Missarum sollemnia


Missarum sollemnia is the title of the original German edition of Joseph A. Jungmann’s magnum opus on the liturgy.  Appearing around 1950, it was immediately translated into English and issued as The mass of the roman rite; its origins and development.  It is an audacious work.  Its purpose was to “assemble and evaluate the results of so many separate inquiries”, that is, to catalogue and briefly criticize, as completely as possible, all the existing research, new and old, on the development of the mass—and do it in one book.  Indeed, Jungmann himself hints that he might never have undertaken the work, except that the theological school where he had been teaching had been shut down by the Nazis, it looked like the war would be long, and he needed something to do.


The book is magnum enough that just reading it, all 1051 pages of small print, is audacious.  But this is no dry, technical treatise.  It is technical, yes, and I am pretty sure it has more footnote text than body text.  But it is essentially a story, the story of our mass, deliberately crafted to be accessible to the general reader as well as useful to the specialist.  The author says, “[T]his book is not meant to serve only for knowledge … but it is intended for life, for a fuller grasp of that mystery [which is] the source and center of Christian piety.”


This work has a fair amount of commentary on the music of the mass; and with two good indices, totaling 67 pages, the material is easy to find.  But I think the greater value for a liturgical musician lies in acquiring, if one does not already have it, a good grounding in the historical development of that structure, that mystery of which music is an integral part, into which music must fit, which music must serve.  In this time of liturgical turmoil, I found the book strangely comforting, with its accounts of one aberration after another that arose somewhere back in history and was in due time rectified.  The work is also, of course, important as documentation of the state of liturgical thinking going into the Council, and subsequently into the Consilium.  The traditionalist will find Jungmann on the wrong side of several current liturgical issues, but the work is no less valuable for that.


It takes some time to read these 1051 pages, divided into two volumes weighing a pound and a half each.  For almost any liturgical musician, I think it time well spent.  It certainly was for me.