Sep 14, 2006

The Roman Canon: Origin and Development I

Some time ago I began studying the Roman Rite with a view to understanding the process which had resulted in the reform of the liturgical books. Primarily, I was concerned over certain accusations leveled against the reform of the liturgical books especially the Roman Missal. As my study has progressed I have been able to evaluate various critiques and found these critiques to have varying degrees of authenticity or reliability. It happens upon occasion that certain works, upon providing facts of evidence and scholarly analysis; convince me to change my opinion of this or that question. Indeed, this has happened several times to me over the course of the study and perhaps it may happen yet again in the future. Lamentably, given that I have published my thoughts and findings for public review, it means that I must from time to time return to read and perhaps revise what I have written previously. I find that I have come upon one of those moments.

For those perhaps who have not studied the history of the Roman Rite, I will give a summary of sorts of the books and authors that have influenced my opinions in these matters. I have remained interested in the subject of liturgy and continue to read with the purpose not so much for knowledge of the liturgy as an end but rather as a means towards understanding and therefore entering more deeply into the liturgical rites. I remain in quiet awe of the scholarship and mental acumen of these liturgical giants without whose works I would know and understand precious little.

My understanding of the development and origin of the Roman Rite is due in main to four authors: Nicholas Gihr 1, Adrian Fortescue 2, Gerhard Rauschen 3 and Fernand Cabrol 4. These were the first works I read on the liturgy and so I think made the most impression upon me. These authors quoted, referenced and even critiqued the arguments of other liturgical luminaries such as: Franz Xaver von Funk, Edmund Bishop, Pierre Battifol, F.E. Brightman, Louis Duchesne, Anton Baumstark, F. Probst, Paul Drews, Rudolf Buchwald, etc. The general theory of development which I had accepted was due in large part to Fortescue’s treatment of the subject together with the synthesis and analysis of Rauschen. Fortescue in his seminal work, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, gives a brief synthesis of important liturgical scholars works on the history of liturgical development. He generally follows Drews in his opinions, not without some critique of his own, however. These views can be found in several articles which Fortescue wrote for the Catholic Encyclopedia 5.

As liturgical documents began to be collected, published and studied the work of comparative liturgy took on a renewed fervor. Exciting new texts and critical editions with scholarly analysis were published. The question of the development of rites came to the forefront because of it. The uniqueness of the Roman liturgy both as a whole and particularly in regards to the Roman Canon caused liturgists to begin asking about the origins of such uniqueness. Early work suggested that the primitive liturgy would likely follow that of the West Syrian liturgies (Antiochian). The foundation for this thesis is eminently reasonable speculation on the basis that the first liturgies would have come from Jerusalem and then into Syria, specifically Antioch. It is well known that Peter established the episcopal see in Antioch before ultimately journeying on to Rome. Thus it was reasonable that the apostolic liturgical rites in Rome and Antioch should be in substantial accord not only as to content but also as to structure or form.

To this end the liturgies found in the Apostolic Traditions and the Apostolic Constitutions were speculated to be reflective of early Christian liturgy. The first of these documents, as I am now convinced by Bouyer, was authored by a Roman of “adoption” who originally came from somewhere in Syria. As Bouyer convincingly argues, the very structure of the liturgy betrays any pretense to being primitive. Rather, it seems that the author holds that the Syrian traditions are the apostolic ones and for that reason has difficulty with the Roman liturgy of his time. Thus liturgists who thought to find the primitive rite of Rome in the Apostolic Traditions were greatly mistaken but no less so than those who thought to identify it with the liturgy found in the Apostolic Constitutions.

At one time, the liturgy found in Book VIII was attributed to Clement of Rome. For this reason the liturgy was often called the Clementine liturgy and will often today be referred to as the Pseudo-Clementine liturgy. It is this text which Drews uses as the basic model for the primitive liturgy. This assumption inherently meant that there was a radical alteration at some unknown juncture to the Roman Canon. Many, if not most, liturgists have more or less followed Drews in his reconstruction of the primitive Roman Canon. Even those who think his reconstruction theories have certain flaws in one point or another generally concede the same conclusion, i.e. that the Roman Canon had been drastically altered at some point. What made such speculation possible is twofold: the paucity of documents which witness to the primitive Roman form and the error of seeking knowledge of the primitive anaphora in unreliable documents. Very famous treatments of the liturgy and the anaphora all reflect this lamentable error from the beginning of the liturgical movement up to the eve of the reform and even into our own times. This principle and unfounded error can be found in Fortescue 6, Rauschen 7, Cagin 8, Gassner 9, Jungmann 10, and Vagaggini 11 among others.

N.B. This is the first installment of a several part series.

1 Rev Dr. Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically and Ascetically Explained, 6th edition, B. Herder Book Co, 1924.

2 Rev. Dr. Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, Loreto Publications, 2003: original printing 1912.

3 Rauschen, Gerhard, Ph.D., S.T.D., Eucharist and Penance: In the First Six Centuries of the Church, B Herder, St. Louis, 1913.

4 Rt. Rev. Dom Fernand Cabrol, The Mass of the Western Rites, 1934.

5 Liturgy; Canon of the Mass; et al.

6 The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy

7 Eucharist and Penance: The First Six Centuries of the Church

8 Dom Paul Cagin, L’Eucharistia, Canon primitif de la Messe, Paris, 1912.

9 Rev. Dr. Jerome Gassner, O.S.B., The Canon of the Mass: Its History, Theology, and Art, B Herder, St. Louis, 1949.

10 Rev. Dr. Joseph A Jungmann, S.J., The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, Benzinger Brothers, New York, 1959.

11 Dom Cipriano Vagaggini, The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform, Alba House, Great Britain, 1966 (trans. 1967).


Fr. Gregory Wassen said...

Very interesting! I have read Fortescue, Gihr, and Gassner on the Roman Canon and especially the latter makes a lot of sense to me. I would tend to agree with your perception that the idea that the Roman Canon is disordered or dislocated is likely an error. Have you touched on this subject in other posts? It seems that you did not in the posts of this series? Anyways - I appreciate your thoughts as here expressed and am wondering what has brought you to suspect that the "dislocation theory" is wrong? My strongest suspicion that it must be wrong is that the Roman Canon IS coherent but its coherence is alien to the nominalist and rationalist tendencies of 19th and 20-ieth century thought.


Gregory Wassen +

Keith Kenney said...

Fr. Gregory,

Yes, as you say, it is the internal coherence of the Roman Canon, which lacks the nominalist and rationalist tendencies of later thought, that speaks most eloquently against the dislocation theory. I never did finish the series because I was in seminary at the time and may liturgical views were drawing undesirable attention at that time. I would like to return to the series at some point but I can give something of a summary here. Fr. Louis Bouyer opened my eyes to the fact that the pattern of prayers or form of the Canon shows it to be a collection of prayers rather than a single unit. That's the direction I was going in with the follow up posts to this one. The analysis of the Canon which decries missing elements such as an explicit epiclesis of the Holy Spirit are actually evidences of it being untouched in this respect. That the many early liturgical prayers have much in common is really a testament to shared faith and we need not look or attempt to reconstruct our prayers with a view to "originals." As if somehow the various rites have lost something in their developments through Saints, Patriarchs and Bishops. The Roman Canon may in fact show traces of an overly literal translation from an earlier Greek version. Finally, the theology of the anamnesis also is an evidence of a different way of expressing eucharistic theology. In any case, I became aware that many liturgists, i.e. Paul Drews, et al., began with the supposition that something had gone horribly wrong with the Roman Canon and found evidences to support those presuppositions. Studying the prayer itself it seems to me to have its own logos, even those constant "Through (the same) Christ our Lord. Amen." The removal of which actually constitutes the displacement of the internal logos of this fine example of early euchology.

In cordibus Iesu et Mariae.