The changes in the Roman mass (in particular, the elevation of the eucharistic host, introduced in the late 12th century), coupled with Canon 21, ‘Omnis utriusque sexus’, of the Fourth Lateran Council, gave rise to a widespread belief in a number of spiritual and material benefits (usually referred to as virtutes / merita / utilitates / fructus missae) people might gain by viewing the host and hearing mass. Intended to encourage regular attendance at mass and found in both Latin and vernacular manuscripts, various lists of these benefits became a preaching commonplace in late medieval period. This paper examines the way John Lydgate, for whom the mass is the ‘grettest directory’, incorporates a fragment on ‘virtutes missae’ into his poetic treatise The Interpretation and Virtues of the Mass, namely, how Lydgate translates his immediate source for the fragment, the Latin preacher’s handbook Fasciculus Morum, and what changes and additions he makes in the process.
The recollection of personal history in confession was intended to lead to contrition for past sins, especially after the 4th Lateran Council (1215) had established the obligation of yearly confession and communion. In Medieval England, above all in the 14th and 15th centuries, a large vernacular literature cared for both the instruction of the clergy and the spiritual needs of lay people by divulging the basic teaching of the Catholic Church. Since the detailed examination of the penitent had become a precious ‘mnemonic aid’ concentrating on the recollection of sins and on repentance, confession manuals frequently included ‘questionnaires’ (Murray 1998), ‘giving confessors lists of potential queries that would help a penitent recall his transgressions and the circumstances thereof.’ (Tracy 2017). The St John’s College Ms S. 35 witnesses the vitality of medieval English devotional prose and is one of the most complete pastoral aids in cura animarum. A large section of it consists of a detailed interrogation of the penitent, ‘[…] for alle the trespasis þat euer ȝe haue doo in ȝonge age or in olde age, fro þe time þat ȝe were boȝ in-to þis tyme […]’ (Maggioni 1993). The aim of this paper – by means of examples taken from Ms S 35 – is to illustrate the confessor’s role in activating the penitents’ ability to remember by asking questions designed to lead them to recollection and to prevent them from forgetting sins that needed to be confessed.
Religious art comprises the most prevalent cultural product in every medium throughout the Middle Ages. In terms of literary production, much of this art took the form of the private prayer books – books of hours – or religious instructional manuals, many of them in Latin, that were important possessions of both working and aristocratic Christians. However, the mass and sacramental rituals were also important sources of inspiration for Middle English writers as well as important historical artifacts of cultural identity. Texts such as John Mirk’s Instructions for Parish Priests with The Lay Folks Mass Book provide a window into understanding how the medieval secular public understood religion and prayer and provides a direct link to culturally and aesthetically significant medieval texts, including but not limited to Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Book of Margery Kempe.