The Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem

This month the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Holy Land celebrated the Vigil and Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, held with great solemnity in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The feast is assigned to May 7th in this diocese, a peculiarity resulting from the calendar of the local use.

True Cross 3.jpg
The Finding of the True CrossAgnolo Gaddi, Florence, 1380

For centuries curious Christian visitors to the churches of Jerusalem, such as the fourth-century pilgrim Egeria, have found the more ancient, elaborate customs of the Holy City worthy of emulation. One thing at least hasn’t changed! The Franciscans’ commitment to solemnity and tradition has consistently impressed this pilgrim. For instance, community services in the Sepulcher are held almost entirely in Latin, with the Kyriale and the Propers sung in the ancient Gregorian melodies, communion is usually on the tongue, and in my experience, always administered by the clergy. Major feasts are celebrated with 1st Vespers and vigils at midnight. There are even odder things. For example, one of the peculiar consequences of the Status quo, a the 150-year-old agreement governing the use of the Holy Sepulchre, is that in Jerusalem the Easter Vigil is still held early on Holy Saturday morning.

Perhaps it has something to do with keeping up a tradition: the friars have been protectors of the Holy Sepulcher on and off for over 800 years. Certainly it has something to do with the daily struggle they wage with Copts, Syrians, Greeks, Arabs, and Armenians, all jostling for physical and acoustic space. In the dark and smokey interior of the Sepulcher, one is forced to breathe with both lungs.

Franciscans 3
Franciscans leading the Lenten procession in the Sepulcher, Feb. 2017 (Source)

But perhaps I shall have more to say about this later. This article is about the Feast of the Invention in particular. I apologize that I was not able to take many good pictures.

The pilgrim coming to the Sepulchre today finds these ceremonies done in much the same as they have been for several centuries. Ceremonies begin on the eve of the feast, including the stational procession I attended (find the 1925 Ordo here), followed by the Vigil at midnight.

At the commencement of the procession, the Latin Patriarch, the Franciscan friars of the Custodia, and the faithful pilgrims gather in the Chapel of the Flagellation at the north end of the basilica. They then proceed on their daily round about the basilica, visiting each of the sites associated with Christ’s Passion found within the bounds of the current basilica. Each station includes a Gregorian processional chant sung by the friars, oration, responsory, Pater, Ave, and Gloria; recto tono unless it is a feast, like today.

Franciscans 4.jpg
Franciscans vesting in the sacristy of Saint Savior Church, their headquarters in Jerusalem. These vestments were gifts of Louis XV (Source).

The stations (and their accompanying chants) are:

I ) ad altare Sanctissimi Sacramenti (Antiphon: O Sacrum Convivium)
II ) ad columnam Dominicae flagellatinis (Salve, Columna nobilis)
III ) ad carcerem (En efferata rabies)
IV ) ad altare divisionis vestimentorum Christi (Adeste, pacis Angeli)
V ) ad cryptam Inventionis S. Crucis (Crux fidelis)
VI ) ad sacellum S. Helenae (Fortem virili pectore)
VII ) ad columnam coronationis et improperiorum (Coetus piorum)
VIII) in Sacro Monte Calvario ad locum Crucifixionis D.N.I.C. (Vexilla Regis)
IX ) in sacro monte calvario ad locum ubi Christus in Cruce expiravit (Lustra sex qui iam peregit)
X ) in eodem Monte Calvario ad altare B. Mariae Virg. perdolentis (Stabat Mater)
XI ) ad lapidem unctionis (Pange lingua, vulneratum)
XII ) ad gloriosum D.N. Iesu Christi sepulchrum (Aurora caelum purpurat)
XIII) ad locum ubi Christus apparuit Mariae Magdalenae (Christus triumphum gloriae)
XIV) ad sacellum apparitionis Christi resurgentis matri suae Mariae (Iesum Christum crucifixum)

First Vespers of the feast takes place after the fifth station, in the chapel of the Invention, suitably decorated for the occasion, and with a relic of the True Cross exposed.

The Chapel of the Invention, decorated for the feast this year. Photo courtesy of Shen Yichen.

One poignant peculiarity of the orations and responsories is that the word hic is added wherever appropriate to stress that this place is the physical location in which the sacred events of the Passion took place. Thus at the station of the Unction, the antiphon reads:

“Acceperunt Joseph et Nicodemus corpus Jesu, et ligaverunt illud hic linteis cum aromatibus…” (Joseph and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus, and in this place wrapped it in linen clothes with spices…)

and the oration: “Domine Jesu Christe, qui tuum sacratissimum Corpus, tuorum condescendens devotioni fidelium, inungi hic ab eisdem permisisti….” (Lord Jesus Christ, who condescending to the devotion of your faithful, allowed them to anoint your Most Holy Body in this place…”

Franciscans 1
Franciscan procession down into the Chapel of St. Helena. (Source)

The solemn office of the feast itself is very moving. It begins with Lauds and Mass in the Chapel of the Invention. Then the clergy and people process with lit candles, accompanying the relic from the Chapel to the Aedicule (the tomb). This year I guess there were around a hundred people there, including the friars and faithful. We processed around the Aedicule three times with the Holy Cross, singing Fortunatus’s glorious hymn Vexilla regis. Maybe it was the place, or the solemn procession with the Holy Cross itself, but it seemed like the glorious gory verses sprang more vividly to life as we carried the bloody trophy around the Tomb.

After a final blessing with the True Cross, the relic is offered for veneration.

Franciscans 2.jpg
A Lenten procession around the Aedicule, Feb. 2017. (Source)

Curiously, the May 7th date does not correspond with the any of the traditional dates assigned for celebrations of the Holy Cross. We need to know a bit of liturgical history to understand why.

In both East and West there have traditionally been several feasts commemorating events related to the Holy Cross. The September 14th feast in the current Roman Missal actually encompasses three historical events, each of which formerly had its own feast: the Finding of the True Cross by St. Helena in 326, the 335 dedication of the Constantinian Basilica on the site of Calvary and the tomb, and the return with the Cross to Jerusalem in 629 by the hands of Heraclius, after it had been capture by the Persians in their conquest of Jerusalem. The Byzantines celebrate the same day as one of the 12 great feasts of the liturgical year, and the Armenians and Ethiopians have feasts around the same time.

The Gallican rites had another feast on May 3rd, known as “Roodmass” or the Feast of the Invention of the Cross, traditionally believed to have taken place on May 3rd, 326. The Invention passed thence into the Roman Rite, where it has left deep roots in traditional Catholic countries, especially Spain and Latin America, where the feast day is celebrated with great festivity in the local churches. For example, during the Philippine feasts of Flores de Mayo, the Santacruzan, a ritual pageant celebrating the Invention, is still celebrated every year at the end of May.

True Cross
The Queen of Sheba venerates the wood from which the Cross will be made. Fresco by Piero della Francesca in San Francesco, Arezzo. (SourceSource)

For obvious reasons, the Church at Jerusalem has retained the feast of the Invention, but it does not do so on May 3rd. Two events conspired to bring this about.

First, in 1955 Pius XII made May 1st the feast of Joseph the Worker, thus displacing the day of Ss. James and Philip, assigned first to 11th May, at that time the next “free day” in May. Five years later, John XXIII eliminated the May 3rd Feast of the Invention from the universal calendar as part of a general purge of “duplicated” feasts. In the Novus Ordo St. James was moved to the May 3rd date vacated by the Invention.

But it was inconceivable that the feast of the Invention would be eliminated from the local use—how could it be forgotten, in the very city where Christ was crucified? The 3rd now being taken by St. James, the 7th of May was sought as a fitting alternative, partly because the day is remembered in the Armenian calendar as the Apparition of the Holy Cross over Jerusalem in 451, an event recorded by Cyril:

“At the early morning a luminous cross appeared for hours in the sky, from Golgotha (located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) until the Mount of Olives, so large and shining that all the inhabitants of Jerusalem witnessed it. The appearance was so radiant, that many people went to the Holy Sepulcher to praise God, and understood the cross of light was the fulfillment of the Gospel of Matthew 24: 30 : ‘And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky’.

Because of this Divine sign, a few thousand people were baptized and became Christians.”

The 1925 Ordo for the Franciscan Lenten processions in the Holy Sepulcher can be found here: Ordo Processionum quæ Hierosolymis in Basilica S. Sepulchri D. N. Jesu Christi a Fratribus Minoribus peraguntur. It could be adapted for use in other churches where there is a desire for more elaborate Friday stational processions.


True Cross 2
The proving of the True Cross, Jean Colombe in the Très Riches Heures (Source)

Pentecost Pruned or Restored: The Suppression of the Ancient Baptismal Vigil of Pentecost

by Fr. Jean-Pierre Herman

This article was originally published at Schola Sainte Cecile and is translated here and at New Liturgical Movement with the kind permission of the author.

The Missal of Paul VI promulgated on the 3rd of April 1969 effectively eliminated the ancient custom of assigning vigils and octaves to major feasts.

Subsequently, octaves are celebrated only for Easter and Christmas. As for vigils, all that remains of them is a “vigil Mass in the evening” for certain feasts, which usually passes unnoticed. Further, the nature of this service is different. It has become an anticipation of the feast and no longer a day of fasting and preparation for it.

The Mass for the Vigil of Pentecost is a unique case. There are now four texts to choose from for the first reading, all Old Testament readings in which the gift of the Holy Spirit is prefigured. But this is all that remains of the rich ancient liturgy of the Vigil of Pentecost.

This reduction was accomplished in two steps. The Vigil disappeared first in the reforms of the ‘50s and then the octave was abolished with the promulgation of the new missal.

The Baptismal Character of the Ancient Vigil of Pentecost

In a conference on Pius XII’s “restored” 1955 Holy Week liturgy, Msgr Léon Gromier declares:

The Vigil of Pentecost no longer contains any reference to baptism. It has become a day like any other, and makes the Missal tell a lie in the Canon. This vigil was an annoying neighbor, a fearsome rival! Scholars in the future will likely be more severe in their judgement than pastoral types are today.

The rite he is referring to was in many respects a sort of repetition of the baptismal vigil of Easter, practiced by Christians from earliest antiquity at the Vigil of Pentecost.

The first Christians celebrated the entirety of the Paschal Mystery—death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit—during the one great night of Easter. But very soon the teaching mind of the Church focused its attention on the various aspects of this mystery, and spread out the liturgical celebrations according to the chronology of the Gospels.

Moreover, as we know, the sacraments of Christian initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist—were formerly conferred on candidates during the same celebration, a practice that the Eastern Churches have retained. Cardinal Schuster points out the intimate connection between Baptism and Confirmation and their distinct characters:

Although the sacrament of Baptism is entirely distinct from that of Confirmation, yet the latter takes its name of Confirmatio from the fact that the coming down of the Holy Ghost into the soul of the neophyte completes the work of his supernatural regeneration. Through its sacramental character it confers on him a more perfect likeness to Jesus Christ, impressing on his soul the final seal or ratification of his union with the divine Redeemer.

The word Confirmatio was used in Spain to denote also the invocation of the Holy Ghost in the Mass, Confirmatio Sacramenti. Hence the existing analogy between the epiklesis—that part of the Mass which begs from the Paraclete the fullness of his gifts upon those about to receive Holy Communion—and the sacrament of Confirmation, which in olden days was administered immediately after Baptism, shows very clearly the deep theological meaning hidden in the word Confirmatio as applied to this sacrament.

As early as Tertullian, we have evidence for the celebration of baptisms not only during the great Easter Vigil but also during the Vigil of Pentecost:

Another solemn day of Baptism is Pentecost, when a sufficient amount of time has passed to dispose and instruct those who are to be baptized.

The choice is not accidental, for during baptism the bishop places his right hand on the head of the neophyte “calling the Spirit by means of a blessing.”

We also have a letter written by Pope Siricius (384–399) to Bishop Himerius of Tarragona that attests this practice. Furthermore, in a letter to the bishops of Sicily, Pope St Leo the Great (440–461) exhorts them to imitate St. Peter, who baptized three thousand people on the day of the first Pentecost.

Liturgical books of a later period give the framework for a celebration of the same type as the Easter Vigil found in all the missals that preceded the Tridentine reform, as well as in the missal of St. Pius V up to the reform of the 1950s.

We will leave it to Dom Guéranger to describe the practice:

Formerly, this Vigil was kept like that of Easter. The faithful repaired to the church in the evening, that they might assist at the solemn administration of Baptism. During the night, the Sacrament of regeneration was conferred upon such catechumens as sickness or absence from home had prevented from receiving it on Easter night. Those, also, who had then been thought insufficiently tried or instructed, and had, during the interval, satisfied the conditions required by the Church, now formed part of the group of aspirants to the new birth of the sacred font. Instead of the twelve prophecies, which were read on Easter night while the priests were performing over the catechumens the rites preparatory to Baptism, six only were now read; at least, such was the usual custom, and it would lead us to suppose that the number of those baptized at Pentecost was less than at Easter.

The Paschal Candle was again brought forward during this night of grace, in order to impress the newly baptized with respect and love for the Son of God, who became Man that He might be the light of the world. The rites already described and explained for Holy Saturday were repeated on this occasion, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, at which the neophytes assisted, began before the break of day.

As Schuster relates, in ancient times the Vigil of Pentecost, as the Vigil of Easter, was celebrated in the Lateran during the night between Saturday to Sunday. By the 12th century, it had been moved to the afternoon. Towards the end of the day, the Pope betook himself to St Peter’s for the singing of Vespers and solemn Matins.

As Baptism began to be celebrated on other days and the practice of baptizing infants quam primum meant that these ceremonies were no longer exclusively performed on the Vigil of Pentecost. This brought the day down to the level of a preparation for a feast, like any other vigil, but it remained a celebration of a manifestly baptismal character.

Pius Parsch introduces it thus:

“Today is a solemn vigil and thus a day of full penance with fasting and abstinence (in certain diocese, however, this obligation is no longer binding under pain of sin but merely recommended). A vigil is always a day of preparation. The house of the soul must be cleaned and prepared for the great feast. Two thoughts should occupy the Christian who follows the Church in these days: 1) the memory of his baptism; b) preparation for Pentecost.”

Time and Structure of the Vigil

After None, the prophecies are read without title, with candles extinguished, as on Holy Saturday.

This is the rubric found before the Pentecost Vigil in the Missal. It is celebrated at the same hour as the Paschal Vigil. Once celebrated in the night of Saturday to Sunday, it was eventually fixed to be celebrated after None, a situation ratified by the rubrics of the Tridentine liturgical books. By the end of the Middle Ages it was commonly anticipated to Saturday morning, before noon, in imitation of the Paschal Vigil, which the Tridentine books mandate be celebrated before prandium.

Its structure is comparable to that of Holy Saturday, except for the blessing of the fire and Paschal candle. Pius Parsch describes it as an abridged imitation of the Office of Holy Saturday. It begins with the reading of the prophecies, three of which are followed by a Tract, and each one by a prayer said by the celebrant.

Then there is a procession to the Baptistry for the blessing of the water, accompanied by the chant of a Tract composed of verses from Psalm 41 (Sicut cervus ad fontes aquarum). After a prayer, the celebrant says the prayer for the blessing of water, as at the Paschal Vigil. The procession returns to the altar chanting the Litany of the Saints, while the celebrants go to the sacristy to vest for Mass.

The color used in the vigil is violet. The rubrics specify that the priest wear a cope for the procession to the baptismal font. The deacon and subdeacon wear “folded chasubles.” Red, the color of Pentecost, is used for the Mass.

When the litany is finished, the candles are lit, the ministers go to the altar, and while the choir chants the Kyrie they recite the prayers at the foot of the altar. Then the priest performs the incensation and intones the Gloria, during which the bells are rung.

The Prophecies

The readings of Pentecost are taken from the readings of Easter, but in a different order.

Reading Pentecost Easter
1 Gn. 22 Sacrifice of Abraham 3
2 Ex. 14 and 15 The Passage of the Red Sea 4
3 Dt. 31 The Mosaic Testament, Respect for the Law 11
4 Is. 4 The Liberation of Jerusalem 8
5 Bar. 3 Return to the Promised Land 6
6 Ez. 37 Dry Bones 7


The second, third, and fourth prophecies are followed by Tracts, the same three Tracts as sung in the Paschal Vigil.

The prayers that follow the readings, however, are different. They are taken from the Gregorian Sacramentary.

They all focus, each in its own manner, on the continuity between the two Testaments, and the passage of the Israel of the Old Testament, liberated from slavery in Egypt, to the new Israel of the baptized, liberated from the bondage of sin.  We cite here only those that follow the second and fourth reading, which are remarkable:

“O God, who by the light of the New Testament hast expounded the miracles wrought in the first ages of the world, so that the Red Sea was a figure of the sacred font, and the deliverance of the people out of the bondage of Egypt did represent the Christian sacraments: grant that all nations who have now obtained the birthright of Israel by the merit of faith may be born again by the participation of thy Spirit. Through the same Lord … in unity with the same Holy Ghost.”


“O almighty and eternal God, who by thy only Son hast shown thyself the husbandman of thy Church, mercifully cultivating every branch which bringeth forth fruit in that same Christ, who is the true vine, that it may be more fruitful; let not the thorns of sin prevail against thy faithful, whom thou hast transplanted like a vineyard out of Egypt by the baptismal font; but protect them by thy holy Spirit, that they may be enriched by everlasting fruits. Through the same Lord … in unity with the same Holy Ghost.”

The procession to the baptismal font and the blessing of water that follow the prayer of the sixth prophecy re-use all the texts of the Paschal Vigil, with the exception of the collect that precedes the blessing of water, which speaks about the feast:

“Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God, that we who commemorate the giving of the Holy Spirit, being inflamed with heavenly desires, may thirst after the fountain of life. Through our Lord … in unity with the same Holy Ghost.”

In these texts the intimate links between Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Christian life are put in clear relief.

The Mass

As we have already seen, the Mass follows directly upon the Litany. As at Easter, there is no introit. It was only at a later period, when the custom of private masses became widespread, that an introit was added: “Cum sanctificatus,” taken from Wednesday of the 4th week of Lent.

This Mass is the culmination of the Vigil and its collect expresses once more, in a very concise manner, the link between Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit:

“Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God, that the splendor of thy glory may shine forth upon us, and the light of thy light may by the illumination of the Holy Ghost confirm the hearts of those who have been regenerated by thy grace. … in the unity of the same Holy Ghost.”

This link is underscored once again in the Epistle taken from the Acts of the Apostles. The subject is the encounter of Paul with the disciples of John the Baptist, who “had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” after which Paul baptises them “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

The rest of the Mass is entirely focused on Pentecost, including the Gospel in which Jesus promises never to leave his disciples orphans, but to pray the Father to send them the Comforter.

The Secret and Postcommunion both ask God to purify the hearts of his faithful in preparation for the effusion of the Holy Spirit.

The Canon contains two proper parts. In the Communicantes, mention is made of the day’s feast:

“Communicating, and keeping the most holy day of the Pentecost, whereon the Holy Ghost appeared to the Apostles in countless tongues; and also venerating the memory, first of the glorious Mary, ever a Virgin, Mother of the our God and Lord Jesus Christ …”

While the Hanc igitur, as at Easter, intercedes for those baptized that night:

“We therefore beseech thee, O Lord, to be appeased and accept this oblation of our service, as also of thy whole family; which we make unto thee on behalf of these also whom thou hast vouchsafed to bring to a new birth by water and the Holy Ghost, giving them remission of all their sins; dispose our days …”

The Reform of 1955

In the missals after 1955, the Vigil of Pentecost has been reduced to the Mass alone, in the form we just described, including the introit Cum sanctificatus. The prophecies, procession, and blessing of water have simply been abolished. The baptismal character of the vigil has been erased and the liturgy is entirely focused on the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The Epistle, which expresses the link between the two sacraments, has been retained. One wonders why the proper Hanc igitur, which intercedes for those who were baptized just before Mass, was retained, even though the baptism ritual it references was effaced. As in Easter, the proper Hanc igitur is said in the Vigil Mass, the Mass of the Day, and the masses throughout the octave.

This Hanc igitur had already become merely symbolic by the time of the reform, because in actual fact baptisms were practically never held during the celebration. Nevertheless, it referred back to the ceremonies performed at the baptistry before the Mass proper, and thus emphasized the baptismal character of the entire Vigil. The choice to retain the prayer here after having suppressed the ceremonies before the Mass renders it much more of a meaningless vestige.

The Missal of 1969

The Missal of 1969 contains, as we mentioned above, a “Vigil Mass in the evening.” It is an anticipatory mass of Pentecost that, apart from a prayer retained here and there, is quite different from the ancient Vigil.

The opening antiphon is no longer the ancient introit Cum sanctificatus, but a citation of Rm. 5:5: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by his spirit living in us, alleluia,” rescued from the suppressed Mass of the Ember Saturday of Pentecost

The baptismal aspect no longer receives any explicit mention and the accent is placed on the coming of the Holy Spirit and the close of Paschal Time.

The ancient collect has been retained, but only as an alternative; another prayer, which is found in several ancient sacramentaries and was also used in the Ambrosian Rite, is set before it:

“Almighty ever-living God, who willed the Paschal mystery to be encompassed as a sign in fifty days; grant that from out of the scattered nations, the confusion of many tongues may be gathered by heavenly grace into one great confession of your name. Through our Lord.”

The allusion is to Babel, the division of languages, and the reading of the next day from Acts, where each one understands the apostles preaching in his own language.

The particularity of this mass, making it unique in the missal, is the option of four texts for the first reading. They are:

Genesis 11:1-9: The Tower of Babel

Exodus 19:3-20: God manifests himself in the fire in the midst of his people

Ezekiel 37:1-14: The Dry Bones

Joel 3:1-5: The Spirit will make Its dwelling in all men

The prophecy of Ezekiel was traditionally said at both the Easter and Pentecost vigils: the others are selected ex novo.

The rest of the Liturgy of the Word is fixed:

–Psalm 103:1: Lord, send forth thy Spirit to renew the face of the earth.

–Romans 8:22-27: The Spirit come to our aid in our infirmity.

The Communicantes of the Eucharistic prayer is the one found in the ancient missal:

“Communicating, and keeping the most holy day of Pentecost, whereon the Holy Ghost appeared to the Apostles in countless tongues”

There is of course no mention of the baptised in the Hanc igitur or its equivalent in the new Eucharistic prayers.

The prayer over the offerings and the Postcommunion make abundant references to the Spirit:

“Pour out upon these gifts the blessing of your Spirit, we pray, O Lord, so that through them your Church may be imbued with such love that the truth of your saving mystery may shine forth for the whole world. Through Christ our Lord.”


“May these gifts we have consumed benefit us, O Lord, that we may always be aflame with the same Spirit, whom you wondrously poured out on your Apostles. Through Christ our Lord”

The Communion antiphon, it is taken from the Gospel:

“On the last day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, alleluia.”

One wonders why the following phrase—”but this he said of the Spirit, which they should receive who believed in him”—was not kept.

Continuity or Rupture?

“This renewal has also shown clearly that the formulas of the Roman Missal ought to be revised and enriched. The beginning of this renewal was the work of Our predecessor, this same Pius XII, in the restoration of the Paschal Vigil and of the Holy Week Rite, which formed the first stage of updating the Roman Missal for the present-day mentality.” Thus the words of Paul VI in the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum.

We return to the perennial question: have the changes made since the 1950s, during the liturgical reform, been in logical and historical continuity with the ancient Frankish-Roman rite or do they mark a rupture?

In this case of the Pentecost Vigil, an immemorial practice has simply been suppressed. As Msgr Gromier rightly said, this suppression effaced the baptismal character of this day, and all emphasis is now therefore laid on the coming of the Holy Spirit. The goal of the members of the Commission was manifestly to focus solely on Baptism at Easter and then on Confirmation at Pentecost, on account of the descent of the Holy Ghost.

Nevertheless, at least the Mass remains, without serious change, and even contains elements that hearken back to the Vigil. The least that can be said is that this is rather incoherent. The “restoration” of the 1950s did not restore anything. As a result of its vague operating criteria, it hewed with axe-strokes and didn’t bother to put finishing touches on its work. It doesn’t take any extraordinary perspicacity to see that this reform was carried out in haste, and its numerous incoherences are obvious.

With regard to the formulary of 1969, save for the two retentions mentioned above, we are dealing with a novel creation. Currently, the majority of dioceses organize a “vigil of Pentecost,” sometimes with the mass of the vigil, often with the sacrament of Confirmation, but in these cases one must  allow for a large helping of “creation” and “creativity” due to the missal’s lack of sufficient directives.

Far from an “organic development” dear to Dom Alcuin Reid, we must once more note the absence of logic and continuity in the work of the commissions. In this case, it was largely a work of suppression that left a void and ample room for improvisation. Furthermore, perhaps more so than any other day in the liturgical year, the diversity of current practice regarding the vigil of Pentecost recalls one of the optional readings for the day: the one about the tower of Babel.


  • SCHUSTER, I., The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum): Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal. Trans. by Arthur Levelis-Marke. Volume II. London, 1924.
  • GUERANGER P., The Liturgical Year. Trans. by Laurence Shepherd. Volume IX. London, 1910.
  • PARSCH, P., The Church’s Year of Grace, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1953.
  • REID A., The Organic Development of the Liturgy, St Michael’s Abbey Press, Farnborough, 2004.

On the Procession Before Mass

On the Procession before Sunday Mass

(Translated from Lebrun’s Explanation)

A procession at the Abbey of Fontgombault (Source)

The word “procession” comes from the Latin verb procedere, which means to go, and for our purposes it refers to a walk made by the clergy and the people while praying for some religious object and carrying the cross before them, just as they do in the church.

The Old Testament often speaks of the processions made to transport the Ark from one place to another, and ever since the Church has enjoyed peace there have been many processions made to go to the tombs of the martyrs, to transport their relics, to gather the faithful together in the Station church on days of fasting,[1] and there to request particular graces. The origin of these processions is well known.[2] But many people do not know the reason why we make a procession on Sunday before the Mass.

This procession has a two-fold origin. The primary reason is to honor the resurrection of Christ who went from Jerusalem to Galilee, and the second is to sprinkle the environs of the church.

In the first place, we find in the Rule of St. Cesarius of Arles, in the 6th century, in many other monastic and canonical rules, and in Rupert of Deutz, that Sunday processions were made to particular Oratories or Chapels.[3] This procession took place after Matins, to imitate the holy women who went to the tomb before dawn, and at dawn,[4] to imitate the disciples to whom the women related the angel’s message that Christ would precede them into Galilee, and that there they would see him as he himself had said.[5] Rupert remarks that this is why in Sunday morning processions the prelates and superiors went in front, as if to represent Christ preceding the disciples.

The procession still takes place in many churches on Easter day.[6] The chants associated with it are Sedit Angelus, and Dicite discipulis, and many ancient Missals and Processionals note that these antiphons and responses are sung at the Sunday procession until Pentecost. Although the chants proper to Easter are not repeated at other times of the year, it is nevertheless the case that all Sundays are a sort of continuation and renewal of the Feast of Easter, and thus fitting times to honor Christ’s resurrection. Therefore the primary intention of Sunday processions before Mass is the same has that of the Easter procession.

A second reason to make a procession on Sunday before the Mass was to sprinkle the environs of the Church. At the beginning of the 9th century the Capitularies of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious ordered parish priests to make a procession around their church with the blessed water on every Sunday. Archbishop Hérard of Tours prescribed the same in his Capitularies of 858. The cathedral and collegial churches were certainly the first to observe this practice, and it was practiced from about the same time in the monasteries. An ancient Ordinary of the Benedictines, which Fr. Mabillon assigns to the 9th century, notes that on Easter they carry the blessed water throughout the whole monastery while singing.[7] The Customs of Cluny and numerous abbeys describe in detail all the places that must be sprinkled each Sunday.[8]

But starting in the 10th century in some churches, it was deemed sufficient to assign a priest and a few clerics preceded by the crucifix to perform the aspersion of the bishop and the canons’ cloister.[9] Henceforth the procession halted at the entrance of the cloister or even within the church, and the original reason for the procession was gradually forgotten.

But the practices that have been conserved in several places can remind us of the ancient purpose of the procession. At Vienne in Dauphiné, the water is still blessed with great solemnity in the nave of the church, and the aspersion is performed in procession around the cloister and cemetery. At Chalon-sur-Saône the canons make a procession around the cloister every Sunday before Terce. The Hebdomarius sprinkles the doors through which the canons entered the refectory and other rooms of the cloister in former times, when they still lived in common. They also still sing a number of responses give us to believe that salt, meat, and many other things were once blessed at that time. At Châlons-sur-Marne the procession goes to the small cloister and the celebrant sprinkles the chapter, which he enters preceded by the crucifix, holy water, the deacon, and the subdeacon. In the Premonstratensian Order, a religious in alb standing next to the crucifix sprinkles everywhere along the route of the procession. At the Cathedral of Liège, an ecclesiastique in alb does the same.[10] At the end of the Processional of the Order of St. Benedict, printed in Paris in 1659, are found all the orations said during the procession to the cloister, chapter, dormitory, infirmary, etc. for the aspersions,[11] and the Ceremonials of Saint-Vannes[12] and Saint-Maur[13] note that this aspersion must be made. The Processionals of Paris and the Missals of Rouen, Meaux, Laon, and Orléans indicate that the stoup should be carried in the Sunday morning procession: a relic of the ancient practice.

Nothing proves this second original purpose of the Sunday procession better than the prayers found in the ancient books of churches as far from one another as those of Germany and Spain. In Toledo, according to the Missal of that church printed in 1551, and at the Cathedral of Liège, the prayer “Visit O Lord and bless all that we are about to visit and bless” is used in place of the oration Exaudi nos used for asperging rooms. This oration is noted in all the ancient MIssal manuscripts of this church, of Aix-la-Chapelle, Cambrai, Sainte-Gudule de Bruxelles, Strasbourg and numerous other churches in Germany. According to the Agenda of Spire printed in 1512, and the Manual of Pamplona (1561), the following words are chanted as the procession leaves the church: Place, O Lord, the sign of salvation on our houses, so that they may be preserved from the hand of the Angel of Death.

In this we see that the intention was to preserve the houses of the faithful from the attacks of the demon by asperging them with blessed water, just as the houses of the Hebrews were preserved from the sword of the angel through the blood of the lamb that was used to mark the doorposts. This is more than enough evidence to show that besides the intention of honoring the mysteries of the resurrected Christ, the procession was also done in order to perform the aspersion of the Church environs.

In those places where its only purpose was to perform the aspersion, the procession took place immediately before the Mass, after Terce. But the churches that have always retained the ancient purpose of the procession do in the very early morning, right after Prime,[14] with the view of uniting into one the procession that formerly took place at dawn to commemorate the Resurrection and the one that took place after, before the Mass, for the aspersion.

Those who desire, therefore, to enter into the spirit of the Church in these processions, should ask God to purify them from every uncleanness, and have the intention to honor the resurrection and apparitions of Jesus Christ. The faithful who are solemnly invited to these processions should come there with a holy enthusiasm. The Council of Freising (1440) recommends the procession after the benediction of the water, according a forty-day indulgence to those who assist in it. The crucifix and saints’ banners seen at their head are for them a great cause for joy. Under these glorious standards they make a small army corps that is formidable to the Demon and that acquires a right, so to speak, to the grace of God, if they march with the modesty, piety, and recollection that befits Christ’s militia.

If the procession goes through the streets, as is done in many places, we should think about the fruit of Christ’s apparitions. He went into Galilee to show himself to more than five hundred of the brethren, and his appearance gave them great joy. The procession should also be a source of consolation for sick and for all those who cannot leave their homes, so that hearing the chanting of those marching in the procession they may be united to them and unite their desires with the holy Sacrifice that will be celebrated soon after.

In addition, since on nearly every Sunday a new response is chanted with an often very ornate melody, so that the assistants ordinarily understanding nothing at all of what is sung in the procession, it would be desirable to say the prayer recorded in so many ancient Missals, Rituals, and Processionals, the one said on re-entering the church.[15] We include it here. Each may at least say it on his own:

Viam Sanctorum omnium, Domine Jesu Christe, qui ad te venientibus aeternae claritatis gaudia contulisti, ambitum Templi istius Spiritus Sancti luce perfunde, qui locum istum in honorem Sanctorum tuorum Floridi et Amantii consecrasti ; praesta, Omnipotens Deus, ut omnes istic in te credentes obtineant veniam pro delictis ab omnibus liberentur angustiis, impetrent quidquid petierint pro necessitatibus suis, placere semper praevaleant coram oculis tuis quatenus per te, et omnium sanctorum tuorum intercessionibus mumiti aulam paradisi mereantur introire. Qui cum Patre, etc.

Lord, Jesus Christ, the way of all the saints, who have given the eternal joy of heaven to those who come to you: shine the light of the Holy Spirit in the area of this Temple which you have consecrated to the name of our saint and Patron N. We beg you that those who believe in your may obtain here pardon for their faults, that they may be delivered from their troubles, that they may be always acceptable in your eyes, so that defended by the intercession of the saints they may merit to enter the courts of heaven through you, Savior of the world, who livest and reignest God, etc.

This prayer and all our processions should cause us to think that we are voyagers upon the earth, that heaven is our homeland, that we have need of Jesus Christ to make our way there and come to rest there. He is the way, the truth, and the life; the way by which we go, the truth the place where we are going, and the way where we will remain eternally.[16]


[1] Although the Stations were held in Rome on other days of the year, the people only processed from one church to another on fasting days, when the faithful were encouraged to apply themselves to prayer at greater length. See P. Mabillon, Commentary on the Ordo Romanus, n. 5.

[2] See Serrarius, Gretser, Meurier, Traité des Processions (Rheims, 1584); Eveillon, De Processionibus Ecclesiasticis (Paris, 1641); Le Catéchisme de Montpellier; Vatar, Des Processions, etc.

[3] See the Rule of St. Cesarius, n. 69; Ap. Boll. of 12th January in the Codex Regularum and many others in P. Martenne, De antiq. Mon. Rit. book 2, chapter 2. Rupert of Deutz, De Divinis Officiis, book 5, chapter 8; book 7, chapter 20 and 21.

[4] Durandus thought that the Sunday procession was meant to honor the Resurrection. He even believed that the Church had done it originally on both Sunday and Thursday, and that Pope Agapetus (d. 536) had limited it to the Sunday alone (Rationale IV.6.21). But this opinion is based on false sources. Suffice it to say that, in the 6th century, the procession took place on Sunday.

[5] Mark 14:28;16:7.

[6] At Agde before Matins, at Clermont in Auvergne after Matins, and at Saint-Quentin at the end of Prime.

[7] Item Dominico die vadunt cum antiphona et aqua sancta per singulas mansiones (Mabillon, Vetera Analecta. vol. 4. p. 456).

[8] Spicil. tom. 4, pg. 46.

[9] See the very ancient Ordinary of the Churches of Arras and of Cambrai, written around the end of the 10th century, in the time when these two dioceses were still united. It is printed with the Codex Canonum of M. Pithough, pg. 368. See also the Ordinary of Mont-Cassin written at the end of the 11th century, kept at the Institution de l’Oratoire de Paris. According to the Dominican Ordinary written in 1254, and the Statutes of the Carthusians printed in 1509, one of the brothers is assigned to make the aspersion of the cells and the places where the religious were assembled. This practice was broken off, apparently because of the difficulty of keeping stoups around everywhere.

[10] The same was also done at Saint-Quiriace de Provins ten or twelve years ago.

[11] Diebus Dominicis circa claustrum orationes privatae. In ingressu claustri: Omnipotens and misericors Deus… quaesumus immensam clementiam tuam, ut quidquid modo visitamus, visites, etc.

[12] Caeremoniale Monasticum, Tulli Leuc. (Laurent)(1695).

[13] Caerem. S. Mauri (Paris, 1680).

[14] It takes place after Prime at Metz, Verdun, Cambrai, Arras, Noyon, etc.

[15] This is said still at Narbonne, Châlons-sur-Marne, etc. But in the Ritual of Paris there are proper responses and orations for most Sundays.

[16] Ipse est qua itur, quo itur, et ubi permanetur (Augustine, Tractates on John).

On the Ancient Blessing of Water Before Mass

On the Blessed Water of the Asperges

(Translation from Lebrun’s Explanation)

Image result for asperges me domine + illuminated manuscript

The rubric in the Missal says that on all Sundays before the Mass the celebrant or another priest should bless water[1] for the aspersion that follows. To grasp the utility of this ceremony, we must understand the meaning of the exorcisms and benedictions performed over the salt and the water, and the meaning of the prayers that accompany the aspersion.

1. On the manner of blessing the water and its effects. Why salt is put in the water, and why there are exorcisms performed on each of them.

The priest takes salt and water, exorcises both, mixes them together and blesses them with signs of the Cross and various prayers.

1) The Church’s intention is to purify mankind and preserve them from everything that might soil or harm them. For this reason she joins to her prayers certain signs that are suitable for expressing this intention. The property of water is to wash; the property of salt is to preserve from corruption. The water and the salt, when mixed, blessed, and sprinkled on the people, are thus a very fitting symbol of the desire she has to purify and preserve them from every contagion. The prophet Elisha throws salt in the waters of Jericho to render them pure and useful for the land. He adds that these waters will no longer cause either death or sterility,[2] and likewise the Church also invokes the divine power over the salt so that it may preserve mankind from all that is harmful to their salvation.

2) The priest exorcizes the salt and the water. Exorcize is a word taken from the Greek language, and means to command or bind by oath. The term that refers only to those who speak with authority. The High Priest uses the word to compel Christ to tell him whether he is the Son of God; and the Church makes use of it to command the evil spirits and all things they may use for their evil purposes. She knows well that, through their disordered actions, men put things which should serve nothing but the glory of God into the power of the demon. This is what St. Paul means when he says that “the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will.”[3] But she knows too that all things have been re-established and “gathered up in him, things in heaven and things on earth”; [4] and that everything is “sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.”[5] This is why she exorcizes and blessings so many creatures. She exorcizes salt and water, i.e., she she commands them in the name of God and inte merits of the Cross of Christ never to harm mankind and to become rather useful tools for their salvation. This is the ultimate reason for all the exorcisms performed upon inanimate creatures.

The first Christians were earnestly convinced of the power that God has permitted he devil over creatures, and of the necessity to resist this power by the authority of Jesus Christ. This is why they made signs of the Cross over everything that made use of. The Church has certain more solemn exorcisms and benedictions for creatures that are to serve sacred functions, and especially ones for expelling the devil. This is the origin of the exorcisms of the water blessed for Baptism, for the dedication of churches, and the aspersion of the people.[6] Nearly all these prayers are conceived in the same terms and they must be regarded as coming from the earliest antiquity. Tertullian makes an allusion to these exorcisms and and benedictions when he says that the waters are sanctified by invoking God.[7] St. Cyprian says more explicitly that the water must be purified and sanctified by the priest;[8] and St. Ambrose speaks in detail about the exorcism, invocation, and signs of the Cross;[9] the same is often supposed by St. Augustine when he speaks about Baptism and the effects of the sign of the Cross.[10] Saint Basil numbers these benedictions among the Apostolic traditions;[11] their virtue and mentioned and emphasized by St. Cyril of Jerusalem,[12] St. Gregory of Nyssa,[13] and the author of the Hierarchy writing under the name of St. Denys.[14]

3) The priest puts the salt in the water saying:

Commixio salis et aquae pariter fiat in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti.

May this salt and water be mixed together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[15]

He mixes the salt and water, so that the blessed water may be the sign of ablution and the sign of preservation from corruption, and says, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, making signs of the Cross to signify that we expect the effects expressed by these signs to come only through the power of the Holy Trinity by the merits of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

4) The priest ends the benediction with prayers that teach us about the effects to be expected from the blessed water.

After the exorcism of the salt, he asks God

Ut sit omnibus sumentibus salus mentis et corporis; et quidquid ex eo tactum vel aspersum fuerit, careat omni immunditia, omnique impugnatione spiritalis nequitiae.

That this salt may serve for all those who receive it for the health of their body and soul, and that all who are touched or sprinkled with it may be preserved from every impurity and from every assault of the spirits of evil.

After the excorcism of the water, he says to God:

Elemento huic multimodis purificationibus praeparato, virtutem tuae benedictionis infunde: ut creatura tua mysteriis tuis serviens, ad abigendos[16] daemones, morbnsque pellendos, divinae gratiae sumat effectum: utquidquid in domibus, vel in locis fidelium haec unda resperserit, careat omni immunditia, liberetur a noxa: non illic resideat spiritus pestilens, non aura corrumpens: discedant omnes insidiae latentis inimici: et si quid est, quod aut incolumitati habitantium invidet aut quieti, aspersione hujus aquae effugiat: ut salubritas per invocationem sancti tui nominis expetita, ab omnibus sit impugnationibus defensa.

“Pour forth thy benediction upon this element which we consecrate with manifold purifications. Let this creature serve thee in expelling demons and curing diseases. Whatsoever it sprinkles in the homes of the faithful, be it cleansed and delivered from harm. Let such homes enjoy a spirit of goodness and an air of tranquility, freed from baneful and hidden snares. By the sprinkling of this water may everything opposed to the safety and repose of them that dwell therein be banished, so that they may possess the well-being they seek in calling upon thy holy name, and be protected from all peril.”

Finally, the priest recalls all these petitions in the final oration, saying:

Deus, invictae virtutis auctor, et insuperabilis imperii Rex, ac semper magnificus triumphator: qui adversae dominationis vires reprimis: qui inimici rugientis saevitiam superas: qui hostiles nequitias potenter expugnas: te Domine, trementes et supplices deprecamur, ac petimus; ut hanc creaturam salis et aquae dignanter aspicias, benignus illustres, pietatis tuae rore[17] sanctifices: ut ubicumque fuerit aspersa, per invocationem sancti nominis tui, omnis infestatio immundi spiritus abigatur, terrorque venenosi serpentis procul pellatur: et praesentia sancti Spiritus nobis misericordiam tuam poscentibus, ubique adesse dignetur. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum, etc.

“Author of invincible strength and king of an unconquerable empire, ever the gloriously Triumphant One! Who restrainest the force of the adversary, Who overcomest the fierceness of the devouring enemy. Who valiantly putteth down hostile influences! Prostrate and fearsome we beseech thee, Lord, consider kindly this creature of salt and water, make it honored, and sanctify it with the dew of thy sweetness. Wherever it is sprinkled in thy name, may devilish infection cease, venomous terror be driven afar. But let the presence of the Holy Spirit be ever with us as we implore thy mercy. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, etc.”

From these prayers we gather than we may expect four effects from the blessed water. The first is to put the devil to flight from the places he may have infested, and to turn back the evils he has caused. The second is to drive him far away from us, from the places we inhabit, and the things we use. The third is to serve as healing for our illnesses. Lastly, the fourth effect is to cause us to recall on every occasion the presence and help of the Holy Spirit for the good of our soul and body. It is a common opinion is the theologians for the last five centuries that holy water can cancel venial sins. In fact, the Church does not speak of this effect explicitly in her prayers. But there is room to infer it from the fact that she asks for the presence and help of God in general. This presence and this help should give us hope of preservation from all sorts of sins, and a means to wipe away the venial sins by inspiring in us the sorrow that wipes them away. None of these effects are promised infallibly like those produced by the sacraments, but we know that there are many ways to acquire graces, and that God attaches them principally to the prayers of the Church. There is reason to hope for them with all the more confidence, seeing that ever since the fourth century there have been so many miracles produced with holy water. We will mention some of them later, when we speak about the origin of the holy water blessing.

This much should suffice to encourage the faithful not only to take holy water in the church, but also to keep some in their homes, to use when they go to sleep and when they rise, and in many others times of the day, in order to drive away the spirit of darkness and to draw down the help of God in the thousand unforeseen dangers that may afflict their bodies or souls.

2. On the aspersion of the altar and assistants, and the prayers that accompany it.

On Sunday before the High Mass or Conventual Mass, the altar and assistants are sprinkled. Since the blessed water has been instituted to preserve men from the attacks of the devil and purify them from the contagion that he may have caused, they are sprinkled before the Mass so that the faithful, purified by this water, may assist at the Holy Sacrifice with more attention and piety.

1) The altar is sprinkled to chase away the spirit of darkness who, according to the most ancient Doctors of the Church, sometimes follows priests and ministers of the altar even up to the sanctuary in order to trouble their minds. The solemn orations that accompany the aspersion of the altar help us see that this is the reason why we sprinkle it. These orations are found in the most ancient Pontificals. Pope Vigilius[18] (in 535) and St. Gregory the Great[19] considered that aspersion with holy water was sufficient to purify temples from their false gods, to convert them into Church, and to make them suitable for the celebration of Mass.

2) The priests takes holy water for himself and then gives it to the assistants, so that he participates with them in all the graces that the Church has asked for in the prayers for the blessing of the water.

3) As he sprinkles he recites the Psalm Miserere in a low voice, because in order to obtain these graces one must enter into the sentiments of contrition expressed in this Psalm. These benefits are not owed to us. Sins has rendered us unworthy, and we can hope for nothing except through the mercy of God.

4) The antiphon is the verse of this Psalm that is most fitting for this ceremony. The choir sings only the first verse of Miserere, singing this antiphon before and after:

Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed. Thou wilt wash me, and I shall be washed whiter than snow.

Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

 The hyssop plant mentioned in Scripture is the tiniest of shrubs.[20] When pressed and bunched together, its leaves are able to retain the water for the aspersion. It’s virtue is to purify and dry the bad humors, and so it is a very fitting sign of corporal and spiritual purification. The Hebrews used hyssop to sprinkle the lambs’ blood on the doorposts.[21] The blood and ashes of the red calf,[22] as well as the water for purifying lepers,[23] were also done with hyssop. It is to all these aspersions and purifications that the verse Asperges alludes. But the real object the Prophet-King and the Church had in mind was the aspersion with the blood of Jesus Christ, of which the aspersions of the Law were nothing but figures. In this ceremony, therefore, what we must ask for is to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ, which is to say, for the application of the merits of his Precious Blood which alone can wipe away sins and preserve us from every evil.

5) In Eastertide, i.e. from Easter to Trinity Sunday, the antiphon in the Roman rite is

I saw water flowing out of the Temple, from its right side, Alleluia: And all who came to this water were saved, and they shall say: Alleluia, Alleluia.

Vidi aquam egredientem de Templo a latere dextro, alleluia: et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista salvi facti sunt et dicent, alleluia, alleluia.

These words are taken from the forty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, and they are very fitting to represent the efficacy of the saving waters of Baptism,[24] which occupies all the Church’s attention in this time anciently set aside for Baptisms. They were assigned to the days of Easter and Pentecost, on which there was an aspersion with water from the baptismal fonts that had been blessed at the Vigil. This aspersion should inspire the faithful to desire with all their hearts a renewal of that purity and sanctity that their soul received in Baptism, and to ask for the helps necessary to keep themselves pure in the future.

6) Finally, the priest says this oration:

Hear us, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, eternal God: and deign to send Thy holy angel from heaven to guard, cherish, protect, visit, and defend all who dwell in this house. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Exaudi nos, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus, et mittere digneris sanctum Angelum tuum de Coelis, qui custodiat, foveat, protegat, visitet atque defendat omnes habitantes in hoc habitaculo. Per, etc.

This prayer in found in the most ancient Missals and Rituals, and it was composed to be said in private homes when visiting the sick or sprinkling the houses with water from the baptismal fonts, as is still done today in Milan, Lyon, and even in many Churches that follow the Roman Ritual.

Hear us, Almighty Father. The aid of the omnipotence of God is necessary for us to fight against the spirits of evil that are in the air.[25]

Send thy holy angel. Just as men did not lose their natural powers through sin, the fallen angels have not lost all their power, but they have been subjected to the good angels who are our protectors. God says to his people: I will send my angel before you. He sent one to Tobias, and it preserved him from the attacks of the evil spirit who had killed the seven husbands of Sara. This angel preserved Tobias in all sorts of perils, and kept him safe and healthy. The Church asks the same grace for the faithful.

Who dwell in this house. It is obvious that this expression was employed specifically for the private houses that were to be sprinkled.[26] But for five or six centuries the prayer has been said in the church, because everyone is assembled there, and so can learn it to say in his house when he carries the holy water there.


[1] According to the Rubrics of the Roman Missal, the blessing of the water is done in the sacristy. But in most parishes, even in those that use the Roman Missal, it is done at the altar, in the choir, or in the nave. This is more in conformity with the practice of antiquity, and seems to please the people.

[2] 4 Kings 4:20, 21.

[3] Vanitati enim creatura subjecta est non volens (Rom. 8:20).

[4] Instaurare omnia in Christo, quae in coelis, et quae in terra sunt (Ephes. 1:10)

[5] Sanctificatur enim per verbum Dei et orationem (1 Tim. 4:5).

[6] These blessings share the same basic meaning in the Sacramentary of Bobbio, which Fr. Mabillon assigns 1000 years of age (Mus. Ital. vol. 1, p. 323); in the Gelasian Sacramentary, one hundred years before St. Gregory (Cod. Sacram. 106 and 237); in the ancient Gallican Missal (ibid., pg. 473); and in many other ancient Missals (Martenne, De Rit., vol. 1, pg. 173 and 182). They share the same terms with the exorcisms of salt and water for the consecration of churches, in the Sacramentary of St. Guilhem written 900 years ago (Sacram. Gellon., Martenne, vol. 3, pg. 244 and 245); and in the Sacramentary of Egbert, Archbishop of York, in the 8th century (Ibid., pg. 252); and also in the Pontifical of Séez, written around 1045 (Royal Library).

[7] Tertullian, On Baptism, chapter 4.

[8] Epist. 70.

[9] Ambrose, De iis qui initiantur, chapter 5.

[10] Lib. 8 de bapt. et tract. 18 in Joan.

[11] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, chapter 27: “Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us in a mystery by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay — no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?”

[12] Cyril, Mystical Catechesis 3: “If any man receive not Baptism, he has not salvation; except only Martyrs, who even without the water receive the kingdom. For when the Saviour, in redeeming the world by His Cross, was pierced in the side, He shed forth blood and water; that men, living in times of peace, might be baptized in water, and, in times of persecution, in their own blood.”

[13] Gregory of Nyssa, On Christian Baptism.

[14] Dionysius, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchies, chapter 2: “Whence, as I think, the Hierarch pouring the Muron upon the purifying font in cruciform injections, brings to view, for contemplative eyes, the Lord Jesus descending even to death itself through the cross for our Birth in God, benevolently drawing up, from the old gulping of the destructive death, by the same Divine and resistless descent, those, who, according to the mysterious saying, ‘are baptized into His death,’ and renewing them to a godly and eternal existence.”

[15] Trans. note: The translations in this section are taken from Fr. Philip T. Weller’s 3 volume Roman Ritual (Preserving Christian Publications, 2008).

[16] The alternate reading ad abjiciendos is found in the printed and manuscript sacramentaries going back all the way to St. Gregory and St. Gelasius. The Missal of Laon (1702) restored this reading. Nevertheless, the Carthusian Missal currently reads abigendos.

[17] According to the ancient books, both manuscripts and those printed up to the Missal of Pope Pius V (1570), it reads pietatis tuae more, not rore, therefore sanctify it according to your usual goodness. The Carthusians, the Missal of Milan, Langres in the previous century, and two or three others have retained the ancient reading. The Missals of Laon (1702) and Meaux (1709) have restored it.

[18] Epist. 1.

[19] Fana idolorum destrui in eadem gente minime debeant…Aqua benedicta fiat, in eisdem fanis aspergatur (Lib. 9 Epist. 71).

[20] Salomon…disputavit super lignis, a cedro quae est in Libano, usque ad hyssopum quae egreditur de pariete (3 Kings 4:33). Josephus, Antiquities, book 4, chapter 4, section 6.

[21] Exodus 12:22; Hebrews 11:28.

[22] Numbers 19 et seq.

[23] Leviticus 14 and 16.

[24] Rupert of Deutz, De Divinis Officiis, book 7, chapter 20: “Proprium hoc habet haec dies, quam fecit Dominus, idque ab eo sumpsit omnis prima Sabbati, quod aqua benedicta populis aspersis agitur processio solemnis. Verumtamen hac ipsa prima et principali Dominicarum omnium non benedicitur, neque die sancto Pentecostes, quia in praeteriti Sabbati vespera sumpta est de sacro fonte baptismi, antequam immergatur aliquis, et antequam chrisma immissum sit. Non enim ad hoc aspergimur, ut rebaptizemur, sed divini nominis gratiam super nos, cum hoc memoriali baptismatis nostri, frequenter invocare debemus. Et idcirco singulis aspergimur Dominicis, quia in sacrosancta primae huius Dominicae vespera, baptismum universaliter sancta celebrat Ecclesia, pro causa superius memorata. Unde et inter aspergendum hac die cantamus: Vidi aquam egredientem de templo a latere dextro, alleluia (Ezech. XLVII) , etc. De propheta Ezechiele sumptum est hoc. Civitatem illi ostenderat manus Domini facta super eum, aedificata super montem excelsum, et vergentem ad austrum, et in illa mirabile constitui templum (Apoc. I) .

[25] Contra spiritualia nequitiae in coelestibus (Ephesians 6:12).

[26] See the Gelasian Sacramentary, where we read, in this house of your servant (N.); defendat omnes habitantes…FAMULI TUI ILLIUS. The Gregorian Sacramentary gives the prayer the title Oratio quando aqua spargitur in domo. In the Diurnal of Saint-Victor (1580), the prayer is called Oratio in Dormitorio. According to a Pontifical-Ritual from Aix that is about four-hundred years old, it was said in the houses of the sick when the priest visited them. But the Customary of Cluny, written by the monk Bernard in the time of St. Hugh, notes it to be said in the church, as does a Missal of St. Quiriace of Province, written around 1200, called le Prônier. In a booklet of a more recent hand added to this Missal, after the words in hoc habitaculo, the words et in cunctis habitaculis bonis are added. These same words are found in the Missals of Sens (1556, 1575). In the Missal of Toulon from the 14th century we find habitantes in hac aula Dei. In the current Missal of Paris, we read in hoc templo Sancto tuo.

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:

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