Prayerbook Review: “Gebet- und Gesangbuch für das Erzbistum Köln” (Ausgabe III, 1949)

Once you become hooked on the Traditional Latin Mass, you’ll realize that you’ll need to have your own missal. While it’s perfectly possible to worship without one, you’ll eventually want to know what the prayers are.

In my previous post on the Latin Mass, Do I Have to Learn Latin?, I shared some free options for those who can’t afford a complete missal yet. If you do buy one, you’ll probably get a recent printing of the 1962 version, like the Baronius Press daily missal. (Link) I originally planned to do this myself.

But then a friend of mine who also loves the Traditional Latin Mass gave me a few old German prayerbooks that he found in antique stores. Two of them include. the Ordo of the Mass and some of the Proper Prayers. I want to share them with you here! Today I feature the first of his finds, from 1949: Gebet- und Gesangbuch für das Erzbistum Köln (Ausgabe III) — or Prayer- and Songbook for the Archdiocese of Cologne (Third Edition).

Das Gebetbuch — The Prayerbook

Die Heilige Messe — The Holy Mass

The greatest prayer of the Catholic Church is the Holy Mass, and so the very first part of this German prayerbook is the Ordo Missae. That is, the prayers that are the same in every Tridentine Mass! Most of the pages have the Latin text on the left and the German translations on the right, but other parts are purely in German. The rationale seems to be that if the people get to say it with the priest (like the Gloria or Credo), then it should appear in both languages; but if it’s only the priest’s part (like the Canon, featured above), then it can be only in German.

Right after the Order of Mass are the Proper Prayers for every Sunday and Feast Day of the liturgical year. And these are only in German. They are also slightly abridged: we don’t get the complete Lesung (Reading/Epistle) for every Mass, but a shorter Aus der Lesung (“From the Reading/Epistle”) excerpt that names the Bible book, chapter, and verse where you can find the rest. My guess is that the editors wanted to free up space for extra content.

Still, there is a lot of space devoted to Mass prayers. This Gebet- und Gesangbuch from the so-called “pre-conciliar” Church is evidence that bishops of the time truly cared about helping lay Catholics understand the Latin Mass — and that Latin did not have to be a barrier to worship.

Gebete bei der Heiligen Messe — Prayers during the Holy Mass

Another big chunk of the prayerbook is for other prayers to say during Mass. This part confuses me a little.

Now, it’s true that most Latin Masses include long stretches of song or silence, when we don’t really have to assist the priest and can pray privately. Do you know the stereotype of the little old lady praying the rosary at Mass? During my first sung Mass, I saw a little young lady doing just that! So I understand why a prayerbook would have additional material like this.

What I don’t get, however, is why these have parts for a Vorbeter (Prayer Leader) and for Alle (everyone else). That is, why are they written for at least two people to say together? Unlike a silent devotion, which can enhance our assistance at Mass, this activity seems as if it would distract from the Mass.

Andachten — Meditations

I like the third section of the Gebetbuch much better. It has meditations, devotions, and traditional prayers like litanies. And it groups them not by type, but by relevant season or feast. So the arrangement follows the liturgical year. For instance, instead of putting all the litanies together, the Litanei vom heiligsten Namen Jesu (Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus) comes with Christmas-themed devotions . . . the Litanei vom bitteren Leiden (Litany of the Passion) comes later, with other prayers appropriate to Lent . . . and the Litanei für die Verstorbenen (Litany of the Dead) comes last of all, as the Month of the Holy Souls is the last in the liturgical year. The page setting may be boring, but the reminder that the Church has consecrated time is beautiful.


Then there is a short psalter, with a handful of psalms and no directions for how or when to say them. As you can see, Psalm 84, which is quoted in today’s Introit (Third Sunday of Advent), isn’t included. I wish I knew why some psalms made it in while others did not.

Personliches Gebet — Personal Prayers

When you’re not at Mass, what can you pray? This section answers that question. It begins with the prayers every Catholic should know: Das Gebet des Herrn (The Lord’s Prayer), Das Apostolische Glaubensbekenntnis (The Apostle’s Creed), Gregrüßet seist du, Maria (Hail Mary), etc. It also reminds us of the times when Catholic should pray: morning, night, before meals, after meals, etc.

The rest of the section has another very Catholic arrangement, with prayers arranged according to the seven sacraments. Under Buße (Reconciliation), there is even an entire Gewissenserforschung (Examination of Conscience)!

Gesangbuch — Songbook

The last part of the prayerbook is full of hyms for Mass. But it gives us only the lyrics and none of the notes! I wonder why. When I was a child, my Catholic school had a songbook that had lyrics and guitar chords; but it didn’t really matter because we sang the same songs over and over again, and the melodies eventually became familiar. Maybe it was the same for Catholics in 1940s Cologne.

Another possibility is that they were not expected to sing along, but just to know what the choir or cantor was singing. I doubt this, though.

My third guess is that the publisher wanted to include as many songs as possible and notes would have taken too much space.

As for us, we can learn the songs by looking them up online! Or so I thought . . . When I checked for the hymn Gott, heilger Schöpfe aller Stern (God, Holy Creator of all Stars), I found two different versions: Version 1 changes some of the lines, while Version 2 has almost completely different verses. This is something else that confuses me. Do different dioceses in Germany have different lyrics for the same songs?

In any case, if you really like German, you can appreciate the songs in this part as religious poetry.

Coming Next: “Field Report”

An antique missal is nice to own, but is it still also useful? I’ve taken this prayerbook to Mass a few times and used it as my missal. Read about the results in the next post of this series!

4 thoughts on “Prayerbook Review: “Gebet- und Gesangbuch für das Erzbistum Köln” (Ausgabe III, 1949)

  1. Jesse C. M.

    Puzzles, puzzles!

    On the one hand, I feel like pointing out that “Erzbistum Köln” is probably older than the Confoederatio Helvetica, to say nothing of what we today call “Germany”; the very idea of “A Germany” as something unified otherwise than as the loyal subjects of the Holy Roman Emperor is probably due to POTUS Wilson and the Paris conferences of 1919… And even today, there’s plenty room for suspicion of how uniform Diocesan hymnals in a common-ish language ought to be anyway. If they can sing Victimae Paschali Laudes and Credo IV, that should be enough… 😉

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      And on the other hand? You forgot to finish your comment and I don’t want to reply to only half of it!

  2. Jesse C. M.

    oh! silly me… (I think we call that “tunnel vision”?)… On The Other Hand, I would be very surprised if this particular hymn was as old as all that. (to be sure, though, it doesn’t take very long for any folk songs to acquire heaps of local variations.)

  3. Cristina @Linguavert

    Even in an English carol, there is some disagreement about which gifts are given on which days of Christmas!

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