Mozarabic rite

From Academic Kids

The Mozarabic rite is a form of Catholic worship within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. It dates principally to the 7th and 8th centuries, and is localized in Spain. Its liturgy is particularly apt as a spiritual defense during Islamic rule, and is widely reputed to be spiritually fulfilling.


Divergence of early Catholic rites

Ritual worship surrounding the Eucharist in the earliest Christian Church was not scripted with precise rubrics as is the norm today. One of the earliest known documents setting down the nature of Eucharistic celebration is the Didache, dating from 70140 (see historical roots of Catholic Eucharistic theology). The liturgy, or form of worship, was fairly homogenous among followers of Jesus for about three centuries after which variations began to form in the different patriarchates; by the 5th century it becomes possible to distinguish among several liturgies: the Oriental, the Gallican, the Roman, and the Mozarabic. The liturgical distinctions stem from the effects of the invasions of the 5th century and of the break-up of the Roman Empire in 476, all of which reduced communication among different regions.

Visigoths in Spain

The Arian Visigoths were driven from France and came south, converting to Catholicism in 587. The Catholic liturgical practice in Spain prior to the Visigoths (and the Muslims) is termed "Old Spanish", and inaccurately is often called Mozarabic. There was a liturgical tradition in Spain prior to the arrival of the Visigoths as evidenced by the fact that it lacks Arian influence. This liturgy reached its point of greatest development in the 7th century, and is found partly in the Verona Orationale, taken to Italy for safekeeping after the invasion of Muslims (below). Terminological confusion regarding the liturgical development in this area is common, and most names proposed bear a degree of inaccuracy; hence qualifications are the norm in the discussion of this history. The most precise use of the term "Mozarabic rite" is for that liturgy followed by the Spanish who submitted to Islamic rule. St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636), who was influential at the Fourth Council of Toledo 633, according to the wishes of that Council, gave the Mozarabic rite its final form before the invasion of the Muslims.

Muslims in Spain

A crisis within Visigoth rule facilitated the Muslim invasion; shortly after 711 only a remnant of Spain was left outside of Muslim control. The term "Mozarabic", in previous centuries having more diverse spellings, is based on Spanish grammar meaning 'mixed Arab'. As is generally the case with Islamic rule, strong pressure was placed on Christians (and Jews) to abandon their respective faiths and convert to Islam. Islamic rule is more systematic than Christianity was at encouraging conversions. Great cruelty, burnings, relegation to servitude, and systematic killing of clergy are mentioned as occurring at this time in Spain, all of which was averted for converts to Islam. There were many in Spain who in various ways perforce adapted to Moorish culture, in dress and work, in marriage, and in language. The resulting cultural pattern hence was called 'mixed Arab', or "Mozarabic".

Toledo, approximately 75 kilometers south-east of Madrid, was strategically important to the Muslims, and there the Christians were able to arrange a compromise making Toledo somewhat different from the rest of Muslim Spain: Christians were permitted to practice their religion and retain their property.

Christianity restored in Spain

The reconquest of Spain by the French brought Roman-rite Catholics into Spain, who established that rite in all liberated portions, a change that was met with "uprisings", such that the Mozarabic rite was permitted to be used in Toledo and Leon even after the Muslims had been expelled. The Mozarabic rite was approved by Pope John X in 918, suppressed by Pope Gregory VII in 1085 yet permitted in six parishes. Unity in liturgical practice was strongly encouraged by Rome from an early date as well as around the general period of the East-West Schism; areas liberated after periods of conquest typically had the Roman rite installed — this was true for centuries in the East as well. Eventually the Mozarabic rite became a memorial service, as people grew to accept the Roman rite.

Gallican, Mozarabic, and Roman rite connections

There is evidence that the Mozarabic rite is tied to the Gallican rite, given common points of construction. Schaff argues for an Oriental element in both the Gallican and the Mozarabic (or Old Spanish), while Jenner quotes Dom Marius Férotin, O.S.B., who writes that the framework of the liturgy is from Italy or Rome, while various details such as hymns are from Spain, Africa, and Gaul. Jenner states that there is no extant concrete information about the Old Spanish liturgy prior to the end of the 6th century, a point echoed by Cabrol. Michael Davies reports that it is commonly believed that the Gallican rite came from the East, perhaps Antioch, and through Italy influenced the West. The work of St. Isidore, who was asked by a Council of Toledo (probably the one occurring in 633) to revise and rearrange the liturgy of the time (Old Spanish), leaves us a number of documents demonstrating liturgical stability prior to the Muslim invasion. Cabrol lists several liturgical points of Oriental origin ("the place of the diptychs, the Kiss of Peace, and even the 'epiclesis'") while indicating the liturgical commonalities to the entire West, including Rome and Gaul. Cabrol also indicates that the Mozarabic rite contains some customs that ante-date those of Rome.

Preservation and relevance of the Mozarabic rite

The Mozarabic rite is the second-best attested rite in the Catholic faith in terms of preserved documentation. The Mozarabic rite was considered authoritative for the clarification of a Sacramentary received by Charlemagne from Pope Adrian I (d. 795). The first, of course, is that of Rome, which was installed at every opportunity, to encourage unity of faith and worship.

After the Mozarabic rite was suppressed in 1085, apart from six parishes, St. Veremundus offered a successful defense of its merits; some continued use was permitted. Cardinal Ximenes (d. 1517) published in 1500 a Mozarabic Missal, and two years later a Breviary, both of which were formally approved by Pope Julius II. To perfect the presentation of the liturgy Ximenes interpolated elements of the Roman rite then in Spain, particularly the preliminary prayers for the Mass. He also erected a chapel in Toledo and a college of thirteen priests whose task it would be to use the Missal and Breviary, centuries after the Roman rite was officially installed throughout Spain. The Council of Trent permitted the continued use of both the Milanese and the Mozarabic rites. In the 16th century the Mozarabic was restored to use in Toledo, and Cabrol reports as late as 1934 that this was still the case, and it is still celebrated in some locations today, particularly in Catalonia. Pope John Paul II celebrated it once in each of 1992 and 2000. A vernacular (Spanish) translation has lately been made.

In the Latin Church a revision of the Roman rite was promulgated in 1969, which has been criticized by some for lacking piety and a full expression of the Catholic faith (e.g., references to hell and saints are generally suppressed). In 19th century France, some prelates set aside the Roman rite then in use and resurrected the old Gallican rite, which they adjusted in a number of ways; very similar criticisms were made then of these efforts to design a liturgy and to set aside the one that evolved slowly over centuries. The 1969 revision of the Roman rite borrows from the Mozarabic in a similar resurrection. In particular, the third Eucharistic prayer (there are four in the canon) is adapted from the Mozarabic rite. Also, responsories are used throughout the Mass, which may be partly inspired by the Mozarabic rite. Those preferring the Tridentine Mass may find in the Mozarabic (and Milanese) rites the illustration that there is a precedence for multiple rites co-existing within the Latin Church.

The Mozarabic rite has been of interest to non-Catholic communions as well. For example, in the 1880s the Anglican church examined the Mozarabic rite for ideas about making their own liturgy more inspiring.

Mozarabic rite a lesson in evolution of rites

The Mozarabic rite offers insight into how rites evolve within the Church. After the early period of persecutions came to an end, Christians began to develop more elaborate forms of worship, perhaps because it became possible to store and share rubrical ideas over time and geography, and because love for Christ inspired greater elaboration. Liturgical variety has always been assumed, by the Church, to be permissible in small details that do not touch upon articles of faith or morals. This variety is a natural result of the Church, i.e. the body of faithful, being in "a dialogue of love" with Jesus: this is how forms of worship are perceived by the Church — which can authoritatively, but not arbitrarily, "define and limit the usage of rites" (quotes from Ratzinger). G. S. Lee writes that the Church is always eager to "recognize the varying wants of her spiritual children, and to shape her devotional exercises in conformity to these". The needs of the Spanish Christians, living as oppressed people minimally permitted to exercise their religion, were arguably greater than those of Christians living freely elsewhere. The Mozarabic liturgy is perhaps more communal than others, involving more responsories among priest and congregation, and using Arabic, the vernacular language of the 'mixed Arab' Spanish. This rite was largely arranged prior to the Muslim invasion, but its character was perhaps an especial help during that time. The Mozarabic rite is esteemed to be of great beauty and source of piety, which would have been sustenance to these Christians. The Council of Toledo affirmed it to be "a form of worship grateful to the people" and the Council of Mantua, 1067, declared it to be free of heresy and "also worthy of praise".

Character of Mozarabic rite

While the liturgy used during the period of Islamic rule was very much like that to which St. Isidore put some finishing touches in the 7th century, during Islamic rule the pastors took more care, where practice of Christianity was permitted, to address the faithful during the Mass. The Bible was translated into Arabic during this period as well, and the liturgy was celebrated in Arabic.

The Mozarabic mass is longer in duration than that of the Roman rite, a comparison drawn in relation to the Tridentine Mass and even more true in relation to the Novus Ordo Missae as this latter is much shorter than the Tridentine. Imagery and ceremony are used extensively; its great beauty is shown in the support it received even after the Roman rite was installed throughout Spain. Many learned theologians have praised it. Many hymns were written within the Mozarabic rite.

The Mozarabic rite may have emphasized the Blessed Virgin Mary's role as co-redemptrix even more so than did the liturgy of Rome. It also exalts Mary by addressing her directly in prayer, which the Roman rite does not do.

The Mozarabic rite is the first to use ashes within the liturgical celebrations of the Church. Ashes were used prior to the Mozarabic rite, but this was done outside of liturgical events, e.g., marking people for penance.

The Breviary has a short and uncomplicated extra office (session of prayer) before the main morning office.

Extensive use is made of responsories between the celebrant (priest) and faithful during the Mozarabic mass, including during the confiteor (prayer of confession of guilt for sin), which is different from the Roman rite. While the liturgy is quite beautiful, it was also tended toward "prolixity" and at times lacking in "sobriety". The Roman (Tridentine) rite of mass is more ordered; the modern Novus Ordo mass is uncomfortably prone to extemporaneous alteration as well, which may be another mistaken influence of the Mozarabic.

There was no fixed anaphora or Eucharistic prayer in the Mozarabic rite of mass, which permitted a fair degree of extemporaneous flexibility. When the Mozarabic rite was given a new lease on life in 1500, the Roman words of institution, the key words that Jesus used at the Last Supper, were required. Some Eucharistic prayers are addressed to Christ rather than to God the Father. After the consecration of the bread and wine (see Eucharist), the host (bread) was broken into nine pieces, each representing a facet of Christ's life on earth, and arranged in a cross.


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  • Bat Ye'or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, ISBN 0838639437

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