Ciboria and Tabernacles: A Short History

Excerpted from an excellent article at Orthodox Arts Journal, by Aidan Hart:

What is the tabernacle’s history, and what forms have they taken over the past two millennia?

During the first three centuries after Christ it was not safe for the sacraments to be reserved in churches on account of the persecutions. But it was customary in many cases for the faithful, after receiving communion at the Liturgy, to be given consecrated bread to take home for self communion during the week, or for the purpose of receiving before the time of death. St Basil the Great (c.329-379) writes: “In Alexandria too, and in Egypt, each one of the laity, for the most part, keeps the communion at home, and whenever he wishes partakes of it himself.”9

A deacon or other ordained person, perhaps even a church server, would take the gifts to the sick or those unable to attend. The martyrdom of St Tarsisius in the third century (recorded by Pope Damascus 366-384) occurred when he was on the road to take the holy gifts to imprisoned Christians. St Ambrose of Milan (339-397) mentions that Christian sailors and passengers in danger of death at sea “have with them the divine sacrament of the faithful.” In all such cases the sacraments were kept safely in some form of box, which was the earliest form of tabernacle or pyx.

But after persecution ceased under with the Edict of Milan (313 AD) this custom soon stopped. In its place the tradition developed of reserving the sacrament permanently in the churches, at first primarily to administer to the sick and later so that the faithful could be given communion at the Liturgy of the Presanctiifed during weekdays of Great Lent when the Holy Liturgy was not celebrated.

The means used to store the sacrament varied with time and place. The main options were: in a chamber in the sacristy, called in the West the secretarium; in a niche in the wall (ambry), which was the common Roman Catholic common practice until the Tridentine reforms (1545-1563); in a room separate from the nave or sanctuary, variously calleddiaconium, sacrariumpastophorium, and vestiarium; in the altar, in the safe-like predella reliquaries described above. This last method is mentioned in “Admonitio synodalis” of the ninth century by Regino of Prum (d. 915). Wherever the gifts were kept, it was expected that their pyx container be of silver or gold. This was not just to honour the gifts, but had the practical reason of avoiding any contamination due to corrosion or wood worm.

From the time of Emperor Constantine a common form of tabernacle, both East and West, was a dove (called in the West columbae), which was hung over the altar from the ciborium canopy (55). It was high enough not to be stolen easily, and could be lowered with a pulley system. In some cases this rope was attached to the church bells so that people were alerted if someone tried to steal the columba. It was ideally of silver or gold, though in Romanesque times we see brass enamelled versions, since the Host itself was still contained within a pyx of silver or gold stored within the dove (56,57, 58,). See illustration 59 for a contemporary example.

55 Dove_silver_late 6th-ea 7th_Syria_Met copy
55. Dove tabernacle, silver, late VI/early VII century, Syria. Metropolitan Museum, New York.

 

Eucharistic Dove  French, Limoges  made about 1215-35
56. Dove tabernacle French, Limoges, 1215-35. Metropolitan Museum, New York. Gilded copper and champlevé enamel.
57 dove-tabernacle copy
57. Dove tabernacle.
58 French_-early 13th c._Eucharistic_Dove_-_Walters_ copy
58. Dove tabernacle. French, early XIII. Walters Museum, New York.
59 contemporary dove tabernacle cardinalseansblog.org copy
59. Contemporary dove tabernacle. Pastoral Center Chapel, Boston. Made in Spain.

The dove form of tabernacle may have stemmed from the early practice of storing the consecrated chrism in a dove suspended above the font. One of the charges brought against the Monophysite patriarch of Antioch Severus by the clergy of Antioch at the Council of Constantinople in 536 was that he removed and took for his own use the golden and silver doves that were suspended over the altars and the baptismal fonts. The association of the dove with the Eucharist is also natural on account of the epiclesis, when we call down the Holy Spirit “upon us and upon these Your gifts”.

In Rome and in some other parts of the West it was customary to contain the dove within a tower (called a turres). In the Liber Pontificalis we find from the fourth century onwards that mentions of gifts of doves are never without a parallel gift of a tower. We know that Emperor Constantine gave a tower and dove of gold to St Peters in Rome, and some Popes later did the same. It is debated where these towers were kept. Some scholars say they were kept in the sacristy, others claim they were placed on the altar from an early time. This latter is debatable in the light of early prohibitions against having anything on the mensa apart from the holy vessels and the Gospels.

The dove and tower practice continued in the West until around the sixteenth century, when it became the custom to have a tabernacle on the altar (the Orthodox current practice). In Britain the adoption of such fixed and lockable tabernacles seems to have been introduced because of increasing accounts of the desecration and theft of the gold and silver columbae, such as by King Henry II of England’s eldest son, Prince Henry.

It was not until the Counter Reformation (c. 1545-1648) and particularly the Council of Trent’s reforms that the reserved sacrament became a focus of devotion among western Christians, a reaction to the Protestant rejection of the real presence. Hitherto the sacrament had been reserved solely to give to the sick or for communion when there was no Liturgy, and not as a focus of devotion.

Some thoughts on contemporary Orthodox tabernacles

It would be good to explore the merits of reviving the dove tradition. It has the advantage of leaving the mensa more clear, which in turn restores the emphasis to the holy table’s primary role as altar for the Eucharistic sacrifice. The high visibility of the dove would also serve to underline the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy.

A revival of dove artophoria would need to go hand in hand with the revival of the ciborium from which they are usually hung. A pulley system would be used to lower the dove, and the gifts themselves would be contained within a pyx inside the dove to permit ease of use.


NOTES:

[9] St Basil, Letter 93, translated by W.H. Freestone, The Sacrament Reserved (Alcuin Club Collections, Vol. XXI; London: A.R. Mowbray and Co, 1917), p. 41.

Our Lady of China

Today the Chinese celebrate the feast of Our Lady of China.

Our Lady of China.jpg

During the Boxer Rebellion, a great number of soldiers attacked the village of Donglu, Hebei. The village consisted of a small community of Christians founded by the Vincentian Fathers. The Virgin Mary appeared in white, and a fiery horseman (believed to be St Michael) chased away the soldiers. The pastor, Fr Wu, commissioned a painting of Mary with Christ child dressed in golden imperial robes. This painting became the image of Our Lady, Queen of China. Donglu became a place of pilgrimage in 1924. The image was blessed and promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1928.

At the close of the 1924 Shanghai Synod of Bishops in China, the first national conference of bishops in the country, Archbishop Celso Costantini, Apostolic Delegate in China, along with all the bishops of China, consecrated the Chinese people to the Blessed Virgin Mary. An officially-sanctioned image of Our Lady of China was blessed, granted and promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1928. In 1941, Pope Pius XII designated the feast day as an official feast of the Catholic liturgical calendar. In 1973, following the Second Vatican Council, the Chinese Bishops conference, upon approval from the Holy See, placed the feast day on the vigil of Mothers Day.

There is a fuller version of the history here.

The Mass has several proper parts.

The readings are Act 1:12-14 and Jn 19:25-27. The Psalm is 113:1-3, 4-6, 7-8. Of these, the psalm and Gospel are optional parts of the Commune Festorum BMV. 

The Communion is Ave Maria, Gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Benedicta tu in mulieribus. Alleluia.

The Collect and Postcommunion are proper (here translated by a friend from China, though an official version may exist somewhere):

Collect: Almighty and everliving God, you chose Mary to be the Mother of Your Son and to be Our Mother. We ask that, through her prayers, you may bless the billions of the Chinese people, grant peace and an abundant harvest of grain to our country and our people, and make the whole nation know you, love you, and serve you. We ask this through Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.

Postcommunion: Lord, in this feast we have received the Bread of Heaven. We ask that, through the prayers of Our Lady of China, you may bless us, make us constantly imitate the virtues of Our Lady, love you, and serve you with all our heart. We ask you to hear us, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Readers of Chinese can find the Mass here: http://catholic-dlc.org.hk/frame3.htm.

In addition to the Mass, there is a prayer of consecration to Our Lady of China:

Prayer to Our Lady of China:

Hail, Holy Mary, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Mother of all nations and all people. You are the special heavenly Mother of the Chinese people. Teach us, your way of total obedience to God’s will. Help us to live our lives true to our faith. Fill our hearts with burning love for God and each other. Stir up in our youth, an unconditional giving of self to the service of God. We call on your powerful intercession for peace, reconciliation and unity among the believers and conversion of the unbelievers in China and throughout the world, for God’s mercy is our only hope. Our Lady of China, Mother of Jesus, hear our petitions and pray for us. Amen.

Consecration of the Chinese People to Our Lady of China:

O Mary, Mother of God, and our Mother, with sincere filial love, we consecrate to your most tender, most loving immaculate heart, our bodies, souls, abilities, lives, words and deeds, and all that we have. We also consecrate to you the Chinese people throughout the world. We pray that you be the Mother of priests and all missionaries. May they loyally and zealously proclaim the Kingdom of God. Be the Mother of all Christians. Help them to progress in virtue and to shine forth evermore the splendor of faith. Be the Mother of all unbelievers. Deliver them from darkness and lead them into the light of Faith. We beseech you to show mercy to the immense population of Chinese descent. They have all been redeemed by the precious blood of your Divine Son. Through your most efficacious intercession, may they all take refuge in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Source of life and holiness, and become one fold under One Shepherd in the Church.

Help of Christians, pray for us. Holy Mary, Mother of all Graces, pray for us. Our Lady of China, Queen of the Chinese People in Heaven, pray for us.

中華聖母 Our Lady of China.jpg

Claude De Vert: Preface to Volume 2 of the Explanation (1710)

INTRODUCTION
PREFACE to Volume 1

Here De Vert shows that the frequent changes, variations, and dispensations of Church practices show that the Church does not hold mystical or symbolic reasons for the ceremonies as primary. Note especially his paragraphs on Baptism**.

PREFACE
Volume 2

In the preface of the first part of this work, I showed that this method of explaining the ceremonies of the Church according to their simple, natural and historic sense was nothing new, and that I have taken as my model a great number of authors renowned for their knowledge and piety.[1]

But this was insufficient. It still remains to show that the Church herself lends me this idea, and that my own mind differs in nothing from hers. God forbid I should ever think otherwise, or depart from her spirit and views in anything, even in trivial matters and points of less importance.

Nothing seems easier than to justify this proposition, and to show how at every step of the way and with all her conduct the Church approves as true, proper, and original meanings of her ceremonies those that I call simple, natural, and literal. If it were otherwise, and if she saw her ceremonies as founded solely upon spiritual reasons, and instituted for purely symbolic and mystical reasons, then because these sorts of reasons are not susceptible to change and because mystical realities are fixed and constant, once room is given to figure and allegory the ceremony must remain unaltered forever. It would follow that the Church herself was immovable–even in her customs and regulations. Her ordinances and laws, rites and ceremonies–once we supposed them to be founded upon such mystical reasons, as upon stable and permanent foundations–would thereby become essential and indispensable with no room for exception. In no circumstance would it be permitted to the Church to innovate or change anything in her whole exterior conduct. This would in no way accord with her discipline, which is variable and changing according to circumstances of time, persons, and place.

[Impediment to Orders for the Twice-Married]

Mariage sous le poêle au XVIIIème siècle

 

If it had always been true, for example, that those who have married more than once were excluded from Holy Orders merely because they had divided their flesh (as the mystical authors would say), and having shared it (so to speak) with others, they are no longer able to represent the union of JESUS CHRIST with his Church[2] which is one, and their marriage cannot be the image of the perfect love of this virgin Spouse for her virgin Groom,[3] this resulting defect of the sacrament constituting an irregularity; if, I say, it had always been true that this was the spirit and essential, primitive motive, principle cause and fundamental original reason that St. Paul prohibited a man who had more than one woman from the sacred ministry, then must also wonder why it is so easy, as it is, to lift this prohibition, founded as we have supposed on such sublime and serious, mysterious and thus respectable reasons. But if the apostle made this rule to accommodate the morals of his time and especially in order not to be less sensitive than the Jews and pagans, who also forbade from ministry at the altar those who had had more than one woman,[4] then we would easily judge that there are cases where this reason which is nothing more than mere convenience and pure convention, should give way to other considerations that justify dispensing this canonical impediment.

[Impediment to Marriage within a Certain Degree, Marrying in Penitential Seasons]

The same holds for some other customs that have come to us from the Jews and pagans, in which the Church has no trouble giving dispensations if she does not find just and legitimate reasons for them. Certainly she would be loth to do so if she thought that everything was mystical in the institution of all her practices. Thus in the case of the prohibition of marrying between parents of a certain degree (a prohibition that seems to have come to Christians through the Jews and Romans), indulgence is given very frequently. [5] This is true for innumerable other constitutions and ordinances, in which she gives dispensation so easily only because she regards them as being founded on opinions and motives that are subject to change and variation; such is the case for most of her practices and customs. Accordingly dispensation is nearly always granted for marrying in Lent and Advent (in this case we might even say the exception has become the rule), because we know that the Church’s prohibition on celebrating nuptials during those times is only the consequence of the ancient practice of continence on fasting days; since in our time such continence has become a matter of simple counsel, superiors have more leeway to relax the discipline on this point. Moreover, I have heard that in some diocese one is no longer even required to give a reason to obtain this dispensation, so well informed they are on the true reason and spirit of the law.

[Interval between reception of major orders]

In the same way, the Church finds it very easy to dispense with the usual interval of time between the reception of two orders, because there is reason to believe that the reason for the introduction of the span of one year between the reception of orders is that in ancient times ordinations were done only once a year in Rome, in the month of December, in accordance with the words repeated so often in the Lives of the first popes, fecit ordinationes mense decembri.[6] Consequently since orders were received only once a year it was necessary to wait an entire year before being promoted to the next order. But since at present orders can be conferred regularly on every Ember week, and even more often if desired, namely on the Saturday before Passion Sunday and Easter Saturday, several bishops have deemed that this span of three months can suffice for an interval between orders. […] Nothing is more frequent than these extra tempora, i.e. dispensations to be ordained outside of Ember days. And whence comes this facility of obtaining dispensations, if not because, in light of the fact that ordinations were done every Sunday in some centuries […] it seems less difficult to return to this use and that we may without scruple give an exception and condescension, even for cases without grave reasons? Thus it seems that what most facilitates the obtaining of these dispensations is nothing other than the recognition that there are reasons that form the basis of this regulations, and that these reasons were simple, indifferent, and variable. If on the contrary there were mysteries and spiritual senses hidden under these rules, these superiors would behave entirely differently and would be careful not to dispense anyone from them.

Now for practices of a different nature. If it were true, for example, that the clerical tonsure, at its origin and institution, had been nothing else than the image and symbol of the crown of thorns placed on Our Lord’s head, would we not be obliged by necessity to hold to this idea and practice, or would it be permitted in any case or for any reason to alter such a mysterious and significant sign as this? and would not the Church herself, on the contrary, have to require clerics in all times and from the very beginning, to wear a tonsure as similar as possible in form to the one worn by Our Lord, without permitting it to be enlarged or diminished at will? But the fact that the Church permits these ministers to have different tonsures, some more large or straight than others, us a visible sign that she does not at all regard the crown of Our Lord as the model and measure of what all clerics must wear. She gives another origin to this practice. Thus, she knows she has the freedom to regulate the form of the tonsure as she judges best, in accordance with circumstances of time and place.

Again, if it were true that infants are named at their baptism only in order to put them under the special protection of the Saint whose name they take, would the Church leave the choice up to the will of every individual to change this name at confirmation, clothing, or religious profession?

[Altar Decorations and Vestments]

Could we easily believe that the bishops would permit so many churches to have no antependium (parement) in front of the altar, if they were not informed that this antependium’s only purpose originally was to protect the relics that were placed under the altar; so that, in relation to this original use, the antependium has become entirely useless in churches where relics are no longer placed under the altar?

Is it conceivable that they would set their hands so readily to the destruction of the jubés, if they did not see that, since these types of tribunes were only erected to such a height so as to ensure that the reader’s voice would carry and be heard by the whole assembly, and that suffices to attain this purpose if the lector stands only a few feet above the others; and that there is no need to build these jubés in the form of galleries and to raise these huge masses of stone that can still be seen, especially in the cathedrals and collegiate churches, and that entirely block the faithful’s view of the choir and sanctuary?[7]

59 contemporary dove tabernacle cardinalseansblog.org copy
“From the time of Emperor Constantine a common form of tabernacle, both East and West, was a dove (called in the West columbae), which was hung over the altar from the ciborium canopy (55). It was high enough not to be stolen easily, and could be lowered with a pulley system. In some cases this rope was attached to the church bells so that people were alerted if someone tried to steal the columba.” Source: https://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/ciboria-and-tabernacles-a-short-history/ 

The same obtains for the practice of suspending the Blessed Sacrament above the altar. Would the re-establishment of this practice in many places be permitted, to the prejudice of tabernacles, unless we knew that this was the ancient custom (especially since the 6th century[8]), and that tabernacles have only been in use for about a hundred years?[9]

Image result for chasuble cuts diagram over time

Finally, it is the same for certain sacred vestments that would never be allowed to be cut, and which have been cut to the point we see today, if we had not learned from many renowned authors[10] that these vestments originally were not peculiar to the ministers at the altar, so that taking account of their original use, it doesn’t seem that there is anything amiss about letting them gradually take on a different form, more convenient and comfortable. Especially with regard to the chasuble, which formerly used to cover the priest entirely all around, if it were certain that it had this form for the sole purpose of being the symbol of charity that covers (in the words of St. Peter) a multitude of sins, would it have been, so to speak, relaxed to the secular arm, namely, left to chasuble-makers to cut them, shorten them, scallop them, and reform them to the point that they no longer cover the arms or legs? Truly, would it have been permitted to thus disfigure a sacred vestment consecrated by the moral idea that had been attached to it from the beginning?

Perhaps if people reflected well on all these consequences, they would be more hesitant to suppose that the Church has ideas and intentions that it is very doubtful and very uncertain that she has ever had. No priest and no bishop thinks any longer that the stole and maniple were destined since their institution to represent the bonds with which our Lord was tied when he was taken before Pilate.

If they imagined these vestments from this symbolic point of view, would they allow them to be so largely disguised by the ornaments embroidered onto them, so that today they have no resemblance to the cords with which the Savior of the world was tied and bound? If any bishop still believed that the action of kissing the altar at Mass contained any mysterious meaning, would he believe that it is sufficient to kiss only the wooden border that surrounds the altar? For, if we suppose that the altar was a figure of Jesus Christ, as certain mystical authors claim, could this symbol and image be applied to a simple wooden rail on which the antependium is set?

*[Baptism]*

louis xiv 10
The baptism and anointing of Clovis

But how should we explain the fact that Pope Innocent II decided that there was no obligation for women to be churched after childbirth, if not because (without looking about for anything mystical in the ceremony), this great jurist and theologian saw that this practice belonged to a law that had been abolished by the Author of grace and truth, and so allowed the Church to use this blessing as a laudable pious custom, a custom of counsel and devotion and not a duty of precept? Moreover, how was it permitted that the full immersion of the whole body in the ceremony of baptism was changed to a simple pouring or infusion of one part of the body? It is because we know that this practice of plunging was originally a form of washing infants at the moment of their birth for reasons of physical health. Thus it can never be part of the essence of a sacrament, where the point is not to wash away physical uncleanness, and so the amount of water used does not matter, and as long as the sacrament is administered with water, then infusion, aspersion, or immersion or all equally good, and all forms are judged valid.[11] But if, on the contrary, the Church regarded immersion as essentially instituted to be an express representation of the fact that, being baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, we are also mystically buried with him, she would have taken great care to prevent this practice from changing, knowing well that whatever is the ground and substance of the sacraments is unalterable and indispensable. From this alteration of the discipline with regard to baptism we can see that the Church regards baptism by immersion as a simple custom that has come down to her from the tradition of the Jews or pagans, or perhaps from both together, and from all the nations of the world.[12] The same applies to the unction that precedes and follows the baptism. Understanding the physical, sensible causes for the institution of this practice, the Church has found it appropriate for good reasons to reduce it to only certain parts of the body, where formerly it was done on the whole body. On the other hand, if she had believed that this ceremony had been introduced only to give the catechumen power against the temptations and attacks of the devil, or to indicate that the neophyte takes part in a spiritual unction (reasons all used later on for the instruction and edification of the faithful), she would never have allowed it to be touched or reduced in any way, because that would have weakened the mystery, rendered its signification defective, and thus diminished the effects of the holy chrism and oil of catechumens.

[[NB footnote 12: “Though this did not keep the apostle Paul […] from finding excellent relations and wonderful allusions between this manner of plunging entirely into the water and the faithful’s being buried with Jesus Christ and rising from the water as Jesus Christ rose from the tomb. But it is one thing to make allusions and applications, metaphors and comparisons, and quite another to say that the original purpose for the institution of this action was to represent and signify the burial of the faithful with Jesus Christ. I mean to say that all these spiritual and symbolic viewpoints are not the cause and principle of the immersion, and played no part in the intention of those who instituted it. Rather, the fact of immersion merely provided the occasion for all these ideas and reflections.”]]

[Mystical Reasons Lead to Contradictions]

Creation (Hurlbutt)
Passauer Calendar Universitätsbibliothek Kassel, 2° Ms. astron. 1, fol. 70v.

Another thing that seems to demonstrate that the Church is very far from envisaging these sorts of reasons as the only reasons for the establishment of her ceremonies is the fact that if this was the case, she would often fall into contradiction in her practice. For instance, on the one hand the Church gives us to understand that the candles on our altars burn for no other reason than to express Jesus Christ who said that he was the light of the world; and at the same time they are not lit at Prime, Terce, Sext, or None, when Christ is no less the light of the world than at Matins, Lauds, and Vespers, when they are lit. This would not be coherent and the Church would be contradicting herself. Assuming this symbolic reason were true, we would have to leave the candles burning continually, and not only at certain divine offices, because, as the Apostle says, “(Heb. 13)” He is “the true light of man, who enlightens the world” (John 1) at all times of the day as well as during the hours of night. He is eternally the splendor of the “glory of his father,”  (Heb 1:3; Sap. 7:26).

If we ask the Church for the reason why she lights candles at certain hours of the office and not at others, she responds very simply and naturally, it is that there is no need for superfluous light during the day when Prime, Terce, Sext, and None are said, but only at night and dawn when Matins, Lauds, and Vespers are sung.

Are there many communities and famous corporations who are persuaded that the primitive reason for the institution of the hours of the office is precisely to honor and celebrate the various mysteries of Christ’s life? such as for example the birth of Our Savior at Matins, his resurrection at Lauds, the morning of his Passion at Prime, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Terce, the crucifixion at Sext, his death at None, his burial at Vespers, his lying in the tomb at Compline?

If it were true that in instituting the Divine Office, the Church had intended to honor in each of these hours the mysteries that took place during them–how Our Lord came into the world at night, how he rose at dawn, valde mane, how the Holy Spirit descended around Terce, cum sit hora diei tertia, how Our Lord was crucified around the hour of Sext, erat hora quasi sexta, that he died around None, circa horam nonam, and that he was buried in the evening–then it would never be permitted at all to change the order of the offices and thus obliterate all these intentions of the Church.

But an evident proof that all these congregations do not believe that the Hours were instituted for these sorts of sublime and mysterious reasons, is the freedom that they give to anticipate or postpone the Hours, to distribute them according to convenience or the will of their superiors. Thus, at Paris for example, they say Matins followed by Lauds at anytime during the night, between five o’clock in the evening of the previous day and six in the morning of the next day. Likewise they say Prime sometime between five thirty and eight in the morning; Terce between eight and ten; Sext between ten and eleven forty-five; None between mid-day and three; Vespers between one and six; and Compline between three or four and nine. Nothing could show more clearly how these hours are arbitrary, and how far the Church is from thinking that the primitive reason, the reason for the institution of these Hours was to honor the various mysteries.

Furthermore, would the whole Church have taken it upon herself in Lent to anticipate Vespers at noon and celebrate at that hour a mystery that happened in the evening? It is thus much more natural to believe that all these particular churches and the universal Church herself regard the determination of the Hours of the Office as a tradition coming from the Jews, who actually assembled for prayer at about the same hours as Christians; namely in the morning[13], at 6,[14] and 9,[15] and in the evening,[16] not to mention the night prayers.[17] Therefore the Churches can easily anticipate or postpone these Hours because in the final analysis, just as the jews had their reasons for choosing these hours, the Churches about which we are speaking also believe that they have sufficient reasons to change the times of the hours and choose other times.

Therefore, we have found proof of my thesis everywhere: that the ease of obtaining dispensations and the variability of the Church’s discipline, especially with regard to the rites and ceremonies, comes from the fact that this discipline is founded on simple reasons that are nearly all based either on the customs of the ancients, or on the relation between actions and words or between words and actions, or on necessity, or on propriety and convenience.[18] All such practices and reasons are subject to change, because what is convenient at one time is not at another. As soon as these reasons no longer hold, it would seem permissible at the same time to abolish the practices connected with them. If, on the other hand, all these practices were meant to figure and represent some mystery, then the respect superiors had for these reasons would prohibit them from permitting the changes that are introduced nearly every day in the ceremonies and exterior cult of our religion.

[….]

It was the changes introduced into the ceremonies that caused people to forget and lose sight of the sensible and natural reasons of their establishment. If people only wore their hair short and their clothes long once again, as they did less than 200 years ago, they would very quickly see the reason for the tonsure and the religious habit and the whole exterior vesture of ecclesiastics.[19] If they could see the chasuble in its ancient form, they would quickly see why it is lifted at the elevation of the host and chalice. If the maniple became a handkerchief once again, they would see what the manipulus fletus mentioned in the vesting prayer is. If on Holy Thursday all priests celebrated Mass together with the bishop in the cathedral churches, with the parish priest in the parishes, or with the superior in the monasteries, and therefore with the priests vested in their priestly habits, they would know why they take communion on that day with the stole.[20] If Tenebrae is restored to midnight, so that the office began in darkness and ended around dawn, they would see that the Church was not mistaken at first to light a great number of candles during this office and extinguish them gradually as the day approached, and to extinguish them all at the end of Lauds when day had broken. If on Sunday before Mass, we began once more to bless and sprinkle the holy water, inside and outside the Church, the cemetery, and the common places in the monasteries and cathedral chapters where the canons once lived in common, we would understand the origin and reason for the Sunday procession and why in monasteries and other churches the procession visits the four sides of the cloister. There is no other way to explain this procession or discover its object. [….]

[The Literal Sense and Church Reform]

Understanding the literal and historical reasons is useful for another reason: it allows bishops more easily to remove ceremonies that, through the change of manners and church discipline, no longer seem appropriate. Thus, for example, the archbishop of Sens thought it best to suppress most of the baptismal exorcisms in his new ritual, because it seemed to him that the repetition of these exorcisms, which were once performed on different days, no longer had a purpose after they were joined into one ceremony.

[On Burial Practices]

So there you have it, material already too much for one preface. If I were to give it the full extent of treatment it deserves, there would be enough to compose a book; indeed all the more so because the truth of the system I have proposed has already been sufficiently proved by many judicious and learned persons. It is also useless to speak again about the necessity of studying the simple, literal, and historical reasons for the ceremonies if one wants to understand what is happening at every moment in the Church, either at Mass or in the Office, or during the administration of a sacrament, or any other function. Above all, nothing is more shameful and scandalous than to see pastors and priests who are ignorant of what their ministry obliges them to know and teach to others. A learned bishop of the 16th century, complaining to a cardinal about the ignorance that reigned among most clergy of his day about church ceremonies, said:

“Since our understanding and right intention is the foundation of the sacred worship, whoever is ignorant of what he is doing performs sacred worship in vain, for he lacks the basis, namely the right understanding and intention. How many clergy put on their vestments entirely ignorant of why there are so many and various: priests who have celebrated mass for years, and bishops who have consecrated for years? If you ask them why they do these things, they are speechless and have nothing to respond.”[21]


NOTES:

[1] Among them we cannot fail to mention Dom Edmond Martenne, a scholar of the Congregation of St. Maur, who in the preface to his first volume on the ancient rites of the Church, openly declares that he prefers historical reasons to those commonly known as “mystical”: His igitur attente consideratis…post habitis rationibus mysticis, quas apud editos scriptores quique consulere potest, universos ecclesia ritus more historico representarem, etc.

[2] St. Paul takes what Moses says literally about the union between man and wife, using it to explain the union of Jesus Christ and the Church from a mystical point of view, calling it a great mystery and sacrament: Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico in Christo et in ecclesia (Ephes. 5:32).

[3] M. Nicole shows in his Instruction on the Sacrament of Order that, far from being St. Paul’s explanation, it was St. Augustine who was the first to invent it, and that before him the reason for the exclusion of the twice-married from orders was the incontinence that was implied in these second marriages.

[4] On the Jews, see Leviticus 21 and for the pagans, Titus Livius, (Decade 1.50.x, and Alex ab Alex. 50.6. To see that second marriage were detestable to the ancients, as showing some kind of incontinence or weakness, we have only to hearken to Dido, the widow of Sicheus, who reproaches herself for the grievous fault of merely thinking of marrying Aeneas (Huic uni forsan potui succumbere culpa, Aeneid 4).

[5] Trans. note: Consanguinity is forbidden by Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 20.

[6] Primi apostolici semper in decembrio mense, in quo Nativitas D. N. J. C. celebratur, consecrationes ministrabant usque ad Simplicium…ipse primus sacravit in Februario (Amalarius II.1). The Micrologus says the same thing. See also Dom Mabillon, in his Commentary on the Ordo Romanus, n. 16.

[7] See M. Bocquillot in his Traité historique de la liturgie, pg. 72.

[8] Following these words of the Council of Tours can. 3: Ut corpus Domini in altari, non in armario, sed sub crucis titulo componatur (The Body of Our Lord should not be placed in a tabernacle but on the altar under the cross.). This is what we find still in many churches where the holy ciborium is suspended at the foot of the great crucifix over the altar.

[9] It is thought that the first tabernacle seen in Paris is that of the Capuchins on the Rue Saint-Honoré.

[10] Among others, Fr. Thomassin, the Abbé of Fleury, etc.

[11] See M. de Meaux in his Traite de la communion sous les deux especes.

[12] Though this did not keep the apostle Paul […] from finding excellent relations and wonderful allusions between this manner of plunging entirely into the water and the faithful’s being buried with Jesus Christ and rising from the water as Jesus Christ rose from the tomb. But it is one thing to make allusions and applications, metaphors and comparisons, and quite another to say that the original purpose for the institution of this action was to represent and signify the burial of the faithful with Jesus Christ. I mean to say that all these spiritual and symbolic viewpoints are not the cause and principle of the immersion, and played no part in the intention of those who instituted it. Rather, the fact of immersion merely provided the occasion for all these ideas and reflections.

[13] Sacrificium matutinum.

[14] Ascendit Petrus in superiora ut oraret circa horam sextam (Acts 10:9).

[15] Petrus et Joannes ascendebant in Templum ut orarent ad horam orationis nonam (Acts 3:1).

[16] Sacrificium vespertinum

[17] Media nocte surgebam

[18] See vol. 1, p. 269, note b.

[19] See pg. 431 ff.

[20] See vol. 1, pg. 348 ff.

[21] To Saint-Pierre d’Abbeville, 25 September 1707.

Claude De Vert: Preface to Volume 1 of the Explanation (1709)

As we promised in the introductory post, here are excerpts from the Preface to the first edition of volume one of Claude de Vert’s Explication simple, littérale, et historique des cérémonies de l’Église (1709 – 1713).

PREFACE to Volume 2

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PREFACE

[1. Encouragement by Protestant Ministers]

It has been several years since M. Jurieu[1] undertook in one of his books to attack the ceremonies of the Mass and even to subject them to mockery. I found myself charged at that time by M. the Bishop of Meaux, and also by my own interest, to refute this minister, who had used me as a sort of witness and proof of his own ideas. Thus I wrote him a letter[2] on the subject. Since it was clear from certain places in his work that mystical and symbolic explanations were not to his taste and left no impression on him, I thought it best to accommodate myself to his dispositions. In other words, in my response the only explanations I admitted were those that were simple, natural, and historical, against which I judged M. Jurieu would have no objection. It pleased God to grant my attempt so much success, that my letter has remained without response for fifteen years.

But this is not the only effect that this manner of explaining the ceremonies of the Church has produced. It has also pleased a great number of new Catholics. Even several converted ministers were intrigued by my explanations and did me the honor of writing to say (and these are their own words):

“We have always been convinced that in order to give an account of the ceremonies of the Church, especially to new converts, one must make use of common sense, give the facts as simply as possible, and in the end explain things as naturally as possible. We have already experienced the cogency of your natural explanations with two completely opposite sorts of people, namely, with some grudging converts who saw only superstition and mummery in the Church’s rites; and with some old ecclesiastics who would hear nothing about the literal sense or about the traces of ancient customs in the liturgy, recognizing only mystery and speculation in it.”

They said that neither of these groups were able to resist my historical reasons, and the connection I made between the letter and the spirit left them speechless.

They were certain that a full discussion of all these things would be well received by both scholars and the unlettered, and even by stubborn opponents of the Church. M. Jurieu’s brief controversy had not provided the occasion for such a discussion, but the wish and need of the Church compelled me. The attempts that I had already made in my letter had given them so much pleasure that they were impatient for a complete treatment of the subject. Further, in my explanation of the Introit, Kyrie eleison, Collect, Secret, Supra quae propitio, etc., of the mingling of a part of the Host in the chalice, I had said things that no one had yet thought and that promised countless further discoveries.

Moreover these ministers plied me with innumerable questions and difficulties which they implored me to answer. And so this is the occasion and, so to speak, the foundation of the present work that I present to the public.

At the same time another ministers, one of my friends, who had also converted some years ago, but converted sincerely in good faith, through persuasion, intelligence, and knowledge, brought me one of his nephews who was still in the grips of error. […]

He was already very prejudiced against our ceremonies and especially against the exterior cult of our Religion. After having questioned me on many practices, he appeared so content with my responses (all literal and historical) that he said to his uncle (who later told me) that one more meeting with me would be enough to remove all his scruples and doubts.

[Another Successful Conversation with a Protestant Lady….]

[….]

[2. Support from Catholic Ecclesiastics]

To these proselytes, and others that I have not named, I could add a large number of Catholics: ecclesiastics and laymen of every state and personality. M. Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux especially (and all know that his name alone is synonymous with knowledge, eloquence, beauty, genius, and zeal for the Church) often did me the honor of urging me, face to face and in writing, to explain and develop all this material to its fullest extent. I did this in two or three conferences. He listened, made objections, gave counsel, and offered his advice on difficult and delicate points. I will always remember how he encouraged me not to attack the Mystical Authors or their reasons, telling me that all I had to do was lay out the facts and establish them soundly, and the truth speak for itself.

But he isn’t the only who encouraged me to work my ideas into a book. M. the Bishop of Chalons sur Saône, so well versed in this discipline, and engaged since the start of his episcopate in the correction of the usages of his church, which he is reforming wholesale and in a manner worthy of his zeal and intelligence: the Breviary, the Missal, the Ritual, and Ceremonial. After approving my Letter to the Minister Jurieu, he asked if:

“I might give a more ample, literal, and historical explanation of the ceremonies of the Mass and in general of the whole Office.”

Others told me:

“The quickest and easiest way to refute every calumny the Heretics advance against the practices of the Church is to trace them back to their origin and institution. Hence we learn the true reasons for the ceremonies, and we see their simplicity. We prove that it was necessity or utility that introduced them, and that they have been preserved either for decency or out of fear of innovation. Because the reasons are simple and natural, we see their connection to the ceremonies immediately. It has been said that the primary reason the ministers of the Protestant religion declaim against the ceremonies of the Catholic Church is that they see these ceremonies only through the mystical reasons that some Catholic authors have given to them, without seeing the natural sense that the same authors presume as the basis of everything they say.”

[…]

[On the Usefulness of this Method in Seminary Education]

M. Wateblé (who recently passed away), Superior of the seminary of Beauvais, also asked me many times to share my reflections on this question, assuring me that they would be welcomed in the seminaries of the Congregation of the Mission [….]. He said that, if he had only known these reasons a long time ago, then our seminaries would have embraced them, and this manner of explaining the ceremonies would be held in high regard. This holds as much for the priests of St. Lazare as for the Jesuits, the Fathers of the Oratory, for the congregation of St. Sulpice, and other ecclesiastics who form clergy in the seminaries. In these excellent schools, after having given the seminarians the primitive and fundamental reasons for the ceremonies, we could present them other reasons for their edification, to nourish their piety; I am referring to what I call secondary and subsidiary reasons: spiritual and symbolic ideas and pious moralities. In these holy congregations, in their frequent conferences on the practices and uses of the Church, we could develop the analogy of all these different senses and teach them to join the spirit with the letter, and figurative and allegorical explanations to literal and historical ones.

[The Catechism of Montpellier already does this]

[….]

[3. Justification for this Method from the Fathers]

In the interest of justifying this approach with examples and authorities, we see that always and in all times the practices and ceremonies of the Church have been interpreted in their proper, primitive, and necessary sense, and whenever people have understood them, they have given as far as possible simple and natural reasons in preference to those called mystical (mystiques) and figurative (figurées), and often enough even to their prejudice and exclusion. Therefore, my project is neither new nor unique. I am merely following and imitating nearly all of the authors who have ever written on this subject.

St. Jerome, for example, in his Letter to St Paulinus, St. Augustine says that the Host is broken at the Mass in order to distribute it to the faithful, ad distribuendum comminuitur. Behold: another entirely simple and natural reason for the Fraction of the Host, and very different, as we shall see, from the allegorical reasons to which the Protestants accuse us of having reduced this practice.

[Mass on Holy Thursday morning]

St. Isidore (7th c.) and the Rule of the Master written about the same time, teach us that the washing of the altars, which is still practiced today in many Churches on Holy Thursday and Good Friday is done in order to remove the dust and odors that may have collected on the tables throughout the year. In addition, they washed and purified the walls and sacred vessels, so that the whole Church was washed and set in order from the vaults to the pavement in preparation for Easter.

Amalarius, not content with the various mystical reasons given for the custom of reserving only the Body of Our Lord on Holy Thursday, without the Blood, concludes (along with the Bishop of Meaux[3]) that a more simple explanation is that this species is corrupted more easily than bread. Thus we see that this author seems to prefer this reason to the “mystical” reasons. The same author says that the priest washes his hands at Mass in order to clean and purify them from any uncleanness he may have come into contact with by touching the bread received during the Offertory. His testimony is all the more credible because Amalarius certainly cannot be accused generally of preferring simple and natural explanations. Indeed Cardinal Bona reproaches him for his excessive subtilty (quandoque nimium subtiliter). The Ordo Romanus VI, St. Thomas Aquinas, Durandus, the Jesuit P. Scortia, and others give the same reason.

[….]

[St. Thomas on the Use of Incense]

Now, what are we to make of St. Thomas’s response to the objection regarding the use of incense in the Church (this irrefragable doctor, who cannot be contradicted with impunity in the Schools of Theology, where he justly bears the excellent title of Angelic)? It is to dispel bad odors: Ut scilicet per bonum odorem depellatur si quid corporaliter pravi odoris in loco fuerit, quod posset provocare horrorem.[4] Dominic Soto, Cardinal Bellarmine, Genebrard, Scortia, Gavantus, M. Meurier, and others whom we cite later on in the work, all adopt the same reason.

[….]

[The Paschal Candle]

In the Benediction of the Paschal Candle, the Church herself teaches us that its purpose is to give light during the night: Cereus iste, in honorem nominis tui consecratus, ad noctis huius caliginem destruendam indeficiens perseveret. Thus it is left burning until the morning (flammas eius lucifer matutinus inveniat[5]).

[…]

The Council of Trent teaches us (along with the whole tradition) that water is mixed into the wine in the chalice as an imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ who, we think, did the same: quod Christum Dominum ita fecisse credatur.[6] And why did our Lord dilute his wine at the Last Supper? Because, as St. Thomas and many theologians and scholastics tell us, it was the custom of the place to do so (secundum morem illius terrae).

[4. Conclusion]

The method we have supposed is not novel, its purpose is not unusual or surprising. Rather to the contrary, there are authors who absolutely reject every mystical reason, regarding their different applications as impractical. And the truth is that since everything in ritual and discipline is subject to perpetual change, it is quite difficult to assign mysteries to the Church’s customs and practices. Let us say, for example, that I want the chasuble, which was once entirely round and reached down to the floor, to be a symbol of charity which (according to St. Peter) covers a multitude of sins. Today this vestment is significantly shortened, trimmed and open at the sides. What possible relation could this modern garment have with the proposed mystical reason?

Or again, the Cardinal bishops were once seven in number. They could represent the seven angels or seven Churches of Asia. But now that there are only six, what can they represent? The six wings of the Seraphim? Hence the difficulty or rather the impossibility of allegorizing practices that are subject to such variation.

[….]

[Apology for Mystical Reasons]

Thus, following the understanding and taste of all these different authors, I have seen fit to explain the ceremonies of the Mass in their simple, literal, and historical sense, but with this difference, that I do not go so far as some of them. God forbid that I should ever condemn the mystic writers or mystical reasons. On this point I hold to what I said in my Letter to M. Jurieu, and to what I shall say again in the present work. To put it simply, everything I say here about historical reasons is always without prejudice to the mystical reasons. Further, even if I seem to privilege these latter, it is not that I have made my own decisions, but that I have sought the truth, and I will always be happy to learn from not only pastors and superiors, but from the littlest disciples and smallest children of the Church. Quaero non affirmo.


NOTES:

[1] A Protestant leader.

[2] https://books.google.co.il/books?id=g5xbAAAAcAAJ

[3] Communion sous les deux especes, pag. 167.

[4] De Vert omits the rest of Thomas’ response, which adds a spiritual explanation: “[The use of incense] has reference to two things: first, to the reverence due to this sacrament, i.e. in order by its good odor, to remove any disagreeable smell that may be about the place; secondly, it serves to show the effect of grace, wherewith Christ was filled as with a good odor, according to Genesis 27:27: “Behold, the odor of my son is like the odor of a ripe field”; and from Christ it spreads to the faithful by the work of His ministers, according to 2 Corinthians 2:14: “He manifesteth the odor of his knowledge by us in every place”; and therefore when the altar which represents Christ, has been incensed on every side, then all are incensed in their proper order.”

[5] Of course, even a cursory fair reading of the Exultet, with its florid descriptions of Christ as the Light of the World, and comparisons of the candle with the Pillar of Fire, would make it one of the strongest arguments against the validity of De Vert’s reductive literal sense.

[6] Again, De Vert neglects the spiritual reason given in the same chapter of Trent: “Monet deinde sancta Synodus, praeceptum esse a Ecclesia sacerdotibus, ut squam ino in calice offerendo miscerent: tum quod Christum Dominum ita fecisse credatur, tum etiam quia e latere ejus aqua simul cum sanguine exierit, quod Sacramentum hac mixtione recolitur; et cum aquae in Apocalypsi beati Joannis populi dicantur; ipsius populi fidelis cum capite Christo unio repraesentatur.”