A Short History of the 
Roman Mass

 by Michael Davies

Chapter 11
The Medieval Uses and the Importance of Printing

Although reference has been made to the triumph of the Roman Rite, it was by no means celebrated with complete uniformity. A proliferation of local variations or "uses," such as the Sarum Rite in England, had evolved during the Middle Ages. Variations existed not simply from country to country, but from diocese to diocese. An examination of medieval Missals shows that practically every cathedral had some liturgical practices of its own, as did many religious orders, such as the Dominicans, Carmelites and Carthusians. These were merely variations of the Roman Rite and must not be confused with the Mozarabic or Ambrosian liturgies, which can be regarded justly as separate rites. Fr. Fortescue explains that

In everything of any importance at all, Sarum [and all the other medieval rites] was simply Roman, the rite which we still use. Not only was the whole order and arrangement the same, all the important prayers were the same too. The essential element, the Canon, was word for word the same as ours. No medieval bishop dared to touch the sacred Eucharistic prayer. 19

   The only important development in the history of the Roman Missal between the pontificate of Innocent III in the 13th century and the publication of the Missal of St. Pius V in 1570 was the introduction of the printed Missal. The spread of printing marked a decisive stage in liturgical standardization, whether of the Roman Missal or of uses such as that of Sarum. The last Sarum Missal to be printed in England was published in London in 1557, the penultimate year of Mary Tudor's reign. The first printed edition of the Roman Missal was published in Milan in 1474 and can still be consulted there in the Ambrosian Library. It is known as Missale Romanum Mediolani. As regards the Ordinary, Canon, Proper of the time and much else, it is identical to the Missal published by St. Pius V in 1570.

    Prior to the establishment of printing in Europe in the 15th century, every Missal, Bible, Pontifical, Gradual, Antiphonal or Book of Hours had been laboriously and often beautifully written by hand, usually by monks. Every monastery had its scriptorium. The illuminated manuscripts of these often unknown monks constitute some of the greatest masterpieces in the history of art. The destruction of countless examples of these priceless and irreplaceable treasures by the Protestant Reformers constituted a crime against civilization as well as religion, which is less well known but no less heinous than their destruction or vandalization of the churches, monasteries and cathedrals in which the liturgy so exquisitely presented in these manuscripts was celebrated. The devastation unleashed by the Reformation upon the cultural heritage of the people of England and Wales has been assessed eloquently by Professor J. J. Scarisbrick in his book The Reformation and the English People:

Between 1536 and 1553 there was destruction and plunder in England of beautiful, sacred, irreplaceable things on a scale probably not witnessed before or since . . . By the end, thousands of altars had gone, countless stained glass windows, statues and wall paintings had disappeared, numerous libraries and choirs had been dispersed. Thousands of chalices, pyxes, crosses and the like had been sold or "defaced" [smashed, presumably for easier transport] and melted down, and an untold number of precious vestments either stripped or seized. 20