Liturgical Manuscripts

A survey on typologies

Liturgical books are known is a great variety of types. Their form, content and internal organisation depend on a number of factors, as the specific ceremony or the place in which they are used, or the clergyman – and sometimes the layman – to whom they are destined. Liturgical books are copied for the mass, the office and other liturgical actions, and for a specific ‘minister’ as a priest or a deacon or a bishop. Moreover, book-types change according to the geographic area of use and the chronology. Some books are typical of a rite – like the Ambrosian Ingressarium – others belong to a determined historical period, like the Sacramentary.


The Calendar is a small part of a greater mass or office book, and it contains the fixed-date feasts of the liturgical year. Often displayed with one month in a single page, it is a very useful tool for dating and localising manuscripts. 


It is one of the most ancient mass books and it contains the prayers of the mass, namely the collecta, the secreta (or super oblata) and the post communio (or ad complendum), to be said by the priest. In penitential times, it includes also a special benediction on the people (oratio super populum) to be said at the end of the mass. It contains also the canon of the mass and the preface (beginning with Vere Dignum). At the end of the sacramentary there usually are the rituals to be celebrated by the priest or the bishop, as baptism, penitence, funerals, etc., and benedictions.


It contains the episcopal benedictions given by the bishop after the communion. Benedictions could also be copied in a Sacramentary.


The ceremonies celebrated by a priest, like baptism, marriage, funerals, can also be copied in a separated book: it is the Ritual, called also Manuale or Agenda.


The ceremonies celebrated by a bishop, like the ordination of the ministers and the dedication of the church, stand out of the Sacramentary to form a special book, the Pontifical. As it is intended for the bishop, it is often very carefully copied and fully decorated.


It is the book that contains the four Gospels in the biblical order. Gospels are usually preceded by prologues and list of chapters. The liturgical use of this book is not evident, although it could have been used in liturgical celebrations.


It is the book that contains the Gospel readings, in the order of the liturgical year. It is necessary to distinguish the Evangelistary that is destined to the mass (the Gospel reading of the mass) and that for the office (the Gospel reading of the third nocturne). The Mass Evangelistary can be associated with an Exultet (both to be proclaimed by a deacon).


It contains the epistolae, namely the first reading of the mass, which can be taken from the Old Testament or from the New Testament (except the Gospels). Epistles are arranged in liturgical order.

Mass lectionary

The Mass Lectionary puts together the Epistolary and the Evangelistary, because it has both the epistle and the gospel readings for the mass, in the liturgical order.


It is the book that contains the proper chants for the mass, namely the introit, the gradual, the alleluia, the tract, the offertory, and the communion, for the feasts of the Temporal and the Sanctoral.


The Missal contains all the proper parts of the mass (prayers, readings, and chants) for the Temporal and the Sanctoral, and it can be considered the fusion of the Sacramentary, the Mass Lectionary and the Gradual. That is the ‘plenary Missal’. There are also ‘festive Missals’ which contains only the major feasts of the liturgical year, or Missals for a very specific function as ‘altar missal’, or Missal for votive liturgy (‘votive Missals’). 


The Troper contains the tropes (additions) for the ordinary and the proper chants of the most important feasts. It is usually associated with a Sequentiary, or Proser. 


Called also Proser, it contains the texts and music for the sequences, the chants which developed from the Alleluia’s melisma. 


The Kyrial contains the chants of the ordinary of the mass, that don’t change their texts according to the feast. They are: Kyrie eleyson, Gloria in excelsis, Credo in unum deum, Sanctus, Agnus dei. It could also have intonations for the Ite missa est. Since the text is not connoted, they usually are the privileged place for the tropes. 


It contains the chants of the soloist for the mass. 


The Psalter is the book that contains the 150 psalms, usually in the biblical order. Psalms are often divided into the days of the week (ferial Psalter), and filled with antiphons and hymns for the ferial days. At the end of the Psalter there are usually the canticles used in daily hours as a psalm, the Quicumque vult, a list of prayers and the litany. 

Office lectionary

It contains the readings for the matins, that are biblical, patristic or hagiographical readings, arranged in the liturgical order; Temporal and Sanctoral remain separated. It usually contains also the Gospels readings with the homilies for the third nocturne.


It contains the homilies on the Gospel reading of the third nocturne, in the liturgical order. 


It contains the lives of confessors and virgins who didn’t suffer the martyrdom. The distinction between a Legendary and a Passionary (the book that contains the lives of the martyrs) is very weak and it hasn’t really reason to be maintained. The order in which the lives are copied is not necessarily liturgical; sometimes the readings are arranged in liturgical order and divided in lessons; more frequently the division of the text into readings is due to a second hand and sometimes it lacks completely.


It contains the lives of martyrs, that could have been used for liturgical reading of the Sanctoral.


It contains the prayers for the office and it is usually associated with a Capitulary. 


It contains the short readings for the daily hours and it is usually associated with a Collectar. 


It contains the chants of the office, namely antiphons and responsories. It can be associated with a Hymnal.


It contains the elements for the celebration of the office, namely prayers, readings and chants for the matins and the daily hours of the Temporal and the Sanctoral. It is frequently associated with a Psalter and a Calendar. 


It is an extract from the Breviary and it contains only the daily hours of the office. Not very common, it usually is a small book. 


It contains the hymns to be sung at the office (matins and daily hours), for the feasts of the Temporal and of the Sanctoral.


The Processional contains the processional chants (usually antiphons but also responsories) to be sung during the processions of the year: Purification (February 2nd), Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Rogations are the main feasts. In the late Middle Ages, an increasing number of feasts require processional chants (for example the Corpus Christi). 


The Penitential is not considered a real liturgical book. It contains a list of sins with the correspondent penitence to be imposed by the priest. It is frequently associated with the penitential rites of the Maundy Thursday, and inserted in a ritual or a festive Missal.


The Martyrology is a sort of Calendar which has, for each day, the name of the saint who has to be commemorated with a short summary of the circumstances of his death. It was read at the chapter office and it is very often associated with an Obituary, the Homiliary and the Rule (of saint Benedict or saint Augustin, according to the type of office).


It is a calendar that displays the names of the benefactors and friars or monks that have to be commemorated in a specific day. Some scholars make a distinction between the Obituary and the Necrology.