Missals are subdivisible into two categories. The altar missal is the book the priest reads from when saying Mass, or principal liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. The laity, altar servers, and other assisting ministers generally read from hand missals, smaller replicas of the altar missals frequently with vernacular commentary and compendiums of prayers.

The Tridentine push for liturgical regulation resulted in standardized editions of the missal, breviary, and other liturgical books (i.e. Missa Defunctorum, the funeral or Requiem liturgy.) Subsequently, particular liturgies common to a region were either outlawed or allowed to continue, survival contingent on the rite having been practiced in a stabilized and codified format for at least 300 years. This clause did not stop local bishops and other ecclesiastical authorities from pressuring pastors to adopt the Roman, Tridentine form of Mass, even if they were celebrating legitimate liturgies. This clause greatly hastened the deterioration of liturgies possibly lost forever. Liturgical scholars find reconstruction of the few missals that survive either through primary or secondary resources challenging. Attempts have been made to revive liturgies, but this has been hampered since even the Tridentine Mass, or Latin Mass, is outlawed in most parts of the Catholic world.

The official name for the altar missal is Missale Romanum, the Roman Missal. This title has continued to this day; in vernacular versions the title is translated along with the papal approval and seal on the first page of every altar missal printed. Missals contain both the changeable propers of the Mass as well as the ordinary, or non-negotiables. While the ordinary parts take up little space and are eventually memorized by many priests, propers are numerous and complex. Many proper options exist for a particular day, and priests must make decisions as to which saint is to be venerated that day, or even a decision not to honor saints at all. The reform of Catholic liturgy started by the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II has reduced the number of propers in the year, but some days are still piled three deep with saints of diverse fame.

Because of the proliferation of proper and ordinary options in the Mass begun by Vatican II, the altar missal has been subdivided into two books, the Lectionary and Sacramentary. The two books in combination are considered the "Roman Missal", even though the liturgy is no longer in one volume.

An extension of the altar missal is the altar card, used only in the Tridentine incarnation of Catholic liturgy. Altar cards are placards which rest on the tabernacle on the middle of the altar, and at either end of the altar. Cards are allowed only to aid a priest's memory. The middle card contains the prayers of the Canon, the central prayer of the Mass containing the consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The right side card contains the Lavabo prayer, said when the priest ritually washes his hands during the Offertory, when the bread and wine is presented to God as an offering before consecration. The left side contains the Last Gospel, or the prologue to St. John's Gospel. The Last Gospel is read at the very end of most Tridentine Masses, excluding Requiems.

From the Tridentine reform to 1962, all altar missals were in Latin only. Beginning in 1963-64, bilingual missals were introduced on a gradual basis. Currently missals can be had in an official Latin version or numerous vernacular versions. Pope Paul VI's decision to make the Novus Ordo or current reformed liturgy compulsory in 1969-70 rendered altar cards obsolete.

Before the advent of vernacular Roman Catholic liturgy, the laity were encouraged to use hand missals or miniature replicas of the altar missal to follow the Mass. Hand missals are frequently illustrated to show the parishoner what was going on on the altar, allowing him or her to "see" beyond the priest's back to the action taking place. Hand missals vary in level of Latin content. The large Lausance missal contains nearly complete Latin and vernacular propers, while the popular American "St. Joseph's" edition contains little Latin save for the ordinary prayers. Hand missals became popular only in the late 19th to early 20th centuries due mainly to illiteracy. By the 1950s, the introduction of some vernacular into the liturgy and experimentation with verbal congregational participation in Mass may have contributed to the decline in hand missal use seen today. The full vernacularization of the liturgy completed in 1970 rendered missals nearly obsolete save for "missalettes", subscription summaries tailored to the seasons of the Church year.

Mis"sal (?), n. [LL. missale, liber missalis, from missa mass: cf. F. missel. See 1st Mass.]

The book containing the service of the Mass for the entire year; a Mass book.


© Webster 1913.

Mis"sal, a.

Of or pertaining to the Mass, or to a missal or Mass book.

Bp. Hall.


© Webster 1913.

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