In Scotland, the reformers took a radical, root-and-branch approach toward worship. They brought changes much more radical than in other reformations. Lutherans in Germany and Anglicans in England, for example, sought to retain a great deal of the medieval liturgy. Not the Scottish reformers.

They obliterated what they saw as the clutter of nonessentials in late medieval religion: making oral confession of sins, invoking Mary and the saints, venerating relics, using images, believing in purgatory, saying masses for the dead, obtaining indulgences, and making pilgrimages to shrines.

The Latin Mass was denounced as idolatrous (it appeared to involve the worship of a wafer), and blasphemous (it detracted from Christ’s unique sacrifice at Calvary). The Scottish reformers consistently called for return to, in John Knox’s words, “the grave and godly face of the primitive church.” As a result, the liturgy of the pre-Reformation church and the patterns of Protestant worship could scarcely have been more different.

Attending Mass

At the heart of the medieval Scottish liturgy was the Mass. Several ministers stood in attendance at the altar, amid rich ceremony, organ music and choristers, incense, and flickering candles offered to images.

Elaborate polyphonic music, which a professional choir alone could master, provided a suitably ornate setting for the solemn celebration and devotion of high Mass. In St. Machar’s Cathedral in Aberdeen, the enlarged choir included twenty vicars choral, two deacons, two subdeacons, two acolytes, and a master of the songschool to train the choristers.

A high sung Mass could be found daily in cathedrals, wealthy collegiate churches, and abbeys. In a great cathedral church like St. Machar’s in Aberdeen, prayers ...

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