Friday, May 25, 2018


I am attaching for you a link to a Must See one hour video. This video is an historical reconstruction of a Roman Rite Mass as it would have been celebrated on October 4, 1450, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. 

The Mass was sung in one of the medieval churches of the Swedish Island of Gotland. Fr. Anders Piltz, the celebrant, is a professor of latin in Lunds University and a Roman Catholic Priest. The cantor is Mattias Östborn, cantor at the Roman Catholic parish of Visby.

The Introduction to the Mass in the video is in Swedish, but it has been (a bit roughly) translated into English:

"Five hundred years ago, the universe seemed much more understandable than it does for us. All of existence was framed by a number of ceremonies and behavioral patterns which were a matter of course for people at the time. And the most important of them was the Holy Mass — that ring of charged words and actions which surround the central mystery in the Christian faith: That Jesus becomes man anew in the creatures of bread and wine.

"We have reconstructed a High Mass from 500 years ago in an ordinary Swedish parish church, namely in Endre Church, one mile east of Visby in Gotland. We imagined ourselves to be participating in this High Mass on an autumn Sunday in the middle of the 15th century. It is local people who are participating in clothes typical for the time, and we have tried as much as possible to reconstruct [something to do with (worship) services] in the Diocese of Linköping at that time - since Gotland belonged to that diocese.

"The service is conducted in an incomprehensible language, a language incomprehensible to the people: Latin. Because church services at the time were not considered a medium for communicating information, except for silent prayers. Just as one cannot describe what is fascinating about a melody or a sight, one shouldn't be able to understand or describe the central mystery of the universe. The congregation waits for the central moment, when the bread and wine shall be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

"The priest was helped by a chorister, perhaps the [experienced?] youth whom [his soul has discovered?] and who with time would be sent to Linköping in order to attend the cathedral school. Songs, mostly from the Bible, were sung by the local cantor. We don't know exactly how the music went in the medieval churches. Maybe Endre Church had a specific order which required a qualified cantor like the one we shall see here.

"The Sunday service began when the priest sprinkled Holy Water on the congregation. This was to remind them that they had become members of the Christian church through baptism. The Holy Water would drive away all the powers of evil.

"Let us now place ourselves in the Middle Ages. Let us try to grasp the atmosphere in a normal Swedish parish church, in a time where man still believed himself cast out into an empty, cold existence, when Europe was still unified, and when the central mystery around which everything revolved was that Jesus Christ, had become man, had died, and risen again for all.”

The Mass itself begins 3 minutes and 52 seconds into the video.

This historical reconstruction is of a Roman Rite Mass celebrated nearly four centuries after the Great Papal schism of AD 1054, and about 120 years before the Roman pope, Pius V, issued his Tridentine Roman Missal in 1570. The Tridentine Liturgy is different in a number of ways from what you will see in this historical reconstruction because by 1570, Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism was rapidly evolving away from the Faith and practice of what is commonly called the Undivided Church. However, this Mass was offered 67 years before Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg beginning the Protestant Revolution. Even four centuries after the Great Papal Schism the Mass you will see has much more in common with Western Rite Orthodox liturgical practice than it does with Tridentine Roman liturgical practice, although some obvious non-Orthodox accretions were already creeping into the Liturgy.

Among the first things that the viewer will notice in the video, which takes place in a medieval Swedish parish church, is that there is a Rood Screen separating the sanctuary from the nave. The Rood (meaning Cross) Screen has a image of the Crucifixion at its center, and resembles an Eastern Rite Iconostasis, only much more open making the altar, the celebrant and the ministers of the altar completely visible to the faithful.

You will also notice that there are two candlesticks on the altar, not six. The use of six candlesticks came much later while the use of two candles is the ancient practice. There is also a cantor stand near the altar and icons behind the altar. With the exception of the Rood Screen this reminds me very much of Holy Cross parish in Omaha, and we plan to have a Rood Screen as soon as we are able to purchase or build a permanent church building.

As the Mass begins, it is important to note that the chalice is not covered with a stiff pall, chalice veil or a burse. The stiff pall and chalice veil are of very late development and are not ancient at all. The corporal is simply folded and placed on the paten.  

As usual, the corporal is unfolded and spread out on the altar. However, the back of the corporal is folded over the chalice to cover it. That was the ancient Western practice, although sometimes a second corporal was also used to cover the chalice, but never a stiff pall. The stiff pall is a much later development. When the celebrant removes the chalice and paten from the altar after Mass they are carried covered with the open corporal. 

Neither the celebrant nor the acolyte ever genuflect during the Mass. Dropping to one knee is not an ancient form of reverence, and only came into use much later. Instead, reverence is shown by bowing. This was the common practice in both the East and West, and is still the practice in the Orthodox Church today.

There is neither a Processional or a Recessional Hymn sung at this Mass. Although there is nothing wrong with these hymns, they are actually outside of the Liturgy are are sung before and after Mass as the celebrant and ministers approach and later leave the altar. In this particular Mass the celebrant and acolyte simply enter the sanctuary and begin the Liturgy, as is also the practice in Eastern Rite Orthodox churches. 

The singing in this Mass consists of the Ordinary and the Propers, and everything is sung a cappella (without musical accompaniment). The use of a church organ in the worship of the church is post Great Schism, and only spread slowly in the West and not without controversy. No organ was used in this parish church in 1450.

There is no tabernacle on the altar. There were a number of different ways in which the Sacrament of Holy Communion was reserved in ancient times. In this medieval parish church the tabernacle was located in the wall. Another way of reserving the Blessed Sacrament for the sick was to place it in a tabernacle shaped like a Dove that was suspended from the ceiling above the altar. 

So what were some of the problematic changes that had entered liturgical practice in the  four centuries after the Great Papal Schism as depicted in this video of the Mass for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 1450?

First and foremost, the exclusive use of a dead language. In the ancient Roman Church the language of the Liturgy was Greek. That was because Greek was the language of the Christian population in Rome and was in common use throughout the civilized world of the time. When Latin was replacing Greek as the common language of the people in third century Rome, the Liturgy began to be celebrated in Latin as it had become the vernacular.

By the time we get to the year 1450, national languages had long been developed and Latin had become a dead language for all but clerics and scholars. This was before the printing press, so the people did not have a hand missal with Latin on one side and the vernacular on the other. Even the altar missal being used by the celebrant is hand copied, as seen in the video. But even if the faithful had a bilingual missal it would have done them little good as the common people were functionally illiterate throughout Western Europe.

With the Liturgy in a dead language it ceased to be “the work of the people” — which is what the word liturgy means. No longer able to participate in the Mass they would come to “hear Mass” and would understand little or nothing of what they heard. Even those who had some understanding of the Ordinary of the Mass would completely miss out on the Scripture-rich Propers. Rather than praying the Mass the faithful were reduced to praying at Mass, and many among the lower clergy were little better off. They could recite the Latin, but often with little comprehension. 

Because the faithful could no longer participate in the Mass and could only hear Mass in a language they did not understand, the Epistle and Gospel lections were read at the altar without turning to the people. There was no longer any need to. 

The preparatory prayers are said at the foot of the altar in this Mass. The older practice was to say them in the sacristy, but over the centuries they came to be said at the foot of the altar in various places. However, this did not become the official practice of the Roman Church until Pius V issued his Missal in 1570.

Other innovations included the use of unleavened bread, consecrating on the corporal rather than on the paten, and administering Holy Communion in one kind only. With the faithful being reduced to being spectators at a Mass in a language they could not understand, receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion became very infrequent, often only at Pascha (Easter). In this video we see only two lay people coming forward to receive Communion despite the church being full. Even the acolyte and cantor do not receive Holy Communion.

As the reception of Holy Communion became increasingly infrequent, elevations were inserted into the Mass after the Words of Institution so the faithful could at least gaze upon the Blessed Sacrament. You will see them in this Mass, however without any accompanying genuflections. These elevations were a late medieval insertion into the Roman Rite. The practice began in Northern Europe and was accepted in Rome only in the fourteenth century. At first, the only elevation was that of the Host. The Chalice was not elevated. The first bishop known to have ordered the elevation of the Host was Bishop Eudes de Sully of Paris (1196–1208). This innovation gradually spread in the West, but the elevation of the Chalice did not begin until much later, was not universal in the Roman Church, and was never adopted by the Carthusians. 

Genuflections to accompany the elevations appeared still later, and became an official part of the rite only with Pope Pius V's Tridentine Roman Missal of 1570. In ancient times the word genuflection meant to fall on both knees. Dropping to one knee was a later redefinition of genuflection. The elevations were suppressed in England by rubric in 1549, as the English bishops were trying to restore the practice of frequent Communion.

The Mass you are about to experience in this video has far more in common with the Roman Rite as used in the Orthodox Church today than it does with the Novus Ordo or even the Tridentine Roman Rite. Remove the few post-Great Schism accretions, restore the Liturgy to the language of the people and as the work of the people, and return to the ancient practice of frequent Communion, and it would be what is experienced in Western Rite Orthodox churches today. 

Here is the link:

The Holy Eucharist is the centre and summit of our spiritual life. Holy Mass is indeed heaven on earth. Come and see. The Orthodox Catholic Church welcomes you!