lyons Antiphonary of the same date there is hardly any similarity. A first necessity would be the adding of four responsories for Matins to the eight of the Roman Office, since the monastic Office has twelve responsories; but nothing was added except what was considered to have been handed down from St. Gregory. The principle of authentic and non-authentic may be illustrated thus: in spite of the general rule of refusing place to all that was not scriptural, our Fathers made an exception in the Gradual for the Introits "Ecce advenit" of the Epiphany, the "Gaudeamus" and the "Salus populi" of the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, and for the Alleluia Verse "Dies sanctificatus" of the 3rd Mass of Christmas; and in the Antiphonary for the "O" antiphons of Advent and the "Te Deum" precisely because, though not scriptural, they were considered as authentic. The spirit of this principle the Order has faithfully maintained, thus preserving for our liturgy a certain fixity and sobriety which distinguishes it, and which harmonises so well with the stability and exigencies of our life. There have, however, been a few departures from Guigo's leading principles. Although there have always been hymns in the "cursus" of St. Benedict, Guigo, following the practice of Lyons, did not admit them, but the first hymns, four in number, were introduced by the General Chapter of 1143: Aeterne Rerum Conditor, Splendor Paternae Gloriae, Deus Creator Omnium and Christe Qui Lux es for Matins, Lauds, Vespers and Compline, respectively, which still remain the only hymns for Sundays, lesser feasts and ferias throughout the greater part of the year. The Masses "Salve Sancta Parens" and "Requiem" were introduced, the latter as companion to the Mass "Respice," which alone until the fourteenth century had been used for the Dead. The Office of the Blessed Trinity, which is partly non-scriptural, was composed and introduced at the end of the same century. The "cursus ferialis," however, has been treasured and guarded, and for feasts, even those of Our Lady, and exceptionally great use is made of the Common. The most striking example of this is surely the case of the feast of our Father, St. Bruno. He was canonised in the year 1514, at a period which gave itself to composition and invention, yet every word and every note of both Office and Mass is from the Common of a Confessor not a Bishop. In brief summary, therefore, we may say regarding our liturgical books, that the various books for Mass were taken from Lyons through Grenoble, with adaptations for the solitary life, that the Psalter and the ordering of the Office was monastic and that the Antiphonary is fundamentally roman. We have at Parkminister a Gradual of the early 12th century in which characteristics proper to the early manuscripts of Lyons are clearly recognised.

In 1142, under St. Anthelme the 7th Prior, there was instituted the General Chapter, on which occasion other communities in the neighbourhood of the Chartreuse leading a similar life were united under the authority of the Prior of the Chartreuse and the General Chapter. The first act was to bring about uniformity in the liturgy. (P.L. CLIII, col. 1126.) Then, in 1259 were promulgated what are known as the Statuta Antiqua, and the evolution of the liturgical texts and rites was now fixed. It had been the custom to mingle directions concerning the liturgy and discipline with each other in the Statutes, but in 1582 all liturgical matter was removed and made into a separate book known as the Ordinarium Finally in 1603 the Missal was corrected in conformity to the revision ordered by the Council of Trent; and in 1687 a revision of all liturgical books was ordered by the Sacred Congregation of Rites. These revisions were concerned merely with producing conformity with the Vulgate, and affected only words.

Before treating of the actual procedure of the Mass and Office it will be necessary to give a brief description of the life in a Charterhouse and how the liturgy and that life interact. The Carthusian life, as it has been said, is a blending of solitary and community life. Reasons have already been given why the solitude of the community as a whole has left an impress on the liturgy; we shall now see the influence upon it of the solitude of the individual in the community. The Carthusian monk lives alone in a cell which consists of a little house and garden. The cells are quite separate, and there is complete privacy. A certain spaciousness is essential in a Charterhouse to ensure that sense of being alone which a room on a corridor does not provide. The ground-floor of the cell is a workshop; the upper floor consists of two rooms in the larger of which the monk passes most of his life. In a corner is the oratory which is furnished like a choir stall; his bed is in an alcove; there is a bookcase, a table for study and a place near the window where he takes his food. The silence is intense.

The monk leaves his cell to go to church for the Night Office, that is Matins and Lauds, for Mass in the morning and once again in the afternoon for Vespers. He is free to visit the Prior, his confessor and, at stated times, the library; but for the rest he lives in the silence and solitude of his cell, not even making visits to the Blessed Sacrament. He occupies himself with the traditional concerns of a monk -- prayer, study and manual labour. The Hours of the Divine Office apportion the times of the day allotted to these: spiritual exercises until Sext, study and manual labour until Vespers, followed again by spiritual exercises. His time for taking food depends upon the hour of Sext or None; his time for rising is fixed by the time of Matins and Prime. The changes in time of the various Hours of the Divine Office for Feasts and Fasts effect the external order of his life. He recites the Little Hours and Compline in his oratory, using the same ceremonies as in choir. Before each Hour of the Divine Office he says the corresponding Hour of the Office of Our Lady, with the exception of Compline of Our Lady, which is said last of all. Thus at the sound of the great bell, each monk goes to his oratory and there is formed one vast choir, although each in his cell. The most frequent horarium is as follows: 6:00am Prime; 7:15 Conventual Mass, followed by Terce and Private Masses in the chapels; 10:00 Sext; 11:00 None; 2:45 Vespers; 5:45 or 6:00 Compline; about 11:30 Night Office. Such is the day of solitude.

But there are certain days, namely Sundays, Chapter Feasts and Solemnities, when the Carthusian leads more of a community life. On such days all the Divine Office is sung in choir, except Compline which is always said in the cell; the monk attends Chapter, takes his food in the refectory, and he may, if he wishes, take recreation or colloquium with his brethren after None. Such days are an integral part of Carthusian life and have been observed from the earliest days of the Order. They are reminiscent of the custom of the ancient solitaries of the desert who on Sundays and Feasts met their brethren for the celebration of the sacred Mysteries which was followed by a meal taken in common.

It will be readily observed that if the number of such Feasts be allowed to grow unchecked, the chief purpose of our vocation would be greatly impeded; hence the swing of increase and reduction in their numbers as the centuries pass. The earlier calendar that we possess belongs to the year 1134 -- just seven years after the "Consuetudines." It is practically the early Roman calendar from the beginning of the ninth to twelfth century. In the following numbers no account is is taken of Sundays, nor of the possibility of such feasts falling on a Sunday, which would add complication -- though it should be noticed that as no feasts were transferred in the early days of the Order while some now are, there would be a slight difference in favour of the earlier numbers. In 1134 there were 33 Chapters Feasts and Solemnities; by the end of the century, 38; the numbers for the next three centuries are 39, 51 and 54 respectively. By the end of the 16th century the maximum is reached -- 69; then begins the reduction: in 1603 the number has already fallen to 63, and thus it continues to decrease until in 1914, as also today, there are only 40 such days -- about the same number as at the beginning.

Actually there can never be the same amount of solitude as there has been in the early days of the Order, for a reason which surely turns such a loss into the greatest gain. Guigo wrote: "Roro quippe hic missa canitur," and gave the reason: there was no daily Conventual Mass in order that solitude might be preserved. Mass was sung on all Sundays, Chapters Feasts and Solemnities, each day from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday inclusively, except the Saturdays before the First Sunday of Lent and Palm Sunday, for which days there is no ferial Mass in the Carthusian Missal, on the Ember Saturdays, eight Vigils and the first three days of the Octaves of Easter and Pentecost; there were various Masses for the Dead. Private Masses were a thing unknown, and there was only on altar in the church. By the year 1259, after a gradual increase in number, daily Conventual Mass was already established, and when a few years earlier a second altar had been erected the saying of Private Masses began; it became more frequent, and thus led to the need for more altars, until by the end of the 14th century the custom of Private Masses is firmly established.

II. The Shape of the Carthusian Liturgy

[...] The Carthusian manner of offering Mass arose in this way: in the year 1084, St. Bruno and his six companions seeking to serve God in solitude were led by Him to the desert of La Chartreuse, in the diocese of Grenoble. As was but natural, the little Community began to offer Mass according to the custom of the place, adapting the ritual to suit that particular kind of monastic life to which they had been called. Together with the neighbouring sees, Die Valence and Vienne, Grenoble followed the rite of Lyons, the primatial See of Gaul; this rite, after man vicissitudes, still flourishes in the archdiocese of Lyons.

The coming of the Faith to Lyons is linked with the names of two martyred Bishops. St. Pothinus (+177) and St. Irenaeus (+202). Since both had been sent by St. Polycarp, whose disciples they were, and since he himself was a disciple of the Beloved Disciple, the belief arose that the original rite of Lyons was from Ephesus, and was therefore Oriental and not Western. This conclusion could not really be true since for the first three centuries of the Church's life, there had been no way of celebrating Mass in either East or West sufficiently formed and fixed to be called a "rite". Be that as it may, at the particular time with which we are concerned, namely, the end of the eleventh century, Lyons was tenaciously holding to that liturgy which had been imposed by Charlemagne on his Empire three hundred years before. Determined to be rid of the chaos in liturgical matters which was rampant throughout his dominions, the Emperor had sent to Pope Hadrian I for the Sacramentary of the Roman Church, which St. Gregory had revised at the end of the sixth century. The book, however, did not prove to be altogether to Charlemagne's liking. He therefore appointed the great scholar Alcuin, a native of York and in his service, to make additions to the work of St. Gregory. This Alcuin did by adding a supplement, taking his material from the earlier Roman Sacramentaries and from the Mass books of Gaul. In the year 799, Leidrade was sent to Lyons as Bishop, commissioned by the Emperor to begin reform in that city. It really was a new beginning. Though only 199 years had passed since St. Augustine of Canterbury had been consecrated there, in the golden age of the Gallican rite, Leidrade found a cathedral in ruins -- a symbol of the work before him. In the Bishop's train was a chanter from Metz, expert in the Roman chant. Agobard, Leidrade's successor, to whose zeal for the preservation of the purity of the liturgical text reference had been made in the former article, and Florus the Deacon, a theologian and liturgical scholar of repute, by their work in the ninth century laid so strong a foundation that when, after the death of Charlemagne, the other churches of Gaul revived more and more of their former customs, Lyons remained constant. Such then is the origin of the rite which was adapted to suit a life of solitude lived in community, and which became the basis of the Carthusian rite. Secondary influences came from neighbouring churches and monasteries, especially the famous abbey of Cluny, founded at the beginning of the previous century, with the monks of which there arose a great friendship.

After this brief glance at its origin we may turn our attention to the Mass itself. The church in a Charterhouse consists of the sanctuary, two choirs -- one for the Fathers and the other for the Brothers, separated by a rood screen. There is no nave, for there is no "congregation". The altar stands away from the wall; the tabernacle, which is unveiled, contains only three small Hosts, wrapped in a small corporal and placed in a ciborium. Thus the Blessed Sacrament is reserved only for the sick; others never receive Holy Communion from the tabernacle, but always by a Host consecrated at the Mass at which they are assisting. On the Epistle side of the sanctuary is the cathedra for the priest; opposite to this and adjoining the wall on the other side, is the Gospel lectern. Three lamps hang in the church: one in the sanctuary and one in each choir. That in the Brothers' choir is lit only when they are present, because even to this day the primary use of such lamps is to give light and to provide means for lighting a taper.

A visitor who attends Conventual Mass will always recall the picture of one standing alone at the altar with arms lifted up and outstretched "in modum Crucifixi". Then it is remembered that the Priest is alone not merely at the altar but in the whole sanctuary as well. The impression is a true one and the lack of ceremonial is most striking: there are neither acolytes nor servers of any kind, nor is there a Subdeacon; the Epistle is sung at the choir-lectern by a monk clad in his ordinary habit, the Deacon only goes to the sanctuary when he has something to do there, which is not often and for the rest he remains in the stalls. On days when incense is used, the Procurator presents the thurible to the Priest for the incense, but he leaves the sanctuary immediately and incenses the Gospel-book from below the sanctuary steps. Only the Priest may remain in the sanctuary -- this absence of ceremonial undesignedly stress the holiness of God.

The Carthusians wear no special cowl in choir, but one similar in shape to the choir-cowl of the other monks and of white material is worn by both the Priest and the Deacon. In this cowl, and without vestments of any kind, the Deacon performs his office; he wears a stole when he sings the Gospel, and a "syndon" (which is like a humeral veil without strings, worn on the left shoulder -- its ancient name was manutergium which shows its original use), when he offers the oblata to the Priest, and at the "Changing of the Hosts" (to be explained later), and when receiving Holy Communion. The Priest's vestments are as usual, but a cope is never worn. When at the cathedra and even when standing, the Priest holds a "mappula" (gremiale). The stole is not crossed (Footnote: Those interested in liturgical history may like to know that the stole was crossed until the year 1281, in which year the General Chapter decided that "for the future, the Order's custom of crossing the stole would be discontinued for the sake of uniformity" -- presumably with the world outside, which, however, later changed its practice.) but when he performs some ceremony for which, though vested, he does not wear the chasuble, he loops the ends of the girdle over the ends of the stole. The vestments are not kissed, neither are there any prayers said when vesting. It may be remarked here that the Priest's hand is kissed only twice during the whole Mass (which would surely please the late Dr. Fortescue) -- when the Deacon gives him the chalice at the Offertory and the thurible for the incensation which follows. The Priest kisses the altar only at the beginning and the end of Mass, at Et Homo factus est when the Credo is sung, at the Supplices, and before kissing the "instrumentum pacis" if the "Pax" is given; the Gospel-book, even at Masses for the Dead, after the singing of the Gospel -- other things are never kissed.

The Priest, assisted by the Deacon, vests at the altar and unvests behind it, unless part of the Divine Office is sung in choir before or after Mass, in which event the Vestry is used; but, in any case, apart from two or three occasions in the year, the chasuble is always put on in the sanctuary. Before vesting and after unvesting the Priest prostrates before the altar and says a Pater and an Ave. There are no other set prayers for Preparation or Thanksgiving. The Ave was added in 1589 because of a decision that whenever a Pater was said secretly in any Office, an Ave too was to be added. In the prostration the body lies on the side and rests on the elbows: this prostration is made by the Community in the stalls at Et Homo factus est in the Credo, after the Elevation of the Sacred Host until the end of the Consecration, and at the Priest's communion.

On Sundays, the Blessing of the Water precedes Terce and Conventual Mass, and is chanted by the priest at the choir-lectern. He is fully vested except for the chasuble, and wears the maniple. He makes a complete circuit of the sanctuary, passing behind the altar and sprinkles as he goes. There is only one melody for Asperges me -- the same as No. II of the "Alii Cantus ad lib." in the Vatican Graduale. Never is there a Gloria Patri, and Vidi aquam is unknown. As the priest moves through the choir, all bow to him but he to none "propter Personam quam tunc repraesentat".

The preparation of the altar will be of interest: it is only uncovered when needed, and is covered again immediately after the Placeat. When the priest has vested or towards of the end of the Little Hour, if one is being sung, the Priest and Deacon fold back the altar cover. There are the usual altar-cloths and also a purificator for use before the Consecration. The Deacon places a cushion on the Gospel side as a rest for the missal during the Canon; he places the missal flat on the Epistle side and lights two candles or, on Solemnities, four or six. There are no altar cards. The use of candles can be traced from the time when only one candle in a lantern was placed on the altar, a custom which survives today at the Blessing of Candles on Candlemas Day. The missal and Gospel-book have cloth covers sufficiently long to enable the books to lie open and yet be covered when not in actual use -- a survival of the days of manuscripts and the care taken of them. The original custom exists still on Good Friday, when two cloths are placed on the altar, one on each side, as covers for the missal. Later it was found more convenient to have one cover attached to the book itself.

Regarding the music of the Mass, there is no "schola" or special group of singers, but all the Fathers take their share in all the parts of the chant. There is never an accompaniment, since musical instruments of any kind are forbidden in the Charterhouse. The Mass is always sung in full; there is never any question of monotoning, or in any other way shortening, the longest Responsorium or Tractus. The music of the Ordinary of the Mass, however, is very simple. There are only three melodies for the Kyrie eleison: versions similar to No. XV in the Vatican Graduale for solemnities and to XVI for Sundays and Feasts, with a yet more simple one for other days and Masses for the Dead; two melodies for the Gloria in excelsis; a version similar to No. XI for Solemnities and to XV for Sundays and Feast; one melody for the Credo, like No. 1; two melodies for the Sanctus; one similar to No. XV for Solemnities and a simpler form of No. XVIII for Feasts, other days and Masses for the Dead; two melodies for the Agnus Dei; one for Solemnities with parts similar to No. XV and XVIII, and one, a simple form of XVIII, for all other days and Masses for the Dead. The Sanctus and Benedictus are always sung as one whole.

Finally, we shall consider some parts of the Carthusian Mass in detail. The reader will be able to note, by contrast, what was still unfixed in the Roman Mass prior to the missal of St. Pius V in 1570, and how the absence of "incidental" prayers and additions has preserved a primitive simplicity.

The Confession before Conventual Mass is sung on a monotone with a flex, by Priest and Conventus. For this the Priest stands near the Gospel-lectern, facing across the sanctuary. (Footnote: In making the Sign of the Cross, whether upon oneself or things, the thumb and the first two fingers are fully extended, and the remaining two fingers are bent upon the palm of the hand.) "Pone. Domine, custodiam ori meo. --Et ostium circumstantiae labiis meis. Confiteor Deo, et Beatae Mariae et omnibus Sanctis, et vobis Fratres, quia peccavi nimis mea culpa per superbiam, cogitatione, locutione, opere et omissione, precor vos orate pro me. --Misereatur tui omnipotents Deus, per intecessionem Beatae Mariae et omnium Sanctorum, et dimittat tibi omnia peccata tua, et perducat ad vitam aeternam. --Amen. Confiteor, etc. --Misereatur etc. --Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domine. --Qui fecit coelum et terram." And that is all. The Priest then goes before the altar, bows profoundly and says a Pater and Ave; goes up the steps, kisses the altar, saying nothing all the while; makes the Sign of the Cross and goes to the missal. A psalm never formed part of the preparation, which is the same on all occasions. It is always used -- even at the beginning of the Morning Offices on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and before the Blessing of Palms, Candles, etc. At private Masses the form was originally in the singular, if the Priest and server were alone, as is shown by a direction in the twelfth century which runs that if a Priest knows that Brother Cook or somebody else is present, he is to say: Vobis Fratres and Misereatur vestri. It was only in 1509 that it was deprived of its private character and the use of plural became compulsory. Incense is never used until the Gospel. Gloria in excelsis Deo, Dominus vobiscum and the Collects are all sung at the Epistle side of the altar, and the Priest remains there standing. He does not bow to the Cross at Oremus or at the Holy Name, but straight in front. We may note in passing the variants: propter gloriam tuam magnam in the Gloria, and vitam futuri seculi in the Credo. (Footnote: The latter is the translation of Dionysius Exiguus, c. 500 A.D.)

Having sung the Collects, the Priest carries the missal to the Gospel side, places it open on the cushion, covers it and goes to the Cathedra. The Deacon offers him the book containing the Epistles, Responsoria, etc., in case he may wish to have them before his eyes while they are being sung in Choir. If the Credo is not sung, the Deacon prepares the oblata during this time, and otherwise he dos so during the Credo. Having prepared and covered the Gospel book at the lectern, the Deacon comes to the Priest with the stole, and holding it extended says: Jube, Domne, benedicere. the Priest replies: Dominus sit in corde tuo et in labiis tuis ut recte nobs pronunties Evangelium pacis. Then taking on end of the stole he place sit on the Deacon's left shoulder, brings it round the back and under the right arm across the front, and hangs it over the left arm like a maniple; the other end hangs free from the left shoulder. The Deacon goes to the altar and kisses it, and sings the Gospel at the lectern. Because there is only one figure in motion, there is given to that simple silent action a power which heightens its symbolism. While the Gospel is being sung, the Priest stands at the Cathedra holding the mappula.

Surely it is wonderful, and certainly unique today, that the Priest at Conventual Mass does not say the Epistle and Gospel; that the strange doubling of parts seen elsewhere, caused by the priest saying everybody's part at High Mass (as he must do at Low Mass), does not take place in the Carthusian rite -- although since 1582 the Priest at Conventual Mass must say the Introit, Kyrie, Agnus Dei, Offertory and Communion.

At the Offertory, the Priest's hands are washed before the Deacon presents him with the corporal, and, if the thurible is used, they are washed a second time. The Priest goes to the Epistle side of the altar to receive the prepared chalice with the paten and host upon it. 

The Deacon adds the water with a spoon while the Priest says: De Latere Domini nostri Jesu Christi exivit Sanguis et aqua, in remissionem peccatorum. In nomini Patris, etc., and makes the Sign of the Cross over the bread and wine together. This is the only occasion in the Carthusian Mass, excluding the Canon, that the Priest gives a blessing with his hand, and it happens to be a later addition. The original custom was for him to say De latere... peccatorum, and then, if a Bishop was present, to turn, holding the chalice, towards his Lordship, who then blessed it. It was only in the sixteenth century that the Priest was directed to do it himself. The bread and wine are offered together, with one prayer only, namely, In spiritu humilitatis; and none of the other prayers in the Roman missal are said. A pall is not used, for the corporal is large enough to be drawn forward from behind and to cover the oblata. (Footnote: At Low Mass the host is put on the paten and the wine into the chalice before Mass begins, but the water is always added at the Offertory. Until then the chalice is not placed on the corporal, because it is considered as not yet on the altar; consequently there is no chalice veil, for the chalice is, in theory, still in the credence cupboard.) The incensation takes place thus: holding the thurible over the oblata, the Priest says: Dirigatur ... tuo; ... then saying In nomine Patris, etc. he makes the Sign of the Cross and a circle once, followed by one swing to the Cross and one to each side. He then holds the thurible at full length and gives three swings in front of the altar and parallel with it.

The Deacon now takes the thurible and holding it at full length, makes a complete circle around the altar, incensing in the direction in which he is walking, pausing in the middle of the altar, both before and behind, to incense three times toward the Blessed Sacrament. As the Priest turns and says: Orate, Fratres, pro me peccatore, ad Dominum Deum nostrum, to which there is no reply, the Deacon raises the front of the chasuble with one hand and with the other incenses the Priest with one swing of the thurible. The Priest alone is incensed during Mass, and that on this occasion.

The Consecration and Elevation are of special interest, for they preserve a transitional stage common at one time to the Western Church, i.e. when there was no Elevation of the Chalice, and when genuflection to the Blessed Sacrament was first introduced. A Carthusian never genuflects but makes a profound bow, as was the ancient custom. In the Church as a whole there was an utmost universal absence of genuflection down to the end of the fifteenth century. In the Carthusian order a practice grew up during the fourteenth century of bending the knee, but not to the ground, before elevating the Sacred Host. It is during the course of the twelfth century that the Elevation of the Sacred Host is found in the Roman missal; in the Carthusian order the first ruling concerning it is in the year 1222. The Elevation of the Chalice is not found in the Church until the fourteenth century; what priests did until that time was to hold the Chalice in their hands until the Unde et memores; this is what the Carthusians still do. In any case, the fact that the chalice is even then partially covered by the corporal would make an elevation of it impossible. At the end of the sixteenth century there was introduced the present practice of bending both knees slightly after the words of Consecration, while still holding the Chalice. The Deacon meanwhile kneels behind the Priest holding a torch -- a practice introduced at the beginning of the thirteenth century in order that the Sacred Host might be seen on dark mornings. Then when the Priest finally places the Chalice on the altar and bows, the Deacon bows with him, stamps his foot as the signal for the Conventus to rise from prostration (there is no bell on the Sanctuary), puts the torch away and goes to his place in the stalls. The Carthusian missal has Unde et memores nos tui servi, which is the original text.

The "Little Elevation" takes place at the words Per omnia secula seculorum, and the two Signs of the Cross made with the Sacred Host between the Priest and the Chalice are missing. A similar elevation with the Fragmentum and the Chalice is made at the Per omnia before the Pax Domini -- a survival of the old Gallican custom of elevating after the Pater. Haec commixtio and all the other prayers are unknown.

Agnus Dei is sung once at this point, and twice after the Priest's communion. Since the year 1319, "instrumentum pacis" have been used for giving the Pax. There is only one prayer before Communion, similar to the second one in the Roman missal. The Confiteor is not said before Holy Communion is given, nor is there an Absolution or Domine non sum dignus, etc. 

There are no prayers for the ablutions and the corporal is purified after the first ablution has been taken. (Footnote: The first ablution is as usual, but in the second, only the wine is poured over the priest's fingers into the chalice, the water being poured into a dish and then into the piscina. The chalice is laid on its side on the paten and a few drops thus collected are drunk by the priest, who then dries his lips with a special cloth known as the "Agnus Dei", the same with which he has dried his fingers after the second ablution. The chalice is not dried at the altar.) After carrying the missal across, and removing the cushion, the Deacon purifies the chalice with water at the piscina during the Post-communion. (Footnote: At Low Mass this is done by the Priest at the piscina, after he has unvested.) The Conventus, having answered Deo gratias to Ite Missa est sung by the Deacon, makes the Sign of the Cross and leaves the church. The Priest says the Placeat and covers the altar assisted by the Deacon, who then puts the candles out and helps the Priest unvest.

A word of explanation was promised regarding the "Changing of the Hosts". As has been already stated, only three small Hosts are reserved in the Tabernacle, as Viaticum for the sick. Before the days of small Hosts, there was but one large one reserved, of which a part was broken off as needed. As Sundays, the Deacon received this Host in Holy Communion, and another was placed in the Capsula in its stead. On Solemnities during the week, he received part of the Host of the Mass. Today, the Hosts are changed every fortnight, the Deacon, if such be his state, receiving one, and the Priest the remainder.

Originally Published in "Magnificat: A Liturgical Quarterly," 1940 (Vol II. no. 12, pp. 5-11), 1941 (Vol III, No. 3; pp. 5-10) and 1941 (Vol III, No. 4; pp. 6-9).

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.