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The Saint John Fisher Missale

The Saint John Fisher Missale project provides congregational booklets for Extraordinary Form Masses offered according to the 1962 Missale Romanum. Dr. Berthold Kress gives an introduction to the project.

This post introduces a new congregational resource for the celebration of liturgy according to the so-called Extraordinary Form. As one of the editors I would first like to thank Jeffrey Tucker and the Church Music Association of America for hosting our project on their website.

In 2008, honouring the request from a coetus fidelium, the Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy at Fisher House introduced regular Masses in the Extraordinary Form. Many of the faithful who attended them were students who had little experience with this form of liturgy, and lacked aids like pew missals. It seemed necessary to provide them with some material so that they could follow the liturgy more easily, so Christopher Hodkinson and I volunteered to produce sheets with the Propers for each Mass. Eventually, we transformed them into booklets containing the Ordinary, some chant settings, and the Propers occurring in each of the three terms of the Cambridge academical year. They were modelled on booklets that had been created previously for the Latin Novus Ordo Mass, which is celebrated at Fisher House every Sunday during term time; their editor, Pierre Thibaudeau, kindly allowed us to re-use some of the chants he had type-set. We now wish to make the materials we have compiled available to others and hence we decided to transform them into PDFs and to place them on a website for downloading. We are most grateful to Gregor Dick for designing a website and for very patiently replacing files with corrected versions. Because the original booklets did not cover the vacations there are gaps over Christmas and in the summer, which we are working to fill in the coming weeks.

In the process of producing these texts we felt increasingly that it would not be enough simply to copy texts from existing pew Missals, but that we wanted to provide communities using the Extraordinary Form with material that would allow them to further develop and enrich their celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form. In the following I explain how our resource differs from others that are available (disclaimer: this reflects the opinions of the editors, not the liturgical practice at Fisher House).

1. Traditional Liturgy is more than Low Mass

In recent centuries a sharp dichotomy between High Mass and Low Mass evolved, and as a result many small parishes celebrated sung Vespers and Benediction, but never sung Mass. With the propagation of a simple Missa cantata without Deacon or Subdeacon this development was partially reversed in the early 20th century. However, a look at current Mass listings shows that in many places Sung Masses are offered only on rare occasions. We do not want to demean Low Mass in any way – it has its own devotional value, and in many places it is the only practical option. However, it seemed important for us to use Sung Mass as the standard option for our Ordo Missae (which, naturally, can be equally well used for Low Masses), since this helps to indicate more clearly the structure of Mass. Furthermore, for those of the faithful used to Latin Novus Ordo (as many of the faithful in Cambridge were) the transition to an Old-Rite Missa cantata is much easier than to a Low Mass. Using the High Mass as a point of departure for the explanation of the rubrics has some consequences that may be surprising for some – we decided, for instance, to include the Creed not in the ‘Mass of the Catechumens’ but in the ‘Mass of the Faithful’, because during it the altar is prepared by the Subdeacon (and, furthermore, in ancient times the catechumens were only taught the Creed shortly before Baptism).

2. Traditional Liturgy is more than Sunday Mass

The Church requires all the faithful to attend Mass on a Sunday or a holiday of obligation. Today, there are few of the latter, and many of them have been moved to Sundays in recent years. It is clear that many Catholics have a lot of commitments and simply have no opportunity to go to Mass during the week; furthermore, it is often difficult to schedule extra Masses on feast days. Nevertheless, the restriction of public, solemn liturgies to Sundays very much impoverishes the celebration of our Faith. Therefore, our website contains the Propers for all feasts of the First and Second Class, and furthermore the liturgies of some Vigils, Ember Saturdays and the Rogations. Ideally, we would also include the Propers for sung Vespers on Sundays and Feast Days, but this would be a different project. Likewise, we would have liked to provide much material for the feasts of local saints, but naturally this is not possible on a website for general use.

3. Traditional Liturgy is more than ‘1962’

This point may cause some controversy, although it is becoming increasingly well understood as knowledge of the traditional rites becomes more widespread. First of all one has to state that the legislation governing the Extraordinary From (as of 2012) is clear: Liturgy in the Extraordinary Form is liturgy according to the liturgical books that were in force in 1962. In practice, this rule is rarely obeyed to the letter. In some places reforms introduced after 1962 are still being followed (e.g. having the lessons read only in the vernacular during a sung Mass), whereas others retain elements that had been abolished by 1962 (most prominently the Confiteor before Communion). Such practices are sometimes said to be justified on the ground of custom. The editors of the Saint John Fisher Missale have tried to produce liturgical resources that can be used widely, and have therefore included some commonly seen ‘pre-1962’ elements, normally introduced by words like ‘where it is usual’ or ‘may be added’. This can be called ‘fudging’, but we think that this may be the best option for avoiding conflicts and making our material widely usable. It is our personal view that the reforms done to the Mass between 1900 and 1962 were fully legitimate, but that not all of them were very wise, and we hope that some of them will be revisited by ecclesiastical authority in the coming years.

4. Traditional Liturgy is more than Trent

Before the catastrophe of the Reformation, the English Church had with the Use of Sarum one of the richest liturgical uses in the Western Church. Like all the ancient local uses the Use of Sarum was not suppressed by the Council of Trent, it was still used during the restoration of the Faith under the reign of good Queen Mary Tudor and by recusants in the Elizabethan period; even after the restoration of the hierarchy in the 19th century there was some debate over whether some elements of the Sarum use should be revived at least in designated churches. Today it seems inopportune to debate whether the decision to become ‘fully Roman’ was right or wrong, or whether it would be legitimate or advisable to employ the Use of Sarum again, given the logistical difficulties involved. So, while the Saint John Fisher Missale is fully Roman in its usage, we decided to include texts for some chants from the Sarum Gradual, primarily Sequences, as important elements of our liturgical patrimony which remain valuable today. These are naturally not part of the Mass according to the Tridentine use of the Roman Rite. However, since the choir is allowed to sing Latin motets in addition to the Ordinary and the Proper there seems to be no reason why it should not be permitted to sing these ancient and often very rich texts at some point during Mass. Naturally, doing so would require some initiative from the Director of Music, since the melodies for these texts cannot be found in the standard chant books (the website of the Saint John Fisher Missale gives a short list of sources). Therefore, it is likely that these texts will be sung only occasionally. Even so, it is hoped that providing them together with a translation (a literal translation rather than a verse paraphrase for singing) will aid the faithful in their devotions. Other features that enrich the collection are the ancient Offertory Verses taken from the Offertoriale Romanum, which was compiled in the 1930s for liturgical use, and Texts for the Kyrie, taken from the Sarum Books and the Analecta hymnica..

I would like to ask all users of the Saint John Fisher Missale for feedback, and especially to point out any errors they might encounter.

Berthold Kress is an art historian specializing in medieval and early modern art, especially illuminated manuscripts and early book illustrations. He completed his doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge and is currently working in the Photographic Collection of the Warburg Institute, University of London.

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