Some Peculiarities of the Lyonese Use

Between offices, Aelredus and I have been busy in the scriptorium with our translation of the Voyages Liturgiques hoping to see it published eventually. In response to a question raised by one of our loyal readers struck by the curious sight of a Subdeacon leaning on a misericord to read the Epistle at the High Mass in the Lyonese use recently celebrated by the FSSP on the feast of St Irenæus, herein we provide a relevant except from Voyages’ description of Mass in the Cathedral of Lyon.

Images courtesy of FSSP Lyon

At the beginning of the collect, the Major Subdeacon [there were also two minor subdeacons] goes bare-headed [at certain times he, being a canon, wore a mitre] to the raised third stall of the first row in the front of the choir on the right-hand side. He leans on the misericord and rather reads than sings the Epistle in a moderate tone. The misericord is a wooden board the size of about two hands, over which the canons and cantors lean while they sing the psalms and hymns, and this position is considered equivalent to standing.

After the end of the Collect, the Celebrant goes to sit together with the Assistant Priests and Deacons, half on each side. The Celebrant reads the Epistle and what follows on a small iron stand by his side.

The two choir-boys set their candles on the ground by the foot of the râtelier [a candelabra] after the Collect and go up to the altar to fetch the silver tablets upon which is set a parchment with the Gradual and Alleluia. They present them to a Canon and three Perpetuals [a special rank of Canons] who had just taken their places at the first high chairs of the right side near the Great Rood. Leaning on their stalls they sing the Gradual and then give their places and the tablets over to four others who sing the Alleluia and its verse and return to their places in choir. They call this singing per rotulos. The precentor is at the first place of the Epistle side and the cantor at the first place of the Gospel side near the Great Rood.

Since the recent Mass of St Irenæus was not celebrated by the Canons of Lyon at Cathedral, it did not feature the practices described in the last paragraph. Instead, towards the end of the Alleluia, the choir-boys acting as acolytes go stand towards the back of the choir (near the nave) and hold their hands over their breast while the incense is prepared. Once the Deacon picks up the book and asks for the Celebrant’s blessing, the choir-boys go fetch their candles. This manner of holding the hands is not mentioned in the Voyages, but is described in later ceremonials. The readers of the prophecies during Holy Week also hold their arms crossed while they wait for other ceremonial actions to be completed.

Another aspect of the Lyonese use that has arrested people’s attention is the vestment used by the thurifer. It is called the orfrois de tunique, or “tunicle orphreys.” As the name suggests, it is a remnant of the full subdeaconal tunicle, since in the Cathedral, only subdeacons were allowed to be thrufiers. Hence, the 19th century ceremonial states that the thurifer is to wear the orfrois on the greatest feasts, and the Subdeacon during the short Vespers attached to the end of Holy Saturday, while assisting the Celebrant as he incenses the altar during the Magnificat. In the Voyages, Le Brun des Marettes reports that on Corpus Christi and the feast of St John the Baptist in the Cathedral, a Subdeacon clad in a mitre and orfrois led the procession after Benediction to carry the Blessed Sacrament to the neighbouring parish church, where it was reserved. Note that the Canons of the Cathedral of Lyon had the privilege of wearing a mitre, even in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. 

3 thoughts on “Some Peculiarities of the Lyonese Use

    1. I don’t think there’s a special explanation; it’s just a way to hold the arms and hands when a server isn’t carrying anything. In most of the West the custom of holding the hands together with interlocking thumbs prevailed, and in the East just keeping the arms down by one’s side, but in Lyon and perhaps elsewhere in France (I haven’t been able to confirm this) the arms were crossed.

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      1. It used to be a general pose for prayer, for everybody, not just the servers, at least in some regions. In the old-ritualist use of the Byzantine rite, it is still the normal pose for prayer during the offices and the Divine Liturgy (of course, it evolved into a more comfortable pose, like here: https://russian7.ru/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/1-270-1.jpg but generally their manuals prescribe a pose with palms on the shoulders). It is also still common in the East to cross arms like on the Lyonese use photos while approaching the Holy Communion (which creates stupid situations when an unaware Greek Catholic comes with his arms crossed to receive Communion in a Latin church, and receives only the blessing, given the different interpretation of the gesture in the West).

        Bogdan R

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