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Celebrating Liturgica Music

Carolingian Reforms

The Franks Adopt the Roman Rite

Western liturgy in the eighth century was influenced by the rise in power of the Frankish kings north of the Alps. Their ideal, especially under the later leadership of Charlemagne, was to create a Christian society in Western Europe. Stability and unification were brought about by assimilation of old Roman culture of the cities and "barbarian" cultures in the countryside, the official use of the Latin language, and the creation of a unified church-state. In order to consolidate their realms, the Franks sought to import Roman liturgy in an effort to standardize liturgical practice. [1] Their efforts were eventually successful resulting in a uniform worship, but had the unintended effect of mixing Gallican elements with Roman practice creating a hybrid Roman-Frankish liturgy. Allegorical interpretations of liturgy changed how the rites were perceived and performed. This new hybrid liturgical style dominated the West and severely diminished the importance of other Western rites.

In 754 King Pepin prescribed the Roman liturgy for use in his realm. Political unity was not the only factor in the promotion of Roman practice; pilgrims visiting Rome, especially bishops, were impressed with the beauty of the Roman ceremonies. The diversity of Gallican practice and the corruption of its Latin texts were other factors that lead to dissatisfaction with local rites. Still, Pepin's decree met with limited success: Although Roman liturgical manuscripts copied outside Rome had already absorbed some Gallican elements, Roman liturgy was particularly suited to its local community and could not be transplanted easily into Frankish lands with very different liturgical and cultural traditions.

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Charlemagne's Program of Reform

During the years 785-786 Charlemagne enacted laws to bring the process of Romanization to completion and to suppress the Gallican rite. [2] He asked Pope Hadrian (772-795) to send to Aachen a Gregorian sacramentary "in pure form" so that it could be used as a model for liturgical books in the Frankish realm. In 785 this Pope sent a sacramentary compiled around 735, now known as the Hadrianum. This book was ill suited for Charlemagne's needs; it was incomplete, lacking formularies for the Sundays of the year, and it represented the more elaborate Papal liturgy rather than parish usage. (In the city of Rome two liturgical styles had already emerged. One form was used only when the Pope presided; the other simpler form for general use would have been a better model for Charlemagne's purposes.) Perhaps Pope Hadrian misunderstood Charlemagne's request for an exemplar book, and merely sent the most beautiful manuscript he possessed. [3]

In order to develop a usable book as a model, it was necessary to supplement the Hadrianum with materials it lacked and adapt it to the needs of the Frankish church. During the years 810-815 Benedict of Aniane filled in the missing sections with texts from the Eighth Century Gelesian, another unknown Roman source, and Gallican material. The contents of this supplement are extensive: they include not only the missing Masses for Sundays of the year, but also diverse texts such as vigils for Easter and Pentecost, weekday Masses, common Masses for saints, consecration of clerics and women religious, ordinations for minor orders, votive Masses for special needs, funeral Masses, episcopal blessings and suggestions for the addition of Gallican feasts to the church calender. In his supplement Benedict was careful to clearly distinguish these additional materials from the Hadrianum text as he received it. [4] The resulting hybrid Roman-Frankish sacramentary was used as a model for liturgical changes throughout the realm and eventually its hybrid liturgy made its way to Rome itself.

In addition to the spread of proper Roman liturgical books through his empire, Charlemagne wished the chant in his churches to follow the usage of Rome. He sent his best singers to the Papal chapel to learn the chant used there so they could disseminate it to the rest of his realm. This standardized repertoire became known as Gregorian Chant. For more information, see the article on Gregorian Chant.

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Gallican and Allegorical Characteristics

This new form of hybrid liturgy had a different character from the traditional Roman simplicity and sobriety. It exhibited Gallican characteristics: the taste for dramatic, colorful ritual, and the multiplication and lengthening of prayers. The tone of these texts is often subjective and emotional, especially in the silent dispositional prayers of the presider. An example of this Gallicanization is seen in the presbyteral ordination ritual. In the Roman rite the laying on of hands clearly stands out as the primary symbolic action. In the new hybrid liturgy the addition of conferring of vestments, anointing of the priest's hands, and presentation of liturgical books adds to the dramatic character of the ceremony, but the central gesture of laying on of hands appears to be just one of many ritual actions.

Another factor in the development of the new liturgical books and their interpretation is shown in commentaries known as expositio Missae. These works interpreted liturgy in colorful, allegorical ways so that a deeper meaning was seen behind every liturgical detail. For instance, the entrance chant of the Mass was seen as the voice of the prophets foretelling Christ's coming, the Gloria as the song of the angels heralding Christ's birth, and the reading of the Epistle as John the Baptist's proclamation of Christ as the Messiah. Such fanciful interpretations led to changes in liturgical practice, such as the celebrant reciting the canon in a low voice as he was seen in the role of the High Priest alone entering the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Two of Charlemagne's advisors, Alcuin and Amalarius of Metz were proponents of this allegorical interpretation.

Like the Mass, other sacramental rites were viewed as a kind of liturgical drama reenacting scenes from salvation history. The rite for expulsion of penitents from the church was based on texts from Genesis where the penitents were spoken of as the sinful Adam and Eve banished from the Eden of the church.

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Monastic Influences

As the reforms of Charlemagne spread through Europe, other influences brought about change in Western practice that are seen throughout the medieval period. Irish and Scottish monks brought their customs to continental Europe, such as their form of the sacrament of penance. While canonical penance in its traditional Roman form was still in use, private individual celebration of the sacrament of penance became more and more common. Instead of being used for only grave sins causing public scandal, now every person recognizing his sinful nature could receive this sacrament over and over again. The normal minister of this monastic Celtic form of the sacrament was the confessor presbyter rather than the bishop.

Another trend in privatization is seen in the Mass through the following centuries. In its origin the Eucharist was celebrated only in the context of the gathering of the Christian community. Partly due to monastic influences, the Mass was increasingly celebrated by a presbyter with a single minister, or even by the priest alone. This led to the development of the Plenary Missal, a liturgical book that contained the texts of the sacramentary, scripture readings, chants and rubrics so that the celebrant alone could take on the roles of all the liturgical ministers.

The celebration of Divine Office began to take on a more monastic form. In place of the repetitive use of psalmody characteristic of the cathedral office, the monastic practice of reciting the entire Psalter in one week became standard. The recitation of the longer monastic style services became an obligation of all clerics, who perceived themselves as praying on behalf of the laity. As a result, the office became more and more a clerical preserve in which lay people seldom participated.

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The Addition of the Credo

Although the Gallican additions and interpretations changed many details of the liturgy and how it was perceived, the overall structure of the Mass remained much the same as it was in the time of Gregory the Great. One addition of Charlemagne was the insertion of the Credo, or Nicene Creed, in Frankish territories at the end of the eighth century. Since the end of the sixth century the Nicene Creed was used in the Spanish liturgy including a local accretion to the text known as the "filioque" clause. In response to disputes of heretical groups concerning the nature of the Trinity, the phrase concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit was altered to read, "And I believe in the Holy Spirit ... who proceeds from the Father and the Son." The Creed with this addition spread to Frankish churches rather quickly. Pope Leo III wrote to Charlemagne in 808 expressing his wish that the filioque clause not be added, and had silver plaques engraved with the original text of the Creed set up in St. Peter's. The Creed was not used as part of the Mass in the city of Rome well into the eleventh century, when Pope Benedict VIII bowed to political pressure and included it in Masses on Sundays and major feasts. [5]

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Other Western Rites

With the dissemination of the Carolingian reforms, the suppression of the Gallican rite was complete in western Europe, although its influence remained strong in the detail and flavor of the new hybrid liturgy. The reforms did not affect Spain which maintained its own Mozarabic liturgy until the eleventh century. It is not clear from medieval sources if Charlemagne made an attempt to suppress the Ambrosian rite, or if he merely limited it to the area surrounding Milan. Thus it is the only Western liturgy not eventually supplanted by the Roman-Frankish rite and has significant use to this day.

Selected Bibliography

Adam, Adolf. Foundations of Liturgy: An Introduction to Its History and Practice. Translated by Matthew J. O'Connell. Collegeville, MN, 1992.

Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. London, 1945.

Jungmann, Josef. The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development. II vols. translated by Francis A. Brunner. New York, 1951.

Vogel,Cyrille. Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources, translated and revised by William Storey and Neils Rasmussen. Washington, DC, 1986

Ware, Kallistos. The Orthodox Church. 2nd. Ed. New York, 1993.

Wegman, Herman. Christian Worship in East and West. Translated by Gordon W. Lathrop. New York, 1985.


Joseph Metzinger

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[1] For a summary of this complex cultural and political background, see Herman Wegman, Christian Worship in East and West, pp. 143-149.

[2] Adolf Adam, Foundations of Liturgy, p. 27.

[3] Herman Wegman, Christian Worship in East and West, pp. 154-155.

[4] Cyrille Vogel, Medieval Liturgy, pp. 85-92.

[5] See Gregory Dix, The Shape of Liturgy, 487; Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 59; and Josef Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol 1, pp. 469-470.