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"Thus," wrote Isaac Jogues, "on the 29th of September, René Goupil, an angel of innocence and martyr of Jesus Christ, was immolated in his thirty-fifth year for Him who had given His life for ransom. He had consecrated his heart and his soul to God, and his work and his life to the welfare of the poor Indians."
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“I still haven’t made up my mind whether I shall publish it all. Some people are so humorless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one’s efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them. Most readers know nothing about canon law. Many regard it with contempt and find everything heavy going that isn’t completely lowbrow. Some are so grimly serious that they disapprove of all humor. Others come to different conclusions every time they stand up or sit down. They seize upon your publications, as a wrestler seizes upon his opponent’s hair, and use them to drag you down, while they themselves remain quite invulnerable, because their barren pates are completely bald, so there’s nothing for you to get hold of.”
— St. Thomas More to Peter Gilles, 1516
What Are The Mass Propers? Installment no. 10
published 30 November 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

It is so very difficult to write about the sacred liturgy, because there are simply too many fascinating points of discussion. For instance, today, I was going to write about several topics, including the Mystérium Fídei, but (as you can see), I was sidetracked. Perhaps the best course of action is to simply offer up all our failings and inadequacies to our Savior. Let me repeat what I’ve said in the past: one could study the sacred liturgy for 100 years and only begin to scratch the surface.

As we’ve already discussed, the Gelasian Sacramentary is the most ancient version of the Roman Canon we posses. The Gelasian Sacramentary exists in several MSS. The oldest version is that of a book written in the 7th or early 8th century for use in the abbey of St. Denis at Paris (now at the Vatican Library). The version reproduced below is that of St. Gallen (AF, 119). Obviously, the Roman Canon as copied in these MSS had already been prayed in this form for many years. Nobody knows for sure how ancient the Roman Canon is (in the form we have), but a very conservative guess would be no later than the year 500AD.

We will be referring to this amazing MS throughout this series, and will explore each section in depth. Let me say again that (with the exception of 1-2 sentences) our current Mass is word-for-word the same as the Gelasian Sacramentary. Click here for an English translation (taken from the Vatican II Hymnal). It is printed there for the Extraordinary Form, but I could have just as easily taken the pages from the Ordinary Form Eucharistic Prayer No. 1. It makes no difference whatsoever, they are practically identical. So, without further ado, here is the oldest version of the Roman Canon we have:

Listen Most Rev. Bishop René Gracida pray the Roman Canon (starting at “Te ígitur, clementíssime Pater . . .”):

What Are The Mass Propers? is an ongoing series dedicated to exploring the Graduale Propers and other aspects of the Catholic liturgy. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the views of Corpus Christi Watershed. Comments, advice, and criticism are welcome, and can be E-mailed. E-mails will be read, but cannot always be answered (due to time constraints). “AF” refers to Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (1912).
        Down through the centuries, the Church has carefully assigned beautiful prayers to each Mass. We call these prayers “Mass Propers” or “Graduale Propers.” Over the centuries, Gregorian composers have created unbelievably beautiful chant melodies for each prayer. Under special circumstances, Catholics are allowed to replace the sung Mass Propers with “some other chant.” Unfortunately, this practice has become so widespread that many Catholics go to Mass without hearing a single Mass Proper. It is difficult to understand why Catholic musicians would toss out these wonderful, ancient prayers . . . especially when they choose to replace them with uninspired modern texts in a secular musical style. Currently, the only pew book to contain the complete Mass Propers is the Vatican II Hymnal. Next time you hear a Catholic musician replace, for example, the Communion Proper or Entrance Proper, please consider asking, “What made you want to replace the sacred text assigned by the Church?”

Pictures of ancient manuscripts appearing in this blog come from various sources. The author has collected his own color photographs of manuscripts from libraries and monasteries in the United States and Italy. A Canadian chant scholar who has been taking photographs of MSS since the 1960’s has generously made his collection available as well, and the author is grateful. Some photographs also come from online archives hosted by libraries and universities the world over. All photographs are used with permission.