Jesus Mass

Alongside devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary there emerged in the later fifteenth century a new emphasis on devotion to Jesus. Of course, Jesus Christ is the central figure of the Christian narrative and religion; but this late medieval devotion emphasised two specific aspects of Jesus – the physicality of the crucifixion, especially the five wounds suffered in the hands, feet and side, and more conceptually the name of Jesus.

The medieval liturgical calendar was not fixed and unchanging. Among the new feasts of the later Middle Ages are the Transfiguration of Jesus (6 August), the Holy Name of Jesus (7 August). The cult of the Holy Name of Jesus was promulgated in England and Wales by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII. It was in her circle that the Office of the Holy Name of Jesus was compiled and written by her chancellor, Henry Hornby. Many churches introduced a Jesus Altar, and – in some places – a Jesus Chapel.

In England and Wales, from the end of the fifteenth century, there was commonly a weekly Jesus Mass on Friday. In the weekly cycle of additional Masses, Friday had traditionally been a Mass of the Holy Cross; but now Jesus Mass became more popular and prevalent, in some places (e.g. the parish church of St Thomas, Salisbury) sponsored by a guild or fraternity. The text used at the Jesus Mass was most often that of the Holy Name of Jesus, or of the Five Wounds of Jesus. At Salisbury Cathedral in the Hungerford Chapel (demolished at the end of the eighteenth century), Jesus Mass was of the Holy Name on Monday and of the Five Wounds on Friday.

As with the Lady Mass, there might be a designated priest and in some places singers deputed (and in some instances funded) to celebrate Jesus Mass, though not necessarily with the full retinue of clergy and assisting servers. This simpler ritual was adopted in the celebration of Jesus Mass at both St Teilo’s Church and Salisbury Cathedral in 2011, using the text of the Mass of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Video recordings and full texts

A shortened version of the Jesus Mass with commentary

A tabular summary of what happens when and where in the Mass can be found here.

The ritual directions for Mass with the full retinue of three clergy and four assisting servers are relatively fully documented in late medieval liturgical books, especially the Missal and the Customary (though many basic, routine actions and gestures that were taken for granted have no description). The same is not true for the simpler ritual where there is a single priest with one assistant. There are contemporary tracts for lay devotion which suggest the actions of the priest during Mass, and later Roman Catholic instructions, which may not necessarily represent earlier practice. In preparing ritual directions for these enactments we became very aware of the gap between what three clergy and four servers were instructed to do in the rubrics, and what was practical when there was only one priest and one server: it was evidently so familiar that it did not need to be separately recorded. 

Further details about Jesus Mass at St Teilo’s Church and at Salisbury Cathedral, with links to the full video recordings and texts, appear on the next pages.