Voyages Liturgiques, Angers (1): The Office on Solemn Days

Angers on the river Mayenne, Andegavum ad Meduanam in Latin, has a university with four faculties, and is famous for its quarries of slate, with which all the houses are covered.

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The canons of Angers once wore purple cassocks on major feasts. The sleeves of their surplices are split and drag like in Paris and the province of Sens. The canons, including the bas-formiers (minor canons),[1] and the ten Officers or cantor-priests have an almuce over the arm, and these Officers sit on the higher stalls.

The four cantor-deacons and -subdeacons do not carry an almuce. On episcopal feasts, the dignitaries have red robes over their surplices.

The ten choir-boys wear a white cassock, like the Pope. When it is cold or when they go into town, they wear a robe over their white cassock which is red one year and purple the next year, and so on in alternation. Their square biretta is always purple. During the offices, they are clean-shaven, standing, and bare-headed. When they sing alone, whether it be a versicle or a responsory, they are always in the front of the choir, like in Rouen, at the end of a bench.

The canons of Angers have retained the custom of proclaiming their faults at the four general chapters, but they only do this speaking in general. This is the formula that each canon is bound to state: “I admit, my Lords, before God and before the Church that I have committed many faults in choir. I submit to the correction that it shall please the Chapter to impose.”

All the canon-priests who live in the city have the right of having in their homes a domestic clerk,[2] who has, by this position, the right to enter into choir and participate in the distribution of benefices like the other officers and chaplains.

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Tapestry in St. Maurice Cathedral

The sacraments are administered to the canons and other ecclesiastics of the choir of the Cathedral Church, wherever in the city they might dwell, by the Grand Corbelier, as the first Officer is called, from the Latin corbicularius, or according to others cubicularius. In former times he was the only officer. At Angers it is believed that he can be the Infirmarian or the Sacristan.

The Chapter also buries all the canons and other ecclesiastics of the choir, whatever the place they might have died. Indeed, ten or twelve years ago a canon had the burial ground of his ancestors in a parish of Angers, and the chapter buried him there without the participation of the parish priest.

The Office on solemn days

When the Office is performed solemnly, all the candles are lit and all the great bells are rung, which together with the music are among the best in France.

The six coped ministers go out of the sacristy into the choir, preceded by four vergers, except at Matins, when they put on their copes at the main altar, and only the Lord Cantor goes out of the sacristy alone and enters the choir with his baton and small mitre or round biretta. The latter is perhaps what was once dubbed the couronne (crown).

After First Vespers, at the beginning of Compline, an ecclesiastic goes up to the highest row of stalls, and tells the canons which lessons or responsories they have to sing the next day at Matins.

The Lord Cantor and his two assistants begin the singing of both the psalms and the responsories. During the entire office they sit in the first stalls of the second row, except when the Lord Cantor walks around one or twice at the beginning of each office. Then they intone a psalm or a responsory, they always go together, because even though the psalm is intoned by two of them, all three always re-intone it, even when it was correctly intoned in the first place.

The lessons are sung by the canons.

Those who chant the lessons and responsories wear copes, and go pick them up from the little altar that is behind the main altar.

At the Te Deum, the choir-boys go on both sides to the front of the choir, and turn towards the choristers or psalteurs of their side, and all together they sing the Te Deum, even on semi-double feasts. No incensing is performed during the Te Deum besides the incensing of the Third Nocturn, which continues during the hymn; for incensing is done at the end of each Nocturn, like in Orléans (in former times during the Prose[3] with which they ended), and also at the end of Lauds during the Benedictus and at Vespers during the Magnificat.

The incensations are performed by two canons who go to the altar to each put on a cope. Kneeling, both of them incense the main altar intra cancellos, and then both kiss it. Then, standing, they incense their relics on their side, and extra cancellos the small altars, without kissing them. Then they incense the clergy, and are finally incensed themselves. They remove their copes at the main altar. At Lauds and Vespers, the officiating Canon goes to put on a cope at the Sicut erat and, preceded by the two candle-bearers, goes to stand at the end of the choir at the right of the Lord Cantor, and there says the collect or oration, for in this church the Cantor or whoever intones the chant stands at the right of the officiant.

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Types of choir cape, and on the bottom right the camail, from De Vert’s Explication

On solemn days, Terce is chanted solemnly with five copes, but the officiant does not wear one, and says the collect or oration in his usual place. Even in winter, when they wear the camail, he does not bare his head in order to sing the collect, but this is a very modern practice, and an abuse.

When the choir are all in their choir capes, he is as well for Terce and the Procession. During Terce, the two minor deacons and the two minor subdeacons wear tunicles and stand below, in plano, in front of the choir-boys, facing the choir to which they belong.

On solemn days, even when it do not fall on Sunday, the aspersion with holy water is carried out after Terce. The head cantor and his four assistants go up between the choir and the altar. There, the cantor and two others intone Sanctus Deus, Sanctus fortis, &c. While they sing this, one of the master-chaplains, wearing a cope, sprinkles the altars and those in choir. The other master-chaplain, the one on the side where the choir is, sings the collect or oration. (This same master-chaplain says the oration at the stations in the nave after the procession when the bishop is not celebrating. In Latin, master-chaplain is major Capellanus).

After the aspersion has been made and the oration sung, the cantors begin the procession responsory. The procession is made in this order: the two minor vergers; the two major vergers; a choir-boy in a cope carrying the holy water bucket; two others in tunicle carrying the candles; two deacons in dalmatics carrying two crosses if it is a fetâge, otherwise a cross and a Gospel-book; two other deacons carrying two other books; a corbelier in cope with a humeral veil carrying the relics of a saint; at his side two choir-boys in tunicles holding two smoking thuribles in their hands; the two master-chaplains in cope; and the cantor by himself also wearing a cope, holding his stave in his hand, and with a red biretta covered in silk.

Then walk, two-by-two, the choir-boys, the psalteurs, the clerics, the chaplains, the officers, the canons, and the bishop.

When they reach the nave, the coped cantors and the entire clergy arrange themselves in choir at the back of the nave. The deacons and others, the corbelier carrying the relic, and the candle-bearers place themselves at the front of the nave facing west.

The cantor (or the bishop, if he is celebrating) begins another responsory that is continued by the organ. Only the bishop, the cantor, the dignitaries, the canons, and the four assistants to the cantor go to kiss the relic and make an offering with some coins. Then the choir finishes the responsory, and four canons (or six dignitaries, if it is a fetâge) advance toward the front of the nave, and there, facing east, they sing the versicle of the responsory. Then the collect or oration is said, whereafter the corbelier gives the blessing out loud with the relic.

If it is a fetâge, when the entire clergy has returned to the choir, before the start of the Mass, a small music choir sings at the front of the Choir: Accendite faces lampadarum: eia: psallite, fratres, hora est: cantate Deo; eia, eia, eia.


[1] The French name refers to the fact that they say in the “lower form,” i.e., on the lower benches.

[2] One of the most ancient disciplinary canons of canonical clerical life: that a priest had to live with another cleric who could assure his good conduct.

[3] The French word for Sequence. It appears there were Sequences at Matins in Angers.

Voyages Liturgiques: Chartres


Chartres lies on the banks of the river Eure. In Latin it is Carnutum or Carnotum ad Auduram.

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Chartres Cathedral, Choir Screen, Annunciation

Notre Dame de Chartres.

The Cathedral Church of Notre-Dame is very beautiful, and the crypt is richly ornamented, decorated and illuminated by several silver lamps. The outside surroundings of this church—I mean the Cathedral—are quite beautiful. There are three very large porticos. Atop that of the main door there are two towers visible from 5 leagues away.[1]

The choir is one of the biggest and most beautiful one can find, and filled with a very great number of chairs, two rows of stalls on each side, and a rather large bench as a third stall, with a step of carved wood.

The bishop’s chair is rather ordinary, and placed on the Epistle side at the head of the canons’ seats, as in Paris and Rouen, but it is not covered. It only has a carpet in front and a seat for the bishop, as in the illustration.

The main altar is quite big. It has no balustrades, but only brass columns with angels on top arranged around the sanctuary. The antependium (parement) is attached to the altar-cloths a half-foot over the edge of the altar. Its fringe rests on the altar table itself.[2] Above the altar there is only one veil (parement) on the retable, above which there is an image of the Blessed Virgin in gilded silver. Behind the veil is a bronze bar, and above it a gold crucifix one and a half foot tall. At its foot is another bronze bar that protrudes about one or one and a half feet over the altar. On the end of it hangs the holy Ciborium, according to the Council of Tours, sub titulo crucis Corpus Domini componatur.

Above the corner of the altar there is a small violet veil about one square foot in size, suspended from a small cord as at Orleans.

Just before the Consecration, the deacon draws it to the center of the altar so that (they say) the Sacred Host can be seen by those standing in the back of the choir. This small veil is a very ancient custom in this church, as they say. I believe the real reason was to present the priest during the Consecration with a vivid image of Christ on the Cross. There is such an image on the veil itself, which was called the majestas or divina majestas. Inclinet ante majestatem.

There are aisles that allow one to walk around the choir, but the stained glass though very large is so dark because of the painting and thickness of the glass that in wintertime they still use bougies at 10:30 in the morning after the conventual Mass to say Sext. At Sext they do not respond Deo gratias after the Short Chapter. There is no response to the Versicle after the Brief Response, which has a melisma as long as the Verses of the major hours. Apparently they make the response in a low voice during the melisma.


Pre-Mass Ceremonies

The blessing of the holy water on Sunday is not done after Terce, as in most churches, but at the first Mass, which is said at four or five in the morning. The priest who will celebrate it is vested in an alb and stole and blesses it in a stoup, sometimes at the entrance of the church, sometimes in another place, and then he goes to the chapel to sprinkle the people present to hear Mass.

Before High Mass, an altar boy brings the holy water bucket (or Orceau, as it is called in Chartres, from the Latin term urceus or urceolus) when everyone is ready to hold the stations. The procession goes out from the choir through the crucifix door, and without going through the nave it goes directly to the altar of St John the Baptist at the intersection on the left. The priest, accompanied by the deacon and subdeacon vested in albs and stoles, except the subdeacon, with an almuce over their arm and their biretta in hand, sprinkles the altar, then the deacon and subdeacon, and then the entire clergy. After the procession has made a turn around the entire choir, it enters again by the same door. The same practice is found in many large churches that I describe in this account; this makes it clear that the purpose of the Sunday procession before Mass was to sprinkle the people and the common places.[3]

Solemn Mass

At Solemn Mass, the priest, deacon, and subdeacon first reverence the altar and then turn towards the choir and reverence it. Then they turn back towards the altar and begin the Mass, before going up to the altar. During the Gloria in excelsis the subdeacon goes to the jubé [i.e. rood-screen tribune] with the Epistle Book, and at the same time the deacon, having received the Gospel Book, retires behind the altar. The priest remains alone at the altar with his assistant priest clad in a surplice, standing at the end of the altar to serve the celebrant.

After having sung the Epistle, the subdeacon returns to the altar. The deacon immediately comes out with the Gospel Book and, having received the celebrant’s blessing, goes to the jubé[4] accompanied by the subdeacon, who holds the cushion; the altar boy who walks in front incensing; and the two candle-bearers. From the moment the deacon goes away from the altar, he raises the Gospel Book with both hands and, as he passes, the clerics get up and bare their heads. The subdeacon takes the open Gospel Book to the celebrant for him to kiss, and then to the canons at their places, and then he returns to the altar.

When the priest has incensed the altar at the Offertory, the deacon takes the thurible that the altar boy gives him and goes down the altar-steps and, having incensed the altar with three strokes, he kisses it at the corner. Then he continues to incense it by going around it, and he incenses the two reliquaries with three strokes each, and goes back to his place. A short moment thereafter the altar boy takes the thurible to the deacon, who incenses the rest of the altar in the same way, kisses the other corner, and then incenses the priest and subdeacon. Then the thurifer, having received the thurible from the hands of the deacon, incenses him. The deacon always holds his biretta in his hand and during the entire Mass he does not put it down except when taking the Gospel Book to the jubé.

At the Sursum corda, the subdeacon receives the paten, which is given to him with a veil. He holds it slightly elevated in front of him behind the altar, so that he sees nothing that is performed there.

One remains standing at the elevation, except only at Masses when one says the O salutaris Hostia, and then only while it is being said.

At the Pater, the subdeacon comes back in front of the altar and gives the paten without the veil to the deacon, who holds it even higher than the subdeacon until the end of the Pater, when he puts it back on the altar.[5]

Then the choir sings the psalm Exaudiat, during which the celebrant, his ministers, and all the clergy kneel.[6] Then the priest receives communion, and the deacon, taking the cruets, pours out the ablutions. This is the only time that the deacon serves the priest. An altar boys gives him a basin to wash in as at the Lavabo, and pours the water out into the piscina, so that the priest is not obliged to drink what he rinses off his fingers. This was done everywhere in former times, and is still done at Lyon and among the Carthusians, who have preserved more ancient customs.

The priest goes to the corner of the altar to say the final prayers, and the deacon, having turned towards the clergy, sings the Ite missa est. Then the Celebrant gives the blessing and goes back to the sacristy with his minister in the same order that they came in.

When the bishop celebrates pontifically on great feasts, he gives the solemn blessing at the Agnus Dei, and not at the end of the Mass.[7]

Holy Week Celebrations

The ceremonies of public penance on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday are more or less the same as those we shall describe for the church of Rouen.


On Maundy Thursday, six priest-archdeacons celebrate the High Mass together with the bishop, consecrate the holy oils with him, and receive communion under two species from the same host and the same chalice. The bishop stands before the middle of the altar, with three priests at his right and three at his left, along a single line. All seven sing with one voice and carry out all the ceremonies of the Mass together. Praiseworthy church, which has carefully preserved such an august and ancient ceremony! which helps us understand why in several churches the bishop is assisted on great feasts by priests and curés in the celebration of Mass.[8] At the end of the Mass, the deacon, without saying anything, gives the blessing with the sacred Host before taking it to the Treasury where it is reserved in a burse for the following day.

On the same day, the Mandatum or washing of the feet was performed. The altars, however, are not washed until the following day right before the start of the Mass ex praesanctificatis.

During Easter week, the Procession to the Fonts is performed at Vespers. All the clergymen of the Cathedral Church who are neither priests nor deacons, whether or not they be canons, carry a white baton during this procession, as does the sub-cantor who walks at the head of the younger canons. This is done, it is said, to represent the white habits that the newly-baptized used to wear during the Octave. On the way to the fonts and coming back they sing the fourth and fifth psalms of the feria.

Although this Church fasts on the vigils of Apostles, and observes more fasts than others, it nevertheless does not keep the fast on the Vigil of Pentecost, following the ancient custom of the Church, and of the churches of Angers, Nantes, and Amiens. Indeed, the Father attest that there was no fasting during the fifty days of Eastertide, which only ended on the evening of Pentecost Sunday.

On the Ember Wednesday of December, they read the entirety of the Gospel Missus est as the first lesson of Matins, like at Sens. Then the choir prostrates itself and sings the antiphon Salve Regina, and then the homily is read as usual.


[1] About 17 English miles.

[2] On this difficult passage, consult Claude de Vert, Explication (…) des céremonies de l’eglise, pp. 297 and 355, where he explains the typical way the antependium was suspended from the altar by an iron bar, which was in turn covered by a sort of fringe. De Vert and other, especially Jansenist contemporaries disparage the antependium as one of the unnecessary ornaments of the altar.

[3] At this time in many places, the pre-mass procession continued but without the sprinkling of people, church, and common rooms of the cloister. In several places, De Moléon stresses the origin of the procession as a sprinkling rite.

[4] The French word for rood screen. See an extensive article on the French rood screen (here), and its disappearance (here).

[5] On rites attending the Pater noster, see Jungmann vol 2, pp. 299 et sqq. In many places the Pater noster including an elevation or ostentation of the host, or the raising of the paten during the prayer at panem nostrum, as a signum instantis communionis, a sign of the imminence of Communion.

[6] On the addition of post-Pater Noster prayers in the Middle Ages, which were allowed to drop during the 16th century reforms, but flourished in many places afterwards, see Jungmann, Missarum Sollemnia, vol. 2, 292-293. In some places a prostratio was expected at this point.

[7] On the Gallican solemn pontifical blessing, which is different in form and position from the Roman, see Jungmann vol. 2, pp. 294 et sqq.:

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

[8] On the origin and development of concelebration in the West, see Jungmann, Missarum Sollemnia, vol. 1, pp. 195 et sqq.

Voyages Liturgiques: Nuptial Blessings and Eulogia in Rouen (11)

Le mariage de Monsieur le duc de Bourbon et Mlle de Nantes dans la chapelle royale de Versailles le 24 juillet 1685
Marriage of the Duke of Bourbon and Princess Marie Anne of Nantes in the Royal Chapel at Versailles in 1685

At the end of the nuptial mass, the priest (following the prescriptions of the Missal and Ritual of Rouen) makes an exhortation to the newly-weds about the fidelity they owe to one another and about the continence that they must observe in the days of prayer, fasting, and on major feasts. Thus there are no marriages in Lent or Advent, which was formerly a season of fasting, nor on the feasts of Christmas, Epiphany, or Easter (nor even from the fifth Sunday after Easter until after the Octave of Pentecost in some dioceses, as we see in several Rituals). This is in conformity with what St. Paul says in his first Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 7).

Moreover this is not particular to the church of Rouen. I have seen many Missals and Rituals from different churches [even Roman ones] from this century and the last: there is not one in which this is not noted.

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La bénédiction du pain by Francoise Archange, depicting a first-communicant bringing the bread to be blessed after Mass.

After this exhortation, in Rouen and in the diocese, the priest blessed white bread and wine. Then he (or the priest-sacristan) gives to the husband and wife who have just been married a piece of bread soaked in wine in testimony of their union, and as a symbol of the love of married life (conjugalis convictus symbolum sponso et sponsae panem distribuat vino intinctum). Afterwards the parents and especially the children eat this bread soaked in wine: this is a remnant of the Agapes of charity and union.[1]

There is also the holy custom in this diocese of going in the afternoon or early evening to bless the nuptial bed in the presence of the newly-weds. The priest vested in surplice and stole and accompanied by his sacristan sprinkles the nuptial bed and the couple with holy water saying Asperges me and then Visitet Dominus habitationem istam from Compline (but in the third person); Psalm 127 Beati omnes qui timent Dominum, which is so fitting for this ceremony; then the Kyrie eleison and the Pater with two collects, the latter of which is:

Benedicat Deus corpora vestra et animas vestras, et det super vos benedictionem suam, sicut benedixit Abraham, Isaac et Jacob: manus Domini sancta sit super vos, mittatque angelum suum qui custodiat vos omnibus diebus vitae vestrae. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Then he blesses bread and wine and gives them bread dipped in the wine, as at the end of the nuptial Mass.

Mariage sous le poêle au XVIIIème siècle

In all the parishes of Rouen on Easter day, as the faithful leave, an Agape of hosts as big as two hands and thick as a liard (farthing) are distributed in the middle or back of the nave, along with wine in a cup with a napkin to wipe the mouth after drinking. But because it is not customary to drink [this] wine in Rouen, few people drink. This Agape that remains on Easter day was formerly practiced on all the great feasts, as we read in the Life of St. Ansbert, archbishop of Rouen, who gave the people an agape in his church after communion on solemn days and served the poor himself at table. When the obligation to take communion was reduced to the day of Easter alone, the agapes were retained only on that day. This is perhaps what John Beleth calls the parvum prandiolum, a small luncheon before dinner.

On Sundays in Rouen blessed bread is eaten in the church as a supplement to communion, and some small pieces of this eulogia are brought back to the house for those who were not able to assist at Mass. The Ritual and Missal prescribe that the blessed bread should be distributed only by ecclesiastics, and not by laymen, much less by women.

The Blessed Bread, Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (1852-1929)


See also the Rad Trad’s post on this topic on commentary on The Blessing of Bread painting.


[1] A rather enthusiastic hypothesis, since the Agape died out in antiquity. For an overview, cf. Jungmann, Missarum Sollemnia,  vol. 2, 452-455.

Choir Dress of the Rouen Chapter (10)

The choir boys wear red under their albs and also wear a zucchetto and a red square biretta, and are clean-shaven.

In a stained-glass window in the chapel of St. Romain, one can see the form of the ancient birettas of canons and other ecclesiastics, which were nearly round [Ed.: not the ecclesiastics, but the birettas.]

Various ways of wearing the almuce. Engraving from : Le costumes et les usages ecclésiastiques selon la tradition romaine, par Xavier Barbier de Montault, Paris vers 1880

The canons in the lower form wear the almuce in winter and summer, like those in holy orders, but the cantors or chaplains do not wear it unless they are at least subdeacons. The chaplains’ is of a reddish-brown color like that of a hare; those of the canons is of gray squirrel fur as in all the cathedral churches. In Rouen they wear it on the right arm, as they do almost everywhere else, even when they go to the altar.

On episcopal feasts the dignities and canons who are Counselors in Parlement have red robes under their surplices.

A canon In Winter-dress II.JPG
Manuscript:,Ludovicus Clercq and Leo Vlaming, Ghent 1812, Waerachtige verbeeldingen van alle de cleedingen der religieuse ordens

In winter all the cantors, chaplains and choir boys wear the black cape with a long train with a band of red fabric on the edges in front, and a large mozzetta ending in a point on the back. All the canons, both those in holy orders and those who are not, have the same long mozzetta and a cape of black fabric with a tail, except that the band of their cape is of red velvet. Besides this they have (as in Laon) the small fur mozzetta (camail fourre) or round heavy almuce of gray squirrel fur which only covers their head and shoulders, and which they wear over their cape and under their large black mozzetta, whose hood they put down behind their necks. They only put up the hood when it is raining or snowing in order to avoid damaging the heavy almuce. The eight minor “canons of fifteen marks”, the chaplains, and the cantors in Holy Orders also wear a heavy winter almuce, but it is reddish-brown like their summer almuce. Both take off their black cape and large mozzetta when they go to put on their copes in the sacristy when they serve as coped ministers, and only keep their heavy almuce under the cope, so as to not have two capes one on top of the other.

The heavy almuce covering head and shoulders (Source)

The priest, deacon, and subdeacon canons and chaplains wear a heavy almuce or fur mozzetta on top of their chasuble or tunicle, unless the celebrant carries a Cross to the altar. In that case, they go to altar bare-headed, and hold their fur mozzetta with their hand. They only wear it atop their heads going and returning from the altar, and when they are seated, like during the Gloria, the Credo, etc.

In winter, the choir-boys who carry the candles and thurible used to remove their capes and mozzettas, and served in albs.

For more from the Voyages Liturgiques on Rouen, see the rest of the series:

Part (1): The Cathedral Chapter of Rouen
Part (2): Major Feast Days
Part (3): Ordinations and Saints Feasts
Part (4): The 15th Century Ordinal of Rouen
Part (5): Public Penance
Part (6): Lenten and Rogation Processions
Part (7): The Privilege of St. Romanus
Part (8): The Corpus Christi Procession and 40 Hours for the King

Officers in the Cathedral Chapter of Rouen (9)

Dignities (Officers) of the Rouen Chapter

altar server 5

The High-Dean (Haut-Doyen) is the first dignity of the chapter after the archbishop, and when he is present at Prime and Compline it is he who makes and receives the Confiteor, and sprinkles the holy water in Lent at the end of Compline.

The Cantor (Chantre) officiates in cope with his baton at the High Masses of Triple and Double Feasts and at solemn funerals. He is in charge of making sure no one talks in choir, and has the right of light correction over the clergy, which means he can give at most one blow. He has the right to run or set up chant schools.

The Chancellor (Chancelier) is the Intendent or Master of Schools. In other churches he is thus called the Capiscol, Ecolâtre, or Scholastique. He is in charge of making the chronological table that is placed in the Paschal Candle, to keep the Matricule, [Ed.: the register of clerics, based on which he assigns each to his place]. He must also rehearse the Matins readings with the choir boys and other clergy [and also with the three subdeacon-canons who sing the lessons of the first Nocturn at Matins on great feasts] and he must listen to all of them when he is required to do so.

The Penitentiary (Penitencier) gives the sermon on Holy Thursday and he performs the reconciliation of the public penitents.

Unlike others, this illustrious church does not have perpetual Vicars (Vicaires perpetuels), Semiprebenders (Semiprebendez)[1]or canon-serfs[2] to perform the duties of Hebdomadary for others. The worthy canons of Rouen conduct themselves with such honor that would allow, not for anything in the world, that a subdeacon, deacon, or priest who is not a major canon should celebrate or serve Mass at the high altar. They would rather not have a deacon or subdeacon.

There is so much respect given to the Hebdomadary in the Cathedral church of Rouen that when a canon performs his role according to the set order, no other canon dares to pass in front of him, either in the middle of the choir or to reach their chairs, taking another way to their places instead. This distinction is not given to any other of the canons. I have been assured that formerly, during the week of his service, the Hebdomadary lived and slept in a room next to the Sacristy, separated from the society of men so as to be more united to God, and to be in a better state to offer his prayers and sacrifices for the people.

There is one more thing. In accordance with a very ancient practice, the Hebdomadary was obliged, on Saturday before None, to come to the middle of the choir and prostrating himself on the floor he humbly gave thanks to God and asked forgiveness for the omissions and faults he may have made in his office that week. Sixtus IV made this obligatory under threat of excommunication, if the Hebdomadary refused to do this, though the chapter can absolve him of this after he has made satisfaction. In the year 1409, the Dean and the chapter wrote to Pope Innocent VIII to modify this practice, arguing that this prostration could consist in a simple genuflection and profound bow, and not lying down flat on the pavement in the middle of the choir [which at that time was not carpeted in winter]. They alleged that the former custom was vulgar, difficult, and dangerous to old men and the infirm, and that in place of this kind of prostration in the middle of the choir, it could be done before the high altar. This is how it is practiced today. The Hebdomadary leaves his place in choir just as None is finished and Vespers of Saturday is starting, and going up to the high altar he remains kneeling and slightly bowed on the predella during the first Psalm while he prays. When he finishes his prayer he kisses the altar and returns to his place.

The Hebdomadary is the only one who has a candle in choir in the winter, in an absconse or dark lantern, in order to read the absolutions and benedictions at Matins, and the chapter and collect at Lauds.

Besides this dark lantern there is another very large lantern of silver, with a candle that is kept lit during the winter and during the summer for the three nocturns. At the first or second Psalm of Matins, an older choir boy holds it up high in the middle of the choir or in the jubé before a chaplain or acolyte cantor or subdeacon, who carries the great Lectionary or book of lessons. The fact that this lantern is used in both summer and winter to read the lessons, and even on the Vigil of the Assumption, the only day of the year when Matins is said after Vespers, is a sign that the canons of Rouen have never forgotten that Matins should be said at night.

alter server 12 (vicente boras)

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

Part (1): The Cathedral Chapter of Rouen
Part (2): Major Feast Days
Part (3): Ordinations and Saints Feasts
Part (4): The 15th Century Ordinal of Rouen
Part (5): Public Penance
Part (6): Lenten and Rogation Processions
Part (7): The Privilege of St. Romanus
Part (8): The Corpus Christi Procession and 40 Hours for the King


[1] Benefices for clerics (usually priests) who in theory substituted for a canon holding a prebend, due to the latter’s illness or another indisposition. In places they came to be treated as permanent positions or stepping stones to more prestigious offices.

[2] There was a distinction within many French cathedral chapters between “free” canons (chanoines francs) and “serf” canons. The former, usually drawn from the nobility or high bourgeoisie, had more freedom to be absent from their choir than the latter, who were strictly obliged to be present, and thus bear the larger part of the burden of the office, while they also did not have a voice in chapter. In 1769, the Parlement confirmed this internal hierarchy but removed restrictions on absenteeism for this lower class of canons. Cf. here.