Voyages Liturgiques: Liturgy in 15th Century Rouen (4)

Part (1), (2), (3)

Now we will present several practices and ceremonies taken from an Ordinal of the church of Rouen and from some other documents about two-hundred years old, all of which are still observed, except a few that I will make sure to point out.

Before and after chanting a Lesson or Response from the jubé, a bow is made to the Eagle with a half-turn, semigyrus.

The 18th-century jubé of the Cathedral of Rouen, seen from the choir. It was removed in 1884.

On Sundays of Advent and Lent the deacon wears the orarium[1] in addition to a folded chasuble.

According to this Ordinal, on all ferias of Lent until Holy Thursday, when an office begins the canons, chaplains, and choir boys make the sign of the cross over their place and kiss it. They also do this if they enter choir after the office has begun.

On Lenten ferias a great violet veil is stretch across and above the whole choir during the whole ferial office (from Monday of the first week of Lent to the Passion of Spy Wednesday, when it is ripped in two when the deacon says the words et velum Templi scissum est.)[2] The veil is only lifted during the Gospel and after the Sanctus until the elevation of the chalice.

Before Compline in Lent a minor canon read from the Collations until one-hundred fifty years ago. The same was done at Bayeux, Vienne, and Salisbury in England, and the great reading is still done in the church of Reims and nearly its entire province. This reading gave its name to the small evening meal of Lent. At Compline the deacon says the Confiteor and receives the clergy’s confession. If he is present, he says the Indulgentiam, and at the end of Compline he sprinkles the clergy, except on Sundays. If he is not present the Hebdomadary or the Daily (Journeyer) does it.

The Preface Qui corporali jejunio was only used for ferias until a century ago, as is apparent in all the ancient missals of Rouen, Orléans, and others; on Sundays in Lent they said the common Preface per annum, as they do today in Sens, Auxerre, and elsewhere, because Lenten Sundays are not fasting days, and even in the early 12th century they ate meat on these days.

In all the Missals of Rouen printed in the last century, in the Quod ore sumpsimus, instead of munere temporali, it is written de Corpore et Sanguine Domini nostri Jesu Christi. There was only one purification or ablution with wine, like in Lyon and among the Carthusians.

The final ablution with water and wine was never done, and the priest was never obliged to drink what he rinsed from his fingers. He went to wash his hands in the washbowl or laver near the altar: Sacerdos vadat ad lavatorium. The same thing is noted in the Carmelite Missal of 1574. The Ritual of Rouen states that there should be such a washbowl near all altars, as found in the church of Saint-Étienne-des-Tonneliers in Rouen.[3] Reversus ad Altare dicat Communionem et Postcommunionem; deinde se vertat ad populum, dicens: Dominus vobiscum, et Ite, missa est. Then the priest gave the blessing with which the Mass ended. Et benedictione accepta recedatur, say the ancient Missals of Rouen of the 16th century. This remains the practice today in Rouen, where the people depart after the blessing has been given. Indeed, the priest or deacon has dismissed them with the Ite, missa est. In 1576, the final Gospel according to St. John was still not said in Rouen. It was only introduced in the Missal of 1604, but even then the priest only said it when removing his chasuble. The 1604 Missal states: Vertit se ad populum et ei benedicit manu: interim exuitur casula, dicendo, Dominus vobiscum, et Evangelium secundum Joannem.

We have seen before that in most of the church whereof I have spoken, the last Gospel is still not said in High Masses.

During the fifteen days of Passiontide the Psalm Judica me is not said at the beginning of Mass, because not that long ago it was never said at the foot of the altar. It is still never said in Milan, Sens, nor among the Carthusians, Carmelites, and Dominicans. The Psalm Judica that begins the Mass of Passion Sunday impeded the psalm from being added in order to avoid its repetition.

About 200 years ago, they stopped extinguishing the last candle at the end of Lauds of Holy Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Rouen. It is instead hidden until the Officiant has said the collect. He used three knocks thereafter to indicate the candle should be relit, according to the Carmelite Ordinal: Expleta oratione, qui facit officium, sonitum trina percussione faciat in signum ut lumen extinctum reaccendatur. In conventual churches, they do the discipline immediately afterwards: Perlato autem lumine a sacrista, recipiantur disciplinae. In some churches each one makes several knocks.[4]

We see in this Ordinal on Maundy Thursday Mass that the Archbishop of Rouen’s pontifical chair was still behind the altar, like in Vienne and Lyon.

On Good Friday, they say the four little Hours—Prime, Terce, Sext, and None—at the four corners of the choir, that is, one in each corner. Vespers is said in the sanctuary and all around, and Compline in the middle of the choir around the tomb of Charles V, king of France, in a low voice.

Before the beginning of the Office of Good Friday, they place a large cloth upon the altar, which is larger than the table and covers the altar above and on all sides. This used to be done every day, for cloths used to be placed on the altar only when Mass was about to be said. I have already made note of this above, in the chapter on Angers, and this is still practiced in the many monasteries of the Order of Cluny. There, they do not use altar frontals, because they were not used in the early centuries of the Church. They are also not used in the Cathedral church of Angers. One can count on the fact that almost everything that is uniquely done on the Holy Triduum is of the greatest and purest antiquity. The Blessed Sacrament reserved for the sick is not at the altar in those days, because it used to be that it was never kept there, but elsewhere, as we shall see was done throughout the year in many churches of Rouen. Likewise, during these three days neither Deus in adjutorium, nor Gloria Patri, nor the short chapter, nor hymns are said in the Office, because they were not said in the early centuries of the Church. They were added later, and it has still not been found advisable to add them to the Office of the Triduum, nor to the Office of the Dead. To call the faithful to the Divine Office in the Cathedral church, they use wooden mallets, with which they strike the doors of the church. In the other parishes they use tablets or tartevelles, because these were anciently used before bells were invented. Finally, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Mass begins with the prophecies, since in the first centuries of the Church Mass began with a reading from the Old Testament.[5]

This practice has also been retained on the Saturday Vigil of Pentecost.

There is a very ancient practice in Rouen, which we would doubtless have found in the ancient Ordinal of six-hundred forty years, if several pages were not missing in this place. It is the Inscription of the Paschal Table on a beautiful vellum which is attached at the height of a man to a large wax column about twenty-five feet high,[6] on top of which the Paschal Candle is placed, between the tomb of Charles V and the three silver lamps or basins. This Table was (I imagine) once read out loud by the deacon after he had chanted the Paschale praeconium, of which the Table was apparently a part. At least it used to be exposed to everyone’s view everyone from Easter until Pentecost, as it is currently. It is mentioned in chapter 29, book 6 of Rupert’s De divinis officiis, in Honorius of Autun’s Gemma animae, in ch. 102 of the treatise de antiquo ritu Missae, in Book 6, ch. 80 of William Durandus’s Rationale and in John Beleth’s Summa de Ecclesiasticis Officiis, chapter 108 in these terms: Annotatur quidem in cereo Paschali annus ab incarnatione Domini; inscribuntur quoque cereo Paschali indictio vel aera, atque epacta. I would add that it did not only record the year and epact, but also the mobile feasts, the number of years since the foundation of the church of Rouen, who its first bishop was, how many since it was dedicated, the year of the pontificate of the pope, of the archbishop of Rouen, and of the king. But that means nothing: here is the table from 1697:


Year of Our Lord 1657.
Year since the creation of the world 5697.
Year since the universal Deluge: 4052.
Year since the Incarnation of Our Lord: 1697.
Year since the Passion of the Same: 1664.
Year since the Nativity of Our Lady: 1711.
Year since Her Assumption: 1647.
Year of Indiction: 5.
Year of the Solar Cycle: 29.
Year of the Lunar Cycle: 7.
Epact: 7.[7] 
Golden number: 7.[8]
Dominical Letter: F.[9]
Letter of the Martyrology: G.[10]
End of Easter: 14 April.
Moon of the same: 16 April.
Annotine Easter: 22 April.
Rogation Days: 13 May.
Ascension Day: 16 May.
Pentecost Day: 26 May.
Eucharist Day: 6 June.
Sundays from Pentecost until Advent: 26.
First Sunday of Advent: 1 December.
Dominical Letter of the following year: E.
The following year is 1698 according to the common order.
Letter of the Martyrology of the following year: t.
Sundays from the Nativity of the Lord until Septuagesima of the following year: 4.
Beginning of Septuagesima of the following year: 26 January.
Septuagesima Sunday of the following year: 26 January.
First Sunday of Lent of the following year: 16 February.
Easter Day of the following year: 20 March.
Year since the consecration of St. Mellonius: 1437.
Year since the passing of the same: 1388.
Year since the consecration of St. Romanus: 1066.
Year since the passing of the same: 1053.
Year since the consecration of St. Audoin: 1051.
Year since the passing of the same: 1008.
Year since the Dedication of this Metropolitan Church: 633.
Year since the following year: E.
The following year is 1698 according to the common order.
Letter of the Martyrology of the following year: t.
Sundays from the Nativity of the Lord until Septuagesima of the following year: 4.
Beginning of Septuagesima of the following year: 26 January.
Septuagesima Sunday of the following year: 26 January.
First Sunday of Lent of the following year: 16 February.
Easter Day of the following year: 20 March.
Year since the consecration of St. Mellonius: 1437.
Year since the passing of the same: 1388.
Year since the consecration of St. Romanus: 1066.
Year since the passing of the same: 1053.
Year since the consecration of St. Audoin: 1051.
Year since the passing of the same: 1008.
Year since the Dedication of this Metropolitan Church: 633.

Jacques-Nicolas Colbert, Archbishop of Rouen (reigned 1691-1707)

Year since the proclamation of Rollo as first Duke of Normandy: 785.
Year since the passing of the same: 785.
Year since the coronation of William, first Duke of Normandy in the kingdom of England: 623.
Year since the death of the same: 609.
Year since the Restoration of the Duchy of Normandy to Philip II, King of France: 493.
Year since the second Restoration of the Duchy of Normandy to Charles VII, King of France: 247.
Year of the Pontificate of Our Most Holy Father and Lord Pope Innocent XII: 5.
Year since the consecration of Our Reverend Father and Lord Jacques-Nicolas [Colbert], Archbishop of Rouen and Primate of Normandy: 7.
Year since the birth of the Most Christian Prince Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre: 59.
Year of the reign of the same: 54.
This Candle was consecrated in honor of the Immaculate Lamb and in honor of the glorious Virgin, his Mother Mary.

It was very appropriate for this Table to be published on Easter night, because for many centuries this was considered the first day of the year.

Only in 1565, by an Ordonnance of Charles IX, King of France, did the first day of January come to be reckoned as the first day of the year. This Table was a sort of ecclesiastical calendar. The Lord Chancellor of the Cathedral church of Rouen is tasked with writing it, or to have it written at his own expense.

These Tablets were not only used in this church, but in collegiate churches all over, or at least in abbatial ones, such as those of Bec, as one sees in the statutes issued by the Prior, the Bl. Lanfranc, to be observed in the Monasteries of the Order of St. Benedict, and also in the Customary of Cluny and the Uses of Cîteaux.

There is a similar wax column with the Paschal Candle (but without the Paschal Table) in the churches of St. Ouen, Notre-Dame-de-la-Ronde, and St. Sauveur, all in Rouen.

From the moment the Paschal Candle is lit on Holy Saturday, it burns continuously day and night until the evening of Easter day, following the literal sense of Scripture: ad noctis hujus caliginem destruendam indeficiens perseveret…flammas ejus lucifer matutinus inveniat. It also burns during Mass and Vespers throughout the Octave and Double feasts in Eastertide until the Ascension, during the Office of Triple feasts in Eastertide until the Ascension, and from the Procession and Blessing of fonts of the Saturday Vigil of Pentecost until the evening of Pentecost day, which is properly speaking the end of the fifty days of Eastertide, or the holy Quinquagesima, as the Fathers call it.[11]

As far as one can see, at that time the Psalm Judica me at the foot of the altar was not said.

This is what the new Ordinal reads on Holy Saturday: Archiepiscopus vel Sacerdos cum Diacono et Subdiacono, candelabris et thuribulis veniat, et confessione humiliter dicta, alte incipiat Gloria in excelsis Deo absque tropis; et prosternat se omnis chorus. It adds, Et interim omnes campanae pulsentur, et dehinc per omnes abbatias et parochias totius civitatis. The Ritual indicates the same thing, and it seems it is customary that the principal church begins to give the signal. However, [faute qu’on n’y tient pas la main], there are parish and monastic churches that ring the bell over an hour before the Cathedral.

Here is one of the most beautiful practices to be seen, and which was still in use in Rouen less than 150 years ago: At the Procession on Easter day after Lauds in the nave in front of the Crucifix, the Archbishop kisses all the canons while saying to each one, Resurrexit Dominus. The same thing is still practiced not only in the Cathedral church of Vienne in the Dauphiné and the Collegiate church of S. Vulfran in Abbeville, but also throughout the East, when both the clergy and people greet each other by saying Χριστός ἀνέστη, Jesus Christ is risen.

In Easter day Mass, the Archbishop gave the solemn blessing before the Agnus Dei, as bishops still do today in several churches of France. We can expect that the zeal of the Lord Archbishop of Rouen shall re-establish it, as the Lord Bishop of Orléans has recently done.

In this Mass and that of solemn feasts tropes and laudes, or praises, were sung: cum tropis et laudibus.

I think I have already said that tropes were stanzas or words mixed into the Kyrie eleison, such as Kyrie orbis factor, or Fons bonitatis, which are still sung at Lyon, Sens, and elsewhere. The words were eliminated, but the notes were kept, and this is the reason why today there are so many notes over a single syllable in the Kyrie. The laudes or praises were acclamations that began Christus vincit, Christus regnat, etc. Ludovico Regi Francorum pax, salus, et victoria, etc., which are sung at Rouen between the collect and the Epistle every time the Lord Archbishop celebrates Pontifical Mass on Triple feasts of the first class. Perhaps this term also refers to an antiphon that begun Hunc diem, and which was once sung immediately after the Communion in the church of Vienne.

Here is the Christus vincit as it is sung on all solemn feasts when the Lord Archbishop celebrates Pontifical Mass.

On Easter day and week, less than a hundred years ago Vespers began with the Kyrie eleison, following the ancient Roman Ordinal, the ancient and new Ordinal of Rouen, the books of the Divine Offices, that attributed to Alcuin, Rupert, Honorius of Autun, William Durandus, an old Dominican Breviary, the Carmelite Ordinal, and the breviaries of Rouen of 1491 and 1578. This is still done in the churches and dioceses of Besançon, Châlons-sur-Marne, Cambrai, the Province of Reims, and among the old Carmelites and Premonstratensians.[12] I write eleêson as in the Breviary of Cluny, since that is how it is sung by the musicians of the Cathedral of Rouen, and in all the churches of the Low Countries, and that is how it ought to be pronounced.

On that day, Vespers was said as it is still said today in Rouen and nearly everywhere else: with three psalms and Alleluia antiphons, the Gradual Haec dies and the Alleluia, with a versicle and without a prose.

After the Magnificat, the collect, and the Benedicamus, they do the procession to the fonts.

Two priests in albs carry the ampoules or vials of the sacred Oils and the holy Chrism. Each of them have on their necks a large veil or scarf, and they use the ends thereof to carry the ampoules. In their place, a deacon in alb and dalmatic carries the blessed Candle. All three walk together along the same line, with their heads covered with their square birettas, but everyone else’s head is uncovered. I think the reason is that they leave the sacristy with their heads covered, for nothing requires them to have their heads bare, and since their hands are occupied holding the vials of the sacred Oils and the Candle, they cannot uncover their heads anyway. (We have likewise seen the subdeacon of Lyon carrying the cross in Procession with his mitre on his head, even in the presence of the blessed Sacrament.) Then come the rest of the clergy together with the subdeacon and deacon, and finally the officiant. While processing towards the fonts, they sing the Psalm Laudate pueri with the Alleluia antiphon, and then around the fonts they sing the verse Laudate pueri Dominum, laudate nomen Domini. The officiant says the collect ad fontes for the newly baptized. Then they sing the Psalm In exitu Israel de Aegypto, which, together with the Psalm Laudate pueri, [est triomphé], and the Procession going through the church aisle to the western door, and finishes the psalm in the nave where they make a station. Then, the Procession goes back into the choir singing in faux bourdon the Antiphon Lux perpetua lucebit sanctis tuis Domine, etc., the versicle, and the collect; and the choir-boys conclude Benedicamus Domino, alleluia, alleluia.

The Procession to the Fonts after Vespers during the Easter Octave, from a 1789 Processional of Rouen.

This Procession is still duly carried out in the Cathedral church and in the better-run parish churches. In the others they do not carry the sacred Oils, but only the Paschal Candle, without a deacon or subdeacon. This Procession is very appropriate to remind Christians of their baptismal vows. […] This practice is very ancient and praiseworthy.

Every Saturday from Easter to Ascension, they used to and still do a station after Vespers. It is held in the nave before the Crucifix, which is incensed with three strikes by the coped officiant while the Responsory Dignus est Domine Deus noster accipere is sung. No cross is borne during this station, apparently because one is always before the Crucifix, but the thurifer and two candle-bearers are present.

Every Sunday from Easter to Ascension, they make a similar procession or station before the Crucifix after Lauds. It is done with the cross, banner, and candle-bearers, but without incense, in addition to the procession held before High Mass.

On Pentecost at Terce, seven priest-canons vested in chasubles above their surplices, accompanied by the deacon and subdeacon and canons vested in dalmatic and tunicle, with the two candle-bearers, go into the sanctuary at the bottom altar step. The priest in the middle sings the Deus in adjutorium and they all sing together and kneeling the first stanza of the Hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, during which they incense with the thuribles. The choir sings the second stanza, the seven priests the third, and so on in alternation. After the end of the hymn, the seven priests turn towards the clergy and incense them while they sing an entire antiphone. The clergy and people have remained kneeling from the beginning of the Veni Creator until the end of this antiphon. Then the Cantor begins the Psalm Legem pone. The seven priests, the deacon, and the subdeacon sing Terce together in the sanctuary, and thereafter return to the sacristy. This is also done in well-run parish churches.

At Terce during the Octave of Pentecost, the priest who sings the High Mass, the deacon, and the subdeacon vested as for Mass, except for the chasuble and tunicles, come together with the two candle-bearers to the back of the choir, and the officiating priest intones the Deus in adjutorium for Terce. He and the deacon each take a thurible, and, kneeling with the subdeacon, they begin the Hymn Veni Creator, and continue this first stanza together with the left side of the choir, while they incense. The right side of the choir sings the following stanza, and so they continue in alternation both today and during the rest of the week. The choir alternates each day during this Octave, as well as those of Christmas and Easter, when the Office is not done by the Hebdomadarian but by the Journeyer, who is called in Latin dietarius. The Cantor intones the Psalm Legem pone for the Antiphon Repleti sunt. The officiant sits together with his ministers on the stalls, and after the psalms and antiphon, he stands and sings the Chapter, the collect after the Short Responsory, and finishes Terce with the Benedicamus Domino. Then immediately the Cantor begins the Introit of the Mass.

On Easter, Pentecost, the Assumption, the Dedication of the Church, and the feast of St. Romanus, all the clergy wore copes during the procession, and remained thus vested at the High Mass. Nine of them stood in a line in the middle of the choir. Today only five do so.


[1] I.e. a broad stole.

[2] See our post on veils, and Gemma Animae

[3] This church was destroyed by the Anglo-American bombing of Rouen in 1944.

[4] The Roman Breviary, for instance, states, Finita oratione, fit fragor et strepitus aliquantulum: mox profertur candela accensa de sub altari, et omnes surgunt, et cum silentio discedunt.

[5] Honorius Augustudunensis believed the same thing: Officium hodie [sc. Feria VI in Parasceve] a lectione inchoatur, quia olim omnis missa a lectione incipiebatur. (Gemma animae III, Ch. 89).

[6] Durandus (Lib. VI, Cap. lxxx) confirms that in many churches of France there were Paschal candles that were effectively wax columns, and mentions (but does not approve) how some writers connect these with the columns of wax St Constantine ordered placed around the city to light the streets of Constantinople on Easter night.

[7] The number of days since the new moon at the beginning of the calendar year, used to compute the date of Easter.

[8] The number showing a year’s place in the Metonic lunar cycle, used to compute the date of Easter.

[9] Indicates which days of the month are Sundays.

[10] Used to determine the lunar day, which is announced at the beginning of the Martyrology after Prime.

[11] Cf. Honorius, Gemma animae III, Ch. 148: De Paschali quinquagesima.

[12] Author’s note: On Quasimodo Sunday and the rest of the year they begin Deus in adjutorium, which is how the ancient hermits began, for meum is in the singular. Kyrie eleeson hemas was the beginning for the clergy, which was always together, since hemas is in the plural. This is what Fr. Châtelain has written to me about the matter.

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