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The New Prefaces of the EF Mass, Part 6: The Preface of All Saints and Patron Saints

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The first article in this series contains a history of the preface as a feature of the Roman Mass to which the reader may find it useful to refer.

Of the seven prefaces recently made optional in the Missal of the Extraordinary Form, four come from the post-Conciliar reform (those of the Angels, St John the Baptist, the martyrs, and the wedding Mass), and three were originally composed for the 1738 neo-Gallican revision of the Missal of Paris (those of the Blessed Sacrament, of All Saints and Patron Saints, and the Dedication of a Church). When the neo-Gallican Uses were gradually suppressed over the course of the 19th century, some of their features were retained by being incorporated into the French supplements “for certain places” in the Roman liturgical books, these latter three prefaces among them. The recent decree Quo magis gives universal permission for their use whenever the appropriate Mass is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form. Here then is the preface of All Saints and Patron Saints; in this case, I include the full text of the doxology, which is slightly different from the normal form.

The Mass of All Saints day in a Parisian Missal from the end of the 15th century: Bibliothèque Mazarine, Ms 412; folio 352r (image cropped).

VD: Qui glorificáris in concilio Sanctórum, et eórum coronando mérita, corónas dona tua: qui nobis in eórum praebes et conversatióne exemplum, et communióne consortium, et intercessióne subsidium: ut tantam habentes impósitam nubem testium, per patientiam currámus ad propósitum nobis certámen, et cum eis percipiámus immarcescíbilem gloriae corónam. Per Iesum Christum Dóminum nostrum, cuius sánguine ministrátur nobis intróitus in aeternum regnum. Per quem maiestátem tuam trementes adórant Angeli, et omnes Spirítuum caelestium chori socia exsultatióne concélebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti iubeas, deprecámur, súpplici confessióne dicentes:

Since this preface was not adopted into the Novus Ordo, there is no official English version of it; here is my own very literal rendering.

“Truly it is worthy… everlasting God: Who art glorified in the council of the Saints, and by crowning their merits, crownest (also) Thy gifts. Who in their manner of life givest us an example, a share in their communion, and help in their intercession; so that ‘we also, having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, may run by patience to the fight proposed to us, (Hebrews 12, 1), and with them ‘receive a never fading crown of glory.’ (1 Peter 5, 4). Through Christ our Lord, by whose blood ‘an entrance is ministered to us into the everlasting kingdom.’ (2 Peter 1, 11) Through Whom the Angels adore Thy majesty in trembling, and all the choirs of the heavenly spirits with shared rejoicing praise. And we pray that Thou may command our voices to be brought in among them, saying with humble confession:”

Dom Prosper Guéranger (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Our friends at Canticum Salomonis recently published this excerpt from the Institutions Liturgiques of Dom Prosper Guéranger (vol. 2, cap. 19; p. 321), the great enemy of the neo-Gallican liturgical reform, who was largely responsible for convincing the French bishops to adopt the use of the Roman liturgical books.

“Why, then, were the prefaces of Advent, the Dedication, All Saints, and even St Denis not taken from the ancient sacramentaries? Why commission the composition of entirely new ones from doctors of the Sorbonne, whose style, so prolix, so bloated, is so far from the refined cadences of St Leo and St Gelasius?

Why, above all, was a heretic like Dr Laurent-François Boursier, expelled from the Sorbonne in 1720 for having written against the Council of Embrun, given the honor of composing such sacred prayers? To this man the Church of Paris owes the Preface of All Saints, also sung on patronal feasts. In this Preface, Boursier tells God that, by crowning the merits of the saints, He crowns his own gifts: “eorum coronando merita, coronas dona tua”: a very Catholic expression in one sense, and a very Jansenist one in another. [1]

As a liturgical historian, we would be remiss if we did not mention that Boursier died on 17 February 1749 in the parish of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, without having retracted his Appeal [2]. The curé of this parish, although an opponent of the Appeal, nevertheless administered the Sacraments to Boursier, and the Archbishop of Beaumont therefore exiled him to Senlis for his act of schism. And yet Boursier’s Preface continued, and continues, to be sung!”

It is certainly fair to ask why these prefaces were not just restored directly from the ancient sacramentaries, although Guéranger, ever the Romantic, seems to take it for granted that the Popes personally composed the liturgical books named for them. (In point of fact, the terms “Leonine” and “Gelasian” sacramentaries are inventions, and rather fanciful ones at that, of scholars who lived more than a millennium after the Popes in question, and the Leonine Sacramentary is not a sacramentary at all.) The answer to his question lies in the text itself, which the reader will have noticed contains three almost direct Biblical quotations. One of the most basic ideological conceits of the neo-Gallican reform was to replace as many of the Church’s own liturgical compositions as possible with artlessly selected verses of Scripture, and very few of the ancient prefaces fit with this conceit.

Folio 160v of the Echternach Sacramentary, 895AD; the secret and preface of All Saints day are the first two texts at the top of the page. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9433)

By point of comparison, here is the preface for the feast of All Saints found in many Gregorian sacramentaries from the mid-9th century on; it is still used in the traditional Ambrosian Mass to this day. [3]

VD: Clementiam tuam suppliciter obsecrantes, ut cum exultantibus sanctis in caelestibus regni cubilibus gaudia nostra subiungas. Et quos virtutis imitatione non possumus sequi, debitae venerationis contingamus affectu. Per Christum…

Truly it is worthy … humbly beseeching Thy clemency, that Thou may unite our joys with the Saints as they exult in the heavenly resting places of the kingdom. And may we reach in the affection of the veneration due to them, whom we cannot follow in the imitation of virtue. Through Christ…

[1] Boursier based this expression on two lines of St Prosper of Aquitaine’s Carmen de Ingratis, a Jansenist favorite in the controversies over the doctrine of grace. “Quae dare vis, tribuis, servans largita, creansque / De meritis merita, et cumulans tua dona coronis. – What you wish to give, you grant, preserving what is (already) bestowed, and from merits creating (other) merits, and heaping your gifts with crowns.”

[2] “Appeal” here refers to the actions of several French Jansenists, who launched an appeal against against the 1711 bull of Pope Clement XI Unigenitus by which the movement was originally condemned, and another of 1718, Pastoralis officii, which condemned the first appeal, seeking to have the whole matter remanded to the judgment of an ecumenical council. Appeals of this sort were condemned as heretical by Pope Pius II in 1460 in the bull Execrabilis.

[3] In Dom Edmond Moeller’s Corpus Praefationum, a more or less definitive catalog of historical prefaces (Brepols, 1981), the first ten sources in which it is attested are referred to Dom Jean Deshusses OSB’s book “Les Messe d’Alcuin”, which seeks to identify the liturgical compositions directly attributable to Alcuin of York.


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