The effect of changing theological and ecclesiological priorities in the Western Church on Eucharistic liturgical practice in the Twelfth Century

Bachelor Thesis, 2009
22 Pages, Grade: First



I Introduction

II Theological and Ecclesiological Priorities of the Western Church, 1100-1200

III Emergent Eucharistic Liturgical Developments

IV Liturgical Development of the Monastic Orders

V Conclusion

VI Bibliography

I Introduction

By the end of the eleventh century, the Church had vastly expanded its influence in Europe, and the emergent political ideal of ‘Christendom’ was in many ways an actualised reality. However, by 1100, despite a long period of growth and consolidation, the realisation of the Church’s theology through liturgical provision was considerably varied across the continent. The development of the Western rite had been in many ways more complicated than that of the Eastern,[1] and at the turn of the twelfth century Christian Eucharistic liturgy consisted of an eclectic mix of rites and ceremonies that varied between localities. By 1200, the rite was far more standardised, and there was a considerable conformity between parishes on a national, and often wider, scale. Churches were built to a standardised plan; the forms and orders of the rite were significantly more universal, and by the end of the twelfth century, the order and form of the Mass was in many ways virtually unrecognisable to that celebrated in 1100.

The second half of the eleventh century and the first half of the twelfth were particularly important periods in the development of Christian doctrine and practice.[2] This period saw a critical shift in the Church’s theological paradigm, and consequentially, priorities. As liturgy is primarily an expression and vehicle through which to realise theological concepts, the twelfth century saw considerable developments in its liturgical practice. The centuries before 1100 had also seen much liturgical development, particularly in terms of Eucharistic liturgy; even before the eighth century, the mass had become a complicated rite.[3] Whilst the twelfth century saw a continuation of such developments; this period saw liturgical revision on a much larger scale. Liturgical responses to the Church’s changing theological and ecclesiological priorities manifested themselves in a variety of forms, and the most significant developments between 1100-1200 involved Eucharistic liturgy.

In many ways, this period saw a continuation of Eucharistic liturgical developments that had been underway since the development of the Ordo Romanus Primus (likely composed between 687-701, during the pontificate of Sergius I),[4] and the twelfth century saw a somewhat organic development of widely-accepted historical liturgical priorities and theologies. However, the twelfth century was also a time of radical experiment,[5] and in other ways the same period witnessed the development of Eucharistic liturgy in a wholly different direction, culminating, for example, in the embryonic liturgical expression of transubstantiation theology by 1200, witnessed, for example, in the first recorded elevation of the elements by the turn of the thirteenth century.[6] In response to the Church’s changing doctrinal emphasis and priorities, the twelfth century also saw, amongst other things, a radicalisation of Church ordering, liturgical texts, architecture, vesture and ceremonial rubric. These liturgical developments served to completely re-shape the Western Church’s Eucharistic liturgical provision, and their legacy can be seen in contemporary liturgical practice. These changes, and their theological, ecclesiological and missiological impact, will be examined in this study.

II Theological and Ecclesiological Priorities of the Western Church, 1100-1200

The Christian Church (by 1100 virtually divided between East and West) had been in continual expansion virtually since its inception, and by the close of the eleventh century held considerable economic and socio-political power. During the latter half of the eleventh century, economic and political stability had returned to much of Europe after centuries of decline, and the twelfth century was a relatively peaceful period.[7] The boundaries of Europe were decidedly more stable by 1100 than they were in 1000, and a new, more stable political order emerged throughout the numerous military campaigns of the eleventh century, not least in England. After a string of successes with the monarchs of Europe regarding temporal supremacy, the papacy, seemingly satisfied with the Church’s virtual monopoly on religious adherence, and confident in its claims to temporal- as well as spiritual- authority, saw an unprecedented period of consolidation. Whilst efforts to consolidate the Church’s power had been made by the papacy since the early ninth century,[8] the twelfth century saw an exponential increase in attempts to realise this objective. This consolidation concerned the Church’s practice of its political powers, but more importantly its structures of theological reasoning and, critically, its liturgical provision. As a result, this period of consolidation, beginning proper after 1100, changed the emphasis of the long-term objectives of the papacy, and gave the Church a new set of priorities, many of which had a distinctly liturgical focus. Although the Church had other temporal priorities during this period (e.g. the completion of crusade objectives), these factors did not directly contribute to its liturgical development, and as a result are not so relevant as to solicit in-depth exploration within this study.

The theological and ecclesiological priorities of the Church in the twelfth century were numerous and considerably varied, however of these, three emerge as being of primary importance. Firstly, the Church became obsessed with centralisation, particularly within a liturgical context. Throughout the twelfth century, the papacy was resolved to strengthen the internal relationships within the Church, so that Church order might be promulgated in a new and more comprehensive way.[9] As the liturgy was a preeminent means through which spiritual and temporal order might be expressed, the papacy was determined to standardise the practice of the Eucharistic rite. Similarly, the liturgy of the Church was a primary means by which it might realise and express its theological constructs, and so centralisation was deeply desirable. In attempting to enforce such centralisation, however, the Church was faced with considerable challenges. As fore mentioned, by 1100 the liturgical practice of the Western Church was highly varied, and was generally subject to only a very limited uniformity. Although the Ordo Romanus Primus (hereafter referred to as the ORP) was in theory the central liturgical rite in use throughout the Church,[10] many local peculiarities of the Eucharistic rite had developed, particularly throughout the 10th and 11th centuries. Although contemporary scholarship cannot with certainty determine the liturgical orders utilised by individual parishes, it is known that local areas, often down to the diocesan level, frequently used differing liturgies at Eucharistic celebrations which, whilst probably based on the ORP,[11] were distinctly different from each other both functionally and stylistically.[12] There were, as a result, a significant number of Eucharistic ordines (celebratory rubrics) and sacramentaries (the words of the rite itself) in circulation by 1100. Some of these variations were locally constructed, whilst others were borrowed from popular models, and there was generally little widespread loyalty to particular liturgical texts, even in originating areas.[13] The diversification of the liturgical rite did not entail total disparity, however, and there was some widespread use of particular liturgical sacramentaries. In England, for example, Sarum Use became relatively popular after its introduction in 1099,[14] and its use was comparatively widespread throughout the period.

In order to counteract this increasing diversification, during the 11th century, a succession of popes spearheaded the centralisation of ecclesiastical power, and this especially included control over the liturgical rite.[15] The papacy used a variety of means in order to enact liturgical centralisation and promulgate its supremacy in liturgical supervision,[16] and such was the perceived importance of this objective that often, such efforts were enacted at the very highest levels of the Church’s governing structures. For example, the First Lateran Council (1123) explicitly enabled the Papacy to recover by statute some of its sovereignty over liturgical expression.[17] Twelfth century attempts at standardisation were not necessarily effective, however, and the realisation of papal changes at the grassroots level was often limited by local factors such as wealth and custom.

Secondly, the Church began to give increasing emphasis to the development of lay devotion, to become more aware of the needs of the laity, and to seek renewed efforts for lay theological education.[18] Although the vast majority of people in Europe were still illiterate and innumerate in the twelfth century, basic literacy increased hugely from the turn of the first millennium.[19] The papacy therefore considered it increasingly important that the laity should be included in liturgical celebrations, even if the prevailing clericalism of the period mean that this was to be based upon a framework in indirect devotional practice during the Eucharistic itself.


[1] D. G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1945), 549.

[2] G. Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 5.

[3] R. C. D. Jasper and G. J. Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed (London: Collins, 1975), 168-173.

[4] C. Vogel, Mediaeval Liturgy: an Introduction to the Sources (Washington DC: The Pastoral Press, 1986), 160.

[5] F. C. Senn, Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical (Minneapolis: Minneapolis Fortress Press, 1997), 215.

[6] G. R. Evans, The Church in the Early Middle Ages (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 56.

[7] R. N. Swanson, The Twelfth Century Renaissance (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), 7-8.

[8] R. B. Ekelund, R. F. Herbert and R. D. Tollison, An Economic Model of the Medieval Church: Usury as a Form of Rent Seeking’, the Journal of Law, Economics and Organisation, vol 5 issue 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 311.

[9] M. Rubin, Corpus Christi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 51.

[10] Jasper and Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist, 111.

[11] Vogel, Mediaeval Liturgy, 155-156.

[12] P. Baxter, Sarum Use: the Ancient Customs of Salisbury (Reading: Spire Books, 2008), 75.

[13] Constable, The Reformation, 199.

[14] W. K. Lowther Clarke, Liturgy and Worship (London: SPCK, 1932), 129.

[15] E. Foley, From Age to Age (Chicago: Liturgical Training Publications, 1991), 91.

[16] Vogel, Mediaeval Liturgy, 251.

[17] E. Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books (Collegeville {Minnesota}: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 208.

[18] Swanson, The Twelfth Century, 10.

[19] J. H. Lynch, The Medieval Church: a Brief History (London: Longman, 1992), 239.

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The effect of changing theological and ecclesiological priorities in the Western Church on Eucharistic liturgical practice in the Twelfth Century
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Christianity, medieval church, Eucharistic liturgy, Church history, Twelfth Century
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Andrew Lythall (Author), 2009, The effect of changing theological and ecclesiological priorities in the Western Church on Eucharistic liturgical practice in the Twelfth Century, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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