Liturgical Texts

The liturgy is the official services provided by the Church including ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments. Liturgical books are official books that contain texts that can be used in the official services. The Fragmenta Manuscripta has fragments representative of a range of liturgical texts discussed in more detail below.


Identifier: Fragmenta Manuscripta 003

Date: 1000-1015

Contents: Sacramentary

Language: Latin

Location: England


One of the earliest liturgical books, the clergy used the sacramentary at the altar for the celebration of the mass and the other rites of the Church, including exorcisms, blessings, and consecrations. This liturgical book was eventually replaced by the missal that combined the sacramentary, lectionary, and gradual into one book.


A lectionary is a form of liturgical book that contains the readings that the clergy used during the celebration of the mass. These readings could include short passages from the bible, commentaries on the bible, or from other works pertaining to religion. The lectionary was later combined with the sacramentary and gradual to form the missal.


Fragmenta Manuscripta 163

Date: 1400-1499

Contents: Gradual

Language: Latin

Location: England?


The gradual is the liturgical songbook. It contains the songs for the celebration of the mass and was used by the choir. Originally, this was a separate book, however, for convenience, it was combined with the lectionary and sacramentary to form the missal.


Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, the separate volumes of the sacramentary, lectionary, and gradual were combined into one volume known as the missal to create a better user experience. The missal was used by the priest for the celebration of the mass. It consists of prayers, readings, and songs.


The breviary is a text that was first introduced at the end of the twelfth century. The name breviary means abridgement, and the breviary could be thought of as a compilation of the major liturgical books including the lectionary and the psalter. The user could now consult one book for devotional readings rather than sift through multiple texts.

Breviaries were used in what is known as the Divine Office, a routine used by ecclesiastics that involves the recitation of religious texts at specified hours of the day. The canonical hours that divided the day into eight prayer hours are Matins (before dawn), Lauds (dawn), Prime (early morning), Terce (third hour, 9am), Sext (sixth hour, noon), None (ninth hour, 3pm), Vespers (sunset), and Compline (end of the day).


The pontifical is the official book used by the Pope and bishops. Included in the pontifical are the texts for the rites of Confirmation, the coronation of kings and queens, blessings of abbots, abbesses, nuns, and for foundation of churches, and other rites performed by the bishop. The pontifical also includes the litany and a publication of the moveable feasts of the Epiphany.


A martyrology is a way to keep track of all the saints commemorated by a specific community. The text is organized into a calendar and includes the names of the saints and short accounts of their life and martyrdom that would be read on their feast days. The first martyrologies date to the fourth century.


The ordinal is a type of liturgical book that is not used in the celebration of the mass, the office, or the sacraments. Instead, it is a general guide to the liturgy of a specific church. The ordinal provides a calendar featuring an abbreviated list of chants, readings and prayers for every celebration the Church recognizes, most importantly these include every Sunday and every feast day. The name comes from the Latin word ordo, meaning order, which is exactly what the ordinal provided; the book provided an authoritative document on the officially recognized celebrations of a given community.


 This liturgical book includes the litanies and hymns used in religious processions. Processions occurred on the important holidays and feast days of the Church and before the mass every Sunday. The first processionals date to the early tenth or eleventh century.


A homily is a commentary prepared by an ecclesiastical official for the celebration of the mass. Homilies take on passages from doctrine and explain the literal and spiritual meaning of the text, often by relating the passage to current events. The name homily comes from the Greek homilia meaning to have a discourse. Homilies were written as early as the second century and therefore are one of the earliest liturgical texts.