A Brief History of the Catholic Mass: Introduction

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Here I summarise Theodor Klauser: A Short History of the Western Liturgy [1965] [1], effectively a history of the Catholic Mass. Although over 40 years old and not without significant limitations, it seems to be still in print (in its English translation: I don't know about the German original) and not to have been replaced by something more recent.

Theodor Klauser (1894-1984) was a German Catholic ecclesiastical historian etc. I undertook this summary simply in order to have a basic history of the Mass, but have come up with a lot more than I bargained for. As usual, any comments of my own are restricted to the notes. These are linked from the summary by the numbers in square brackets.

Introduction [pp 1-3]

Klauser likens the development of the liturgy to that of the ancient cathedrals, whose original designs are difficult to appreciate on account of later developments and accretions. He distinguishes four phases in the process. For each phase, he will provide a brief survey, look at important features revealed by research since the end of World War I and offer some reflections.

Here, each of Klauser's 4 chapters is allocated a separate page. The sections within each chapter here correspond to those of Klauser. To access the chapters, click on these links:


1 The summary

I have worked from the 1979 2nd English edition, a translation by John Halliburton from the 5th German edition.

With a notable exception for the case of Dom Odo Casel in Chapter 1, I ignore Klauser’s treatments of various scholarly contributions to research in the field of liturgical history and present just those conclusions he accepts. On the other hand, I do not ignore Klauser's polemical pro-reform reflections on liturgical matters, which were part of the debates around Vatican II.

I also ignore 4 appendices and a bibliography. The appendices provide Vatican II documents on the liturgy, a document of guidelines for liturgically appropriate church design, a translation of the Gloria, a page or so by the translator on post Vatican II liturgical documentation. The annotated bibliography of over 50 pages seems extremely disproportionate in relation to the nature and length of the text it supports. However, in the absence of other more detailed surveys of liturgical history, such a lengthy bibliography is no doubt justified.

Klauser faced the problem of having not only to characterise specific periods in the the development of the liturgy but also to provide coherent accounts of the histories of specific aspects of the liturgy over multiple periods. His solution was to have a chapter each for four 500 year periods and to distribute the histories of specific aspects among the chapters. This means that each chapter has a section surveying its period, followed by sections that may cover multiple periods. Thus the last chapter is nominally about the period from 1545 to the present, but a substantial section deals with the whole history of church architecture in relation to the liturgy. This sort of thing, combined with two other problems, makes for hazy chronology.

One of these two problems is that, especially for the earlier periods, the dates of particular developments in the liturgy are not available. The other is that even where helpful dates could easily have been added, specifically the dates of the historical personalities mentioned, Klauser has usually not bothered. I have inserted such dates. I have also supplied a little supporting historical information in the notes.

Another weakness is Klauser's unprepared use of specialised terminology that the reader of any introductory work like this should not be expected to know in advance: as in references to parts of the ancient liturgy. I have attempted to compensate for this.

Klauser's arguments are occasionally garbled. I have not tried to make sense of them if that was going to require me to interpret to a significant extent, rather than merely summarise. However, even when his argument is clear, Klauser does at times ramble repetitively, making the same point from slightly different angles. Here, on occasion, I have felt the need to cut the Gordian Knot and state the argument simply, somewhat in my own way.

My use of terms alternative to those of the author, as synonyms, may have misrepresented him to some extent. To give just one example, I have not concerned myself too much with the distinction between Bishop of Rome and Pope: I dare say there is a range of opinions as to the point in history at which the later name becomes acceptable.

Vatican II and all who sailed in her were drawing the Catholic Church closer to Protestantism. Klauser was certainly aboard. Thus, he seems to choose terminology congenial to Protestants (not calling early Roman bishops Pope, for instance).     [Back to the main text]

(c) John C Durham, 2007