The Palm Sunday Procession in Medieval France

The eminent 18th century liturgist Claude de Vert’s work is a wealth of picturesque knowledge about the pre-Revolutionary Gallican Church. We have previously discussed the key role he played in the anti-allegorical turn in liturgical studies. 

But in this place his rationalist temper waxes less conspicuously, as with touching detail he describes Christ’s annual triumphal entry into the cities of France in the Palm Sunday procession.

In the first excerpt, he argues that the Palm Sunday procession that commemorates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is modeled on the triumphal entries of princes and monarchs into subject cities.

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The Harrowing of Hell, Duccio di Buoninsegna, 14th century

 

Claude de Vert, Explication Simple, Littérale et Historique des Cérémonies de l’église, Volume 2, pp. 377 – 384.

On Palm Sunday Processions in Medieval France

  1. The blessing and distribution of palms once took place outside the city and still does in many places.

Since the purpose of today’s procession is to represent the triumphal entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem, so it is necessary, in order to bring before the people’s eyes the minutes details of this entry, even down to the tree branches that were strewn on the roads where Our Lord passed by—I say it is necessary not only to enter the city, and so to come from outside it, but to enter it solemnly and as if in triumph, with tree branches and twigs in hand.

We note that, if there are several churches and the procession is not to leave the city, then the blessing of branches takes place in one of these churches, and thence there is a procession to another church with the branches in hand.

Further, in several places with only one church, as most of the market towns and villages, they have sought to imitate the cathedral church, as do the rest of the churches of the diocese, by doing the blessing outside the city or village, at some wayside cross or altar prepared on the main road expressly for this purpose.[1]

And if the procession does not leave the town at all, then the blessing, at least, is done outside the Church, and usually in some public place. Finally, where even the blessing is done inside the church itself, they then leave the church in order to be able to return in procession with branches after having done a round around the building. In these latter cases, the ceremony of the Attolite portas, which we shall discuss later, takes place at the door of the Church itself, or at the door of the choir. For on the one hand, market towns and villages are not walled and so do not have city gates; and in the cities only the cathedral or principal parish has the right of blessing the branches wherever it pleases, and then process out of the city and reenter through one of the city gates.

For this purpose a church outside the walls was always chosen, usually a monastery, as we shall see hereafter. We know that almost all the monasteries that lie within city walls today formerly stood outside the gates. With the growth of cities, these monasteries found themselves within the walls. Thus they are usually found in the suburbs, where some of them still retain their ancient names, as in Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés (in the meadows), Saint-Martin des Champs (in the fields), Saint Victor and Saint Geneviève-lès-Paris (of Paris-side), i.e. ad latus Parisiorum. It is this last church where Paris still goes to bless and distribute the branches.

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The Donkey Walk of tsar Alexis (Vyacheslav Schwarz, 1865). The Donkey Walk is a Russian Orthodox Palm Sunday ritual re-enactment of Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
  1. In the Roman Rite, the door is struck with the foot of the processional cross.

Since it bears an image of Our Lord, the processional cross is a very suitable instrument for striking the door of a place where the representation of Our Lord’s entry takes place, which is the whole purpose of this procession, instituted to express and symbolize the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Bishops usually use their crosier instead of a processional cross, though it seems quite to the purpose that the rubrics prescribe the use of a processional cross, which is, so to speak, the main character in this procession, since it bears the figure of Jesus Christ whose entrance into the city is being represented.

Moreover this cross, veiled throughout Lent, is here uncovered in some churches, and in many uses it is saluted and adored in a very peculiar manner, accompanied by the hymn Ave rex noster.[2]

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  1. The gate of the city is intentionally closed when the procession returns,

just as one may observe in solemn receptions of princes and kings in our cities, for we have said already more than once, that the Palm Sunday procession is meant to represent Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Hence in some churches during this procession the Gospel Book used to be carried in pomp and triumph, as if to represent Jesus Christ whose image ordinarily appears embossed on the cover. In Rouen, they still carry Our Lord himself, namely the Blessed Sacrament.

We observe similar practices, if the reader would countenance the comparison, in the public entries of princes and kings. In like manner the present King, now happily reigning,[3] made his entry into Paris: the Porte Saint-Antoine was closed in his presence, then opened again as soon as he had been given the keys. Similarly in Bourges, when the procession from the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne arrives at the stational church on Rogation days, the church doors are closed so that they may be opened again, and in this manner the procession is honored, as if the doors were only opened for the express purpose of welcoming it. A similar ceremony was once held in Paris on Rogation Tuesday, at Notre-Dame-des-Champs,[4] when the procession from Notre-Dame arrived in front of this church.

And so, upon its return, the Palm Sunday procession should naturally find the gates closed; either the city gates, as is still the custom in some places, or those of the prison, in a peculiar use, as at Paris,[5] or of the church itself, or finally of the choir, for the reasons noted above.

  1. Wishing to enter, or rather to make the cross enter, the celebrant says to the door, Attolite portas principes vestras, et elevamini portae aeternales, et introibit rex gloriae.

And those inside the city, prison, church, or choir respond: Quis est iste rex gloriae? This exchange does little more than set in Scriptural terms and ceremonialize what happens every day as a matter of course when we knock on a door, which is to say: “Open the door,” at which those inside take the precaution of asking: “Who’s there? Who goes there?” The same ceremony is observed at the dedication of a church, when the bishop and those outside say the Attolite portas thrice and at different times, adding the word aperite, which they also say three times, like people in distress and tired of waiting: Aperite, aperite, aperite! Open up, Open already, Open, quick! But the words et introibit rex gloriae that follow Attolite portas are so much the more relevant here, as the purpose of the Palm Sunday procession (as we have said many times), is to express and symbolize the great and glorious entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. So much so that Christ himself is carried in pomp and triumph under the sacred symbols of the Eucharistic Bread, or at least is represented by the Gospel Book. Thus there is no more felicitous thing in all these goings on than to encounter this one verse of scripture, accompanied here in a manner entirely proper and perfectly natural, by the ceremony of the opening of the gate, saying to those inside: “O High and Lofty gates, open! that the King of glory may enter in.”[6]

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In the second excerpt (pp 97 – 100), our dear author shows how the hymn Gloria laus was sung during Palm Sunday processions, throughout France, staged in a dramatic way at a high point above the city gates, or from some other elevated place.

On the Gloria laus sung from a high place

The ancient Missal of the church of Embrun and Glandève says “from the loftiest place.” At Vienne in the Dauphiné, according to the Ordinary of 1250 and 1504, it is from a casement above the city gates. At Châlons-sur-Marne, from the towers of the gate through which the procession rëentered the city on its way back from the Abbey of Saint-Menge or Saint-Memmie; it is still done today from a tower. In Paris, it is from a room above one of the gates of the Petit Châtelet, where the prisons are. According to the Ordinary of the Cathedral of Saint-Gatiens in Tours, also from above of one of the city gates. Likewise at Angers, it is done above the gate called Angevine or Porte de la Cité, in a chapel that was formerly a prison and is indeed still called La vieille Chartre (from carcer). According to city tradition, it was in this chartre or prison that Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans was held[7]. When the Palm Sunday procession passed this place, they began to sing the hymn Gloria laus, which he himself had composed expressly for this ceremony.[8]

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Detail of the Gloria laus, Fairford parish church, England

At Besançon, it was held atop the city walls, at the Porte de Mars, later called La Porte-noire, where the city prisons are still found. At Metz, it is done from the rood-loft, and formerly on the city walls near the Porte serpenoise, as it is commonly called. Contrary to the usual custom, the choir-boys of Metz did not sing the Gloria laus, but rather the Benedictine nuns of Saint-Pierre and of Sainte-Marie of the same city. Because of the phrase in excelsis (“in the highest”), they sing this hymn from a high place atop the city walls, as the choir-boys would elsewhere do.

In Rouen, it is sung from the place where the old city gate once stood, called La porte de Sainte Apolline, or Porte du grand-pont. Here a station is held and the choir-boys and musicians climb up to a neighboring room whence they chant Gloria laus. Formerly they sang it from the actual tower of the gate. The ancient Ordinary of this church says, “When the procession to the city gate, duly decorated, arrives, six boys go up the tower, &c.[9] In Langres, it is at the Porte au pain that the boys climb into a room called tour (“tower”), according to the ancient ceremonial. At Troyes, since the gate from which the Gloria laus used to be sung has been demolished, the boys climb to the windows of a house that stands on the same spot. At Auxerre, it is over the church portal on a platform called de la Gloria laus for this very reason. At Bourges, it is over one of the city gates called de Bourbonne; or, when due to bad weather they do not go to the church of Saint-Ursin, it takes place in an upper room of the house closest to the main gate of the cloister next to Saint-Ursin; or when the weather is so bad that it prevents them from going even that far, they do it at the organ-loft located above the main door of the church; or finally, if it is not even possible to leave the church, it takes place on the rood screen standing between the choir and the nave. Such are the pains this Church takes to sing the Gloria laus from a high place!

In Lisieux, it sung over the church portal between the two towers in a place also called for that reason, in the dialect, Gloria las.[10] In Coutances and Bayeux it is from above the main doors of the church. In Senlis from the place where one of the city gates formerly stood, called. as at Langres, La porte au pain, now destroyed. the Ordinary manuscript of this church says, Super portam civitatis, quae dicitur Porta panis.

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Palm Sunday, Zdzislaw Piotr Jasinski

At Mâcon, it takes place from a house facing the great door of the church. And at the Cathedral of Saint-Martin of Tours, according to the manuscript Ritual of this church, it is sung from the house of the Treasurer, where the prisons are (and perhaps once one of the city gates). At Liège, according to the Ordinary of 1521, it takes place at a chapel in Sainte-Agnes, up which the boys must climb. At Arras, it is done above a vault, apparently that of the porch or vestibule of the church. Supra testudinem, according to the manuscript Ordinary of this church. Gloria laus a pueris in alto canentibus, says the Missal of Noyon of 1541.

At Beauvais, it happens in a room located above one of the city gates, for this reason still known as the de la Gloria laus. These two words in fact are engraved there in gold letters. At Meaux, it once took place over the city gate, returning from the abbey of Saint-Faron, where the branches were blessed. Later, the Gloria laus came to be chanted in the gallery above the church’s main door, still called the Galerie Gloria laus. Today it is sung down below in the church itself, because in this church, as in many others, they have forgotten the reason that this hymn is sung in a high place, namely, the verse of the hymn that goes: “The whole heavenly host lauds thee on high.”[11] In a certain Roman ritual we find that the choir boys, in the event they cannot easily find a high place, at least sang the hymn from a window: super fenestram dicunt Gloria laus. Behold how striking these words Coetus in excelsis were felt to be, so that they had to be sung, with the whole rest of the hymn, from a high place!

In Cambrai the Gloria laus is sung from a tower. At Amiens this hymn is also sung from a tower, the remains of an old city gate called Porte de l’arquet, now demolished. Locals call it tour de Jerusalem, an allusion to the city of Jerusalem where Our Lord made his triumphal entry, of which the Palm Sunday procession is a representation and expression.

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To answer the curious cases in which the Gloria laus is sung at the doors of a prison (as at Paris), De Vert seems to propose a historical explanation (Theodulf’s imprisonment). But it seems to me not far-fetched to suppose that the medieval mind concocted it to serve as a dramatic portrayal of Christus Victor, who triumphs over the devil, enters the prison of Hell, and despoils it of its captives.

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Study of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Victoria Eugenia, Palm Sunday procession, Royal Chapel, Royal Palace of Madrid, Spain, 1923

NOTES:

[1] Hence all the road-side crosses one finds especially in the environs of towns and villages, with stone pulpits attached for the chanting of the Gospel or setting down the Book. Sometimes one also finds stone tables to hold the branches during the blessing.

[2] Trans. note: This was the case in many places in England, where the veil was draw up by pulleys and everybody knelt. As the hymn was sung, the clergy venerated the Cross by kissing the ground (see Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, p. 25).

[3] Trans. note: Louis XIV in 1660, on the occasion of his marriage.

[4] Author’s note: Now the convent of the Carmelites of the fauxbourg St-Jacques. Trans. note: This church was destroyed by the Revolutionaries. Another church, still under the old name, was rebuilt in its place in 1876.

[5] Author’s note: This is a recent custom. Formerly, as in every other use, the ceremony took place at the city gate, called at that time porte du Point or du Petit-Point and today le Petit Châtelet. Sistitur ante portam civitatis, as the manuscript book of the church’s cantor says, a quatuor pueris Gloria laus, etc.

[6] Attollite, elevamini means literally: “Raise the gates and make way.” The gates of Sion in question here were suspended like those of military cities and other fortified places, called a portcullis (herces), made in the form of a grill or trellis with large spikes of wood or iron, that are raised and lowered as needed. So the prophet demands the doors be opened to give access to the arc that he was having transported from the house of Obed-edom to Mt. Sion [See 1 Chronicles 13; 2 Samuel 6:12].

[7] Trans. Note: When accused of treason by Emperor Lewis the Pious. The legend is mentioned in book 6 of Hugo of Fleury’s Historia Ecclesiastica from the 12th century

[8] Trans. Note: The Emperor himself was participating in the procession, and duly moved, released Theodulf.

[9] Cum processio ad portam civitatis ornatam venerit, sex pueri turrim ascendunt, etc.,

[10] Gloria las for Gloria laus, due to the region’s accent, which pronounces au as as. Likewise they still say Saint Valery en Cas for en Caux.

[11] Coetus in excelsis te laudat coelicus omnis.

A Sequence in Times of Pestilence

Rorate caeli recently proffered the laudable idea to have recourse to an ancient Marian sequence athwart the plague. We here provide a translation of the Schola Sainte Cécile’s notes on the background of this interesting piece.

“The Peddler,” woodcut designed by Hans Holbein the Younger for the “Dance of Death” series, 1523–26; in the British Museum
“The Peddler,” woodcut designed by Hans Holbein the Younger for the “Dance of Death” series, 1523–26 (Source)
Stella cæli exstirpavit,
quæ lactavit Dominum,
mortis pestem, quam plantavit
primus parens hominum.
The Star of Heaven,
who gave suck to the Lord,
hath vanquished the plague of death,
planted by the first parent of men.
Ipsa stella nunc dignetur
sidera compescere,
quorum bella plebem cædunt
diræ mortis ulcere.
May this Star now deign
to restrain the heavenly bodies
whose battles slay the people
with the dreadful sore of death.
Piisima Stella maris,
a peste succurre nobis.
audi nos, Domina, nam filius tuus
nihil negans, te honorat.
O most loving Star of the sea,
succour us from pestilence.
Hearken unto us, Our Lady, for thy son,
denieth thee naught, and honoureth thee.
Salva nos, Jesu,
pro quibus Virgo Maria te orat.
Save us, O Jesu,
for whom thy Virgin Mother prayeth thee.
℣. Ora pro nobis, piissima Dei Genitrix.
℟. Quæ contrivisti caput serpentis, auxiliare nobis.
℣. Pray for us, most loving Mother of God.
℟. Thou who crushedst the head of the serpent, help us.
Oremus.
Deus misericordiæ, Deus pietatis, Deus indulgentiae, qui misertus es super afflictionem populi tui, et dixisti Angelo percutienti populum tuum: Contine manum tuam; ob amorem illius Stellæ gloriosæ, cujus ubera pretiosa contra venenum nostrorum delictorum dulciter suxisti: præsta auxilium gratiæ tuæ, ut intercedente beata Virgine Maria Matre tua et beato Bartholomæo apostolo tuo dilecto, ab omni peste et improvisa morte secure liberemur, et a totius perditionis incursu misericorditer salvemur. Per te, Jesu Christe, Rex gloriæ, qui cum Patre et Spiritu sancto vivis et regnas, Deus, in sæcula sæculorum. ℟. Amen.
Let us pray.
God of mercy, God of piety, God of pardon, who hath pity on the affliction of thy people, and saidst to the Angel that slew thy people: Hold thy hand; for the love of that glorious Star, whose precious paps thou didst sweetly suck against the venom of our trespasses: vouchsafe the help of thy grace, that by the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary thy Mother and of blessed Bartholomew, thy belovèd apostle, we may be safely freed from all pestilence and unexpected death, and mercifully saved from every inroad of death and ruin. Through thee, Jesus Christ, King of glory, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, God, world without end. ℟. Amen.

The verses of this prayer in times of pestilence are taken from a homily on Our Lord’s Nativity delivered in the 8th century by St Peter, bishop of Damascus. According to tradition, the text was written on a piece of paper given by St Batholomew in an apparitionto the Poor Clares of Coimbra in Portugal when that city was ravaged by the plague in 1317. The sisters duly prayed it, and their convent was spared. This monastery had been founded in 1314 by St Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal (1271-1336), who took the veil there after the death of her husband, King Denis, and died in the odour of sanctity. She was canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1625.

The prayer is in the form of a prose or sequence. Two choirs alternate each verse and come together to sing the last verse in unison, which is a trope: the music and text are also used in other prayers to Our Lady. The melody given by the Schola Sainte Cécile and reproduced below, is taken from the Cantuale Romano-Seraphicum (1951), with the original rhythm restored.

prose-stella-caeli-extirpavit-priere-pour-les-temps-d-epidemie

Another version, with a slightly different text, was published by Hermann Mott in Cologne in 1660:

mott.png

From Coimbra, the sequence spread throughout the West. In 1575, for example, the canons of the Collegiate Church of Sainte-Croix in Poligny decided to sing it every day before High Mass intimes of pestilence. The Ursulines of Nîmes sang it daily after Mass during the plague of 1640. It was generally sung with its versicle and collect, followed by antiphons, versicles, and collects in honour of St Roch and St Sebastian, the two main saintly patrons invoked against the plague. See, for instance, this 1781 breviary for the use of the confraternity of the White Penitents in Saint-Laurent-lès-Grenoble.

A version in Gregorian chant:

A beautiful polyphonic version, from the Jesuit missions in Paraguay:

The Lenten Veil, by Henri de Villiers

 

The Lenten Veil—Velum quadragesimale

By Henri de Villiers

We are grateful to the author for his permission to translate and publish his article Le voile de Carême – Velum quadragesimale.” 

Lent is a time of fasting. In former times, in order to prepare themselves to live the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, Christians not only fasted from food but also practiced an auditory and visual fast.

Auditory privation took the form of suppressing of the use of the organ and musical instruments, but also in many diocesan uses, suppressing the ringing of bells.

Visual privation with the veils that were placed over the Cross and the statues or even the prohibition of placing flowers upon the altar. Visual privation also included closing off the sanctuary with a great veil, the velum quadrigesimale.

And so in Paris, until around the year 1870, such a veil was hung from the first Sunday of Lent until Spy Wednesday. This great veil, made of violet or ash-coloured linen, completely closed off the sanctuary and masked the view of the High Altar. It was dropped on the pavement of the sanctuary during the course of Spy Wednesday Mass during the chanting of the Passion according to St. Luke, precisely when the chronista reached the chanting of this verse: “et obscuratus est sol: et velum templi scissum est medium.” (Luke 23:45).

This dramatic visual action gave life to the words of the Gospel of the Passion that the faithful heard and reinforced its meaning in their hearts.

This great veil—called the velum quadrigesimale or velum templi—was not, however, particular to Paris, since it is found in all the lands of the ancient Carolingian world. Its usage is attested by many councils and medieval statutes and actually goes all the way back to Christian antiquity. Growing more and more ornate toward the end of the Middle Ages, especially in Germany, the Lenten veil, which had survived the Lutheran reform, is currently witnessing a renewed interest.

1. The Lenten Veil in the Ancient Use of Paris

Below are several paragraphs concerning the decoration of churches during Lent, taken from the Caeremoniale Parisiense published in 1662 by Cardinal de Retz, and edited by Martin Sonnet, priest and beneficiary of the Church of Paris, a reference work for understanding the old Parisian rite. This passage describes the set-up of the decoration of churches proper to the time Lent, carried out before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent. Regarding the great Lenten veil, the parisian Ceremonial stipulates not only when it must be placed in the sanctuary, but also at what precise moments it must be opened or closed.

*****

From the Sundays and ferias of Lent until Palm Sunday.

And when Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry (Matthew 4:2).

1. The first Sunday of Lent is a semi-double of the first class. Semi-double with respect to the office; first class, with respect to its privilege.

2. The Saturday before Vespers, the Master of Ceremonies ensures that the churchwarden or the sacristan and his assistants entirely cover up all crosses, reliquaries or relics of the saints, and images of the church, even the Processional Cross, in a dignified manner with a violet or ash-coloured veils made from camlet or damask silk, or from a silky fabric. He likewise ensures that the high altar and the other altars of the church be covered with frontals of the same colour.

3. And before the high altar, between the choir and the sanctuary, from one side to the other, a great oblong and wide veil is hung, or a large curtain made of violet or ash-coloured camlet, which can be drawn back or folded or let down when needful, or even spread out or closed or drawn, until Wednesday of Holy Week.

4. Now, this great veil is spread out for all ferial hours only, and for the entire day and night, and it is never spread out during mass, nor during the Sunday office from First Vespers until Second Vespers and for the entire day and night, nor indeed on the offices of double and semi-double feasts, nor by day nor by night.

5. Additionally, all draperies and all the carpets of the steps or the predella of the high altar and the other altars, are taken down throughout the Church: in sum, until Easter, the entire church is without ornament.

*****

Observe how the same Ceremonial describes the lifting of the great Lenten veil a little later, when it speaks about Spy Wednesday:

*****

11. The deacon sings the Passion according to St Luke, which the celebrant meanwhile reads on the Gospel side, as is noted in the preceding Tuesday. Now, after he arrives at the eagle which is in the middle of the choir, the Master of Ceremonies extends the great veil between the sanctuary and the altar, in the usual manner. It is elevated in each part of the choir, and held by two clerics, until these words of the Passion: “And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst”. And when the deacon pronounced those words, at the command of the Master of Ceremonies, the two aforementioned clerics immediately let go, so the veil may suddenly fall entirely on the floor of the choir, and it is afterwards taken away by the sacristan.

******

It is very interesting to note that the great Lenten veil remains opened all Sunday, from First Vespers to Second: the Day of the Lord, Dies Domini, has always been the feast of the Resurrection, even in Lent. Fasting is forbidden on this day.

The Cæremoniale Parisiense of Cardinal de Noailles, published in 1703, moreover, quite reasonably postpones the installation of the veil until after Compline of the First Sunday of Lent and before the Night Office of Monday: since the veil remained open on all Sundays, its installation before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent—however it perfectly logically fit with the entry into Lent—was not absolutely necessary. According to this Ceremonial, the other veils on the images and crosses are nevertheless always installed before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent. As we shall see, the practice of placing the Lenten veil after Compline of the First Sunday is already found in most medieval monastic customaries from the 10th century, and perhaps this is a souvenir from ancient times—before St. Gregory the Great!—when the fast did not commence until Monday.

2. The Lenten Veil in the Rest of Europe

Before the Renaissance and the printing of the first diocesan ceremonials, it is not always easy to discover the development of various liturgical rites in exact detail: the rubrics in the old Medieval Missals are fragmentary or even non-existent. We may still glean several useful details in the acts of provincial councils, and especially in the Customaries of the Abbeys, which regulated the details of conventual life in each of the great monastic centers with great precision.

And so we find the great Lenten veil mentioned by a series of medieval Anglo-Norman councils as being part of the supplies that every church was obliged to possess: these are the councils of Exeter (1217), Canterbury (1220), Winchester (1240), Evreux (1240), and Oxford (1287).

Prior to these councils, a number of customaries, constitutions, and statutes of medieval abbeys witness to the custom of closing off the sanctuary with a veil during Lent.

The most ancient mention is found in the Consuetudines Farfenses, the Constitutions of the Abbey of Farfa, near Rome, produced around the year 1010 (ch. XLII), which notes for the evening of the First Sunday of Lent:

Nam denique secraetarius cortinam exacta vespera in fune ordinet et completorio consummato in circulos extendant.

And finally, after Vespers have finished, the sacristan shall set up a curtain over a cord and, at the end of Compline, they shall spread it out.

St. Lanfranc († 1089), abbot of Saint-Étienne in Caen and then archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, speaks in his statutes about the Lenten veil, which must be installed after Compline of the First Sunday of Lent, and about other veils for the crosses and images, which are placed the next day before Terce:

Dominica prima Quadragesimae post Completorium suspendatur cortina inter Chorum et altare. Feria secunda ante Tertiam debent esse coopertae Crux, Coronae, Capsae, textus qui imagines deforis habent.

On the First Sunday of Lent, after Compline, let a curtain be hung up between the choir and the altar. On Monday before Terce, the Cross, crowns, reliquaries, and the fabrics which have images [painted] on them must be covered up (Statutes ch. 1, § 3).

Here are several more references, which admittedly show some variation in detail amongst the medieval monastic uses, but which allow us to appreciate the wide extent of the use of the Lenten veil:

  • Post Completorium appenditur velum inter altare et chorum quod nullus praeter Sanctuarii Custodes, atque Ministros, absque rationabili causa audet transire.After Compline, a veil is hung between the altar and the choir, which no one besides the custodians of the sanctuary and the ministers [of the mass] should dare to cross without reasonable cause. (Liber Consuetudinum S. Benigni Divionensis, Customary of St-Bénigne in Dijon)
  • Dominica post completam debet Secretarius tendere cortinam inter chorum et altare et Crucifixum cooperire.On Sunday after Compline the Sacristan must stretch out a curtain between the choir and the altar and cover the Crucifix. (Liber Usuum Beccesnsium, Book of the Usages of Bec-Hellouin)
  • Hac die post Completorium cruces cooperiantur, et cortina ante Presbyterium tendatur, quae ita omnibus diebus privatis per XL usque ad quartam feriam ante Pascha post Completorium remanebit. (…) In Sabbatis vero et in vigiliis SS. duodecim Lectionum ante Vesperas a conspectu Presbyterii est cortina retrahenda, et in crastino post Completorium est remittenda. Similiter retrahentur ad Missam pro praesenti defuncto, et ad exequias: Non intres in iudicium, donec septem psalmi finiantur post sepulturam. S et ad benedictionem novitii. (…) Ad missam vero privatis diebus, ut Sacerdos libere ab Abbate, si assuerit, ad Evangelium legendum benedictionem petat, Subdiaconus cornu cortinae in parte Abbatis modice retrahat, et data benedictione, ut prius erat, remittat. Diaconus vero accedat ad cortinam, ubi sublevata est, quaerens benedictionem.On this day, after Compline, let the crosses be covered up, and a curtain be extended before the sanctuary, which must remain so on all ferial days throughout Lent until after Compline of the Wednesday before Easter. […] On Saturdays, however, and the vigils of saints of twelve lessons, the curtain must be drawn back before Vespers that the sanctuary might be visible, and it is put back the next day after Compline. It is likewise to be drawn back on a funeral mass where the body is present, and on obsequies from Non intres in judicium until the seven penitential psalms finish after the burial, and on the blessing of a novice. […] But on weekday masses, in order that the priest, if he wishes, can freely ask the blessing of the abbot for reading the Gospel, let the Subdeacon slightly draw back the end of the curtain at the abbot’s side, and after the blessing has been given, let him put it back as it was before. But let the deacon walk up to the curtain, at the point where it is lifted up, to ask for the blessing. (Liber Usuum Cisterciensium, Book of the Usages of Cîteaux, ch. 15: De Dominica prima XL).
  • Hac die post IX ante Sanctuarium cortina a Sacrista tendatur, et cruces in ecclesia cooperiantur. (…) In festis vero SS. XII. Lectionum, et Dominicis, die praecedente ad Vesperas a conspectu Sanctuarii cortina abstrahenda est, et in die festi post Completorium rehrahenda: similiter singulis diebus ante elvationem Domin Corporis abstrahantur, et ea facta retrahetur.On this day after None, let a curtain be spread out before the sanctuary by the sacristan, and let the crosses in the church be covered up, […] But on saints feasts of twelve lessons, and on Sundays, at Vespers on the preceding day the curtain is to be opened up that the sanctuary might be visible, and after Compline on the feast it is to be put back. Similarly, on each day let it be opened up before the elevation of the Body of the Lord, and closed again thereafter. (Tullense S. Apri Ordinarium, Ordinary of St-Evre-lès-Toul)
  • Vesperae autem diei praecedentis diem cinerum, cruces, et imagines cooperiantur, et cortina ante Presbyterium tendatur, quae ita omnibus diebus privatis usque ad quartam feriam hebdomadae palmarum dum canitur: Et velum Templi scissum est, remanebit. (…) Et omnibus etiam privatis diebus ad elevationem Dominici Corporis et Sanguinis Missae conventualis, quae cantantur in summo altari.Now, at Vespers of the day preceding the Day of Ashes, let the crosses and images be covered up, and a curtain be stretched out before the sanctuary, which shall remain thus on all ferial days until Wednesday of the Week of Palms, when Et velum templi scissum est is sung. […] but not on ferial days at the elevation of the Body and Blood of the Lord during conventual Mass, which is sung at the high altar. (Caeremoniae Bursfeldenses, Ceremonial of the German Benedictine Congregation of Bursfelde, ch. 31, 1474-1475)

3. The German Fastentuch

The Lenten veil has remained in use here and there in Sicily and in Spain, but it is especially in Germany and Austria that it has been preserved to our day. The fact that the Lenten veils (or Fastentuch in German) had there become genuine works of art by their decoration surely has something to do with their preservation, and the continuance of their use.

The Lenten veil of Paris would usually have been a rather ordinary woolen sheet (made of ‘camlet’ to employ the technical term used by Martin Sonnet in the Ceremonial of 1662), and must have remained without any special decoration for a long time, as it was in its primitive state. None of these have been conserved and we have not been able to find any ancient iconographic representations.

On the other hand, it is at the end of the 13th century that we observe, in Flanders and Germany, that Lenten veils became ornamented, first with embroidery and then with painting, becoming more and more rich and sumptuous.

Especially in southern Germany and Austria one sees that Lenten veils became very richly painted canvases representing scenes of the Passion, often true masterpieces of their time.

Voile-de-Carême-de-la-cathédrale-de-Fribourg-1612.png
Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Fribourg (1612)

In Germany, the cathedral of Our Lady of Fribourg preserves the largest Lenten veil known in Europe. Dating to 1612, it measures more than 10 by 12 metres and weighs almost one ton. The central scene of the crucifixion is surrounded by 25 squares containing various episodes of the Passion.

Voile-de-Carême-de-lAbbaye-de-Millstatt-en-Autriche-1593
Lenten Veil of the Abbey of Millstatt in Austria (1593)

The Lenten veil of the Abbey of Millstatt, in Carinthia (Austria) originating in 1593 had fallen into disuse. Restored, it has been reinstalled and used once more every Lent since 1984.

Voile-de-Carême-de-la-cathédrale-de-Gurk-en-Autriche-1458.jpg
Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Gurk in Austria (1458)

These Lenten veils were a veritable instrument of catechesis through image, educating the people on the history of salvation.

Voile-de-Carême-de-la-cathédrale-de-Gurk-en-Autriche-composé-de-99-tableaux-de-lEcriture-1458
The Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Gurk in Austria, composed of 99 (tableaux) from Scripture (1458)

In Northern Germany, the Lenten veil remained of a much more simple design: made of white linen decorated with embroidery, consisting usually of references from Scripture or the liturgy. These features are found also in the ancient Lenten veils of Flanders that are conserved in the museums of Belgium, the more ancient belonging to the 14th century. The Museum of the cathedral of Brandenburg near Berlin possesses one dating from the year 1290.

Voile-de-Carême-de-léglise-Saint-Magnus-dEverswinkel-éléments-remontant-à-1614.png

Voile-de-Carême-de-léglise-lAssomption-à-Marienbaum

Martin Luther, who detested the idea of Lent and of penance, tried to make the Fastentuch disappear in all of Germany. Little by little they fell into disuse, and from the end of the 19th century the use had practically disappeared. Curiously, this ancient tradition reappeared vigorously beginning in 1974, when the charitable association Misereor had the idea of producing a Fastentuch to give concrete expression to Christians’ Lenten efforts. This initiative has a certain impact all over Germany, leading to the rediscovery of this tradition, the restoration of numerous historic veils that slept in the vaults of cathedrals or museums, and their suspension in sanctuaries once more. There was so much interest that even the Lutherans were moved to put them up! Currently, it is estimated that one third of German Catholic churches as well as many hundreds of Lutheran parishes hang up a veil during Lent. From Germany the practice is expanding currently into Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and even France.

Voile-réalisé-pour-le-Carême-2010-pour-la-cathédrale-de-Bonn.jpg

4. A Tradition with Roots in Christian Antiquity

The practice of veiling images, crosses, and relics during Lent is certainly ancient in the West. Thus, we see in the life of St. Eligius, written by St. Audoin († 686), that the precious casket of the saint was covered by a veil during the entire duration of Lent. But this is not exactly the purpose of this article.

The practice of hanging a veil before the sanctuary of churches hearkens to the most ancient period.

The Old Testament, a type of the New, speaks of a veil that covered the Holy of Holies, first in the itinerant Tabernacle of the desert, then in the Temple of Jerusalem (according to St. Paul, the veil that was rent at the death of Christ was the second veil, and a first veil closed off the Holy Place. Cf. Hebrews 9:3).

The first Christian churches used the sanctuary veil as much in the West as in the East.

The ancient altar was usually covered by a ciborium or baldacchino, between whose columns veils were hung.

Le-ciborium-antique-de-la-basilique-Saint-Ambroise-de-Milan-notez-les-4-tringles-qui-soutenaient-les-voiles-entre-les-colonnes.jpg

Besides these veils over the ciborium, the sanctuary itself was separated from the choir and the nave by a cloister called the chancel or templon, a barrier that might include columns, between which veils were hung. Twelve columns closed off the sanctuary of the basilica of the Anastasis (today the Holy Sepulchre) constructed by Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century. These columns served to support curtains, as various patristic texts tell us. The curtain of the sanctuary of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, donated by the munificence of the emperor Justinian, was made of cloth of gold and silver of an estimated cost of 2,000 minae.

Reconstitution-du-sanctuaire-de-Sainte-Sophie-à-Constantinople-vue-de-face

This double rung of veils, the veil of the templum and the veil of the ciborium, constituted the limits of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the temples of the new covenant.

Reconstitution-du-sanctuaire-de-Sainte-Sophie-à-Constantinople-vue-de-dessus-notez-la-présence-du-ciborium-au-dessus-de-lautel-le-sanctuaire-est-fermé-par-les-colonnes-du-templon.jpg

The curtains were kept closed or open depending on the moments of the liturgical action. Their opening always signified the full transmission of grace and symbolized the opening of the heavens.

“When,” said St John Chrysostom, “the heavenly host is upon the altar, when Jesus Christ, the royal lamb, is immolated, when you hear these words: ‘Let us all pray to the Lord together’, when you see that the veils and curtains of the altar are pulled back, consider that you contemplate the heavens that are opened up and the angels that come down to earth.”

Reconstitution-du-sanctuaire-de-Sainte-Sophie-à-Constantinople-vue-de-dessus-notez-la-présence-du-ciborium-au-dessus-de-lautel-vue-latérale-du-sanctuaire.jpg

The West was not to be outdone: one finds in the Liber Pontificalis several references to popes (e.g. Sergius I, Gregory III, Zachary, Hadrian I) who donated veils to ornament the arcades of the ciboria and the sanctuaries of Roman churches.

Many ancient Eastern and Western liturgies contain a prayer—the prayer of the veil—that the celebrant says when, during the offertory, he leaves the choir and enters the sanctuary, going beyond the veil that closed it off.

The prayer of the veil in the Liturgy of St James, which represents the ancient use of the Church of Jerusalem, is justly renowned:

“We thank Thee, O Lord our God, that Thou hast given us boldness for the entrance of Thy holy places, which Thou hast renewed to us as a new and living way through the veil of the flesh of Thy Christ. We therefore, being counted worthy to enter into the place of the tabernacle of Thy glory, and to be within the veil, and to behold the Holy of Holies, cast ourselves down before Thy goodness: Lord, have mercy on us: since we are full of fear and trembling, when about to stand at Thy holy altar, and to offer this dread and bloodless sacrifice for our own sins and for the errors of the people: send forth, O God, Thy good grace, and sanctify our souls, and bodies, and spirits; and turn our thoughts to holiness, that with a pure conscience we may bring to Thee a peace-offering, the sacrifice of praise:

(Aloud.) By the mercy and loving-kindness of Thy only-begotten Son, with whom Thou art blessed, together with Thy all-holy, and good, and quickening Spirit, now and always:

R/. Amen.”

Voile-dans-une-église-de-rite-syro-malankare-au-Kérala.png

The Assyro-Chaldean, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches have kept the use of a curtain that closes off the sanctuary. In the Armenian Church, a church is considered to be in disuse if its sanctuary is bereft of a curtain. In the Byzantine church, the columns that once propped up the curtain grew coated with icons in the course of the ages and became the iconostasis: the curtain is still present, although its extension is most often limited to the breadth of the sanctuary doors.

Veil Armenia.jpg

Even if a curtain closes off the sanctuary yearlong in the East, there are nevertheless special customs during Lent. Thus, in the Armenian Church, the usual curtain is replaced during Lent by a black curtain. This black curtain always remains closed during mass and the Lenten offices, symbolizing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. It is not opened until Palm Sunday.

The Russians likewise change their usual brightly coloured curtain for a sombre-coloured one during the weekdays of Great Lent. All the other veils and coverings of the church are similarly changed. Brightly coloured curtains return on Holy Saturday during the Paschal Vigil, right before the singing of the Gospel of the Resurrection, while the choir sings “Rise up, O Lord, and judge the earth.”

Conclusion

Is it foreseeable that this custom will be restored in France, like it has in Germany?

Juridically, there is nothing blocking it, since the Congregation of Rites has affirmed that the use of the great veil of Lent closing off the sanctuary is indeed permissible (decr. auth. 3448, 11 May 1878).

Nevertheless, we still have something of the “visual Lent” of our forefathers since we have kept the Roman usage of veiling the crosses and statues before First Vespers of Passion Sunday (fifteen days before Easter). Even if this article is not directly about that beautiful custom, it might perhaps help us to better understand the origins of that use and to grasp its historical and symbolic depths.

*For more on veils, also posts at NLM here and here.

The History of the Folded Chasuble (Part 2)

We continue with the second part of Henri de Villiers’s article “Les chasubles pliés: Histoire et liturgie”, originally published in French on the website of the Schola Sainte Cécile

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FOLDED CHASUBLES?

The generalized practice of cutting off the front part of the folded chasuble, which is certainly convenient, must have contributed to it being perceived as a vestment distinct from the celebrant’s chasuble, which was certainly not so in the beginning. Paradoxically, this might have contributed to disaffection with its use. In 1914, the Jesuit Braun [14] deplored the disappearance of folded chasubles throughout Germany. France was hardly better off at this time; although the published ceremonials continue to describe the use of folded chasubles, it is quite rare to find examples or even photographs of them in the 20th century). Their use seems to have endured more in Italy, in the Iberian Peninsula, and in the British Isles.

Already suppressed for the Paschal Vigil in the new experimental liturgies of 1951 and 1952, folded chasubles were entirely banished from Holy Week with the 1955 reforms, and violet and black dalmatics and tunicles put in their place; folded chasubles were still to be used during the rest of Lent and other penitential seasons. This anomaly ceased with the publication of the new code of rubrics in 1960, which stated at the end of the general rubrics that “folded chasubles and broad stoles are no longer used” [15].

Msgr Léon Gromier, the Papal Master of Ceremonies, remarked during his famous conference on the reforms of Holy Week:

Folded chasubles are one of the oldest characteristics of the Roman Rite; they go back to the time when all the clergy wore chasubles, and were retained for a most austere penance. Abandoning them makes a lie of the paintings in the catacombs. It is an immense loss, an outrage to history. They wrongly give this explanation to justify their misdeed: that folded chasubles are difficult to find. But the exact contrary is the case: one finds violet chasubles everywhere that can be folded, whereas violet dalmatics are much less widespread [16]. Besides, one always has the option of ministering in an alb.

We may add that it was a curious move to suppress folded chasubles at the same moment when a return to the ancient, more ample form of the chasuble was being promoted everywhere.

On the other hand, the usage of folded chasubles was never interrupted among the Anglo-Catholics (and perhaps its usage will be gradually restored by the various new ordinariates erected to receive these communities into the bosom of the Catholic Church). In addition, amidst the renaissance of liturgical studies among traditional Catholic communities one observes a growing number of people who are restoring the ancient use.

IN THE OTHER WESTERN RITES. The use of the folded chasuble is not limited to the Roman Rite. It is found, with variations, in the following liturgies:

1) The Ambrosian Rite: Folded chasubles are used during Advent, Lent, and the Major and Minor Litanies (i.e. Rogation Days, which take place on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after the Ascension in this rite, and during which ashes are imposed) and other fasting days throughout the year. As in the Roman rite, the subdeacon takes off his folded chasuble to chant the Epistle. The deacon rolls his up crosswise in the Roman way from the Gospel to the end of Communion. During Sundays of Lent, the deacon chants the very ancient litanies after the Ingressa at the beginning of the Mass; to do this, since it pertains to his proper ministry, he also rolls his chasuble crosswise. The liturgical colours differ from the Roman custom: dark violet during Advent and the Sundays of Lent, but the ferias of Lent are in black. The Major Litanies are in dark violet and the Minor are in black. During an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on a day of penance, folded chasubles are obligatory, even in small churches. One notable difference with the Roman use is that during all of Holy Week (which begins on the eve of Palm Sunday, in Traditione Symboli) is celebrated in red and the dalmatic and tunicle are employed.

2) The Rite of Braga: The use is identical to the Roman rite, except for the procession of Palms when the dalmatic and tunicle are used.

3) The Rite of Lyon: very interestingly, folded chasubles are not used until after the first Sunday of Lent, a relic of the time prior to St Gregory the Great when the first day of the Lenten Fast was the Monday following this Sunday. The deacon takes off his chasuble before chanting the Gospel but does not roll it over his shoulders (so he does the same as the subdeacon at the Epistle). Folded chasubles are not used on Good Friday.

4) The Rite of Paris: Chasubles are not folded but rolled over the shoulders (the ceremonials speak of transversed chasubles: planetis tranversis super humeros). They are not used during Sundays of Advent (which are celebrated in white in Paris); rather the dalmatic and tunicle are used instead. Folded chasubles are nonetheless used during ferial Masses of Advent in bigger churches with many clerics; smaller churches are dispensed. Transversed chasubles are used for the first time on Ash Wednesday, then on Sundays of Lent, and on Good Friday; the vestments are black each time. On ferias of Lent, on the other hand, the deacon and subdeacon serve only in alb, stole, and maniple, without chasubles, even in the cathedral. Ember Days in September are celebrated with red transversed chasubles since these days belong to the Time after Pentecost, which is red in Paris.

5) The Premonstratensians: This rite has the interesting peculiarity that the use of folded chasubles begins on Septuagesima.

6) The Cistercians, Dominicans, and Carmelites: These three rites shares similar uses; during penitential seasons, the deacon and subdeacon serve in alb, stole, and maniple, as in smaller churches in the Roman rite. Note that in the Dominican rite, the dalmatic and tunicle are not used during ferial Masses throughout the year.

7) The Carthusians: This rite is very pared down and does not employ the dalmatic and tunicle at all during the year. During Mass, the deacon only puts on the stole to sing the Gospel. Folded chasubles are therefore not used at all.

AND IN THE EAST?– Based on the evidence from ancient artistic representations, the Byzantine East used the chasuble since at least the 5th century; and it is called φαιλόνιον in Greek (phelonion, similar to the Latin pælonia).

Théophile d'Alexandrie - miniature sur papyrus du Vème siècle.
Theophilus of Alexandria. Miniature on papyrus, 5th century.

By an interesting development similar to the one that happened in the West, the front part of the phelonion is cut in such a way as to facilitate the gestures of the celebrant.

Icône représentant saint Jean de Novgorod - le phélonion est tenu replié sur les bras.
Icon representing St John of Novgorod: the phelonion is held folded over the arms.
Prêtre byzantin portant le phélonion. La partie avant du vêtement est désormais coupée pour faciliter les gestes liturgiques.
A Byzantine priest wearing the phelonion. The front part of the vestment is cut to facilitate liturgical gestures.

Certain Spanish folded chasubles have a shape very similar to that of modern-day Byzantine phelonia cut in the front.

Chasubles pliées d'origine espagnole, assez proche de l'actuelle coupe byzantine.
Spanish-style folded chasubles, very similar to the current Byzantine cut.

We nevertheless do not find any evidence that deacons and subdeacons ever wore chasubles in the East; both used dalmatics [17]. Yet, in the Russian use, during the ordination of a cantor or lector, the bishop puts a short phelonion over his shoulders, which is likely the Eastern equivalent of the Western folded chasuble.

Ordination d'un lecteur dans l'usage russe.
Ordination of a lector in the Russian use.

The short phelonion is then taken off once the lector has chanted an Epistle.

Le lecteur byzantin nouvellement ordonné & revêtu du petit phélonion chante l'épître
A newly-ordained Byzantine lector wearing the short phelonion sings the Epistle.

During the ordination of a non-monastic subdeacon, the candidate presents himself before the bishop wearing a short phelonion. This vestment is not used outside these two ordinations [18], but it might well be the remnant of a more ancient custom where the chasuble was worn by the minor clergy.

Phélonion et petit phélonion russes.
Russian phelonion and short phelonion.

The other Eastern rites do not, in general, use the chasuble, even for the celebrant, who usually dons a cope. The Armenians, however, do have an equivalent of the Russian short phelonion [19], a short cape that covers the shoulders of minor clerics in this rite and which is most often attached to the alb in our days:

Messe dans le rit arménien - cathédrale arménienne catholique Sainte-Croix de Paris.
Mass in the Armenian Rite (Armenian Catholic Cathedral of Sainte-Croix in Paris).
Ordinations de diacres arméniens.
Ordination of Armenian deacons.

CONCLUSION. Mons. Bugnini’s enthusiastic efforts to suppress folded chasubles (he notes with disdain that no one will miss them) [20] gives rise to a larger question that naturally emerges when one studies the liturgical reforms of 1951-1969. These reforms were presented to the faithful at that time as a welcome return to the liturgy of ancient Christianity, finally purified from the dross of the High Middle Ages and the Baroque era. But if that is the case, how are we to explain the contemptuous suppression of this truly ancient element of the Roman Rite, the folded chasuble, a precious custom that unites us to the prayer and practice of our forefathers in the faith going back to the first centuries? Alas, this particular example is far from unique, and it only highlights the abandonment of numerous ancient elements of the liturgy in favor of the purely imaginative constructs that took place during these reforms. More globally, one might ask about the nature of the liturgical reform of 1951-1969: does it constitute a continuous organic development of the liturgy of the Church or a radical rupture with the centuries-long praxis of the Roman Rite?

It is interesting to consider how in different parts of the world, traditional communities are starting to take up the use of folded chasubles. We are certain that these communities perceive that they form a part of the symbolic richness that the tradition has bequeathed to us and of which we have been unjustly deprived.

Chasuble pliée - Rome.
Folded chasuble, Rome.
Mercredi des Cendres.
Ash Wednesday.
Londres.
Good Friday, London.
Stolon noir du Vendredi Saint. Londres.
Black broad stole on Good Friday, London.
Passion selon saint Matthieu - messe pontificale des Rameaux - Rome.
The Passion according to St Matthew. Pontifical Mass on Palm Sunday, Rome.
Second dimanche de Carême 2016 - collégiale Saint-Just de Lyon.
Second Sunday of Lent 2016, collegiate church of Saint-Just in Lyon.
Second dimanche de Carême 2016 - collégiale Saint-Just de Lyon.
Second Sunday of Lent 2016, collegiate church of Saint-Just in Lyon.
A l'aspersion - second dimanche de Carême 2016 - Société Saint-Hugues de Cluny - Connecticut.
The Asperges, Second Sunday of Lent, Society of St Hugh of Cluny, Connecticut.
Notez la chasuble transversale roulée - second dimanche de Carême 2016 - Société Saint-Hugues de Cluny - Connecticut.
Note the transversed chasuble that is actually rolled, Second Sunday of Lent, Society of St Hugh of Cluny, Connecticut.
Distribution des cierges de la Chandeleur 2016 - Institut du Christ-Roi - Gricigliano.
Distribution of candles in Candlemas 2016, Institute of Christ the King, Gricigliano.

Notes

14. G. Braun, Die liturgischen Paramente, 1914, p. 98.
15. Rubrica generales XIX, n. 137: Planetae plicatae et stola latior amplius non adhibentur.
16. Indeed, strictly speaking violet dalmatics and tunicles are only used on the three Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.
17. Which very often retains structures much more ancient than the Greek usage.
18. The lector-cantor ordinarily uses a type of tunic for his office, the sticharion—στιχάριον. Certain parishes have tried to restore a more frequent use of the short phelonion.
19. According to R. Pilkington, I riti orientali, Turin, L.I.C.E. —Berruti, p. 31.
20. Cf. A. Bugnini—C. Braga, Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae instauratus commentarium. Bibliotheca Ephemerides Liturgicae Sectio Historica 25, Roma, Edizioni Liturgiche, 1956, p. 56, n. 28.

The History of the Folded Chasuble (Part 1)

We are much obliged to Henri de Villiers and the Schola Sainte Cécile for permission to publish this translation of his article “Les chasubles pliés: Histoire et liturgie,” which we post again this year.

Folded chasubles are the vestments used by the deacon and subdeacon during penitential seasons instead of the dalmatic and tunicle. Their use dates back to the earliest years of the Church, when all the clergy used the chasuble.

HISTORY. The chasuble was originally a civil garment used already by the Etruscans, and became widespread in the Roman Empire beginning in the first century of our era, to the point that it became an elegant article of clothing in common use. It was a round garment with a hole in its centre to pass the head through, and covered the upper body down to the knees. It is known under different names, the principal ones being: pænula, the most common name in ancient Rome; casula, literally “little house” because it was a sort of little tent (this term has resulted in the English “chasuble”); planeta, the term later used by the Roman liturgical books, whereas the rest of Western Europe has always preferred to use casula; and amphibalus, mainly employed by the Fathers of the Church of Gaul.

Etruscan pænula (particularly rolled up over the arms), 4th century B. C.

The chasuble then tended, at the start of our era, to replace the old toga, which was too heavy and less practical, to the point where Roman orators began to insist on using them instead of togas when pleading cases, in order to have more freedom in for oratorical gestures [1]. Under the Emperor Trajan (98-117), the tribunes of the people wore chasubles, and Commodus (180-192) ordered that those assisting public spectacles should do so in a chasuble and no longer in a toga. The chasuble became the senatorial vestment in 382.

Christians naturally used this garment [2] and at the start of the 3rd century Tertullian chastised the faithful who took off their chasubles during liturgical prayers for reasons that he labelled superstitious [3]. As the chasuble became a vestment of honour for high officers of the Empire, Christians sought to give their own tribunes and senators—bishops, priests, and deacons—a similar mark of honour.

In Christian writings, the first mention of the chasuble as a properly liturgical vestment is relatively late: it is found in the second of the two letters written by St Germain of Paris († 576), which contains a famous description of the mass according to the ancient Gallican rite:

Casula quam amphibalum vocant, quod sacerdos induetur, tota unita per Moysem legiferum instituta primitus demonstratur. Jussit ergo Dominus fieri dissimilatum vestimentum, ut talem sacerdos induerit, quale indui populus non auderetur. Ideo sine manicas, quia sacerdos potius benedicit quam ministrat. Ideo unita prinsecus, non scissa, non aperta ; quia multae sunt Scripturae sacrae secreta mysteria, quae quasi sub sigillo sacerdoti doctus debet abscondere, et unitatem fidei custodire, non in haerese vel schismata declinare.

The chasuble, which is known as amphibalus and which the priest wears, shows the original unity of all that was instituted by Moses the Lawgiver. Now, the Lord commanded that diverse vestments be made, so that the people might not dare wear what the priest wears. Hence it has no sleeves, since the priest’s duty is to bless rather than to minister. Hence from the start it has been of one piece, and not split or opened, since many are the hidden mysteries of Holy Scripture, which the learned priest must conceal under a seal, as it were, and preserve the unity of the faith, nor to fall into heresy or schism.

Nevertheless, well before this first mention, numerous frescoes, mosaics, and miniatures from the 4th century onward show beyond doubt the chasuble was largely adopted during this era as a liturgical vestment, in the East as well as the West.

Chasuble-de-saint-Ambroise-à-Milan
St Ambrose of Milan wearing a chasuble. Note the cut that facilitates the movements of the right arm. Mosaic dated 375 from the chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro in the basilica of St Ambrose.

At this time, the chasuble was the general vestment of all the clergy, not only that of bishops and priests, but also of deacons, subdeacons, and—according to Alcuin (c. 730-804)—in certain circumstances even of acolytes! Amalarius of Metz (775-850) tells us that the chasuble was still worn in his time by all clerics without distinction. He calls it the generale indumentum sacrorum ducum [4]. t was still employed by acolytes in certain regions into the 11th century [5].

For the celebrating bishop or priest, this vestment did not create any discomfort in carrying out the sacred ceremonies, as St Germain of Paris notes: “Hence it has no sleeves, since the duty of the priest is to bless rather than to minister”. But the ministers—deacons and subdeacons—had to adapt the chasuble for their purposes: they rolled back the front part of the vestment, so that the arms of the ministers would be free to handle the sacred vessels. And thus they were dubbed “folded chasubles”, or planetæ plicatæ ante pectus, as the Latin liturgical books say.

In order to better understand the form taken by this folding, below are some photographs taken from the journal L’Art d’Église (n. 4, 1948), which show a very successful attempt to recreate the ancient shape of the folded chasuble by the monks of the St Andrew’s Abbey in Belgium:

The subdeacon’s folded chasuble.

From the singing of the Gospel until the end of the Mass, the deacon, in order to be freer in his movements, rolled up his chasuble and slung it across his shoulders over his stole:

The deacon’s chasuble: rolled and slung over the shoulder or simply folded, depending on the different moments of the Mass.

The celebrant’s chasuble did not need to be folded [6] precisely because the deacon and subdeacon would help him by lifting up its edges at certain times during the incensings and at the elevations. This beautiful gesture was faithfully kept by the Roman liturgy, even when it ceased to be necessary after celebrants’ chasubles began to be clipped and reduced in shape.

In fact, the folded chasubles worn by deacons and subdeacons were a clear symbol of their proper function as sacred ministers, i.e. of their role as servants of the celebrant.

Deacons’ and subdeacons’ folded chasubles were later replaced, beginning in the 5th century, by two new vestments: the dalmatic and the tunicle, vestments endowed with sleeves that it more manageable to carry out their liturgical and ministerial functions.

Still, Rome took a long time to adopt this novelty, and the Ordines Romani that describe the Roman liturgy at the time of St Gregory the Great and a bit thereafter (7th century) still name the chasuble as the vestment worn by the pope, the deacons, and the subdeacons. Moreover, John the Deacon (c. 825-880), the biographer of St Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), in his Vita Gregorii Magni, designates the rest of the clergy that accompanied the Pope on processions with the term planeti (“those wearing planetæ“, i.e. chasubles).

When Rome finally accepted the use of dalmatics and tunicles, she nevertheless kept the use of folded chasubles for the deacon and subdeacon during Lent and penitential seasons, following the generally observed liturgical principle that the seasons considered the most holy are also those that are spared from liturgical innovations.

Furthermore, the dalmatic and tunicle are sumptuous vestments that symbolize joy and innocence. For a long time, their colour had to be white, and ancient dalmatics were also adorned with the two bright purple vertical bands (lati claves) that adorned the senatorial garb of old. During the ordination of a deacon, the bishop imposes the dalmatic upon him with these words: “May the Lord attire thee in the garment of salvation, and the vestment of joy (indumento lætitiæ), and ever surround thee with the dalmatic of justice”. The equivalent prayer for clothing the subdeacon with the tunicle also speaks of a vestimento lætitiæ. The use of the dalmatic and tunicle was consequently entirely inappropriate for penitential seasons, during which the old folded chasuble was hence preserved.

The distribution of candles during the Feast of the Purification.

RULES FOR LITURGICAL USE. Folded chasubles are therefore used in the Roman liturgy during penitential seasons. The exact extent of these seasons is described in chapter XIX, §§ 6 and 7 of the rubrics of the Roman Missal of St Pius V (De qualitate paramentorum) [7]:

“In cathedrals and major churches, chasubles are used folded before the breast on fasting days (except on the vigils of the saints), and on the Sundays and ferias of Advent and Lent, and on the Vigil of Pentecost before Mass (except on

  • Gaudete Sunday, and when its Mass is repeated during the week,
  • on Lætare Sunday,
  • on the Vigil of Christmas,
  • on Holy Saturday during the blessing of the candle and during Mass, and
  • on the Ember Days of Pentecost)

also during the blessing of candles and procession on the day of the Purification of Our Lady, and during the blessing of ashes and the blessing of palms and the procession.

“In smaller churches, however, on the aforesaid fasting days (the deacon and subdeacon) minister only with the alb; the subdeacon with the maniple, and the deacon also with the stole hanging from his left shoulder under his right.”

Ordinations on Ember Saturday: the deacon and subdeacon, ministers of the bishop, wear folded chasubles.

We shall here explain certain aspects of this rubric in greater detail. Despite its apparent complexity, it follows some simple and logical principles:

1. Folded chasubles were only used on penitential seasons, and hence only in violet or black. They were not used (even if the above rubric does not make it explicit) for the Mass on Maundy Thursday, celebrated in white, but were for the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, celebrated in black. Before the reforms of the 1950s, the Vigil of Pentecost was like a second Paschal Vigil, and comprised six prophecies before the beginning of the Mass. This fore-mass was celebrated in violet and hence folded chasubles were used. The subsequent Mass was in red. Likewise, on Holy Saturday, the deacon blessed the Paschal candle in a white dalmatic, then put on the folded chasuble again for the Fore-Mass in violet (which comprised twelve prophecies and the blessing of the font). The Mass following this Fore-Mass was in white vestments.

2. Sundays of Advent and Lent are not fasting days (one never fasts on Sundays, which always celebrates Christ’s resurrection) but are still included as part of penitential seasons because they are celebrated in violet. Nonetheless, the rubric of the Roman Missal does not mention Sundays of Septuagesima, which are also celebrated in violet. With some exceptions, medieval commentators did not recommend the use of violet chasubles during the season of Fore-Lent. (To follow the rubric rigorously, one should not use them on Sundays during Septuagesima, but one could consider using them on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on the three weeks of this season, since they were formerly fasting days).

3. The two Sundays of Gaudete and Lætare are breaks in the middle of Advent and of Lent, days of joy when the Church gives the faithful a foretaste of the rejoicing that awaits them at the end of these two penitential seasons: the vestments are rose-coloured instead of violet, altars are adorned with flowers, and the organ and other musical instruments are played. The Mass of Gaudete Sunday can be celebrated again during the week that follows, and is endowed with the same privileges (the Mass of Lætare Sunday cannot be repeated during the following week, since each feria of Lent is provided with a proper mass).

4. The Ember Days of Pentecost are the sole Ember Days without fasting, because they are included in the Octave of Pentecost. Hence, unlike the Ember Days of September, Advent, and Lent, folded chasubles are not used during these masses.

5. By “major churches”, the rubric means cathedrals, collegiate churches, and also parish churches. This was confirmed by a decision of the Sacred Congregation of Rites dated 11 September 1847 addressed to Nicholas Wiseman, bishop of London, who was then reestablishing the Catholic hierarchy in England and whose entirely new parishes were still often bereft of vestments. The same decision counseled him to celebrate Mass in his cathedral without sacred ministers rather than have deacons and subdeacons without folded chasubles. This decision must have seemed a bit inflexible because it was suppressed in later collections of decrees of the S. C. R.: a major church lacking folded chasubles can always have ministers serve without folded chasubles, wearing only with alb, stole, and maniple.

6. Smaller churches seems to have been dispensed from using folded chasubles not so much because they lacked them but because it was more difficult to have three perfectly matching chasubles, two of which were folded.

7. Another response by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (n. 5385, 31 August 1867) specifies that folded chasubles must be used before the exposed Blessed Sacrament during the Forty Hours Prayer taking place in Advent or Lent.

8. The use of folded chasubles was linked to an idea of liturgical time, for they were not used during Requiem masses, which are not tied to any particular season:  black dalmatic and tunicle are used instead.

LITURGICAL USE. For the ministers to assist the celebrant, it suffices that the front of their chasubles be folded; but when the deacon or subdeacon must carry out those tasks proper to them, they entirely remove this vestment or fold it still further.

Thus, the subdeacon takes off his folded chasuble before singing the epistle, and puts it on again immediately thereafter [8].

The proper office of the deacon begins with the singing of the Gospel and continues until the end of communion; during this time, he does not remove his folded chasuble entirely, but wears it folded and strung over his left shoulder, attached under the right arm with thin cords (or even by making a knot), over his stole. After communion, he unrolls the fabric and wears the chasuble folded as before.

Deacon wearing his chasuble rolled up for the singing of the Gospel.

To simplify this procedure, the custom arose of folding another chasuble in advance, which the deacon put over his shoulder at the appropriate time. Later on, this folded chasuble was often replaced by a simple band of the same fabric, commonly dubbed a broad stole [9].

Evolution of the transversed chasuble to the broad stole: on the left, a rolled chasuble on a mediæval stature of Wells Cathedral in England; on the right, the broad stole in its modern shape: a simple band of fabric without trims on the edges.

During Pontifical Mass, the assistant deacons put on their vestments—viz. a chasuble folded in front, over a cotta or rochet—towards the end of Terce, before the bishop sings the collect [10].

The cross-bearer subdeacon also wears a folded chasuble [11].

Chasuble pliée & stolon de la basilique Sainte-Marie-des-Anges à Rome.
Folded chasuble and broad stole from the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome.

EVOLUTION OF THE SHAPE. From the folded chasuble to the cut chasuble.

The use of actually folding the front part of the chasuble and keeping it folded with cords or hooks has persisted to our days.

In the 17th century, Pisacara Castaldo notes that folded chasubles must not be different from that of the celebrant [12]. In the 18th century, Merato, commenting on Gavantus, further specified that the hooks that keep them folded must be removed between ceremonies lest the chasubles be damaged, and in order that priests might comfortably use them in low masses [13].

A folded chasuble is therefore exactly what its name suggests: a chasuble like any other, worn with the front part folded from within up to the level of the elbows, and often held in place by two steel clips.

New Jersey - USA - FSSP.
Mater Ecclesiæ Church, New Jersey, USA

Nevertheless, over the centuries, as chasubles for celebrants became clipped on the edges for convenience’s sake, the folds of chasubles for deacons and subdeacons became definitively stitched up, and finally the excess fabric was entirely cut off (one might therefore speak of “cut chasubles”, but common use has kept the term “folded chasubles.)

Formes classiques romaines : stolon du diacre, chasuble du célébrant et chasuble pliée du sous-diacre - Londres
Classical Roman shapes: deacon’s broad stole, celebrant’s chasuble, and subdeacon’s folded chasuble. Juventutem London.

Notes

  1. Cf. De Oratoribus chap. XXXIX, attributed to Tacitus (58 – c. 120)
  2. There are many chasubles that are said to have belonged to St Paul.
  3. Tertullian, De Oratione, chap. XV.
  4. Amalarius of Metz, De ecclesiasticis officiis, II, 19 (PL 105, 1095).
  5. A. King, Liturgy of the Roman Church, London-New York-Toronto, Longmans, 1957, p. 130.
  6. Even if some celebrants’ chasubles sometimes have folds or cords; this was the use in the cathedral of Rheims.
  7. De qualitate paramentorum tit. XIX, n. 6, 7. “In diebus vero ieiuniorum (præterquam in vigiliis Sanctorum) et in Dominicis et feriis Adventus et Quadragesimæ ac in vigilia Pentecostes ante Missam (exceptis Domi‐ nica Gaudete, si eius Missa infra hebdomadam repetatur, et Dominica Lætare, Vigilia Nativitatis Domini, Sabbato Sancto in benedictione Cerei et in Missa, ac quatuor temporibus Pentecostes) item in benedictione Candelarum et Processione in die Purificationis Beatæ Mariæ, et in benedictione Cinerum ac benedictione Palmarum et Processione, in Cathedralibus et præcipuis Ecclesiis utuntur Planetis plicatis ante pectus ; quam planetam Diaconus dimittit, etc. In minoribus autem Ecclesiis, prædictis diebus ieiuniorum Alba tantum induti ministrant : Subdiaconus cum manipulo, Diaconus etiam cum stola ab humero sinistro pendente sub dextrum.”
  8. “If the ministers are wearing the folded chasuble, the first acolyte rises during the last collect before the Epistle and takes the folded chasuble from the sub-deacon, then the latter takes the book, chants the Epistle, and kisses the hand of the celebrant. After returning the book, he revests again in the folded chasuble—either by the altar or at the credence—and transfers the Missal from the Gospel side with its cushion or book-stand.” Pio Martinucci, Manuale sacrarum Caerimoniarum, chap. VI, n. 14.
  9. “After the celebrant has begin reading the Gospel [in a low voice], the deacon descends from the altar by the side, as has been said. At the credence he deposits the folded chasuble and puts on the broad stole; then he takes the Gospel book, carries it to the altar, and completes the rest of his functions.” Pio Martinucci, Manuale sacrarum Caerimoniarum, chap. VI, n. 15.
  10. Caerimoniale Episcoporum, Book II, chap. XIII, n. 3.
  11. Pierre Jean Baptiste de Herdt, Pratique de la liturgie selon le rite romain, p. 213.
  12. A. Pisacara Castaldo, Praxis caeremoniarum, Neapoli, Scoriggium, 1645, p. 178.
  13. B. Gavantus—G.M. Merato, Thesaurus Sacrorum Rituum, Venetiis, Balleoniana, 1792, I, p. 48.