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Liturgical Books of the Roman Rite

Contemporary Liturgical Books

The Sacramental Rites of the Church are now set forth in Canon law and promulgated in approved liturgical books. In the age of modern printing, especially since the Council of Trent, liturgical rites have become standardized and the Vatican approves official versions.

This was not always the case however. In older times, liturgical traditions evolved differently within particular regions, and liturgical books were much more varied. It is still that case that Eastern liturgical books are organized differently than our familiar Roman books.

There are currently seven authorized Liturgical Books that have been official promulgated for the Roman Rite, and for most of these books both post-Vatican (Novus Ordo), and pre-Vatican (TLM) versions are authorized. Furthermore, shorted or abbreviated versions of most of these liturgical books that don't include all possible ceremonies, or masses are frequently used. And to complicate things further, the Novus Ordo liturgical cycles encompasses three years, so some Missals and Lectionaries have three volumes.

Nevertheless, this is a list of the seen official liturgical books currently approved for the Roman Rite. The first three contain ceremonies that are most familiar to layman. The latter four are used in religious communities and for sung masses celebrated with traditional scholas and choirs. The Titles include the descriptor 'Roman' to distinguish them from the books for the other liturgical rites of the Church.

  • Roman Missale — Primary liturgical book for priests and deacons containing texts and rubrics for celebration of mass.
  • Roman Ritual — Contains texts and rubrics for ceremonies celebrated by Priests or Deacons other than mass, including baptism, penance, last rites, benediction, blessings, exorcism, and consecrations.
  • Roman Pontifical — Contains text and rubrics for ceremonies celebrated exclusively by Bishops, including Ordinations, Confirmations, Pontifical masses, Chrism masses, consecrations, and other sacramentals.
  • Roman Breviary — Contains texts for praying the Liturgy of the Hours for the liturgical year used by all religious orders that pray the Divine Office either privately or in groups.
  • Roman Martyrology — Includes descriptions of the lives of officially recognized saints who can be commemorated by a weekday mass or be honored by having a Church or building named after them. Traditionally, the Martyrology for each day is read during Liturgy of the Hours in religious communities.
  • Roman Gradual — Contains chants used by traditional scholas during the Mass, including the Gradual proper and many others. In most parish celebrations of the Novus Ordo, it is usually not used and the gradual replaced by a responsorial psalms.
  • Roman Antiphonary — Contains antiphons and other hymns sung during mass by a traditional choir. Used primarily in religious communities and by traditional choirs.

Rubrics — The term Rubrics means red, and it originally referred to the practice of highlighting certain sections of a manuscript in red for emphasis. In liturgical terms, rubrics refer to the instructions for priests within liturgical texts. The actions and movements of a minister are often as just as important a part of a ceremony as the words he uses. In liturgical texts the words a priest speaks are written in black, while the instructions telling him what to do as he speaks or prays are written in red. For example:

The Priest kisses the Altar, and turning to the people says:
P. The Lord be with you.
S. And with your spirit.

The phrase dicunt nigrum, rubrum facere, meaning "Say the black, do the red" emphasizes the importance of posture and movement to ministers of liturgical ceremonies. The collection of all official rubrics of the Catholic Church, including both texts and instructions, are called the Ordines Romani (Latin for Roman Orders).

Lectionaries — The readings from the Epistles and Gospels during mass in the modern service are typically read from Lectionaries, rather than from the official Roman Missal. Lectionaries contain selections of scripture readings that are appointed to be read on a certain day, or for certain masses. The changes to the liturgy after Vatican I included a very significant increase in the variety of scriptural readings over the liturgical year. To accommodate these changes, which were worked out with the co-operation of Protestant theologians, the new Lectionaries were organized into three year cycles, designated A, B, and C.

  • Year A: Gospel of Matthew (beginning Advent 2016, 2019, 2022, 2025 etc.)
  • Year B: Gospel of Mark (beginning Advent 2017, 2020, 2023, 2026 etc.)
  • Year C: Gospel of Luke (beginning Advent 2018, 2021, 2024, 2027 etc.)
  • The Gospel of John is read throughout Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter where appropriate.

Historical Liturgical Books

In the earliest centuries of Christendom, books were difficult to produce and maintain, and most liturgical ceremonies, including the mass and sacraments, were simpler. The first liturgical books were collections of Gospels and Epistles, which were read aloud whenever Christians gathered to share the Eucharist. The words of the consecration, taken from the Gospel account of the Last Supper, were typically memorized and many early Christians knew the psalms and other prayers by heart.

Eventually more prayers were added, rituals became established, and guidelines for celebrating mass were written down and shared among Christian communities. But just as the Gospels and Epistles were not gathered into an official collection of canonical scriptures until the 4th century, no official or complete liturgical books were known to have circulated until for at least 300 years.

By the fourth century public worship had evolved such that mass was celebrated in spacious facilities with numerous members of the religious community contributing to the service. The priest presided over the consecration and communion but lectors red lessons from scriptures, deacons recited the Gospel and certain prayers, and cantors or choirs sung hymns and psalms.

For this reason, Sacramentaries, the first liturgical books, were organized differently than modern missals. While missals contain all parts of the mass, the earliest sacramentaries contained only the parts of the mass said by priests. Since the consecration contains the most important priestly prayers, the Canon of the Mass was included in the oldest sacramentaries.

Just as the priest relied on his Sacramentary, not only for the priestly prayers said during mass, but also for sacramental rites including baptism, penance, and extreme unction, etc., Deacons and Lectors had their own books that included the passages from scripture and prayers for which they were responsible, and Cantors had their own books with antiphons, psalms, and chants intended for the Choir. Separating prayers needed by specific ministers into separate books made sense in the early Church, given how difficult it was to reproduce books in ancient times.

The contents and purpose of liturgical books varied over time. This list of early liturgical books were developed for specific ministers, for the rite of Mass. Books specific to the Breviary and Divine Office are listed elsewhere.

  • Sacramentary — Liturgical book for Priests including the Eucharistic liturgy and other parts of the mass said by priests. Sacramentaries often also included ceremonies for baptism, penance, last rites, and matrimony, and were not standardized. Until the age of the printing press there was considerable variability among sacramentals.
  • Pontifical —: Liturgical book for Bishops including bishop's prayers for the high mass, sacramental rites for confirmation and holy orders, and other important blessings and consecrations typically given by bishops.
  • Evangeliary —: Book of Gospel passages for the liturgical year that were typically read by Deacons during mass.
  • Epistolary —: Book composed mostly of Epistles and some passages from the Old Testament that were traditionally read during mass by Lectors.
  • Antiphonary —: Books of Chants, prayers and antiphons used by a Cantor to lead the choir during mass.

Gregorian Chant and Choir Books

  • Gradual
  • Psalters
  • Kyriale
  • Liber Usualis
  • Caeremoniale Episcoporum

Historically Important Liturgical Books

  • Leonine Sacramentary
  • Gelasian Sacramentary
  • Drogo Sacramentary
  • Martyrology of Usuard
  • Martyrologium Hieronymianum
  • Liberian Catalogue
  • Euchologion