Voyages Liturgiques: The Corpus Christi Procession and 40 Hours for the King, Rouen (8)

Procession on the Day of Corpus Christi

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Corpus Christi procession in Seville 1857, by Manuel Cabral y Aguado

Before the beginning of Terce, the sacristan brings down the suspended pyx and takes from it a large Host, which he puts into the monstrance. The officiant immediately begins to sing the O salutaris hostia while incensing the Blessed Sacrament. Then they say Terce, everyone bare-headed and standing without leaning on their stalls. This demonstrates the profound respect that the canons of Rouen have for and which they owe to Jesus Christ. Indeed, if one stands before the king, with all the more reason one ought to stand in the presence of the King of Kings.

After the end of Terce, they hold the Procession. All the clergy are in copes, and the choir-boys in tunicles. They go out of the southern door and return through the great western door. Two canons vested in white chasubles carry the Blessed Sacrament on a litter under a rich canopy borne by four young canons. At their sides are two acolytes carrying lit torches, and in front of them two choir-boys incense the Blessed Sacrament, and two others behind them incense it as well. When the procession returns, they hold a station in the middle  of the nave. The Blessed Sacrament is placed there on the litter on top of two tall trestles. All the clergy and people pass under the Blessed Sacrament, and as they enter the choir they sing the Antiphon O quam suavis est, Domine. When the antiphon is finished, the Archbishop gives the blessing if he is present. Then they reserve the Blessed Sacrament and begin the Mass, since in this church they are very attached to the preservation of the ancient discipline.[1]

That evening, in the same place, they have Benediction, which they began today about 40 years ago. About 30 years ago they began to hold two other Benedictions on the Sunday and Thursday within the Octave in the evening, from the foundation of two canons. The entire church is illuminated with a great number of candles. A procession is held within and all round the church: the officiant in cope carries the Blessed Sacrament under a dais with two torches on the sides, and four choir-boys incense It like in the morning procession. After some prayers the officiant gives Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament without saying anything, unless the Archbishop is officiating.

(On the same day each parish has a procession in the morning around its territory, since the clergy of Rouen is very numerous: four parish churches in Rouen have nearly 100 clerics each. The others have 40, 30, 15, or 20.)

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for the King


Besides the occasions I have mentioned above, the Blessed Sacrament is never exposed in the Cathedral church except in cases of grave necessity, such as when the life of the King is at risk in war or sickness. Then the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the following manner and circumstances:

On the preceding Sunday, during the sermon in the parish churches a notice is put out that on such and such a day the Forty Hours prayers will begin with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for the preservation of the King’s sacred person.

On the eve of the Forty-Hours, at 8 o’clock in the evening the two largest bells of the Cathedral church are rung loudly (except George d’Amboise[2]) to announce it.

The nave is strewn with the most beautiful tapestries in the city. The altar of the chapel of Our Lady of Vows which is close to the jubé under the crucifix is adorned with the most beautiful ornaments, entirely covered with silver-gilt candles, with a very rich dais on top. Here the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. By exposing the Sacrament there, nothing is altered; the usual rites of the choir office do not change at all. There is no Mass in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. And God is no less adored for it. To the contrary, it is to give him a greater adoration and more respect that the lords of the chapter do things thus. Of course, they do not leave the Blessed Sacrament alone there. From the altar enclosure to the pillar of the lantern on each side they place two large barricades that prevent the crowds from entering the little square space that this sort of balustrade forms. A large Turkish rug covers this large space, where there are two prie-Dieu with two rugs underneath for two canons. Behind them is a bench also covered with a rug to mark the place for four chaplains; and behind them a smaller bench to mark the place for two choir-boys. All eight of them are there kneeling and bareheaded to pray and adore the Blessed Sacrament in silence for an hour, after which eight others take their places and others successively in the same way from hour to hour from morning to evening. There are always large crowds of people who come to make their prayers and adorations.

In the morning as the Blessed Sacrament is being exposed they chant the Ave verum and in the evening they chant, without procession, a combination of the Ave verum or Pange lingua with the Exaudiat and some other prayers for the King. Then the officiant gives the benediction without saying anything, unless it is the archbishop. On such a day, even if it is a Sunday, there is never a sermon. And this is sensible and in conformity with what God demands on these occasions: Sileat omnis caro a facie Domini, quia consurrexit de habitaculo sancto suo (Zechariah 2:13): “Let all flesh be silent at the presence of the Lord: for he is risen up out of his holy habitation.”

So it is most fitting to adore Christ exposed on our altars in silence. This was the ancient custom of the Church and it is still observed in many churches, as I have observed in several sections of this account.[3]

The General Procession after Vespers on the Day of the Assumption, 15 August

This is surely the most frequented and most beautiful of all the general processions in Rouen. Everyone knows that it is held because of the vow of King Louis XIII[4] and in thanksgiving for the felicitous birth of the Most Christian King Louis XIV.

First go the two convents of Capuchins, two convents of calced and discalced Augustinians, the Recollect Franciscans, the Penitents of Piquepuce, the Minims, the Observant Franciscans in great number, the Carmelites, and the Dominicans, all without regard to rank.

Then follow all the crosses and the numerous clergy of the parishes of the city. Following them go the Canons Regular of La Madeleine and of St. Lô and the Benedictines of St. Ouen. Finally go the clergy of the Cathedral church with the Lord Archbishop, who gives his blessing to the innumerable crowd of people who line the wide streets through which the procession passes.

Outsiders who wish to see all the clergy of the city, the beautiful ornaments and beautiful ceremonies of the Cathedral church, ought to choose this day above any other. One could add to this the ceremonies of Ascension Day itself, although there is more confusion and less devotion. Easter Day, Corpus Christi, and the feast of the Dedication of the Church on the 1st of October are also days when one can see the rich ornaments, the beautiful ceremonies, and the great number of candles of this church, which illumine the night as if it were day.

There is perhaps no church in France more magnificent in its lighting than the Cathedral church of Rouen. They use new yellow wax which gives off a pleasant smell, and which is truly virgin wax, having not been bleached.

On the 14th of September, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, they hold a procession in the Cathedral church before High Mass, where the celebrant at the Altar of the Cross does the blessing of new wine which is in a large silver basin. After the blessing they fill the wine cruet for the sacrifice of the High Mass, and the sacristan gives the rest to those who want it with a silver spoon.

On the feast of the Dedication, on the 1st of October, before the High Mass there is a procession in copes around the nave inside the church, and not outside, as is common sense.


[1] That is, the discipline of holding processions before the Sacrifice. (The Roman rite has the Corpus Christi procession after.)

[2] Church bells in France are “baptized”, usually with the name of the benefactor.

[3] It is interesting that saying Mass before the exposed Blessed Sacrament was prohibited by the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Can. 941 §2).

[4] Louis XIII made several acts of devotion to Our Lady to ask for an heir. After 23 years of childlessness, his wife Queen Anne gave birth to Louis XIV, and Louis XIII consecrated France to Our Lady and ordered a procession to be held in her honor after Vespers on the feast of the Assumption.

The Privilege of St. Romanus: Procession for the release of a criminal on Ascension Day, Rouen (7)

3) Procession for the release of a criminal on the day of Our Lord’s Ascension

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One of the most beautiful rights of the church of Rouen is the right she has to free a criminal and all his accomplices every year on Ascension day. The ceremony draws a large number of spectators to the city. If they want to entirely satisfy their curiosity, they have to go at nine or ten o’clock in the morning to the great Hall of Parliament by the great stair in the Court of the Palace. At the end of this hall they will see a small, very well kept chapel where the parish priest of St. Lô celebrates a Solemn Mass with the organ and musicians of the Cathedral church, with twelve choir-boys. The presidents and counselors of Parlement all assist in red robes. They make certain reverences at the Offertory. After Mass they go to the great gilded chamber, where they are served a magnificent lunch at midday.

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After lunch around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the chaplain of the Confraternity of St. Romanus goes in surplice, almuce, and biretta to present a paper on behalf of the members of the chapter of the cathedral church, indicating which prisoner they have chosen. (They cannot choose someone guilty of lèse-majesté or treason). The paper is examined, the prisoner is given a hearing and interrogated (his trial is carried out and recorded), and he is condemned to the punishment that his crime deserves. Then in virtue of the privilege given in commemoration of St. Romanus,[6] he is pardoned and released into the hands of the chaplain, who leads the bareheaded criminal to the place of the old tower. When the procession has arrived there, the archbishop, assisted by the celebrant, deacon, subdeacon and several canons, goes up to the platform on top with them and the two priests who carry the feretry or reliquary of St. Romain. They place this under the arcade on a dressed table. Then the archbishop or in his absence the canon officiant makes an exhortation to the criminal who is on his knees and bareheaded, representing to him the horribleness of his crime, and the obligation he has to God and St. Romanus by whose merits he is delivered. Then he orders the criminal to say the Confiteor, places his hand on his head and says the Misereatur and Indulgentiam, and makes him put his shoulders under one end of the reliquary. He orders him, still on his knees, to raise it slightly. Immediately he puts a crown of white flowers on his head. Then the procession returns to the church of Notre-Dame in the same order it came, the prisoner carrying the reliquary in the front. When the procession enters the Church and the criminal has put the reliquary on the high altar, they say the High Mass, though it is late, sometimes five or six in the evening. The archbishop makes another short exhortation to the criminal and he is led before the dignitaries in the chapterhouse, where he is given another exhortation before being led to the chapel of St. Romain where he hears a Mass. Then he is taken to the Vicomté de l’Eau[7] where he is given a light meal, and thence to the Master of the Confraternity of St. Romanus, where he has supper and rests. The next day at 8 o’clock in the morning the criminal is led by the chaplain into the chapterhouse where another canon gives him another exhortation and hears his confession. He is made to take an oath on the book of the Gospels to lend his arms to the members of the chapter whenever they are required, and then he is set free.


[6] The legend of St. Romanus, bishop of Rouen (7th century), holds that a certain man condemned to death was the only one willing to help this holy bishop slay a dragon (called the Gargouille) who was ravaging the left bank of the Seine. Hence the custom arose of freeing a prisoner in the saint’s honor.

[7] A judicial district where Lyon was located, and by extension the headquarters thereof.

Voyages Liturgiques: Lenten and Rogation Processions in Rouen (6)

Processions in Rouen

Here I give, in abbreviated form, the most remarkable of the major processions of the year, taken from the about 200-year-old Ordinal, and which is still performed today except for some small details that I will be sure to point out.

alter servers 14 (cesare-auguste detti (cesare auguste detti), the confirmation procession)
Cesare-Auguste Detti (Cesare Auguste Detti), The Confirmation Procession

1) Lenten Stational Processions

On all Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent after None, the clergy with subdeacon, deacon, and priest in albs, maniples, and stoles go to a stational chapel in procession while chanting the Litany of the Saints in a sorrowful tone. When they have arrived, the Litany is broken off to say the Prayers and Suffrages. Formerly they lay entirely prostrate during these Prayers. Today they do the same, but in an even more humiliating way: there are several curved benches over which the clergy all bend, and additionally kneel during the Prayers. We will see this elsewhere too; it is called protratio super formas or se incurvare super formas. This is similar to the ancient prostration. When the Prayers and Collects are finished, the two chaplains take up the Litany where they left off and continue it until everyone has gone back to their places [in choir]. Then they ended it and immediately began the Mass. On these two days the stations included longer prayers and more austere fasts.

Processions in Rouen are carried out with great seriousness and pomp. There are five or six that are so beautiful, that we must mention them here.

On Palm Sunday they do a very unique procession called The Procession of the Sacred Body (La Procession du Corps Saint). The ritual is as follows. Between three and four in the morning the sacristan of the cathedral church lets down the suspended pyx and places the sacred Ciborium in a sort of tabernacle or half-cut lantern of wood and glass attached to a litter. He places this close to the southern door of the choir on a table decorated with a rug and two chandeliers with lighted candles. There it is exposed for the veneration of the faithful who come there from all parts of the city to accompany the sacred Body of Jesus to the place where it is to be carried. Meanwhile, Matins is said and toward the end of Lauds at around 5:30, two chaplains of the Commune vested in albs approach, and at the sound of the great swinging bell they carry the litter on their shoulders, surrounded by twelve great torches provided at the archbishop’s expense and bearing the prelate’s coat of arms. An unbelievable number of people attend, but none of the clergy besides these two chaplains, because the gentlemen of the chapter, so zealous for ancient custom, even refused a benefice to accompany the procession with a number of the clergy. They go by the large rue des Carmes to the church of St. Godard, which is adorned with the most beautiful tapestries in the city. They put down the litter in the middle of the choir on a rich dais, where it stays until 9:00. In the cathedral, at 7:30, after Terce and the sprinkling, the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon, vested without chasuble or tunicle, preceded by an uncovered crucifix and lighted candles come down into the nave with the clergy who line up in two lines in front of the crucifix while the celebrant and his ministers ascend the Altar of the Cross (better known as the Altar of St. Cecile)[1] and there blesses the palms for all the canons, who each get one, and branches for the cantors, chaplains, and choir boys. For this blessing a dry Mass is said, composed of an antiphon, Collect, Epistle chanted at the jubé by the subdeacon who wears a tunicle and faces the people, a Gradual, Gospel Cum appropinquasset, etc. also chanted at the jubé by the deacon in a dalmatic, another collect, Preface, three[collects, and finally two antiphons and a final collect.[2]

After the distribution of the branches by two priests in surplices, everyone goes in procession, carrying their palms or branches in hand, to the church of St. Godard, ad sanctum Gildardum, chanting responsories and antiphons. When they arrive there, there is a sermon (today) in the neighboring church of St. Laurent; formerly it took place in a large cemetery that is between these two churches. For the event, in the cemetery on the side of the Rue de l’École, they used to construct a large wooden tribune of 20ft² for preaching in the midst of such large crowds of people. I have seen it several times, and it was canceled only forty years ago due to the uncertainty of the weather, which was such that the preacher always caught a cold or was inconvenienced in some other way. As a result they currently hold the preaching in the church of St. Laurent, which is nearby. When the sermon was finished, the clergy of the cathedral church return to St. Godard, where five chaplains stand before the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament and sing some verses or antiphons to which the ministers and the choir respond in alternation. The celebrant kneels with his ministers and incenses the Blessed Sacrament.

After the antiphon Hosanna filio David, the Cantor begins the antiphon Coeperunt omnes turbae, and the procession returns in very pompous array. The roads it passes through are strewn with tapestries. The most wealthy bourgeois of the city and a crowd of people follow the procession, and the Fiftiers (Cinquanteniers) and the one hundred arquebusiers are there on the edges of the procession so there is no confusion. When they arrive to the place where the ancient city gate once stood, the Gate of St. Apollonia, patroness of the nearby church of the Carmelites (and sometimes also called the Gate of the Great Bridge) they hold a station at an altar of repose; the choir boys and musicians go up to a nearby room (formerly to one of the gate’s towers) cum Processio ad portam civitatis ornatam venerit, sex pueri turrim ascendant and sing the verses of Gloria, laus et honor.[3] While the archbishop sings the Gloria, laus with the Cantor, the vested ministers and the choir, he continually incenses the Blessed Sacrament in the altar of repose. When the verses are finished, the Cantor begins the Responsory Ingrediente Domino in sanctam civitatem, and the procession enters the city (in the words of the Ordinal), by which it means the old boundaries of the city. When they enter the parvis or forecourt of the church, the Cantor begins the Responsory Collegerunt Pontifices.

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Four priests vested in black copes (formerly red and green) sing before the church door the Versicle Unus autem ex ipsis. Finally, two vested priest-chaplains carry the litter upon which the Body of Our Lord rests inside the lantern across the door, and hold it firmly, such that all the clergy and people enter the church passing under the Blessed Sacrament.

Immediately thereafter, they uncover the great crucifix and the Archbishop, the Cantor, the deacon, and the subdeacon kneel and sing Ave Rex noster, which the choir repeats. Finally they enter the choir and, if the Archbishop is present, he blesses the people. The Blessed Sacrament is again reserved, and the Mass begins.

2) Rogation Processions

On Rogation Monday after Sext, says the Ordinal, they prepare the procession, which the clergy and the people of the city are obliged to attend and do attend, carrying their reliquaries, crosses, and banners. They come together in the Metropolitan Mother Church: ad metropolitanam et matrem Ecclesiam convenire tenentur. While the processions from the other churches are make their way thither, the reliquaries of the saints are taken from the church treasury and placed on the High Altar one after the other by two chaplains of the Commune vested in albs. The relics are escorted to the sanctuary enclosure by two choir-boys carrying candles, the deacon and subdeacon with their usual vestments except the tunicle, the officiating hebdomadary or journeyeur also in an alb, stole, and purple maniple, who incenses each reliquary from the treasury until the entrance to the choir, while the cantors sing an antiphon proper to the saint whose relics are borne. After the antiphon is done, the officiant stops with his ministers, and sings the versicle and collect proper to the saint whose relics are being carried, and places them on the High Altar. When all the reliquaries have been placed upon the altar, and the clergy of the city is assembled, the procession begins from the Cathedral church at about 9:30 in the morning, that is to say at the hour when Sext begins.[4] They are not so delicate as to fear the blazing sun, and in other places where, to avoid it, they begin the procession at 7 in the morning, interpreting the rubric post Sextam as meaning after 6 in the morning.

First go the reliquaries of three or four parishes with their clergy under their banners, and three or four reliquaries of the Cathedral church with two torches or candles flanking each one. Then follow all the crosses and banners of all the other parishes. The cross and banner of the church of St. Maclou, the biggest parish in the city, is the one under which walks all the numerous clergy of all the parish churches of Rouen in a straight line, in two rows, with the parish priests of the city that walk last.

After them walk the canons regular of the church of La Madeleine and St. Lô, who take their place in choir together with the canons of the Cathedral on one side. Then come Benedictines, both the reformed and those of the ancient Royal Abbey of St. Ouen. They also have their place on the other side of the choir with the canons of the Cathedral. These churches have a common association, as I shall say in its proper place.

Then comes a beadle of the Chapter carrying the great banner of the Cathedral church, and after him comes an acolyte who carries the processional cross with a small banner attached, under which walks all the clergy of the Cathedral church, composed of the choir-boys, a great number of chaplains, and the cantors who are also considered chaplains.

saint romanusBetween the cantors, according to the Ordinal, walked the Lord Cantor preceded by the two parish priests of the churches of St. Denis and S. Vigor, holding white batons in their hands to keep the procession of the chaplains in line both going and returning. Then come the canons, the last of which are the deacon and the celebrant. After them come two great dragons which the common folk call Gargouilles  (similar ones are carried in other churches of France, such as Paris, Lyon, etc.) and which follow the reliquaries (or fiertes, from the Latin feretrum) of Our Lady and St. Romanus between players of various musical instruments. Then come the richest merchants of the city and the people. When the procession passes in front of the door of a church, and the door of the stational church, the clergy is incensed by the parish priest or the vicar.

The batons which the two parish priests of the churches of St. Denis and S. Vigor carried to keep the order of procession were not unique to the church of Rouen. We have also seen them in Lyon ad defendendam or custodiendam processionem, that is, to protect the way of the procession, to indicate that free passage be given, and to prevent confusion. The other parish priests of the city and many other clerics have them too, and the dignités and elder canons as well. But, since all things degenerate with time, they were later shortened to 2 feet or 2.5 feet. Finally they have had the audacity to carry them uncovered and adding flowers on the top, and then in the middle of the baton.

Formerly the Benedictines of Bec going to these three Rogation Processions carried batons  or canes to support themselves, or to remove from the way anything that might obstruct the path, since these processions used to be carried out barefoot, as one can see in the Roman Ordinal (and, as I have remarked, in Lyon). Since the Abbey of Bec belongs to the Diocese of Rouen, it is not very far from the city, and followed a good part of the rites of Rouen, it is possible that the batons carried today by part of the clergy—all the ones that receive or buy them—used to be longer and thicker, and employed for the same reason as the Benedictines. Each of the monks of St. Martin-des-Champs of the Congregation of Cluny in Paris still carry a baton during the Rogation Processions, and likewise those of St. Benigne in Dijon, Lisieux, and the entire Order of Cluny. This helps confirm my conjecture. Further evidence is the fact that in Rouen on Rogation Tuesday they process to the church of St. Gervais outside the city, and must go uphill. The same was the case on Rogation Wednesday, when they went to the Abbatial Church of the Mount of St. Catherine, which is a very high mountain, very tough and painstaking to climb. Batons or canes would have been very helpful for climbing up and down. I leave the matter to those learned in the rubrics to decide.

Let us resume the course of our Monday procession. It goes to the parish church of St. Eloi.

After the procession enters the church, they have a sermon, which apparently used to take place after the Gospel of a dry Mass celebrated there, perhaps like in Metz in Lorraine, for the subdeacon, deacon, and celebrant vested as for saying a ferial Mass, except for the chasuble. (In Vienne the celebrant walks in procession with the chasuble.) After the end of the sermon, they say the preces kneeling (formerly everyone prostrated himself) in front of the altar. Then, three cantors or chaplains sing the Litany of the Saints until they go back into the choir of the Cathedral church, where they finish it.

The Ordinal of the Cathedral church adds: Nota quod qualibet die trium dierum processionis Religiosi S. Audoeni tenentur mittere per suos servitores ad domum Cantoris Ecclesiae Rotomagensis vel ejus locum tenentis, hora prandii unum panem magnum, unum galonem boni vini, honestum ferculum piscium, et unum magnum flaconem de pinguedine lactis, sicque in duobus diebus reportantur vasa, et in teria die dimittuntur, et pertinent Cantori.   (“Note that on each one of these three days of the procession, the religious of St. Audoenus must send their servants at lunch time to the house of the Cantor of the Church of Rouen or his locum tenens bearing a large loaf of bread, a gallon of good wine, a large helping of fish, and a large flagon of cream. The dishes are brought for two days and returned on the third.”)

On Rogation Tuesday the Procession goes to the church of St. Gervais with the same ceremonies as yesterday. There is a sermon, and after it is over, they say the preces kneeling (formerly everyone prostrated himself in front of the altar), and then they sing the Responsory O constantia martyrum. When that is over, three canons sing the litany that begins with Humili prece et sincera devotione ad te clamantes  Christe exaudi nos, which the choir repeats after each couplet or combination of stanzas, each of which are composed of a verse in hexameter and one in pentameter, containing the names of the saints in order. The text is as pitiful as the chant is charming.


The procession goes to the edge of the dry moat in which there are towers, arrow-slits and vaults, and much echoing that resounds with this beautiful chant and its cadences. Nothing is more pleasing or charming to the ear. The cantors continue the Litany until they entered the choir of the Cathedral church, where they finish it with two final stanzas, the last of which is in Greek.

On Rogation Wednesday they go in procession to the church of St. Nicaise (formerly to the Abbatial Church of the Mount of St. Catherine before it was destroyed) at the same time and with the same ceremonies as on Monday, and also with a sermon. On their way back three cantors first sing the Litany Ardua spes mundi,[5] which is repeated after a stanza composed of a verse in hexameter and one in pentameter, which contain the names of the saints in order. The text is not beautiful, and neither is the chant. But when they reach a certain crossroad, three priest-chaplains begin another litany with a beautiful chant, and which produces quite a beautiful effect with its refrains. This is its order: the three priest-chaplains begin by singing Rex Kyrie, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos. The choir repeats the same. Then the three priest-chaplains in the middle of the procession sing Sancta Maria ora pro nobis. After that, three deacon-chaplains sing Rex virginum Deus immortalis. Three subdeacon-chaplains add, Servis tuis semper miserere. The choir sings, Rex Kyrie, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos. And thus they all take the Litany up anew all the way unto the choir, where they finish. Upon their return they say None, and then go to lunch, for it is well after midday.


[1] In the jubé.

[2] The same structure as the pre-Pius XII Roman rite, except that the latter has six collects after the Preface (the use of Rouen lacks the collects Petimus, Domine; Deus, qui dispersa; and Deus, qui miro present in the Roman rite.

[3] De Vert, Explication…., vol. 2, pg. 90.

[4] Because the little hours are anticipated on fasting days.

[5] “This rhymed verse litany is actually much more ancient: it was composed by the monk Ratpert of Saint Gall († 884) to be chanted in the Sunday processions of that famous Swiss abbey. It is one of many witnesses to the extraordinary intellectual, artistic, and scientific flowering of St. Gaul, one of the spearheads of the Carolingian Renaissance. Due to the great influence of the chant school of St. Gaul, Ardua spes mundi like many other pieces from the liturgical repertoire composed for the use of the famous abbey, was rapidly taken up by a number of churches in the West, and even received the approval of Pope Nicholas III († 1280). (Cf. Schubiger, Die Sängerschule St Gallens, p. 37). It is often found assigned to Rogation processions (in the diocese of Trèves it is sung on Tuesday of the Rogations).”

Cette litanie  versifiée et rythmée est de fait beaucoup plus ancienne : elle fut en effet composée par le moine Ratpert de Saint-Gall († 884) pour être chantée aux processions dominicales de cette fameuse abbaye suisse. C’est un témoin parmi bien d’autres de l’extraordinaire efflorescence intellectuelle, artistique et scientifique, qui caractérisa Saint-Gall, alors l’un des fers de lance de la Renaissance carolingienne. En raison du grand rayonnement de l’école de chant de saint Gall, Ardua spes mundi, comme bien d’autres pièces du répertoire liturgique composé pour l’usage de la fameuse abbaye, fut rapidement reprise dans de nombreuses Eglises d’Occident, et reçut même une approbation du pape Nicolas III († 1280) comme litanie (cf. Schubiger, Die Sängerschule St Gallens, p. 37). On la retrouve souvent assignée aux processions des Rogations (dans le diocèse de Trèves, elle est ainsi chantée le mardi des Rogations). []

Rouen (5): Public Penance in 18th Century France


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Public penance in the West became obsolete towards the end of the Middle Ages. By the 16th century its restoration often featured in efforts to reform Church discipline by synods and bishops. The Council of Trent insisted that public sinners ought to be subjected to public penance, and zealous prelates like St. Charles Borromeo tried to restore the old discipline, but generally in vain. As Sieur de Moléon reports here, it survived in certain dioceses of France for particularly egregious sins, and Jansenists like Antoine Arnaud encouraged its revival. The last reports of the celebration of the rituals of public penance on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday come from the middle of the 18th century, although the Pontificale Romanum continued to include the rite until it was reformed in the 20th century, and the Rituale Romanum continued to state that public scandal required public satisfaction (Tit. III, cap. 1).

There is perhaps no church in France where public penance is observed with more exactitude and ceremony than in the church of Rouen. The remains of this ancient discipline are too beautiful to overlook here. Here follows an account of how it is practiced in this church.

Extract from a Memoire of M. de la Fosse, Grand Penitentiary of the church of Rouen, 1673

We commit all sorts of persons to public penance here: men, women, and young people. Since the beginning of this year I have obliged two young men of twenty or twenty-five years for having spoken several blasphemies in the presence of several people of their parish with whom they were working.

The crimes for which people are ordinarily obliged to public penance are: the smothering drowning, or burning of children with significant negligence of their parents; public concubinage, horrible blasphemies that cause scandal, etc. From several places in the diocese I hear of what sort of satisfaction was performed by gentlemen who fought inside churches.

The way in which the penance is done varies, because ordinarily I require it to be performed on the places where the fault has been committed, in addition to the to the fact that the penitents are obliged to show up in the Cathedral church on Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday of the following Lent They are sent to me by their parish priests to be absolved in reserved cases, and so I order them to hear their parish Mass in the porch or portal of their church for one or more Sundays and feasts before receiving absolution. I send them back with a document written in the following manner:

Lator praesentium, vel praesens mulier genuflexa orabit ad fores Ecclesiae proximis tribus diebus Dominicis dum Missa parochialis celebrabitur; deinde feriis 4 Cinerum et 5 in Coena Domini proximae Quadragesimae hora octava matutina conveniet ad praesentem cathedralem ecclesiam. Quorum executio venerabili D. Parocho comendatur. Datum, etc. Signed N. Poenitentiarius Rotomagi. (“The bearer of the present letter shall pray on his or her knees at the doors of the church for the next three Sundays during the parish Mass. Then on Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday of the next Lent, at 8 o’clock in the morning he or she shall assemble at the present Cathedral church. The performance of these things is entrusted to the parish priest.”)

They find me in my chapel on the day and hour prescribed. Those who come from farthest away arrive on the previous day at Vespers usually carrying letters from their parish priests that attest how they have fulfilled what was prescribed for them.

For penitents from the city, usually I make them hear their parish Mass ad fores interiores ecclesiae since the portals of the churches are usually next to the road. In this way they are still noticed, when ladies in silk veils or scarves leave their pews to hear Mass or the Divine Office from the church door.

Ceremony of Ash Wednesday for the imposition of public penitence

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On Wednesday morning the archbishop’s sermon is given in the pulpit at the end of the nave very near to the door of the choir. Subsequently, this same pulpit is removed, with a particular ceremony, into an arcade near to the main portal, so that the penitents who cannot enter the church with the others to assist at the Divine Mysteries may still at least hear the word of God during Lent. Thus on Ash Wednesday the archbishop, in pontifical vestments, or in his absence the head of the chapter, goes into the choir to bless the ashes and impose them on the clergy.

After this they come down in procession into the nave with the crucifix, candles, and a hair shirt (cilice) carried like a banner by the canon-deacon. When all are in their places, the canon deacon reads a long Lesson addressed to the penitents containing the reasons the Church has for imposing this penance upon them and how they must carry it out. Below is an abridged version of the sense of this Latin exhortation:

“The voice of your brothers whom you have killed cry out to God. Holy Church is in morning and sadness for the loss of her infants, but she suffers more from the loss of your souls. This loss is what obliges her to cast you out today from her bosom, and to deliver your bodies to the devil, so that your souls may be saved on the day of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I exhort you to to apply yourselves with much ardor and vigilance to expiate and repair the crimes that you have committed, so that being delivered from the power of the Devil, you may re-enter under the protection of Holy Church your Mother.”

Then after using the words of St. Leo to show them the horrible state to which sin has reduced them, in which they have been separated from the sacraments and communion of the Church, and the obligation they have to perform their penance with fervor and fidelity, lest their penance be extended,  he tells them what they must do:

“During the time of your penance you must wear the hair shirt, eat no meat, fast on bread and water, abstain (according to the order of your parish priest) from riding horses, going to war, from baths, from keeping your hair, and from the company of your wives as long as they desire to permit you. For there is nothing left for him who has become a criminal by using things that were forbidden, than to abstain from things that are permitted. Be assured that we can offer you no indulgence, nor relax any of these acts of penance, unless you redeem them by long and fervent prayers, by feeding the poor, and by other good works.”

After reading this Lesson, or rather exhortation, the archbishop or officiant sits on a faldstool prepared for him on the right side of the clergy. Then one of the beadles comes from my chapel (of John the Baptist) where the penitents wait, each of them holding a lighted candle. He leads them through the people, who have assembled in great number for the ceremony. They pass through all the clergy to prostrate themselves on their knees before the seated officiant who blows out their candles.

Then they go in the same order to the main door of the church which is half-open. After they have left one after the other, I accompany the archbishop or officiant to close the door with him when the last penitent has left. Then we go to join the clergy, where I take my place and return in procession to the choir, where Mass is celebrated.

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Ceremony of Absolution Thursday for the public reconciliation

Screen Shot 2019-01-13 at 6.39.25 AM.pngThe penitents of Ash Wednesday, and others who have been referred during Lent, go on Absolution Thursday at 8 in the morning to the chapel of the penitentiary in the Cathedral. They bring back the candles that had been extinguished on Ash Wednesday.

After None has been celebrated, the clergy come in procession into the nave led by the archbishop in pontifical vestments, or in his absence by the first member of the choir, who takes this properly archiepiscopal day as well as Ash Wednesday. The deacon reads the Lesson that begins Adest, venerabilis Pontifex, etc. which contains a request made by the deacon to the bishop in the name of all the faithful and the whole church, to reconcile the penitents and give them the grace of absolution that the Church asks for them with humility, and of which they have made themselves worthy by their continual tears and groans, by their fasts and other exercises of penance.

While this Lesson is chanted, the beadle comes to take the penitents and lead them outside the church to the main door from which they were expelled on Ash Wednesday. The archbishop or officiant begins the Venite, which the clergy repeat alternately three times, and ends with Venite filii, audite me, timorem Domini docebo vos. Then the main door is opened to the penitents who prostrate themselves one after the other before the archbishop or the officiant, who gives them the kiss of peace. Meanwhile the deacon and subdeacon take the extinguished candles of the penitents, light from from those carried by the acolytes, and give them back to the penitents who go in a line through the clergy to a small area prepared for them in front of the pulpit at the top of the nave, as on Ash Wednesday, where they hear a sermon made by the Penitentiary or someone else appointed to do it. The clergy and a great number of people assist at this ceremony and are very edified by what takes place in this ceremony.

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After the sermon, which the penitents hear on their knees, candles burning in their hands, the cantor begins the Domine ne in furore and the clergy present continue in alternation the seven Penitential Psalms, after which the archbishop or officiant, preceded by two acolytes with their lighted candles mounts the pulpit to give the general absolution as prescribed in the Manual [pg. 293]. Then the penitents return to the chapel of the Penitentiary who sends them away in peace after a word of exhortation.

As for the number of penitents, I remember that I presented about forty of them to the archbishop last year.

Rouen, 6 February 1673


De la Fosse
Canon, Theologian, and Penitentiary of Rouen

In 1697 there were twenty-eight public penitents in the Cathedral church of Rouen.


To read more from the Voyages Liturgiques about the liturgy of Rouen, see

Part (1): The Cathedral Chapter of Rouen
Part (2): Major Feast Days
Part (3): Ordinations and Saints Feasts
Part (4): The 15th Century Ordinal of Rouen

Voyages Liturgiques: Liturgy in 15th Century Rouen (4)

Part (1), (2), (3)

Now we will present several practices and ceremonies taken from an Ordinal of the church of Rouen and from some other documents about two-hundred years old, all of which are still observed, except a few that I will make sure to point out.

Before and after chanting a Lesson or Response from the jubé, a bow is made to the Eagle with a half-turn, semigyrus.

The 18th-century jubé of the Cathedral of Rouen, seen from the choir. It was removed in 1884.

On Sundays of Advent and Lent the deacon wears the orarium[1] in addition to a folded chasuble.

According to this Ordinal, on all ferias of Lent until Holy Thursday, when an office begins the canons, chaplains, and choir boys make the sign of the cross over their place and kiss it. They also do this if they enter choir after the office has begun.

On Lenten ferias a great violet veil is stretch across and above the whole choir during the whole ferial office (from Monday of the first week of Lent to the Passion of Spy Wednesday, when it is ripped in two when the deacon says the words et velum Templi scissum est.)[2] The veil is only lifted during the Gospel and after the Sanctus until the elevation of the chalice.

Before Compline in Lent a minor canon read from the Collations until one-hundred fifty years ago. The same was done at Bayeux, Vienne, and Salisbury in England, and the great reading is still done in the church of Reims and nearly its entire province. This reading gave its name to the small evening meal of Lent. At Compline the deacon says the Confiteor and receives the clergy’s confession. If he is present, he says the Indulgentiam, and at the end of Compline he sprinkles the clergy, except on Sundays. If he is not present the Hebdomadary or the Daily (Journeyer) does it.

The Preface Qui corporali jejunio was only used for ferias until a century ago, as is apparent in all the ancient missals of Rouen, Orléans, and others; on Sundays in Lent they said the common Preface per annum, as they do today in Sens, Auxerre, and elsewhere, because Lenten Sundays are not fasting days, and even in the early 12th century they ate meat on these days.

In all the Missals of Rouen printed in the last century, in the Quod ore sumpsimus, instead of munere temporali, it is written de Corpore et Sanguine Domini nostri Jesu Christi. There was only one purification or ablution with wine, like in Lyon and among the Carthusians.

The final ablution with water and wine was never done, and the priest was never obliged to drink what he rinsed from his fingers. He went to wash his hands in the washbowl or laver near the altar: Sacerdos vadat ad lavatorium. The same thing is noted in the Carmelite Missal of 1574. The Ritual of Rouen states that there should be such a washbowl near all altars, as found in the church of Saint-Étienne-des-Tonneliers in Rouen.[3] Reversus ad Altare dicat Communionem et Postcommunionem; deinde se vertat ad populum, dicens: Dominus vobiscum, et Ite, missa est. Then the priest gave the blessing with which the Mass ended. Et benedictione accepta recedatur, say the ancient Missals of Rouen of the 16th century. This remains the practice today in Rouen, where the people depart after the blessing has been given. Indeed, the priest or deacon has dismissed them with the Ite, missa est. In 1576, the final Gospel according to St. John was still not said in Rouen. It was only introduced in the Missal of 1604, but even then the priest only said it when removing his chasuble. The 1604 Missal states: Vertit se ad populum et ei benedicit manu: interim exuitur casula, dicendo, Dominus vobiscum, et Evangelium secundum Joannem.

We have seen before that in most of the church whereof I have spoken, the last Gospel is still not said in High Masses.

During the fifteen days of Passiontide the Psalm Judica me is not said at the beginning of Mass, because not that long ago it was never said at the foot of the altar. It is still never said in Milan, Sens, nor among the Carthusians, Carmelites, and Dominicans. The Psalm Judica that begins the Mass of Passion Sunday impeded the psalm from being added in order to avoid its repetition.

About 200 years ago, they stopped extinguishing the last candle at the end of Lauds of Holy Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Rouen. It is instead hidden until the Officiant has said the collect. He used three knocks thereafter to indicate the candle should be relit, according to the Carmelite Ordinal: Expleta oratione, qui facit officium, sonitum trina percussione faciat in signum ut lumen extinctum reaccendatur. In conventual churches, they do the discipline immediately afterwards: Perlato autem lumine a sacrista, recipiantur disciplinae. In some churches each one makes several knocks.[4]

We see in this Ordinal on Maundy Thursday Mass that the Archbishop of Rouen’s pontifical chair was still behind the altar, like in Vienne and Lyon.

On Good Friday, they say the four little Hours—Prime, Terce, Sext, and None—at the four corners of the choir, that is, one in each corner. Vespers is said in the sanctuary and all around, and Compline in the middle of the choir around the tomb of Charles V, king of France, in a low voice.

Before the beginning of the Office of Good Friday, they place a large cloth upon the altar, which is larger than the table and covers the altar above and on all sides. This used to be done every day, for cloths used to be placed on the altar only when Mass was about to be said. I have already made note of this above, in the chapter on Angers, and this is still practiced in the many monasteries of the Order of Cluny. There, they do not use altar frontals, because they were not used in the early centuries of the Church. They are also not used in the Cathedral church of Angers. One can count on the fact that almost everything that is uniquely done on the Holy Triduum is of the greatest and purest antiquity. The Blessed Sacrament reserved for the sick is not at the altar in those days, because it used to be that it was never kept there, but elsewhere, as we shall see was done throughout the year in many churches of Rouen. Likewise, during these three days neither Deus in adjutorium, nor Gloria Patri, nor the short chapter, nor hymns are said in the Office, because they were not said in the early centuries of the Church. They were added later, and it has still not been found advisable to add them to the Office of the Triduum, nor to the Office of the Dead. To call the faithful to the Divine Office in the Cathedral church, they use wooden mallets, with which they strike the doors of the church. In the other parishes they use tablets or tartevelles, because these were anciently used before bells were invented. Finally, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Mass begins with the prophecies, since in the first centuries of the Church Mass began with a reading from the Old Testament.[5]

This practice has also been retained on the Saturday Vigil of Pentecost.

There is a very ancient practice in Rouen, which we would doubtless have found in the ancient Ordinal of six-hundred forty years, if several pages were not missing in this place. It is the Inscription of the Paschal Table on a beautiful vellum which is attached at the height of a man to a large wax column about twenty-five feet high,[6] on top of which the Paschal Candle is placed, between the tomb of Charles V and the three silver lamps or basins. This Table was (I imagine) once read out loud by the deacon after he had chanted the Paschale praeconium, of which the Table was apparently a part. At least it used to be exposed to everyone’s view everyone from Easter until Pentecost, as it is currently. It is mentioned in chapter 29, book 6 of Rupert’s De divinis officiis, in Honorius of Autun’s Gemma animae, in ch. 102 of the treatise de antiquo ritu Missae, in Book 6, ch. 80 of William Durandus’s Rationale and in John Beleth’s Summa de Ecclesiasticis Officiis, chapter 108 in these terms: Annotatur quidem in cereo Paschali annus ab incarnatione Domini; inscribuntur quoque cereo Paschali indictio vel aera, atque epacta. I would add that it did not only record the year and epact, but also the mobile feasts, the number of years since the foundation of the church of Rouen, who its first bishop was, how many since it was dedicated, the year of the pontificate of the pope, of the archbishop of Rouen, and of the king. But that means nothing: here is the table from 1697:


Year of Our Lord 1657.
Year since the creation of the world 5697.
Year since the universal Deluge: 4052.
Year since the Incarnation of Our Lord: 1697.
Year since the Passion of the Same: 1664.
Year since the Nativity of Our Lady: 1711.
Year since Her Assumption: 1647.
Year of Indiction: 5.
Year of the Solar Cycle: 29.
Year of the Lunar Cycle: 7.
Epact: 7.[7] 
Golden number: 7.[8]
Dominical Letter: F.[9]
Letter of the Martyrology: G.[10]
End of Easter: 14 April.
Moon of the same: 16 April.
Annotine Easter: 22 April.
Rogation Days: 13 May.
Ascension Day: 16 May.
Pentecost Day: 26 May.
Eucharist Day: 6 June.
Sundays from Pentecost until Advent: 26.
First Sunday of Advent: 1 December.
Dominical Letter of the following year: E.
The following year is 1698 according to the common order.
Letter of the Martyrology of the following year: t.
Sundays from the Nativity of the Lord until Septuagesima of the following year: 4.
Beginning of Septuagesima of the following year: 26 January.
Septuagesima Sunday of the following year: 26 January.
First Sunday of Lent of the following year: 16 February.
Easter Day of the following year: 20 March.
Year since the consecration of St. Mellonius: 1437.
Year since the passing of the same: 1388.
Year since the consecration of St. Romanus: 1066.
Year since the passing of the same: 1053.
Year since the consecration of St. Audoin: 1051.
Year since the passing of the same: 1008.
Year since the Dedication of this Metropolitan Church: 633.
Year since the following year: E.
The following year is 1698 according to the common order.
Letter of the Martyrology of the following year: t.
Sundays from the Nativity of the Lord until Septuagesima of the following year: 4.
Beginning of Septuagesima of the following year: 26 January.
Septuagesima Sunday of the following year: 26 January.
First Sunday of Lent of the following year: 16 February.
Easter Day of the following year: 20 March.
Year since the consecration of St. Mellonius: 1437.
Year since the passing of the same: 1388.
Year since the consecration of St. Romanus: 1066.
Year since the passing of the same: 1053.
Year since the consecration of St. Audoin: 1051.
Year since the passing of the same: 1008.
Year since the Dedication of this Metropolitan Church: 633.

Jacques-Nicolas Colbert, Archbishop of Rouen (reigned 1691-1707)

Year since the proclamation of Rollo as first Duke of Normandy: 785.
Year since the passing of the same: 785.
Year since the coronation of William, first Duke of Normandy in the kingdom of England: 623.
Year since the death of the same: 609.
Year since the Restoration of the Duchy of Normandy to Philip II, King of France: 493.
Year since the second Restoration of the Duchy of Normandy to Charles VII, King of France: 247.
Year of the Pontificate of Our Most Holy Father and Lord Pope Innocent XII: 5.
Year since the consecration of Our Reverend Father and Lord Jacques-Nicolas [Colbert], Archbishop of Rouen and Primate of Normandy: 7.
Year since the birth of the Most Christian Prince Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre: 59.
Year of the reign of the same: 54.
This Candle was consecrated in honor of the Immaculate Lamb and in honor of the glorious Virgin, his Mother Mary.

It was very appropriate for this Table to be published on Easter night, because for many centuries this was considered the first day of the year.

Only in 1565, by an Ordonnance of Charles IX, King of France, did the first day of January come to be reckoned as the first day of the year. This Table was a sort of ecclesiastical calendar. The Lord Chancellor of the Cathedral church of Rouen is tasked with writing it, or to have it written at his own expense.

These Tablets were not only used in this church, but in collegiate churches all over, or at least in abbatial ones, such as those of Bec, as one sees in the statutes issued by the Prior, the Bl. Lanfranc, to be observed in the Monasteries of the Order of St. Benedict, and also in the Customary of Cluny and the Uses of Cîteaux.

There is a similar wax column with the Paschal Candle (but without the Paschal Table) in the churches of St. Ouen, Notre-Dame-de-la-Ronde, and St. Sauveur, all in Rouen.

From the moment the Paschal Candle is lit on Holy Saturday, it burns continuously day and night until the evening of Easter day, following the literal sense of Scripture: ad noctis hujus caliginem destruendam indeficiens perseveret…flammas ejus lucifer matutinus inveniat. It also burns during Mass and Vespers throughout the Octave and Double feasts in Eastertide until the Ascension, during the Office of Triple feasts in Eastertide until the Ascension, and from the Procession and Blessing of fonts of the Saturday Vigil of Pentecost until the evening of Pentecost day, which is properly speaking the end of the fifty days of Eastertide, or the holy Quinquagesima, as the Fathers call it.[11]

As far as one can see, at that time the Psalm Judica me at the foot of the altar was not said.

This is what the new Ordinal reads on Holy Saturday: Archiepiscopus vel Sacerdos cum Diacono et Subdiacono, candelabris et thuribulis veniat, et confessione humiliter dicta, alte incipiat Gloria in excelsis Deo absque tropis; et prosternat se omnis chorus. It adds, Et interim omnes campanae pulsentur, et dehinc per omnes abbatias et parochias totius civitatis. The Ritual indicates the same thing, and it seems it is customary that the principal church begins to give the signal. However, [faute qu’on n’y tient pas la main], there are parish and monastic churches that ring the bell over an hour before the Cathedral.

Here is one of the most beautiful practices to be seen, and which was still in use in Rouen less than 150 years ago: At the Procession on Easter day after Lauds in the nave in front of the Crucifix, the Archbishop kisses all the canons while saying to each one, Resurrexit Dominus. The same thing is still practiced not only in the Cathedral church of Vienne in the Dauphiné and the Collegiate church of S. Vulfran in Abbeville, but also throughout the East, when both the clergy and people greet each other by saying Χριστός ἀνέστη, Jesus Christ is risen.

In Easter day Mass, the Archbishop gave the solemn blessing before the Agnus Dei, as bishops still do today in several churches of France. We can expect that the zeal of the Lord Archbishop of Rouen shall re-establish it, as the Lord Bishop of Orléans has recently done.

In this Mass and that of solemn feasts tropes and laudes, or praises, were sung: cum tropis et laudibus.

I think I have already said that tropes were stanzas or words mixed into the Kyrie eleison, such as Kyrie orbis factor, or Fons bonitatis, which are still sung at Lyon, Sens, and elsewhere. The words were eliminated, but the notes were kept, and this is the reason why today there are so many notes over a single syllable in the Kyrie. The laudes or praises were acclamations that began Christus vincit, Christus regnat, etc. Ludovico Regi Francorum pax, salus, et victoria, etc., which are sung at Rouen between the collect and the Epistle every time the Lord Archbishop celebrates Pontifical Mass on Triple feasts of the first class. Perhaps this term also refers to an antiphon that begun Hunc diem, and which was once sung immediately after the Communion in the church of Vienne.

Here is the Christus vincit as it is sung on all solemn feasts when the Lord Archbishop celebrates Pontifical Mass.

On Easter day and week, less than a hundred years ago Vespers began with the Kyrie eleison, following the ancient Roman Ordinal, the ancient and new Ordinal of Rouen, the books of the Divine Offices, that attributed to Alcuin, Rupert, Honorius of Autun, William Durandus, an old Dominican Breviary, the Carmelite Ordinal, and the breviaries of Rouen of 1491 and 1578. This is still done in the churches and dioceses of Besançon, Châlons-sur-Marne, Cambrai, the Province of Reims, and among the old Carmelites and Premonstratensians.[12] I write eleêson as in the Breviary of Cluny, since that is how it is sung by the musicians of the Cathedral of Rouen, and in all the churches of the Low Countries, and that is how it ought to be pronounced.

On that day, Vespers was said as it is still said today in Rouen and nearly everywhere else: with three psalms and Alleluia antiphons, the Gradual Haec dies and the Alleluia, with a versicle and without a prose.

After the Magnificat, the collect, and the Benedicamus, they do the procession to the fonts.

Two priests in albs carry the ampoules or vials of the sacred Oils and the holy Chrism. Each of them have on their necks a large veil or scarf, and they use the ends thereof to carry the ampoules. In their place, a deacon in alb and dalmatic carries the blessed Candle. All three walk together along the same line, with their heads covered with their square birettas, but everyone else’s head is uncovered. I think the reason is that they leave the sacristy with their heads covered, for nothing requires them to have their heads bare, and since their hands are occupied holding the vials of the sacred Oils and the Candle, they cannot uncover their heads anyway. (We have likewise seen the subdeacon of Lyon carrying the cross in Procession with his mitre on his head, even in the presence of the blessed Sacrament.) Then come the rest of the clergy together with the subdeacon and deacon, and finally the officiant. While processing towards the fonts, they sing the Psalm Laudate pueri with the Alleluia antiphon, and then around the fonts they sing the verse Laudate pueri Dominum, laudate nomen Domini. The officiant says the collect ad fontes for the newly baptized. Then they sing the Psalm In exitu Israel de Aegypto, which, together with the Psalm Laudate pueri, [est triomphé], and the Procession going through the church aisle to the western door, and finishes the psalm in the nave where they make a station. Then, the Procession goes back into the choir singing in faux bourdon the Antiphon Lux perpetua lucebit sanctis tuis Domine, etc., the versicle, and the collect; and the choir-boys conclude Benedicamus Domino, alleluia, alleluia.

The Procession to the Fonts after Vespers during the Easter Octave, from a 1789 Processional of Rouen.

This Procession is still duly carried out in the Cathedral church and in the better-run parish churches. In the others they do not carry the sacred Oils, but only the Paschal Candle, without a deacon or subdeacon. This Procession is very appropriate to remind Christians of their baptismal vows. […] This practice is very ancient and praiseworthy.

Every Saturday from Easter to Ascension, they used to and still do a station after Vespers. It is held in the nave before the Crucifix, which is incensed with three strikes by the coped officiant while the Responsory Dignus est Domine Deus noster accipere is sung. No cross is borne during this station, apparently because one is always before the Crucifix, but the thurifer and two candle-bearers are present.

Every Sunday from Easter to Ascension, they make a similar procession or station before the Crucifix after Lauds. It is done with the cross, banner, and candle-bearers, but without incense, in addition to the procession held before High Mass.

On Pentecost at Terce, seven priest-canons vested in chasubles above their surplices, accompanied by the deacon and subdeacon and canons vested in dalmatic and tunicle, with the two candle-bearers, go into the sanctuary at the bottom altar step. The priest in the middle sings the Deus in adjutorium and they all sing together and kneeling the first stanza of the Hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, during which they incense with the thuribles. The choir sings the second stanza, the seven priests the third, and so on in alternation. After the end of the hymn, the seven priests turn towards the clergy and incense them while they sing an entire antiphone. The clergy and people have remained kneeling from the beginning of the Veni Creator until the end of this antiphon. Then the Cantor begins the Psalm Legem pone. The seven priests, the deacon, and the subdeacon sing Terce together in the sanctuary, and thereafter return to the sacristy. This is also done in well-run parish churches.

At Terce during the Octave of Pentecost, the priest who sings the High Mass, the deacon, and the subdeacon vested as for Mass, except for the chasuble and tunicles, come together with the two candle-bearers to the back of the choir, and the officiating priest intones the Deus in adjutorium for Terce. He and the deacon each take a thurible, and, kneeling with the subdeacon, they begin the Hymn Veni Creator, and continue this first stanza together with the left side of the choir, while they incense. The right side of the choir sings the following stanza, and so they continue in alternation both today and during the rest of the week. The choir alternates each day during this Octave, as well as those of Christmas and Easter, when the Office is not done by the Hebdomadarian but by the Journeyer, who is called in Latin dietarius. The Cantor intones the Psalm Legem pone for the Antiphon Repleti sunt. The officiant sits together with his ministers on the stalls, and after the psalms and antiphon, he stands and sings the Chapter, the collect after the Short Responsory, and finishes Terce with the Benedicamus Domino. Then immediately the Cantor begins the Introit of the Mass.

On Easter, Pentecost, the Assumption, the Dedication of the Church, and the feast of St. Romanus, all the clergy wore copes during the procession, and remained thus vested at the High Mass. Nine of them stood in a line in the middle of the choir. Today only five do so.


[1] I.e. a broad stole.

[2] See our post on veils, and Gemma Animae

[3] This church was destroyed by the Anglo-American bombing of Rouen in 1944.

[4] The Roman Breviary, for instance, states, Finita oratione, fit fragor et strepitus aliquantulum: mox profertur candela accensa de sub altari, et omnes surgunt, et cum silentio discedunt.

[5] Honorius Augustudunensis believed the same thing: Officium hodie [sc. Feria VI in Parasceve] a lectione inchoatur, quia olim omnis missa a lectione incipiebatur. (Gemma animae III, Ch. 89).

[6] Durandus (Lib. VI, Cap. lxxx) confirms that in many churches of France there were Paschal candles that were effectively wax columns, and mentions (but does not approve) how some writers connect these with the columns of wax St Constantine ordered placed around the city to light the streets of Constantinople on Easter night.

[7] The number of days since the new moon at the beginning of the calendar year, used to compute the date of Easter.

[8] The number showing a year’s place in the Metonic lunar cycle, used to compute the date of Easter.

[9] Indicates which days of the month are Sundays.

[10] Used to determine the lunar day, which is announced at the beginning of the Martyrology after Prime.

[11] Cf. Honorius, Gemma animae III, Ch. 148: De Paschali quinquagesima.

[12] Author’s note: On Quasimodo Sunday and the rest of the year they begin Deus in adjutorium, which is how the ancient hermits began, for meum is in the singular. Kyrie eleeson hemas was the beginning for the clergy, which was always together, since hemas is in the plural. This is what Fr. Châtelain has written to me about the matter.