Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Using and Buying a Missal


To understand this content, you should first have an understanding of how the Church liturgically treats time.
Read about The Liturgical Year, and then come back to this page.

A missal is a book that contains the prayers and readings of the Mass. It has two main sections:
  • the first contains "the Commons"  -- those parts of the Mass that are the same from Mass, or the "Ordinary" of the Mass (the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar; Kyrie; Gloria; Creed; Offertory; Oblation; Lavabo; Preface; Sanctus; Canon of the Mass; and Last Gospel)

  • the second contains "the Propers" -- those parts of the Mass that change from Mass to Mass (the Introit; Collect; Commemoration, if applicable; Epistle; Gospel; Secret; Communion and Postcommunion prayers).

    The Propers are further divided into two types: "The Proper of the Seasons" (or "Temporal Cycle") and "The Proper of the Saints" (or "Sanctoral Cycle"). These two cycles are explained on the page about the Liturgical Year linked to just above.
Some Missals have all of a year's Masses, including daily Masses; others are "Sunday Missals" and usually only contain the Proper of the Seasons. In addition to the Commons and Propers, most Missals also include special Masses (such as the Funeral Mass), hymns, prayers, and the text used to make various devotions, such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the Stations of the Cross, and so on.

The table of contents of a typical missal, this one "The New Roman Missal" of 1938:




Most missals come with a bookmark made, typically, of five ribbons of various colors, though they can have as few as three, or as many as eight (those sorts of bookmarks can be made at home or purchased separately as well). One of those ribbons should always mark the Ordinary of the Mass, those parts of the Mass that never change. You always start on that page when attending a Sunday Mass.

A second ribbon will mark the Propers particular to the Mass you are attending. As an example, if you are using the above missal and are attending Mass on the 7th Sunday before Lent, Septuagesima Sunday, you would use one ribbon to mark page 753 (the Ordinary) and another ribbon to mark page 202 (the Propers for Septuagesima Sunday). You'd start on page 753, with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, and follow along until you come to the Introit, at which point you'll flip to page 202. After the Introit, you'll flip back to the Commons to get on with the Kyrie and Gloria. Then you'll flip back to the Propers at the Collect. And on it goes throughout the Mass. Per the table below, you start at the green dot, then flip forward at the red arrows, and flip back again at the green arrows:

Commons/Ordinary Prayers at the Foot of the Altar


Propers Collect
Commemoration, if applicable
Commons/Ordinary Creed
Propers Secret
Commons/Ordinary Preface
Canon of the Mass
Propers Communion
Commons/Ordinary Last Gospel

After Mass has started, you'll typically have to make eight "flips." A decent Missal will tell you when to go back and forth from the Commons to the Propers; e.g., the missal above uses a star to alert you when you need to switch to the Propers parts of the Mass:

See the star?

A third bookmark might mark that part of the missal that contains any "Common of Saints" that might be relevant to the day's Mass -- i.e., those parts of the Mass that some Saints' Masses have in common. They're categorized by the type of Saint the Saint of the day is -- e.g., a Confessor (someone who's suffered for the Faith), a Martyr (someone who gave his life for the Faith), a virgin, a Bishop, a Doctor of the Church, etc.

The remaining bookmarks can be used to mark other pages that might be relevant to the day's Mass -- for ex., the Litany of Saints during the Easter Vigil -- or to you personally (for ex., if you're going to Confession, you might mark the page containing the Act of Contrition).

Buying a Missal

Which missal to buy depends a lot on whether one needs a daily Missal or just a Sunday Missal, whether one wants the prayers in both English and Latin, one's aesthetic preferences, etc. Of prime importance, though, is knowing that traditional Catholic Masses as offered by the FSSP, SSPX, ICK, etc., use the rite in place in 1962, so, ideally, you want "a 1962 missal". Angelus Press and Baronius Press both offer new 1962 daily Missals which include both English and Latin (both links are offsite and wil open in new browser windows).

Any missal newer than 1962 will not work (not even close), but older missals can work just fine, and
opting for such can help you get a missal for a lot less money given that such missals are easy to find used on E-bay, at, and, more often than you'd think, at places that sell used books, such as Salvation Army shops, etc.  The St. Andrew Daily Missal and the Father Lasance New Roman Missal are highly recommended.  Know, though, that there will be a few differences with older missals -- e.g., the lack of inclusion of St. Joseph's name during the canon, and the fact that some feast days are no longer celebrated liturgically on the 1962 calendar -- but the only difference that really matters in terms of your ability to use an older missal concerns extremely unfortunate changes made, between 1951 and 1956, to how Holy Week is honored.1 Nonetheless, the savings to be had by buying an older, used missal may be well worth it.

If you don't have a missal, all is not lost: most parishes and chapels have booklets that contain the Ordinary, and print-outs that contain the day's Propers. You'll likely find them in either the narthex or in the pews.

1 The changes made -- between 1951 and 1955, under Pope Pius XII --  to the way Holy Week is celebrated foreshadowed the sort of destruction made to the Mass after Vatican II. The unnecessary and destructive changes include: Palm Sunday changes that eliminate an overview of salvation history and obfuscate the relationship between manna and the Eucharist; the elimination of text that makes very clear Christ's Kingship; elimination of prayer for the conversion of Jewish people (the prayers famously included the term "perfidious," meaning faithless, to describe those who reject the New Covenant); the elimination of prayers that refer to the Sacrifice; the ending of the practice of placing a tiny piece of the consecrated Host into the Chalice; changes that take the focus away from the altar and Cross and put it on things like the Paschal candle; rubrics that cause the priest to turn his back on the altar repeatedly; the introduction of various novelties, such as vernacular in certain places, the renewal of baptismal promises, etc.; the suppression of the Judica Me and prayers at the foot of the altar on Holy Saturday; etc. Many priests have been granted permission to use the pre-1955 form of Holy Week, praise God.

Site reader Fionnchu has a few things to say about buying a missal. Read what he says here

Back to Being Catholic