Catholic Encyclopedia – Carmelite Rite


The rite in use among the Carmelites since about the middle of the twelfth century is known by the name of the Rite of the Holy Sepulchre, the Carmelite Rule, which was written about the year 1210, ordering the hermits of Mount Carmel to follow the approved custom of the Church, which in this instance meant the Patriarchal Church of Jerusalem: “Hi qui litteras noverunt et legere psalmos, per singulas horas eos dicant qui ex institutione sanctorum patrum et ecelesiæ approbata consuetudine ad horas singulas sunt deputati.” This Rite of the Holy Sepulchre belonged to the Gallican family of the Roman Rite; it appears to have descended directly from the Parisian Rite, but to have undergone some modifications pointing to other sources. For, in the Sanctorale we find influences of Angers, in the proses traces of meridional sources, while the lessons and prayers on Holy Saturday are purely Roman. The fact is that most of the clerics who accompanied the Crusaders were of French nationality; some even belonged to the Chapter of Paris, as is proved by documentary evidence. Local influence, too, played an important part. The Temple itself, the Holy Sepulchre, the vicinity of the Mount of Olives, of Bethany, of Bethlehem, gave rise to magnificent ceremonies, connecting the principal events of the ecclesiastical year with the very localities where the various episodes of the work of Redemption has taken place. The rite is known to us by means of some manuscripts one (Barberini 659 of A. D. 1160) in the Vatican library, another at Barletta, described by Kohler and by him ascribed to about 1240.

The hermits on Mount Carmel were bound by rule only to assemble once a day for the celebration of Mass, the Divine Office being recited privately. Lay brothers who were able to read might recite the Office, while others repeated the Lord’s Prayer a certain number of times, according to the length and solemnity of the various offices. It may be presumed that on settling in Europe (from about A. D. 1240) the Carmelites conformed to the habit of the other mendicant orders with respect to the choral recitation or chant of the Office, and there is documentary evidence that on Mount Carmel itself the choral recitation was in force at least in 1254. The General Chapter of 1259 passed a number of regulations on liturgical matters, but, owing to the loss of the acts, their nature is unfortunately not known. Subsequent chapters very frequently dealt with the rite chiefly adding new feasts, changing old established customs, or revising rubrics. An Ordinal, belonging to the second half of the thirteenth century, is preserved at Trinity College, Dublin, while portions of an Epistolarium of about 1270 are at the Maglia, becchiana at Florence (D6, 1787). The entire Ordinal was rearranged and revised in 1312 by Master Sibert de Beka, and rendered obligatory by the General Chapter, but it experienced some difficulty in superseding the old one. Manuscripts of it are preserved at Lambeth (London), Florence, and else where. It remained in force until 1532, when a (committee was appointed for its revision; their work was approved in 1539, but published only in 1544 after the then General Nicholas Audet had introduced some further changes. The, reform of the Roman liturgical books under Saint Pius V called for a corresponding reform of the Carmelite Rite, which was taken in hand in 1580, the Breviary appearing in 1584 and the Missal in 1587. At the same time the Holy See withdrew the right hitherto exercised by the chapters and the generals of altering the liturgy of the order, and placed all such matters in the hands of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The publication of the Reformed Breviary of 1584 caused the newly established Discaleed Carmelites to abandon the ancient rite once for all and to adopt the Roman Rite instead. Besides the various manuscripts of the Ordinal already mentioned, we have examined a large number of manuscript missals and breviaries preserved in public and private libraries in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and other countries. We have seen most of the early prints of the Missal enumerated by Weale, as well as some not mentioned by him, and the breviaries of 1480, 1490, 1504, 1516 (Horæ), 1542, 1568, 1575, and 1579.

Roughly speaking, the ancient Carmelite Rite may be said to stand about half way between the Carthusian and the Dominican rites. It shows signs of great antiquity — e.g. in the absence of liturgical colours, in the sparing use of altar candles (one at low Mass, none on the altar itself at high Mass but only acolytes’ torches, even these being extinguished during part of the Mass, four torches and one candle in choir for Tenebræ); incense, likewise, is used rarely and with noteworthy restrictions; the Blessing at the end of the Mass is only permitted where the custom of the country requires it; passing before the tabernacle, the brethren are directed to make a profound inclination, not a genuflexion. Many other features might be quoted to show that the whole rite points to a period of transition. Already according to the earliest Ordinal Communion is given under one species, the days of general Communion being seven, later on ten or twelve a year with leave for more frequent Communion under certain conditions. Extreme Unction was administered on the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, both hands (the palms, with no distinction between priests and others) and the feet superius. The Ordinal of 1312 on the contrary orders the hands to be anointed exterius, but also without distinction for the priests; it moreover adds another anointing on the breast (super pectus: per ardorem libidinis).

In the Mass there are some peculiarities. the altar remains covered until the priest and ministers are ready to begin, when the acolytes then roll back the cover; likewise before the end of the Mass they cover the altar again. On great feasts the Introit is said three times, i.e. it is repeated both before and after the Gloria Patri; besides the Epistle and Gospel there is a lesson or prophecy to be recited by an acolyte. At the Lavabo the priest leaves the altar for the piscina where he says that psalm, or else Veni Creator Spiritus or Deus misereatur. Likewise after the first ablution he goes to the piscina to wash his fingers. During the Canon of the Mass the deacon moves a fan to keep the flies away, a custom still in use in Sicily and elsewhere. At the word fregit in the form of consecration, the priest, according to the Ordinal of 1312 and later rubrics, makes a movement as if breaking the host. Great care is taken that the smoke of the thurible and of the torches do not interfere with the clear vision of the host when lifted up for the adoration of the faithful; the chalice, however, is only slightly elevated. The celebrating priest does not genuflect but bows reverently. After the Pater Noster the choir sings the psalm Deus venerunt genies for the restoration of the Holy Land. The prayers for communion are identical with those of the Sarum Rite and other similar uses, viz. domine sancte pater, Domine Jesu Christe (as in the Roman Rite), and Salve salus mundi. The Domine non sum dignus was introduced only in 1568. The Mass ended with Dominus vobiscum, Ite missa est (or its equivalent) and Placeat. The chapter of 1324 ordered the Salve regina to be said at the end of each canonical hour as well as at the end of the Mass. The Last Gospel, which in both ordinals serves for the priest’s thanksgiving, appears in the Missal of 1490 as an integral part of the Mass. On Sundays and feasts there was, besides the festival Mass after Terce or Sext, an early Mass (matutina) without solemnities, corresponding to the commemorations of the Office. From Easter till Advent the Sunday Mass was therefore celebrated early in the morning, the high Mass being that of the Resurrection of our Lord; similarly on these Sundays the ninth lesson with its responsory was taken from one of the Easter days; these customs had been introduced soon after the conquest of the Holy Land. A solemn commemoration of the Resurrection was held on the last Sunday before Advent; in all other respects the Carmelite Liturgy reflects more especially the devotion of the order towards the Blessed Virgin.

The Divine Office also presents some noteworthy features. The first Vespers of certain feasts and the Vespers during Lent have a responsory usually taken from Matins. Compline has various hymns according to the season, and also special antiphons for the Canticle. The lessons at Matins follow a somewhat different plan from those of the Roman Office. The singing of the genealogies of Christ after Matins on Christmas and the Epiphany gave rise to beautiful ceremonies. After Tenebræ in Holy Week (sung at midnight) we notice the chant of the Tropi; all the Holy Week services present interesting archaic features. Other points to be mentioned are the antiphons Pro fidei meritis etc. on the Sundays from Trinity to Advent and the verses after the psalms on Trinity, the feasts of Saint Paul, and Saint Laurence. The hymns are those of the Roman Office; the proses appear to be a uniform collection which remained practically unchanged from the thirteenth century to 1544, when all but four or five were abolished. The Ordinal prescribes only four processions in the course of the year, viz. on Candlemas, Palm Sunday, the Ascension, and the Assumption.

The calendar of saints, in the two oldest recensions of the Ordinal, exhibits some feasts proper to the Holy Land, namely some of the early bishops of Jerusalem, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Lazarus. The only special features were the feast of Saint Anne, probably due to the fact that the Carmelites occupied for a short time a convent dedicated to her in Jerusalem (vacated by Benedictine nuns at the capture of that city in 1187), and the octave of the Nativity of Our Lady, which also was proper to the order. In the works mentioned below we have given the list of feasts added in the course of three centuries, and shall here speak only of a few. The Chapter of 1306 introduced those of Saint Louis, Barbara, Corpus Christi, and the Conception of Our Lady (in Conceptione seu potius veneratione sanctificationis B. V.); the Corpus Christi procession, however, dates only from the end of the fifteenth century. In 1312 the second part of the Confiteor, which till then had been very short, was introduced. Daily commemorations of Saint Anne and Saints Albert and Angelus date respectively from the beginning and the end of the fifteenth century, but were transferred in 1503 from the canonical Office to the Little Office of Our Lady. The feast of the “Three Maries” dates from 1342, those of the Visitation, of Our Lady ad nives, and the Presentation from 1391. Feasts of the order were first introduced towards the end of the fourteenth century — viz. the Commemoration (Scapular Feast) of 16 July appears first about 1386; Saint Eliseus, prophet and Saint Cyril of Constantinople in 1399; Saint Albert in 1411; Saint Angelus in 1456. Owing to the printing of the first Breviary of the order at Brussels in 1480, a number of territorial feasts were introduced into the order, such as Saint Joseph, the Ten Thousand Martyrs, the Division of the Apostles. The raptus of Saint Elias (17 June) is first to be found in the second half of the fifteenth century in England and Germany; the feast of the Prophet (20 July) dates at the earliest from 1551. Some general chapters, especially those of 1478 and 1564, added whole lists of saints, partly of real or supposed saints of the order, partly of martyrs whose bodies were preserved in various churches belonging to the Carmelites, particularly that of San Martino ai Monti in Rome. The revision of 1584 reduced the Sanctorale to the smallest possible dimensions, but many feasts then suppressed were afterwards reintroduced.

A word must be added about the singing. The Ordinal of 1312 allows fauxbourdon, at least on solemn occasions; organs and organists are mentioned with ever-increasing frequency from the first years of the fifteenth century, the earliest notice being that of Mathias Johannis de Lucca, who in 1410 was elected organist at Florence; the organ itself was a gift of Johannes Dominici Bonnani, surnamed Clerichinus, who died at an advanced age on 24 Oct., 1416.

MLA Citation

  • Benedict Zimmerman. “Carmelite Rite”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 June 2012. Web. 7 May 2021. <>