Archdale King on Liturgical Fans

From Liturgies of the Religious Orders by Archdale King, 1955, pp. 290, 321-322, 374.

A liturgical fan (flabellum) of leather, silk, parchment or feathers was used in the sacrifices of the heathen and from very early times in the Christian Church. The Apostolic Constitutions (late 4th century) say: “Let two of the deacons, on each side of the altar, hold a fan, made up of thin membranes, or of the feathers of the peacock, or of fine cloth, and let them silently drive away the small animals that fly about, that they may not come near to the cups”[1]. John Moschus relates the story of an Italian bishop, offering the Holy Sacrifice in the presence of Pope St. Agapitus I (535-536), who requested the Pope to tell the deacon with the flabellum to go away from the altar at the prayer of the holy oblation[2]. Hildebert de Lavardin, bishop of Tours (1135-1134), sending a flabellum to a friend, says:

And so, when you drive away flies descending upon the Sacrifice with the fan I sent to you, you ought to ensure the onslaught of temptations is driven away from the mind of the celebrant with the winnowing-fork of the Catholic faith. This is so that what is taken up for use may proffer you mystical understanding[3].

The fan[4] was in use in Ireland in the early Middle Ages, and it is mentioned in various texts of the period, while the ornament itself is represented in ancient Irish illuminations. A Hiberno-Saxon manuscript of the gospels (8th century) at Trier depicts a fan in the right hand of St Matthew, and the monogram of the Book of Kells (8th century) shows angels bearing a fan which seems to be made of thin plates of metal surrounded by little bells.

St Matthew holding a fan, as depicted in the Trier Gospels.

The liturgical fan was commonly used in Rome and the West generally from the secret till the end of the canon during the Middle Ages. Its use has been described in the Cluniac customary: One of the servers (they must always be two), standing with a fan near the priest, does not neglect to keep flies away from the Sacrifice, the altar, and the priest himself from the moment the infestation begins until it ends[5]. 

Ordo Romanus XIV (14th century) prescribes the fan, si tempus requirit, and a pontifical ceremonial of the time of Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) gives the rubric: “Let them also carry fans during summertime in order to drive flies away from the service[6].” The sacristan is reminded in the ordinarius of Liège (c. 1285) to provide a flabellum “in the season of flies” for the private Masses of the brethren, as well as for the conventual Masses. Its use is attested also by Durandus of Mende (ob. 1296).

The subdeacon holds the paten and the deacon the fan as St Regulus celebrates Mass, in the Vita S. Dionysii (B. N. Fr. lat. 5286, fol. 103).

The use of a fan as a liturgical ornament seems to have disappeared from the Western Church, except in the Carmelite and Dominican Orders, after the council of Constance (1415), continuing merely as part of the honorific insignia of the Pope on solemn occasions. It exists today in the Eastern Church in the Syrian (Marwaḥ’tḥo), Byzantine (ripidion), and Armenian (keshotz) rites. A ripidion is given to the Byzantine deacon at his ordination.

In the case of the Carmelite rite, the ordinal of Sibert of Beka (1312) gives the following rubric: During fly-season after the beginning of the secrets the deacon must hold a fan with which becomingly to prevent them from bothering the priest, and drive them away from the Sacrifice[7]. It was repeated in the ordinal of 1544, but the ceremonial of 1616 permitted its use to be optional. The variations of usage were described in an appendix to the ceremonial of 1906, without, however, committing itself as to whether the fan should still be used:

During fly-season, the deacon (and even the server in a private Mass) must, according to the Ordinal of the Divine Office of 1544, and may, according to the Ceremonial of 1616, hold a fan in his hand after the beginning of the secrets, and with it becomingly prevent them from bothering the celebrant and drive them away from the Sacrifice, as is still the custom in some places. For the server at private Mass, it is added: and to make the priest a bit more comfortable … especially in hot climates[8].

Fr Zimmerman says that its use has never been entirely abandoned, but he fails to say in what provinces it may be found. A Carmelite of the Irish province told the writer (1949) that the flabellum has figured in some churches in recent years for the rite of 1504, but as a ceremonial adjunct rather than as a fan for the oblata. It was formerly used by the deacon (server at a private Mass) from the beginning of the secrets until the end of the canon.


The oldest known Dominican missal, from Paris (c. 1240), there is an illustration in which the priest is depicted at the altar, assisted by a deacon waving a flabellum. The actual ceremonial of the Order (1869), gives a rubric similar to that in the Carmelite ordinal of Sibert: During the season of flies the deacon uses a fan to drive flies away, lest they bother the priest[9]. A note says that the fan is still in use in a few houses.

See more about the fan in The Liturgical Arts Journal and the ‘blog of the Schola Sainte Cécile, and consider donating one to your local cathedral.


[1] Apost. Const., VIII, cap. XXII.

[2] Prati Spiritualis, cap. CL

[3] Dum igitur destinato tibi flabello descendentes super sacrificia muscas abegeris; a sacrificantis mente supervenientem incursus tentationum Catholicae fidei ventilabro exturbari oportebis. Ita fiet ut quod susceptum est ad usum, mysticum tibi praebeat intellectum. Epist. VIII.

[4] Irish culebad; Old Irish culebath.

[5] Unus ministrorum, qui semper duo debent esse, stans cum flabello prope sacerdotem, ex quo muscarum infestatio exurgere incipit, donec finiatur, eas arcere a sacrificio et ab altari, seu ab ipso sacerdote non negligit.

[6] Deferant quoque aestivo tempore flabella ad eijiciendas muscas a ministerio.

[7] Tempore etiam muscarum post inceptionem secretarum debet diaconus tenere flabellum quo cohibeat eas honeste a molestando sacerdotem, et abigat a sacrificio.

[8] Juxta Ordinale divini officii anni 1544 debet et juxta Caeremoniale 1616 poterit diaconus (et etiam minister in missa privata) tempore muscarum post Secretorum incoeptionem Flabellum in manu tenere, quo eas honeste a molestando celebrante cohibeat et a Sacrificio abigat, prout adhuc alicubi usus est. Pro ministro in Missa privata additur: atque ad Sacerdotem aliquantulum consolandum … praecipue in locis calidis.

[9] Tempore vero muscarum Diaconus utatur flabello ad abigendas muscas, ne molestent sacerdotem.

A New Years’ Apéritif with the Canons of Sens (6)

After the cursus of the liturgical offices of the Feast of the Circumcision, the Lord Archbishop Peter of Corbeil added some additional musical material, including this charming carol sung ad poculum, i.e. when the Canons gathered to enjoy an apéritif before a festive luncheon.

The surviving account books of the Cathedral show that ample provision was made to ensure a proper supply of wine for the celebrations.


Note how each stanza begins with the word that ended the preceding stanza, or a variation thereof.

Listen to Notker’s recording of the carol here:

Kalendas ianuarias
sollempnes, Xpiste, facias
et nos ad tuas nuptias
uocatos, rex, suscipias.
Make solemn, O Christ,
the Kalends of January,
and, O King, gather
the invited to Thy wedding.
Suscipe tuum populum
ad nuptiarum epulum,
Qui multiplex es ferculum,
cuius sanguis est poculum.
Bring Thy people
to Thy marriage feast,
Thou who art a rich carriage,[1]
whose blood is a drinking cup.
Poculum tui sanguinis
sumptique carnem hominis,
ad laudem tui nominis,
da nobis, proles Uirginis.
Give us the cup of Thy blood
and the flesh of man Thou didst take up,
to the praise of Thy name,
O Son of the Virgin.
Uirginis quidem proprius
et creator et filius
extra quem non est alius,
et quid hoc mirabilius?
Verily the Virgin’s own
both maker and son
without whom there is none other,
and what more marvelous than this?
Miranda res per secula,
quod sine uiri copula
Te concepit iuuencula,
in virginali clausula.
A wonderful thing for aye,
that a young maid unknown to man
did conceive thee
in the cloister of her virginal womb.
Clausa mater concipiens
clausa fuit et pariens,
et Tu, Deus ingrediens,
ingressus et egrediens.
Inviolate did thy mother conceive thee,
inviolate she was too in bearing thee,
and Thou, O God, went in,
and once gone in went out.
Egressus autem, ardua
mortis fregisti cornua;
quin ipsa mors est mortua,
occisa uite ianua.
And having gone out,
Thou brakest the forces of death;
nay, e’en death itself died,
when the gate of life was slain.
Ianua uite congrua,
immo uita perpetua,
nos, Xpiste, per hec omnia,[2]
duc ad festa continua;
Fitting gate of life,
nay, eternal life itself,
by all these things, O Christ,
lead us to the feasts everlasting,
Continua festa Syon,
quo repertum topazion
tulisti homo in Syon[3]
Patri presentans Elyon.[4]
Everlasting feasts of Sion,
whither thou bore the recovered topaz,[5]
O man in Sion,
proferring it to the Father Most High.
Ely Patri sit gloria,
Tibi, Xpiste, uictoria,
Neupmati sint equalia
per seculorum secula.
Glory be to Eli the Father,
victory to Thee, O Christ,
and the same to the Ghost,
unto the ages of ages.


See the other posts in this series:

1. A Feast of Fools?: First Vespers
2. Compline
3. Mattins, Lauds, and the Little Hours
4. Mass and Second Vespers
5. Why the Office of Peter of Corbeil was Suppressed


[1] Multiplex ferculum may be a pun on the double meaning of ferculum, meaning both Solomon’s rich litter (Canticle of Canticles 3, 9) and a course in a meal. Solomon’s carriage, by which he was carried to a feast, was interpreted allegorically to refer to Christ or the Apostles, who carry the believer to the eternal feast.

[2] Omnia is written by a much later hand. In his edition of this conductus in the Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi, Fr Guido Maria Dreves suggests amending it to annua: “by these yearly feasts, O Christ, lead us to feasts everlasting.”

[3] This line might be corrupt; Dreves amends homo in Syon to homousion, which does not seem much of an improvement.

[4] Eli is the Aramaic for “my God,” taken from Psalm 21.

[5] The topaz was thought to contain all colors, and so was often seen by mystical writers as a symbol of Christ (who contains all virtues) or, as here, of all the saints.

New Years’ with the Canons of Sens (5): Why the Office of Peter of Corbeil was Suppressed

Pour juger du passé, il faudrait le mieux connaître, et pour le condamner, il faudrait ne rien lui devoir.

The Lord Count of Montalembert.

Recall from our introduction that, in preparing his MS. for the Office of the Circumcision, the Most Reverend Lord Peter of Corbeil sought to codify the variegated uses that had arisen on the feast, with the twin aims of creating a beautiful and attractive liturgy for the day and safeguarding it from the more unsavoury customs attached to the kalends of January. The result was the felicitous liturgical spectacle we have been describing. How, then, did it come to pass that is was amputated by the venerable Chapter of Sens?

The surviving account-books of the Chapter from the 13th to the 15th centuries indicate that the Circumcision continued to be celebrated according to Peter’s ordinances during this time, since they provide for the expenses incurred in the day’s celebrations, including stipends for the precentor and the master of the boys’ choir, wine for the vicars and clerics, and Christmas gifts (usually more wine) for various dignitaries, including the boy bishop who presided over the celebrations of Childermas!

One can imagine how the wars and pestilences that ravaged France during the waning of the Middle Ages impacted the ability of the Chapter to finance these festivities, and in the 15th century the register attest that prebends ceased to be assigned for the celebrations of Childermas and the Circumcision, and indeed the Chapter ceased to provide funds for the former entirely.

This sad century, engulfed in a miasma of bloodshed, plague, and schism, begot a dour race of soi-disant reformist and humanistic churchmen who looked askance at the childlike joys of the preceding age. In 1435, many of them came together in the half-œcumenical Council of Basel, where they condemned boy-bishop ceremonies and the “feast of fools” on 1 January before making a Gadarene rush into heresy and schism. Three years later, the Most Christian Lord King Charles VII made the decrees of Basel into ecclesiastical law in France when he promulgated the infamous Pragmatic Sanction, and so prohibited the customary festivities of Childermas and the Circumcision at the same time as he usurped papal prerogatives over the Church of France.

Condemned by the Council (a boy bishop in Burgos, Spain, 2009).

Yet the celebrations proved enduringly popular, and on 10 March 1444, the Faculty of Theology of Paris saw fit to send a circular letter to the bishops and chapters of France attacking certain gross abuses which continued to occur during the “feast of fools.” On 4 December, the Chapter of Sens met and responded by insisting that the “service of the Lord’s Circumcision” be celebrated “devoutly and reverently as it is set out in the books for the same service,”[1] i.e. in Peter’s Office.[2]

In Sens’s suffragan diocese of Troyes, however, the Lord Bishop Jean Leguisé responded by trying to suppress the celebrations altogether. The collegiate church of St Stephen rebelled and, appealing to the authority of the metropolitan see of Sens, they defiantly performed their usual celebrations, culminating on 3 January 1445 with a play where the bishop and his two closest advisers were represented under the names of Hypocrisie, Faintise, and Faux-semblant and duly mocked.

Incensed, the Lord Jean wrote to the Archbishop of Sens, the Lord Louis de Melun, as well as to the King and the Faculty of Theology in Paris. Charles VII was only too happy to meddle, and ordered that the city authorities prevent any repetition these incidents.[3] The Lord Louis, meanwhile, was discomfited by the whole affair, and on 24 November 1445, he ordered the suppression of the feast of fools, dubbing it a “shameful clot” (flagitiosum coagulum) and ordering that all references thereto be effaced in the liturgical books. The Chapter obliged their bishop by cutting off, for the moment, all funds for the celebrations, and storing Peter’s MS. away in their treasury.

Charles VII venerates Our Lord’s birth with all due sobriety. His men are watching to make sure you do too.

But among the clergy and the faithful of Sens the sense remained that the legitimate celebrations of their forefathers were not to be classed together with the base excesses justly condemned by so many authorities, and in 1460 a provincial council found it necessary to crack down on these celebrations anew. Another council was held in 1485 and again repeated the injunction. Yet the very next year, the Chapter’s account-books provide for an expenditure of 50 sous “to keep the feast of New Years’ Day” (pour faire la feste du premier jour de l’an).

In 1511, the Chapter again reminded clerics that they were not to participate in the festum quod dicitur stultorum, including its plays, under pain of excommunication and privation of benefices, but at the same time it expressly permitted them “to perform and sing the divine service in the feast of the Lord’s Circumcision, as it has been celebrated of old in this church.”[4] The view had prevailed that the various condemnations of the feast of fools did not apply to Peter’s Office, which remained part of Sens’s liturgical tradition.

The Chapter repeated this permission in 1514, 1516, and 1517, but in 1521 it was again banned, and this was repeated in 1522, with the war against Spain adduced as an excuse. The next year the clerics’ complaints succeeded in obtaining permission to celebrate Peter’s Office again, so long as it was done honeste ac devote. The tide turned again in 1524, when “the faculty of celebrating the feast of the Circumcision as instituted by the late de Corbeil” was again rescinded.[5] And so things continued to go back and forth until a final prohibition in 1547 proved definitive. By now these sort of revelries were the object of fierce attack by the heretics tearing Christendom apart, and they never again recovered: in 1608, Jacques Taveau, historian of Sens, wrote of Peter’s Office as a practice “entirely fallen into disuse.”[6]

Hélas, sir Asne, hélas !

See the other posts in this series:

1. A Feast of Fools?: First Vespers
2. Compline
3. Mattins, Lauds, and the Little Hours
4. Mass and Second Vespers
6. A New Years’ Apéritif with the Canons of Sens


[1] Prout jacet in libro ipsius servitii devote et cum reverentia.

[2] Although it confirmed the practice that had arisen of drenching the precentor with water at Vespers; no more than three buckets were to be used, however (nec projiciatur aqua in vesperis super praecentorem stultorem ultra quantitatem trium sitularum ad plus). Outside the Church, the Chapter suffered the stulti to perform “other ceremonies” so long as they did not “hurt or injure anyone.”

[3] The chapter of St Stephen, although it never again resorted to such open defiance, continued electing a boy bishop on Candlemas until 1595, and droits continued to be paid for the feast of the Circumcision until the Revolution.

[4] Permissum est vicariis et habituatis ecclesiae celebrare et facere servitium divinum in festo Circumcisionis Domini, prout et quemadmodum antiquitus in eadem ecclesia fieri et decantari consuerit.

[5] Ad requestum vicariorum requirentium facultatem celebrandi festum Circumcisionis a defuncto Corbolio institutum, quod vulgariter dicitur festum stultorum, pro hoc anno rationibus quibusdam moventibus, non consenserunt Domini.

[6] Officium digessisse fertur Petrus de Corbolio quo aliquando die Circumcisionis Christi Senonensis usa est ecclesia, quod fatuorum festum vulgo dictum est, non ob ea quae cantabantur, sed ob multa incondita et stultitiam sapientia, quae fieri tum solebant, et penitus obsolverunt.

New Years’ with the Canons of Sens (4): Mass and Second Vespers

We have been examining the riches of the Feast of the Circumcision as celebrated by the illustrious cathedral chapter of Sens, based on a MS. written under the auspices of the Lord Archbishop Peter of Corbeil. See the previous posts in this series: Introduction and First Vespers; Compline; Mattins, Lauds, & the Little Hours. This post will describe interesting elements in the Mass and Second Vespers of the feast.

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After Terce, the canons prepared for Mass, singing a carol while the celebrant readied himself. This jocund conductus ad presbyterum is a bit of a grammar lesson, for each stanza begins begins with the word dies in a different case: dies (nominative), diei (genitive), diei (dative), diem (accusative), dies (vocative), die (accusative). 


At Mass, as one might expect, each part of the Ordinary (Kyrie Clemens rector, Gloria II, Sanctus IV, Agnus Dei IV) was farced, even the Credo, whereof this is the sole attested example. The Gloria and Credo are troped in the style of the Pater noster and Apostles’ Creed at Compline and Prime, i.e. the text and music of each trope-line is a quotation, textual and musical from another liturgical piece. 

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With respect to the musical propers, however, only the Gradual includes a short trope in the form of a prose; the Sequence Laetabundus follows the Alleluia. 

While the subdeacon prepares to read the epistle, the rest of the canons sang the famous carol Lux optata, and the epistle itself, sung to a special melody, alternates with a trope, most probably intoned by another cleric. The tropes are, like those of the the Gloria and Credo, textually and musically centonized.

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While the deacon readies himself to sing the gospel, the canons again sing a conductus, and although the gospel is not farced, it is sung to special tone:

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 Second Vespers

The canons were surely quite exhausted when time came for second Vespers, and so, after the solemn Deus, in adjutorium sung to the same melody as in First Vespers, they sang the hymn (curiously placed at the beginning), antiphons, and psalms without any tropes. Gaude Maria Virgo was the responsory sung after chapter, and here they did sing all the verses of this particularly prolix piece, concluding with the Marian prose Inviolata, which was extremely popular in the Middle Ages. A short sequence replaced the versicle, as at the other hours.

For the Magnificat, withal, the canons exerted one last effort, for it is set to four different antiphons! O beata infantia, they began, and followed with the first verse of Our Lady’s canticle. Then they sang the antiphon O gratissimi, followed by the second verse; then the antiphon O felices panni, followed by the third first; and then O presepe, with a long melisma of the O, and the fourth verse. They repeated each of these four antiphons after each verse until the Sicut erat, after which they rejoiced with a melismatic Alleluia.

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The MS. then provides three additional conductus, one to be sung while the bacularius (the head cantor, so-called because he held a staff, baculus) prepared himself for an office; one to be sung at an apéritif; and one for lunch. 

At the end of the MS. is an appendix containing special troped melodies for the epistles of the Masses of St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents, all of them centonized. 

See the other posts in this series:

1. A Feast of Fools?: First Vespers
2. Compline
3. Mattins, Lauds, and the Little Hours
5. Why the Office of Peter of Corbeil was Suppressed
6. A New Years’ Apéritif with the Canons of Sens

New Years’ with the Canons of Sens (3): Mattins, Lauds, and the Little Hours

Our previous posts describing First Vespers and Compline of the Feast of the Circumcision at the Cathedral of Sens, as codified by the Lord Archbishop Peter of Corbeil, have, we hope, helped our readers picture the centrality of liturgical celebration in mediæval communities. Long offices were no burden; to the contrary, they were much loved. After all, in the Age of Faith the church was “the common refuge of all, where all of social life resorted. A man prayed there, the town council met there, and the clock was the voice of the city.” Let us recall that

As impressive as Catholic ceremonies remain, they have lost much of their former magnificence. The influence of the Reformation in the 16th century, which gave rise to a religion reduced to its most simple expression, contributed to the impoverishment of the Catholic religion that strove against it, even while permitting an aesthetic element that addressed the soul by way of the senses. In the Middle Ages, everyone believed humbly. Everyone understood and loved the religious ceremonies, which were never too long or too magnificent for their taste. […] Feast days, which were much more numerous than today, were for the poor souls of this world… days of rest whose coming they welcomed with enthusiasm…What a joy to visit the neighboring abbey for a whole day of leisure, to contemplate the splendors of a worship that was at once prayer, teaching, and spectacle! How earnestly they wished these feasts to be many, and the offices to be long![1]


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The canons bestirred themselves right early the next morning in eager anticipation for the day’s liturgical festivities. The Night Office began as usual with the words Domine, labia mea aperies, but rather than the usual reciting tone, it is sung to the melody of an antiphon with the same words borrowed from Lauds of the Second Sunday of Lent. Similarly, the next verse, Deus, in adjutorium, is sung to the melody of the beginning of the Introit of the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, which is set to these same words. The Gloria Patri is sung to the Paschal tone of the Invitatory Psalm 94, although transposed from the sixth to the seventh mode to match the preceding.

It is remarkable that each of the three Nocturns begins with a proper Invitatory. Some 18th-century liturgists such as Jean Lebeuf surmised that this was an atavism, recalling the time when each Nocturn was sung separately. There is, however, no indication in this MS. that the Nocturns were separated, and the plethora of Invitatories is more likely meant to add solemnity rather than recall an archaic practice. Each of these Invitatories is followed by a hymn, all of which are actually sequences borrowed from Mass, presumably because the ancient repertoire had no proper hymns for the Feast of the Circumcision itself. As at First Vespers, sequences from Mass are also substituted for the versicles in each Nocturn. 

The nine responsories are mostly the same as in the Tridentine breviary, with some variations also found in other French uses. 

In the MS., a conductus ad ludos follows Mattins. This was a charming Christmas carol sung by the canons as they made their way to the performance of a musical play on a Scriptural subject. No more information exists on what was performed in Sens, but in the Cathedral of Beauvais in the 13th century, the Ludus Danielis was performed after Matins of the Circumcision. The chanting of the Te Deum concluded this liturgical drama.

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Lauds and the Little Hours

The rest of the Offices proceeded on similar lines. At Lauds, the antiphons and psalms are as in the Tridentine breviary, but, as in Mattins, the hymn and versicle are replaced by sequences. A jolly Benedicamus Domino hymn finishes off the hour.

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Prime begins with the Deus, in adjutorium set to the melody of the same Introit as at Mattins, but from Domine, ad adjuvandum, a recitation tone takes over, curiously on the first mode transposed, even though the Introit melody is of the seventh mode; the result is not too felicitous. The Alleluia is a short melisma. 

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Then two clerics standing in front of the altar intone the epicletic sequence Veni, sancte Spiritus, at the words Ignem accende the choir joins in with a spectacular melisma interspersed into the sequence’s original melody. This melogenic trope was otherwise used at Sens to enhance responsories on solemnities. Only after this sequence is the usual hymn of Prime sung, troped with the exultatory words Fulget dies! Fulget dies ista!

As at Compline, the words of the usual versicle for Prime are used as the basis for a short hymn, and the same festive preces—farced Kyrie, farced Pater, farced Apostles’ Creed —follow. The canons held their chapter office after Prime as usual.

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Trope of a trope: The “versicle” at Terce is a prose-trope on the verse Regnum tuum solidum permanebit in aeternum, itself a trope on the Gloria. This prose was often sung at Childermass; in the cathedral of Salisbury, for instance, it was sung during the boy-bishop ceremony on the eve of the feast.

Terce, Sext, and None all feature a short sequence replacing the usual versicle and a Benedicamus hymn at the end. They are otherwise as in the Tridentine breviary.

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The Benedicamus hymn at the end of None.

See the other posts in this series:

1. A Feast of Fools?: First Vespers
2. Compline
4. Mass and Second Vespers
5. Why the Office of Peter of Corbeil was Suppressed
6. A New Years’ Apéritif with the Canons of Sens


[1] Marius Sepet, Le drame chrétien au moyen age, Paris, Didier, 1878, p. 21 et seq.