Friday, May 22, 2020

The New Prefaces of the EF Mass, Part 1: The Preface of the Angels

As I am sure all of our readers know, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently promulgated seven new prefaces for optional use in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Three of these originated with the French neo-Gallican reforms of the 18th century, while four others came from the Ordinary Form. A reader suggested it might be useful to know something more about these, and so I today begin a new series which will explain each one of them in turn, starting with the ones taken from the OF.

Folio 21r of the Echternach Sacramentary, 895AD, with a stylized V and D joined together as an abbreviation of the first two words of the opening formula of the Preface, “Vere dignum.” This form of abbreviation would remain common even into the mid-16th century, in the printed Missals of the last generation of liturgical books before the Tridentine reform. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 9433; image cropped.)
Some of this information will be summarized from a study by Fr Anthony Ward, S.M. and Dom Cuthbert Johnson, O.S.B., “The Prefaces of the Roman Missal. A Source Compendium with Concordance and Indices.” This useful book gives the full text of each preface of the Ordinary Form in Latin, followed, where applicable, by the text of the ancient source from which it was taken, the parallel text in the Ambrosian Rite (explanation below), Biblical and Patristic parallels, and the official translations in various languages. Since it was published in 1989, the English translation then in use has, of course, been replaced by a new one, and I therefore leave it for the dead to bury.

The preface of the Roman Mass was originally highly variable, as attested in many ancient sacramentaries, and although the corpus of them is not uniform from one manuscript to another, there were a good many which were in general use. The Corpus Christianorum series published by Brepols includes a five volume catalog of them, with close to 1700 entries. At the end of the 11th century, however, their number was reduced to ten, plus the common preface, and with a few exceptions, this remained the general custom for the rest of the Middle Ages and into the Tridentine period.

When the neo-Gallican liturgical reform movement began in the later 17th century, it did not at first touch the traditional corpus of prefaces; this was first done in the 1738 revision of the Missal of Paris, which included new prefaces for Advent, Holy Thursday (also said at votive Masses of the Sacrament), Corpus Christi, All Saints (also said on the feasts of Patron Saints), Saints Denys and Companions, and for Masses of the Dead. This was then widely imitated in rest of France, usually by copying the Parisian prefaces, but also by composing new ones. (I have a Missal printed in France in the late 19th century, with the supplement of the diocese of Versailles, which contains a special preface for the feast of St Louis IX.)

The preface for the dead in the 1738 Missal of Paris.
The neo-Gallican Uses were gradually suppressed over the course of the 19th century, but some of their features were retained by being incorporated into the French supplements “for certain places” in the Roman liturgical books. Among these, the prefaces were certainly the most prominent, and are almost always found in an appendix in Missals printed for use in France and Belgium. This in turn led to a general rediscovery, as it were, of the preface as a more variable feature of the Mass, starting in 1919, when Pope Benedict XV added the 1738 Parisian Preface for the Dead to the Roman Rite for general and mandatory use, along with one for St Joseph, the first such additions in more than eight centuries. In the years that followed, some religious orders followed suit; the Dominicans, for example, added a new preface for St Dominic to their Missal in 1921. The trend was then given an even greater push by Pope Pius XI’s two major additions to the Missal, the feast of Christ the King (1925), and the upgrade of the feast of the Sacred Heart (1928), both of which included their own newly composed prefaces.

Oddly enough, Sacrosanctum Concilium says nothing whatsoever about further expansion of the corpus of prefaces, or indeed about the preface at all. Early on, however, the post-Conciliar reformers decided that the explicit call to expand the corpus of Scriptural readings in paragraph 51 would be applied also to other features of the Mass, a decision which is far more objectionable on procedural grounds than as a matter of liturgical principle. This was also motivated in part by a widespread and persistent misunderstanding that the Ambrosian liturgy, which never changed the custom of having a different preface for almost every Mass, is an archaic form of the Roman liturgy, and therefore, in order to “restore (the latter) to the pristine norm of the holy fathers”, one had to remodel it on Ambrosian lines as much as possible. (The addition of a third reading to the Masses of Sundays and solemnities in the post-Conciliar lectionary is also a mutilated form of an Ambrosian custom.)

One might imagine that once such a procedure had been decided on, the corpus of prefaces would be expanded by adopting those of the Ambrosian Missal, or of the ancient Roman sacramentaries. However, it was not the procedure of the post-Conciliar reformers to take anything from the sources they were putatively imitating as they actually found it in those sources, and the prefaces are no exception. As explained by Dom Antoine Dumas O.S.B. in an article published in Ephemerides Liturgicae in 1971, a selection was made, based on ancient sources, but a selection nevertheless, since Vatican II “defined the liturgical reform first of all as a response to pastoral needs.” (He does not mention that Vatican II was completely silent on the specific topic of the prefaces.) Since the texts of this “venerable tradition” (!) had to be both “translatable into modern languages, and adapted to the modern mentality”, very few of them could be retained in their entirety, according to Dom Antoine. They required “numerous cuts, and a patient work of centonization,” (composing new texts out of fragments of various old texts); otherwise, “reproduced in their original form, they would be unbearable, if not defective. (insupportables, sinon fautifs.)”

The post-Conciliar preface for the Angels strays very little from its source text, which is found in the so-called Leonine Sacramentary on the dedication of the basilica of St Michael the Archangel on September 29th, and was evidently judged to be mostly bearable and free of defects.

VD: Et in Archángelis Angelisque tuis tua praeconia non tacére, quia ad excellentiam tuam recurrit et gloriam, quod angélica creatúra tibi probábilis honorétur: et, cum illa sit amplo decóre digníssima, et tu quam sis immensus et super omnia praeferendus osténderis.

Dante’s vision of God amid the angelic hierarchies, from Gustave Doré’s illustrations of the Divine Comedy, 1861. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
My (almost) literal translation: It is truly right… almighty and eternal God, and to not keep silent Thy praises in Thy Archangels and Angels. For it redounds to Thy perfection and glory that the angelic creation, which is pleasing to Thee, be honored; and since it is most worthy of great honor, Thou art shown (thereby) to be measurelessly exalted above all things.

The new English liturgical translation: It is truly right and just … almighty and eternal God, and to praise you without end in your Archangels and Angels. For the honor we pay the angelic creatures in whom you delight redounds to your own surpassing glory, and by their great dignity and splendor you show how infinitely great you are, to be exalted above all things.

In the Novus Ordo, a great many new doxologies were invented for the new prefaces, but these will not be used in the EF. Here is the conclusion for the preface in the OF.

Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Per quem multitúdo Angelórum tuam célebrat maiestátem, quibus adorantes in exsultatióne coniúngimur, una cum eis laudis voce clamantes:

My literal translation: through Christ our Lord. Through whom the multitude of Angels celebrates Thy majesty; to whom we are joined, adoring in exultation, crying out with them with one voice:

The new English liturgical translation: through Christ our Lord. Through him the multitude of Angels extols your majesty, and we are united with them in exultant adoration, as with one voice of praise we acclaim:

Here is the original version of the preface found in the Leonine Sacramentary; the texts in bold are omitted or changed in the Novus Ordo.

VD: multóque magis in Archángelis Angelisque tuis tua praeconia non tacére, quia ad excellentiam tuam recurrit et gloriam quod angélica creatúra, quae a conditióne sui tuis subjecta servitiis probábilis éxstitit, honorátur: et, cum illa sit digna venerári, et tu quam sis immensus et super omnia praeferendus osténderis.

It is truly right… almighty and eternal God, and much more to not keep silent Thy praises in Thy Archangels and Angels. For it redounds to Thy perfection and glory that the angelic creation, which, being subject in its very condition (or ‘nature’), to Thy service, is pleasing to Thee, is honored, and since it is worthy of veneration, Thou art shown thereby to be measurelessly exalted above all things.

The Biblical and Patristic texts listed by Ward and Johnson have no more than a few glancing similarities to this text, and are of no interest.

The Leonine Sacramentary, by the way, is not actually a sacramentary, the ancient predecessor of the missal, which contains only the priest’s parts of the Mass, namely, the prayers, prefaces and Canon, and it has nothing to do with Pope St Leo I. It is rather a privately made collection of the texts of a large number of “libelli missarum”, small booklets which contained the prayers and prefaces of Masses for specific occasions. These elements often varied from church to church even within the same city; the “Leonine” collection is a wildly irregular gathering of them, and has, for example, twenty-eight different Mass formulae for Ss Peter and Paul, fourteen for St Lawrence, and eight for Ss John and Paul. The collection was certainly made in Rome itself, since it contains numerous specific references to the city. It is generally dated to the mid-6th century; there is only one manuscript of it, which for many centuries has been in the library of the cathedral chapter of Verona.

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