To John, Bishop of Syracuse.
Gregory to John, &c.
One coming from Sicily has told me that some friends of his, whether Greeks or Latins I know not, as though moved by zeal for the holy Roman Church, murmur about my arrangements [i.e. of divine service], saying, How can he be arranging so as to keep the Constantinopolitan Church in check, when in all respects he follows her usage? And, when I said to him, What usages of hers do we follow? he replied; you have caused Alleluia to be said at mass out of the season of Pentecost 25 ; you have made appointment for the sub-deacons to proceed disrobed 26 , and for Kyrie Eleison to be said, and for the Lords Prayer to be said immediately after the canon. To him I replied, that in none of these things have we followed another Church.
For, as to our custom here of saying the Alleluia, it is said to be derived from the Church of Jerusalem by the tradition of the blessed Jerome in the time of pope Damasus of blessed memory; and accordingly in this matter we have rather curtailed the former usage which had been handed down to us here from the Greeks.
Further, as to my having caused the sub-deacons to proceed disrobed, this was the ancient usage of the Church. But it pleased one of our pontiffs, I know not which, to order them to proceed in linen tunics. For p. 9 have your Churches in any respect received their tradition from the Greeks? Whence, then, have they at the present day the custom of the subdeacons proceeding in linen tunics, except that they have received it from their mother, the Roman Church?
Further, we neither have said nor now say the Kyrie Eleison, as it is said by the Greeks: for among the Greeks all say it together; but with us it is said by the clerks, and responded to by the people; and as often as it is said, Christe Eleison is said also, which is not said at all among the Greeks. Further, in daily masses we suppress some things that are usually said, and say only Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, so as to devote ourselves a little longer to these words of deprecation. But the Lords prayer (orationem Dominicam) we say immediately after the prayer (mox post precem) for this reason, that it was the custom of the apostles to consecrate the host of oblation to (ad) that same prayer only. And it seemed to me very unsuitable that we should say over the oblation a prayer which a scholastic had composed, and should not say the very prayer 27 which our Redeemer composed over His body and blood 28 . But also the Lords Prayer among the Greeks is said by all the people, but with us by the priest alone. Wherein, then, have we followed the usages of the Greeks, in that we have either amended our own old ones or appointed new and profitable ones, in which, however, we are not shewn to be imitating others? Wherefore, let your Charity, when an occasion presents itself, proceed to the Church of Catana; or in the Church of Syracuse teach those who you believe or understand may possibly be murmuring with respect to this matter, holding a conference there, as though for a different purpose, and so desist not from instructing them. For as to what they say about the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See, as both the most pious lord the emperor and our brother the bishop of that city continually acknowledge? Yet, if this or any other Church has anything that is good, I am prepared in what is good to imitate even my inferiors, while prohibiting them from things unlawful. For he is foolish who thinks himself first in such a way as to scorn to learn whatever good things he may see.
I.e. the fifty days between Easter and Whitsuntide. It appears from St. Augustine (see Migne, Patrolog. note in loc.) that it was the custom everywhere to sing the Alleluia between Easter and Pentecost, but that its use at other times varied. The point of what Gregory here says seems to be that the Roman custom of saying it at other times had not been derived from the Greeks; but that, on the contrary, it was said at other times less frequently at Rome than among the Greeks.8:26
Procedere spoliatos: i.e. to proceed to the altar for celebration without linen tunics on. The verb procedere and the noun processio are commonly used by Gregory and others in the special sense of approaching the altar for mass. It would seem from what is here said that the subdeacons at mass had not been originally distinguished by a vestment, and that some pope before Gregory had first vested them at Rome. He, as further appears, had disrobed the subdeacons; and his point here is, that his doing so was not an imitation of the Greeks, but a return to ancient usage.9:27
The word found here is traditionem: but, because of the undoubted reference to the Lords Prayer (dominica oratio), and of the verb composuit, it is conjectured that the reading ought to be orationem.9:28
This whole passage in the original is;—“Orationem vero Dominicam idcirco mox post precem dicimus, quia mos apostolorum fuit ut ad ipsam solummodo orationem oblationis hostiam consecrarent. Et valde mihi inconveniens visum est ut precem quam scholasticus composuerat super oblationem diceremus, et ipsam traditionem (Qy. for orationem?) quam Redemptor noster composuit super ejus corpus et sanguinem non diceremus.” It is to be observed that, for lack of suitable words in English, the translation does not retain the distinction in the original between precem and orationem, the former denoting the prayer of consecration in the Canon, exclusive of the Lords Prayer, the latter the Lords Prayer itself, which Gregory appended to it. By the scholasticus, to whom he assigns the composition of the former, is meant apparently the liturgist, whoever he might be, who had compiled the Canon of the Mass. It would thus seem that, according to the Roman use before the time of Gregory, the Lords Prayer did not occur at all “over the oblation,” or “over the Body and Blood,” i.e. (as the expression must be taken to mean) between consecration and distribution, though, of course, it may have been used before or after. Such omission was undoubtedly peculiar. Among other authorities for the general usage, S. Augustine (Ep. CXLIX. ad Paulin.) affirms that nearly every Church concludes the whole petition (i.e. the prayer of consecration of which he has been speaking) with the Lords Prayer:—“Quam totam petitionem fere omnis Ecclesia Oratione Dominica concludit.” In saying “fere omnis,” he may possibly have had the Roman Church in view. As to what is said by S. Gregory of the custom of the Apostles, the most obvious meaning of which is, that they used no prayer of consecration but the Lords Prayer, we have no means of ascertaining whence he derived this tradition, or what the value of it might be. It does not, of course, imply that the words of institution were not said over the elements by the Apostles, but only that they used no other prayer for the purpose of consecration. Ways have been suggested, though not satisfactory, for evading the apparent meaning of the statement.