Historical Information on the Mass

Links to Online Books & Articles


St. Justin Martyr's First Apology (c.A.D. 147-161). During the early Roman persections, many falsehoods about Christianity circulated, including charges of cannibalism (due to a misunderstanding of the Sacrament of the Eucharist). In this letter to Emperor Titus, St. Justin comes to the defense of the Catholic faith. Although not greatly detailed, it does contain references and general descriptions of a second-century Mass.

Liturgy of St. James the Apostle (c.A.D. 60 - 400). Of this liturgy we possess no originals; the earliest known MSS is the ninth-century codex, Vaticanus graecus 2282. The text linked here is only one late specimen that comes down to us, probably with interpolations and textual corruptions (thus making dating more difficult). Scholars debate when it was first written down; and even then it may have varied from place to place. All imperfections notwithstanding, the text provides a complete Christian liturgy at least closely resembling, if not perfectly representing one from the early centuries.


Fortescue, Fr. Adrian


The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (1912). Fortescue's opus magnum on the Mass.


"Canon of the Mass" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908). Detailed information and history on the core prayers of the Mass.

"Liturgy" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910). General overview of the public worship of the Church across rites, and on the origins of the major parent rites.

"Liturgy of the Mass" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913). Brief  but detailed history of the Roman liturgy from the first century to the early 20th.

"The Roman Rite" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912). Very brief historical overview.

Gihr, Fr. Nicholas

"The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; Dogmatically, Liturgically and Ascetically Explained" (1902). Although not a history per se, this work contains important historical information.

Jungmann, Fr. Josef

"The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development" (1950). Original title: Missarum Sollemnia. Translated by Fr. Francis Brunner, C.Ss.R. Goes into great detail on the origins of various prayers and ceremonial aspects of the Roman Mass. Here Jungmann advocates Mass facing the people on historical grounds; however, he later retracted this opinion.

Leclercq, Henri

"Agape" [Feasts] (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907). Description of the traditional ceremonial meal connected with remembrance of the dead, and its distinctness from the Sacrifice which Christ instituted at the Last Supper.

Thurston, Herbert

"Missal" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911). Brief history of the Roman Missal from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century.


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Todd Aylard