The Procession of the Burial of the Lord in the Rite of Braga: Two Testimonies from the 17th Century

This article, generously translated and offered to Canticum Salomonis by Br. Gregory, was originally posted on the blog Ars Splendida, run by Tiago Monteiro Dias.

Eucharistic coffer from the Convent of Christ in Tomar, MNAA

The Procession of the Burial of the Lord was formerly done during Holy Week on Good Friday “in Parasceve.” The Procession of the Dead Lord, in which a bier is carried with the image of Jesus, is an evolution of this: an eminently Eucharistic act of adoration and sympathy for the sufferings to which God submitted Himself for our redemption. Unfortunately, this praiseworthy tradition was lost in the great majority of churches and cathedrals. It has been preserved only in the Rite of Braga. Father José Manuel Semedo Azevedo in his book Processions of Holy Week and Easter Sunday not contained in the Roman Missal. A Liturgical guide to the centuries-old customs of Portugal, [Albufeira, 1960], pages 40 et seq., gives us an account of precisely this evolution.

The Procession of the Burial of the Lord is a procession with the Blessed Sacrament, contained not in the usual ostensory or monstrance, but in a small urn or chest, that recalls the burial of God on that liturgical day. It is a very simple and sombre procession after the Mass of the Presanctified, recalling the journey that the Virgin Mary, St. John, Joseph of Arimathea and the other women made to bury the Lord’s divine body.

There is no living memory of how this procession was practiced in most cathedrals and parish churches of our Portuguese dioceses, where we still find many precious chests for this rite – I recall the beautiful chest of the Convent of Christ of Tomar, offered by King Dom Sebastião to the Military Order of Christ [a.k.a, The Order of the Cross of Christ], which is now preserved in the National Museum of Ancient Art and is featured at the top of this article.

Therefore, I shall present two witnesses from the seventeenth century: the oldest of Lucas de Andrade and, at the end of the century, that of Dom Leonardo de São José, canon of Santa Cruz of Coimbra, which I transcribe here in full, […], accompanied by some explanatory notes of mine.

One archaic aspect of this procession is the wearing of the amice on the head and not on the neck, as it is worn nowadays. This fact may be due not so much to the antiquity of this procession but to Eastern influence, for it was brought from Jerusalem in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries by Father Paulo de Portalegre. Alternatively, it may be due to the fact that it was a religious introduction, for in the fifteenth century as at present, friars and monks were the only clergymen who covered their heads with the amice, with which they lined their hoods during liturgical celebrations. From them it then spread to diocesan churches. By the fifteenth century secular clerics already covered their heads with the biretta.

The change that led to the substitution of the Blessed Sacrament for the image of the dead Lord can be explained as the maintenance of an already deeply rooted devotion of the faithful to this Good Friday procession, when it was faced with the prohibition by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (SCR) of any exposition and procession of the Blessed Sacrament on that day. Thus we find it in the Constitutions of the Bishopric of Coimbra of 1929:

1575. – It is not lawful to expose the Holy Eucharist publicly for the adoration of the faithful after the Mass of the Presanctified (SCR nº 4049).

1576. It is an intolerable abuse to have a procession with the Blessed Sacrament on Good Friday (SCR n. 2089 and 2668).

If it was prohibited, it is obviously because the custom existed! To circumvent the Holy See’s prohibition, it was decided (soundly, in my opinion), to resort to the use of a sculpted image of a recumbent Jesus. The Rite of Braga, which was not included in the prohibition due to having its own proper liturgy and customs, retained the use of the Blessed Sacrament in this procession.

Both witnesses are almost identical. Dom Leonardo de São José improves and specifies some details omitted by Andrade, but the structure of the procession is exactly the same:

  • Initial rites post Missam :
    • Placement of the Blessed Sacrament in the chest;
  • Simple incensation.
  • Procession proper of two rows of clerics, Orders, and confraternities, all with heads covered and lit candles in hand:
  • Singing of the Heus.
  • Arriving at the chapel of the deposition and final rites:
    • Deposition of the chest in a convenient place,
    • Simple incensation.
  • Return to the sacristy in silence.


Andrade makes a note at the end about what to do in the case of a church that should have no tomb for the priests carry upon their shoulders.

D. Leonardo de S. José proposes the chant O salutaris hostia for when the Blessed Sacrament arrives at the chapel and is incensed, noting that not only the clergy wear their heads covered with amice or surplices (according to each’s function), but also the members of the Orders and lay faithful have to cover theirs with cloaks, mantles or opasFOOTNOTE: Footnote, which does not appear in Andrade. Let us see, then, how the Procession of the Lord’s Burial was done in the 17th century:

In Lucas de Andrade, Manual of the ceremonies of the solemn Office of Holy Week …, António Álvares, Lisbon, 1653, pp. 111-124.

§ 7. Of the procession they call the Burial.

I confess that, diligently searching for some book which might enlighten me about the ceremonies of this procession, which devotion has introduced into this Kingdom, [and] which should be maintained, I have not obtained one, and of the many writers who wrote of ceremonies which I managed to obtain, all conclude with this rubric of the Missal: that having said the prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, etc, Facta reverentia altari, sacerdos cum ministris discedit, as we concluded in number 83 above.

  1. However, since this act of so much piety and devotion is rooted in this Kingdom of Portugal, and in most of its churches is celebrated with so much orderliness and harmony, it seemed to me from what I have seen in some of them, especially in the See of this Court, in the Royal Chapel of His Majesty, whose doctrine and observation in the ceremonies can serve as an example to the cathedrals of the world, in the parishes of St. Julian and St. Nicholas and in the convents, where they seek to get everything right, that there should be a general rule that, just as it there is one faith, devotion, piety and affection, so too there should be unity in the ceremonies and as Pope Clement VIII says, in the bull that goes at the beginning of the Missal: Conveniens est, ut qui omnes unum sumus in corpore quod est Ecclesia, et de un corpore Christi participamus, una, et eadem celebrandi ratione uniusque officii, et ritus observatione in hoc ineffabili, and tremendous sacrifice utamur , and thus celebrate the divine offices all in the same way, removing abuses wherever they may be. Likewise also let there be one way of celebrating the memory of the sentiment which all creatures had in the death and burial of the Redeemer. Let us take part in this act with the thoughts and sentiments of the Virgin Mother and our Lady, of the Holy Evangelist, of the glorious Magdalene, together with the two devout disciples and Marys, who were the ones present at that sad and painful spectacle.
  2. With this consideration (rending our hearts with pain and suffering, weeping for our sins that were the occasion of the death of the Redeemer, whom we offend every hour with our sins more cruelly than the Pharisees, for the more obliged to such benefit and so much love, the more He feels the offences that we do to him), it will be well to assist this act. A tomb or covered chest will be prepared with a rich purple (and not black) cloth; four priests who will carry it on their shoulders, dressed with amices, albs, cinctures, stoles, and the amices placed so that they cover their heads, which they will carry girded with ropes; and the other priests with covered heads also. Before all will precede a subdeacon, dressed in the same fashion, with black maniple, who will carry a large wooden cross [1], and around its arms a towel and shall bring no acolytes. The clergy will follow in order with lit candles in hand.

89. [2] In these churches it is custom to dress three young men in black robes to represent the three Marys. They are sopranos, and carry in their hands insignia of the Passion (such as the nails, the crown, the veronicaFOOTNOTE: Footnote, or the spear). They will go separately behind the others if there are many clergy; if not, all three together, the middle representing Veronica (if he takes the veronica). The processional canopy, which will always be the best, will be carried by priests (if there are any), as we say in number 46, above.

  1. As soon as the celebrant finishes the prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, etc., the procession will go to the altar and the celebrant will take the host that has been reserved for this purpose, as we noted in the section on Thursday Mass, at number 34. He will put it inside a corporal and place this inside the tomb. While standing he will first put incense in the thurible, with the deacon assisting with the incense boat, without any reverences, and one of the two acolytes that carry the thurible. The thurible, in which he will put incense and then the other without blessing them, and giving the incense boat to the acolyte, [the deacon] will take a thurible and will give it to the celebrant, without kissing the chains or the hands. The celebrant shall incense the Sacrament thrice while kneeling, and rising up, shall close the tomb. The choir shall begin the Heus, continuing them in the procession. The celebrant will go behind the tomb with the deacon and subdeacon, whose heads are also covered, and all will repeat alternatim the Heus with their verses. So the procession shall go within the church, without departing from it, to the place where the Lord shall be present these days, which shall be well adorned with candles. When the priests bearing the tomb arrive, they shall put it in the place where it shall rest, and kneeling before the altar the celebrant (with the deacon and subdeacon on either side), first puts incense in the thurible (standing, as stated above), will incense the tomb three times. Then the priest shall give the thurible to the deacon, who shall give it to the acolyte, and kneeling the celebrant shall begin this sung responsory:

V. Æstimatus sum. And the choir will continue:

R. Cum descendentibus in lacum: factus sum sicut homo, sine adjutório inter mortuos liber.

Having finished the celebrant will say:

R. Signatum est monumentum, volventes lapidem ad ostium monumenti, ponentes milites, qui custodirent illud.

V. In pace factus est. R. Locus ejus.

V. In pace in idipsum. R. Dormiam et requiescam.

V. Caro mea. R. Requiescet in spe.

That being said, the celebrant, on his knees, will say in a soft voice, the following prayer:


Domine Jesu Christe, qui hora diei ultima de cruce depositus in brachiis tuæ Sanctissimæ matris, ut pie creditur, reclinatus fuisti, cujus animam mortis tuæ gladius pertransibat, quinque post maternal amplexus, et amaros, ac lacrymosos singultos, in sepulchro reclusus triduo quievisti: Concede , ut qui tuam collimus passionem, ipsi devictis hostibus, ab instantibus malis, et a morte perpetua liberemur. Qui vivis et regnas in sæcula sæculorum. The choir shall answer in the same tone and mode: Amen.

  1. At the end of the prayer, they will put out their candles and put the cross on the Gospel side, outside the altar. Then they return to the sacristy in silence, in the same way they came. They will say Vespers in choir and when they finish, the candles of the altar shall be put out, as we have said above in number 84.
  2. Note that if there is no tomb, the priest will place the Sacrament in the chest of the closed tabernacle and cover it with a purple veil, not a black one, and carry it in his hands under the processional canopy, his head covered with the amice, and will not say the Heus, nor anything else while taking the Lord. When he is come to the place where it shall stay, the deacon, kneeling, shall receive the chest from the hands of the celebrant and shall place it in the reserved place.

In the afternoon at the customary time, Matins of Saturday will be sung as we said above in number 85.

[1] He refers to a processional cross, with the long rod, clearly, and not to the material of which it is made.

[2] It was not my mistake: it jumps from number 87 to number 89, however, if there is any break in the ritual speech, it would have been only a lapse of the typographer.


The second witness is Dom Leonardo de São José, Economicon sacrum of ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies, applied to the use not only of the Augustinian Canons Regular of the Congregation of Santa Cruz of Coimbra, but also of all clergy, Manuel Lopes Ferreira’s Workshop, Lisbon, 1693, pp. 647-651.

Title IX – Of the procession called the Burial, when it concludes the office of Friday in Parasceve I.

In the section on Friday of Holy Week, we passed over the procession of the Burial, which in the churches of this Kingdom is usually done in the office of said day, since there is no mention of it in the Roman Ceremonial and this ours conforms in everything with it. However, we find it more convenient to deal with it in the form found in the Ceremonial of Campelo [1] and in the Holy Week of Andrade [2]. Where the aforementioned ceremonials are lacking, this [my] ceremonial will be able to supply their lack.


For this most devout act, which the devotion of the faithful has introduced, a tomb or chest will be prepared, so that the Blessed Sacrament may be closed in. The tomb will be covered with a rich white cloth, as is the custom in the Holy SeeFOOTNOTE: Footnote of this city, ​​and not purple, in Andrade’s opinion. For the purpose of of this procession two hosts will be consecrated at the Mass of Maundy Thursday, which will be placed in the ostensory or chalice, which is then placed in the tomb. On Friday, the celebrant puts the consecrated hosts on the altar, putting one of them in a corporal and placing it in the little coffer reserved for this purpose. After locking it with a key and covering it with a small white veil, he will place it behind the chalice on the corporal. At the end of the Mass, after the prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, etc., he shall put incense in the two thuribles without blessing or reverences, with the deacon holding the incense boat. Kneeling, he shall incense the Sacrament, which is in the coffer solito more. He gives the coffer to the deacon, who will receive it kneeling and place it within the tomb over a corporal that is to be spread in it. All the while the celebrant kneels. When the tomb is closed, the procession begins. A subdeacon vested in a black folded chasuble (not the one of the Mass) will take the lead bearing the uncovered cross raised on a rod, and on both sides of the cross will be two candle bearers with lit candles of common wax. The clergy will follow in processional order with lit candles of the same wax in their hands.


In the middle of the procession there will be three sopranos covered with twill robes, representing the three Marys, who will accompany the body of the Lord to the grave, who usually carry the insignia of the Passion. These will sing the Heus alternately with the priests carrying the tomb and the clergy (which all will repeat). The tomb will be carried on the shoulders of four priests clothed in amices, albs, cinctures, stoles and black chasubles, the amices, which they should wear girded with ropes (as Andrade says in this place), placed so that they cover their heads, and . The other priests also cover their heads. The two thurifers will go ahead of the tomb incensing the path of the procession, which will be done inside the church, without leaving it, to the place that is set up for the Lord to rest in for these three days. Behind the tomb come the celebrant and ministers of the altar with their heads covered with amices, as mentioned above, and all ecclesiastics and laity will have their heads covered, namely, ecclesiastics with surplices, Military Orders with cloaks, etc.


When the priests who carry the tomb arrive at the chapel (which will be respectfully prepared for the Lord’s body with candles) they will put it on the altar. When there is a grave in which to put the coffer with the Lord, the celebrant will take it and give it to the deacon to put on the altar. The celebrant will kneel before the altar with the deacon and subdeacon on either side, first putting incense in the thurible while standing, then incensing as in the beginning. Then he will repose Him in the tomb, turning the key. Meanwhile the singers can sing: O salutáris Hostia, etc.


After the tomb is incensed, the celebrant will begin this sung responsory, on his knees, next to the altar:

V. Æstimatus sum. And the choir will continue:

R. Cum descendentibus in lacum, factus sum sicut homo, sine adjutório inter mortuos liber.

V. Sepulto Domino [3]. R. Signatum est monumentum, volventes lapidem ad hostium monumenti, rapporteurs milites, qui custodirent illud.

V. In pace factus est. R. Locus ejus.

V. In pace in idipsum. R. Dormiam et requiescam.

V. Caro mea. R. Requiescet in spe.


Domine Jesu Christe, qui hora diei ultima de Cruce depositus in brachiis tuæ Sanctissimæ matris, ut pie creditur, reclinatus fuisti, cujus animam mortis tuæ gladius pertransibat, quique post maternos amplexus, et amaros, ac lacrymosos singultos, in sepulchro reclusus triduo quievisti: concede, ut qui tuam collimus Passionem, ipsi devictis hostibus, ab instantibus malis, et a morte perpetua liberemur. Qui vivis et regnas in sæcula sæculorum.

And the choir will respond in the same tone and mode: Amen.

While this act lasts, the bystanders will have their lit candles which they carried in their hands and, after it has finished, they will be extinguished. They will return to the sacristy in silence in the fashion that they came and all will go in peace.

[1] João Campelo de Macedo, Treasury of Ceremonies … , 1657.

[2] Lucas de Andrade, Manual of the ceremonies of the Solemn Office of Holy Week … , Lisbon, 1653.

[3] Don Leonardo of St. Joseph adds this verse, which was omitted by Lucas de Andrade, but which makes perfect sense and is referred to in other authors, including the already mentioned work of Father José Manuel Semedo Azevedo, prior to the reform of the liturgy of B. Pope Paul VI: The Lord having been buried (this is the incipit omitted by Andrade), the monument (sepulcher) was sealed, having been set soldiers to guard it. Evidently, Andrade did not omit it because it was not said it in the Royal Chapel of Lisbon or in the other churches of that city, but because it was a verse so well known in the liturgy, taken from the Sacred Scripture, that its explicit reference was perfectly dispensable, since any clergyman would know.

The Funeral of Christ: Franciscan Treasures of Good Friday

A guest article by Anaïs Uberti, a student in Jerusalem and communications director at the Terra Sancta Museum.

Today churches around the world celebrate and commemorate the Passion and death of Jesus Christ. Each year, on the very site where the historical events took place, in the Holy Sepulcher, a ceremony takes place that is one of a kind: the Funeral of Christ. The most intense moments of the Easter Triduum in Jerusalem are brought to life by the Franciscans of the Holy Land bring to life with the use of exceptional liturgical objects.

Each year on Good Friday, thousands of pilgrims gather in Jerusalem from all parts of the world. They come to celebrate the Passion of Our Lord on Calvary, and follow the Way of the Cross through the streets of the Old City. In the evening in the Holy Sepulcher, the Funeral of Christ takes place following an ancient custom that goes back to the beginning of the Franciscan presence in Jerusalem. Its current form has not changed since 1750.


©M.-A. Beaulieu/Custodia Terrae Sanctae (CTS)


The funeral procession begins in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, and is punctuated by readings from the Gospel. After of moment of silent prayer, the Franciscans raise their voices gradually in the twilight of the Holy Sepulcher to intone Psalm 51 (50) “Miserere mei, Deus–have mercy on me, O God.” The procession of the faithful makes its way slowly to Calvary, bearing the crucifix on which a statue of Christ has been nailed. The statue used this year was offered to the Holy Land by the Catholics of Colombia. The only sound that breaks the silence of the Deposition at the high point of the ceremony is the rustle of the ministers’ vestments: a rich 19th century Spanish set of black velvet with gold and silver embroidery, decorated with the instruments of the Passion, made in Valencia specially for the Holy Sepulcher. At each station during the procession, the Custos vests one of the six priests with a black stole. The set of stoles was recently restored by the Sister Adorers of Saint Savior, who live in the Milk Grotto of Bethlehem. Particular care is taken on this day in the choice of vestments, in order to express the deep reverence and gratitude of the faithful to the Creator for the sacrifice of his Son. For this occasion, the altar of Calvary is also dressed in its most beautiful array. The Greek altar, only allowed to be used by the Latins once per year for this ceremony, is specially dressed in an antependium belonging to the same Spanish set.


In the background, the Custos of the Holy Land vested in a cope of black velvet. The deacons are vested in dalmatics from the same Spanish set. ©M.-A. Beaulieu/CTS


When the effigy of Christ arrives on Calvary, two deacons take off their dalmatics and remove the crown of thorns with pincers and the nails in his hands and feet with a hammer, placing them on four plates donated by Charles II of Spain. The hammer-strikes on the wood resound throughout Golgotha, otherwise silent despite being packed with faithful and pilgrims.



The deacon holds a crown of thorns he has just removed from the statue of Christ with pincers. He prepares to place it on the Spanish plate in the foreground. On the two sides of the altar are the two pokals (Austrian and Polish) and the aspersorium.
©M.-A. Beaulieu/CTS



Wrapped in a white cloth, the dead Christ is then carried to the Stone of Unction. Here the Custos of the Holy Land kneels and, removing his cope, gently anoints the body, symbolically representing Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. He then pours perfumes on the body with an aspersorium of silver filigree. Then he sprinkles grains of incense from two silver pokals offered by Emperor Leopold I (Hapsburg) and Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, voïvode  of Krakow in the 17th century.


The Custos incenses and perfumes the body of Christ on the Stone of Unction. To the right, the silver aspersorium contains the perfumes
©M.-A. Beaulieu/CTS


Then Christ is carried to the Aedicule and placed on the stone of the tomb. There it rests until Holy Saturday morning, for the proclamation in the Holy Sepulcher of the Lord’s Resurrection and the victory of life over death.


Christ in the Tomb. ©M.-A. Beaulieu/CTS


The Funeral of Christ in the Holy Sepulcher


At the Stone of Unction, the Custos sprinkles incense on the Body of Christ during the Funeral of Christ

I. Introduction

Most Catholics will be familiar with the multi-part reading of the Passion Gospel during the liturgies of Holy Week in the Roman Rite. In previous centuries all throughout Europe, elaborately staged, mimetic enactments of the Passion took place in and out of the liturgy, but especially during the Gospel of the Liturgy of the Presanctified.

The Good Friday Procession for the Burial of Our Lord survived in the Rite of Braga, even after the general adoption of the Roman Rite and the various Tridentine prohibitions regarding these florid Passion dramas of the Middle Ages. The ceremony has also survived in the Holy Sepulcher by a similar accommodation.

For the liturgy of Good Friday, the Tridentine Missal prescribed the three-part recitation of John’s Gospel, and nothing more. The Franciscans of the Holy Sepulcher faithfully adopted the Tridentine reforms, but preserved the Funeral of Christ (Processio funebris Feria IV in Parasceve) by transferring it out of the Liturgy of the Presanctified to the evening of Good Friday.

File:Gillis Mostaert I - Passion play on the city square in Antwerp.jpg
Passion play on the city square in Antwerp, Gillis Mostaert

Here it continues to flourish as a paraliturgical devotion for the edification of modern pilgrims and visitors, and stands as a unique remnant of the faithful fervor of medieval Latin Christianity for the Passion of Our Lord. It is attended by nearly 250 friars and clergy from the patriarchate, and thousands of native and pilgrim Christians. The Franciscan ceremony has this further advantage, that it is performed in the very sacred places that Our Lord sanctified with the blood of His Passion.

The ceremony unfolds in seven stations, following nearly the same route as the daily procession. At each station, the corresponding verses from various Gospels are read, with certain dramatic elements accompanying the crucifixion, deposition, anointing, and burial of the latter stations. Originally, each station featured a homily and not a Gospel reading, but the homilies became too long and so they were replaced by Biblical texts, now read in vernacular languages.

Readers can follow the ceremony beside our commentary in the Ordo processionis funebris pro feria IV in Parasceve, itself taken largely from the 1925 Ordo Processionum (pp. 69 et sqq in the PDF), or watch videos from past years here and here.


II. The Six Stations and their Gospels

(1) The Chapel of the Apparition/Mary Magdalene (Mt 20: 1-5; 20 – 25, Italian)
(2) Shrine of the the Division of Christ’s Garments (Mk 14:53 – 72, Greek or Polish)
(3) Shrine of the Crowning and the Improperia (Lk 22:66-71; 23:1-12 , German)
(4) The Chapel of the Crucifixion, Latin altar, (Place of Crucifixion) (Jn 19:1-16), English)
(5) The Chapel of the Crucifixion, Greek altar (Place where Christ Expired) (Jn 19:17-37, French)
(6) The Stone of Unction (anointing ceremony and Arabic sermon)
(7) The Tomb or Aedicule (Jn 19:38-42, Spanish)

a) First through Fourth Stations: From the Chapel of the Apparition to the Chapel of the Crucifixion (Ad capellam apparitionis; Ad capellam divisionis vestimentorum; Ad columnam coronationis et improperiorum; Ad locum crucifixionis D.N.J.C)

The procession begins at 8:10pm in the Chapel of the Apparition, with the following ministers:

The Custos (the superior of the Franciscans in the Holy Land and custodian of all the holy sites) in alb, stole, and cope, who is assisted by the Vicar of the Custody and the Steward, vested the same way; six priests in Franciscan habit and four deacons in dalmatics; the Secretary of the Custody in stole bearing a special crucifix on which an effigy of Christ with articulated limbs has been affixed; and nearly three-hundred friars and local clergy take part, all in surplices.

The black vestment set used by the Custos and four deacons is a 19th century Spanish set.

Each station begins with a chant, after which one of the six priests dons a black stole and reads the Gospel passage that corresponds to the station, retaining the stole after his reading. On the way between the stations, the cantors chant the Miserere (Psalm 50) with the antiphon Parce Domine between each verse.

The procession begins, like the daily process, at the Chapel of Mary Magdalene, also known as the Chapel of the Apparition, which is located to the north of the Tomb and is the part of the Holy Sepulcher belonging to the Latin Church, and thence passes through the shrines in the ambulatory to the various stations. There is no explicit dramatic element until the fifth station in the Shrine of the Crucifixion, on the far side of the ambulatory next to the southern door.

The shrine is built on top of Mt. Calvary itself, the exposed rock of which can be seen in several places. One has to climb up a steep staircase to reach the top. The shrine is richly decorated with frescos, scores of lamps and candles and a large crucifixion scene above the Greek altar, The Altar of the Crucifixion proper. The two Latin altars south of the Greek altar commemorate the place of crucifixion (The Altar of the Nails of the Cross or the Medici Altar) and the Mother of Sorrows, the place where Mary stood.

The procession goes first to the Latin altar–at the place where Christ was nailed to the Cross–for the fourth station.

b) Fifth Station: The Deposition (Ad locum ubi Christus in Cruce exspiravit)

Related image

When the Gospel of the fourth station is finished, the procession passes to the Greek altar (which the Latins are allowed to use uniquely for this ceremony) where the processional cross is taken behind the Greek altar and placed to the very hole where the Holy Cross was inserted into the stone of Mt. Calvary:

Deinde ad locum ubi Christus exspiravit proceditur, et collocatur Crux in ipso foramine Calvariæ rupis ubi Crux Christi erecta fuerat. Hic habetur quinti Evangelii lectio Gallico idiomate.

At the point in the Gospel reading when Christ expires on the Cross, there are some moments of silence, and then a deacon finishes the Gospel, which tells of Joseph of Arimathea’s intercession with Pilate, in an elaborate chant tone.

At the end of the Gospel, two of the deacons. representing Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, remove their dalmatics to perform the deposition ceremony:

Expleto Evangelio, per binos diaconos, Iosephi et Nicodemi personas agentes, fit Imaginis Christi e Cruce pendentis Depositio.

The ceremony takes place in solemn silence, except for three hammer strokes. First, the Crown of Thorns is removed, and placed on a silver platter donated by Charles V.


The two deacons behind the Cross remove the nails from Christ’s hands and feet, first striking the wood of the Cross with a hammer. The first deacon removes the first nail from Christ’s right hand. When the nail is removed, the articulated arm of Christ slides down at the shoulder. Likewise, after a second hammer stroke rings out in the silence of the chapel, the second nail is removed, and the other arm swings down. Likewise for the third nail, and all are placed in a second plate. The Body is lowered from the cross with a white cloth.


The deposed Christ is laid on the altar where the burial shroud has been spread. The choir begins the chant Velum templi scissum est.

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c) Sixth Station: Anointing at the Stone of Unction (Ad petram unctionis)

At this point, the six priests in stoles bear the body down the mountain of Calvary to the Stone of Unction. Here the Custos removes his cope and girds himself with a towel to anoint the body.

The anointing consists of three parts.

(1) The Custos sprinkles grains of incense onto the uncovered Body.
(2) He then anoints the Body with myrrh.
(3) Finally, he incenses the Body.


The  Stone of the Unction stands directly opposite the Southern door (the only modern entry point into the Sepulcher). A large mosaic depicting the deposition and anointing provides the backdrop for this moving ceremony.

After the anointing, a homily is delivered in Arabic for the local faithful.

d) Seventh Station: The Burial in the Tomb or Aedicule (Ad sanctum sepulchrum)

After the anointing, the Body of Christ wrapped in the Shroud is carried to the Tomb by the six priests, where it is reposed in the Tomb of Christ Himself and incensed to the chant Sepulto Domino.


The ceremony ends with the Christus factus est, then the Custos reads the following prayer, after which the clergy depart for the sacristy in silence:

Réspice, quǽsumus, Dómine, super hanc famíliam tuam, pro qua Dóminus noster Iesus Christus non dubitávit mánibus tradi nocéntium et crucis subíre torméntum. Qui tecum vivit et regnat in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.

*Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this post are provided courtesy of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

This article is being printed in advance of Holy Week. During Easter Week, we hope to post an eye-witness account of this year’s ceremony, along with a more in-depth look at the historic vestments, vestments, and decorations used during the Procession. 

The Voyages Liturgiques: A Roundup

Several weeks ago we posted the last of our series of excerpts from the Voyages Liturgiques, a work that we hope has captured your imagination as much as it has ours. Happily there have been two grateful responses, one on New Liturgical Movement and on by the Rad Trad, both of them pointing out the role that cathedral chapters used to play in maintaining exemplary liturgical life in the Latin West.

I wanted to round out the series with a reflection of my own, pointing out some aspects of De Moléon’s authorial voice. Is he simply a liturgical tourist, a curiosity-seeker, or is his purpose more serious, or more sinister? Are the Voyages an amateur’s impressions, or a reformer’s manifesto?

Rarely does De Moléon actually express a direct opinion about the rites he observes—an occasional disparaging comment about medieval texts, a fastidious remark about “passing over” certain things he has found in older books. Much, however, is implied. In fact, the work is even more valuable once the reader realizes that its author is not an impartial observer. All told, when we count up what he decided to include, and what he must have excluded, and range together those aspects of liturgical life that seem to exercise the most fascination upon his imagination, we get a rather clear picture of a personality.


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Lord Byron contemplating the Colosseum in Rome, by James Tibbitts Willmore or his brother and pupil, Arthur Willmore

His personal “taste”—the first word of the preface, and a major theme of his century—largely governs what he includes in his account, and what he excludes. His clear prejudices and predilections shed an intriguing light on the character of the age, and of the reforming zeal that was brewing in the Gallican Church.

As any writer, De Moléon writes to please contemporary taste. His quest for “the most pure and ancient antiquity” in the cities and provinces of France was intended to flatter the antiquarian fancies of that century of Italian journeys and Versailles’ Apollonian king. The same taste leads him to admire survivals of the ceremonial splendor of the Middle Ages—pre-Mass processions, florid Tropes, Offertory verses, sanctuary veils, episcopal masses, etc.—as much as vestiges of Roman baths and funereal urns: he rejoices wherever he sniffs the sea-breeze of antiquity!

Yet, though the language of his Preface might seem to belie it, our traveler was seldom interested in the merely curious or antiquarian; his interest is more sure and mature than an aesthetic preoccupation with old ceremony.  

I say this because, all told, he shows a keen preference for and understanding of the elements of integral liturgical life in the Roman tradition: survivals of the ancient baptismal rituals in the Easter Vigil, the full episcopal liturgy with assisting local clergy, the lives of observant and communal colleges and chapters, processions and stations, and in general all the colorful rituals of urban religious life that assimilated French towns to the world of the Ordo Romanus I. He either finds these things currently in use, and praises them; or through books finds them observed in centuries past, and lavishes his attention on the older state of affairs.

In each case, the picture that emerges, based partly on observations of contemporary practice, but also largely on ceremonies culled from ancient practice, is a sort of “classical ideal” for each city in question, a picture of its liturgical life at high tide, when the chapters were observant, the people wholeheartedly participating, and the liturgy fully integrated into urban life. We hasten to add that, in many cities covered in the Voyages, actual practice often strayed not too far behind this “classic ideal.”

Jungmann explains this spirit of the age well:

“The desire was to get free from all excess of emotions, free from all surfeit of forms; to get back again to ‘noble sim­plicity.’ As in contemporary art, where the model for this was sought in antiquity and attained in classicism, so in ecclesiastical life the model was perceived in the life of the ancient Church. And so a sort of Catholic clas­sicism was arrived at, a sudden enthusiasm for the liturgical forms of primitive Christianity, forms which in many cases one believed could be taken over bodily, despite the interval of a thousand years and more, even though one was far removed from the spirit of that age” (MS, 152).

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Johann Joachim Winckelmann

Because he rarely digresses to express his own opinions, it is not easy to tell what precisely our author admires in this “classic ideal,” nor why–at least, what is important is that it is ancient! But at first glance we can say he shows a sound taste for good principles, for the fully communal, urban episcopal liturgy, sung from memory, rife with public processions, blessings, sprinklings, and public acts of penance. There is much to commend in this vision.

However, the rationalist spirit of the age, already present in 16th-century liturgical commentary, is also apparent. For example, he frequently chastises the “mystics” for imposing senseless (if often “edifying”) explanations for ceremonies that really only have a simple literal causes. Like a less thorough-going Claude de Vert, he occasionally takes pains to expose the “genuine” literal sense. The arrangement of candles is usually to be explained by the need for light rather than any mystical reason (à la de Vert). This sometimes leads him to make rather bold claims, such as dismissing the whole ritual of extinguishing a symbolic number of candles during Tenebrae, as an irrational accident:

“However, far from extinguishing candles on these days when Matins begins at four in the afternoon, on the contrary they should have lighted them toward the evening, since light is more needed at that time than at four in the afternoon. This was not taken into account when people stopped saying this particular office near the end of night. Doubtless certain mystics who are ignorant of the true reasons for the institution of ceremonies will find some mysteries in these three days: as if they really thought that people acted differently on these three days than they did on every other day.”

Several of his enlightened “talking points” seem to cast a long shadow toward the Synod of Pistoia (1786) and even to the post-conciliar reforms. How truly do De Moléon’s observations betray allegiance to contemporary Gallican liturgical reform projects, and to the general rationalist taste of his age? Surprisingly much.

For instance, his remarks show that he prefers the simple, unfurnished altar arrangement of antiquity, without retable, candles, or furnishings; the simple bishop’s chair in the center apse; he is fond of calling the altar the Table of Communion; the austere ritual of the Carthusians, he (wrongly) thinks, preserves the most ancient liturgical forms. Here is a list we made of elements he repeatedly, if indirectly circles about, indicating either his clear fascination or outright preference for them, so that they become “talking points” of his observations:

  • The desirability of communion under two species; communion of priest and laity from the same Host
  • The full Pre-mass procession with water blessing, sprinkling of the people, and visitation of the chapter house
  • Candles: for lighting, not for mystical reasons.
  • Afternoon Tenebrae is a irrational mistake.
  • Ablutions that involve drinking water/wine used to rinse the fingers is unsanitary.
  • The bishop’s chair should be simple and stand behind the altar in the apse, as in antiquity.
  • Altars should be bare (no decoration, retable, candles) outside the celebration of Mass.
  • The reredos is an innovation, and further breaks up visibility in the sanctuary.
  • Prayers at the foot of the altar are a modern innovation.
  • The Last Gospel is a modern innovation.
  • The Carthusians preserve the most primitive uses.
  • Full-length prostration on the ground is the true, ancient form of humiliation, not the more modern forms of kneeling or bowing.
  • The excellence of the practice of expulsion and reconciliation of penitents during Lent
  • Use of the Common Preface for Sundays of Lent is more ancient and logical, since they are not fasting days.
  • He loves stations and processions of all kinds (Rogations, Lenten stations, etc), but mentions few devotions to saints.
  • The Hours should be sung separately, as we find in ancient times, not in blocks.
  • On fasting days, there should be no anticipation of Vespers.
  • All should receive communion on Good Friday
  • Mass in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (and frequent exposition in general probably) is a modern innovation and inappropriate.
  • Silent adoration is most fitting, without song or ceremony.

If we compare these points with the agenda of 17th and 18th-century French reformers, there are many parallels. Readers may recall that Voyages’ author was raised at the Abbey of Port-Royal itself, the capital of Jansenism. The ever censorious Guéranger himself accuses de Moléon directly of having been a Jansenist:

“(1718). Le Brun Desmarettes, acolyte, author of the breviaries of Orléans and Nevers. Under the pseudonym Sieur de Moléon, he wrote the interesting Voyages liturgiques de France, ou Recherches faites en diverses villes du royaume. Paris, 1718, in-8°. We owe the latest edition of the book of John of Avranches’ Liber de Officiis Ecclesiasticis to this Jansenist author” (Ins. lit. Vol. II, ch. 22, p. 479).

The fatal link between Jansenism and liturgical reform, which Guéranger was so keen to establish, has been challenged by later scholars. Guéranger tries to paint Jansenism as a crypto-Protestant movement and a haven for enlightened sceptics. This account is echoed by Geoffrey Hull “The Proto-History of the Roman Liturgical Reform,” where he explains the Jansenist liturgical project. In a word, the Jansenists’

“habit of regarding Saint Augustine as a theological oracle led them to idolize the Church of the age in which he lived, the fifth century. If Catholics ought to follow the teachings of Saint Augustine…then they should also seek to emulate in their churches the worship of this golden age of Christianity. Hence the heretics’ contempt for the theology and liturgy of the Middle Ages.”

Modern historians are more cautious in their assessments of Jansenism as a movement. What is still a consensus view, however, is that the Gallican Church as a whole was strongly antiquarian.

The Synod of Pistoia held in the church of S. Benedetto, Pistoia, 1786.

The supposed Jansenists and the antiquarians are both united in their attempt to return to a perceived golden age of ecclesiastical discipline and practice, rejecting what they suspected to have originated in the Middle Ages and especially those ages’ contributions to the liturgical tradition. De Moléon more than once “declines to comment” on practices he finds in medieval ordinals; he wishes that the body of tropes might disappear because of their poor literary quality. The Jansenists’ famous austerity made them partial to severe penances: hence their attempts to restore public penitential rituals like that of Rouen, on which our author lavishes so much attention. De Moléon’s fascination with prostration could be noted here: it approaches the bizarre.

Unlike Protestants, Jansenists and enlightened archeologists did not deny the mystery of the Eucharist or the worship due to it, only wishing for a more moderate use of adoration. They did not deny the distinction between the ministerial and common priesthood, and the Voyages show no indication that there is any unhealthy “separation” between the people and the ministers. De Moléon says little about the people save for frequent observations to the effect of their enthusiastic participation in the liturgical customs of their city. He does not suggest that rood screens or silent canons or the Latin language is a barrier to this participation. Later reformers did aim to make the laity participate more directly in the ceremonies, singing the ordinary along with the priest, printing vernacular missals, removing rood screens, and eliminating silent parts, but such ambitions are not apparent in the Voyages.

So, what are we to say? How right was Guéranger? In my opinion, even while eschewing medieval commentary and some particular rituals, on the whole our traveler admires the contemporary liturgical life of France as a faithful expression of “the most pure and ancient antiquity.” There is only a faint trace of Jungmann’s thorough distaste for the “wild overgrowth” of the “Gothic,” or the inveterate laicism that would characterize later 20th century writers. At least overtly, he does not float in the same channel as Quesnel, De Vert, and other contemporary reformers, though he may be skirting the same banks. On the whole, the picture he paints is of a French people who are deeply engaged in their liturgical life and cathedral chapters that observe the whole office. His “taste” is for antiquity and ceremonial splendor, and this leads him to admire the pontifical liturgies of the middle ages. Admittedly, perhaps he does so because he believes them to be much more ancient than the extant source-books: expressions of the most ancient Gallic liturgies.

Liturgical Beauty and Joyful Evangelization: The Experience of the Tridentine Mass (Fr. Roberto Spataro, SDB)

The following is a translation of a conference given by Fr. Roberto Spataro on 30 September 2017, in Mantua at the Chiesa dei Santi Simone e Giuda. The conference was entitled “La bellezza della liturgia si fa evangelizzazione (EV 28)”, given on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. It is included  in a volume of Fr. Spataro’s essays soon to be published by Angelico Press, along with “The Vetus Ordo for  Church Going Forth,” which also appeared here this month.


“Liturgical Beauty and Joyful Evangelization” (EG 24):
The Experience of the Tridentine Mass

Saint Peregrine of Laziosi, Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, WI. Altarpiece by Neilson Carlin.


Mantua, 30th September 2017

Dear Sirs and Distinguished Gentlemen,

It is a great joy for me to speak this evening in the artistic setting of the church of Saints Simon and Jude, in a city so rich in history, culture, and faith. Mantua, a city that boasts so many illustrious citizens: Virgil, quel savio gentil, che tutto seppe[1]; Sordello, the troubadour who inspired the Supreme Poet’s invective against Italy, di dolore ostello, nave senza nocchiere in gran tempesta,[2] a sentiment which is true today more than ever; Vittorino da Feltre, Christian pedagogue; the Gonzaga princes, who gathered famous artists in their court, among them the composer Angelo Monteverdi. The fiftieth anniversary of this eminent musician is related to another event. In 2017 we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by which Pope Benedict XVI restored dignity to the venerable Tridentine liturgy, calling it the “extraordinary form” of the one Roman rite. Reflecting on the characteristics of this liturgical form, a passage from the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium comes to mind as a springboard for this conversation:

Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.[3]

I would like to develop my thoughts in two points.

  1. The Tridentine liturgy is beautiful.

We might say that there have been two complimentary conceptions of beauty in the history of Western civilization . The first considers beauty as the pulchrum, a proportion and harmony of parts, the perfection of form, integrity and elegance. It is an Apollonian conception found especially in the art of Greece. It appeals to reason and insists on the objectivity of the beautiful. The other conception, expounded especially by Kant, interprets beauty as a species, a sort of luminosity that breaks in upon an object, expands its substance, orienting it outside of itself and putting it in relation with the subject . The whole is in the fragment, as Urs von Balthasar would have said, that great Swiss theologian who, in his monumental work The Glory of the Lord, developed a convincing re-reading of theology in an aesthetic key. It is not by chance that there was a great harmony of thought and feeling between Hans Urs von Balthasar, theologian of beauty, and Joseph Ratzinger, pope of the liturgy and vindicator of the rights of the Latin Mass. They share a Dionysian conception of beauty that appeals to the senses and focuses on the subject. Both these aesthetic conceptions are in agreement that beauty is always very attractive. For this very reason, in Thomistic philosophy it is associated with the other transcendentals of being–unity, truth, and goodness–as part of the moral and spiritual fruition of the subject who experiences it. Now if we apply these categories to the Tridentine liturgy, we will easily grasp why it is beautiful.

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Diptych of Jeanne of France, by Rogier van der Weyden

The Tridentine liturgy is harmonious. Like a perfect diptych, its first panel opens with the “Mass of the Catechumens,” and the second with the “Mass of the Faithful.” The second part is the more important since during it the Sacrifice is offered, and so it also lasts longer. The first part has its own interior coherence: it humbly leads us into the presence of God through the prayers at the foot of the altar, with their sublime penitential orientation. Out of this humility, which is the proper basis of the relationship between creature and Creator, sinner and Redeemer, springs the supplication of the Kyrie and the prayer of the Collect. At this point, we are ready to be instructed by the Wisdom of God that is revealed in salvation history and unfolds the truth that leads us to Heaven, for only the humble will “hear” and be glad, as the Psalm says. We find a copious sprinkling of Scripture passages and Psalm verses—a prayed Bible!—that make up the text of the Introit, Gradual, Tract, Alleluia, and then the pericopes of the Epistle and the Holy Gospel. In every place we find the proportion that is the intrinsic property of beauty: texts that, except on a few special occasions, are neither too long nor too many, as is the case with the biennial or triennial cycle of the Novus Ordo. Though it had the laudable intention of offering a semi-continuous reading of the entirety of Sacred Scripture, this cycle ends up “wasting” a great number of texts that the average faithful cannot remember and, sometimes, not even hear, not only because of the length and difficulty of certain passages, but also because they are read by lectors insufficiently prepared for their task, chosen in obedience to the equality called for by an erroneous understanding of actuosa participatio. Length and bad diction are signs of vulgarity, not beauty.

The Offertory begins. The sacred silence and the kneeling position of the faithful give the moment its peculiar solemnity. The prayers of the priest have an especially harmonious structure: the offering of the host and chalice, the personal apologies, the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity. As these ancient and venerable prayers are being offered, they are accompanied by the precise, delicate gestures typical of the Tridentine liturgy, and that give the rite its unmistakable pulchritudo. These gestures are just one example of the ordered variety that makes the liturgy Vetus Ordo so truly beautiful. There are also the bows toward the cross, the kissing of the cruets by the ministers and of the altar by the priest, and even the affectionate glances toward the sacred vessels and their contents. Christ, Our Lord, is loved because he is beautiful and is beautiful because he is loved. I could go on showing how the extraordinary form of the Roman rite is beautiful because it unfolds without excess or imperfection, with calm and proportion like a melodious chant. But we should move on to other considerations.

Let us try to apply the other conception of beauty to the Tridentine liturgy. The senses of one who assists at it are touched by the Sacred, the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, to use the famous definition of Rudolf Otto. They are pervaded by a thrill of spiritual joy, to invoke the great bard of the divine beauty, Augustine of Hippo. The Sacred, i.e. the perception of God that follows his manifestation, excites both reverence and adoration, because he is tremendum; and love and attraction, because he is fascinans. Can anyone deny that reverence and adoration are especially present in the Tridentine liturgy, while unfortunately they are not well preserved in the Novus Ordo? Who would not agree with the claim that the priest—mark you, the priest, the sacrum dans and not the president of the assembly—ministers, and faithful, are all intimately drawn, (while each remaining in his proper place), toward the center of all and everything, the Crucified One enthroned on the altar, where the Sacrifice of the Cross is presented to everyone’s gaze, so that everyone may love it? This manifestation of the Sacred, transcendence and immanence, Heaven and earth, divine and human, is not merely the religious archetype identified by Otto, but the incarnation of the divine Word that wills to use the Sacred to reveal his Beauty in a human form: the divine person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has united human nature to his divine nature, and thus rendered his divinity accessible to human senses. This logic of the incarnation extends to the sacred liturgy because—as the Fathers of the Church taught and the Catechism of the Catholic Church has recalled in a timely manner—quod redemptoris nostri conspicuum fuit, in sacramenta transivit (“what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries”: CCC 1115, citing Pope St Leo I, Sermon 74, 2). Beauty strikes the senses, and the Tridentine liturgy strongly affirms the aesthetic dimension.

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St. Paul Miki and Companions

In the Latin Mass, our view is directed to a triple focal point: the crucifix, the altar and what takes place there, and the tabernacle. Our attention is seized by the fairest among the children of men: “they will look upon the one whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Our eyes linger, feasting on the beauty of the colors of the walls, their costly ornament. We follow the ministers’ sacred dance, sober and constrained to careful, rhythmic movements, and from time to time our eyes wander to the decoration of the Temple, which recounts, in various styles, the story of the salvation recalled in each holy Mass. We hear words uttered in a raised voice, in a language different from our ordinary language, because it is reserved for dialogue with God, like a code that heightens understanding and connection between those who adopt it, a sort of familial register sons use to address their Father. It is a beautiful language, as only Latin can be, with its figures of sound and word, with a compact but still mobile construction that comes from its unmistakable literary style. Further, we hear the great silence that shrouds the priestly prayers, above all the Canon Missae, because the Mystery of God who pours out his blood for me, a sinner, because he loves me and saves me, can only be uttered submissa voce. Like all great and sublime things, he loves silence, which invites everyone to recollection and earnest prayer. We are charmed by the celestial charms of the sacred music, the sound of the organ, the Gregorian chant that floats mystically on high. We smell the delicious perfume of the incense that rises to Heaven just like our prayer, and the odor of the candles, symbols of the hearts that pine with longing for Heaven. All this proclaims a hope that the world does not know, and the Church of the last few years, not comprehending the grandeur of the Vetus Ordo, seems to have forgotten. Immersed in secular matters, and entranced by transient fashions, she has become like chaff scattered in the wind.

The sense of touch is also involved: kneeling at various points in the Holy Mass permits the faithful to touch the earth, and from this position to render adoration, thanksgiving, supplication, and impetration. The sense of touch is denied contact with the eucharistic species because the consecrated Host is received directly on the tongue, an eloquent gesture that expresses all the sanctity of the Sacrament received with faith. Only the priest is permitted to touch the Body and Blood of Christ, and only with extreme delicacy, as if caressing it. In fact, on the day of his priestly ordination, his hands were anointed with the chrism, a biblical-liturgical sign of the Holy Spirit, the divine Person who through the epiclesis performs that miracle of miracles, the consecration. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 33:9), the Psalmist exclaims. The Vetus Ordo liturgy frequently repeats this verse to dispose the faithful to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ with a hunger at once spiritual and material, provided they are suitably disposed to do so.

To sum up, dear friends, we must find, perceive, and enjoy the beauty of the One who has been pierced. This is a “synaesthetic” experience that affirms sensual richness—for the sacraments are propter homines (“for us”), as Thomas Aquinas would say—so that the manifestation of the All in the fragment, of God in the space and time of the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice hic et nunc, may irradiate the Divine Mystery that is in itself the revelation of beauty. Confronted with this liturgy that is so potently theocentric and therefore respectful of all anthropological structures, we cannot help but remark, with a note of sadness, that the Novus Ordo is more impoverished, more rational, more prolix, even to the point that it becomes irritatingly and insufferably wordy in the hands of certain showman priests and ministers. A liturgy celebrated in this way is relentlessly narcissistic and vulgar.

Permit me to conclude this point about the beauty of the old liturgy with a Marian reflection. Our Lady, Tota Pulchra, is the creature in whom all beauty, insofar as it is pulchritudo and speciositas, is gathered to a Mass. The Tridentine liturgy cannot help but invoke her in the heart of the Mass: in the prayer that offers the sacrifice to the Most Holy Trinity, and in the Communicantes of the Canon. An irrepressible longing for Heaven rises from the thought of the Holy Virgin, who descends more beautiful than the dawn (Cant. 6, 9) to soften the pains of this life, where we can always count on her powerful patronage.

  1. The Beauty of the Tridentine Liturgy and Evangelization

Recall the opening citation from Evangelii Gaudium, which pointed out the relationship between the via pulchritudinis of the liturgy and the two-fold evangelical movement of the Church. The Church first allows herself to be evangelized so that she can then evangelize the world. Let us explicate this point. More than ever, the Church today needs to be oriented to Christ, her Head, her Spouse, her Founder. Christ is her Gospel, the good news that brings joy to her youth and fills her with authentic joy and hope. Unfortunately in the past few years, with a rapidity that should raise serious questions and concern, the Church has become engrossed with issues of a sociological nature, all affecting more or less the Church’s moral teaching. Many dubious proposals have been made by pastors, even those who bear serious ecclesial responsibilities, that are frankly incompatible with Gospel. The Church feels the need to be re-evangelized and led back to Christ. Pope Benedict XVI made extraordinary efforts in this direction, and his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth is an expression of a Christocentrism founded on Scripture and the sound doctrine of Tradition. He always wanted to promote a reform of the liturgy, and this program found a great expression in Summorum Pontificum.

The Tridentine Mass is truly evangelical because it is Christocentric. Just think of its conclusion: the proclamation of the prologue of the Gospel of John. It is like a hinge joining the liturgy to the daily life to which we are about to return. It proclaims the heart of the Gospel, the Mystery of the incarnation, with the beauty we have been speaking of: the hieratic movement of the priest toward, cornu evangelii (“the Gospel side”), the reading, the genuflection at the words et Verbum caro factum est, and during the Sung Mass, the musical piece performed by the schola cantorum. The Church is evangelized during the celebration of the Tridentine Mass because, as the fourth-century Father of the Church and author of very valuable liturgical-mystagogical catecheses, Cyril of Jerusalem, said, the teachings of Sacred Scripture must be gathered into a summary, the regula fidei (“the rule of faith”), the Creed of the catechism. But the Tridentine Mass itself is a catechism in action, tying us intimately to the Gospel of Christ. “What are the two principal mysteries of the Faith?” asked the unsurpassable Catechism of St Pius X. The Mass tells us. We profess our faith in God’s unity and trinity when we turn to the three divine Persons at the beginning of the Mass in the nine-fold Kyrie eleison, three times invoking the Father, three times Christ, and three times the Spirit. We adore their majesty when we sing the Gloria. We implore them to accept our offering at the Offertory. We express our desire for them to accept the sacrifice in the prayer just before the final blessing. As for the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation, passion, and death: how many signs of the cross does the priest trace out, especially during the Canon? The whole ancient liturgy and all of its texts are steeped in the theology of the Fathers of the Church, rather than the ideas of the experts and specialists of the twentieth century, and its rites are a compendium of the Holy Gospel, the Church’s real treasure that has been translated into doctrine and summarized in the Catechism.

We could continue to multiply examples of how the Tridentine Mass is a catechism for everyone, including faithful evangelizers and non-believers in need of evangelization. The plan of salvation history—creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, grace, glory, and eternal life—is taken up and synthesized in the great prayers of the Church. For instance, think of the words that the priest says as he pours the water into the chalice:

Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti [creation] et mirabilius reformasti [redemption], da nobis per huius aquae et vini mysterium eius divinitatis esse consortes [divinization and the life of grace], qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps [incarnation]. (O God, who did wonderfully create human nature, and more wonderfully still restore it, grant us through the Mystery of this water and wine, that we may be made partakers of His divinity, who deigned to become a partaker in our humanity.)

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The Confiteor in the Carthusian liturgy

Now take the Confiteor. The ritual gestures surrounding it reinvoke the whole drama of sin with great clarity and poignancy, as we kneel, beat our chests, recite the prayer, and await the priest’s absolution so sadly abolished in the Novus Ordo: Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum vestroum tribuat vobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus. In the Roman Canon, the priest asks the Father for the grace to pass the final judgment, the judgment that should be our only concern, though a serene one for Mary is praying for us: ab aeterna damnatione nos eripi et in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari.

Once she has been evangelized, the Church is ready to evangelize. The Tridentine Mass furnishes the grace that makes her disciples into zealous apostles, and her faithful into courageous missionaries. Is this not the Mass that inspired generation upon generation of our forefathers to spread the Gospel to faraway lands, often in the midst of grave dangers? When we read the chronicles of the missionary expeditions of the Jesuits and Franciscans in Asia and Latin America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we are surprised and moved by how concerned they were to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in this liturgical form that casts itself completely upon God as the giver of all things, especially the grace to make efforts of evangelization fruitful.

The usus antiquior is an effective evangelizer for another reason: it speaks to the heart of those who have lost the faith or never had it. For example, today in our western society that denies its Christian roots, some people, thirsting for recollection and interior peace, turn to oriental philosophies that, despite whatever good is in them, leave the soul in its existential loneliness. They have no God to love them, to feel loved, to love. The silence and sacrality of the Tridentine Mass is a discovery that often becomes the first step toward the faith. Others, especially the young, find our “pastoral initiatives” banal, if not outright heterodox! They are looking for solid spiritual food. The Tridentine Mass offers them this substantial nourishment. Its theology coincides completely with the fides quae (“what is believed”); here the lex credendi is the lex orandi. The simple, who are the beloved of God, intuitively recognize that something very great is taking place in the Tridentine Mass, where the priests speaks with God and all are on their knees before him. The sacred mysteries teach and evangelize them too. Every kind of person feels the fascination of the splendor of this Mass that, even when offered in a small place or with modest means, is always solemn and majestic because it is truly beautiful, beautiful with a beauty mediated through vestments, words, gestures, but founded in God the supremely beautiful. To be at this Mass is to set out on a Platonic itinerarium pulchritudinis in Deum, which begins from material signs and ascends in steps up to Reality itself. It gazes upon creation in order to rise to the creator. The experience was described by Augustine, and I will close our conversation with his words:

Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air, amply spread around everywhere, question the beauty of the sky, question the serried ranks of the stars, question the sun making the day glorious with its bright beams, question the moon tempering the darkness of the following night with its shining rays, question the animals that move in the waters, that amble about on dry land, that fly in the air; their souls hidden, their bodies evident; the visible bodies needing to be controlled, the invisible souls controlling them; question all these things. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look ; we are beautiful.’ Their beauty is their confession. Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not unchanging Beauty?[4]

Balthasar (The Creation, Fouquet)


[1] “That gentle sage, who knew all things” (Inferno, Canto VII).

[2] “Inn of sorrows, ship without a helmsman in harsh seas” (Purgatorio, Canto VI), Mandelbaum translation.

[3] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 24:

[4] Augustine, Sermon 241. Translation slightly modified from the Vatican website