The main event in the life of Christian
religious life is the Mass. In the early Middle Ages the complete liturgy
was not to be found in one volume. A variety of books containing readings,
chants, and prayers was used instead.
As early as in the fourth century
it was customary to make notes in the margins of the Bible manuscripts,
indicating the Sunday or the festival on which that particular passage
would be read, and attach the list of such passages and corresponding dates,
lectionum, at the end of the manuscript. Very soon the Capitulare
developed into the Evangeliary,
a special book containing only particular passages from the Gospels, arranged
in the order of the liturgical year. The Lectionary,
containing passages from both Old and New Testaments, complements the Evangeliary.
Epistles of the Apostles were sometimes similarly arranged in yearly order
in a book called Epistolary,
The order of prayers to be said
by a priest during the Mass was in the early Middle Ages defined by a book
called Ordo, or Directorium.
The prayers pertaining to the consecration
of the Eucharist were contained in a book called Sacramentary.
Blessings to be said during the
Mass were inscribed in the Benedictional.
In the earlier period blessings were announced exclusively by bishop. Some
were produced for individual bishops and lavishly decorated. In the later
Middle Ages any priest holding a Mass was entitled to delivering benedictions;
thus Benedictionals became a common product.
Sung portions of the Mass in the
early Middle Ages were inscribed in the Antiphonary,
or in the Gradual.
From the tenth century onwards we
find the Gospel lessons, together with the Epistles and prayers, united
in a new liturgical book, called the Missal.
That was an amalgamation within one volume of a number of separate service
books necessary for the celebration of the Mass, such as the Sacramentary,
and so on, arranged in the liturgical order. The appearance of the Missal
benefited private devotion: the celebrant received the possibility of saying
the Mass alone.
A number of books guided Christian
religious rites beyond the Mass. Episcopal offices such as, for example,
ordination and confirmation, were contained in the Pontifical.
Priests had similar handbooks helping them in taking care of souls. These
books contained all the sacraments a parish priest had to perform (batism,
extreme unction, matrimony), except the Eucharist. Every local rite had
its own books of this kind, and their names were not uniform: Manuale,
agendarum, Agenda, Sacramental, sometimes Ritual.
The Christian church prescribed
the so-called Divine Office, that is, a certain order of prayers to be
said in specific time of the day. In the Middle Ages, there existed a number
of books containing such prayers, the most important among them being the
The breviary appeared in the eleventh century as a combination of
the numerous numerous volumes used for daily prayer such as the Psalter,
Martyrology. The purpose of the Breviary was to supply poorer
communities of canons, who had no means to possess all required books,
with all necessary texts and a guide to conducting the order of service.
Being, in effect, a voluminous book, initially the
only used by monks. Further development, especially due to the Franciscans
and Dominicans, brought about a portable, handy breviary, to be used in
private, even by laity. The contents vary in their details depending on
the rite of the order and the usage of that geographic area.
Many liturgical books, especially
hours, contained the Calendar:
a list of religious feasts in the order of the year. The calendar section
is most often attached before the text itself. In the luxury manuscripts,
beside universal Christian feasts, calendars usually highlight, in a different
colour, feasts pertinent to the patron and the region. The two most popular
themes for calendar illumination were the labours of the months and the