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.

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