The Mystery of the Ancient Mozarabic Mass

By Peter De Trolio III

In this era of controversy surrounding the rites of the Mass, it is fascinating to look back through the centuries to yet another time when the question of diverse rites arose.

Before the unification of the rites in the Western Church, there were many different local rites.  Distance and lack of communication caused and allowed for variations that naturally developed –that is, in terms of ceremony, though never in the essential Consecration. 

Distinctive rites of the Mass grew up in the Roman Province of Hispania, later the Visigothic Kingdom.  Of these rites, one in particular, the Mozarabic Rite, has remained preserved down to the present day.

Thanks to the Moorish Invasion

In some ways it was thanks to the Moorish invasion of 711 that the use of this rite has continued, uninterrupted since the days of St. Isadore of Seville.

Oddly enough, ‘Mozaribic’ Rite is a misnomer, as this rite was in use long before the term ‘Mozarabe’ was ever coined.  But it is specifically because it was in use within the Moorish occupied parts of Spain and continued there after the Roman Rite was institutionalized that it was given the sobriquet “Mozaribic,” after the name of the Christian population living under the yoke of the Muslims.

Pope John X introduced the Roman Rite for use in all the Western Church and in 1064 Pope Alexander II sent an emissary to Spain to institute the use of the Roman Rite there.  At that time, the largest part of Spain was under Muslim rule and the edict was impossible to fully carry out.

Christian Spain at the time was divided into, more or less three Kingdoms; Castilla-Leon, Aragon and Navarre.  The new unified rite was accepted by some of the Kingdoms, but not all. 

The Christians in Toledo demanded the right to continue to use the old rite as an important sign of their resistance to the Muslim occupation. 

Toledo’s Special Role

Today, it is clear to see that this rite was the Mass that gave strength to those living in captivity and to those struggling to free those captives during the crusade that was the re-conquest of Spain. 

A bargain was struck and the parish Churches extant in Toledo were granted permission to continue to use the old rite under the supervision of the Archbishop of Toledo. However, the new rite would be installed in any new parishes in Toledo and any new territory conquered. 

THE FAR-SEEING CARDINAL caused the Mozarabe sacramental books which had become almost illegible with age and use to be printed on the newly-invented printing press so that the Rite could continue to survive. 

The Rite received probably its most important assistance to its survival from Cardinal Jimemez de Cisneros, the Archbishop of Toledo during the reign of the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella.  Cardinal Cisneros understood the importance to keeping the rite alive. In an age where copying texts was prohibitively expensive, this act probably saved the Rite from extinction. 

Today, of these old Toledo Parishes only six continue to exist canonically: Santa Eulalia, Santas Justa y Rufina, San Marcos, San Torcuato, San Lucas and San Sebastian.  The rite may also be celebrated in the Chapel of the Mozarabe in the Cathedral and on certain feasts in the Old Cathedral of Salamanca.  The Mass can also be celebrated, in an extraordinary way, by any Priest, sufficiently prepared, who receives permission from his ordinary.  

The rite itself is very different from the Roman Rite, as it developed completely independently.  It has its own Breviary, its own rites for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Extreme Unction, Marriage and Ordination. 

The Mozarabic is a Mass celebrated in Latin and said Ad Orientum although there are scholars who debate whether or not it was originally done this way; in any case, it is now optional to say it facing the people.  No one knows which vestments were used during the Mass; today, the Roman or fiddle-back vestments are employed. 

As well, the Mozarabic Mass has its own hymnal, although the original tones are lost in time and they are now sung in Gregorian Chant.  The Mass itself has the same basic three parts as the Roman Rite yet it is celebrated in a completely distinct form, almost as an antiphonal conversation.  It also has a complex offertory with an offertory “room” on one side of the sanctuary.  As well, at the fraction the Eucharist is divided into nine pieces.

The Mozarabic Rite is one of only a few rites which have survived down the ages from remote antiquity, completely intact.  It faced extinction more than once and through grace today continues to enrich the Church. 



Catholic Encyclopedia on line, “The Mozarabic Rite.”

On line,, The Liturgia Hispano-Mozarabe., El Rito Hispano-Mozarabe.

Interview with Rev. Msgr. Jose Luis Repeto Betis, former Dean of the Cathedral of the Archdioces de Asidonia-Jerez, Diocesian Historian and celebrant of the Misa Mozarabe.

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