Category Archives: Liturgy

On Antiphons

I usually don’t reblog but this is so fitting for the theme of this blog I can’t resist.


Holy Women, Holy Men

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church now has a blog “to invite feedback about some of our current projects”. The two primary projects they have on the blog are Holy Women, Holy Men and resources for same-sex blessings.

For Holy Women, Holy Men they appear to be posting for each feast day so that comments can be made on individual changes. I believe the 2012 General Convention will be asked to give final approval to the proposed calendar changes.

The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music’s blog can be found here.

Reconstructing Medieval Liturgy

The history department of the University of Exeter is coordinating an interesting new project in medieval liturgy. It made the news this week with a look at the medieval liturgy for Maundy Thursday.  If you follow the link at the end of the article to the university site you find the organizational pages for the project: Interpreting Medieval Liturgy c. 500 – 1500 AD: Text and Performance. It looks like they are hosting some interesting workshops and we can only hope that some of this material will appear online at some point. There is a registration site for scholars working in this area if you would like to contact some of them or have yourself listed.

The Stowe Missal Litany

One of the unusual features of the Stowe Missal, at least compared to modern liturgies, is that the Eucharist celebration begins with a penitential litany, and this is one of the areas that Moel Caich, the only named owner of the missal, expanded. The original litany begins like this:

“We have sinned, O Lord we have sinned.

Spare us from our sins. Save us!

You guided Noah over the waves of the flood. Hear us.

You called back Jonah from the abyss with a word: deliver us.

You stretched out your hand to Peter as he sank: help us O Christ.

O Son of God you showed the wonderful works of the Lord to our ancestors, be merciful to us in our times: put forth your hand from on high and deliver us.

Christ hear us! [Christ graciously hear us].” (O’Loughlin, p. 137)

The litany then continues by calling on the intercession of a collection of typical New Testament figures: Mary, the apostles and Paul. For Moel Caich, this was not nearly enough. He adds over 30 universal and local saints, mostly local. Moel Caich added some saints that are universal like Stephan the protomartyr, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory (the great), and Martin (of Tours).  By far most of the additions though are local saints including multiples with the same name, so there are two Brendans, two Columbas, two Finans, etc. In those days, everyone walked in the footsteps of the saints because local saints were celebrated in nearly every locality. A medieval priests calendar was peppered with local celebrations in between the major feasts. These local feast days were important to each local community who celebrated services and fairs on the feast day. A feast day is supposed to be a joyous celebration; fairs and feasts could go on for days that make today’s parish picnics a bare pale shadow of the old parish feast celebrations. A local patron saint was more than an excuse for feasting and fairs though. They were the local people’s own prayer warrior in heaven. One of their own whom they could beseech to intercede for them with the Lord to heal their hurts and celebrate their victories.

“A litany is a declaration that the group gathered imagines itself not just made up by those in the building, but of a communion of saints. … Present on a Sunday morning, the groups identity is not primarily that of being the Christians on one part of the monastery lands at Tallaght who have to assemble as they need the services of a priest and ‘the church’; their identity is rather that of a small group within the whole communion which Christ had established….at the local level, they wanted those saints who were part of the monastic communities of Ireland, and therefore should have a special interest in them as close relatives.  Equally these were the actual intercessors whom they knew in their everyday lives were seeking to follow and be in communion with; these were the stories from just ‘down the road’, and it would be in their company that they would rise again ‘in the resurrection at the last day’ (Jn 11:24). …For our practical purposes how many were gathered for the Eucharist at Tallaght in the early ninth century is a matter of detective work in lieu of counting heads; but from a theological perspective of participants, it was a far more complex matter.” (O’Loughlin, p. 140-141).

The original text of the Stowe Missal is about a generation before the Martyrology of Tallaght. Moel Caich, who expanded the litany lived at some later date, so we ulitmately do not know whether the litany as it exists now is before or after the martyrology. A medieval martyrology is a essentially a church calendar because by the ninth century those listed were no longer all martyrs. These calendars are called martyrologies by convention that dates back to the 5th-6th century when the transition was made to add non-martyrs to the calendar. Once Christianity had become legal under Constantine, early Christians had the conundrum of wanting to honor some of the holy people among them who, from their perspective, unfortunately did not die as martyrs as had earlier holy men and women. The sixth century is the tipping point when holy men and women like Benedict of Nursia and his sister Scholastica, Gregory the Great, Germanus of Auxerre, Martin of Tours,  Genevieve, Patrick and Bridget die peaceful deaths. For some like Germanus of Auxerre, their sainthood was secured immediately upon their death by declaration of the crowd. Apostles like Patrick (Apostle of Ireland) who did not die as martyrs added more tension and were declared immediately upon their death. The sainthood of Bridget was destined without doubt but much more complex. Others were added retrospectively once non-martyrs began to be honored more widely.

The Martyrology of Tallaght is perhaps the most detailed martyrology that I have seen. I did look at it a few years ago when I was working on the Calendar of Willibrord, a project yet unfinished. It is not unusual for the Martyrology of Tallaght to have 20 or more names per date. The compilers of the Martyrology of Tallaght did not want to leave anyone out so they took all the names from all of the calendars they came across, whether they knew anything about them or not. This style of martyrology did not continue for obvious practical reasons. Yet, like the Stowe litany it reflects the theology of Tallaght that everyone who deserved to be honored anywhere should be honored there as well. It reflects a theology of gracious radical inclusion.


Thomas O’Loughlin. (2000) Celtic Theology: Humanity, World, and God in Early Irish Writings. Continuum.

The Stowe Missal and Early Irish Theology

The Stowe Missal is a rare witness to early Irish theology and liturgy. It is named for the library where it was discovered in Stowe House, Buckinghamshire. Analysis of the well worn, 67 page vellum book and its contents date it to between 792 and 811/2. Given that the litany mentions St Maelruain (d. 792), founder of Tallaght, but not Eochaid his successor, who was also listed as a saint in early litanies, there is a good possibility that it was written at Tallaght in Ireland. O’Loughlin mentions that the Stowe Missel was therefore written around the time the Celi De movement began around Tallaght (near modern Dublin).

O’Loughlin notes that the theology of the Stowe Missal reflects the paramount importance of community over individuality. There is a tangible continuity between the living community and those who have gone on, between the church militant, church expectant, and church triumphant. The Irish had a well developed theology of the communion of saints and it is reflected in their comprehensive litanies. For the people who wrote the Stowe Missal being totally absorbed into a community was the goal and an ideal life. They freely gave up their individuality to belong to something greater than themselves. The Martyrology of Oengus (c. 825) and the Martyrology of Tallaght both date from about twenty years after this missal.

We imagine liturgical books as impressive altar tomes and as having a rigidly fixed text. Both assumptions are products of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries owing not a little to the nature of the printing and the fears of the Reformation period. Then it suited all sides to promote uniformity, and their desires were made possible through the new technology. In the earlier period missals had no definite shape as books and their form depended on the particular conditions of when and where they were commissioned and the availability of resources. As to their contents there was a similar variability, not just because no two manuscript books have ever the exact same text, but because the nature of their production allowed for variations and additions to be made with minimal difficulty. Then when that missal was used as an exemplar for another book, all its accretions would be transmitted to the new book as its basic text. We have a fine example of this process of accretions made during use in the Stowe Missal. (O’Loughlin, p. 130-131)

There are several points found its content that support this date and its uniqueness as a witness of the early Irish church and yet illustrates that that the Irish church was fully involved in wider European Christendom, from O’Loughlin:

  • Space left to include “our abbot [and] bishop” in the Eucharistic prayer suggests that it was originally written for a monastic context. In the early Irish church abbots of major monasteries were also bishops. This gave a monastery nearly complete independence.
  • “Stowe’s basic text is that of the Roman rite; for example, it has labeled the Eucharistic Prayer ‘the Canon of Pope Gelasius’, and it shows several post-seventh century Roman developments such as a Gloria.” (O’Loughlin, p. 131).
  • The inclusion of the Nicene creed suggests influence from Spain.
  • The text for the breaking of the bread is similar to that used in Milan.
  • A gaelic (Irish language) description of the Eucharist is included, probably as an aid for sermons.
  • On the last folio there are three spells in Irish.
  • Orthodoxwiki notes that there are phrases and prayers in common with Ethiopian, Coptic and East Syrian texts.

There have been multiple owners of the book who each left notes and additions. An owner named Moel Caich added several pages and made several changes to the text including erasing some of the original scribes text and replacing it. Moel Caich added a baptismal rite and rites for the sick to the missal. O’Loughlin stresses that the Stowe Missal is a working book for a working priest so Moel Caich’s changes reflect his actual usage of the text.

Stowe Missal inital page
Stowe Missal initial page for the gospel of John, bound with the missal.

At some point early in its life it was bound with a partial copy of the Gospel of John. Although O’Loughlin refers to this text as a defective copy of the gospel, it has also been speculated that it contains common readings to use with the liturgy. Not all parts of the gospel are used equally in the liturgy. However, as far as I know, there hasn’t been a study done comparing the intact portions of the gospel of John bound with the Stowe missal with the lectionary. In an era when all manuscripts were hand written, it would not have been unusual for a working priest to have a copy of the gospel that had omissions or lacuna. Once bound together the texts were intended to stay together. The gospel is bound first in the book with an initial page on the first folio and a miniature of St John with his eagle symbol is bound on the last page leading into the the liturgical text.

St Kevins Kitchen, Glendslough
St Kevin's Kitchen, Glendslough

St Kevin’s Kitchen is the type of small rural church where O’Loughlin envisions the Stowe Missel being used. Most priests would have celebrated their masses in places like this rather than in the grand churches within monasteries, though many monasteries may have had particularly small churches.

The liturgy of the Stowe Missal has been authorized for use in the Russian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox church has produced at least two English language translations.


Thomas O’Loughlin. (2000) Celtic Theology: Humanity, World, and God in Early Irish Writings. Continuum.

Stowe Missal Wikipedia

Stowe Missal Orthodoxwiki

English translation of the Stowe Missal from the Web site of the Celtic Orthodox Christian Church (via Wikipedia references)