Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Liturgy of the Medieval Church

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Liturgy of the Medieval Church

Article excerpt

The Liturgy of the Medieval Church. Edited by Thomas J. Heffernan and E.Ann Matter. (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. 2001. xviii, 778. $60.00 casebound; $30.00 paperbound.)

When Etienne Gilson set out in the 1920's to establish an institute dedicated to the study of medieval culture, he challenged the prejudices of the postEnlightenment Zeitgeist which dismissed the Middle Ages as a benighted period characterized by ignorance, superstition, and barbarism. "Through the work of the Institute of Medieval Studies; Gilson wrote, "we shall be able to reach back to the sources of our spiritual traditions, to drink more deeply of their waters and draw from them full life-giving strength." Gilson and his colleagues sought to provide an academic center where scholars could gather to read with appreciation and to plumb with sagacity and wisdom the wellsprings of medieval civilization. Crucial to any serious undertaking of Medieval Studies, of course, is a firm grasp of the nature and importance of Christian liturgy, the cultus which gave rise to the cultura of medieval western Europe.

In Gilson's day, familiarity with Catholic liturgy as well as Latin, the language of that liturgy, could be presumed on the part not only of clergy and religious who were obliged by vows or promises to the recitation of the Divine Office and to the celebration of Mass, but also many layfolk who followed the liturgical movement inaugurated in the nineteenth century by Dom Prosper Gueranger, the founding abbot of Solesmes. Non-Catholics, too, by merely attending Mass and Vespers in a parish or cathedral church, could get a fairly good, firsthand sense of how the liturgy might have been celebrated throughout most of the medieval West. In the train of Vatican Council II, however, such familiarity with medieval liturgy has become a rather rare commodity no less in the academy than in the general population. Beyond the steady secularization of western society over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, developments within the Catholic Church itself have contributed to a wider margin between the liturgical experience of medieval westerners and that of their spiritual heirs and descendants at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The vernacularization and simplification of both the Order of Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, the 1970 revision of the general Roman calendar, and late-twentieth-century trends in ecclesiastical art and architecture, have all made the medieval liturgy more remote than had been the case in relatively recent history.

Hence the need for a book like this, which seeks to aid medievalists in approaching liturgical sources for the first time. The volume is aimed at "teachers who are preparing classes on the Middle Ages and [ ... ] advanced students who are beginning serious study of the liturgy." The editors have divided this collection of essays into six parts: the shape of the liturgical year; particular liturgies; the physical setting of the liturgy; the liturgy and books; the liturgy and the arts; and, finally, liturgy as social performance.

Three articles comprise the first section, which treats the liturgical year. Stephan Borgehammar explains the sanctification of time over the succession of fasts and feasts that comprise the liturgical calendar. Using a set of twelfthcentury sermons from the Benedictine abbey of Admont in Styria, a province in what is now Austria, as a lens through which to glimpse a typical monastic conception of the liturgical year, Borgehammar shows how medieval interpretations of the liturgical seasons and feasts reflected contemporary approaches to the fourfold "senses" or meanings of the Bible. Jonathan Black introduces readers to the intricacies of the Liturgy of the Hours, laying out the structure of the Divine Office in the Latin West and tracing the increasing privatization of what had been more clearly in Antiquity the public liturgical prayer of the Church. Thomas Heffernan discusses the influence of hagiographical writings, specifically the liturgical vita, on some western Offices.

In the second section, on particular liturgies, Demetrios J. Constantelos treats the Greek liturgy and daily liturgical life in the medieval Byzantine Empire. Sven Helander presents a liturgical profile of the parish church in medieval Sweden. In discussing Jews and Judaism in the medieval Latin liturgy, Lawrence E. Frizzell and J. Frank Henderson examine the Jewish roots of the earliest Christian liturgy and show the importance of the Jewish scriptures in the ministry of the Church. For the medieval interpretation of the feasts of the liturgical year, Frizzell and Henderson rely on the Rationale divinorum officiorum of William Durand (1237-1296), one of the foremost commentators on the liturgy. Although a number of the prayer texts reflect an awareness of the Church as the new Israel, age-old antipathies between Church and Synagogue found expression particularly in the liturgy of Good Friday, the liturgical commemoration of Christ's passion and death on the cross. In his treatment of medieval sacramental liturgies, Martin R. Dudley weaves together artistic, theological, and ritual features of the ceremonies of baptism, penance, confirmation, eucharist, matrimony, ordination, and the anointing of the sick. Finally, Sherry Reames examines the office for St. Cecilia as celebrated in the British Isles. As Reames herself points out, the selection of St. Cecilia, venerated as a Roman martyr, provides a useful introduction to the material on saints in western liturgical books because hers is among the earliest and most standardized offices for a non-biblical saint.

In the third part, dedicated to the physical setting of the liturgy, Elizabeth C. Parker demonstrates through selected floor plans and well produced black and white plates how the architectural environment of a church or baptistery has been used to create a dramatic setting for ritual which, in turn, "enhances a sense of divine presence in the midst of its performance" Parker highlights the striking consistency in the essential liturgical form, despite remarkable changes in theological emphasis and the concomitant alterations in the configuration of sacred space over the course of the Middle Ages. Nancy Spatz shows how the ultimate success of the Gregorian Reform in the matter of lay investiture, the newly constituted college of cardinals, and the general revival of culture in what is known as the"Twelfth-Century Renaissance" all gave rise to church renovations in Rome throughout the twelfth century. The papacy displayed its temporal power and its widespread spiritual sovereignty by impressive stational processions for which the newly renovated Roman churches with their monumental porches and doors provided a splendid backdrop. In a companion piece to Elizabeth C. Parker's essay on liturgical architecture, and with the aid of equally excellent plates, Elizabeth Parker McLachlan introduces the reader to the aesthetic and symbolic impact of vessels and implements on medieval liturgy. Chalices, patens, monstrances, aspergilla, and processional crosses are common enough fare for the general public, but only the most world-weary medieval liturgist can remain unimpressed by the fistulae, flabella, chrismatories, pax bredes, and liturgical combs that have survived the ravages of both time and liturgical reformers.

The fourth part, on books and the liturgy, contains only two essays. Jeanne E. Krochalis and E. Ann Matter deal with the typology of liturgical manuscripts, arranged alphabetically from antiphonals to tropers. Roger S. Wieck encapsulates his previous work on the Book of Hours.

In the fifth part, on liturgy and the arts, Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos treats iconography in the liturgical life of the medieval Church. Evelyn Birge Vitz discusses the resonances of liturgy in Early English, French, and Italian vernacular literature from The Quest of the Holy Grail and The Romance of the Rose in the thirteenth century to Dante's Divine Comedy and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the fourteenth to Francois Villon's Lais and Testament in the fifteenth. Thomas P Campbell studies the history of liturgical drama and its relationship to community discourse. The final two essays of this section deal with music. Gabriela Ilnitchi provides a brief typological survey of Ordinary and Proper chants performed for both the Office and Mass. In an essay titled "Gregorius presul composuit hunt libellum musicae artis," the late James McKinnon explores the medieval legend that attributes the creation of "Gregorian" chant to Pope Gregory I (d. 604).According to McKinnon, it was actually during the pontificate of Gregory II (715-731) that the Roman Proper of the Mass, comprised of more than 550 sophisticated chants, was produced by the Roman schola cantorum in a burst of intense creativity, The original Gregory of the Gregorius presul, then, in McKinnon's view, is Gregory II, not Gregory I. Although Gregory II may very likely have commissioned or perhaps even overseen this work, just as he had filled a liturgical lacuna by ordering the inclusion of the Thursdays of Lent into the annual cycle, it was Gregory I who received credit from ninth-century Carolingian scholars for the creation of the Mass Proper. McKinnon argues that English monks like Alcuin of York were only too willing to attribute the Mass Propers to Gregory I, since this would redound all the more to the glory of the pope responsible for the Augustinian mission to Britain and, indirectly through subsequent monastic missionaries and scholars, the Christianization and civilization of the Frankish realm.

The sixth and final section consists of only one essay titled "Liturgy as Social Performance: Expanding the Definitions." Here Kathleen Ashley, Pamela Sheingorn, and the late C. Clifford Flanigan challenge commonly accepted definitions of "liturgy" to include lay-inspired and lay-conducted rites such as performing, on pilgrimage, a vigil or some ceremony of thanksgiving after a miraculous healing, which might include a narration of the healing before an audience of assembled monks or layfolk in a shrine. Using as evidence the eleventh-century Liber miraculorum sancte Fidis, a compilation of miracle reports and ritual practices of the shrine of the virgin-martyr Ste-Foy at Conques, the essayists contend that ritual protocols performed by pilgrims, as liturgical non-specialists, ought to quality in fact as liturgy. Normally regarded as"para-liturgical," owing to their patterned form of public prayer, these lay activities are not generally considered liturgical.The healings themselves seem almost scripted by the saint, who expects from miracle seekers effort before and reward after working a miracle.

in this final paper, the essayists call for a radical rethinking of the current working concepts about medieval liturgy. Their argument, that "[l]iturgy needs to be understood as more than a script for church officials, a minutely detailed script whose complex development and difficult terminology too often cause our students to lose interest in the religious culture of the Middle Ages" sounds very much like a plea to ignore, or at least to blur, essential distinctions. While there remains much merit in the claim that we should begin viewing medieval liturgy as "the cultural site for the most inclusive social and political as well as religious performance," it is doubtful that medievalists or indeed the very discipline of Medieval Studies would be well served by the abandonment of classical definitions of liturgy. Medieval liturgy constitutes an ample field of study that already includes many and wide-ranging facets of liturgical and ritual performance.

The book contains a useful glossary of liturgical terms, plus attractive plates, figures, and maps; yet it is flawed by egregious and annoying editorial gaffes both in English and in Latin. More diligent copy-editing and proofreading would have made this a much better volume. As it stands, the work provides a helpful guide and model to young scholars in the field of medieval liturgy who have little direct experience of liturgical life. Both students and instructors, however, should use this volume as an ancillary tool, having recourse first of all to the standard works on liturgical sources by Vogel and Palazzo.

[Author Affiliation]

The Catholic University of America

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