Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Gregorian or merely Gregarious?

It’s a common advertising practice to put the name of a famous personage on a product where it can serve a straw man. One then spends a great deal of verbiage remembering that personage, and so lending a sense of nostalgia and reverence to the produce. All Orthodox venerate Pope St. Gregory the Great, the Dialogist. And a genuine Gregorian Rite is truly a rich and inspiring expression of the Orthodox faith. But is the Gregorian Rite that’s being offered really something St. Gregory had anything to do with?

Father Michael Johnson, pastor, St Nicholas Church, Tacoma, WA:

First, the “Liturgy of St. Gregory”: this liturgy gets its name because it supposedly represents the Roman rite as practiced in the time of St. Gregory the Great, the bishop of Rome from 590 to 604 AD. There is no question that St. Gregory the Great left his mark on the history of worship – not only in the west, but also in the east. (Indeed, it may be argued that the Orthodox Church already has a Liturgy of St. Gregory – namely, the Presanctified Liturgy where this saint is always commemorated in the dis missal.) If the situation of having two Liturgies of St. Gregory isn’t confusing enough, the question remains whether or not the Liturgy of St. Gregory as currently practiced in the “western rite” parishes of the Antiochian Archdiocese deserves this title at all. In fact, what we are actually presented with is the Tridentine Latin Mass (i.e., the Missal of Pius the V, printed in 1570), translated from Latin into King James English, with – among other things – references to the “merits of the saints” left out and the epiklesis of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom stuck in. In this regard, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the Tridentine Mass was the Liturgy of the Roman Church as revised at the Counter Reformation. Second, the Gregori an Sacramentary (which, so far as the MSS tradition is concerned, is primarily Frankish and not Roman in origin) had already been revised in the 11th century (near the time of the Western Schism). So the present “Liturgy of St. Gregory” as used in America n “western rite” parishes is at least two revisions away from the saint whose name it bears – and both revisions were made at times of severe crises of faith in the west.

The inadequacies of this rite become obvious on close examination. The anaphora, for example – far from being a single unified prayer as one would expect – seems more like a loosely joined collection of prayers. Stranger yet, the first of these prayers b egins with the word “Therefore” (referring to what? Apparently, some transition has gone missing!). As if the disjointed nature of this anaphora weren’t bad enough, tinkering with it by well meaning Orthodox has only made matters worse. According to the great Orthodox liturgical scholar and saint, Nicholas Cabasilas, the prayer in the Roman rite “Supplices te rogamus” (“Most humbly we implore Thee”) is an “ascending epiklesis.” Even so, the epiklesis from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has been adde d, thereby giving this rite both an ascending and descending epiklesis, in which the celebrant asks for the consecration of the gifts to be completed after it has already happened! Furthermore, such improbable features as the “last Gospel” are retained. (This was the reading of the prologue to the Gospel of John at the end of the service, a practice that had begun as a private devotion of the celebrating clergy sometime curing the 11th or 12th centuries and which, by the 16th century, had become a prescri bed appendage to the Mass.)

The Priest. A Newsletter for the Clergy of the Diocese of San Francisco. Issue No. 5, May 1996

January 17, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite -- Tridentine Mass, Western Rite Liturgics, Western Rite Seminal Material | , , , , , ,


  1. 1. Charlemagne is not a glorified saint of the Orthodox Church. He certainly lived well before the Schism of 1054, but he was not, in the Orthodox period in the West, then honoured as a saint, in general. The big move to canonise him came in the 12th-13th centuries and gained impetus during the late middle ages.

    2. You can like or dislike the canon of the Roman rite Mass, but the fact is, it has been in continuous use in Orthodoxy from probably 400 A.D. onward, being preserved on Mt. Athos until the late 13th century and then preserved amongst the Russian Orthodox. It was preserved amongst Russian Old Believers (Old-Ritualists) until the mid-20th century, when it ceased to find a place in their worship any longer. But by that time we had modern-type Western Rite Orthodoxy in existence. So it is a venerable, very ancient, anaphora. It is disjointed, compared to many other anaphoras. And?

    3. I do not think there is any difference between East and West regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in the anaphora. All the older Western commentators on the Roman Mass say that the Holy Spirit Himself consecrates and transforms the Gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ. The absence of a consecratory, post-“Pridie Quam” epiclesis does not establish the idea that the priest is acting as an alter Christus and that consecration occurs by a kind of “imitative” motion as the priest “re-enacts” the Last Supper. Nor was the consecration an action which was considered, in the West’s Orthodox period, to begin and end with the “Words of Institution.” All those were later heretical deviations, and I am sorry to hear that Orthodox people of today are perpetuating those Papal errors within the sancta of Orthodox churches. May this error, with others, be soon extirpated from our Holy Church. I liked the quote from the Sarum Mass, “Veni Sancte Spiritus.”

    4. Some ideologues blame the Franks for everything. Dr. John Romanides went off the deep end in that regard, departing from all historical and scholarly foundations to indulge in the wildest fantasies. As far as we know, the Franks contributed zero to the liturgy. They helped bring the ancient Orthodox rite of Rome into the lands where the ancient Orthodox rite of Gaul had previously prevailed, and they mingled in an unavoidable and irrepressible manner. But it’s not as if Franks were writing liturgical texts. They seem to have had no interest in that. Still, those who wish to blame them for every perceived error, and every thunderstorm, and every disobedient monk, and every sin, and every theological meandering, have a right to do so, according to our various secular governments.

    Fr. Hieromonk Aidan+

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | July 14, 2011 | Reply

  2. Dear Father Augustine,

    I think you judge the author of this article a bit harshly. When Fr Michael Johnson says “the inadequacies of this rite,” he is surely not deprecating the Divine Liturgy of Gregory the Great but rather offering constructive criticism of the current redaction there of as it is currently practiced in certain jurisdictions. For instance, the 1976 English translation of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom prepared by a special Commission of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America refers to the holy hierarchs as those who “rightly define” the true doctrine. Certainly this is a received text, prepared, authorized, and blessed to be used in the Churches, but no Orthodox Christian thinks this is right. It should be “divide” not “define.” And pointing this out does not constitute “judging the Holy Spirit” nor “His handiwork.” You may also be aware that Churches of the Russian Tradition are removing the Troparion to the Holy Spirit that occurs in the middle of the Epilices, breaking the continuity of the prayer. This was particularly bad in the Liturgy of St Basil the Great. We say it right before. St Tikhon changed our Liturgy by making most of the secret prayers audible again. And as everyone points out, the Roman Popes were always adding Byzantine elements to the Western Rite. This interaction between rites is the handiwork of the Holy Spirit.



    Comment by ryanclose1 | July 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. This article is unfortunately saddled with multiple historical inaccuracies, conclusions that apparently owe more to simple distaste than real analysis, and disparagement of the Patristic and Orthodox portions of the Western liturgies. A more sober, historically grounded, and pious assessment of Western liturgy is much to be desired.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 22, 2008 | Reply

  4. […] summary, the “Liturgy of St. Tikhon” has no historical validity whatsoever. The “Liturgy of St. Gregory” can be traced back to that great saint only in a very attenuated way. The simple fact is, […]

    Pingback by Restoration or Cobbling Together? « Western Rite Critic | February 22, 2008 | Reply

  5. Father, thanks for this review. This is good – your approach. Please feel welcome here. You’ve really been a sterling example of the polity and purpose here. We’re willing to forego weak arguments and inaccurate information, regardless of whether it takes us here or there or someplace new. Please feel free to review any of the materials here. Your contributions are most welcome. And thank you for understanding that just b/c we post an article doesn’t mean we are of exactly the same mind; it represents someone whose thinking should be heard, but it’s expected someone like yourself and others will consider, critique, etc.

    Comment by tuD | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  6. Woa! This article is extremely innacurate!

    I’ll agree, up front, that the BCP rite does not deserve to be called Gregorian. I’ll also agree that some “Gregorian” rites used in Orthodoxy are mere shadows of their Orthodox antecessors.

    However, the Ordo of the Gregorian Rite (even in the least “Orthodox” forms I’ve seen used), is really reflective of the ancient, Western, liturgical tradition.

    It should be stated right off, that it is highly dangerous and not conducive to Orthodox piety to criticize the received tradition of an Orthodox Church’s liturgy, speaking of “the inadequacies of this rite.” It is precisely aking to somebody speaking of “the inadequacies of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.” We are Orthodox; we revere the Liturgies of the Church – we might not feel that they can still be used, but we at least revere them as having once been vessels of deification for countless souls. We put ourselves in the position of judging the Holy Spirit when we criticize His handiwork.

    Now, the author clearly knows precious little about the Mass; had he merely questioned these issues, or stated them as hypotheses, we could proffer a cooler reaction. So, some facts:

    1) There are other manuscripts that testify to the Roman Rite. That aside for the moment, I suppose the first thing that should be stated, is that the Franks are not automatically the fount of all evil; the mere fact that a Mass’ manuscript is from a Frankish tradition is not grounds for a pat dismissal. We were always in communion with them and Charlemagne is a glorified Saint of the Church. This is a purely ad hominem (or perhaps Ad Franconem) attack.

    2) Next up, the Stowe Missal is contained in a book approximately coincident with Charlemagne’s birth – and the Mass it contains is estimated to be from the fifth century. The book is clearly not influenced by the Frankish Kingdom’s efforts at *conformity with Roman books.* The Stowe Missal reveals Gallican, Roman, Syrian, Coptic and Ethiopian influences. A book like that would certainly not have been inspired by Charlemagne’s liturgical project (which St. John Maximovitch – and history – argues was a God-pleasing movement of the Holy Spirit).

    As an aside: the Sacramentary of Echternach – a Frankish sacramentary dating to around the time of Charlemagne’s very sensible reforms – is intentionally divided into three parts, which fairly clearly distinguish between the purely Roman, and the more mixed elements of their Liturgy.

    3) It’s simply clear from an historical viewpoint that there was no major discrepency between the Frankish books and the Roman ones. Many on the list are doubtless aware of the continuous presence of Roman chanters and liturgists amongst the Franks at this time – they were always arguing over who were better singers and other such minutiae. There’s not so much as a whisper about anything so massive as an entire re-write of the Mass. There would be reaction or arguments from all corners of the Western Church if ALL Charlemagnes Mass-books totally re-wrote the Roman Liturgy. What’s more, we have later Roman Missals from Rome – certainly the Romans would have resisted such a rewrite for a long time. The idea is just absurd.

    4) There is a wealth of testimony from many other manuscripts which are certainly not likely to have *all* fallen under some kind of evil, Frankish influence (without so much as a peep, mind you, from anybody).

    All that matter about the Anaphora being disjointed is just silly. It is clear that the Roman anaphora is an amalgamation of prayers – the historical claim is that these were assembled by St. Gelasius not because they harmoniously flowed into one another, but because out of the hodge-podge of possible prayers, there was a consensus that these were the oldest and most venerable. What’s more, the Anaphora makes perfect sense (logically, if not gramatically) – somehow it’s been recited for over 1500 years without too much confusion as to what’s being said!

    As regards the addition of the epiklesis, I think most WR people would agree that it should not be done. However, Eastern Rite hierarchs are nervous about the absence of a specific Eastern-style Epiclesis, and tend to insert it anyway. There is a misunderstanding about the ethos of the celebrant in the Liturgies. In the West, the anaphora has a more Christocentric focus, where Christ is understood to personally bless and give the offering (through the ministry of the priest), just as of old. But this emphasis is not inherently wrong, just because it’s not Byzantine. Throughout the ages, East and West seemed to co-exist and even understand that this was a difference in their liturgies. In the Roman Canon, it is the Sanctifying Words of Christ that begin the blessing of the Mystery, and the “Supplices Te Rogamus” prayer completes the central part of the Anaphora by praying that the elements would be carried to the Divine and Sublime altar “so that all of us, who from the participation of this altar shall recieve the Most Holy Body and Blood of Thy Son, might be filled with grace and every spiritual blessing.”

    In the East, the Anaphora is viewed with more emphasis on the Spirit’s role. Neither emphasis is right or wrong; both liturgies include both elements. For example, the Western Mass had a prayer for the Holy Spirit to bless the gifts near the Offertory: “Veni, Sancte Spiritus: benedic et sanctifica hoc sacrificium ad laudem et gloriam nominis Tui praeparatum.” And Chrysostom makes it clear that the “Words of Institution” are considered extremely important and in some sense consecratory (as does St. John Damascene, et. al). This emphasis on Christ as being present (especially acting through the ministry of the priest) and doing the sanctifying Himself is especially strong in the Mozarabic Liturgy – where phrases from the “Supplices Te Rogamus” actually precede the Words of Christ and any further hint of an epiclesis is entirely absent.

    In short, the article was just plain bad: there’s no reason to believe that the Roman Mass underwent a significant revision by the Franks (in fact, there’s every reason *not* to believe this); it is historically plain that at least the Tridentine Mass Ordo is not drastically different from the ancient Traditon of the Roman Mass; lastly, the author fails to understand the different ethos behind the Byzantine and Roman anaphoras.

    I’m not sure what he means by calling the last Gospel “improbable,” but okay – it’s not from the Orthodox heritage of the West, so I see no reason to use it.

    Anyway – very poor article.

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 3, 2008 | Reply

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