Though in the late twentieth century the word "sacramentary" was used in the United States and other English-speaking countries for the English translation of the Roman Missal, a true sacramentary is not the same as a Missal. It contains more than a missal in terms of other services, and less in that texts and readings said by others during the Mass are not included.[1]

It is the book for the priest celebrant, containing all and only the words spoken (or sung) by him, usually assuming the presence of a choir, deacon and subdeacon. At the time that these books were written it was not yet the custom for the celebrant to repeat at the altar whatever was sung by the ministers or the choir, as became the rule in the Tridentine Mass. Thus Sacramentaries contain none of those parts of the Mass, not only no Scripture readings, but also no Introits, Graduals, Offertories and so on, but only the Collects, Prefaces, Canon.[1]

On the other hand, sacramentaries provide the priest's texts at other occasions besides Mass. As they suppose that the celebrant is normally a bishop, they usually supply the texts for ordinations, at the consecration of a church and altar and many exorcisms, blessings, and consecrations that were later inserted in the Pontifical and Ritual.[1]

A number of versions of the texts for Sacramentaries, chiefly of the Roman Rite, are still extant, either complete or in part. Of these textual groups the most important are the three known by the names Leonine, Gelasian, and Gregorian. Their date, authorship, place, and original purpose have been much discussed.[1]

The name Sacramentarium is equivalent to the other form also used (for instance, in the Gelasian book), Liber Sacramentorum. The form is the same as that of the word Hymnarium, for a book of hymns. Gennadius of Massilia (fifth cent.) says of Paulinus of Nola: "Fecit et sacramentarium et hymnarium" (De viris illustribus, XLVIII). The word sacramentum or sacramenta in this case means the Mass. Sacramenta celebrare or facere is a common term for saying Mass.[1][2]

Decline of the sacramentary

A leaf from the Tyniec Sacramentary, National Library of Poland. Written for the Brauweiler Abbey, it was a kind of sanctuary for the palatines of Lotharingia.[3]

Other books used in the celebration of Mass included the Graduale (texts mainly from the Psalms, with musical notes added), the Evangeliarium or Gospel Book, and the Epistolary with texts from other parts of the New Testament, mainly the Epistles (letters) of Saint Paul.

In late mediaeval times, these books began to be combined, for the use of priests saying Mass without the assistance of a choir and other ministers. This led to the appearance of the Missale plenum ("full or complete Missal") containing all the texts of the Mass (without the music of the choir parts).

Pope Pius V published in 1570 an official version of such a Missal, known as the Roman Missal.

At the behest of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI greatly increased the amount of Sacred Scripture read at Mass and, to a lesser extent, the prayer formulas. This necessitated a return to having the readings in a separate book, known as the Lectionary. A separate Book of the Gospels, with texts extracted from the Lectionary, is recommended, but is not obligatory. The Roman Missal continues to include elaborate rubrics, as well as antiphons etc., which were not in sacramentaries.

Textual groups

Of the textual groups of sacramentaries of the Roman Rite still extant, either complete or in part, the most important are the three known by the names Leonine, Gelasian, and Gregorian.

The Leonine Sacramentary

The "Leonine Sacramentary" is the oldest. Only one manuscript of it is known, written in the seventh century. This manuscript was found in the library of the cathedral chapter of Verona, was published by Joseph Bianchini in 1735, and was by him attributed arbitrarily to Pope Leo I (440-61). On the strength of this attribution the book still bears the name Leonine. It represents a pure Roman use with no Gallican elements. But it is not a book compiled for use at the altar. The confusion of its parts shows this. It is a fragment, containing no Canon nor Ordinary of the Mass, but a collection of Propers (Collects, Secrets, Prefaces, Postcommunions, and Orationes super populum), of various Masses with ordination forms, arranged according to the civil year. It begins in the middle of the sixth Mass for April, and ends with a blessing for the font "In ieiunio mensis decimi" (i. e. the winter Ember days). In each month groups of Masses are given, often very large groups, for each feast and occasion. Thus, for instance, in June we find twenty-eight Masses for St Peter and St Paul, one after another, each headed: "Item alia"; there are fourteen for St Lawrence, twenty-three for the anniversary of a bishop's consecration, and so on. Evidently the writer has compiled as many alternative Masses for each occasion as he could find. In many cases he shows carelessness. Many of his Masses in natali episcoporum have nothing at all to do with that anniversary, and are really Masses for Sundays after Pentecost; in the middle of a Mass of St Cornelius and St Cyprian he has put the preface of a Mass of St Euphemia, a Mass for the new civil year is inserted among those for martyrs; Masses for St Stephen's day (26 December) with evident allusions to Christmas are put in August, obviously through a confusion with the feast of the finding of his relics (3 August).[1]

That the collection is Roman is obvious. It is full of local allusions to Rome. For instance, one of the collects to be said by a bishop on the anniversary of his consecration could only be used by the pope of Rome: "Lord God ... who, although Thou dost not cease to enrich with many gifts Thy Church spread throughout the world, nevertheless dost look more favourably upon the see of Thy blessed Apostle Peter, as Thou hast desired that it should be most exalted, etc." The Preface for St John and St Paul remembers that they are buried within "the boundaries of this city"; the Masses of the Patrons of Rome, St Peter and St Paul, continually allude to the city.[1]

Louis Duchesne concluded that the Leonine book is a private collection of prayers copied without much intelligence from the official books at Rome about the year 538. He arrives at this date especially through an allusion in the Secret of a Mass placed in June (but really an Easter Mass), which refers to a recent deliverance from enemies. This allusion he understands to refer to the raising of the siege of Rome by Vitiges and his Goths at Easter-time, 538. Another writer attributed the allusion to Alaric's invasion in 402, and held that the compilation was made between 366 and 461. Another considered that the book was composed under Pope Felix III (483-492). Yet another suggests that the book is a compilation of Roman Masses made in the sixth or seventh century for use in Gaul, so that the composers of Roman books who were at that time introducing the Roman Rite into Gaul might have a source from which to draw their material. He suggests Gregory of Tours (died 594) as possibly the compiler.[1]

The Gelasian Sacramentary

Main article: Gelasian Sacramentary

The "Gelasian Sacramentary" exists in several manuscripts. It is a Roman book more or less Gallicanized; the various manuscripts represent different stages of this Gallican influence. The oldest form extant is a book now in the Vatican library written in the seventh or early eighth century for use in the abbey of St Denis at Paris. Other versions of the same book are the Codices of St Gall and of Rheinau, both of the eighth century. The book does not in any old manuscript bear the name of Gelasius; it is called simply Liber Sacramentorum Romanæ ecclesiæ. It is much more complete than the Leonine Sacramentary. It consists of three books, each marked with a not very accurate title. Book I (The Book of Sacraments in the order of the year's cycle) contains Masses for feasts and Sundays from Christmas Eve to the octave of Pentecost (there are as yet no special Masses for the season after Pentecost), together with the ordinations, prayers for all the rites of the catechumenate, blessing of the font at the Easter Vigil, of the oil, dedication of churches, and reception of nuns. Book II (Prayers for the Feasts of Saints) contains the Proper of Saints throughout the year, the Common of Saints, and the Advent Masses. Book III (Prayers and the Canon for Sundays) contains a great number of Masses marked simply "For Sunday" (i. e. any Sunday), the Canon of the Mass, what we should call votive Masses (e. g. for travellers, in time of trouble, for kings, and so on), Masses for the Dead, some blessings (of holy water, fruits, trees and so on), and various prayers for special occasions. A ninth-century tradition ascribes what is evidently this book to Pope Gelasius I. Duchesne thinks it represents the Roman service-books of the seventh or eighth century (between the years 628 and 731). It was, however, composed in the Frankish kingdom. All the local Roman allusions (for instance, the Roman Stations) have been omitted; on Good Friday the prayers read: "Let us pray for our most Christian Emperor [the compiler has added] or king", and again: "look down mercifully on the Roman, or the Frankish, Empire". There are also Gallican additions. Others ascribe it to the sixth century, at which time the Roman Rite entered Gaul.[1]

The Gregorian Sacramentary

We know most about the third of these books, the so-called "Gregorian Sacramentary", which is in three parts:

  1. The Ordinary of the Mass;
  2. the Propers for the year beginning with Christmas Eve. They follow the ecclesiastical year; the feasts of saints (days of the month in the civil year) are incorporated in their approximate places in this. The Roman Stations are noted. There are still no Masses for the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost;
  3. the prayers for ordinations.

Charlemagne, anxious to introduce the Roman Rite into his kingdom, wrote to Pope Adrian I between the years 781 and 791 asking him to send him the service-book of the Roman Church. The book sent by the pope is the nucleus of the Gregorian Sacramentary. It was then copied a great number of times, so that there are many versions of it, all containing additions made by the various scribes. The original book sent by Adrian to Charlemagne is easily distinguished from the different editions because the first to supplement Adrian's book from other sources was a conscientious person who carefully noted where his additions begin, adding a note: "So far the preceding book of Sacraments is certainly that edited by the holy Pope Gregory." In the earlier versions we may take the first part, down to this note, as being the book sent by Adrian.

However, its attribution to Pope Gregory I (590-604) shows us that Gregory did much to reform the liturgy. A constant tradition ascribes such a work to him, as to Gelasius. John the Deacon (eighth century) in his Life of Gregory expresses this tradition: "He collected the Sacramentary of Gelasius in one book, leaving out much, changing little, adding something." Pope Adrian himself, in sending the book to Charlemagne, said that it was composed "by our holy predecessor, the divinely speaking Pope Gregory". The fact that the essential foundation of this sacramentary goes back to St Gregory, indeed to long before his time, is certain. We do not doubt that he made such changes as those that are acclaimed to him by his biographer, and that these changes stand in this book. But his work has not remained untouched, additions have been made to it since his time. For example, the addition of his own feast as well as other feasts that had not been celebrated before the seventh century. The book sent by Pope Adrian to Charlemagne has gone through inevitable development over the centuries since Gregory finished it. It represents the Roman Rite of the time when it was sent - the eighth century. In the Frankish kingdom, copies were made for churches and additions of other Masses and prayers were added according to the specific church's requests. These additions were taken partly from the Gelasian book, partly from Gallican sources. Though at first the additions were carefully distinguished from the original book, they were eventually incorporated in it. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries the book, including the additions, returned to Rome, took the place of the original pure Roman Rite, and so became the foundation of the Roman Missal.[1]

Specific manuscripts

Most of the following are illuminated manuscripts of a version of one of these texts.

6th/7th century

7th century

8th century

9th century

10th century

Sacramentary of St Gereon

11th century

12th century

13th century

In addition:

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Liturgical Books
  2. So St. Augustine (died 430) remarks that we say "Sursum corda" "in sacramentis fidelium", that is at Mass (De Dono Persev., xiii, 33), and two schismatics of the fifth century complain to the Emperors Gratian and Theodosius that Pope Damasus (366-84) will not let them say Mass; but they do so all the same, because "salutis nostræ sacramenta facienda sunt" (Faustinus and Marcellinus, "Lib. prec. ad Imp." in P. L., XIII, 98; cf. Probst, "Die ältesten röm. Sakram.", 20-1).
  3. (English) Oskar Halecki; W: F. Reddaway; J. H. Penson (1950). The Cambridge History of Poland. Cambridge University Press. p. 68. ISBN 1-00-128802-5.
  4. Cardinal Schuster, Alfredo Ildelfonso (1930). The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum): Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal;[Vol. V (Parts 8 and 9); trans. Arthur Levelis-Marke and W. Fairfax-Cholmeley. New York, NY, USA: Benziger Brothers.
  5. Cardinal Schuster, Alfredo Ildelfonso (1930). The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum): Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal. New York, NY, USA: Benziger Brothers.
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