Book Series Ritus et Artes, vol. 10

Readers and Hearers of the Word

The Cantillation of Scripture in the Middle Ages

Joseph Dyer

  • Pages: 268 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:12 b/w, 17 col., 14 musical examples
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2022

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59287-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59288-6
  • E-book
  • Available

A broad, multi-disciplinary treatment of the chanting (with elaborate ceremonial) of the Scriptures at Mass in the Middle Ages.


“Readers of this fascinating book will surely hope that it’s a study that Joseph Dyer himself is of a mind to take up.” (Robert Curry, in Parergon, 40/2, 2023, p. 224)

“This is a book that could have been written by very few scholars. The huge breadth of Dyer’s interests and scholarship – from linguistics to architecture to music theory to sacred vesture to liturgical sources and beyond – bears much fruit in this wide-ranging and detailed study. The text is readable, even for those who are not specialists in the manifold fields that intersect in this volume. It will be enjoyed by liturgical scholars and by all those who share an interest in the liturgy of the Latin Church, particularly its sacred music.” (David M. Friel, in Antiphon, 21/2, 2023, p. 267)


Joseph Dyer has written many articles, book chapters and encyclopedia entries on chant and liturgy in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (especially Rome), psalmody, monasticism, performance practice, medieval music theory, and music in the intellectual life of the Middle Ages.  He recently published The Scientia artis musice of Hélie Salomon: Teaching Music in the Late Thirteenth Century (2018), an edition and translation with commentary of a medieval music theory treatise.


Readers and Hearers is a broad, multi-disciplinary treatment of the chanting of the Scriptures (epistle and gospel) at Mass in the Middle Ages. This form of chanting followed a procedure that continued to be used in the western Latin liturgy until the mid-twentieth century and in the traditional Latin Mass today. The readings were not simply spoken, but chanted to formulae that stood halfway between heightened speech and song (cantillation). Specific clerics (lectors, subdeacons, deacons), distinctively vested, were commissioned to chant the Scriptures, employing a ritual that came to be surrounded by an elaborate ceremonial. For the gospel this involved acolytes, processional movement, and the employment of ecclesiastical ‘furniture’ (pulpit, ambo, and choir screen).

While the laity attending Mass could generally see all of the ritual actions, what did they understand of the Latin text they were hearing? In areas where Latin was spoken in Antiquity the ability to comprehend Latin passively as it morphed into the Romance vernaculars survived longer than generally assumed. Naturally, in Germanic lands, christianized in the early Middle Ages, that capability never existed. Several manuals were created to guide layfolk to engage in devotions suitable to the various parts of the Mass. How all of these elements — ceremony and devotional aids — united ‘readers’ with ‘hearers’ at Mass is the theme of the present volume, which also covers Martin Luther’s guidelines for the chanting of the Scriptures in German


List of Illustrations, Abbreviations


Chapter 1. ‘Lay Folkes’ and the Mass

Chapter 2. Readers of the Word: Lectors, Subdeacons, Deacons

Chapter 3. Reading, Writing, and Punctuating the Word

Chapter 4. Cantillating the Epistle and the Gospel

Chapter 5. Hearers of the Word

Chapter 6. Direction of Prayer, Siting of Churches, and Chanting of the Gospel

Chapter 7. Places for the Readings

Chapter 8. Vestments

Chapter 9. Sacralizing the Word

Appendix 1. Isidore of Seville, De ecclesiasticis officiis 2. 11

Appendix 2. Bilingual (Latin/Greek) Readings

Appendix 3. Amerus, Practica artis musice, cap. 26

Appendix 4. Ceremonial of Cardinal Giacopo Stefaneschi, cap. 28