The Liturgy and its Books

The Tools The Mass The Office
Computus Processions Processions
Liturgical Year Readings for the Mass Psalter
Organization of Texts within Books Canon of the Mass Readings for the Office
Organization of Common and Proper Chants for the Mass Chants for the Office
Calendar   Chapter
  A Complete Calendar  

Liturgy may be defined as the practice of organized, formal worship; it is the ensemble of texts, music (and books and instruments), of movements, vestments, vessels and even the buildings and the interaction of all of these used by a group of people to worship God. During the course of the almost 1000 years represented by the books in this exhibit, Western liturgical practice varied tremendously across time, from place to place, and in many specific communities. Nevertheless, we can glimpse here three important moments of the development of liturgy. At the earliest end of our spectrum, are several manuscripts dating from the ninth century; these manuscripts represent efforts towards a pan-European unified liturgy initiated under the impetus of the Frankish emperor, Charlemagne, based primarily on Roman practices but with Gallican influence.

The vast majority of the codices on view exhibit the multiplicity of practices of the later Middle Ages. The significant development at this point was a form of the liturgy that arose in the papal chapel in Rome during the twelfth century and that was carried to all parts of the western world by the Franciscans during the thirteenth century and by the printing press from the mid 1400s onwards. This form, termed Roman rite, has a much broader compass than the city of Rome alone; major dioceses, however, had their own rites. The liturgy in monasteries continued to differ from the use of secular churches, and was also geographically varied.

With the pressures of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and aided by the printing press, the Council of Trent (1545-63) imposed a normative liturgy on most Catholics; it remained essentially in place until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). A certain number of printed and manuscript books from this period are included in the exhibit.

Liturgy encompasses two main types of service: the Mass and the Divine Office. But a definition of liturgy as public worship also includes group practices such as the processions with a mass or an office, and the chapter meetings associated with the Divine Office of the religious orders. Activities necessary to the liturgy, although not liturgical themselves, are represented in this exhibit by the books that give the directions for correct celebration.

Note: On the following pages, all manuscript citations are understood to be held by Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, except for those otherwise specified. Call numbers of the manuscripts appear when the cursor passes over the thumbnail images.