Papal Humiliations, Part 3: The Cock of the Lateran

Psalterium Cantuariense [Psautier de Canterbury]In previous posts on the flax burning and sedia stercoraria, we have seen how the ancient ceremony of papal coronation evinced a continual concern with reminding the new pontiff, at the very moment of his elevation to the loftiest office in Christendom, that he remained a mere mortal. Richly symbolic rituals of humiliation were interspersed with the rituals of exaltation, lest the new pope become puffed up with vainglory.

One of the most poignant symbols that could be employed to this end was the cock of the Gospel, which crowed thrice after St Peter thrice denied Christ. From that moment and throughout Christian history, the cock has stood for Peter’s humiliation, but also for the vigilance of Christian pastors.

Some verses from Ambrose’s hymn Æterne rerum conditor, traditionally sung in the Roman rite at Lauds in winter, make both associations clear:

Hoc, ipsa Petra Ecclesiae,
Cantente, culpam diluit.Surgamus ergo strenue,
Gallus jacentes excitat,
Et somnolentos increpat,
Gallus negantes arguit.Gallo canente spes redit,
Ægris salus refunditur,
Mucro latronis conditur,
Lapsis fides revertitur.
And at the crowing of the cock,
The Church’s Rock washes away his sin in tears.Let us, then, arise promptly,
The cock rouses those who lie abed,
The cock rebukes the sleepy,
And reproves those who refuse.With the cock-crow hope returns,
The sick are filled with health,
The thief’s sword is sheathed,
Faith returns to the fallen.

The importance of the cock as a Scriptural symbol of repentance and vigilance led to frequent representation in both architecture and ceremony. For many centuries, the cock and cross perched together on the spires of churches and bell-towers of all Latin Christendom. In the words of the Gemma Animae:

“And not without good 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.”[1]

But the bird was especially prominent in Rome, where brazen cocks used to adorn both the Lateran Basilica (the pope’s cathedral) and the Vatican Basilica where St Peter’s remains lay, and found its way into several papal ceremonies.

1) The Cock of the Lateran and the Possession Ceremony.

“…and crowed the cock, with the selfsame
Voice that in ages of old had startled the penitent Peter.”

Some early-modern historians mention a curious ceremony involving a bronze cock that took place, either as the pope took possession of the Lateran, or when his coronation took place in the same basilica. As the pope entered the basilica, he would have walked past a bronze rooster perched on a porphyry column beside the doors. According to Moroni, this cock was “pointed out” to him during the Possession:

“The pope’s attention was directed to a bronze rooster […] perched on a porphyry column close to the door of the Lateran Basilica, in the form of the one that crowed three times at the three-fold denial and fall of Peter, reminding him by this symbol and urging him by this example to have compassion on the failings of his subjects, as Christ had compassion and pardoned the three denials made by the first pope, who immediately repented in tears.”[2]

Macri’s Hierolexicon agrees that it took place during the Possession, and repeats the same reason that led the popes to include a memory of Peter’s denial in the day they took possession of the Lateran: “to represent, in the day of the possession, the pitiable fragility of human nature, and how the new pope must show himself meek toward it.[3] Cancellieri says this showing of the cock took place during the coronation rite whenever it took place in the Lateran.[4]  Ritual books themselves do not mention this moment, and the historians give no citations.

Cock 10

What ever happened to this statue and column? It seems that they were put away by order of Alexander VII to discourage a strong superstition that had grown up among pious visitors to the basilica:

“The common people believed that this column was the very same one on which the cock had crowed on the night of the Passion to remind Peter of his infidelity, and that it had been transported to Rome from the house of Pilate along with the other porphyry columns of the neighboring baptistry. By order of Alexander VII it was removed and placed in the basilica, then in the cloister, where the cock was stolen in 1789, at which time the column was also sold.”[5]

Presumably, then, pointing out the cock to the pope during the possession ceremony ended with the artifact’s removal by Alexander VII.

2) The Cock in the Campanile and Basilica of St. Peter’s

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For more on the “Vatican Cock” see   Il Gallo Vaticano.

Several sources mention a bronze cock that formerly stood atop the belfry of Old St Peter’s Basilica. It was placed there in the 9th century, probably by the Most Holy Lord Pope Leo IV, who undertook to fortify the Vatican hill and repair its basilica after the incursion of the Saracens under the reign of his predecessor, the Lord Sergius II.


After the old basilica was demolished on the orders of Julius II, the cock was taken to the chapel of St. Lawrence in the the Basilica of St. Andrew, which formerly stood next to St. Peter’s. St Andrew’s was in turn destroyed by Pius VI to make way for St. Peter’s new sacristy, and the cock was thereafter kept in this sacristy, as attested by Francesco Maria Torrigio, who wrote in 1636, “In the sacristy of St. Peter’s there is a very ancient cock, entirely of bronze, which was gilded in the year 1630, and was in the past on the top of this belfry; among the ancients it was customary to place such a symbol on the tops of belfries and churches as a sign of vigilance and preaching.”[6]

A gilded brazen cock measuring 69 cm high and 19 cm long, and weighing 46 kg, is currently held in the museum treasury of St. Peter’s Basilica, and is believed by many authorities to have been the very same that was placed atop a bell-tower at the old basilica by Leo IV, although some scholars think it more likely that this bird dates from the earlier reign of Stephen II, who built the basilica’s first belfry.[7] According to 17th century sources, there was also a bronze cock above the portico of St. John Lateran at one time.[8]

cock 5
A pillar outside St. Peter in Gallicantu (St. Peter of the Cock Crow) in Jerusalem

3) Letter of Germanos II to the Cardinals of Pope Gregory.

It seems fitting to close with an excerpt from a remarkable letter, written in 1232 by Patriarch Germanos II, then exiled in Nicea, to the College of Cardinals of Gregory IX. It is a fervent plea for aid, asking the College to intercede with the pope to put an end the divisions between Latin and Greek Christians, and to come to the aid of the crumbling Byzantine Empire against the Turkish armies.

After stressing the importance of mutual counsel and collegiality, the Patriarch reminds the Cardinals of a profound theological truth: that the papal office was founded on Peter’s repentance. Let the pope, then, be quick to repent of his errors, and thereby give the world an example of conversion.

“All men make use of one another’s aid, even if they be the most exalted and wise in all divine things. And I, because I have honored the great Apostle Peter, the crown of the choirs of Christ’s disciples, the Rock of faith, I remind you how that rock was shaken to its foundation and laid low by a wretched woman, even as Christ submitted to everything. And Christ whose judgments are as profound as the abyss, making use of the cock, forced Peter to remember his prophetic word. At the voice of the cock he awakened Peter from his dream of denial, and his face was riven by tears, and he stood up and confessed to God. And so he became an example of conversion for the whole world, and bearing the keys of the Kingdom he runs about among all men saying: Let the faltering stand tall, let the fallen raise themselves, looking upon my example. Imitate me rushing toward the gates of Paradise and holding the authority to open them.”

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Cock 4
St. Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem


[1] Honorius Augustodunensis, Gemma Animae, 144.

[2] Moroni, Dizionario, LII, pg. 295: “Si mostrava al Pontefice quel gallo di bronzo […] sopra una colonna di porfido vicino alla porta della basilica Lateranense, in memoria e figura di quello che cantò tre volte alle negazioni e triplice caduta di Pietro, rammentandogli con questo simbolo, ed eccitandolo con questo esempio, ch’egli dovea compatire i mancamenti de’suoi sudditi, come Cristo avea compatito e perdonato le tre negazioni che di lui avea fatte il primo Pontefice, subito penitente e lagrimante.”

[3] “Ad repraesentandam, in die possessionis, commiserabilem Humanitatis fragilitatem, ac mitem se erga eam praebere debere” (Hierolexicon, pg. 534).

[4] Cancellieri, Storia de’ solenni possessi de’ sommi pontefici, pg. 53 – 54.

[5] “Ma perché il volgo credeva, che sopra la colonna avesse realmente cantato il gallo che nella notte della passione ricordò a Pietro la sua infedeltà, e che fosse trasportata in Roma dalla casa di Pilato con le altre colonne di porfido del propinquo battistero, d’ordine d’Alessandro VII fu tolta dalla vista del popolo e situata nella basilica e poi nel chiostro, ove fu rubato il gallo nel 1798, venendo la colonna venduta” (Storia de’ solenni possessi de’ sommi pontefici, pg. 54).

[6] “Nella sacrestia di S. Pietro è un antichissimo gallo tutto di bronzo, che fu poi indorato l’anno 1630, qual stava ne’ tempi passati nella sommità di questo campanile, essendo soliti sia i nostri Antichi in segno di vigilanza e di predicazione porre tal simbolo in cima de’ campanili, e Chiese” (Torrigio, Le sacre grotte vaticane).

[7] For an in-depth study of the question of the belfry and its bronze cock, see Cancellieri’s De Secretariis Novae Basilicae Vaticanae, v. II, pp. 1342 et sqq, and v. III, 1994 et sqq.

[8] As recorded by Cancellieri, v. II, pg. 1364: “Teste Card. Rasponio, in Turribus ad Pyramidis formam a Xysto IV excitatis, supra Porticum Lateranensem, ‘olim spectaculo erat Gallus versatilis aeneus in fastigio earum, satis eleganti artificio elaboratus, qui Basilicae incendio consumptus est.’” (According to Cardinal Rasponi, in the pyramid-shaped towers built by Sixtus IV above the portico of the Lateran, “formerly one could see a revolving bronze cock on their pinnacles, a work of quite elegant craftsmanship.”) The custom of placing cocks above the church or its belfry was once widespread throughout Christendom. Cancellieri mentions that St. Charles Borromeo, when he was Cardinal-Deacon of the titular church of San Nicola in Carcere Tulliano, set down in the church’s constitutions that “the bell-tower, an image of a cock being most firmly affixed thereto, should bear an upright Cross.” He adds that there was once a rooster atop the belfry of the churches of San Nazaro and San Babila in Milan and on the belfry of the episcopal palace in Viterbo; none of these remain.


On the Dedication of a Church, Part 3 (GA 150 – 171)

Part 1: The Preparation
Part 2: The Consecration-Dedication

Ch. 166
On the Saints’ Relics

Consecration Procession, Westminster Cathedral, London

Relics are sealed in the altar because the holy souls are put in the heavenly places. The antiphon Exsultabunt sancti in gloria is sung because the souls of the angelic court rejoice.


CAP. CLXVI. – De reliquiis sanctorum.

Reliquiae in altari sigillantur, quia animae in coelestibus collocantur. Cantatur antiphona, Exsultabunt sancti in gloria, quia animae ovant in angelica curia.


Ch. 167
On the Soul’s Vestments

Next the altar is dressed, because in the resurrection souls are dressed once more in their bodies. The altar was naked while the souls were waiting without bodies in heaven. The altar is dressed when the soul is clothed in the mortal and incorruptible body.

CAP. CLXVII. – De veste animarum.

Post haec altare vestitur, quia animae in resurrectione corporibus vestiuntur. Nudum erat altare, dum animae sine corporibus in coelis fuerant collocatae. Altare vestitur, dum anima in immortali et incorruptibili corpore induetur.


Ch. 168
On the Day of Judgment

Next the pontiff blesses the altar and Christ blesses his Church with these words: Venite, benedicti Patris mei (Matthew 25). The pontiff returns to the sacristy with his orders [i.e. ministers] and dresses himself in other vestments, and Christ returns to the world for the judgment with the orders of angels. He puts on other vestments because he will present the form of a slave to the impious when they look on the one they have crucified, and the just will see the King of glory in all his splendor.

Next the church is decorated and the lamps are lit because the good works adorning the just blaze forth forever like the sun.

Then the cantor begins Terribilis est locus iste. For what is more terrible than that day when the angels will tremble and the impious will go to their eternal punishment? Then the pontiff proceeds solemnly and the office is performed with great joy, because at the end of the judgment God will be seen face to face in his glory, and God will be all in all (I Corinthians 13), and just as light is to the eyes, so will joy be to souls.

CAP. CLXVIII. – De die iudicii.

Post haec pontifex altare benedicit, et Christus Ecclesiam his verbis benedicit: Venite, benedicti Patris mei (Matth. XXV). Pontifex revertitur in sacrarium cum ordinibus suis, et induit se vestimentis aliis, et Christus revertitur in mundum ad iudicium cum ordinibus angelicis; aliis induitur vestimentis, quia servilem formam praesentabit impiis, cum videbunt eum quem crucifixerunt, et iusti Regem gloriae in decore suo videbunt. Deinde ornatur ecclesia, et accenduntur luminaria, quia tunc opera iustorum splendescunt, pro quibus ornati perenniter ut sol fulgebunt. Tunc incipit cantor Terribilis est locus iste.Quid enim terribilius illa die quando angeli timebunt, et impii in aeternum supplicium ibunt. Tunc procedit pontifex solemniter, et fit officium cum omni laetitia, quia peracto iudicio videbitur Deus facie ad faciem, in gloria sua, et erit Deus omnia in omnibus (I Cor. XIII, et ut lux oculis, sic gaudium animabus.


Ch. 169
On the Place of Sacrifice

Dedication 4 (St Nicholas in Kronstadt)
Primates of the Church of Jerusalem and the Russian Orthodox Church consecrate the Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas in Kronstadt

Therefore, just as one may celebrate Mass legitimately only in a dedicated church, just so one may sacrifice legitimately only in the Catholic Church, and outside of it no sacrifice is accepted by God. Though God can and in justice must be blessed and invoked everywhere in the fields, in the desert, on the sea, and in every place of his dominion, indeed in the whole temple of this world, nevertheless it is right that the faithful have recourse to the church at certain times, where they may invoke and adore God, who has promised to give them anything that two together may ask of him, and where he promises to be present with two or three gathered in his name (Matthew 18). It is just for the Christian people to convene in an oratory, as if in a praetorium, to hear the judgments and mandates of the eternal King and to participate in the banquet of the fatted calf. Thus when the people congregate in the church they build a temple where God can dwell. The Christian people in a dedicated building are a church within a church, just as every baptized person in a consecrated house is a temple within a temple.

CAP. CLXIX. – De certo loco et sacrificio.

Igitur sicut in ecclesia dedicata rite missa celebratur, sic in Ecclesia catholica legitime sacrificatur, et extra hanc nullum sacrificium a Deo acceptatur. Et quamvis Deus ubique sive in agro, sive in eremo vel in mari, vel in omni loco dominationis eius iuste possit ac debeat benedici, et invocari, ut puta in templo totius mundi, tamen iure opportuno tempore ad ecclesiam a fidelibus curritur, ut ibi Deus invocetur, atque adoretur, in qua omnem rem, quam duo ex consensu petierint, se daturum pollicetur, et ubi ipse duobus vel tribus in nomine eius congregatis interesse perhibetur (Matth. XVIII). Iustum quippe est ut Christianus populus in oratorium quasi ad praetorium conveniat, iudicia ac mandata aeterni Regis audiat, atque de convivio vituli saginati percipiat. Cum ergo populus in ecclesiam congregatur, quasi templum Deo ad inhabitandum aedificatur. Ecclesia autem in Ecclesia, est plebs Christiana in aula dedicata. Templum quoque est in templo, baptizatus quilibet in domo consecrata.


Ch. 170
On a Dedicated Church

Image result for moses offers sacrifice + illumination

If a church is desecrated by murder or adultery it is re-dedicated, just as when a man, the temple of the Holy Spirit dedicated through baptism, is desecrated by sin, he must be restored again in the fount of tears. If the altar’s seal is removed, it must be re-consecrated, just as, when the seal of faith is removed from the altar of the heart through some heresy, it must be reconciled through penance. If the high altar (principale altare) is moved, it is decreed that the church must be re-consecrated, just as when the bishop, the prince (princeps) of the Church, changes from faith to heresy, the whole people subject to him are stained with his fault, and they should be received back into the Catholic faith along with him after a process of penance and sanctification. But a desecrated church that has not been reconsecrated is an unclean place fit for dogs; just so when a man, who is a temple of God, desecrates himself by a mortal sin and does not reform through penance, he will be a habitation for demons. The bodies of people recently killed are not carried into the church to avoid soiling the floor with their blood. For this reason some think that women who die in childbirth should not be brought into the church, but in fact it is permitted.

CAP. CLXX. – De violata ecclesia.

Si ecclesia homicidio vel adulterio violatur, iterum dedicatur: ita si homo Spiritus sancti templum in baptismate dedicatum criminali peccato violatur, necesse est ut denuo fonte lacrymarum renovetur. Si sigillum altaris amovetur, est praeceptum ut iterum consecretur: ita si sigillum fidei ab altari cordis aliqua haeresi amovctur, oportet ut denuo per poenitentiam reconcilietur. Si principale altare movetur, est decretum ut ecclesia denuo consecretur: ita si episcopus princeps Ecclesiae a fide ad haeresim mutatur, tota plebs ei subiecta commaculatur; et ideo convenit ut cum eo poenitentia et sanctificatione ad catholicam fidem recipiatur. Quae autem violata, non denuo consecrata fuerit, immunda et canibus erit pervia: ita si homo templum Dei, scilicet seipsum, mortali crimine violaverit, atque per poenitentiam denuo non remundaverit, daemonibus habitatio erit. Interfecti ideo in ecclesiam non portantur, ne sanguine pavimentum maculetur. Ob hanc enim causam putant quidam mulieres in partu defunctas, in ecclesiam non esse deferendas, quod tamen licet fieri.


Ch. 171
On the Construction of a Church

Image result for moses offers sacrifice + illumination

It is very good to build churches or furnish them with vessels, vestments, and other ornaments, but it is much better to expend the same means for the relief of the poor, and thus to send his before him through the hands of the poor to the heavenly treasury (Matthew 6), and prepare there “a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (2 Corinthians 5), where he will live for ever with the angels.

Mark you, however, that holy places do not save those whose wicked works have separated them from the Church, and that not even the rudest structure is an impediment to those who live piously. Nadab and Abihu are consumed by fire in God’s tabernacle (Leviticus 10); Chore, Dathan, and Abiron are swallowed up the the earth in front of the tabernacle (Numbers 16). The priest Heli’s neck is broken in the holy place (1 Kings 4). Oza is struck down near the arc (2 Kings 6). Joab is killed next to the altar (1 Kings 2). King Ozias is covered with leprosy in the Temple (2 Chronicles 26). Finally, the Temple itself is desecrated and destroyed, and the hypocritical people of the Law are led away from it into captivity (IV Kings 25).

On the other hand, Joseph does not perish in the cistern or in prison (Genesis 37). Moses is not drowned in the river (Exodus 1). Job does not die on his dung heap nor Jeremiah in his cistern (Job 2; Jeremiah 38). No harm comes to Daniel in lions’ pit or to the three children in the furnace (Daniel 3, 6). Peter survives in prison and Paul does not perish on the sea (Acts 12; II Corinthians 11). Even the devil lived after being cast from heaven and man after he was expelled from Paradise (Genesis 2; Isaiah 14). God visits the just of the earth and raises them up from hell toward heavenly things.

CAP. CLXXI. – De constructione ecclesiae.

Itaque bonum est ecclesias aedificare, constructas vasis, vestibus, aliis ornamentis decorare, sed multo melius est eosdem sumptus in usus indigentium expendere, et censum suum per manus pauperum in coelestes thesauros (Matth. VI) praemittere, ibique domum non manufactam, sed aeternam in coelis (II Cor. V) praeparare, in qua possit cum angelis aeternaliter habitare. Sciendum autem quod loca sancta non salvant quos prava opera ab Ecclesia separant, nec item horrida loca his obsunt qui pie vivunt. Nadab namque et Abiu sacerdotes in tabernaculo Dei igne consumuntur (Levit. X); Chore, Dathan, et Abiron ante tabernaculum a terra deglutiuntur (Num. XVI). Heli pontifex in loco sancto fracta cervice periit (I Reg. IV). Oza iuxta arcam percussus interiit (II Reg. VI). Ioab iuxta altare occiditur (III Reg. II). Ozias rex in templo lepra perfunditur (II Par. XXVI). Postremo templum violatum subruitur, populus legis praevaricator ab eo captivus ducitur (IV Reg. XXV). Econtra Ioseph in cisterna et in carcere non perit (Gen. XXXVII). Moyses in fluvio necem non subit (Exod. I). Iob in sterquilinio, Hieremias non interiit in coeno (Iob. II; Ier. XXXVIII). Daniel in lacu leonum: tres pueri non laeduntur in camino ignium (Dan. III, VI). Petrus in carcere: Paulus non periit in mari (Act. XII; II Cor. XI) ; imo diabolus de coelo, homo cecidit de paradiso (Gen. III; Isa. XIV). Iusti autem in terra a Deo visitantur, de inferno ad coelestia sublevantur.

On the Dedication of a Church, Part 2 (GA 150 – 171)

Part 1: The Preparation

(b) The Dedication-Consecration

Dedication 4

Ch. 156
On the Deus in adiutorium

After these things the bishop stands before the altar and invokes the divine aid through the verse Deus, in adiutorium meum intende so that he may be able to consecrate the house worthily to God’s name. He adds Gloria Patri without Alleluia, showing that in this house glory is sung to the Trinity. He does not add Alleluia because the house has not been consecrated yet for the voice of exultation. After the consecration, however, the Alleluia will be sung because once every influence of the devil has been cast out God will be praised in it.

In a like manner Christ, the true bishop, approached the altar of the cross and invoked his Father’s aid, desiring to sanctify the Church thereby, and sang a sort of Gloria Patri when he suffered death for the Church to the glory of the Holy Trinity. He did not add the Alleluia because the whole world was thrown into confusion by his Passion. But after his resurrection, as after a consecration, the Alleluia was sung because heaven and earth rejoiced in his resurrection.

CAP. CLVI. – De illo, Deus in adiutorium

Post haec Pontifex ante altare stans divinum auxilium per versum: Deus, in adiutorium meum intende, invocat; ut domum nomini eius digne consecrare valeat. Gloria Patri, absque Alleluia, subiungit. Quia gloriam Trinitati in illa domo cantari innotescit: Alleluia non addit, eo quod adhuc ad vocem exsultationis consecrata non sit. Post consecrationem autem Alleluia cantabitur, quia exclusa iam omni daemonum fantasia Deus in ea laudabitur. Ita Christus verus Pontifex ad aram crucis accedens, Patris auxilium invocavit, quo Ecclesiam sanctificare velit, quasi gloria Patri cecinit, dum ad gloriam Trinitatis mortem pro Ecclesia subiit. Quando Alleluia non addidit, dum totus mundus in eius passione fuit turbatus. Post resurrectionem autem quasi post consecrationem Alleluia cantabatur, quia coelum et terra de eius resurrectione laetabantur.

Ch. 157
On the Salt and Ashes

Then water is blessed and mixed with wine and ashes. Salt, which makes all foods flavorful, signifies Christ the Wisdom of God, through whom all are given wisdom and understanding. Elisha put salt in water and the waters were made clean (2 Kings 2), because God sent his Wisdom, i.e. his Son to mankind and they were healed. In the Law a red calf was burned in fire and the people expiated their sins with its ashes (Numbers 19). A red calf is burned to ash in order to expiate the people’s sins; viz., stained red in Christ’s blood and reduced to ashes by the fire of the passion, by which the faithful people are redeemed. When ashes and salt are mixed, humanity is taken up into divinity in the resurrection. Ash is also mixed with salt when we Christians, who are ash, and are called Church, are brought to share in Christ’s divinity.

CAP. CLVII. – De sale et cinere

Deinde aqua benedicitur, vinum admiscetur sal quoque et cinis commiscentur: sal, quo omnes cibi sapidi fiunt, Christus Dei Sapientia designatur, qua omnes sapere et intelligere acceperunt. Deinde Elisaeus sal in aquam misit, et aquae sanatae sunt (IV Reg. II) , quia Deus Sapientiam, id est Filium suum, in homines misit, et sanati sunt. In lege autem vitula rufa iussa est in igne cremari, et populus eius cinere expiari (Num. XIX). Vitula rufa in expiatione populi in cinerem cremata est; Christi sanguine rubricata, igne passionis in cinerem redacta, quo plebs fidelium est expiata. Hic cinis sali admiscetur, dum humanitas a Divinitate in resurrectione resumitur. Cinis quoque sali commiscetur, dum nos Christiani, qui cinis sumus, et Ecclesia nominamur, divinitati Christi associamur.

Ch. 158
On the Wine and Water

Just as the wine is understood as divinity, so the water is understood as humanity. When the two are mixed our humanity is joined to divinity through the blood of Christ. Three times the cross is made with the salt and ashes over the water, because through his cross Christ engraved the Trinitarian faith into mankind. Further, through each of these things we express the Church’s sacrifice, which is offered in this consecrated house: through salt and ashes, the body of Christ is prefigured in its divinity; through the wine and water we symbolize Christ’s blood, which is made with water.

CAP. CLVIII. – De vino et aqua.

Item per vinum Divinitas, per aquam intelligitur humanitas. Haec duo commiscentur, dum nostra humanitas per Christi sanguinem Divinitati adiungitur. Ter crux cum sale et cinere super aquam fit, quia per crucem Christus hominibus fidem Trinitatis impressit. Porro per haec singula, sacrificium Ecclesiae exprimitur, quod in hac domo dedicata offertur: per salem et cinerem, Christi corpus in divinitate praefiguratur, per vinum et aquam Christi sanguis, quod cum aqua conficitur, praenotatur.

Ch. 159
On the Temple

Understand that this whole rite refers also to the individual man, who is called a temple of God. The bishop first opens the door, then offers prayers, writes the alphabet, blesses water with salt and ashes, adds wine, then anoints the altar. In a similar way, to everyone who is converted to God the door of faith is opened, prayers offered for him, Scripture engraved in his heart, excorcisms performed on him as a catechumen, and through faith he is taught the divinity and humanity of Christ. Then he is purified in the fount of baptism, and finally he is anointed with the chrism. Thus he becomes a temple of God.

CAP. CLIX. – De templo.

Notandum quod hoc totum ad hominem refertur, qui templum Dei appellatur. Primum pontifex ostium aperit: deinde preces fundit, post haec alphabetum scribit, deinde aquam cum sale et cinere benedicit, vinum admiscet, deinde ungit. Ita cuilibet ad Dominum converso ostium fidei aperitur: deinde pro eo oratur: deinde Scriptura menti eius inscribitur, dum catechumenus exorcismis imbuitur, exinde, per fidem Christi divinitatem et humanitatem docetur: deinde fonte baptismatis purificatur, ad extremum chrismate ungitur, et sic templum Dei efficitur.

Ch. 160
On the Altar and Cross

After these things the priest dips his finger into the oil and makes a sign of the cross over the four corners of the altar. Now the altar represents the primitive Church in Jerusalem. Christ the bishop made a cross over the altar when he took up the cross for the Church in Jerusalem. He signed the four corners of the altar when he saved the four parts of the world by his cross. Then the bishop sprinkles the altar seven times, because after his resurrection Christ ordered the Church to be baptized in the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The water is sprinkled with hyssop, a bitter herb that is said to be able to pierce through the hardness of stone, and signifies the flesh of Christ made bitter in the passion, through which baptism is given to us and the stony hearts of the Gentiles are softened in the faith. Next he circles the altar while sprinkling, because the Lord feeds his angel “round about them that fear him” (Psalm 33). The altar is sprinkled three times because the Church is cleansed of the three deadly sins, namely those of thought, word, and deed. Next he goes through the whole church and sprinkles the walls on both sides, because Christ ordered the apostles to baptized the people throughout all Judaea. Meanwhile the Psalm is sung: Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimici eius, because when Christ rose the demons and his Jewish enemies were scattered, and because when Christ’s resurrection and baptism were preached throughout the world the enemies of God were scattered by the Church.

CAP. CLX. – De altari et cruce.

Post haec sacerdos digitum tingit, et crucem per quatuor cornua altaris facit. Altare hic primitivam Ecclesiam in Hierusalem exprimit. Quasi Christus crucem Pontifex super altare fecit, dum crucem in Hierusalem, pro Ecclesia subiit. Quatuor cornua altaris signavit, dum quatuor partes mundi cruce salvavit. Deinde septies contra altare spargit, quia Christus post resurrectionem in septem donis Spiritus sancti Ecclesiam baptizari iussit. Aqua cum hyssopo aspergitur, quae amara herba duritiam lapidum penetrare fertur, et signat Christi carnem in passione amaricatam, per quem baptismus datur, et duritia gentilium ad fidem emollitur. Deinde altare spargendo circuit, quia Dominus angelum suum in circuitu timentium se nutrit. Altare ter aspergitur, quia Ecclesia a tribus peccatis mortis, scilicet operis, locutionis, cogitationis emundatur. Deinde per totam ecclesiam vadit, parietes ex utraque spargit parte, quia Christus per totam Iudaeam populum baptizare praecepit. Interim canitur psalmus: Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimici eius, quia dum Christus surrexit, daemones et Iudaei inimici eius dissipati sunt. Et cum Christi resurrectio et baptismus per mundum praedicabantur, inimici Dei ab Ecclesia dissipabantur.

Ch. 161
On the Ministers

The bishop sends the ministers to compass the church while singing, because Christ sent the apostles to preach his baptism throughout the whole world. Proceeding to the middle of the church, the bishop sings the antiphon Domus mea, and Christ has made the Church his house by visiting it through his doctors. Having begun the antiphon Introibo, he goes singing to the altar and pours what remains of the water at the base of the altar because Christ poured out the rivers of his doctrine in Jerusalem and the font of baptism sprung up there. Next the altar is cleaned with a linen cloth, which signifies the Lord’s passion. For linen comes from the earth and is made white through much labor. Just so Christ is born of a virgin and through the great suffering of his passion attained the whiteness of the resurrection. The altar is wiped dry with this linen while the Church’s tribulation is cleaned with the example of Christ’s passion. Then incense is offered, i.e. the prayers of the just, who offer themselves as a pleasing odor to God when they afflict their bodies for his sake.

CAP. CLXI. – De ministris.

Pontifex mittit ministros, qui ecclesiam cantando circumeant: quia Christus apostolos misit, qui baptismum per totum mundum praedicabant. Episcopus per mediam ecclesiam incedens cantat antiphonam, Domus mea, et Christus per doctores visitans fecit eam domum suam. Incipiens autem antiphonam, Introibo et post vadit canendo ad altare, et quod remansit de aqua ad basim altaris fundit, quia Christus fluenta doctrinae in Hierusalem effudit, et inde fons baptismatis erupit. Post haec altare cum linteo extergitur, per quod Dominica passio intelligitur. Linum quippe de terra oritur, et cum labore ad candorem convertitur; et Christus de Virgine nascitur, et cum magno labore passionis ad candorem resurrectionis rediit. Hoc linteo altare extergitur, dum tribulatio Ecclesiae exemplo passionis Christi delinitur. Deinde offertur incensum, hoc est orationes iustorum, qui se in odorem Deo offerunt, dum corpus suum pro eo affligunt.

Ch. 162
On the Oil and the Altar

Next the pontiff pours oil over the altar, making a cross through the center and over its four corners, because Christ poured out the Holy Spirit over the primitive Church in Jerusalem, where he took up the cross, then distributed these gifts to the faithful throughout the four parts of the world. Then the antiphon Erexit lapidem Iacob in titulum is sung. A stone was anointed, Christ anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit who is the oil of gladness. Now he is become the corner stone (Psalm 44, 117) and both peoples are joined in him. The altar is anointed three times, twice with oil and a third time with the chrism, because the Church is marked with faith, hope, and charity. Once the oil has been poured the antiphon Ecce odor filii mei sicut odor agri pleni is sung. The field (ager) means the breadth of the world, through which the Church is everywhere diffused. This field is verdant with flowers, and the Church is resplendent in the virtues. The flowers’ perfume is the fragrance of good works. The roses are the martyrs, the lilies the virgins, the violets those who have contempt for the world; the green plants are the wise, the bright and colorful ones the proficient, and those that are heavy with fruits are the souls of the perfect.

CAP. CLXII. – De oleo et altari.

Postea pontifex fundit oleum super altare, faciens crucem in medio eius, et super quatuor cornua eius, quia Christus super primitivam Ecclesiam Spiritum sanctum in Hierusalem effudit, in qua et crucem subiit, deinde per quatuor mundi partes haec dona fidelibus tribuit. Tunc cantatur antiphona: Erexit lapidem Iacob in titulum. Lapis unctus fuit, Christus Spiritu sancto a Patre scilicet oleo laetitiae unctus, hic in caput anguli est factus (Psal. XLIV; CXVII): dum uterque populus in eo est coniunctus. Ter altare ungitur, bis oleo, tertio chrismate, quia Ecclesia insignitur fide, spe, charitate. Fuso autem oleo cantatur antiphona, Ecce odor filii mei sicut odor agri pleni. Ager latitudo mundi intelligitur, per quem Ecclesia ubique diffunditur. Hic ager vernat floribus, dum Ecclesia resplendet virtutibus. Odor florum est fragrantia bonorum operum. Rosae sunt martyres; lilia virgines, violae saeculi contemptores, virides herbae sapientes, floridae proficientes, fructibus plenae animae perfectae.

Ch. 163
On the Chrism

Next he uses his thumb to make crosses with chrism on the church’s wall, moving from the right side to the left because the unction of chrism began in the primitive Church and reached to the Church of the Gentiles. Meanwhile the antiphon Sanctificavit Dominus tabernaculum is sung. Now the Church is God’s tabernacle in this earthly journey, but will become a temple through anticipation. Next the antiphon Lapides pretiosi. The “precious stones” are those that held and protected the holy Scriptures: the walls and towers of Jerusalem are the fortifications of the Scriptures. They keep out the Jews, heretics, and pagans. Its gems are the sacred sentences.

CAP. CLXIII. – De chrismate.

Demum per parietes ecclesiae crucem de chrismate facit cum pollice, incipiens a dextro latere usque in sinistrum, quia unctio chrismatis a primitiva Ecclesia incipiens pervenit in Ecclesiam gentium; interim cantatur antiphona, Sanctificavit Dominus tabernaculum. Ecclesia nunc est Dei tabernaculum in huius mundi itinere, quae postea erit templum in praeventione. Deinde antiphona, Lapides pretiosi. Lapides pretiosi sunt, qui sacras Scripturas condiderunt. Muri et turres Hierusalem sunt munitiones Scripturarum, quibus arcentur Iudaei, haeretici atque pagani. Gemmae sunt sacrae sententiae.

Ch. 164
On the Incense

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Then the pontiff makes a sign of the cross over the altar with incense and says the oration.

Christ also, Pontiff of pontiffs, makes a cross of incense over the altar because he intercedes for us with his Father. For him to make a cross with incense is for him to show his passion to the Father on the Church’s behalf and to intercede for us. Thus the pontiff begins the antiphon Confirma hoc, Deus, quod operatus es in nobis along with the Gloria Patri because Christ implores the Father on behalf of his Church that he may confirm in her his work of redemption and submit the whole world to her dominion. The antiphon continues, telling where this grace comes from: from your holy temple, which is in Jerusalem (Psalm 67). In Jerusalem the work of mankind’s salvation began, and thence spread out to the whole earth. For Jerusalem is the Church, Christ’s temple, in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). But this divinity was poured out lavishly for the human race. He adds Gloria Patri because this salvation is the work of the Trinity. Therefore, we sing glory and honor to the Trinity for ever after.

CAP. CLXIV. – De incenso.

Tunc pontifex crucem incensi super altare facit, et se ad orationem submittit. Christus quoque Pontifex pontificum incensum crucis super altare ponit, quia apud Patrem pro nobis intervenit. Crucem namque incensi facere est passionem suam, pro Ecclesia Patri ostendere, et pro nobis interpellare. Unde pontifex incipit antiphonam: Confirma hoc, Deus, quod operatus es in nobis, cum Gloria Patri, quia Christus Patrem pro Ecclesia exorat, ut redemptionem, quam ipse operatus est, in ea confirmet, et omnem terram ei subiiciat. Unde haec processerit gratia subdit: a templo sancto tuo, quod est in Hierusalem (Psal. LXVII). In Hierusalem quippe salvatio humani generis coepit, et inde in totum mundum manavit. Hierusalem enim est Ecclesia, in qua templum est Christi, in quo habitavit plenitudo divinitatis corporaliter; quae tamen per Spiritum sanctum effusa humano generi profluxit largiter. Gloria Patri additur, quia hanc salvationem Trinitas operatur, quia Trinitati laus et gloria proinde canitur.

Ch. 165
On Liturgical Vessels and Decoration

After all these things, the subdeacons or acolytes offer the vessels, linens, and all the vestments to the pontiff to be blessed. They represent those who have been chosen to adorn the Church, consecrated by the bishop to serve her, and they are called God’s vessels. Then the pontiff goes to the place where the relics lay with vigils during the previous night, and raising them aloft he carries them to the place prepared for them. Just so Christ the True Pontiff, after preparing a place for the just who guard themselves vigilantly from evil during the night of this present life, takes them from their places and leads them into the house of his Father. Thus we sing the antiphon Ambulate, sancti Dei, ingredimini civitatem Dei; and the “city of God” (civitatem Dei) is the heavenly Jerusalem. The following phrase “a new Church is built for us,” refers to the new Jerusalem, “built as a city” (Psalm 121). We sing several antiphons, imitating the solemn dance (tripudium) and exultations of the angelic virtues, who accompany souls as they leave their bodies, conducting them unto the heavenly habitations they have merited. Coming before the altar where the relics are to be placed, the pontiff draws a veil between himself and the people, because the secret places of the soul are veiled from mortal sight.

CAP. CLXV. – De vasis et ornamentis.

Post haec subdiaconi vel acolythi vasa, linteamina, et omnia ornamenta offerunt pontifici benedicenda, sunt hi qui ornatui Ecclesiae eliguntur, et ad servitium Ecclesiae ab episcopo consecrantur, et vasa Dei dicuntur. His peractis vadit pontifex in eum locum, in quo reliquiae praeterita nocte cum vigiliis fuerunt; et elevat eas portans ad locum praeparatum: ita Christus verus Pontifex, postquam nobis praeparavit locum, iustos, qui in praesenti nocte se vigili mente a malo custodiunt, assumit de locis suis, et perducit eos in domum Patris sui. Unde cantatur antiphona, Ambulate, sancti Dei, ingredimini civitatem Dei, id est coelestem Hierusalem. Quod autem sequitur nobis aedificata est nova Ecclesia, hoc est Hierusalem nova, quae aedificatur ut civitas (Psal. CXXI). Diversae antiphonae cantantur; tripudium et exsultationes angelicarum virtutum imitantur, quae exeuntes de corpore animas comitantur, usquequo meritis sibi debitis mansionibus recipiantur. Veniens pontifex ante altare, ubi reliquiae sunt reconditae, extendit velum inter se et populum, quia loca animarum secreta sunt a visione mortalium.

On the Dedication of a Church, Part 1 (GA 150 – 171)

Readers may have followed the recent consecration of the Abbey of Gower according to the ancient rites. (If not, there is a video of the ceremonies on Youtube and a photo page here.) The Gemma Animae offers commentary on this holy, awe-inspiring, and mysterious, which we will post over the next few days with illustrations.


(Chs. 150 – 171)

Dedication 2

Ch. 150
De Dedicatione Ecclesiae

The dedication of a church is the nuptial union of Christ and the Church. The bishop who consecrates her is Christ, who has married the Church. The bishop blesses the font in the atrium, and then sprinkles the Church with water all around (in circuitu), because Christ consecrated a baptismal font in Judaea and ordered all the nations all around the world (in circuitu mundi) to be washed in it.

CAP. CL. – De dedicatione ecclesiae.

Ecclesiae Dedicatio est Ecclesiae et Christi nuptialis copulatio. Episcopus qui eam consecrat est Christus, qui Ecclesiam desponsaverat. Episcopus fontem in atrio benedicit, et in circuitu aspergit, quia Christus fontem baptismatis in Iudaea consecravit, et in circuitu mundi omnes gentes eo ablui imperavit.

a) Prologue: Entrance and Inscribing the Floor

Ch. 151
On an Unconsecrated House

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A house not consecrated to God is like the heathen world, ignorant of God and enclosed behind the bolted doors of unbelief. All around (in circuitu) the house, twelve burning candles illuminate it as the twelve Apostles illuminated heathenesse all around the world (in circuitu orbis) by the light of their doctrine. A candle gives light and burns, and the Apostles’ word gave light as they burned with charity. The pontiff strikes the lintel of the door three times with his staff saying “Attollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini, portae aeternales” (Psalm 23). In the pontiff we are to understand Christ, and in his staff the sceptre of power. The three-fold striking is his three-fold power in heaven, on earth, and in hell. Thus it is as if the Lord himself strikes the door three times with the crosier, giving the Church its power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth and promising that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16). He also commands the princes of darkness to remove the doors of death from the Church and the eternal heavenly gates (portae aeternales) to be raised, so that the just may enter into life.

CAP. CLI. – De domo non consecrata.

Domus non consecrata est gentilitas Dei ignara, et perfidiae repagulis inclusa. In domo duodecim candelae in circuitu accensae eam illuminant, et duodecim apostoli in circuitu orbis gentilitatem lumine doctrinae illustrabant. Candela lucet et ardet, et apostoli verbo lucebant et charitate ardebant. Pontifex super liminare ostii cum baculo ter percutit, Attollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini, portae aeternales (Psal. XXIII) dicit; per pontificem Christus, per baculum sceptrum potestatis intelligitur. Trina autem percussio terna potestas in coelo, in terra, in inferno accipitur. Quasi ergo ter Dominus ianuam cum capuita percussit, dum Ecclesiae potestatem ligandi atque solvendi in coelo et in terra concessit, et portas inferi adversus eam non praevalere tribuit (Matth. XVI). Iubet etiam ut principes tenebrarum portas mortis ab Ecclesia tollant, portae vero aeternales, id est coelestes, eleventur, ut iusti ad vitam ingrediantur.

Ch. 152
On the Doors

The gates of death are of course the vices and sins. The gates of life are faith, baptism, and good works. The one who responds from within represents the devil who is expelled from the house of the Church. For like a strong armed man he has guarded his house, the world, which he possesses by right. But one stronger than he has arrived, expelled him, and distributed his spoils (Matthew 12; Luke 11). I speak of Christ who conquered him in his Passion and redeemed the Church from his right of possession.

Soon enough the door is opened and the bishop enters, because the Church opened the door of faith to Christ and devoutly received him inside. Upon entering the bishop says Pax huic domui, because when he entered the world Christ brought peace to mankind and rising again from the dead he offered it to his own saying Pax vobis (John 20). He shouts pax huic domui three times, indicating that the Church has been reconciled through the Trinity, or perhaps because there is “one God, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

Then the bishop prostrates himself and prayers for the consecration of the Lord’s house, just as Christ prostrated himself on the mountain before his Passion and prayed the Father for the Church’s sanctification. Upon rising the bishop does not greet the people with Dominus vobiscum but invites them to pray through Flectamus genua, because the unfaithful and impious should not be greeted but encouraged to conversion and penance.

CAP. CLII. – De portis.

Portae quippe mortis sunt vitia et peccata. Portae vitae sunt fides, baptisma, operatio. Per eum, qui intus respondet, diabolus intelligitur, qui de domo Ecclesiae expellitur. Ipse quippe quasi fortis armatus atrium suum custodivit, dum hunc mundum quasi iure possedit. Sed fortior superveniens eum expulit, spolia eius distribuit (Matth. XII; Luc. XI); dum Christus eum passione vicit, et Ecclesiam ab eius iure eripuit. Mox ostium aperitur, et episcopus ingreditur, quia Ecclesia ostium fidei Christo aperuit, et eum intra se devote recepit. Episcopus ingrediens Pax huic domui dicit, quia Christus mundum ingrediens, pacem hominibus contulit, quam resurgens a mortuis suis praebuit: Pax, inquit, vobis (Ioan. XX). Ter pax huic domui clamat, quia reconciliationem Ecclesiae per Trinitatem factam insinuat, vel quia unus est Deus, una fides, unum baptisma (Ephes. IV). Deinde pontifex prosternitur, pro consecratione domus Dominum precatur, et Christus se ante passionem in monte prostravit et pro Ecclesiae sanctificatione Patrem oravit. Surgens pontifex populum per Dominus vobiscum non salutat, sed per Flectamus genua ad orationem invitat, quia infideles et impii non sunt salutandi, sed ad conversionem et poenitentiam provocandi.

Ch. 153
On the Alphabet

Dedication 7

Next he writes the alphabet on the pavement with his staff, starting from the left corner on the eastern side and ending on the right corner on the western side. Then he begins another alphabet from the right corner of the eastern side and finishes in the left corner of the western side. These two alphabets meet in the middle of the church the form of a cross and it is clear what mystical sense we are to gather from it.

CAP. CLIII. – De alphabeto.

Post hoc alphabetum in pavimento cum capuita scribit, incipiens a sinistro angulo orientali, in dextrum occidentalem desinit. Deinde aliud alphabetum a dextro angulo orientis inchoat, et scribendo in sinistro angulo occidentis consummat. Quae duo alphabeta in medio Ecclesiae in formam crucis conveniunt, et quid mysticent nobis aperte innuunt.

Ch. 153
On the Four Corners of the Church

The four corners of the church are the four regions of the world. The writing inscribed in the pavement is simple doctrine, inscribed into hearts made of earth. The bishop begins to write from the left corner, because Christ began to teach in Judaea, which may be compared with the left corner, because on account of its unbelief it is reckoned with those standing on the left. The eastern corner is so called because Christ, who is the East, originates from that part of the world according to the flesh. The bishop writes toward the right corner because Christ’s doctrine comes to the Church, which may be compared to the right corner because she is reckoned with those standing on the right. The western corner exists because all unbelief gathers in that region, where also Christ the Sun of justice went down in death.

CAP. CLIV. – De quatuor angulis ecclesiae.

Quatuor ecclesiae anguli sunt quatuor plagae mundi. Scriptura, quae terrae inscribitur, est simplex doctrina, quae cordibus terrae imprimitur. A sinistro angulo episcopus scribere incipit, quia Christus a Iudaea docere incoepit. Ipsa quippe sinistro angulo comparatur, quia ob perfidiam cum sinistris reputatur. Ideo angulus orientis dicitur, quia Christus, qui est oriens, in eo secundum carnem oritur. Scripturam in dextrum angulum deducit episcopus quia doctrina Christi ad Ecclesiam usque pervenit. Ipsa enim dextro angulo assimilatur, quia cum dextris computatur. Ideo autem angulus occidentis existit, quia in ea perfidia corruit, et Christus Sol iustitiae pro ea in morte occidit.

Ch. 155
On the Right Corner

Again, the bishop begins writing from the right corner on the eastern side and ends on the left of the western side, because Christ began his teaching in the primitive Church and will bring it to completion at the end of the world in the people of Israel. The right corner signifies the primitive Church because she is the queen who stands at God’s right hand. It is called the eastern angle because there “to the righteous a light is risen up” (Psalm 111). The people of Israel are called the left corner because they remain still in their shameful infidelity. The western corner is so-called because as the world passes away (occidente iam mundo) and the full number of the Gentiles has come in, Israel too will be converted to Christ (Romans 11:25-26).

dedication 9

The two alphabets that run from the various corners in the form of a cross are the two peoples who gather together from two different rites into the one faith of the cross through Christ, for there are two Testaments that when joined together expressed the cross of Christ’s passion. One alphabet is written in Greek, the other in Latin, because the Greek language is acknowledged to be eminent on account of wisdom, but Latin on account of the imperial power. Both are written with a staff because all of these things are performed by preachers.

Everything that has been done up to this point has been a prologue to the consecration. Now the dedication of the church begins. What follows signifies the passion of Christ and the effusion of the Holy Spirit through which the Catholic Church is consecrated.

CAP. CLV. – De dextro angulo.

Iterum episcopus scripturam a dextro angulo orientis inchoat, et in sinistro occidentis eam consummat, quia Christus per doctrinam suam in primitiva Ecclesia inchoavit, et eam in fine mundi in Israelitico populo consummabit. Primitiva Ecclesia dexter angulus dicitur, quia ipsa est regina, quae a dextris Dei stare scribitur. Ideo angulus dicitur orientis, quia lumen rectis in ea exoritur (Psal. CXI). Populus autem Israel ideo sinister angulus vocatur, quia adhuc in infidelitate perdurare non verecundatur. Ideo vero angulus occidentis dicitur, quia occidente iam mundo post plenitudinem gentium Israel ad Christum convertitur. Duo alphabeta, quae ex diversis angulis in formam crucis conveniunt, sunt duo populi, qui ex diverso ritu in unam fidem crucis per Christum convenerunt. Duo enim testamenta sunt, quae insimul coniuncta crucem passionis Christi ediderunt. Unum autem Graece, alterum Latine scribitur, quia Graeca lingua propter sapientiam, Latina propter imperialem potentiam aliis eminentior cognoscitur, quod utrumque ad fidem crucis convertitur. Utraque vero per baculum scribuntur, quia haec omnia per praedicatores peraguntur. Hucusque totum quod praecessit, quasi prooemium consecrationis fuit. Abhinc dedicatio ecclesiae incipit, et ideo per hoc, quod nunc sequitur, Christi passio et Spiritus sancti effusio innuitur, per quae Ecclesia catholica consecratur.

Cardinal Schuster on To-day’s Offertory

The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, with verses and St Gall neums, from the Offertoriale restitutum.

Unhappily, far too few of our readers will have had the opportunity to hear the entirety of today’s sublime Offertory, Sanctificavit Moyses. The Offertory chant was originally a responsory, like the Gradual: a respond was followed by one or more verses, whereafter the entirety or part of the respond was repeated. During the course of the Middle Ages, however, the verses fell into obsolescence, and the Tridentine books ratified this situation by keeping only the Offertory respond. 

It is curious that the Offertory verses did not see much of a revival in the 20th century, when so many liturgical scholars and reformers set themselves to counteract the results of what they saw as the issue of mediæval liturgical decadence. In fact, both scholars and reformers generally ignored the Offertory chant; as we shall discuss in a future post, this is likely because the Offertory responsory challenged the prevailing liturgical shibboleths of a fervidly reformist age.

The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, sung by Les Chantres du Thoronet.

Today we shall limit ourselves to reproducing a meditation on the respond and verses of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses of the 18th Sunday after Pentecost by Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, Archbishop of Milan:

Sanctificavit Moyses altare Domino, offerens super illud holocausta, et immolans victimas: * fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Locutus est Dominus ad Moysen dicens: Ascende ad me in montem Sina et stabis super cacumen eius. Surgens Moyses ascendit in montem, ubi constituit ei Deus, et descendit ad eum Dominus in nube et adstitit ante faciem eius. Videns Moyses procidens adoravit dicens: Obsecro, Domine, dimitte peccata populi tui. Et dixit ad eum Dominus: Faciam secundum verbum tuum. 

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Oravit Moyses Dominum et dixit: Si inveni gratiam in conspectu tuo, ostende mihi te ipsum manifeste, ut videam te. Et locutus est ad eum Dominus dicens: non enim videbit me homo et vivere potest: sed esto super altitudinem lapidis, et protegam te dextera mea, donec pertranseam: dum pertransiero, auferam manum meam et tunc videbis gloriam meam, facies autem mea non videbitur tibi, quia ego sum Deus ostendens mirabilia in terra.

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

Moses hallowed an altar to the Lord, offering upon it holocausts, and sacrificing victims: * he made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. The Lord spake unto Moses saying, Come up to me in Mount Sinai and thou shalt stand upon the top thereof. Arising, Moses went up into the mount, where God appointed him, and the Lord came down to him in a cloud and stood before his face. Seeing him, Moses falling down adored him, saying: I beseech thee, Lord, forgive the sins of thy people. And the Lord said unto him: I will do according to thy word.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. Moses prayed to the Lord and said: If I have found favor in thy sight, show me thyself manifestly, that I might see thee. And the Lord spake unto him saying: for man canst not see me and live: but go up to the height of the rock, and I will protect thee with my right hand, till I pass: when I shall have passed, I will take away my hand, and then thou shalt see my glory; but my face shall not be seen by thee, for I am God, showing wonderful things in the land.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odor of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

The Offertory is epitomized from Exodus xxiv, and tells of the solemn sacrifice with which Moses ratified the alliance between Jehovah [sic] and Israel in the blood of the victims. It is to be regretted [the original is stronger: è un danno], however, that in the Roman Missal this splendid Offertory is cut down to a single verse. In the ancient Antiphonaries this Antiphon [sic] rises to the grandeur of a true liturgical drama. The Law-giver, at the command of the majesty of God, intercedes for the apostate people, imploring mercy for them. The Lord answers him: “I will do according to thy word.” Then Moses, taking courage, begs the Lord to reveal him his glory. “No one,” replies Jehovah, “can see my glory and live; but stand upon this rock, and when my glory shall pass, I will set thee in a hole of the rock and protect thee with my right hand till I pass, lest my glory shall blind thee. When I shall have passed I will take away my hand and thou shalt see my back, but my face thou canst not see” (Exod. xxxiii, 13-23).

This narrative, clothed in the splendid melodies of the Gregorian Antiphonary, has a deep significance. The vision of the Godhead is not for those who are still wayfarers in this life, and probably, as the doctors of the Church hold, it has never been granted to any living man, being the privilege of Christ alone. Our mortal nature is unsuited to such a condition, which in itself would imply the actual but inadmissible possession of the highest Good. Faith, however, here comes to our assistance, and acts as a veil before the face of God, in such a manner that the rays of his glory enlighten our path without too greatly dazzling us, and without taking away from us the merit of virtue, which presupposes the liberty of the human will. 

(Translation by Arthur Levelis-Marke.)

Part of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, in the Codex Sangallensis 376.