St. Maurice of Vienne (3): On Lent

Part (1), (2)

The reader will recall that de Moléon is describing ceremonies taken from a 12th century Ordinal (hence the past tense). He indicates when these ceremonies are still practiced in the 18th century when he is writing.

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Vienne Missal (14th c.), Lyon, Bibl. mun., ms. 0526, f. 111v

On all Sundays from Septuagesima to Easter there was a procession or station at a church in the city.


On Ash Wednesday there were also stations.

After None they blessed the ashes. Then the archbishop (or in his absence the priest of St. Pierre de Vienne) and his chaplain, vested in black silk copes came into the choir, taking the place of the Dean along with the deacon and subdeacon who carried the ashes.


On all days of Lent before Compline they said the Office of the Dead, then went to the chapter room for a reading from the Dialogues of St. Gregory, after which they went to the refectory to drink some wine.

They called this the potus caritatis. Even then they did not eat. That came later.

Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent is called in the Ordinal of Vienne and their last Missal Feria quarta in Scrutiniis. They still perform the scrutinies today in this church, even though all those to be baptized are children, with the subdeacon reciting the Credo for each child before the priest, as a profession of faith. For good reason, the Gradual of this Mass is Venite filii. The ceremonies are too long to record here in French. They can be found in Latin in the Ordinal, which we hope to make available to the public.

They said the Te Deum laudamus on Palm Sunday, as at Lyon and in the whole Order of St. Benedict on the Sundays of Advent and Lent, and I see no sound reason to omit it.

The blessing of palms was done by the archbishop (or in his absence by the priest of Saint-Pierre) vested in alb, amice, stole, and greek silk cope. The cross was bare in the procession and they did not say Attollite portas.

On Spy Wednesday at the Mass they said (and still say) all the solemn intercessions for the various states as on Good Friday.

On Holy Thursday after None the archbishop, vested in alb and amice, stole and silk cope with his mitre and crosier went to the doors of the church to admit the public penitents who were waiting their to receive permission to enter.

Then he gave a sermon, at the end of which he said three times Venite filii. The archbishop said the verse Accedite and let in the penitents. Immediately the seven penitential psalms were said, during which the archbishop and penitents lay prostrate before the pulpit. Then the archbishop said the prayers, verses, and collects, and gave them the pardon and indulgence.

Currently there is no more trace of this public penitence except the seven penitential psalms, along with this rubric in the Supplement to the missal:

Feria V in Ecclesia Primatiali ante missam sit officium catechumenorum et reconciliatio poenitentium, et ideo dicuntur septem psalmi poenitentiales.” They still do the office of the catechumens.

The blessing of the oil of the sick was done before the Per quem haec omnia Domine and the blessing of the oil of catechumens and chrism after the Pax Domini. Vespers were embedded in the Mass and ended with the Postcommunion.

To this day, after the Mass, the deacon carries the Blessed Sacrament to the place prepared for it, and brings it back the next day to the high altar for the Mass ex praesanctificatis, as at Chartres.

In the Mandatum ceremony when the canons’ feet are washed, the archbishop, his ministers, and the clergy were barefoot. The archbishop and the dean washed their feet, poured water over their hands, then gave them unleavened bread and wine blessed by the prelate.

On Good Friday only the archbishop in black silk cope and his ministers in albs say the Confiteor in the vesting room, then come out entirely barefoot (and still do so today), prostrate themselves before the altar and spend some time in prayer. Rising, the reading of the two prophecies begins, and the chanting of the two tracts. Then an archdeacon chants the Passion according to St. John. (The whole rest of the office is nearly the same as in the ancient Ordinal of Rouen from the 11th century). Afterwards they return barefoot to the vesting room.

After Communion, in a loud voice the celebrant said (and still says) In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus sancti. The response was Et cum spiritu tuo. This is still the cases in the missal of 1519; the response today is Amen. Then the cantors, standing before the altar, begin a Responsory and verse, then repeat from the beginning up to the verse, while the archbishop does the incensation. In ancient times and up to the present in Vienne, this ceremony constitutes the whole of Vespers for this day.

On Holy Saturday the archbishop, vested in a silk cope and the archdeacon in a white dalmatic, preceded by candle-bearers, a subdeacon, and twelve curés-prêtres assistants and the master of the choir boys, went to the chapel of Our Lady in the cloister to admit the infants to be baptized, and the archdeacon said: Orate electi, flectite genua, Levate. Complete Orationem vestram, et dicite Amen. Then the sign of the cross was made on their heads.

The archbishop asked each the name of each, and said the oration or exorcism Nec te lateat, Satana. Then the archdeacon said Catechumeni recedant, Si qui Catechumeni, exeant foras. After the catechumens left, the archdeacon, having received the blessing of the archbishop, descended with the subdeacon in the choir in front of the altar to perform the blessing of the Paschal candle. Meanwhile the members of the minor choir stood and the major choir sat until the deacon said Dominus vobiscum.

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Vienne Missal (14th c.), Lyon, Bibl. mun., ms. 0526, f. 110v

During the blessing of the candle, the choir master (capiscol) or scholastic vested in a silk cope blessed the incense and fire, and then carried the grains of incense to the archdeacon whom he helped to embed in the holes of the candle at the proper time. Then the archdeacon lit the Paschal candle with the new fire. (Some of the faithful take away flames from this blessed fire to their homes, as at Lyon and Rouen.) Then a lector climbed the jubé to read the prophecies, which were intermixed with orations and Tracts, as they are today. (The twelve curés chanted each oration after each of the twelve prophecies according to the Missal of Vienne of 1519. Today it is done by two priests who chant them alternately.)

When they began the Tract Cantemus Domino, the choir-master took a priest and his boys with him (and perhaps the rest of the cantors too) and went to the baptismal fonts which were in the chapel of St. John the Baptist (in the cloister) and there chanted the Litany, repeating each verse three times. (This is called the Litania terna. It is the origin of the nine-fold Kyrie eleison in the Mass, in which each group of three was sung by the cantor and the two choirs in alternation.) After the Litany, everyone returned to the choir.

After the prophecies, Tracts, and Orations were finished, they invited forward those who were to be baptized. They placed the boys on the right side and the girls on the left, and said over them the orations for catechumens. Going in procession to the baptismal fonts, the Curé of St. John went with the priest assistants carrying the vase of holy chrism, as the cantors chanted the second litany and the two choirs responded. After it was finished, the archbishop blessed the fonts conjointly with the twelve curés, as they do today at Troyes; namely, they made the blessings in the form of the cross and the aspirations with the bishop, and held their hands up like him, though they did not touch either the water or the candle, as is marked in the Ordinal of the cathedral church of Vienne written in 1524.

Exultet Roll.jpg

The reason these curés assisted at the blessing of fonts at the Saturday vigils of Easter and Pentecost is because they brought with them to the cathedral all the infants of their parishes that were to be baptized. For in ancient times the only baptismal fonts were located in the cities, in the cathedral churches, as is the case today in Florence, Pisa, Parma, Padua, and elsewhere. The bishop put holy chrism in the water in the form of a cross. After the ordinary questions on the faith of the creed and other things, the priest baptized each of the infants by three immersions, plunging him three times in the water (sub trina mersione) and invoking the holy Trinity: saying Et ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, then plunging the infant once into the water, then et Filii, and plunging him for a second time, and et Spiritus Sancti, and plunging him in for the third time. Taking the infant from the font, the priest took a bit of holy chrism with his thumb and made a sign of the cross on the top of his head saying the prayer Deus omnipotens. Then the priest clothed him in a white robe in the form of an alb, saying the usual words Accipe vestem candidam etc. (Receive this robe, white and without blemish, which he must carry before the Tribunal of Our Lord Jesus Christ, if you wish to attain eternal life.) Terrible words on which Christians would do well to reflect….

After this, if the bishop is present (according to the Ordinal), he also gave the infants the Sacrament of Confirmation. Si Episcopus adest, statim confirmari oportet infantulum. Then the procession returned to the choir as two priests chanted the third litany, which was repeated seven times.

The archbishop went to prepare for the Mass, and as he returned to the altar the deacon said (and still says) in a loud voice: Accendite[1] (as the canons still do in Lyon, and used to do in Rouen less than one hundred years ago; and as is still done at Angers on major feasts). Then all the candles were lit and they began the Kyrie eleison. The whole rest of the mass and Vespers are the same as everywhere else, except that at the end, instead of Ite missa est, the deacon says Benedicamus Domino without Alleluia, on account of Vespers.

I was very surprised not to find a communion of the newly baptized in this Mass, which (as Rosweyde and Cardinal Bona prove) used to be given not only to adults but also to newborn infants. It is found in the ancient Ordo Romanus, cap. de Sabbato sancto, and was still practiced in France in the 12th century in the time of Hugh of St. Victor, who in his first book on Ecclesiastical Sacraments and Ceremonies, chapter 20, speaking of a newly baptized, said that the priest dipped the end of his finger in the blood of Christ and in this way gave the Sacrament of the Eucharist to the newly baptized infant who has learned by nature to suck. Pueris recens natis idem Sacramentum in specie Sanguinis est ministrandum digito sacerdotis, quia tales naturaliter sugere possunt.[2]

This practice of giving communion to newly baptized infants was present, not only in the 12th century, but at Beauvais less than three hundred years ago, as we see in the Ordinals of this church that go back to that time, and hence comes the custom, even today, of carrying the newly baptized infants to the high altar, which is done in the whole diocese of Rouen and in many others.)


[1] In the Ordo Romanus I, this is the word said by the subdeacon to indicate that the pope is ready to leave the sacristy and begin the stational Mass: Quod cum nunciatum fuerit, statim sequitur subdiaconus adstans ante faciem pontificis usque dum ei adnuat pontifex ut psallant: cui dum adnuerit, statim egreditur ante fores secretarii et dicit : Accendite. Qui dum accenderint, statim subdiaconus sequens tenens thymiamaterium aureum, pro foribus  ponit incensum ut pergat ante pontificem.

[2] Author’s note: “On this question, see St. Augustine in his book to Boniface against the Pelagian heresy (1.22) and his letter to Vitalis, St. Ambrose, (Lib de Initiandis, ch. 8) and St. Paulinus, Letter 32. Everyone knows that the deacon in the African church gave both species to infants in their mothers’ arms, something the Greeks still do today.”



Voyages Liturgiques: St. Maurice of Vienne (2)

Part 1

Continuing with St. Maurice of Vienne, the Voyages Liturgiques describes the cathedral liturgy as portrayed in its 13th century Ordinal, pointing out that little has changed in the meantime. The Pre-Mass procession. The Calendar. Solemn Feasts. Christmas.

Download the French original French here.

A rátelier, as mentioned below (Source)

I think it will edify the reader to know about some of the most ancient customs that were formerly observed in this famous church, drawn from its Ordinal, which is four hundred fifty years old. In this Ordinal there is no mention of the Feast of the Trinity, Corpus Christi, or the Blessed Sacrament, of St. Bernard, St. Louis King of France, the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed on 2 November, nor of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. From this one can estimate the age of the manuscript and of the script, which contains characters and marks almost five hundred years old.

The solemn feasts feature the Cantores and Baudes. The Cantores are the Precentor and the Cantor who lead the choir. Baudes are the great bells, the largest of which is called Bauda.[1]

On Sunday the priest, uncovered and wearing a cope, blesses water in a bucket as in Lyon, then sprinkles the altars. The rest of the aspersions are traditionally done before the Mass during the procession by the celebrant, who wears his biretta. One can see that the Sunday procession before mass is actually meant for the aspersion of all the different places: the Church, cloisters, refectory, dormitory, kitchen, and the assistants, as we will see again later on. In fact, at Vienne they call it the “Aspersion” rather than the “Procession,” saying “sound the aspersion,” or “go to the aspersion.” The ancient Ordinal mentions the whole church and all the clergy, who come out of the choir; the cloisters; the refectory in front of which they said Oremus dilectissimi; as well as the other side of the cloister, and apparently the infirmary too, as far as I can judge from the oration Omnipotens sempiterne Deus moestorum etc.

They still hold several stations while singing Responsories. This gives the celebrant time to sprinkle everything, the station’s purpose being to wait for him, and the chant giving the choir something to do during the same time. The books indicate that the deacon carries the cross and the subdeacon carries the bucket. This ought to shame the lower-ranking clerics who perform these duties under them.

There is a rubric that we must not forget to mention. The procession should be done in this way every Sunday, except that when the reliquary with the head of S. Maurice is exposed on the altar, the procession should not be done in the cloister. (Probably so as not to leave the church where the relic of the holy Patron is exposed.) We can deduce from this that on the Sunday in the Octave of the Blessed Sacrament (or on a feast of the Patron) when the Body of Christ, the Holy of Holies, is exposed on the altar, the procession should not leave the Church.

On all ferias of Advent and from Septuagesima to Easter, they chant the hymn Christe qui lux es et dies at Compline.

They sing the great O antiphons solemnly, i.e., they repeat them after every verse of the Magnificat, as in Lyon, and as they still do at Rouen, three times in the Magnificat and Benedictus, on triple or solemn feasts.

They used to hold a station at a certain church on every Sunday of Advent and on Ember Days.

Often the subdeacons carried the candles, as we can see in many places in the Ordinal; among others, they did so on Ember Saturday of Advent and on Christmas day in three different places. On solemn feasts, it was even two priests in copes who carried the candles before the bishop.

(These lesser functions used to be seen in a different light than they are today. Subdeacons, deacons, and even priests considered it an honor to do what the least clerics deem below them today. The only reason for this is pride, or lack of understanding of how great these ministries are.)

On solemn feasts the archbishop incenses at the third, sixth, and ninth Responsories (as well as at the Te Deum). After adding the Gloria Patri, they repeat each one again from the beginning until the verse to give him time to finish his incensation.

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1519 Missal of Vienne

[Christmas Mass]

On Christmas night the first six lessons were chanted by the canons, the seventh by an archdeacon, the eighth by the dean, and the ninth by the archbishop preceded by two priests in copes carrying two candles in front of him. During the ninth responsory the archdeacon vested in the sacristy in more beautiful vestments. Two subdeacons in albs carried candles before him, and a third subdeacon in a tunicle carried the thurible, and a fourth subdeacon also in tunicle carried the Gospel Book. Thus all five went to the jubé where the Genealogy was chanted cum cantu by the archdeacon.

The archbishop said the midnight Mass with the two subdeacons bearing candles, one subdeacon thurifer, one subdeacon canon, and an archdeacon. Before it began they held a station at the chapel of Our Lady. They did not say, and they still do not say, at the beginning of Lauds, either the priestly verse or the Deus in adiutorium. Rather, Lauds was embedded in the Mass, and right after the Communion they began it with the antiphon Natus est nobis, etc, with the Psalms, during which the celebrant was seated. They did not say a chapter or verse, but after the Benedictus and its antiphon, the celebrant returned to the altar to say the Postcommunion, and the deacon said Benedicamus Domino, alleluia, alleluia. The same rite is observed today. It is always an archdeacon who serves as deacon when the archbishop officiates, and the four archdeacons each have their feasts when they must serve as deacon to the archbishop. As solemn as this Mass was, it was much less so than the Mass after Terce.

At dawn they held a station at the chapel of St. Anastasia in imitation of Rome. Possibly this Roman practice explains why there is an oration or commemoration of St. Anastasia in the Mass. It was the dean who celebrated; the deacon was a simple canon; and at the end he said Ite missa est, alleluia.

The archbishop, who also celebrated the High Mass after Terce, had six priest assistants, seven deacons including the archdeacon, seven subdeacons, and seven candle-bearers, five of whom were subdeacons and two others choir boys or clergeons.

In the chapter room the Archbishop vested in pontifical vestments while Terce was sung, and the six priest assistants, seven deacons, and seven subdeacons, and seven candle-bearers vested either behind the altar, in the vestry, or in the sacristy. All members of the great choir were vested in silk copes during the Mass, before which they all went in procession to take the bishop from the chapter room in this order: First went the seven candle-bearers, then a subdeacon carrying the thurible and the canon subdeacon carrying the text of the gospels covered in gold, with the six assistant subdeacons. Then the archdeacon carried the gold cross followed by six other deacons and six assistant priests, then the cantors, who having received the archbishop’s blessing re-entered the choir and began the Introit of the Mass and the Psalm. The whole procession, the great number of ministers and officiators entered into the choir with the archbishop at the Gloria Patri. Having all removed their mitres and hoods or almuces (capellis et mitris remotis) in the middle of the choir, the archbishop first saluted the altar, then the right side of the choir, then the left, and was likewise saluted by the two choirs. Then he proceeded in front of the altar and there said the Confiteor with his ministers, the candles being set, some of them on the altar, and some at the head and end of the choir.

The Archbishop ascended the altar and incensed it, aided by the archdeacon. Then turning his back to the altar and supported by two deacons, he gave the kiss of peace to the deacons, assistant priests, and his chaplain vested in a cope. Then he went to his throne, a marble chair elevated on four steps behind the altar against the wall in the middle and back of the coquille or apse, which is still done today. In this way he can be seen by the clergy and by the people, as at Lyon.

Next they chanted the Kyrie eleison with the tropes Te Christe, etc (They are no longer sung at present.) and the Gloria in excelsis in three choirs, the bishop and his assistants comprising one. For the Gradual and Alleluia, however, two clergeons carrying tablets as at Lyon, to sing per rotulos.[2]

After the oration Concede, two major canon priests chanted (and still chant) the praises or acclamations Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat, as at Rouen, and returning to the choir before taking their places, as those who chanted the Epistle, Graduel, and Alleluia, receive the blessing of the archbishop.

The Offertory was chanted with several verses, as it is still done at Lyon and formerly at Rouen.

The six assistant priests recited the Canon with the bishop and made the same signs as he, as noted in the Ordinal of the cathedral church of 1524. Suburbani signa faciant durante missa ad modum episcopi; et sic in omnibus aliis majoribus festivitatibus.

Lyons Ratelier (1)

Immediately after the Agnus Dei, the cantors standing before the altar invited the clergy and people to the holy Table to participate in the holy Eucharist by singing the Venite populi, etc, much like at Lyon. The members of the great choir, which is to say the major canons and the perpetuals, standing around the altar, and those of the small choir standing in front of the Râtelier,[3] the archbishop gave the kiss of peace to all members of the great choir. After this, those who desired to communicate stayed there and communicated and the others returned to the choir. They added the praises or acclamations to the Communion antiphon: Hunc diem, multos annos, istam sedem Deus conservet. Summum Pontificem Apostolicae sedis Deus conservet. Episcopum nostrum Deus conservet. Populum Christianum Deus conservet, feliciter, feliciter, feliciter. Tempora bona habeant. Multos annos Christus in eis regnet: in ipso semper vivant. Amen. This keeps the clergy and people occupied during the communion.

(All of this is still practiced at Vienne on the days of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, except that the seven candles are only carried on Easter day.)


[1] The cantores and baudes refer to a system of grading feasts in Vienne and elsewhere in France. Marked in missals and breviaries as ‘C’ and ‘B’ respectively, “cantores” (or “classicum”) signified some special role for the cantors, while “B” stood for the word baudes, derived perhaps from an old French word “esbaudir” referring to merriment or good cheer, to “some exterior manner of celebration whose nature is unclear” according to Robert Amiet, though here de Moléon connects it with use of bells. A calendar marks feasts with Cs and B’s to indicate their level of solemnity in a five-part gradation: 9 readings, C, 9 readings + C, C + B, C + B + 9 readings. See Robert Amiet, “Le missel du prieuré bénédictin de Saint-Sauveur-en-Rue au diocèse de Vienne,” Scriptorium 1965, p. 53 (

[2] In ancient churches, or rather in the ancient liturgy, after the epistle the choir boys put down their candles at the foot of the ratelier (a large seven-branched candelabrum), went to the altar to take silver tablets, on which the Gradual and Alleluia are written upon pages of vellum and present them to a canon and three perpetuals who placed themselves in the the first high chairs of the right side of the crucifix on the epistle side. Then they left their places to four others to whom they left the tablets to chant the alleluia and verse. This whole ceremonial is called cantare per rotulos. The precenter held the first place on the epistle side and the cantor occupied the first on the Gospel side, each of them with their silver rods next to them” (Troisième et dernière Encyclopédie théologique, Volume 15, p. 1680).

[3] A large, seven-branched candelabrum, one of which De Moleon describes in St. Jean of Lyon: “Entre le Chœur et le Sanctuaire aumilieu est un chandelier à sept branches appellé Ratelier, en latin Rostrum ou Rastcllarium, composé de deux colonnes de cuivre hautes de six pieds, sur lesquelles il y a une espèce de poûtre de cuivre de travers, avec quelques petits ornemens de corniches et de moulures, sur laquelle il y a sept bassins de cuivre avec sept cierges qui brûlent aux Fêtes doubles de première & de seconde classe.” Here is a striking image from the chapel of St. Etienne in Lyon.

A Farced Epistle for the Holy Innocents

Many thanks to Henri de Villiers at the Schola Sainte Cecile for permission to translate and publish his article of 28 December 2016. It is also being published at New Liturgical Movement today.

Here is a beautiful proper tone for the traditional epistle of the feast of the Holy Innocents, Apocalypse 14, 1-5. (Click here to see a downloadable pdf version in two pages.)




Here are Henri de Villiers’ notes on the chant:

This special chant for the Epistle of the feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December) was once chanted with interwoven French verses that paraphrased the Latin text. In the Middle Ages this was called a farced epistle. These epistles were chanted by two or three subdeacons on certain feasts of the year, especially during the period around the feast of Christmas, from St. Nicholas to Epiphany. We find farced epistles very frequently in liturgical manuscripts from the 12th to the 13th centuries, after which the practice seems to decline and disappear. Some however were composed as late as the 14th century, and were still sung with their texts in Old French in certain provinces of France into the middle of the 18th century, especially the epistle of St. Stephen, which is probably the most ancient. For linguists who study the history of the French language, these farces are very valuable because they represent some of the most ancient written witnesses of French, as expressed in numerous regional forms.

Here is the beginning of the Epistle of the Holy Innocents transcribed by Fr. Lebeuf in his famous Treatise on ecclesiastical chant, with tropes in Old Picard. (See the full trope with musical notation here):


Now listen, old and young, draw near to this writ. If ye listen to what this lesson sayeth and what it singeth, I ask you all that each one pray, that the Lord God may come dwell in us, and take his rest in our hearts, and not forget our end.

A Lesson from the book of the Apocalypse of blessed John the Apostle. Hearken ye to the sense and reason of Saint John’s vision. They call it “Apocalypse,” the raising of the house, and of the lofty house that God promiseth us in his name, by the Gospel and by the sermon. We must not doubt that he sayeth in his lesson.

In those days, I saw the Lamb standing upon Mount Sion, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. In those days whereof I sing to ye, Saint John saw a very large mount. Sion is its name, and on its slope there is a standing Lamb. Accompanying Him are a hundred and forty thousand children, and four thousand more withal, and in the midst of their forehead above their faces they bear the name of the living God. Mount Sion is the Holy Church, which the Lord God made and placed upon a firm and well-founded stone, and He taught Her with Scripture, which doth crush and break the haughty, and doth blow and kindle charity. But the sinner hath chosen another way, by evil counsel and by lust. He rendereth a smoky wind for flame, and doth separate himself from God’s love exceedingly. This Lamb is atop the mount, very beautiful, very good, with true wool. With Him is a very large company, but none in this multitude matches Him. It is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Who through the heavens, on a broad plain, taketh up again and again the Innocents, they who praise God with healthy voice.

And I heard a voice from heaven like a voice of many waters, and like a voice of loud thunder; and the voice that I heard was as of harpers playing on their harps. From afar I heard the waters turn, just like the sea, and then I heard loud thundering and the clash of thunder. Then I heard the sound of harps, harpers with song. Now, we must explain this well: Our deeds, our words, and our thoughts, that we can bring together, we must give over to the Lord God. The waters are the great multitude, the bad, the good, and the incredulous, which God made to be born on earth, as many as there are flowing waters. All must in their lives praise the Lord God almighty. And the thundering I heard from God is what he shall threaten us with, thrashing us with want, and chastising us with hunger and war, as a father his child. The harps produce a melody, while man says a psalmody, and he afflicts himself with fasting when he hath no hypocrisy. Without pride and without envy, he singeth to God in symphony, and rendereth to Him a sweet harmony.

And they were singing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except those hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been purchased from the earth. Those whom I mentioned, the children, will sing a song the like whereof no man hath ever heard. The news was of a new sound: it is called the Gospel, and none can hold the tone, besides the companions.

These are they who were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Those who love virginity, and resolved in their hearts to keep their bodies in purity, can serve the Majesty that is of such great power. Those who have besmirched themselves and amused themselves in filth, and have shriven themselves well, and purified and cleansed themselves, shall be able to follow in tranquillity the Lamb of such great holiness.

These were purchased from among men, first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb, and in their mouth there was found no lie. These Innocents are the first whom God suffered to be martyred, and be struck and broken down, and be defleshed on the rocks. The tyrant and the butcher, for the sake of Jesus Christ our prince, sought to kill and slay them, for Herod who wished to reign alone, with no other heir. When the tyrant beheaded them, their vermilion blood did flow, and while milk appeared, which they had first suckled from their mother, from the mouth that held her. And when the children beheld the bright sword that shone, they laughed on account of their age, for without fail when they looked they bethought that they were playing in that spot.

They are without blemish before the throne of God. For they are without any blemish, and without care of this world. To God’s holy nature they have well offered their likeness and figure as a pure offering. They shall never suffer a harsh word, if, as Holy Scripture sayeth, throughout all the days that the world should last, God shall grant them sweet pasture, and God, as good nourishment! Now, let us pray to God very simply that He might grant us amendment, and He shall sweetly hearken to us. He desireth to take us at His will hither to our end, and stand for us soit on the judgement day. Thereafter he shall give us a dwelling in Paradise, as His gift. Now, say ye all: Amen! Amen!


The French paraphrase is set in the same 7th mode as the cantillation for the Latin text, but the chant is not set to the same melody. In other farced epistles, all the strophes reproduce the same melody, distinct from that of the Latin which develops more freely from one verse to the other. It is probable that the French verses were composed to be inserted into the pre-existing Latin cantillation.

Are these cantillations, at least with regard to the Latin text, very ancient? Probably. They are found with similar melodies from one diocese to another. The two examples Fr. Lebeuf gives of the farced epistle of the feast of St. Stephen (26th December), taken from the books of Amiens (1250) and from a church in the province of Lyon or Sens (1400) contain very similar melodies—both French and Latin—but with different words for the French paraphrases (except the first strophe).

Hence the farced Epistles are precious because they let us hear an echo of the great variety of liturgical cantillations that must have been in use to chant the various Epistles and Gospels of the year. Thus they are a memory of an ancient stage of the liturgy, much richer than what has come down to us. (The Roman liturgical books since the 17th century contain only two tones for the Epistle, one being recto-tono.[1])

The chant for the Epistle of the Holy Innocents cited by Lebeuf is taken from the ancient liturgical books of Amiens. The French trope contains a full 130 verses all in masculine rhymes to facilitate their adaptation to plain-chant. Our schola preserves the chant of the Latin verses, without the French paraphrases, and we have completed the first verses provided by Fr. Lebeuf based on a 19th-century work by Dr. Rigollot. The 7th mode, which naturally has a wide range, was perhaps chosen based on the meaning of the text. The melody rises in the second verse to express the text:

Et audivi vocem de coelo, tamquam vocem aquarum multarum, et tamquam vocem tonitrui magni.

And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder. (Apocalypse 21:14)

Note that the 4th verse especially (and to an extent the 5th verse) imitates the psalmody of the 7th mode, and this psalmody might have inspired the entire cantillation for the Epistle on Childermas.

Although the Parisian books do not preserve any farced epistles, this might be because few liturgical manuscripts from Paris from before the middle of the 18th century have survived. Must we conclude that the diocese of Paris rejected the singing of farced epistles?

No! In an interesting ordinance promulgated in 1198 by bishop Odo of Sully to regulate the celebration of the feast of the Circumcision on the 1st of January in Paris, we find the following passage, which demonstrates that this city, like the other dioceses of France, also farced epistles: 

Missa similiter cum ceteris Horis ordinate celebrabitur a aliquo prœdictorum, hoc addito quod Epistola cum farsia dicetur a duobus in cappis sericeis.

The Mass shall be celebrated like the rest of the Hours by one of the aforesaid, with the addition of a farced Epistle which shall be said by two ministers in silken copes.


[1] A 16th-century Missal from Cluny, for instance, provides different melodies for each rank of liturgical day.

A Farced Epistle of Saint Stephen in Old Provençal

Polittico del 1476, s. stefano.jpg

Tropes are a genre of liturgical pieces that enjoyed some success in the Middle Ages, and in this genre, the species of farced Epistles and Gospels.[1] These were readings of the Mass in which the text of sacred Scripture is punctuated, verse after verse, by either a Latin paraphrase or a translation into the vernacular. The paraphrase or translation constitutes the farce of the Scripture text. The farce usually takes a musical and verse form.

For the feast of St. Stephen (26 December) many farced epistles of this kind have come down to us: one in langue d’oïl, Oyez trestout, of which there exists a translation in Langue d’oc, Entendes tug, and another known only from various Occitan versions and which we will designate by the incipit of one of them, Sesta lesson.”[2]

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See the rest of the manuscript here (pp. 140 et sqq.).

Leis planchs de Sant Esteve is the rhymed history in old Provençal of the martyrdom of St Stephen. It is taken from the Epistle of his feast day and, since time immemorial, it is sung every year on the feast day, at 7 in the morning, in the Cathedral of Aix-en-Provence at High Mass, which is called the Mass of the People. Attendance is surprisingly great, and the Mass is celebrated in a chapel dedicated to this same saint in the following way. When the time comes for the Epistle, a cleric, dressed in his choir dress, goes up to the preaching pulpit. The subdeacon of the Mass stands in front of it. After saluting each other (which they do again after they have finished), they sing in alternation: the subdeacon sings part of the day’s Epistle in a special tone, and the cleric in the pulpit follows with a couplet from the planchs to the melody of the Veni Creator. M. Raynouard published the planchs as they were written in 1318.”[3]

Translation from the 1318 version.

Sit down, my Lords, and be at peace,
Hearken well to what I will say.
For the lesson is true,
No word therein is falsehood.
Sezes, Senhors, e aias pas,
So que direm ben escoutas:
Car la lisson es de vertat,
Non hy a mot de falssetat.
A Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.

This lesson which we will read
We take from the deeds of the Apostles,
We will recount the sayings of Saint Luke,
We will speak of Saint Stephen.

Lectio Actuum Apostolorum.

Esta lisson que ligirem
Dels fachs dels Apostols trayrem;
Lo dich San Luc recontarem,
De Sant Esteve parlarem.

In those days.

In that time when God was born,
And was resurrected from death,
And then went up into heaven,
Saint Stephen was stoned.

In diebus illis.

En aquel temps que Dieus fom nat
Et fom de mort ressuscitat,
Et pueys el cel el fom puiat,
Sant Esteve fom lapidat.

Stephen, full of grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people.

Hear ye, my Lords, for what reason
The wicked men stoned him,
For they saw that God was in him,
And he performed miracles by His gift.

Stephanus plenus gratia et fortitudine faciebat prodigia et signa magna in populo.

Auias, Senhors, per qual razon
Lo lapideron los fellons;
Car connogron Dieus en el fon,
Et fes miracle per son don.

But there arose some from the synagogue which is called that of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of those from Cilicia and the province of Asia, disputing with Stephen.

Again him they hasten and go,
The wicked Freedmen,
And the cruel Cilicians,
And the other Alexandrians.

Surrexerunt autem quidam de synagoga, quae appellatur Libertinorum, et Cyrenensium, et Alexandrinorum, et eorum qui erant a Cilicia, et Asia, disputantes cum Stephano.

En contre el corron e van,
Los fellons Losbertinians,
Et los cruels Cilicians,
Els autres Alexandrians.

And they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit Who spoke.

The servant of God in virtue,
Did know their lies.
He rendered silent the most learned,
And overcame all, good and evil.

Et non poterant resistere sapientiae, et Spiritui, qui loquebatur.

Lo ser de Dieu, e la vertut
Los messongies a connogut;
Los plus savis a rendut mutz,
Los bons el malz totz a vencutz.

Now as they heard these things, they were cut to the heart and gnashed their teeth at him.

When they had heard the reason,
They knew that they were defeated.
With wrath they puff up their lungs,
Their teeth they grit like lions.

Audientes autem haec dissecabantur cordibus suis, et stridebant dentibus in eum.

Cant an auzida la razon,
Els connogron que vencutz son;
D’ira lur enflan lo polmon,
Las dens cruysson coma leons.

But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said,

When the Saint saw their will,
He sought not the succor of armed men.
He looked up to heaven;
Hear ye, my Lords, how he spake.

Cum autem esset plenus Spiritu Sancto, intendens in caelum vidit gloriam Dei, et Jesum stantem a dextris Dei. Et ait:

Cant lo Sant vi lur voluntat,
Non quer secors d’ome armat;
Sus en lo cel a regardat,
Auias, Senhors, como a parlat:

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

Now, hear ye, let it not be grief to ye,
Above the open heaven I saw,
And knew there the Son of God,
Whom the Jews did crucify.

Ecce video caelos apertos, et Filium hominis stantem a dextris virtutis Dei.

Or, escoutas, non vos sia grieu,
Que sus el cel ubert vech yeu;
E connost la lo Filh de Dieus,
Que crucifixeron Juzieus.

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed upon him all together. And they cast him out of the city and stoned him.

Wherefore they were sore wroth
The faithless Jews, and they cried:
Let us seize him, who hath spoken too much,
Let us cast him without the city.
Pride can no longer be concealed,
They seize the Saint to torment him.
They shall take him outside,
They begin to stone him.

Exclamantes autem voce magna, continuerunt aures suas, et impetum fecerunt unanimiter in eum, et ejicientes eum extra civitatem, lapidabant.

D’aisso foron fort corrossat
Los fals Juzieux, e en cridat:
Prennam lo, que trop a parlat,
Gittem lo for de la ciutat.
Non se pot plus l’orgueilh celar,
Lo Sant prenon per tormentar;
De foras els lo van menar,
Comensson a lo lapidar.

And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Lo, at the feet of a young man
They place their garments, the better to throw.
Saul did the first ones call him,
Saint Paul those that came last.

Tt testes deposuerunt vestimenta sua secus pedes adolescentis qui vocabatur Saulus.

Vevos qu’es pes d’un bachallier
Pausan lur draps, per miels lancier;
Saul li appelleron li premier,
Sant Paul cels que vengron darrier.

And while they were stoning Stephen he prayed and said:

The Saint saw the stones come.
They are soft to him; he does not try to flee.
For his Lord he suffered martyrdom,
And began to speak thus:

Et lapidabant Stephanum invocantem, et dicentem:

Lo Sant vit la peyras venir,
Doussas li son, non quer fugir;
Per son Senhor suffri martir,
E comensset aysso a dir:

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Lord God, who madest the world,
And tookest us out of the depths of hell,
And gavest us thine hallowed name,
Receive my spirit on high.

Domine Jesu, suscipe spiritum meum.

Senher Dieus, que fezist lo mont;
E nos trayssist d’unfer pregon,
E nos domnest lo tieu Sant nom,
Recep mon esperit amont.

And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, saying

After speaking, he knelt,
Whereof he gives us example.
For he prayed for his enemies,
And what he willed he did.

Positis autem genibus, clamavit voce magna, dicens:

Apres son dich, saginolhet,
Don annos exemple donet;
Car, per sos enemios preguet,
E so que vole el accabet.

Lord, do not lay this sin against them.

Lord God, full of great sweetness:
Thus said the Saint to his Lord,
Forgive them the evil they do,
Let them have neither punishment nor pain.

Domine, ne statuas illis hoc peccatum.

Senher Dieus, plen de gran doussor,
So dis lo Sant a son Senhor,
Lo mal quels fan perdona lor,
Non aian pena ni dolor.

And with these words he fell asleep in the Lord..

When his speech was wholly finished,
Martyrdom was fulfilled.
What he asked for was heard,
And he fell asleep in God’s kingdom.

Et cum hoc dixisset, obdormivit in Domino.

Cant lo sermon fom tot fenir,
El martire fom adymplit;
Do so quel quer et fom auzit,
El regnum Dieus s’es adormit.


[1] Edm. Martene, De antiquis ecclesiae ritibus, vol. 1 (1736), p. 281-282.

[2] From Victor Saxer, “L’épÎtre farcie de la Saint-Étienne ‘Sesta Lesson’: Inventaire bibliographique,” Provence historique 93-94 (1973), pp. 318 – 326.

[3] From Les Planchs de Sant Esteve, ed. P. d’Aix.

Farced Introits: A Prologue for Christmas Day Mass

Hodie cantandus est nobis puer, quem gignebat ineffabiliter ante tempora pater, et eundem sub tempore generavit inclita mater.

Quis est iste puer, quem tam magnis præconiis dignum vociferatis? Dicite nobis, ut collaudatores esse possimus.

Hic enim est, quem presagus et electus symnista Dei, ad terras uenturum preuidens, longe ante prenotavit sicque predixit:

Puer natus est nobis…

To-day we must sing of that child, Whom His Father ineffably begot afore time, and Whom His glorious Mother bore in time.

Who is this child, whom you proclaim worthy of such great acclamations? Tell us, that we too might praise Him.

For He is Whom the soothsayer and chosen companion of God, foreseeing that He should come to earth, foreshewed and foretold:

A child is born unto us…

The Hodie cantandus est verses, diastematic notation from Nevers (PA 1235), East-Frankish neumes (Minden Be 11). Click to enlarge. (Source)

Farced introits represent the largest repertory of tropes after Kyrie tropes 1, and one of the most fascinating. Like sequences, they had their origin in that hotbed of liturgical creativity that was the Abbey of St Gall in modern-day Switzerland.

The earliest account of their composition in found in the continuation of the Casus sancti Galli, a chronicle of the abbey written by Ekkehard IV. Towards the end of the ninth century, a precocious young monk (plane iuvenis acutissimus) named Tuotilo wrote introductory verses for the introit of the Mass of Christmas Day—Puer natus est—which begin Hodie cantandus est. These verses proved popular, like the sequences that Tuotilo’s confrère and close friend Notker had invented some years earlier, and Tuotilo went on to write several other tropes throughout his life. Although he was nowhere near as prolific a composer as Notker, Tuotilo’s pieces were much admired; one of those who delighted therein was Emperor Charles the Fat:

The melodies Tuotilo composed are distinctive and easily recognisable, for his music is sweeter, whether on the psaltery or the rotta, at which he excelled, as is manifest in Hodie cantandus and Omnium virtutum gemmis. Indeed, he presented these tropes to Charles to be sung at the offering the king himself would make [i.e. during the offertory of the Mass, when the king would present his offerings]. When Tuotilo had composed the offertory Viri Galilæi 2, the king even bade him to add verses, [which were,] as they say, Quoniam Dominus Jesus Christus cum esset, Omnipotens genitor, fons et origo, with the following: Gaudete et cantate, and others indeed; but we mention these, so that, if you be a musician, you might know how different his music is from that of others.3

The Hodie cantandus est trope itself is an example of the melodic peculiarity that characterises Tuotilo’s compositions: the trope is in the first mode, whereas the subsequent introit is in the seventh mode; a striking modulation in the third phrase of the trope allows it to conclude in G to match the first note of the introit. 

Howsoever idiosyncratic the melody of this trope may be, its text a classic example of exegesis one expects of a trope. Its dialogical structure, reminiscent of Psalm 23, is almost catechetical—Statement, Question, Response. The statement is a dogmatic proclamation of the mystery about to be celebrated in the Mass, and it elicits the question that allows the announcement of Christ’s birth to be tied into the words of the Prophet Isaias (presagus et symnista Dei) that form the introit antiphon. And at the same time the initial proclamation is a scholium on the words Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis: this son is born in time of the blessed Virgin, but is given to us by the Father, who begot him before all ages. 

The Hodie cantandus est trope enjoyed great popularity throughout the Middle Ages, and is found in liturgical books as late as the 15th century, well after the general decline in the popularity of tropes.

Tuotilo’s example, moreover, proved influential in the composition of introit tropes in the succeeding centuries. In particular, there arose an entire genre of chant verses to be sung before the introit which served almost as introductions to the feast commemorated in the Mass of the day, often labelled Tropi ad processionem in northern French manuscripts and Versus ad officium in English ones. Since they were part of the procession before Mass, or even sometimes of a pre-Mass ritual, some scholars have rather pedantically decided to argue they are not true tropes. Howbeit, in some instances they do seem to have acquired a life beyond that of a mere trope, taking advantage of the dramatic possibilities inherent in the dialogical structure of the Hodie cantandus est verses. Such is the case of the Quem quæritis dialogue on Easter, whereon we hope to dedicate a future post. 

cambrai trope
In this version of the Hodie cantandus est trope, from an 11th-century gradual from the Abbey of St-Vaast d’Arras (Cambrai, F-CA 75 [76]), the original verses have become part of a larger pre-introit ritual with the heading “ad processionem”. This sort of chanted dialogue would eventually develop into so-called “liturgical dramas”.


1. By way of example, in volumes I and III of the Corpus Troporum, which contain tropes for Christmastide and Eastertide respectively, one finds 1,044 introit trope verses, against 250 trope verses for offertories and 113 for communions.

2. This offertory responsory is different from the one preserved in the Tridentine missal, and can be found on pp. 4-5 here (without the added verses).

3. Que autem Tuotilo dictauerat, singularis et agnoscibilis melodie sunt, quia per psalterium seu per rotham, qua potentior ipse erat, neumata inuenta dulciora sunt, ut apparet in Hodie cantandus et Omnium uirtutum gemmis, quos quidem tropos Karolo ad offerendam quam ipse rex fecerat, obtulit canendos. Qui rex etiam Viri Galilei offerendam cum dictasset, Tuotiloni versus addere iniungit, ut aiunt: Quoniam Dominus Ihesus Christus cum esset, Omnipotens genitor, fons et origo; cum sequentibus: Gaudete et cantate, et alios quidem; sed istos proposuimus, ut quam dispar eius melodia sit ceteris, si musicus es, noris. (Ekkehard IV, Casus sancti Galli).