Liturgy 5


Whereas the Hours of the Divine Office were a corporate affair involving the entire chapter, the celebration of Mass, the principal act of worship in the Roman Catholic Church, was a priestly act centered upon the one who officiated at the main altar in the sanctuary--although the canons would participate in the Introit, Gradual, Allelulia, Offertory. Communion and more.  The celebrant might be the bishop himself on major feast days, but was generally the dean or some other member of the chapter assisted by a deacon and sub-deacon and attendants.  After a highly-codified ceremonial sequence of chants and readings the climax is reached with the Eucharistic prayer of consecration by the celebrant accompanied by the elevation of the bread and wine which, through the words and gestures of the celebrant become the body and blood of Christ--a moment depicted in the tympanum of the Saint Honoré portal.  The dramatically transformative nature of the event is best described in the words of Miri Rubin, "At the centre of the whole religious system of the later Middle Ages lay a ritual which turned bread into flesh--a fragile, small wheaten disc into God."  The principal altar was placed exactly at the center of the great circle defining the east end of the cathedral--architectural form and sacramental ritual are here perfectly coordinated.