Sacramentarium Gelasianum – The Gelasian Sacramentary

Ancient and medieval church service books, or liturgical manuscripts, are a subject of their own, about which I know nothing.  Today I had occasion to find out something about the Sacramentarium Gelasianum, or Gelasian Sacramentary, so I thought that I would share it with you.

There are three ancient service books which have survived to our own times.  One of these is known as the Sacramentarium Gelasianum Vetus – The Old Gelasian Sacramentary (= CPL 1899).  It exists in a single manuscript, today preserved under the shelfmark MS. Vatican. reg. lat. 316 (online here; f.136v shows the material for Valentinus, for instance).  This was written in a Frankish monastery at Chelles around 750 AD.

MS. Vatican, fol. 136v – beginning of prayers for the commemoration (natalis) of St. Valentine and others.

The text can be found in PL74, col. 1059.  A critical edition of the Latin text by H. A. Wilson (1894) is freely available online here. I believe that a modern edition by Mohlberg also exists.[1]  Other manuscripts, listed by Wilson, preserve a revised “Gelasian” type of sacramentary – the Eighth Century Gelasian or Frankish Gelasian – which does not concern us here.[2]

The book itself is simply titled “Liber sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae”. The false attribution to Pope Gelasius (492-496)  in older accounts[3] probably arises from the statement in the Liber Pontificalis that Gelasius “fecit sacramentorum praefationes et orationes cauto sermone” (“he composed a sacramentary with carefully worded prefaces and orations”).

The sacramentary is designed for a presbyterial type liturgy because it contains only material needed for a priest in charge of a “titular” church or a parish church, and nothing more.  It was most likely composed around the middle of the seventh century, say around 650 AD, because it contains modifications to the canon of the mass introduced by Gregory the Great (d. 604) but none of the changes of Sergius I (687-701) or Gregory II (715-731).

  1. [1]L. Mohlberg, Liber Sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae Ordinis Anni Circuli, Rome (1968) = Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series Maior, Fontes IV.  These details via here.
  2. [2]The most thorough account that I could find of the Gelasian Sacramentary is Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, (1998) p.44f., from whom I take much of what is said here.
  3. [3]E.g. J. W. Richard, Christian Worship: Its Principles and Forms, (1892) p.110.