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The Gallican Rite and Eucharistic Rite II: A Comparison Essay

The Gallican rite emerged from Gaul in the fifth century C. E. , and was used in Western Christianity through the seventh and eighth centuries, being gradually replaced by first the Ambrosian and finally the Roman rites. The main textual sources for the form and content of the Gallican rite are the letters of St. Germanus of Paris, though a variety of sources, from the British Isles to Spain, are used for the rite’s reconstruction. While the Gallican rite is solemn, dramatic, and “overlaid with a profusion of items,” it is also fluid and flexible, since no official Ordinary for the rite exists.

The Eucharistic Rite II, by contrast, is laid out in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, and though some parts of it vary, these variations are also contained within a highly structured Ordinary form. This rite, which unlike the Latin Gallican rite is conducted in the people’s vernacular and is currently in use among Christians, is simple and streamlined, containing fewer prayers and distinct elements than its Gallican counterpart. The rites largely contain the same general elements, with a few notable exceptions, though often in a different order.

The principal distinction between the rites is that Rite II is more populist than the Gallican rite, requiring a higher level of participation in worship by the people. This can be traced to the protestant influence upon Anglicanism, as well as the distinct conceptions of God that are implied in the Eucharistic offices. In the Gallican rite, the prayers of the people or intercessions are led by a deacon or precentor who specifies the needs for which they are to pray. In Rite II, though the specification of needs still occurs, intercessions are led by lay members of the congregation.

“This emphasis on the ministry of the laity in public worship underscores the fact that the scriptures, and indeed the worship of the church, are for the whole people of God and not just for the clergy. ” In both rites, the people sometimes respond during prayer with the Greek term Kyrie eleison, or ‘Lord have mercy,’ which is one of the only vestiges of non-vernacular prayer present in the Rite II Ordinary. Kyrie eleison also occurs during the Rite II entrance, or preparation for worship, when the Canticles are sung. The Canticles used in Rite II vary between Gloria in excelsis, Kyrie or Christe eleison, and Trisagion.

These Canticles are sung by the people, whereas in the Gallican rite, Canticles are performed either by church officers or ‘three young boys. ’ The Gallican rite, like Rite II, uses Kyrie eleison and the Trisagion, but instead of Gloria in excelsis, it includes Benedictus, also called the Canticle of Zacharias. In Rite II, after the Canticles, a Collect is recited before the biblical lessons commence. By contrast, the Collect occurs toward the end of the Gallican rite, as part of post-Communion prayer, but before the dismissal.

Despite the disparate locations of the Collects, they are preceded in both rites by prayer (though in Rite II, there is a hymn in between). Unlike Rite II, the Gallican rite has no prayers separating the singing of the Antiphon and the Canticles, and so the Gallican entrance provides a time of solemn yet aesthetically pleasurable experience that acts as a preparation for the absorption of the biblical lessons. The activities of the congregation during this time are minimal, whereas in Rite II the congregation participates in singing and praying from the very beginning of the service.

This suggests that the performance of the Gallican rite was more meditative than that of Rite II, and that inner silence on the part of worshipers was considered a more appropriate preparation for theological learning than was speaking. It further suggests that the role of the people in the Gallican rite was less important than in Rite II. The act of reading and hearing lessons is similar in both rites: the format is nearly the same, and in both cases primacy is placed on the Gospel reading. There is, however, a key difference.

The Gallican rite comprehends three lessons: a lesson from one of the prophetic texts in the Hebrew Bible, a reading from one of the New Testament Epistles, and finally the Gospel, the reading of which is preceded by a procession and a Sanctus sung by church leaders or clerks. Eucharistic Rite II, as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer, does not specify a reading from the Hebrew Bible. In fact, it explicitly leaves this out, noting that, “one or two lessons, as appointed, are read” but providing only two official lesson markers, one for the Gospel and one which specifically refers to an Epistle.

A reading from the Hebrew Bible is officially optional, but the dual, rather than triple, form of the Ordinary suggests that it is discouraged or at least de-emphasized. The de-emphasis of the Hebrew Bible here points to a theological distance between Anglicanism and the Western orthodoxy of medieval times, when the Gallican mass was employed. Without the influence of the Hebrew Bible, the conception of God in Eucharistic Rite II becomes less violent, anthropomorphic and judgmental.

The Gallican emphasis on prophetic texts points to a sense of God as highly critical of humans and their cultures, and willing to punish entire cultures for their transgressions. The marginalization of this aspect of God in the Rite II reflects the cultural, as opposed to the prophetic, nature of the Anglican tradition, and indicates a highly intellectualized understanding of God. The Gallican rite, by including Hebrew Bible readings, reflects a more bodily understanding of God, which is invested with fear and self-critique.

On the other hand, the Anglican rite contains a formal confession of sin, between the prayers of the people and the peace, which the Gallican rite does not appear to have. Instead, according to Thompson, the Gallican rite contains “a prayer-form called apologia sacerdotis—a long and intensely personal avowal of sin and unworthiness on the part of the celebrant. ” The sins of the people are taken on by the celebrant, suggesting, paradoxically, both a deeper investment of authority in the celebrant and a need for the celebrant to approach his office with abject humility.

The priest does not pray “with outstretched arms, but with hands folded in the Teutonic gesture of homage and submissiveness. ” The emphasis on the congregation’s personal confession in Rite II reveals its populist and protestant character, while the Gallic apologia sacerdotis reveals both a sense of authoritarianism and, as with the prophetic Hebrew Bible readings, a theological tendency toward self-critique. This difference in confessional prayers is also reflected in the rites’ differing relationships between the sermon, or homily, and the people.

Neither rite specifies a transition between the Gospel reading and the sermon, though, in the Gallican rite, a procession and a song precede the Gospel reading. Though the Book of Common Prayer refers to no such procession, some Episcopalian services do contain one. Similarly, though not specified in the Ordinary, the children of Episcopalian congregations are often removed before the preaching of the sermon. The catechumens in the Gallican rite, by contrast, are dismissed after the homily and the subsequent litany, and their dismissal is important enough to be considered a formal part of the service.

The Gallican dismissal is followed by a symbolic closing of the church doors, which connotes the protection of the Eucharistic elements and the mysteries of faith against persons who are unfit to observe them, whether they be catechumens or outsiders to the Christian faith. There is no mention in Rite II of closing the doors or formally dismissing catechumens, suggesting once again that the faith expressed in Rite II is more populist and less authoritarian than Gallican faith. Once the space for the mysteries is secured, the Eucharistic elements are brought in and the offertory begins.

There is no time set aside here, as in Rite II, for the congregational recitation of a Creed or declaration of faith. In Rite II, the sermon is immediately followed by the Nicene Creed, suggesting that the celebrant’s words—and thus the office of the celebrant—require participation and affirmation from all believers. The absence of any congregational response to the Gallican homily suggests a more authoritarian feeling, in which the priest’s speech is enough to carry the entire group toward communion with God.

The process of Communion in the Gallican rite is more elaborate and formal than that of Rite II. It contains a short saying, or Anaphora, a Sanctus and a post-Sanctus prayer leading into the recitation of the words of Institution, followed by a post-mysterium prayer involving oblation of the Eucharistic elements, several prayers and songs and a Benediction. All of this occurs before the congregation receives the Eucharist. Rite II contains many of the same elements—prayers both by the people and the celebrant, the singing of Hosanna, and, after the words of Institution, the Lord’s Prayer.

But the Gallican rite is more complex, while the Rite II Communion is streamlined. While the Gallican rite contains a multiplicity of prayers, it does not appear to specify the presence of the Lord’s Prayer in the Eucharistic service. This is radically different from Rite II, where the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is central to worship. Conversely, the pre-Communion Benediction specified in the Gallican rite does not appear in Rite II. Both rites involve hymns during the breaking of bread, and include a post-Communion prayer.

One difference in the reception of Communion, which can be attributed primarily to rites’ different temporal locations, is that, in the Gallican rite, women would have covered their hands with material in order to receive the elements, while men would have received them with bare hands. Both rites conclude the Communion process with a dismissal, though in the Gallican rite this is spoken or sung by the priest while, in Rite II, it is shared between priest and congregation.

While it is obvious that Rite II has been formed by elements from the Gallican rite, and the two reflect one another on many levels, the few notable variations that do exist say volumes about the theological and cultural differences of the two versions of Christianity represented by the rites. Rite II’s de-emphasis of the Hebrew Bible’s prophetic texts indicates a more gentle and intellectualized understanding of God, while the God represented in the Gallican rite is more bodily and dangerous, inspiring fear and self-critique in the congregants.

The difference between confession prayers is also significant, since it reveals both the self-critical and the authoritarian aspects of Gallican faith. Overall, it is clear that Eucharistic Rite II is informed by a kind of populism, in which worship is centered primarily on the people, rather than the celebrant. The Gallican rite stimulates silence in the congregation, and allows the celebrant to speak for them, while Rite II calls upon the people to speak for themselves. Works cited The Book of Common Prayer.

Church Hymnal Corporation, 2001. Duchesne, L. Christian Worship and its Evolution: A Study of the Latin Liturgy Up to the Time of Charlemagne, trans. M. McClure. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1919. Eucharist with Notes: Rite II. Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1992. Jenner, Henry. “The Gallican Rite. ” In The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6. , ed. Charles Herbermann et al. New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1913. Thompson, Bard. Liturgies of the Western Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1980.


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