Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Liturgy of Saint Peter?

A reader asks:
"I apologize for this being off topic, but does anyone know about a supposed "Liturgy of St. Peter" that was supposedly celebrated in Rome once a year? Supposedly it was the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with a latin ordo. The story goes that Pius IX suppressed it after he performed it once."
The short answer is No, the Roman Pontiffs did not celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom annually, and until the 20th century perhaps not at all. The question probably derives from a cranky comment on an Orthodox forum which asserts that the "Liturgy of St. Peter" was uncovered by a ROCOR priest in Turkey; the same commentator also refers to a second "Liturgy of St. Peter" celebrated until the pontificate of Pio Nono. This is an interesting question which allows us to revisit some Latin liturgical history already explored elsewhere on this blog.

Pio says No No
The only obvious example of a Pope annually pontificating in an uncommon rite was that of the feast of Saint Peter's Chair. Prior to Saint Gregory VII the Roman Mass and Office had undergone a few major changes in the years since Saint Gregory the Great's death, namely the addition of feasts, the introduction of the Agnus Dei litany, the disappearance of popular Communion, and the spoken recitation of the Roman Canon. Those using a variation of the Roman liturgy north of the Lombard region were more open to enrichment, adding hymns to the Office, shortening some chants (antiphons) and making others more elaborate (evolving the second psalm at Mass into the Gradual), a ritual for serving Mass and the Office more inspired by the Benedictine choir tradition than the Roman secular clergy's manner described in the Ordo Romanus I, and the greater variability of lessons at Mattins. Enlisting the aid of monasteries in the Cluniac tradition, Archdeacon Hildebrand, as Gregory VII, introduced these Gallican elements into the Roman diocesan liturgy. The canons of Saint Peter's basilica and the Lateran cathedral, however, refused the Gallican elements, preferring the old chants without hymns and the more ancient, urban manner of celebrating Mass. Innocent III, once a canon-subdeacon of Saint Peter's, recounts that the popes continued to celebrate Mass in this archaic rite on the feast of Saint Peter's Chair up until his very pontificate. This ancient observance only died during the reign of Nicholas III who, as a Franciscan, carried a devotion to the curial liturgy his Minorite order observed.

As far as popes running afoul of the Divine Liturgy of the Church of Constantinople one need look no further than the Council of Florence, which temporarily returned almost all the Apostolic Churches to Communion until popular disdain for the Latins in the East and the military resolve of the Turks undid that work. After the Council—which strangely met with the Pope and his cardinals sitting at the same level on the Gospel side of the Florentine cathedral, followed by the rest of the clergy opposite the Greek Emperor sitting alone atop the Epistle side with the clergy sitting below him—there came the obvious desire to consummate the re-union by offering the Eucharistic sacrifice. It was agreed that the Greeks should celebrate, but the Latin clergy accustomed to their own ways and unaware of other customs, asked if they could observe the Divine Liturgy in private before offering it in public coram Summo Pontifice. The Greeks eventually complied and returned to Constantinople all the more disgruntled with their co-religionists.

There is a very strange text purporting to be a "Liturgy of St. Peter" floating around on another Eastern Christian forum, this time ByzCath. This "Liturgy" is a pastiche of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, the Liturgy of Saint James, a few odd Coptic prayers, and a Hellenized Roman Canon for good measure, although Western Orthodoxy didn't exist yet so there is no anachronistic epiclesis. The text comes from Mount Athos, where it may have either been used as a genuine form of Divine Liturgy or perhaps was a long dead monk's literary experiment. Aside from the Canon, the only Roman part of this text is that the shortened Great Doxology (Gloria in excelsis) takes place after the litany and before the lessons. How did this text come into being? One possibility, mentioned in the introduction, is that it came by way of Greek monks in Southern Italy and Sicily; another is that the Canon Roman found its way onto Athos by way of the Latin monastery that stood on the Holy Isle until the late Middle Ages. The writer posits evidence that this ritual was used in the Slavic tradition and survived among Old Believers, but does not point to what that evidence might be. With no other clues the word-for-word copy-and-paste nature of this text speaks to this ignorant writer as a thought experiment rather than something generally used.

The Roman rite has many Greek influences in the kalendar and some in the text, but generally has its own genius distinct from the somewhat more strongly influenced rites of Milan and Benevento. The near-full import of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom was not part of that influence.


  1. I know that this is completely off topic, but am I right to think that The Rad Trad lives in England?

    If so, I would very much enjoy meeting him. I shall be in London and Oxford giving lectures and doing a book launch at the end of October. A full schedule will be available soon from the Latin Mass Society of England & Wales.

    If you like, please email me at professorkwasniewski (at)

  2. Thanks, for answering my question. I was curious because I heard that Eucharistic Prayer IV came out of failed attempts to adapt the Anaphora of St. Basil for a Latin or Western liturgy. I was curious why they wouldn't just use the anaphora of St. John Chrystostom if that had been prayed in Latin (then I read the epiclesis of both, which really makes the whole idea of importing an Eastern canon really awkward, as they read to almost like a back-up consecration formula.)

    Even the supposed Anaphora of Apostolic Tradition, which EP II is supposed to be based on seems more like an Eastern Anaphora than a Western Canon, which makes it's inclusion also awkward (though it's epiclesis would've been much less problematic.)

    I heard of some Jesuits creating latin translations of Byzantine Rite liturgical texts in the 1640s, so it seemed plausible enough that if the someone in Rome really wanted to and got permission—or was the pope himself—could perform the liturgy. (Found the link on a ByzCath forum and New Liturgical Movement mentioned it.)

    I suppose it doesn't make much sense for a Latin translation of St. John Chrystostom's Divine Liturgy to be called the "Divine Liturgy of St. Peter." Divine Liturgy of St. Victor would've made more sense.

    1. I sense that any Latin translations of the Greek rite by Jesuits were probably for academic purposes and for teaching at the Rusicum in Rome, a college the Society founded for missionaries to Russia. This was the beginning of a long tradition of Eastern rite Jesuits, Robert Taft being the most famous current example. The Rusicum Jesuits ran excellent schools in Russia, so renowned in fact that the monarchy refused to publish Clement XIV’s suppression order.