Gemma Animae (61): The Descent into Hell


Chapter 60:
On the Sixth Office and the Episcopal Blessing

[The Descent into Hell]

Desent into Hell (Pascher)
Christus in der Vorhölle, Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest (Source)

The sixth office, in which the pontiff blesses the people, expresses Christ’s descent into the nether regions. Moses acted as a figure of this when he blessed the sons of Israel just before he died, and ordered them to be led from Egypt into their homeland through Jesus, who is Joshua (Deuteronomy 31). Jacob also expressed this in his death, when he blessed his sons and predicted many things about their future inheritance (Genesis 49). Christ fulfilled both this blessings, when dying he descended into hell, to the people sitting in the darkness and the shadow of death, and blessed them with his visitation, and led them out of prison to their heavenly homeland.

The bishop performs all of this when he blesses the people, and soon after refreshes them with spiritual food. However, we must note that he always blesses in three parts (ternis capitulis); then, fourthly, he will confirm all with quod ipse praestare dignetur; fifthly, he concludes with benedictionem Dei Patris: for God blessed this world three times, fourthly confirms the rest, and with a fifth blessing he shall give it possession of its inheritance.

Firstly God blessed the first men when he commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. He blessed men a second time when, after the world had been destroyed by flood, he ordered Noah and his descendants to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9). Thirdly, God blessed the world through Abraham, when he promised him Christ as a blessing (Genesis 18). He blessed the world a fourth time when he sent us his Son, who came with blessing, who blessed his own before ascending to heaven and confirmed the rest through the Holy Spirit (Luke 24). He will bless the world a fifth time when he completes those about to enter into the homeland with a final blessing: Venite, benedicti Patris mei, possidete regnum vobis praeparatum (Matthew 25).

Descent into Hell.jpg


[1] In all the liturgies of East and West the Communion is accompanied by some form of blessing of the people, though in the Roman rite this form has not much developed. The pre-Communion episcopal blessing was a highly prized element of the Gallic liturgies that resisted many Roman attempts to expunge it, before finally making its way into the solemn Roman service (Cf. MS II. 294-97). As Jungmann explains:

“The Gallic pontifical blessing, like the blessing in the Orient, was usually preceded by the deacon’s exhortation ‘Humiliate vos ad benedictionem,’ which was answered by a Deo gratias; then the bishop, with mitre and staff, turned to the people and read the formula of blessing from the Benedictionale held before him; at the concluding sentence he made the sign of the Cross three times in three directions. The formula of blessing itself was regularly composed of three members, following the model of the great priestly blessing in the Old Testament (Numbers 6:22- 26), which also appeared in the most ancient collections. After each of these three members (usually consisting of well-rounded periods) there was a response, Amen, and at the end a special concluding clause. As for content, most of the formulas clung to the pertinent festal thoughts” (296).

Jungmann cites one example from Magdeburg, for the First Sunday of Lent:

(1) Omnipotens Deus, cuius Unigeniti adventum et praeteritum creditis et futurum expectatis, eiusdem adventus vos illustratione sanctificet et sua benedictione locupletet. Amen. — (2) In praesentis vitae stadio vos ab omni adversitate defendat et se vobis in iudicio placabilem ostendat. Amen. — (3) Quo a cunctis peccatorum contagiis liberati illius tremendi examinis diem expectetis interiti. Amen.— (4) Quod ipse praestare dignetur, cuius regnum et imperium sine fine permanet in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

In the cathedrals of Lyons and Autun this blessing had been retained up to the time Jungmann was writing.

[2] This chapter is a good illustration of the how the literal and spiritual senses can be complimentary for the interpreter of liturgy.

The literal purpose of this pontifical blessing is to as a preparation for Holy Communion, one that raises the faithful’s minds one last time to contemplate the great Mystery they are about to receive, just before the great action of the Communion itself.

But Honorius has also provided a wholly fitting spiritual interpretation that does not depart from the literal foundation. Whether or not we accept his five-fold division of God’s blessings or their relevance to the five-fold division of the Gallican Pontitfical blessing, is our own concern. But one would be hard pressed to deny that it makes good typological sense for a commentator to recall the relation of this particular blessing to the Old Testament. The Eucharist is, from a typological point of view, precisely the fulfillment of every grace and blessing promised to the people of Israel from the time of Abraham, and the promise of the eternal joy of the Kingdom. The celestial food taken from the altar of the Cross is the final result of the promises made to the Jewish people through the patriarchs, prophets, and kings. In the Christian Mysteries, Christ dwells among us, and we are filled with every grace, truth, and heavenly blessing. Therefore, that we should recall this recapitulation of all Scriptural blessing now, just before Communion is eminently fitting.

From the standpoint of practical piety, recalling this fact can excite feelings of gratitude, devotion, and foster a more mystical participation in the Eucharist. Theologically, it is an excellent exegesis of the nature of the Eucharist. The same is true, by the way, for Honorius’s typological explanation of the people’s offertory in Chapters (27-30), where he shows with exquisite clarity how the Christian sacrifice is the fulfillment and recapitulation of all sacrifices made by Gentile and Jew, out of the virtue of natural religion or divine precept, since the beginning of time.

Interpretation like these furnish one more way of opening the riches of Scripture to the faithful in the context of the liturgy. The medievals, in fact, so steeped in both lectio divina and liturgy, experienced the liturgy as the natural fulfillment of their reading, as a living revelation seamlessly connected with the Word of Scripture. Their faith-inspired reading of Scripture and its types invited a Eucharistic consummation that the medievals were only too eager to discover in their inherited rites. We would do dwell to unite our reading of liturgy more closely with our reading of Scripture.

Nor, to stave off one more objection, could this spiritual meaning possibly be incompatible with the literal sense of whatever prayer text that is actually read, since whatever the particular blessing invoked in the prayer might be, it may still be understood in the same light, as one of the particular gifts of redemption that the Lord has secured for us in fulfillment of God’s promises to the patriarchs.


De sexto officio, et benedictione episcopi.

Sextum officium, in quo pontifex populum benedicit, Christi descensionem ad inferos exprimit. Huius rei figuram Moyses gessit, quando moriturus filios Israel benedixit, eductosque de Aegypto in patriam introduci per Iesum, qui et Iosue, iussit (Deut. XXXI) . Hoc et Iacob moriens expressit, qui filios suos benedixit, et de eis futura haereditate multa praedixit (Gen. XLIX) . Has utrasque benedictiones Christus complevit, cum moriens ad inferos descendit, populum sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis, visitando benedixit, de carcere eductos coelesti patriae induxit.

Quod episcopus ostendit, dum populum benedicit, moxque eum spirituali cibo reficit. Notandum autem quod semper ternis capitulis benedicit, et omnes quarto scilicet, quod ipse praestare dignetur, confirmabit. Quinto vero, reliquis per benedictionem Dei Patris concludit, quia nimirum Deus tribus vicibus huic mundo benedixit, quarta reliquis firmavit, quinta benedictione haereditatem possidere dabit. Primo primis hominibus benedixit, dum eos crescere et multiplicari praecepit, Secundo hominibus benedixit, dum, mundo diluvio deleto, Noe et suos posteros crescere, et multiplicari iussit (Gen. IX) . Tertio per Abraham, Deus mundo benedixit, cum ei in benedictione Christum repromisit (Gen. XVIII) . Quarto mundo benedixit, dum Filium suum nobis benedicentem misit, qui coelos ascensurus suis benedixit, et per Spiritum sanctum reliquos firmavit (Luc. XXIV) . Quinto mundo benedicet, dum patriam intraturos benedictione ultima sic complet: Venite, benedicti Patris mei, possidete regnum vobis praeparatum (Matth. XXV).




Gemma Animae (47-48): Christ’s Burial

Ch. 47

On Joseph

Deposition 2.jpg

When the priest says Per omnia saecula saeculorum, the deacon comes, raises the chalice before him, covers it with the cloth (cum favone), places it back on the altar, and covers it with the corporal. In all this he symbolizes Joseph of Arimathea as he laid Christ’s body to rest, covered his face with the sudarium, placed him in the tomb, and sealed it with a stone [1]. Here the oblation and the chalice are covered with the corporal, which signifies the white sindon, in which Joseph wrapped the Body of Christ. The chalice represents the tomb; the paten, the stone that sealed the tomb. The three articles, namely Oremus, Praeceptis, and Pater noster, and Libera nos, Domine signify the three days Christ lay in the tomb.

[1] This allegory would have more forceful in previous times when the corporal had not yet been reduced to its current form. In the papal stational rite and until the Late Middle Ages, the corporal was a full-length altar cloth in its own right. The subdeacon carried it in folded on top of the chalice at the start of the Offertory–as it is today in the burse. It was unfolded by the deacons to cover the whole altar, a ceremony usually accompanied by prayers. During the Mass, the chalice would be covered with the back part of the corporal, as we can see in the image below; this, at least, until the invention of the pall.

Some Missals even call the paten a gravestone. In the Regensburg missal about 1500 (Beck, 267; cf. 266) the pall is de­scribed as the gravestone: Accipe lapidem et pone super calicem. Likewise in a Brixen missal printed in 1493, p. 130v: Hic ponitur lapis super calicem (MS 55).

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Pontifical of Sens, 14th century

Chapter 48

On the Acolyte Who Holds the Paten, Which is the Figure of Nicodemus

During the Canon the acolyte holds the wrapped paten, when the subdeacon now takes and brings to the altar [1]. The subdeacon gives it to the archdeacon, who kisses it and hands to to one of the deacons to hold, so that our Lord’s Body may be broken upon it. The acolyte who holds the paten bears the form of Nicodemus (John 19). The subdeacon and archdeacon along with the other deacon holding the paten, are figures of the three Marias, who came to the tomb with perfumes and spices. As the seven petitions in the Lord’s prayer are said, the deacons stand bowed [2], and wait to be confirmed by the communion [3]; for the seven apostles awaited the confirmation of the Holy Spirit for seven weeks after the death of Christ.  Now the subdeacons are at rest in the meantime, for the women kept silence on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day [4].

stone of unction
Pilgrims venerate the Stone of the Unction, Holy Sepulchre

[1] In modern times this is the role of the subdeacon, but in the Ordo Romanus Primus it was the acolyte, standing next to the subdeacon, who held the paten:

Nam quod intermissimus de patena ; quando inchoat canonem, venit acolythus sub humero, habens sindonem in collo ligatam, tenens patenam ante pectus suum in parte dextra usque in medium canonem. Tune subdiaconus sequens suscipit earn super planetam et venit ante altare, exspectans quando earn suscipiat subdiaconus regionarius (OR I, 17).

[2] In the ancient papal stational liturgy, all the assisting ministers remained in a profound bow throughout the entire Canon, until they were called to their functions:

Episcopi vero, diaconi, subdiaconi, et presbyteri in presbyterio permanent inclinati. Et cum dixerit : Nobis quoque peccatoribus, surgunt subdiaconi : cum dixerit : Per quem haec omnia Domine, surgit archidiaconus solus (OR I 16).

[3] Confirmare is used in the OR I and later liturgical literature to refer to reception of the chalice. One first communicates, and is then confirmed by the one holding the chalice.  

[4] The subdeacons represent the women, as explained in Chapter 46.



Ad Mariæ Gloriam: A Trope for Our Lady

Gloria in excelsis Deo. Et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis. Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Glorificamus te. Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. Domine Deus, Rex cœlestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe. Spiritus et alme orphanorum Paraclite. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris. Primogenitus Mariæ Virginis matris. Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecatiónem nostram, ad Mariæ gloriam. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis. Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, Mariam sanctificans. Tu solus Dominus, Mariam gubernans. Tu solus Altissimus, Mariam coronans, Jesu Christe. Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen. Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will. We praise Thee. We bless Thee. We adore Thee. We glorify Thee. We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory. O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty. O Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son. O Spirit and kind comforter of orphans. O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father. First-born of the Virgin Mother Mary. Who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Who takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer, to the glory of Mary. Who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For Thou only are holy, sanctifying Mary. Thou only art the Lord, ruling Mary. Thou only art most high, crowning Mary, O Jesus Christ. Together with the Holy Ghost in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
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Click here to download the sheet music for the Gloria with the Sanctus et alme trope.

As we mentioned in our introductory post on tropes, these were never explicitly banned by any decision taken by the Council of Trent or appearing in the liturgical books produced in its wake, with one exception: the 1570 Roman Missal includes a rubric insisting that the Gloria in excelsis must always be said as written in the Missal, even in Masses of Our Lady. This was a reaction to one of the most enduringly popular of all liturgical farcings, viz. the Spiritus et alme trope, which adorns the Gloria with sundry acclamations praising the marvels God has wrought in Our Lady.

Our exploration of the rich world of tropes has been heretofore confined to tropes on the Kyrie and, as we have seen, these are almost always melogene tropes: i.e. additional text has been added to the preëxisting melody. The melismatic character of the Kyrie obviously favours this sort of farcing, but tropes on most other parts of the Mass are generally logogene: new verses—comprising both text and melody—have been interspersed between the phrases of the original chant, a practice that makes the nature of tropes as sung commentaries especially manifest.

This is the case for tropes on the Gloria in excelsis. The earliest recorded Gloria tropes date back to the 9th century, and through the course of the following centuries over a hundred examples thereof have been catalogued; it constitutes one of the largest trope repertoires after the Kyrie and Introit tropes. They were, howbeit, obsolescent by the 13th century, with one notable exception: the Spiritus et alme trope.

This set of verses grafted onto the Angelic Hymn is a relatively late composition, being first attested in Rouen MS. 1386 (U. 158), from Jumièges in Normandy, which dates to around 1100. These verses were associated with the melody of Gloria IX in the Vatican edition from the very beginning; indeed, this melody rarely appears in the earliest sources without the trope, which might indicate that it was originally composed for the Gloria thus farced. Indeed, this would explain why this particular melody has always been associated with Our Lady. Most Gloria trope verses were prone to melodic promiscuity, withal, and there are a few instances of the Spiritus et alme verses attached to other melodies, including Gloria IV, XIV, and XV.

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Part of the Spiritus et alme trope in the Codex Sangallensis 546 (f. 15r).

From its birthplace in northern France, the Spiritus et alme trope spread to Aquitaine, England, and Italy, where it is attested in 12th century sources. In the following century, even as other Gloria tropes were falling into general disfavour, the Spiritus et alme verses continued to propagate relentlessly throughout Christendom, showing up in manuscripts from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Bohemia, Scandinavia, and Yugoslavia, where it even entered into the Old Slavonic use. The trope also appears in the liturgical books of various religious orders, including, fascinatingly enough, in ten Cistercian sources. The Order of Cîteaux’s approach to liturgy, as in other matters, was marked by an austere simplicity—one might even say by a certain Puritanism—wholly noxious to the flights of exuberant fancy that gave rise to tropes. Nevertheless, as Joaquim Bragança notes in his study of one of these sources, mediæval devotion to Our Lady—what Henry Adams called the “highest creative energy ever known to man”—was so powerful it could even vanquish the dour Cistercian hostility towards liturgical ornamentation.

Missale Tornacense (Tournai), 1498

Missale Salisburgense (Salzburg), 1507.

Missale Viennense (Vienne), 1519.

The Gloria farced with the Spiritus et alme verses was the subject of polyphonic settings as well, including one for three voices with the Gloria IX melody as a tenor in the 12th-century Las Huelgas Codex (another Cistercian source, despite attempts by the Order to prohibit polyphony in its monasteries), two by Johannes Ciconia, and one by Guillaume Dufay. The composers of these works delighted in musically highlighting the Marian tropes, to the greater exaltation of Our Lady.

By the 15th century, then, the Spiritus et alme trope had become an established part of the Gloria in Masses on feasts and Saturdays of Our Lady nearly everywhere in Europe, featuring also in the pre-Tridentine printed editions of the Missale Romanum.

Missale Romanum, 1543

Alas, however, the Spiritus et alme trope fell afoul of the reforming humanist spirit that arose during this age, with its “tendency towards rationalism and desire for sobriety in Catholic worship” [1], and this would lead to its outright prohibition. On 20 July 1562, during the 22nd Session of the Council of Trent, a commission of seven prelates was appointed to examine the question of liturgical abuses. Among the Postulata nonnullorum patrum circa varios abusus in missis subinductos (Petitions by certain Fathers about various abuses introduced into Mass), one finds the following: “Let those additions Mariam gubernans, Mariam coronans be removed from the hymn Gloria in excelsis; they seem an unbefitting insertion” [2]. The members of the commission agreed that farcing the Gloria to extol Our Lady was unbefitting, and the memoir they presented to the papal legate Hercules Cardinal Gonzaga on 8 August 1562, under the heading Abusus, qui circa venerandum Missæ sacrificium evenire solent, partim a Patribus deputatis animadversi; partim ex multorum Prælatorum dictis, et scriptis excerpti (Abuses, which often occur during the venerable sacrifice of the Mass, in part noted by the delegated Fathers, in part taken from the sayings and writings of many Prelates), lists the “added words about the Blessed Virgin” as one of the abuses that had crept into the celebration of the Mass [3]. The commission called for the production of reformed missals purged of such putatively abusive accretions [4].

As a result, the Missale Romanum promulgated by Pope St Pius V in 1570 included a rubric forbidding the farcing of the Gloria, even in Masses of Our Lady [5]. The Spiritus et alme trope was therefore abandoned in all dioceses that adopted the Tridentine missal, and, having been smirched as an abuse, it also soon disappeared in those dioceses that kept their local uses as they reformed their books following the Tridentine model. The Parisian Missal ad formam Sacrosancti Concilii Tridentini emendatum, for example, expunged the farced Marian Gloria and added the rubric Sic semper dicitur Gloria in excelsis.

The trope survived for a while in the extremely conservative Lyonese use, until its missal was reformed by Archbishop de Rochebonne in 1737 to bring it closer to the Tridentine model. It also remained in the use of Braga. In 1779, Archbishop Gaspar de Bragança, seeking to bring the Bragan use closer to the Roman, proposed, inter alia, the suppression of the Gloria de Domina, but was rebuffed by the chapter. The canons did deign to discuss the elimination of the Marian Gloria on 7 April 1780, but they finally decided to inform the subcantor and master of ceremonies that the Gloria was to be sung “according to the use of Braga”, thus preserving the trope. But finally, in 1924, a new edition of the Bragan Missal, approved by Pius XI, was promulgated which no longer included the farced Gloria, and thus disappeared its last vestige.

Missale Lugdunense (Lyons), 1620

The Spiritus et alme trope represents a fascinating instance where the use of a trope was so popular and universal it nearly became an established part of the Roman rite. It raises intriguing questions about what ought to be considered a legitimate and organic development of the liturgy, and what constitutes an illegitimate accretion and abuse. Whatever the terse declarations of the Tridentine liturgical commission, it is hardly obvious that the Marian Gloria is a case of the latter, and one might be excused for considering its disappearance a matter for regret.


[1] Chadwick, Anthony J. “The Roman Missal of the Council of Trent” in T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy, ed. Alcuin Reid, 2016, p. 107.

[2] Ab hymno: Gloria in excelsis, tollantur illa additamenta: Mariam gubernans, Mariam coronans: quæ videntur inepte inculcari. 

[3] Item forte essent animadvertenda in hymno Angelorum verba illa addita de Beata Virgine, Mariam gubernans, Mariam coronans ec.; videntur enim illa omnia inepte inculcari. 

[4] Missalia secundum usum et veteram consuetudinem S. R. E. reformentur, omnibus iis, quæ clanculum irrepserunt, repurgatis, ut omni ex parte eadem pura, nitida et integra proponantur.

[5] Sic dicitur Gloria in excelsis etiam in missis beatę Marię. This rubric was dropped in the editio typica of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

On the Chasuble, Stole, and Dalmatic

(Translated from Lebrun’s Explanation and also published at Liturgical Arts Journal)


The Chasuble

The chasuble, casula[1] or planeta was a large round mantle[2] with an opening at the top to pass the head through. During the first seven centuries, it was the ordinary long garment of men. The people stopped using it, but consecrated persons retained it. The Capitularies of 742 ordered priests and deacons not to stop wearing it;[3] and for nine hundred years the Church has given the chasuble to priests at their ordination[4] as the standard garment for offering the Holy Sacrifice. The Greeks have kept the chasuble without any modification, while in the last two centuries the Latins have cut it back little by little, removing that part that impeded the free movement of the arms. Previously it was necessary to roll and lift up the priest’s chasuble during the incensation and the elevation of the Sacred Host or chalice, something which is still done unnecessarily purely out of custom. The chasuble, as a garment that covers the whole body, has been seen as a fitting representation of Christ’s yoke, represented by the cross depicted on it either in front, as in Italy; or on the back, as in France; or both in front and back as has been done in Germany, in keeping with the pious sentiments of the author of the Imitation of Christ,[5] for the last three hundred years. The priest who puts aside his own glory to carry the cross of Jesus Christ thus has a right to say as he puts on the chasuble: O Lord, Who said: My yoke is sweet, and My burden light: grant that I may be able so to bear it, that I may be able to obtain Thy grace.[6]

Waterford Treasures / Feb 2014 / Photos by Peter Grogan @ Emagin

Vestments particular to deacons: The Stole and Dalmatic

Besides the amice, alb, cincture and maniple we have mentioned, deacons wear also the dalmatic and a stole peculiar to themselves.

The stole of deacons was originally, as that of priests, a long, thin cloth attached to the left shoulder,[7] something like how the principal Master of the Feast in the Romans’ solemn feasts wore an honorary serviette on his left shoulder, as one can see in the triumphs that Onuphre Panvin has described and had engraved.[8]

This white cloth attached on the left shoulder of the deacons fluttered about as they came and went in the Church during their ministry. Saint John Chrysostom says that the two flowing and fluttering ends imitated the wings of angels, and represented their activity,[9] as Simeon of Thessalonica also remarked[10] after Chrysostom.[11] Gregory of Tours, in the 6th century, still speaks of the orarium as a very white cloth.[12] The Fourth Council of Toledo in 633 ordered deacons to wear only one orarium on the left shoulder, and forbade it to be decorated with gold or to be colored.[13] But in many other Churches the enthusiasm for embellishing everything that was used in the holy mysteries was the reason they came to be decorated. In ancient times the Latins and also the Greeks wore the stole on the left shoulder and let it fall in front and behind, something like the orarium or white cloth that St. John Chrysostom described. We see these hanging stoles[14] in many ancient depictions.[15] But because these two long and flowing ends could encumber the deacon as he moved about, during the Communion the Greeks decided to remove it from the left shoulder and let it fall around the shoulders and chest, forming a cross in front and behind.[16] The Latins, leaving it on the left shoulder, have been content to let the two ends fall and stop on the right side, so as not to be hindered by letting it flow. We observe this currently in practice, and some even, to keep it from fluttering entirely, it is placed under the dalmatic; though the ancient depictions and the Council of Braga show us that it was placed above.[17]


The dalmatic, so-called because it came from the Greek province of Dalmatia,[18] was introduced in Rome in the second century.[19] It was an ample tunic with large, short sleeves, suitable for those who were obliged to move about. The garment thus became very useful and common among bishops and deacons. In the Acts of the martyrdom of St. Cyprian, we can see that this saint left his mantle to his executioners and gave his dalmatic to the deacons.[20]

The deacon Hilary, authors of the questions on the Old and New Testaments which he wrote about three hundred years after the conquest of Jerusalem, or around 365, says that the deacons and the bishops both wore the dalmatic.[21] St. Isidore, in the 6th century, regards the dalmatic as a sacred garment, white, and decorated with purple bands.[22] Remigius of Auxerre describes it as a white garment with red bands.[23] This is how the deacons’ dalmatic became a garment of solemnity that was meant to inspire holy joy, in the expression of the Pontifical.[24]

In Lent, and in certain other days of penitence in which vestments of joy are not suitable, the deacons wear the chasuble, which in the earliest times was the most common garment of the clergy. But in order to move about without being hindered, before beginning the Gospel they take off the chasuble, fold and twist it, and place it on the left shoulder, and let it fall behind along with the stole under the right arm, where it is held by the cincture.[25]This is what Amalarius[26] in the 9th century and the pseudo-Alcuin[27] give us to understand. The deacons still wore the stole hanging from the left shoulder. Thus, when they let one of the ends fall in front and the other behind, and fixed them on the right side as is the current practice, they also adjusted the folded and twisted chasuble in the manner of a sash over the stole. But later, in place of the folded chasuble and the sash-arrangement, a band of fabric was substituted. The Roman, Parisian, and other missals call this the stola latior.[28] In certain churches, as at Cambrai, Arras, etc., in order to better approximate the folded and twisted chasuble, they place a band of stuffed fabric over the ordinary stole.

While the deacons do not take off the chasuble, they fold it, not from each side toward the right and left shoulders, as priests once did, but only in front, in order to grant their arms some freedom of movement. Indeed the chasubles are so trimmed in this way that it is no longer necessary to raise them; but it serves nevertheless to recall the spirit of the ancient custom, and to distinguish the chasubles of the ministers from that of the priest.


[1] Casa means house, and casula a small house. The chasuble was formerly so ample that it was like a small house in which a man lived. Planeta means something that wanders. The chasuble which has only one opening to pass the head through and which was formerly a round and completely unadorned mantle, without any special feature to distinguish front from back, could be rotated easily about the neck. Thus it was a “wandering” vestment very suitably named “planet.”

[2] Several of these great chasubles are still kept at Notre-Dame of Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Martin-des-Champs, and at the Chartreux. Priests who are not ashamed to wear this cumbersome garment still use them from time to time. Some of these great chasubles had a cap attached, as can be observed in several ancient depictions, but there are few examples of these and the ancient books speak nothing of them. At the Cathedral of Metz they are put to use during Advent and Lent; and only on ferial days during Lent at the Collegiate Church of Saint-Sauveur. They are employed at Narbonne, Toul, Cambrai, and Arras; and on Holy Thursday at Paris.

[3] Decrevimus quoque ut presbyteri vel diaconi non sagis, laicorum more, sed casulis utantur ritu servorum Dei (Conc. vol. 6 col. 1535; Capitul. vol. 1, pg. 148).

[4] See the Sacramentary of Senlis written in 880 and kept in Paris at the Library of Sainte-Geneviève: Presbyteris quando vestitur casula: Benedictio Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus sancti descendat super te, et sis benedictus in ordine sacerdotali, et offeras placabiles hostias pro peccatis, etc. This prayer Benedictio is also found in the Missal of Saint Eloi, Sacram. de S. Greg. p. 238. It also appears in the Pontifical of Seez, of 1045: Recipe planetam ut possis legaliter celebrare Missam (Bibl. Reg. n. 3866).

[5] Book 4, chapter 5.

[6] Domine, qui dixisti, jugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve, fac ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam.

[7] In the Catalogue of the ancient popes, written at the beginning of the reign of Justinian, we find this Constitution of Pope Zosimus: Constituit ut diaconi laevam tectam haberent de palliis linostinis. See the Propylaeum Maii, pg. 53, of the learned Jesuits of Anvers, who continue to publish the Acts of the saints.

[8] De Triumphis [Ed.: Or rather, perhaps, his De Ludis Circensibus (1600)]

[9] Hom. de filio prodigo. (Pseudo-Chrysostom, PG 59 520 ln. 1-3): “Dum ministri sacri officii, imitantes angelorum alas tenuibus suis lineis velis, quae sinistris humeris insident […].}

[10] Simeon Thess. de Templo: [Or rather De clericis ordinandis, PG 155, 382-383, ch. 173-174]: “Ille enim orario velut aliis conspicuus fit et splendidus….Sed praesertim dum communionis fit particeps Seraphim illa imitatur […]. Ideo diaconus ut Seraphim figurantibus flabellum a pontifice traditur. Illa autem alas angelorum designat […]. Angelorum autem ordinem et vices sustinent […]. ”

[11] This stole, long called an orarium, was a sign of the deacons’ jurisdiction, since they used them in the church to make announcements, to read, to pray, or to order a genuflection, as in the Jewish synagogues someone held a kerchief in his hand to invite the people to say Amen. See Casaubon and Fr. Morin. This is why the Council of Laodicea forbade subdeacons from wearing this orarium. (Can. 22). And when during the ordination the deacons are given the power to read the Gospel in the church, this orarium is also given as a mark of this power: Recipe istud orarium, ut habeas licentiam legendi Evangelium (Pontif. Sagiense ms. sec. XI from the Royal Library).

[12] Orarium candor lintei, etc. (De gloria Mart. vol. 2, chapter 93. 105.

[13] Unum orarium oportet Levitam gestare in sinistro humero…Caveant ergo Levitae gemino uti orario, sed uno tantum et puro, nec ullis coloribus aut auro ornato (Conc. Tolet. c. 39).

[14] Though the deacon’s stole was worn anciently on the left shoulder, they have worn it around the neck in various times in many French churches, the two ends hanging in front like that of bishops and priests. This is discernible in many depictions: in that of St. Vincent the Deacon, on the portal of St. Germain-l’Auxerrois de Paris;Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 10.25.18 PM in that of Saint Etienne, on the portal of the Cathedral of Metz [Ed.: Does not appear today]; and again we find it in Amalarius, Deacon of Metz, who says with regard to the deacon’s stole that it descends to the knees, stola ad genua tendit, and that he wears it around the neck, sciat se diaconus in stola superposita collo (Ministrum, etc., book 2, chapter 20). But when Amalarius had been to Rome, he saw that before the Gospel the deacon put aside the chasuble, rolled it, and let it pass behind with the stole under the right arm, so that until the Gospel a part of the stole hung in the back. This is what he tells us in his additions: Stolamque post tergum ducit subtus dextram alam una cum planeta (Praefat. 2 in lib. de Offic.). Later this practice of putting the stole over the left shoulder was adopted everywhere. In the 13th century, Durandus supposed this practice had been perennial, that the deacons had always worn it that way, and he only gave the reason why: Cur sacerdotibus circa collum, et diaconis super sinistrum humerum ponatur (Book 3, chapter 5). The new Pontifical, like the ancient ones, takes it for granted in the ordination of priests, when it says that the bishop takes the stole from the left shoulder to pass it over the right, and adjusters the part of the stole that hangs in back to place it over the chest: Reflectit orarium, sive stolam ab humero sinistro cuiuslibet, capiens partem quae retro pendet, et imponens super dexterum humerum aptat eam ante pectus.

[15] In the Glossaire Latin and Glossaire Grec of M. du Cange.

[16] Vide Euchol. Graec. pg. 147.

[17] Quia in aliquantis huius Provinciae Ecclesiis diacones absconsis infra tunicam utuntur orariis, ita ut nihil differre a subdiacono videantur, de caetero superposito scapulae (sicut decet) utantur orario (Con. Brac. I, (561), c. 8).

[18] Isid. orig. Book 19, chapter 22.

[19] See Lamprid. Hist. Aug.

[20] Et cum se dalmatica exspoliasset, et diaconibus tradidisset, in linea stetit (Cypr. act.).

[21] Quasi non hodie diaconi dalmaticis induantur sicut episcopi (Quaest. 46 apud Aug. vol. 3 append. col. 60).

[22] Dalmatica… tunica sacerdotalis, candida cum clavis ex purpura (Isid. orig. Book 19, chapter 22).

[23] Eadem vestis (dalmatica) candidatem habet… et coccineas virgulas (Rem. Aut. Expos. Miss.).

[24] Induat te indumento salutis, et vestimento laetitiae (De ord. diac.).

[25] See the Roman Ordo’s of the 14th and 15th centuries: Complicent et imponant super sinistrum humerumita quod ab humero sinistro descendat ad latus dextrum, sicut diaconalis stola (Ord. Rom. XIV). Exuit planetam, et plicatur ei ad modum stolae… ad latus dextrum inter cinctorum (Ord. Rom. XV). See also Gavantus in Rubr. p. 1, tit. 19, n. 6; M. Bocquillot and M. de Vert.

[26] Exuit se planeta diaconus, stolamque post tergum ducit subtus, dexteram alam una cum planeta (Amalarius, praefatio in lib. de offic.)

[27] Diaconus qui non est indutus dalmatica, casula circumcinctus legit (Alcuin de divin. offic.).

[28] Planeta…. complicatur: aut enim aliud genus stolae latioris in modum planetae plicatur (Rub. Miss.).

The Maniple and Stole

Charles the Bald welcomes monks from Tours who bring the Vivian Bible, which includes this miniature. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Source)


The Maniple

The maniple was originally called a mappula, which means a small cloth or handkerchief. The Churches of Germany called it a fanon,[1] which in German means something spread out, a tablecloth, napkin, or handkerchief. The Churches of England and France called it simply a handkerchief, the sudarium. Bede,[2] the old Ordo Romanus,[3] and Amalarius[4] call it by the same name, and say that its purpose is to wipe the face.

From mappula is derived manipula, the word found in the ancient Pontificals of the 9th century.[5] But it is also probable that manipula and manipulus was derived from manus, hand, because it was worn on the arm, or more commonly on the wrist or the hand itself. Thus we find in an ancient dictionary that the maniple is an article worn on the hand.[6]

The use of the maniple was introduced at the time when the stole, about which we will speak later on, became a vestment that could no longer be used to wipe the face and neck. Thus it was thought necessary to have a sort of handkerchief, a long and straight cloth worn on the left arm or hand, as represented in the miniature made for Charles the Bald in the 9th century.[7] But it would not take long for it to be ornamented. The same miniatures show that these small, long, and straight cloths already had fringes on their ends. In the 10th century these fringes were made of gold in certain churches. According to Ivo of Chartres, at the end of the 11th century it was still being used as a handkerchief;[8] and even at the beginning of the 12th century, Stephen of Autun (made a bishop in 1113) did not exclude the possibility of using it to wipe the eyes. But finally the maniple-handkerchief became so decorated that forty or fifty years later only the memory of its use as a handkerchief remained. Thus Robert Paululus in the Treatise on the Ecclesiastical Offices, which was long attributed to Hugh of St. Victor.[9]

Henceforth the maniple was used only as a decoration, entirely unsuitable for wiping the face. Thus it happened that around 1195 Cardinal Lothaire, later Pope Innocent III, called the maniple a figurative handkerchief that cleans the heart and spirit rather than the body, banishes idleness, and instills the love of good works.[10] The Church has always encouraged this thought, whether the maniple was unadorned or decorated. For the last six or seven centuries she has chosen this prayer to be said while putting it on: Grant, O Lord, that I may so bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing.[11] It is evident that this prayer is taken from the verses of the Psalm, and many ancient Missals[12] leave no room for doubt on the question: Euntes ibant et flebant, mittentes semina sua: venientes autem venient cum exsultatione, portantes manipulos suos.[13] Manipulus means a handful, something carried by hand. The psalm verses present two kinds of maniples or handfuls. One is that of a sower who sows his seeds by hand, the other of the harvester who collects the crops. We sow seeds in this world by our work and suffering; and with the other hand we joyfully carry the maniples or handfuls, the fruit of this work. Thus the maniple of this world is a maniple of sorrow; and the one we carry in the other hand is a maniple of joy. Following this allusion, the Church desires that the maniple placed on the left hand or arm, which formerly served to wipe away the tears and sweat of work, will make us remember that we must work and suffer in this world if we desire to enjoy the recompense of eternal life.

An observation on the handkerchief that has been substituted for the maniple

In the 12th century, when the maniple had become so ornate that it could no longer serve to wipe the face, a new handkerchief was introduced. Odo of Paris, in his synod of 1200, prescribed that there should always be a handkerchief kept next to the Missal for this purpose.[14] The Dominican Missal of 1254 ordains the same practice in conformity with their Ordinary, as does the Council of Cologne of 1280. Around the same time Durandus wrote a special chapter about this handkerchief, de Sudario, after the chapter on the maniple.[15] For the entirety of the thirteen or fourteen centuries in which there have been special vestments used for the Sacrifice, we find some kind of handkerchief used, an orarium or sudarium, for the simple reason that propriety demands it. It is therefore very fitting that Sacristies should keep a handkerchief for priests. It should be very white and very clean as befits the dignity of the place, but not too ornate or beautiful. Otherwise people will fear to use it and it will become once again a mere ornament like the stole and the maniple.

The Stole

During the first eight centuries the stole was called the orarium, and was originally a narrow strip of cloth[17] used by persons of worth and distinction to wipe their faces.

St. Jerome helps us to understand what the orarium in one of his letters, where he speaks about people who considered it a mark of distinction never to carry one,[18] or as he puts it, never to put a cloth around their necks.[19] He says this is not only useless but ridiculous, since they do not spare this expense in order to give money to the poor. This cloth was thought very becoming for those who spoke in public. This is why in the Church it become a vestment for bishops, priests, and deacons, and was forbidden[20] to subdeacons and other minor clerics as well as to monks.[21] But it was treated with the greatest care and never used to wipe the face. In many representations and painters from the Justinian era we can see that since the 6th century in both the Latin and Greek Churches, it was made of fabric with a long, straight cut, just as it is today.


Raban Maur (left), supported by Alcuin (middle), dedicates his work to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (Right) (Source)

Rabanus Maurus, in his Treatise on the Education of Clerics written in 819, has this to say: The fifth vestment is called the orarium, though some call it the stole.[22] One of his disciples, Walafrid Strabo, who died in 849, only calls it the orarium;[23] and there is room to believe that those who gave the orarium the name stole, stola, which means a long robe, did so because they thought it was the relic of a larger garment, i.e. the border or gold embroidery of a long robe open in the front, of which all that remained was the long handkerchief hung around the neck. Without holding scrupulously to any particular account of its origins, the Church has regarded the orarium simply as a vestment of honor, and desires that when the priest puts it on he ask God to help him recover the innocence and immortality that he gave to man in the creation. Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, etc.[24]


[1] Rabanus Maurus, Book 1, chapter 18.

[2] In Martyrol.

[3] The most ancient Roman Order, written before 800, mentions that a handkerchief is given to the Bishop by the subdeacon at the beginning of the Mass.

[4] Book 2, chapter 24 de sudario.

[5] In a Missal manuscript of Noyon from around 900, where the preparation for Mass is described, we read istius manipulae; and according to a Pontifical manuscript of Toul from around 1450, the bishop, after giving the maniple to the subdeacons, says: In vestione harum manipularum subnixe te, Domine, deprecamur, etc.

[6] Manipulus est ornamentum manus (Wil. Brito in vocab.).

[7] See the second volume of the Capitularies of our Kings, in the edition of M. Baluze, l’Estampe des Religieux du Chapitre de Metz, which contains a Bible belonging to Charles the Bald.

[8] Mappula qua solent siccari stillicidia oculorum, excitat nos ad vigilandum (Steph. Eduen. de Sacr. Altar., chapter 10).

[9] Ad extremum sacerdos fanonem in sinistro brachio ponit, quem et manipulum et sudarium appellaverunt, per quem olim sudor et narium sordes extergebantur (De offic. Eccles. Book 1, chapter 51; and Honorius Book 1, chapter 208).

[10] In sinistra manu quaedam ponitur mappula, quae manipulus vel sudarium appellatur, quo sudorem mentis abstergat, et soporem cordis excutiat, ut depulso taedio vel torpore, bonis operibus diligenter invigilet (Book 1, chapter 59).

[11] Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris, ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris (Miss. Rom).

[12] The ancient missals of Châlons-sur-Marne, of saint-Paul-de-Léon, of Fécamp, and all those of Paris until 1615 simple have the words of the Psalm Venientes autem venient, etc. and to this day this is what the bishop says to the Carthusians when given them the maniple at their consecration.

[13] Psalm 125.

[14] Districe praecipitur, ut quilibet sacerdos habeat in celebratione Missae propter munditiam vestimentorum servandam circa altare unum manutergium pendens circa Missale, ad tergendum os et nares, si fuerit necesse (Statutua Synod. Odonis de Soliaco.).

[15] Ration. Book 3, chapter 16.

[17] See Casaubon and Saumaise sur Vopiscus: they show very convincingly that orarium is a Latin word that was borrowed by the Greeks and Syrians just as sudarium, which comes of course from sweat, a sudore. Some have thought that the word orarium comes from ab ore tergendo, because it was used to wipe the mouth. But Saumaise shows that it comes rather from ora, which means the edge of a garment, because in very ancient times a cloth was attached to some edge of a garment, before it became the custom to carry handkerchiefs in the hand or about the neck (Comment. in Hist. Aug. Script., vol. 2, p. 530 et seqq).

[18] Ridiculum et plenum dedecoris est referto marsupio, quod sudarium orariumque non habeas, gloriari (Hier in epist. ad Nepot.): “To go about without a linen scarf on is nothing: what is praiseworthy is to be without money to buy one. It is disgraceful and absurd to boast of having neither napkin nor handkerchief and yet to carry a well-filled purse.”

[19] Quid prodest circa collum ad abstergendos sudores linteolum non habere… cum marsupium nostrum universa pauperum turba suspiret (Hier. in Miss. chapter 3).

[20] Concil. Laod. can. [22-23]

[21] Monaco uti orario in monasterio non liceat (Conc. Aurel 1. can. 20. an. 511).

[22] Quintum est quod orarium dicitur; licet hoc quidam stolam vocent (Rabanus Maurus de Institut. clerc. Book 1, chapter 19).

[23] Vualfr. de rebus Eccl. ch. 24.

[24] Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis, etc.