Lebrun on the Procession to the Altar

Article VII

Leaving the Sacristy and Going to the Altar
(from Pierre Lebrun’s Explanation)


The priest, clothed in all his vestments, preceded by the minister in surplice carrying the Missal, walks from the sacristy to the altar, with his head covered, with eyes downcast, in a dignified manner, and with his body erect.


1) The priest goes from the sacristy to the altar. The Roman Ordines up to the thirteenth century indicate that the celebrant, including a bishop or pope, first goes to the sacristy for preparation and vesting, then goes in procession to the altar.[1] In most of the cathedral churches of France, on solemn days, this procession is very impressive.[2] The authors writing from the ninth century to the end of the thirteenth[3] have regarded the celebrant, preceded by the deacons, subdeacons, and other ministers as an image of Christ entering the world preceded by the prophets, or even by the Apostles in their missions, while the music sung by the choir expresses the sentiments of the people attending the Mass. It is only beginning in the 14th century that this procession is sometimes suppressed, and when the Roman Order of Cajetan notes an alternative to the sacristy or sanctuary as the place where the bishops vested.[4] As for priests, they must always vest in the sacristy, except when he is in a chapter where the absence of a sacristy makes it necessary to vest at the altar.

Lyon Procession 1.jpg

2. He walks in a dignified manner. The intention of the Church is that the grave and modest manner with which the priest walks from the sacristy to the altar should announce the great action that he is about to perform.

3. The priest walks with his head covered. Seven or eight centuries ago it was always the custom to go to the altar with the head uncovered. This custom has been preserved in many churches: at Trier, Toul, Metz, Verdun, Sens, Laon, and Tournay the celebrant and ministers go to the altar with heads bared. In Cambrai, the priest alone is covered with the hood of an almuce, and among the Premonstratensians by a square biretta; the deacon and subdeacon who accompany him are uncovered, which is generally the custom for the inferior ministers and the children of the choir.

For several centuries, as a matter of our local custom, it has become a mark of authority and preeminence to be the only one covered in an assembly. As he goes to the altar vested in the priestly garments, the priest is vested also with the authority of Christ and the Church to offer the Holy Sacrifice. He has the preeminence over the whole assembly. He does not greet anyone and does not uncover himself except to genuflect when he passes before an altar where the Holy Sacrament is exposed, or the Elevation is taking place, or communion is being given. The only thoughts that occupy him are of Christ his master, and he only uncovers when he sees him.

Lyons Procession 2.jpg

4. He is preceded by a minister, because it is fitting that he doesn’t walk alone, clothed as he is with the sacred vestments. At least one minister is required to make the responses, because the Church forbids him to say the Mass alone.[5] The councils foresee that there be at least one person with him to represent the people who together with the priest form the assembly of the faithful. For the Mass is that which it was anciently called, the Synax, i.e. the Assembly. Therefore it is very fitting that when the priest says such holy and efficacious prayers as those of the Mass, we should observe what Christ said when he promised his presence among us: If two or more are gathered in my name….[6]

By a minister in surplice. The Rubric is referring to nothing more than what has been ordered expressly by the councils of the last five or six centuries, which prescribe that this minister should be a cleric wearing a vestment suitable for the altar. We may even add that it is only by toleration that a simple cleric is allowed to approach the altar. If we go back to antiquity, we find that the deacon, who is the priest’s minister properly speaking, had to accompany him to celebrate the Holy Mysteries even in a Low Mass without ceremony. During the time of persecutions, St. Cyprian sent priests into the prisons, and though he made sure they did not go there in groups,[7] to avoid making noise or being refused entry, nevertheless he ordered that the priests who went there to say Mass should always been accompanied by a deacon.[8] St. Laurence was speaking about the practice of the deacon’s assisting at Mass when he said to Pope Sixtus, as he went to his martyrdom: Where, holy priest, are you hastening without your deacon? Never were you wont to offer sacrifice without an attendant.[9]

In later times such a great number of Masses were said that it was not possible for each priest to be accompanied by a deacon. But the councils have dictated that the minister who takes the place of the deacon must be a tonsured cleric vested in a surplice. This is stated expressed in the Statues of Paris by Eudes of Sully (1200),[10] in the Council of Oxford (1222),[11] and in many others.[12] The Council of Aix (1585) orders that in churches that do not have the means to maintain a cleric, the priest should not say Mass without having obtained the written permission of the bishop.[13] Finally, the Council of Avignon (1594) prescribes that no layman should serve the Mass except in case of necessity.[14] This council is the last to have explained this rubric. Every church, therefore, must ensure that each Mass is celebrated with a cleric, if possible; or, as is done in some places by young boys of mature character, vested like clerics. If it is necessary to make use of a layman, it is at least desirable that one choose a person whose modesty and piety will inspire respect.

Carrying the Missal. At present, the cleric does not carry the Missal unless it is not on the altar already. It is put there for the High Mass and in this case the Rubric does not require the subdeacon to carry it. But according to all the ancient Roman Ordines[15] and Amalarius,[16] the celebrant always leaves the sacristy preceded by the book of the Gospels, carried with great respect. We find this practice still observed in many cathedrals, where the uncovered subdeacon carries the book and presents it to the priest to be kissed before the Mass. The Missal of Paris[17] simply indicates that on solemn feasts the subdeacon should give the book to the priest to be kissed as he arrives at the altar. The practice is to be recommended, according to which the book is always carried with respect before the priest, since it contains the power that Christ gave to priests to celebrate the Mass, saying: Do this in memory of me; hoc facite, etc.


[1] Cum vero ecclesiam introierit pontifex, non ascendit continuo ad altare, sed prius intrat in secretarium (OR I; II; III). Intrat sacrarium… et processionaliter vadunt ad altare sicut est moris (OR XII).

[2] In the church of Lyon, the archbishop is accompanied by more than forty ministers. At

[3] Amalarius 5.5; Alcuin De Divinis Officiis; Rupert 1.28; Gemma Animae 1.84.

[4] Quod si pontifex juxta altare induatur, non oportet huiusmodi processionem fieri (OR XIV).

[5] The Council of Mayence (813), c. 43. The Capitularies of France 5.159; the Council of Paris (829) 1.4; Pope Leo IV (850); the Constitutions of Riculfe of Soissons (889); and the Council of Nantes, in Buchard 3.68 and Yves of Chartres 3.70 expressly forbid the priest to say Mass alone. It is true that permission has sometimes been granted to solitaries and even to cenobitic monks, as we see in the Capitularies attributed to Theodore of Canterbury, ch. 49 of Spicil. and in Stephen of Autun de Sacram. Allar. ch. 13. But the Council of Nantes ordered this abuse abolished. Pope Alexander III also decreed that the priest can not say Mass alone (Decret. 1.17 proposuit) and it appears that it has not been tolerated since the 13th century.

[6] Matthew 18.19 and 20.

[7] Caute et non glomeratim.

[8] Ita ut presbyteri quoque qui illic apud Confessores offerunt, singuli cum singulis diaconis per vices alternent (Cypr. epist. 5).

[9] Ambrose, De Officiis, 1.41.214.

[10] Nulli clerico permittatur servire altari, nisi in superpellicis aut cappa clausa (Synod. Eccles. Paris. ch. 7).

[11] Ut qui altari ministrant, superpelliciis induantur (Concil. Exon., ch. 10).

[12] Concil. Nemaus. (1298); Council. Bud. (1279), ch. 22; Synod. Colon. (1280); Conc. Lameth. (1330).

[13] Sacerdos ne se conferat ad altare, nisi clericum in decenti habitu, et cum superpellicio mundo cum manicis sibi inservientem habuerit. Quibus vero in locis propter inopiam clericus ita commode haberi non poterit, caveat ne celebret absque huiusmodi clerico, nisi facultatem ab episcopo in scriptis impetraverit (Conc. Aqu. tit. de celebratione Missae).

[14] Laicus, si fieri potest, nullo modo ministret Altari (Tit. 23).

[15] OR I; OR II; OR III.

[16] 3.5

[17] 1685 and 1706

The “Inauthentic” Feast of the Holy Trinity

Over at New Liturgical Movement, Gregory DiPippo has published some thoughts prompted by Notkerus’s Saturday article on the Feast of the Holy Trinityand we re-publish it here with permission.

Our friends at Canticum Salomonis have published a translation of a part of an important liturgical treatise of the later 11th century, the Micrologus de Ecclesiasticis Observantiis, which contains a well-known anecdote about the feast of the Holy Trinity. The author, one Bernold of Constance, reports that when Pope Alexander II (1061-73) was asked a question about the feast of the Holy Trinity, then being celebrated in certain parts of Europe, he said that he saw no more need for it than for a feast of the Unity. For this reason Bernold considers the feast to be “not authentic.”

What Pope Alexander and Bernold of Constance say in this regard needs to be read in light of the great reform movement going on in the Church at the time, and the role of Rome and the Papacy in that reform.

Rome has usually been a late-comer to the great movements of reform and renewal in the Church. St Nicholas I, who traditionally shares the epithet “the Great” with Ss Leo I and Gregory I, and is famous inter alia for his defense of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, died in 867 after a reign of nine years. From him, it was a distance of but thirty years and eight Popes to Stephen VI, whose reign of roughly sixteen months is summed up as follows in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

“Whether induced by evil passion or perhaps, more probably, compelled by the Emperor Lambert and his mother Ageltruda, he caused the body of (his predecessor) Formosus to be exhumed, and … placed before an unwilling synod of the Roman clergy. (Note: this is often referred to as ‘the Cadaver Synod’.) A deacon was appointed to answer for the deceased pontiff, who was condemned for performing the functions of a bishop when he had been deposed and for passing from the See of Porto to that of Rome. The corpse was then stripped of its sacred vestments, deprived of two fingers of its right hand, clad in the garb of a layman, and ultimately thrown into the Tiber. Fortunately it was not granted to Stephen to have time to do much else besides this atrocious deed. Before he was put to death by strangulation, he forced several of those who had been ordained by Formosus to resign their offices …”

Pope Formosus and Stephen VI – The Cadaver Synod, by Jean-Paul Laurens, 1870 (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)

After this infamous event, which has provided endless grist for the mills of anti-Catholic controversialists, the Papacy remained essentially quiescent as simony, lay investiture (the de facto control of ecclesiastical appointments by lay civil rulers) and clerical incontinence became nearly omnipresent in the Church. What made Cluny so important, especially in the 10th and 11th centuries, was the fact that the duke who founded it in 910, William of Aquitaine, renounced all control over it, in an age when monasteries were essentially the private property of the nobility, who appointed whomever they wished as abbots and officials. Given the tenor of the times, such appointments were very often made solely for the sake of providing an important connection with a salary, and with no reference to whether the man so appointed had any intention of living as a monk. Much the same applied to clerical offices of all ranks.

This state of things continued until the reign of another particularly unworthy successor of St Peter, Benedict IX, whom St Robert Bellarmine described as “the nadir” of the Papacy, and over whose career we draw a veil, as the sons of Noah drew a veil over their father. After his deposition, however, and the 24-day reign of Pope Damasus II, the papal throne was occupied by Leo IX, an active and enthusiastic reformer, now canonized as a Saint. From this point on, the reform party within the Church was in the ascendant, and would go from strength to strength, with the Popes very much at its fore; the clerical vices which were universal in the mid-11th century were almost entirely gone by the end of the 12th.

Alexander II, however, was elected in 1061, only 13 years after Benedict’s deposition; the like-minded Popes who preceded him were all fairly short-lived. Moreover, the ascendancy of the reform party was only made possible by the direct intervention of the German Emperor Henry III, for it was he who effectively deposed Benedict and then appointed to the Papacy a series of German bishops, all of whom owed their episcopal see to him; the short-lived Damasus II, his own kinsman St Leo IX, and then Victor II.

In these circumstances, it was perhaps only natural that once the reform party had taken control of Rome, it should begin to insist that the specifically Roman form of the Roman Rite also be followed, as a sign of unity with the Papacy and the worthy cause it had only very recently embraced. This was also the period when the Mozarabic liturgy was to a large degree forcibly suppressed, despite coming out the victor in a trial by fire; a similar attempt was made on the Ambrosian Rite, endorsed by St Peter Damian, and only stopped because Alexander II was himself Milanese.

The trial by fire of the Mozarabic liturgy.

Bernold of Constance was an enthusiastic supporter of the reform party; he lists a number of liturgical provisions enacted by Alexander’s successor, St Gregory VII, who was so much the embodiment of the reform that it is sometimes called “Gregorian” after him. The Micrologus, a treatise of roughly 16,500 words, refers more than 70 times to “the Roman order”, “the authority of Rome”, etc.

Richard Krautheimer, one of the great historians of the Christian art and architecture of Rome, writes à propos of the end of the 13th century, when the Papacy was about to pass into another of its less edifying phases, of “a problem recurrent in the history of Rome. Basically she was conservative. Her past, Christian and pagan, was her pride; but it weighed her down. The mistress of the world, see of the successors of St Peter, did not take easily to new ideas. Not by chance did she never house a medieval university. Bologna, not Rome, developed Roman law; Paris developed scholasticism. Similarly, for long periods patrons and artists remained untouched by new concepts of art evolved elsewhere in Europe. … the upsurge of a new art was (at various points) linked to a political revival; and it was interwoven with a rediscovery of the Roman past, Christian and pagan, rejuvenated. The alien ideas only took root when wedded to the living tradition. But a plainly conservative undercurrent lazily moved along beneath the recurrent upsweeps.” (Rome: Profile of a City; 2000 edition, p. 211. He could have added references to Gothic architecture and medieval music theory at this point.) This is very much the attitude embodied by Pope Alexander’s remark, and Bernold’s characterization of the feast of the Holy Trinity as “inauthentic.”

But even for all this, Pope Alexander’s critique of the feast evinces an astonishing lack of historical perspicacity.

The unicity of God was taught by the Jews and the pagan philosophers long before the coming of Christ, and inherited from them by the Church without question. This is why St Paul was able to preach to the Athenians that the “unknown god” to whom they had dedicated an altar had in fact finally revealed Himself, and come to seek the salvation of man, citing in support of his teaching the Greek poet who said “For we are also his offspring,” which is to say, of one God, not of many. (Acts 17, 22-31) This is also why it was a commonplace among the early Church Fathers that Plato had learned many of his ideas from Moses; already before the end of the 2nd century, St Clement of Alexandria calls him “the philosopher who learned from the Hebrews.”

It hardly needs to be said that the doctrine of the Trinity, on the other hand, the central mystery of the Christian Faith, was the subject of considerable discussion, which required seven ecumenical councils, innumerable local councils, and a vast body of theological writing for its defense.

The First Council of Nicea, depicted in a 14th-century fresco within the monastery complex of Panagia Sumela, in modern Turkey. The Emperor St Constantine, as he is called in the Byzantine churches, presides over the Council; in the lower left corner, St Nicholas is shown slapping Arius in the face for his impiety. (The monastery has been abandoned since 1923, and the frescos are sadly much damaged by vandalism.)

The most important heresies of the pre-Constantinian era, those which drove Arius and others to the opposite extreme, the denial of Christ’s divinity, all turned around the idea that because God is one, Christ must be in some way the same as the Father. This doctrine is usually known as Sabellianism, after a Roman priest named Sabellius who was excommunicated for teaching it by Pope St Callixtus I in 220 AD. However, it is also known as “Patripassianism”, the heresy that it was God the Father who suffered on the Cross. The Church Fathers, therefore, had to assert that the Incarnation did not compromise the essential doctrine of the unicity of God; the doctrine of the Trinity is the elaboration of this teaching. Among the modern writers, perhaps no one has expressed the import of this better than GK Chesterton did in The Everlasting Man.

“If there is one question which the enlightened and liberal have the habit of deriding and holding up as a dreadful example of barren dogma and senseless sectarian strife, it is this Athanasian question of the Co-Eternity of the Divine Son. On the other hand, if there is one thing that the same liberals always offer us as a piece of pure and simple Christianity, untroubled by doctrinal disputes, it is the single sentence, ‘God is Love.’ (1 John 4, 16) Yet the two statements are almost identical; at least one is very nearly nonsense without the other. The barren dogma is only the logical way of stating the beautiful sentiment. For if there be a being without beginning, existing before all things, was He loving when there was nothing to be loved? If through that unthinkable eternity He is lonely, what is the meaning of saying He is love? The only justification of such a mystery is the mystical conception that in His own nature there was something analogous to self-expression; something of what begets and beholds what it has begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical to complicate the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love. If the moderns really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the Athanasian Creed.”

The Trinity first appeared at the Baptism of Christ, as the Byzantine Rite states in the tropar for January 6th: “When you were being baptized in the Jordan, o Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.” But the Western Church did not place the feast of the Holy Trinity on a Sunday after Epiphany. (Neither for that matter did the East, which keeps Pentecost itself as its feast of the Trinity.) The salvation of man was accomplished and revealed at the Resurrection, but the Church did not place the feast of the Holy Trinity on a Sunday after Easter. On the first weekly commemoration of the Resurrection after Pentecost, the Church pauses to contemplate not only what was done for us in the Passion and Resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, but also to contemplate Who exactly did these things, and now sends Her forth to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I think it unlikely to be mere coincidence that once the Gregorian reform had largely achieved its purpose, the blanket rejection of new feasts and devotions as “inauthentic” seems mostly to have faded away. There was a similar controversy over the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the days of St Bernard, who was opposed to it. But in the 13th century, it was the Pope himself, Urban IV, who commissioned St Thomas Aquinas to write the great masterpieces which are the Office and Mass of Corpus Christi. It is yet another oddity of liturgical history that Pope Urban’s initiative was not received even in the Papal court itself until the time of John XXII (1316-34), perhaps another example of the undercurrent of Roman laziness described by Krautheimer. It was the same Pope who canonized St Thomas, and extended the feast of the Trinity to the universal Church.

The Holy Trinity, from the Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Great Hours of Anne of Brittany), made by Jean Bourdichon, 1503-8, for Anne, Duchess of Brittany and Queen of France (1477-1514), and considered to be one of the finest illuminated Books of Hour ever made. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits Latin 9474.


Non Est Authenticum: The Micrologus against the Feast of the Holy Trinity

The feast of the Holy Trinity was a rather peculiar addition to the Roman liturgical kalendar inasmuch as it does not commemorate a specific saint or event in the history of salvation, but rather a theological idea. It was in fact an observance that emanated without Rome: the Mass in honour of the Holy Trinity was composed by Stephen, bishop of Liège, around 910, and the feast itself arose about a century later. By 1030, Cluny was celebrating it on the first Sunday after Pentecost and, thanks in great part to its reticulate influence, the feast diffused throughout Christendom.

220px-pope_alexander_iiIt encountered redoutable resistance in Rome, however. In 1061, Pope Alexander II, replying to the archbishop of Tortona’s question about the use of the pallium on Trinity Sunday, noted the absurdity of honouring the Holy Trinity with a special feast day, since the Trinity is daily honoured by the Minor Doxology and other praises in the liturgy. “And so, my brother archbishop,” the Pope rather tartly concludes, “I can scarcely give you a proper answer about the use of the pallium on the day when the feast of the Holy Trinity is celebrated.”1

A century thereafter, Pope Alexander III pointed out that a feast of the Holy Trinity makes as much sense as a feast of the Holy Unity: both are superfluous, since these mysteries are celebrated in the quotidian liturgy. Writing around 1150, Abbot Potho of Prüm listed the feast of the Holy Trinity together with those of the Transfiguration and Conception of Our Lady as novæ celebritates, disapprovingly asking Quæ ratio festa hæc celebranda induxit? 

But resistance was doomed to failure. The sons of St Bernard of Clairvaux, whose view of novel feasts was much that of his contemporary Potho’s, adopted the feast of the Holy Trinity in 1271, and finally, in 1334, Pope John XXII, residing in Avignon, introduced it into the Roman kalendar, thereby relegating the First Sunday after Pentecost to a mere commemoration, which the next Pope John entirely suppressed in 1960. (Of course, the Mass of the First Sunday after Pentecost can be said on any feria in the week following). Other “idea feasts” eventually made their way into the Roman kalendar as well, including Corpus Christi (which also originated in Liège, interestingly enough), the Sacred Heart, and Christ the King. 

In this extract from chapter LX of the Micrologus de ecclesiasticis observationibus, Bernold of Constance discusses the feast of the Holy Trinity. He evinces a pervading concern that liturgical feasts be authentica, i.e. part of the tradition of the church of Rome, and the feast of the Holy Trinity’s failure in this count consigns it to Bernold’s disapprobation. 

Some celebrate the service of the Holy Trinity on the Octave Day of Pentecost, although without added alleluias, and think that it ought to be observed throughout the entire week following, but this is not authentic. It is said that this office as well as the history of the Invention of St Stephen were composed by Stephen of Liège; both of these are rejected by the Apostolic See.

When Pope Alexander [III], of pious memory, was asked about this matter, he replied that, following the Roman order, the solemnity of the Holy Trinity should not be assigned to any particular day, just as no solemnity of the Holy Unity is assigned to any particular day. This is precisely because the commemoration of both is celebrated every Sunday, nay, rather, every day.

One should know that Charlemagne’s teacher Alcuin [Albinus Flaccus], at the request of the Archbishop St Boniface, as they say, composed Mass orations of the Holy Trinity, and of Wisdom for Monday, the Holy Ghost for Tuesday, Charity for Wednesday, the Angels for Thursday, the Cross on Friday, and Our Lady on Saturday. This was so that the priests of that time, who were recently converted to the faith and were not yet instructed in the ecclesiastical offices nor provided with the necessary books, might have something with which they could carry out their duty on whatever day. As a result, even to-day some insist on saying these same orations daily, even when they have access to the proper offices. Moreover, nearly everywhere the service of the Cross is observed on Fridays and of Our Lady on Saturdays, on the basis not so much of authority as of devotion.

In the same way, therefore, that these sorts of observations do not pertain more to one week than to another, neither does that of the Holy Trinity. Hence it seems incongruous to celebrate one Sunday of the Holy Trinity with the Alcuin’s orations and Stephen’s chants when all Sundays are endowed with authentic offices which relay to us the honour of the Holy Trinity no less.

Note that we take up the practice of singing the preface of the Holy Trinity on Sundays based on the authority of Rome, not of Alcuin; it is one of the nine things which Pope Pelagius [II], Gregory [the Great]’s predecessor, ordered to be observed. Nevertheless, the work Alcuin performed for the Holy Church is not to be contemned, for it is said that he collected the Gregorian orations into the books of the sacraments, adding a few which he nonetheless decided to mark with an obelus. He then collected other prayers or prefaces which, even if not of Gregorian origin, are nevertheless appropriate for ecclesiastical celebrations, as is stated in the prologue which he placed after the Gregorian prayers in the middle of the same book. 

Quidam autem officium de sancta Trinitate in octava Pentecostes instituunt, licet non sit alleluiatum, quod et per totam subsequentem hebdomadam observandum putant, sed non est authenticum. Nam quidam Leodicensis Stephanus idem officium, sicut et historiam de inventione sancti Stephani, composuisse asseritur; quae utraque ab apostolica sede respuuntur. Unde piae memoriae Alexander papa de hac re inquisitus, respondit iuxta Romanum Ordinem nullum diem specialiter ascribi debere solemnitati Sanctae Trinitatis, sicut nec sanctae unitatis, praecipue cum in omni Dominica, imo quotidie, utriusque memoria celebretur. Sciendum autem quemdam Albinum magistrum Caroli imp. rogatu sancti Bonifacii archiepiscopi, ut aiunt, missales orationes de Sancta Trinitate composuisse, et in secunda feria de sapientia, in tertia de Spiritu sancto, in quarta de charitate, in quinta de angelis, in sexta de cruce, in Sabbato de sancta Maria. Et hoc ideo ut presbyteri illius temporis nuper ad fidem conversi, nondum ecclesiasticis officiis instructi, nondum etiam librorum copia praediti, vel aliquid haberent cum quo officium suum qualibet die possent explere. Unde et adhuc quidam easdem orationes quotidie, etiam cum propria abundent officia, nolunt praetermittere. In singulis quoque hebdomadibus, sexta feria de cruce, et Sabbato de sancta Maria pene usquequaque servatur, non tam ex auctoritate quam ex devotione. Sicut igitur huiusmodi observationes nulli magis hebdomadae quam alii ascribuntur, ita nihilominus et illa de sancta Trinitate. Incongruum ergo videtur unam Dominicam cum orationibus Albini, et cantu Stephani de sancta Trinitate celebrari, cum omnes Dominicae authenticis abundent officiis, quae non minus nobis intimant honorem sanctae Trinitatis. Praefationem autem de sancta Trinitate, quam in diebus Dominicis frequentamus, non ex Albino, sed ex Romana auctoritate suscepimus. Nam haec est una ex illis novem quas solas Pelagius papa, antecessor Gregorii, constituit observari. Fecit tamen idem Albinus in sancta Ecclesia non contemnendum opus, nam Gregorianas orationes in libris Sacramentorum collegisse asseritur, paucis aliis adiectis, quas tamen sub obelo notandas esse indicavit. Deinde alias orationes sive praefationes, etsi non Gregorianas, ecclesiasticae tamen celebritati idoneas collegit, sicut prologus testatur quem post Gregorianas orationes in medio eiusdem libri collocavit.


1. Præterea festivitas sanctæ Trinitatis secundum diversarum consuetudines regionum a quibusdam in octavis Pentecostes ab aliis in dominica prima ante Adventum Domini celebrari consuevit: ecclesia siquidem Romana in usu non habet, ut in aliquo tempore hujusmodi celebret specialiter festivitatem cum singulis diebus Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, et cætera consimilia dicantur ad laudem pertientia Trinitatis; quare tibi, frater archiepiscope, de usu pallii eo die quo sanctæ Trinitatis festivitas celebratur certum nequaquam potuimus dare responsum. (De feriis, lib. 2, tit. 5, cap. Quoniam). 

Gemma Animae (142-144): On Bells and Belfries

Chapter 142
On the Bells


The signs that were once given by trumpets are now given by bells. Now bells (campanae) were invented first in Nola in Campania [1]. Hence they are called by this name, the larger ones named campanae after the region of Campania, the smaller called Nolae after the city of Nola in Campania. They signify preachers, who call the people to the church. Their sounding is their preaching, and their sound has gone out to the whole world, and their words to the ends of the earth (Psalm 18). They are forged from bronze which is strong and sonorous, because their preaching against vices is strong and they are sonorous in their virtues [2].

[1] This etymology has not been discredited. Cf. Encyclopedia Brittanica: “The first recorded application of them to churches is ascribed by Polydore Vergil to Paulinus (circa 400 A.D.) He was bishop of Nola, a city of Campania (hence nola and campana, the names of certain bells).”

[2] In the Middle Ages, bells indeed were thought to possess miraculous virtues, e.g. to cast out demons, chase away invading armies, banish plague, etc.

Bells 2

Chapter 143
On the Towers

The towers (turres) in which the bells are hung are the two Laws, out of which two preachers–as if suspended from earthly toward heavenly things–preach the Kingdom of God. The clapper (plectrum) is made of iron, the hardest of materials. It is the preachers’ tongue, which overcomes every adversary. The chain it hangs on is moderation, which governs their tongue. The rope on which the bells move is Sacred Scripture, woven of many sentences, by which preachers are moved to preaching. The rope descends from a piece of wood, and Sacred Scripture descends from the wood of the Cross and the Lord’s Passion. The wood is held by even higher pieces, because the Cross and Passion of Christ is preached first by prophets, and the Gospel is connected to the law, and apostolic doctrine is woven out of prophecy. The priest grabs the rope when he does good works inspired by Scripture. The rope drags him upward, as Scripture suspends him aloft in contemplation. He draws the rope down as he descends from contemplation to the active life. The bell rings when the rope is pulled, as the priest rings out through his good works.

Chartres Rose Window
The Prophets and Evangelists, from the south transept of Chartres Cathedral. Notice the Evangelists standing on the shoulders of the prophets.

Chapter 144
On the Belfry

The belfry which reaches to such a height is lofty preaching, which speaks of heavenly things. And not without reason is a rooster placed on the belfry. For the rooster rouses those who are sleeping, and by this the priest, God’s rooster, is admonished to rouse us from our sleep by the bell.



Gemma Animae (137-140): Tapestries, Doors, and the Heavenly Choirs

Ch. 137
On the Tapestries

The tapestries that are hung in the church are the miracles of Christ which are read in Church [1]. The raised pulpit from which the Gospel is read is the life of the perfect, attained through Gospel teaching when someone leaves behind everything and follows Christ. The church is always illuminated by the light of a lamp, and Christ’s Church is always lit by the light of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is celebrated in the church, because the Catholic Church is the mother who bears new offspring for Christ.

[1] What might lead a commentator to make these wall-hangings stand for the miracles of Christ? These pallia were often of very expensive make and great beauty, as several entries in Du Cange attest (see below). A tapestry sparkling with gold filigree and gems seems to qualify as an allegory for Christ’s miraculous works. Further, if they were often decorated with images of saints or the life of Christ (as were certain Lenten veils), they could very well have born visual representations of miracles.

Helgaudus in Roberto Rege Franc.: Dedit etiam et Pallia tria pretiosa in ornatu Ecclesiæ, etc.

Hist. fundationis Monast. S. Clementis in insula Piscaria lib. 1: Fuerant etiam in ejus domo diversa Pallia auro et gemmis radiantia, quibus parietes Ecclesiæ ornabantur, et fratres induebantur, quoties magna festivitas in Ecclesia celebrabatur.

Historia Episcopor. Autisiodor. cap. 50: Dedit Ecclesiæ Pallium ingens optimum, quod vulgo Dorsale dicitur.

Chapter 138
On the Door

Door (ostium) comes from “obstruction” (obstando) or “showing” (ostendendo) [1]. The door that keeps out enemies and shows friends the way in is Christ, who resists the unfaithful through justice and bars them from his house, while showing the faithful the way in through faith [2].

[1] The etymology is Isidore’s, Etymologies, XV, 7: “Est autem primus domus ingressus; cetera intra ianuam ostia vocantur generaliter. Ostium est per quod ab aliquo arcemur ingressu, ab ostando dictum [sive ostium, quia ostendit aliquid intus]. Alii aiunt ostium appellari quia ostem moratur; ibi enim adversariis nos obicimus.”

[2] This is in conformity with the duties of the ostiarius or porter, the first grade of minor orders, who is to “open God’s house at certain hours to the faithful, and always close it to unbelievers” (…certisque horis domum Dei aperiatis fidelibus; et semper claudatis infidelibus).

Chapter 139
On the Choir

ancient choir.jpg
The theater at Athens. Notice the choir and altar in the foreground (Source)

The choir (chorus) of psalmists has its origin in the choir (chorea) of singers that the ancients established for their idols, so that they could praise their false gods in voice and serve them with their whole body. By the word “choir” (choreas) they meant to signify a circular motion, the revolution of the firmament; by the joining of hands, the conjunction of the elements, through the sound of the singers, the harmonious music of the spheres (harmoniam planetarum resonantium); by bodily gestures, the motion of the signs [of the zodiac?]; by applause or the noise of stomping feet, the crack of thunder. The faithful have imitated this, and converted it to the service of the true God. For we read that the people of God, having come out of the Red Sea, struck up a chorus (choream duxisse), and Mary sang before them with a drum (Exodus 15), and David danced before the arc with all his strength, and sang psalms to the tune of his cithara (II Kings 6). Salomon also is said to have established singers around the altar who made music with voice, trumpets, organs, cymbals, and citharae. Thus to this day we rely on musical choirs and their instruments, because the heavenly spheres are said to turn with a sweet melody.

[1] In his work An Image of the World, Honorius describes the music of the spheres, caused by the motion of the planets. We cannot hear it, but our music is in harmony with it:

In terra namque si in luna A, in Mercurio B, in Venere C, in sole D, in Marte E, in Iove F, in Saturno G ponitur, profecto mensura musicae invenitur, unde a terra usque ad firmamentum septem toni reperiuntur. A terra usque ad lunam est tonus, a luna usque ad Mercurium, semitonium; a Mercurio usque ad Venerem, semitonium; inde usque ad solem, tria semitonia. A sole ad Martem tonus, inde ad Iovem, semitonium; inde ad Saturnum semitonium; inde ad signiferum tria semitonia. Quae simul iuncta septem tonos efficiunt. Tonus autem habet quindecim millia sexcenta viginti quinque milliaria. Semitonium vero septem millia et octingenta duodecim milliaria, et semiss. Unde et Philosophi novem Musas finxerunt, quia a terra, usque ad coelum consonantias novem deprehendunt, quas homini naturaliter insitas invenerunt.


Chapter 140
On the Harmony of the Choir

Chorus refers to the harmony of the singers, or to the ring of those standing around (corona circumstantium). For in former times the singers stood around the altars in the form of a crown (corona) [1]; but the bishops Flavian and Diodorus established the custom of antiphonal psalmody [2]. The two choirs of psalmists signify the angels and the spirits of the just, who praise the Lord in turns [3]. The stalls (cancelli) [4] in which they stand signify the many rooms in the Father’s house (John 14). When they leave the choir in procession to an altar and sing there in station, it means that the souls leaving this life come to Christ and praise God together in company with the angels.

[1] Isidore, Etymologies, VI, 19: “Chorus est multitudo in sacris collecta; et dictus chorus quod initio in modum coronae circum aras starent et ita psallerent. Alii chorum dixerunt a concordia, quae in caritate consistit; quia, si caritatem non habeat, respondere convenienter non potest. Cum autem unus canit, Graece monodia, Latine sicinium dicitur; cum vero duo canunt, bicinium appellatur; cum multi, chorus. Nam chorea ludicrum cantilenae vel saltationes classium sunt.”

The only church I know of where the choir was literally gathered in a circle around the altar is the Duomo in Florence.


Florence Choir.jpg


[2] Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, II, 19: “That excellent pair Flavianus and Diodorus, though not yet admitted to the priesthood and still ranked with the laity, worked night and day to stimulate men’s zeal for truth. They were the first to divide choirs into two parts, and to teach them to sing the psalms of David antiphonally. Introduced first at Antioch, the practice spread in all directions, and penetrated to the ends of the earth. Its originators now collected the lovers of the Divine word and work into the Churches of the Martyrs, and with them spent the night in singing psalms to God.

[3] The relation of the clerical choir with the Angels was a theme introduced ch. 42.

[4] Cancellus (whence “chancel”) refers to the reticulated wooden, iron, or stone barriers separating the sanctuary from the rest of the church, often called a rood screen, choir screen, or chancel screen. By transference, it also serves to designate the space contained by the chancel screen, i.e. the sanctuary itself or the choir. Here, in our interpretation, it even seems to indicate the individual stalls of the choir, which indeed often looked like little houses, with overhanging roofs, encircling armrests, and sometimes even a swinging door.