Gallican Rite

Incorporates unedited text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia 

 Catholic Church as of 1913 

August 2015 

Gallican Rite by Henry Jenner 


The Gallican Rite is a historical version of Christian liturgy and other ritual practices in Western Christianity. It is not a single rite but a family of rites within the Latin Church, which comprised the majority use of most of Western Christianity for the more significant part of the 1st millennium AD. The rites first developed in the early centuries as the Syriac-Greek rites of Jerusalem and Antioch and were first translated into Latin in various parts of the Western Roman Empire Praetorian prefecture of Gaul. By the 5th century, it was well established in the Roman civil diocese of Gaul, which had a few early centers of Christianity in the south. Ireland is also known to have had a form of this Gallican Liturgy mixed with Celtic customs. 

The Catholic Encyclopedia; is an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, discipline, and history of the Catholic Church.


The Gallican Rite was used from before the 5th century, and likely before the Diocletian reform in AD 293 Roman Gaul, until the middle or end of the 8th century. There is no information before the 5th century. Very little then, and throughout the whole period, there was, to judge by existing documents and descriptions, so much diversity that, though the general outlines of the rite were of the same pattern, the name must not be taken to imply more than a very moderate amount of homogeneity. The Rite of Iberia was used from the 5th century in Roman provinces within the Roman civil diocese of Hispania to the end of the 11th century. It lingered as an archaeological survival in chapels at Toledo and Salamanca. It was so nearly allied to the Gallican Rite that the term Hispano-Gallican is often applied to the two. But the Iberian Mozarabic Rite has, like the allied Celtic Rite, enough of an independent history to require different treatment, so though it will be necessary to allude to both by way of illustration, this article will be devoted primarily to the rite once used in what is now France. Of the origin of the Gallican Rite, there are three principal theories, between which the controversy still needs to be settled. These theories may be termed: the Ephesine, the Ambrosian, and the Roman. 

The Ephesine theory, first put forward by William Palmer in Origines Liturgicae, was once prevalent among Anglican scholars. According to it, the Gallican Rite returned to one brought to Lyon from Ephesus by St. Pothinus and Irenaeus, who had received it through Polycarp from John of Patmos. The idea originated partly in a statement in the 8th-century tract in a manuscript, which refers to the Service of the Gauls (Cursus Gallorum) to such an origin, and partly in a statement of Colmán of Lindisfarne at the Synod of Whitby (664) respecting the Johannine origin of the Quartodeciman Easter. This theory "may be dismissed as practically disproved," according to Henry Jenner in Catholic Encyclopedia. 

The second theory is that which Louis Duchesne puts forward in place of the Ephesians. He holds that Milan, not Lugdunum (Lyon), was the principal centre of Gallican development. He lays great stress on the incontestable importance of Mediolanum (Milan) as the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 402 and of the Church of Milan in the late 4th century and conjectures that a liturgy of Oriental origin, introduced perhaps by Auxentius the Arian bishop of Milan from 355 to 374, spread from the capital city, Mediolanum, to the Roman provinces in Gaul, Hispania, and Britannia. Duchesne points out that "the Gallican Liturgy, in the features which distinguish it from the Roman, betrays all the characteristics of the Eastern Orthodox liturgies" and that "some of its formularies are to be found word for word in the Greek Orthodox texts, which were in use in the Churches of the Syro-Byzantine Rite either in the fourth century or somewhat later," and infers from this that, "the Gallican Liturgy is an Oriental liturgy, introduced into the West towards the middle of the fourth century." Duchesne does not, however, note that in certain other vital peculiarities, the Gallican Liturgy agrees with the Roman, where the latter differs from the Oriental. Controverting the third or Roman theory of origin, he stresses that Pope Innocent I (416), in a letter to Decentius, bishop of Gubbio, spoke of usages which Duchesne recognizes as Gallican (e.g. the position of the Diptychs and the Pax) as "foreign importations" and did not recognize in them the ancient usage of his own Church. He thinks it hard to explain why the African Church should have accepted the Roman reforms while Ambrose, himself a Roman, refused them. He assumes that the Ambrosian Rite is not Roman but Gallican, much Romanized later and that the Gubbio variations of which Innocent I complained were borrowed from Milan.

The third theory is perhaps rather complicated to state without danger of misrepresentation and has not been so definitely stated as the other two by any one writer. It is held in part by Milanese liturgists and by many others whose opinion is of weight. To state it clearly it will be necessary to point out first specific details in which all the Latin or Western rites agree with one another in differing from the Eastern, and in this, we speak only of the Mass, which is of far more importance than either the canonical hours or the occasional services in determining origins. 

The Eastern Eucharists of whatever rite are marked by the invariability of the priest's part. There are, it is true, alternative anaphoras which are used either ad libitum, as in the Syro-Jacobite Rite, or on certain days, as in Byzantine and East Syrian. Still, they are complete and do not contain passages appropriate to the day. The lections vary with the day in all rites, and varying antiphons, troparia, etc., are sung by the choir; but the priest's part remains fixed.

In the Western rites – whether Hispano-Gallican, Ambrosian, or Roman, a substantial proportion of the priest's part varies according to the day, and these variations are so numerous in the Gallican Rite that the fixed part, even of the Prayer of the Consecration, is strangely little. Specific varying prayers of the Hispano-Gallican Rite tend to fall into couples, a Bidding Prayer or invitation to pray, sometimes of considerable length and often partaking of the nature of a sermon, addressed to the congregation, and a collect embodying the suggestions of the Bidding Prayer, addressed to God. These Bidding Prayers have survived in the Roman Rite in the Good Friday intercessory prayers, and they occur in a form borrowed later from the Gallican in the ordination services. Still, the invitation to prayer is generally reduced to its lowest terms in the word Oremus.

Another Western peculiarity is in the form of the Words of Institution. The principal Eastern liturgies follow Paul the Apostle's words in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (11:23–25) and date the Institution by the betrayal, and of the less critical anaphoras, most either use the same expression or paraphrase it. The Western liturgies date from the Passion, Qui pridie quam pateretur, for which, though of course, the fact is found there, there is no verbal Scriptural warrant. The Mozarabic of today uses the Pauline words, and no Gallican Recital of the Institution remains in full. Still, in both, the prayer that follows is called (with alternative nomenclature in the Gallican) post-Pridie and the catchwords "Qui pridie" come at the end of the post-Sanctus in the Gallican Masses so that it is clear that this form existed in both.

These variations from the Eastern usages are of an early date, and it is inferred from them, and other considerations more historical than liturgical, that a liturgy with these peculiarities was the common property of Gaul, Hispania, and Italy. Whether, as is most likely, it originated in Rome and spread thence to the countries under the direct Roman influence or whether it originated elsewhere and was adopted by Rome, there is no means of knowing. The adoption must have happened when liturgies were in a somewhat fluid state. The Gallicans may have carried to an extreme the changes begun at Rome and retained some archaic features later dropped by Rome. During the 4th century – it has been conjectured that it was in the papacy of Pope Damasus I (366–384) – liturgical reforms were made at Rome: the position of the Great Intercession and of the Pax were altered, the latter perhaps because the form of the dismissal of the catechumens was disused, and the distinction between the first part, the Mass of the Catechumens, and the second part, the Mass of the Faithful, was no longer needed, and therefore the want was felt of a position with some meaning to it for the sign of Christian unity. The long and diffuse prayers were made into the short and crisp collects of the Roman type. It was then that the variable post-Sanctus and post-Pridie were altered into a fixed Canon of a type similar to the Roman Canon of today, though perhaps this Canon began with the clause which now reads "Quam oblationem", but according to the pseudo-Ambrosian tract De Sacramentis once read "Fac nobis hanc oblationem". A short, variable post-Sanctus may have introduced this. This reform, possibly through the influence of Ambrose, was adopted at Milan but not in Gaul and Hispania. In a still later period, during the 5th and 6th centuries, changes were again made at Rome, principally attributed to Pope Leo I, Pope Gelasius I, and Pope Gregory I; these three popes are the eponyms of three varying sacramentaries. These later reforms were not adopted at Milan, which retained the books of the first reform, now known as Ambrosian.

Hence, the Western or Latin Liturgy went through three phases, which may be called, for want of better names, the Gallican, the Ambrosian, and the Roman stages. The holders of the theory no doubt recognize that the distinction between these stages is rather vague and that the alterations were, in many respects, gradual. The Ephesine may be dismissed as practically disproved of the three theories of origin. To both of the other two the same objection may be urged that they are primarily founded on conjecture and on the critical examination of documents of a much later date than the periods to which the conjectures relate. But at present, there is little else to go upon. It may be well to mention also a theory put forward by W. C. Bishop in Church Quarterly for July 1908, to the effect that the Gallican Liturgy was not introduced into Gaul from anywhere but was the original liturgy of that country, apparently invented and developed there. He speaks of an original independence of Rome (of course, liturgically only) followed by later borrowings. This does not exclude the idea that Rome and the West may have had the germ of the Western Rite in common. Again the theory is speculative and is only very slightly stated in the article. 

The later history of the Gallican Rite until its abolition as a separate rite is obscure. In Hispania, there was a definite centre in Toledo whose influence was felt over the whole peninsula, even after the coming of the Moors. Hence, the Hispanic Rite was much more regulated than the Gallican, and Toledo, at times, though not very successfully, tried to give liturgical laws even to Gaul, though probably only to the Visigothic part of it. In the more significant part of France, there was liturgical anarchy. There was no capital to give laws to the whole country, and the rite developed there variously in different places so that there is a marked absence of verbal uniformity among the scanty fragments of the service books that remain. However, the main outlines of the services are of the same type. Several councils attempted to regulate matters a little, but only for certain episcopal provinces. Among these were the Councils of Vannes (465), Agde (506), Vaison (529), Tours (567), Auxerre (578), and the two Councils of Mâcon (581, 623). But all along, there went on a specific process of Romanization due to the constant applications to the Holy See for advice, and there is also another complication in the probable introduction during the 7th century, through Columbanus's missionaries, of elements of Irish origin.

The changes in the Roman Rite happened gradually during the late 7th and 8th centuries and seemed synchronous with the rise of the Mayors of the Palace and their development into kings of France. Nearly all the Gallican books of the later Merovingian period, which are all that are left, contain many Roman elements. In some cases, there is reason to suppose that the Roman Canon was first introduced into an otherwise Gallican Mass, but the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary, the principal manuscript of which is attributed to the Abbey of St. Denis and the early 8th century, is an avowedly Roman book, though containing Gallican additions and adaptations. And the same may be said of what is left of the undoubtedly Frankish book known as the Missale Francorum of the same date. Duchesne attributes a good deal of this 8th-century Romanizing tendency to Boniface, though he shows that it had begun before his day.

The Roman Liturgy was adopted at Metz during Chrodegang (742–66). The Roman chant was introduced about 760, and by a decree of Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of the Palace, quoted in Charlemagne's Admonitio generalis in 789, the Gallican chant was abolished in its favour. Pope Adrian I, between 784 and 791, sent to Charlemagne at his request a copy of what was considered the Gregorian Sacramentary, which undoubtedly represented the Roman use at the end of the 8th century. This book, which was far from complete, was edited and supplemented by adding a large amount of matter derived from the Gallican books and the Roman book known as the Gelasian Sacramentary, which had been gradually supplanting the Gallican. The editor was probably Alcuin of York, Charlemagne's principal liturgical advisor. Copies were distributed throughout Charlemagne's empire, and this "composite liturgy", as Duchesne describes, "from its source in the Imperial chapel spread throughout all the churches of the Frankish Empire and at length, finding its way to Rome gradually supplanted there the ancient use." More than half a century later, when Charles the Bald wished to see what the ancient Gallican Rite had been like, it was necessary to import Hispanic priests to celebrate it in his presence. Subsequently, with the Normans, the Gallican rite in the Kingdom of Sicily is the official liturgy.