Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Premonstratensian Rite: A Summary

[Summarized and condensed from the Catholic Encyclopedia and Archdale King's, Liturgies of the Religious Orders]

The Premonstratensian, or Norbertine, rite differs from the Roman in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Office and the administration of the Sacrament of Penance.

The Missal

The Missal is proper to the Order and is not arranged like the Roman Missal. The canon [of the Mass] is identical, with the exception of a slight variation as to the time of making the sign of the cross with the paten at the "Libera nos". The music for the Prefaces etc. differs, though not considerably, from that of the Roman Missal. Two alleluias are said after the "Ite missa est" for a week after Easter; for the whole of the remaining Paschal time one alleluia is said.

The Breviary

The Breviary differs from the Roman Breviary in its calendar, the manner of reciting it, arrangement of matter. Some saints on the Roman calendar are omitted.

The feasts peculiar to the Norbertines are: St. Godfried, Confessor, 16 January; St. Evermodus, B. C., 17 February; Blessed Frederick, Abbot, 3 March; St. Ludolph, B. M., 29 March; Blesssed Herman Joseph, C., 7 April; St. Isfrid, B. C.,' 15 June; Saints Adrian and James, Martyrs, 9 July; Blessed Hrosnata, 19 July, 19; Blessed Gertrude, Virgin, 13 August; Blessed Bronislava, Virgin, 30 August; St. Gilbert, Abbot, 24 October; St. Siardus, Abbot, 17 November.

The feast of St. Norbert, founder of the order, which falls on 6 June in the Roman calendar, is permanently transferred to 11 July, so that its solemn rite may not be interferred with by the feasts of Pentecost and Corpus Christi. Other feasts are the Triumph of St. Norbert over the sacramentarian heresy of Tanchelin, on the third Sunday after Pentecost, and the Translation of St. Norbert commemorating the translation of his body from Magdeburg to Prague, on the fourth Sunday after Easter.

Besides the daily recitation of the canonical hours the Norbertines are obliged to say the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, except on triple feasts and during octaves of the first class. In choir this is said immediately after the Divine Office.

[From Archdale King:] The 'Reform' of the Premonstratensian Liturgy:

The ancient [Premonstratensian liturgical] tradition rapidly lost ground after the death of Abbot Despruets (ob. 1596). His successor, Francis de Longpré (1596-1613), seemed at first inclined to follow the 'old paths', and in March 1603 he confided to John Lepaige, a religious of Prémontré, the task of re-editing the missal and office books according to the most reliable manuscripts of the Order. Two years later (1605), however, the general chapter expressed the desire to effect a harmony between the old customary and the new Roman books.

A breviary based upon that of Rome was published in Paris in 1608, but the work of compromise satisfied no one. A section of the Order wished to adopt the Roman rite in toto, while there were those who demanded a return to traditional usages. In the general chapter of 1618 the German abbots, especially those of Swabia, attempted to force the introduction of the liturgical books of the Pian reform. The majority of the chapter was averse to anything so drastic, although it was agreed to 'reform' the books on the same principles as those which had guided the Roman reformers. In the breviary: hymns and ferial antiphons were to be taken from the Roman book, and the chant of the Genealogy of our Lord at Christmas and the Epiphany was to be suppressed; while as regards the missal: votive Masses and Masses for the dead were to be altered, in order that they might approximate more closely to the Pian text; while sequences, except those for Christmas and some of the greater feasts, were to be abolished.

Peter Gosset, the abbot-general (1613-35), was directed to see that these measures were carried out. A new breviary appeared in 1621, and a missal in the following year (1622). Few changes were made in the breviary: hymns, antiphons and responsaries were not corrected, but there were alterations in the lectionary, common of saints, choice of psalms at vespers, and in certain of the chapters and prayers.

The work on the missal was more drastic, and the Order accepted the Ordinary of the Mass in its Pian form. The changes in the temporal included no more than the lessons for Advent and the introduction of the Roman arrangement for the concluding Sundays after Pentecost, but in the sanctoral few feasts remained unchanged beyond those for our Lady, the apostles and some of the more important solemnities; while feasts, borrowed from the Roman calendar, were substituted for traditional commemorations. Masses for the dead now conformed to the Roman model, save for some few survivals, and the series of lessons in the Missa quotidiana pro defunctis, distributed for the days of the week, was abandoned. Votive Masses (familiares), including those de Beata, suffered cuts and amendments, and the number of sequences was drastically curtailed. This suppression of sequences was prescribed by the general chapter of 1660, and in the missal, which appeared three years later (1663), Laetabundus for the three Masses of Christmas was the only sequence not to be found in the Pian book.

The reform of the liturgical books became general and definitive about 1650...

The breviary, in spite of some unnecessary 'romanising', remained of great traditional value. It was edited at Toul in 1711 and at Verdun in 1725 and 1741.

A decision to revise the Office according to the old traditions was made in the general chapter, held at Tongerloo in August 1927. A breviary was published at Malines in 1930, and a missal in 1936, both of which were approved by Rome. Some old rubrics, given up in the 17th century, were restored to the breviary, but the missal suffered little change.

The ordinarius, regulating the ceremonies of the liturgical functions, was until recently the exemplar of 1739 (Verdun). In 1943 the Belgian abbots in consultation at Tongerloo agreed that the new ordinarius should be in the nature of a via media. It was felt that... the restoration of many of the details in the primitive book was impracticable. On the other hand, the commission had a sincere feeling of respect for the traditional rite, and a desire to bring back some of the ancient ceremonies....

The ordinarius appeared finally in 1939, and has on the whole respected the tradition of the Order, although one may be permitted to regret some of the lacunae, as, for example, the absence of a rubric directing the celebrant to extend his arms in the form of a cross after the consecration.

Rites and Ceremonies (from Archdale King)


The following form is observed: the celebrant turns first to the Sacrament house, if the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved on the high altar, and sprinkles it. Then, having aspersed the altar, he makes a circuit of it, where this is practicable. This done, the cross is sprinkled, and the aspergil handed to the deacon and subdeacon. The crucifer is aspersed, and, on double feasts, the assistants also.

A procession is prescribed on all Sundays and triple feasts, in the following order: acolyte with holy water; crucifer with the figure of the cross turned towards the community more archiepiscopo, and preceded on doubles by two taperers and a thurifer (two on triple feasts); sacred ministers; and, lastly, the community. Stations are made before entering the choir and at the step of the sanctuary.


The entry for the conventual Mass is made during the psalm verse of the introit, and on feasts, when the versicle is repeated three times, after the second repetition. One or two acolytes are required, according to the day, and the subdeacon carries the gospel-book.[3-243]


The Confiteor has by way of an addition: sanctis patribus Augustino et Norberto. The acolyte stands during these prayers holding his candle, and when two servers are required, they face inwards, one on either side of the sacred ministers. The candles are put down at the beginning of the Kyrie, as prescribed in Ordo Romanus II.[3-246]


It seems to have been the custom in the Order from the earliest days for the priest to say privately what was sung by the choir. The Kyrie is said in the middle of the altar, with the deacon on the right of the celebrant, and the subdeacon on the left. A cantor in a cope preintones the Gloria in excelsis on great feasts.

After the words suscipe deprecationem nostram the acolytes go to the sacristy, and the first server takes the chalice and the second the cruets. They are brought into the church during the first collect, unless it should be necessary to assist the subdeacon at the reading of the epistle, in which case it is during the Kyrie.[3-248] If the first server is not in orders, the chalice is held in a linen cloth (muffula linea). The vessels are placed on the credence, if it is a triple or double feast; otherwise in the centre of the altar.[3-249]


The corporal is spread by the deacon during the collects or the gradual, whichever may be the more convenient.[3-250] The mediaeval ordinarius directed the deacon to wash his hands before unfolding the corporal at the offertory: diaconus, lotis manibus, displicet corporale.[3-251]

The deacon is told explicitly not to face the people at Dominus vobiscum: diaconus non cum eo se convertat,[3-252] and he is directed to raise the edge of the chasuble... The raising of the vestment was customary in the Cistercian rite, and also at Bursfeld and Soissons, where it was done by the subdeacon.


The epistle is sung by the subdeacon, who stands between two acolytes and faces the people. At a sung Mass without assistant ministers, the priest may either sing the epistle himself or depute a reader vested in a surplice.


The rites connected with the singing of the gospel have preserved the main features outlined in the Ordines Romani...

The celebrant was enjoined in the traditional rite to 'stand with fear' (cum tremore), a monition borrowed from the Cistercian, and reminiscent of the Eastern liturgies.

The portable lights were formerly extinguished after the gospel, and not re-lit until the conclusion of the Pater noster. Today the candles are permitted to burn throughout the Mass.

On feasts, when the creed has been intoned by the celebrant, each member of the choir kisses the closed gospel-book and is censed.


The ancient ceremonies connected with the making of the chalice have been described in the appendix. Today the corporal is spread on the altar during the creed, unless it has been done previously. The rubric directing the deacon to wash his hands before unfolding the corporal was omitted in the reformed ordinaries.

The book-stand is placed on the altar before the offertory, as the missal had been previously on the mensa. On feasts, when the vessels are on the credence, the subdeacon in a humeral veil brings them to the altar. Water is added to the chalice with a spoon, and in the old rite this was done by the deacon.


The deacon was directed in the mediaeval ordinarius to hold the missal during the preface,[3-289] but he is occupied today with the censing. The ordinarius of 1622 makes no mention of censing by the deacon, but the practice was restored in the edition of 1739, and given its present position: the deacon, standing behind the celebrant before the altar, censes three times towards the left and three times towards the right. Then, wherever this is possible, he makes the complete circuit of the altar, censing the while. If the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, the deacon three times censes the 'Sacrament house' (aedicula venerabilis Sacramenti) on his knees. This censing of the Eucharist may have been in the mind of the compiler of the traditional ordinarius... Finally, the deacon censes the subdeacon, gives the thurible to the acolyte, and is censed himself.


A standard candle is lit at the beginning of the canon in the conventual Mass on the epistle side of the altar, and extinguished the communio.

For more information:

Premonstratensian Chant

Archdale King on the Premonstratensian rite

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