The Lenten Veil, by Henri de Villiers

 

The Lenten Veil—Velum quadragesimale

By Henri de Villiers

We are grateful to the author for his permission to translate and publish his article Le voile de Carême – Velum quadragesimale.” 

Lent is a time of fasting. In former times, in order to prepare themselves to live the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, Christians not only fasted from food but also practiced an auditory and visual fast.

Auditory privation took the form of suppressing of the use of the organ and musical instruments, but also in many diocesan uses, suppressing the ringing of bells.

Visual privation with the veils that were placed over the Cross and the statues or even the prohibition of placing flowers upon the altar. Visual privation also included closing off the sanctuary with a great veil, the velum quadrigesimale.

And so in Paris, until around the year 1870, such a veil was hung from the first Sunday of Lent until Spy Wednesday. This great veil, made of violet or ash-coloured linen, completely closed off the sanctuary and masked the view of the High Altar. It was dropped on the pavement of the sanctuary during the course of Spy Wednesday Mass during the chanting of the Passion according to St. Luke, precisely when the chronista reached the chanting of this verse: “et obscuratus est sol: et velum templi scissum est medium.” (Luke 23:45).

This dramatic visual action gave life to the words of the Gospel of the Passion that the faithful heard and reinforced its meaning in their hearts.

This great veil—called the velum quadrigesimale or velum templi—was not, however, particular to Paris, since it is found in all the lands of the ancient Carolingian world. Its usage is attested by many councils and medieval statutes and actually goes all the way back to Christian antiquity. Growing more and more ornate toward the end of the Middle Ages, especially in Germany, the Lenten veil, which had survived the Lutheran reform, is currently witnessing a renewed interest.

1. The Lenten Veil in the Ancient Use of Paris

Below are several paragraphs concerning the decoration of churches during Lent, taken from the Caeremoniale Parisiense published in 1662 by Cardinal de Retz, and edited by Martin Sonnet, priest and beneficiary of the Church of Paris, a reference work for understanding the old Parisian rite. This passage describes the set-up of the decoration of churches proper to the time Lent, carried out before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent. Regarding the great Lenten veil, the parisian Ceremonial stipulates not only when it must be placed in the sanctuary, but also at what precise moments it must be opened or closed.

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From the Sundays and ferias of Lent until Palm Sunday.

And when Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry (Matthew 4:2).

1. The first Sunday of Lent is a semi-double of the first class. Semi-double with respect to the office; first class, with respect to its privilege.

2. The Saturday before Vespers, the Master of Ceremonies ensures that the churchwarden or the sacristan and his assistants entirely cover up all crosses, reliquaries or relics of the saints, and images of the church, even the Processional Cross, in a dignified manner with a violet or ash-coloured veils made from camlet or damask silk, or from a silky fabric. He likewise ensures that the high altar and the other altars of the church be covered with frontals of the same colour.

3. And before the high altar, between the choir and the sanctuary, from one side to the other, a great oblong and wide veil is hung, or a large curtain made of violet or ash-coloured camlet, which can be drawn back or folded or let down when needful, or even spread out or closed or drawn, until Wednesday of Holy Week.

4. Now, this great veil is spread out for all ferial hours only, and for the entire day and night, and it is never spread out during mass, nor during the Sunday office from First Vespers until Second Vespers and for the entire day and night, nor indeed on the offices of double and semi-double feasts, nor by day nor by night.

5. Additionally, all draperies and all the carpets of the steps or the predella of the high altar and the other altars, are taken down throughout the Church: in sum, until Easter, the entire church is without ornament.

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Observe how the same Ceremonial describes the lifting of the great Lenten veil a little later, when it speaks about Spy Wednesday:

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11. The deacon sings the Passion according to St Luke, which the celebrant meanwhile reads on the Gospel side, as is noted in the preceding Tuesday. Now, after he arrives at the eagle which is in the middle of the choir, the Master of Ceremonies extends the great veil between the sanctuary and the altar, in the usual manner. It is elevated in each part of the choir, and held by two clerics, until these words of the Passion: “And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst”. And when the deacon pronounced those words, at the command of the Master of Ceremonies, the two aforementioned clerics immediately let go, so the veil may suddenly fall entirely on the floor of the choir, and it is afterwards taken away by the sacristan.

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It is very interesting to note that the great Lenten veil remains opened all Sunday, from First Vespers to Second: the Day of the Lord, Dies Domini, has always been the feast of the Resurrection, even in Lent. Fasting is forbidden on this day.

The Cæremoniale Parisiense of Cardinal de Noailles, published in 1703, moreover, quite reasonably postpones the installation of the veil until after Compline of the First Sunday of Lent and before the Night Office of Monday: since the veil remained open on all Sundays, its installation before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent—however it perfectly logically fit with the entry into Lent—was not absolutely necessary. According to this Ceremonial, the other veils on the images and crosses are nevertheless always installed before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent. As we shall see, the practice of placing the Lenten veil after Compline of the First Sunday is already found in most medieval monastic customaries from the 10th century, and perhaps this is a souvenir from ancient times—before St. Gregory the Great!—when the fast did not commence until Monday.

2. The Lenten Veil in the Rest of Europe

Before the Renaissance and the printing of the first diocesan ceremonials, it is not always easy to discover the development of various liturgical rites in exact detail: the rubrics in the old Medieval Missals are fragmentary or even non-existent. We may still glean several useful details in the acts of provincial councils, and especially in the Customaries of the Abbeys, which regulated the details of conventual life in each of the great monastic centers with great precision.

And so we find the great Lenten veil mentioned by a series of medieval Anglo-Norman councils as being part of the supplies that every church was obliged to possess: these are the councils of Exeter (1217), Canterbury (1220), Winchester (1240), Evreux (1240), and Oxford (1287).

Prior to these councils, a number of customaries, constitutions, and statutes of medieval abbeys witness to the custom of closing off the sanctuary with a veil during Lent.

The most ancient mention is found in the Consuetudines Farfenses, the Constitutions of the Abbey of Farfa, near Rome, produced around the year 1010 (ch. XLII), which notes for the evening of the First Sunday of Lent:

Nam denique secraetarius cortinam exacta vespera in fune ordinet et completorio consummato in circulos extendant.

And finally, after Vespers have finished, the sacristan shall set up a curtain over a cord and, at the end of Compline, they shall spread it out.

St. Lanfranc († 1089), abbot of Saint-Étienne in Caen and then archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, speaks in his statutes about the Lenten veil, which must be installed after Compline of the First Sunday of Lent, and about other veils for the crosses and images, which are placed the next day before Terce:

Dominica prima Quadragesimae post Completorium suspendatur cortina inter Chorum et altare. Feria secunda ante Tertiam debent esse coopertae Crux, Coronae, Capsae, textus qui imagines deforis habent.

On the First Sunday of Lent, after Compline, let a curtain be hung up between the choir and the altar. On Monday before Terce, the Cross, crowns, reliquaries, and the fabrics which have images [painted] on them must be covered up (Statutes ch. 1, § 3).

Here are several more references, which admittedly show some variation in detail amongst the medieval monastic uses, but which allow us to appreciate the wide extent of the use of the Lenten veil:

  • Post Completorium appenditur velum inter altare et chorum quod nullus praeter Sanctuarii Custodes, atque Ministros, absque rationabili causa audet transire.After Compline, a veil is hung between the altar and the choir, which no one besides the custodians of the sanctuary and the ministers [of the mass] should dare to cross without reasonable cause. (Liber Consuetudinum S. Benigni Divionensis, Customary of St-Bénigne in Dijon)
  • Dominica post completam debet Secretarius tendere cortinam inter chorum et altare et Crucifixum cooperire.On Sunday after Compline the Sacristan must stretch out a curtain between the choir and the altar and cover the Crucifix. (Liber Usuum Beccesnsium, Book of the Usages of Bec-Hellouin)
  • Hac die post Completorium cruces cooperiantur, et cortina ante Presbyterium tendatur, quae ita omnibus diebus privatis per XL usque ad quartam feriam ante Pascha post Completorium remanebit. (…) In Sabbatis vero et in vigiliis SS. duodecim Lectionum ante Vesperas a conspectu Presbyterii est cortina retrahenda, et in crastino post Completorium est remittenda. Similiter retrahentur ad Missam pro praesenti defuncto, et ad exequias: Non intres in iudicium, donec septem psalmi finiantur post sepulturam. S et ad benedictionem novitii. (…) Ad missam vero privatis diebus, ut Sacerdos libere ab Abbate, si assuerit, ad Evangelium legendum benedictionem petat, Subdiaconus cornu cortinae in parte Abbatis modice retrahat, et data benedictione, ut prius erat, remittat. Diaconus vero accedat ad cortinam, ubi sublevata est, quaerens benedictionem.On this day, after Compline, let the crosses be covered up, and a curtain be extended before the sanctuary, which must remain so on all ferial days throughout Lent until after Compline of the Wednesday before Easter. […] On Saturdays, however, and the vigils of saints of twelve lessons, the curtain must be drawn back before Vespers that the sanctuary might be visible, and it is put back the next day after Compline. It is likewise to be drawn back on a funeral mass where the body is present, and on obsequies from Non intres in judicium until the seven penitential psalms finish after the burial, and on the blessing of a novice. […] But on weekday masses, in order that the priest, if he wishes, can freely ask the blessing of the abbot for reading the Gospel, let the Subdeacon slightly draw back the end of the curtain at the abbot’s side, and after the blessing has been given, let him put it back as it was before. But let the deacon walk up to the curtain, at the point where it is lifted up, to ask for the blessing. (Liber Usuum Cisterciensium, Book of the Usages of Cîteaux, ch. 15: De Dominica prima XL).
  • Hac die post IX ante Sanctuarium cortina a Sacrista tendatur, et cruces in ecclesia cooperiantur. (…) In festis vero SS. XII. Lectionum, et Dominicis, die praecedente ad Vesperas a conspectu Sanctuarii cortina abstrahenda est, et in die festi post Completorium rehrahenda: similiter singulis diebus ante elvationem Domin Corporis abstrahantur, et ea facta retrahetur.On this day after None, let a curtain be spread out before the sanctuary by the sacristan, and let the crosses in the church be covered up, […] But on saints feasts of twelve lessons, and on Sundays, at Vespers on the preceding day the curtain is to be opened up that the sanctuary might be visible, and after Compline on the feast it is to be put back. Similarly, on each day let it be opened up before the elevation of the Body of the Lord, and closed again thereafter. (Tullense S. Apri Ordinarium, Ordinary of St-Evre-lès-Toul)
  • Vesperae autem diei praecedentis diem cinerum, cruces, et imagines cooperiantur, et cortina ante Presbyterium tendatur, quae ita omnibus diebus privatis usque ad quartam feriam hebdomadae palmarum dum canitur: Et velum Templi scissum est, remanebit. (…) Et omnibus etiam privatis diebus ad elevationem Dominici Corporis et Sanguinis Missae conventualis, quae cantantur in summo altari.Now, at Vespers of the day preceding the Day of Ashes, let the crosses and images be covered up, and a curtain be stretched out before the sanctuary, which shall remain thus on all ferial days until Wednesday of the Week of Palms, when Et velum templi scissum est is sung. […] but not on ferial days at the elevation of the Body and Blood of the Lord during conventual Mass, which is sung at the high altar. (Caeremoniae Bursfeldenses, Ceremonial of the German Benedictine Congregation of Bursfelde, ch. 31, 1474-1475)

3. The German Fastentuch

The Lenten veil has remained in use here and there in Sicily and in Spain, but it is especially in Germany and Austria that it has been preserved to our day. The fact that the Lenten veils (or Fastentuch in German) had there become genuine works of art by their decoration surely has something to do with their preservation, and the continuance of their use.

The Lenten veil of Paris would usually have been a rather ordinary woolen sheet (made of ‘camlet’ to employ the technical term used by Martin Sonnet in the Ceremonial of 1662), and must have remained without any special decoration for a long time, as it was in its primitive state. None of these have been conserved and we have not been able to find any ancient iconographic representations.

On the other hand, it is at the end of the 13th century that we observe, in Flanders and Germany, that Lenten veils became ornamented, first with embroidery and then with painting, becoming more and more rich and sumptuous.

Especially in southern Germany and Austria one sees that Lenten veils became very richly painted canvases representing scenes of the Passion, often true masterpieces of their time.

Voile-de-Carême-de-la-cathédrale-de-Fribourg-1612.png
Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Fribourg (1612)

In Germany, the cathedral of Our Lady of Fribourg preserves the largest Lenten veil known in Europe. Dating to 1612, it measures more than 10 by 12 metres and weighs almost one ton. The central scene of the crucifixion is surrounded by 25 squares containing various episodes of the Passion.

Voile-de-Carême-de-lAbbaye-de-Millstatt-en-Autriche-1593
Lenten Veil of the Abbey of Millstatt in Austria (1593)

The Lenten veil of the Abbey of Millstatt, in Carinthia (Austria) originating in 1593 had fallen into disuse. Restored, it has been reinstalled and used once more every Lent since 1984.

Voile-de-Carême-de-la-cathédrale-de-Gurk-en-Autriche-1458.jpg
Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Gurk in Austria (1458)

These Lenten veils were a veritable instrument of catechesis through image, educating the people on the history of salvation.

Voile-de-Carême-de-la-cathédrale-de-Gurk-en-Autriche-composé-de-99-tableaux-de-lEcriture-1458
The Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Gurk in Austria, composed of 99 (tableaux) from Scripture (1458)

In Northern Germany, the Lenten veil remained of a much more simple design: made of white linen decorated with embroidery, consisting usually of references from Scripture or the liturgy. These features are found also in the ancient Lenten veils of Flanders that are conserved in the museums of Belgium, the more ancient belonging to the 14th century. The Museum of the cathedral of Brandenburg near Berlin possesses one dating from the year 1290.

Voile-de-Carême-de-léglise-Saint-Magnus-dEverswinkel-éléments-remontant-à-1614.png

Voile-de-Carême-de-léglise-lAssomption-à-Marienbaum

Martin Luther, who detested the idea of Lent and of penance, tried to make the Fastentuch disappear in all of Germany. Little by little they fell into disuse, and from the end of the 19th century the use had practically disappeared. Curiously, this ancient tradition reappeared vigorously beginning in 1974, when the charitable association Misereor had the idea of producing a Fastentuch to give concrete expression to Christians’ Lenten efforts. This initiative has a certain impact all over Germany, leading to the rediscovery of this tradition, the restoration of numerous historic veils that slept in the vaults of cathedrals or museums, and their suspension in sanctuaries once more. There was so much interest that even the Lutherans were moved to put them up! Currently, it is estimated that one third of German Catholic churches as well as many hundreds of Lutheran parishes hang up a veil during Lent. From Germany the practice is expanding currently into Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and even France.

Voile-réalisé-pour-le-Carême-2010-pour-la-cathédrale-de-Bonn.jpg

4. A Tradition with Roots in Christian Antiquity

The practice of veiling images, crosses, and relics during Lent is certainly ancient in the West. Thus, we see in the life of St. Eligius, written by St. Audoin († 686), that the precious casket of the saint was covered by a veil during the entire duration of Lent. But this is not exactly the purpose of this article.

The practice of hanging a veil before the sanctuary of churches hearkens to the most ancient period.

The Old Testament, a type of the New, speaks of a veil that covered the Holy of Holies, first in the itinerant Tabernacle of the desert, then in the Temple of Jerusalem (according to St. Paul, the veil that was rent at the death of Christ was the second veil, and a first veil closed off the Holy Place. Cf. Hebrews 9:3).

The first Christian churches used the sanctuary veil as much in the West as in the East.

The ancient altar was usually covered by a ciborium or baldacchino, between whose columns veils were hung.

Le-ciborium-antique-de-la-basilique-Saint-Ambroise-de-Milan-notez-les-4-tringles-qui-soutenaient-les-voiles-entre-les-colonnes.jpg

Besides these veils over the ciborium, the sanctuary itself was separated from the choir and the nave by a cloister called the chancel or templon, a barrier that might include columns, between which veils were hung. Twelve columns closed off the sanctuary of the basilica of the Anastasis (today the Holy Sepulchre) constructed by Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century. These columns served to support curtains, as various patristic texts tell us. The curtain of the sanctuary of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, donated by the munificence of the emperor Justinian, was made of cloth of gold and silver of an estimated cost of 2,000 minae.

Reconstitution-du-sanctuaire-de-Sainte-Sophie-à-Constantinople-vue-de-face

This double rung of veils, the veil of the templum and the veil of the ciborium, constituted the limits of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the temples of the new covenant.

Reconstitution-du-sanctuaire-de-Sainte-Sophie-à-Constantinople-vue-de-dessus-notez-la-présence-du-ciborium-au-dessus-de-lautel-le-sanctuaire-est-fermé-par-les-colonnes-du-templon.jpg

The curtains were kept closed or open depending on the moments of the liturgical action. Their opening always signified the full transmission of grace and symbolized the opening of the heavens.

“When,” said St John Chrysostom, “the heavenly host is upon the altar, when Jesus Christ, the royal lamb, is immolated, when you hear these words: ‘Let us all pray to the Lord together’, when you see that the veils and curtains of the altar are pulled back, consider that you contemplate the heavens that are opened up and the angels that come down to earth.”

Reconstitution-du-sanctuaire-de-Sainte-Sophie-à-Constantinople-vue-de-dessus-notez-la-présence-du-ciborium-au-dessus-de-lautel-vue-latérale-du-sanctuaire.jpg

The West was not to be outdone: one finds in the Liber Pontificalis several references to popes (e.g. Sergius I, Gregory III, Zachary, Hadrian I) who donated veils to ornament the arcades of the ciboria and the sanctuaries of Roman churches.

Many ancient Eastern and Western liturgies contain a prayer—the prayer of the veil—that the celebrant says when, during the offertory, he leaves the choir and enters the sanctuary, going beyond the veil that closed it off.

The prayer of the veil in the Liturgy of St James, which represents the ancient use of the Church of Jerusalem, is justly renowned:

“We thank Thee, O Lord our God, that Thou hast given us boldness for the entrance of Thy holy places, which Thou hast renewed to us as a new and living way through the veil of the flesh of Thy Christ. We therefore, being counted worthy to enter into the place of the tabernacle of Thy glory, and to be within the veil, and to behold the Holy of Holies, cast ourselves down before Thy goodness: Lord, have mercy on us: since we are full of fear and trembling, when about to stand at Thy holy altar, and to offer this dread and bloodless sacrifice for our own sins and for the errors of the people: send forth, O God, Thy good grace, and sanctify our souls, and bodies, and spirits; and turn our thoughts to holiness, that with a pure conscience we may bring to Thee a peace-offering, the sacrifice of praise:

(Aloud.) By the mercy and loving-kindness of Thy only-begotten Son, with whom Thou art blessed, together with Thy all-holy, and good, and quickening Spirit, now and always:

R/. Amen.”

Voile-dans-une-église-de-rite-syro-malankare-au-Kérala.png

The Assyro-Chaldean, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches have kept the use of a curtain that closes off the sanctuary. In the Armenian Church, a church is considered to be in disuse if its sanctuary is bereft of a curtain. In the Byzantine church, the columns that once propped up the curtain grew coated with icons in the course of the ages and became the iconostasis: the curtain is still present, although its extension is most often limited to the breadth of the sanctuary doors.

Veil Armenia.jpg

Even if a curtain closes off the sanctuary yearlong in the East, there are nevertheless special customs during Lent. Thus, in the Armenian Church, the usual curtain is replaced during Lent by a black curtain. This black curtain always remains closed during mass and the Lenten offices, symbolizing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. It is not opened until Palm Sunday.

The Russians likewise change their usual brightly coloured curtain for a sombre-coloured one during the weekdays of Great Lent. All the other veils and coverings of the church are similarly changed. Brightly coloured curtains return on Holy Saturday during the Paschal Vigil, right before the singing of the Gospel of the Resurrection, while the choir sings “Rise up, O Lord, and judge the earth.”

Conclusion

Is it foreseeable that this custom will be restored in France, like it has in Germany?

Juridically, there is nothing blocking it, since the Congregation of Rites has affirmed that the use of the great veil of Lent closing off the sanctuary is indeed permissible (decr. auth. 3448, 11 May 1878).

Nevertheless, we still have something of the “visual Lent” of our forefathers since we have kept the Roman usage of veiling the crosses and statues before First Vespers of Passion Sunday (fifteen days before Easter). Even if this article is not directly about that beautiful custom, it might perhaps help us to better understand the origins of that use and to grasp its historical and symbolic depths.

*For more on veils, also posts at NLM here and here.

The History of the Folded Chasuble (Part 2)

We continue with the second part of Henri de Villiers’s article “Les chasubles pliés: Histoire et liturgie”, originally published in French on the website of the Schola Sainte Cécile

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FOLDED CHASUBLES?

The generalized practice of cutting off the front part of the folded chasuble, which is certainly convenient, must have contributed to it being perceived as a vestment distinct from the celebrant’s chasuble, which was certainly not so in the beginning. Paradoxically, this might have contributed to disaffection with its use. In 1914, the Jesuit Braun [14] deplored the disappearance of folded chasubles throughout Germany. France was hardly better off at this time; although the published ceremonials continue to describe the use of folded chasubles, it is quite rare to find examples or even photographs of them in the 20th century). Their use seems to have endured more in Italy, in the Iberian Peninsula, and in the British Isles.

Already suppressed for the Paschal Vigil in the new experimental liturgies of 1951 and 1952, folded chasubles were entirely banished from Holy Week with the 1955 reforms, and violet and black dalmatics and tunicles put in their place; folded chasubles were still to be used during the rest of Lent and other penitential seasons. This anomaly ceased with the publication of the new code of rubrics in 1960, which stated at the end of the general rubrics that “folded chasubles and broad stoles are no longer used” [15].

Msgr Léon Gromier, the Papal Master of Ceremonies, remarked during his famous conference on the reforms of Holy Week:

Folded chasubles are one of the oldest characteristics of the Roman Rite; they go back to the time when all the clergy wore chasubles, and were retained for a most austere penance. Abandoning them makes a lie of the paintings in the catacombs. It is an immense loss, an outrage to history. They wrongly give this explanation to justify their misdeed: that folded chasubles are difficult to find. But the exact contrary is the case: one finds violet chasubles everywhere that can be folded, whereas violet dalmatics are much less widespread [16]. Besides, one always has the option of ministering in an alb.

We may add that it was a curious move to suppress folded chasubles at the same moment when a return to the ancient, more ample form of the chasuble was being promoted everywhere.

On the other hand, the usage of folded chasubles was never interrupted among the Anglo-Catholics (and perhaps its usage will be gradually restored by the various new ordinariates erected to receive these communities into the bosom of the Catholic Church). In addition, amidst the renaissance of liturgical studies among traditional Catholic communities one observes a growing number of people who are restoring the ancient use.

IN THE OTHER WESTERN RITES. The use of the folded chasuble is not limited to the Roman Rite. It is found, with variations, in the following liturgies:

1) The Ambrosian Rite: Folded chasubles are used during Advent, Lent, and the Major and Minor Litanies (i.e. Rogation Days, which take place on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after the Ascension in this rite, and during which ashes are imposed) and other fasting days throughout the year. As in the Roman rite, the subdeacon takes off his folded chasuble to chant the Epistle. The deacon rolls his up crosswise in the Roman way from the Gospel to the end of Communion. During Sundays of Lent, the deacon chants the very ancient litanies after the Ingressa at the beginning of the Mass; to do this, since it pertains to his proper ministry, he also rolls his chasuble crosswise. The liturgical colours differ from the Roman custom: dark violet during Advent and the Sundays of Lent, but the ferias of Lent are in black. The Major Litanies are in dark violet and the Minor are in black. During an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on a day of penance, folded chasubles are obligatory, even in small churches. One notable difference with the Roman use is that during all of Holy Week (which begins on the eve of Palm Sunday, in Traditione Symboli) is celebrated in red and the dalmatic and tunicle are employed.

2) The Rite of Braga: The use is identical to the Roman rite, except for the procession of Palms when the dalmatic and tunicle are used.

3) The Rite of Lyon: very interestingly, folded chasubles are not used until after the first Sunday of Lent, a relic of the time prior to St Gregory the Great when the first day of the Lenten Fast was the Monday following this Sunday. The deacon takes off his chasuble before chanting the Gospel but does not roll it over his shoulders (so he does the same as the subdeacon at the Epistle). Folded chasubles are not used on Good Friday.

4) The Rite of Paris: Chasubles are not folded but rolled over the shoulders (the ceremonials speak of transversed chasubles: planetis tranversis super humeros). They are not used during Sundays of Advent (which are celebrated in white in Paris); rather the dalmatic and tunicle are used instead. Folded chasubles are nonetheless used during ferial Masses of Advent in bigger churches with many clerics; smaller churches are dispensed. Transversed chasubles are used for the first time on Ash Wednesday, then on Sundays of Lent, and on Good Friday; the vestments are black each time. On ferias of Lent, on the other hand, the deacon and subdeacon serve only in alb, stole, and maniple, without chasubles, even in the cathedral. Ember Days in September are celebrated with red transversed chasubles since these days belong to the Time after Pentecost, which is red in Paris.

5) The Premonstratensians: This rite has the interesting peculiarity that the use of folded chasubles begins on Septuagesima.

6) The Cistercians, Dominicans, and Carmelites: These three rites shares similar uses; during penitential seasons, the deacon and subdeacon serve in alb, stole, and maniple, as in smaller churches in the Roman rite. Note that in the Dominican rite, the dalmatic and tunicle are not used during ferial Masses throughout the year.

7) The Carthusians: This rite is very pared down and does not employ the dalmatic and tunicle at all during the year. During Mass, the deacon only puts on the stole to sing the Gospel. Folded chasubles are therefore not used at all.

AND IN THE EAST?– Based on the evidence from ancient artistic representations, the Byzantine East used the chasuble since at least the 5th century; and it is called φαιλόνιον in Greek (phelonion, similar to the Latin pælonia).

Théophile d'Alexandrie - miniature sur papyrus du Vème siècle.
Theophilus of Alexandria. Miniature on papyrus, 5th century.

By an interesting development similar to the one that happened in the West, the front part of the phelonion is cut in such a way as to facilitate the gestures of the celebrant.

Icône représentant saint Jean de Novgorod - le phélonion est tenu replié sur les bras.
Icon representing St John of Novgorod: the phelonion is held folded over the arms.
Prêtre byzantin portant le phélonion. La partie avant du vêtement est désormais coupée pour faciliter les gestes liturgiques.
A Byzantine priest wearing the phelonion. The front part of the vestment is cut to facilitate liturgical gestures.

Certain Spanish folded chasubles have a shape very similar to that of modern-day Byzantine phelonia cut in the front.

Chasubles pliées d'origine espagnole, assez proche de l'actuelle coupe byzantine.
Spanish-style folded chasubles, very similar to the current Byzantine cut.

We nevertheless do not find any evidence that deacons and subdeacons ever wore chasubles in the East; both used dalmatics [17]. Yet, in the Russian use, during the ordination of a cantor or lector, the bishop puts a short phelonion over his shoulders, which is likely the Eastern equivalent of the Western folded chasuble.

Ordination d'un lecteur dans l'usage russe.
Ordination of a lector in the Russian use.

The short phelonion is then taken off once the lector has chanted an Epistle.

Le lecteur byzantin nouvellement ordonné & revêtu du petit phélonion chante l'épître
A newly-ordained Byzantine lector wearing the short phelonion sings the Epistle.

During the ordination of a non-monastic subdeacon, the candidate presents himself before the bishop wearing a short phelonion. This vestment is not used outside these two ordinations [18], but it might well be the remnant of a more ancient custom where the chasuble was worn by the minor clergy.

Phélonion et petit phélonion russes.
Russian phelonion and short phelonion.

The other Eastern rites do not, in general, use the chasuble, even for the celebrant, who usually dons a cope. The Armenians, however, do have an equivalent of the Russian short phelonion [19], a short cape that covers the shoulders of minor clerics in this rite and which is most often attached to the alb in our days:

Messe dans le rit arménien - cathédrale arménienne catholique Sainte-Croix de Paris.
Mass in the Armenian Rite (Armenian Catholic Cathedral of Sainte-Croix in Paris).
Ordinations de diacres arméniens.
Ordination of Armenian deacons.

CONCLUSION. Mons. Bugnini’s enthusiastic efforts to suppress folded chasubles (he notes with disdain that no one will miss them) [20] gives rise to a larger question that naturally emerges when one studies the liturgical reforms of 1951-1969. These reforms were presented to the faithful at that time as a welcome return to the liturgy of ancient Christianity, finally purified from the dross of the High Middle Ages and the Baroque era. But if that is the case, how are we to explain the contemptuous suppression of this truly ancient element of the Roman Rite, the folded chasuble, a precious custom that unites us to the prayer and practice of our forefathers in the faith going back to the first centuries? Alas, this particular example is far from unique, and it only highlights the abandonment of numerous ancient elements of the liturgy in favor of the purely imaginative constructs that took place during these reforms. More globally, one might ask about the nature of the liturgical reform of 1951-1969: does it constitute a continuous organic development of the liturgy of the Church or a radical rupture with the centuries-long praxis of the Roman Rite?

It is interesting to consider how in different parts of the world, traditional communities are starting to take up the use of folded chasubles. We are certain that these communities perceive that they form a part of the symbolic richness that the tradition has bequeathed to us and of which we have been unjustly deprived.

Chasuble pliée - Rome.
Folded chasuble, Rome.
Mercredi des Cendres.
Ash Wednesday.
Londres.
Good Friday, London.
Stolon noir du Vendredi Saint. Londres.
Black broad stole on Good Friday, London.
Passion selon saint Matthieu - messe pontificale des Rameaux - Rome.
The Passion according to St Matthew. Pontifical Mass on Palm Sunday, Rome.
Second dimanche de Carême 2016 - collégiale Saint-Just de Lyon.
Second Sunday of Lent 2016, collegiate church of Saint-Just in Lyon.
Second dimanche de Carême 2016 - collégiale Saint-Just de Lyon.
Second Sunday of Lent 2016, collegiate church of Saint-Just in Lyon.
A l'aspersion - second dimanche de Carême 2016 - Société Saint-Hugues de Cluny - Connecticut.
The Asperges, Second Sunday of Lent, Society of St Hugh of Cluny, Connecticut.
Notez la chasuble transversale roulée - second dimanche de Carême 2016 - Société Saint-Hugues de Cluny - Connecticut.
Note the transversed chasuble that is actually rolled, Second Sunday of Lent, Society of St Hugh of Cluny, Connecticut.
Distribution des cierges de la Chandeleur 2016 - Institut du Christ-Roi - Gricigliano.
Distribution of candles in Candlemas 2016, Institute of Christ the King, Gricigliano.

Notes

14. G. Braun, Die liturgischen Paramente, 1914, p. 98.
15. Rubrica generales XIX, n. 137: Planetae plicatae et stola latior amplius non adhibentur.
16. Indeed, strictly speaking violet dalmatics and tunicles are only used on the three Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.
17. Which very often retains structures much more ancient than the Greek usage.
18. The lector-cantor ordinarily uses a type of tunic for his office, the sticharion—στιχάριον. Certain parishes have tried to restore a more frequent use of the short phelonion.
19. According to R. Pilkington, I riti orientali, Turin, L.I.C.E. —Berruti, p. 31.
20. Cf. A. Bugnini—C. Braga, Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae instauratus commentarium. Bibliotheca Ephemerides Liturgicae Sectio Historica 25, Roma, Edizioni Liturgiche, 1956, p. 56, n. 28.

The History of the Folded Chasuble (Part 1)

We are much obliged to Henri de Villiers and the Schola Sainte Cécile for permission to publish this translation of his article “Les chasubles pliés: Histoire et liturgie,” which we post again this year.

Folded chasubles are the vestments used by the deacon and subdeacon during penitential seasons instead of the dalmatic and tunicle. Their use dates back to the earliest years of the Church, when all the clergy used the chasuble.

HISTORY. The chasuble was originally a civil garment used already by the Etruscans, and became widespread in the Roman Empire beginning in the first century of our era, to the point that it became an elegant article of clothing in common use. It was a round garment with a hole in its centre to pass the head through, and covered the upper body down to the knees. It is known under different names, the principal ones being: pænula, the most common name in ancient Rome; casula, literally “little house” because it was a sort of little tent (this term has resulted in the English “chasuble”); planeta, the term later used by the Roman liturgical books, whereas the rest of Western Europe has always preferred to use casula; and amphibalus, mainly employed by the Fathers of the Church of Gaul.

Etruscan pænula (particularly rolled up over the arms), 4th century B. C.

The chasuble then tended, at the start of our era, to replace the old toga, which was too heavy and less practical, to the point where Roman orators began to insist on using them instead of togas when pleading cases, in order to have more freedom in for oratorical gestures [1]. Under the Emperor Trajan (98-117), the tribunes of the people wore chasubles, and Commodus (180-192) ordered that those assisting public spectacles should do so in a chasuble and no longer in a toga. The chasuble became the senatorial vestment in 382.

Christians naturally used this garment [2] and at the start of the 3rd century Tertullian chastised the faithful who took off their chasubles during liturgical prayers for reasons that he labelled superstitious [3]. As the chasuble became a vestment of honour for high officers of the Empire, Christians sought to give their own tribunes and senators—bishops, priests, and deacons—a similar mark of honour.

In Christian writings, the first mention of the chasuble as a properly liturgical vestment is relatively late: it is found in the second of the two letters written by St Germain of Paris († 576), which contains a famous description of the mass according to the ancient Gallican rite:

Casula quam amphibalum vocant, quod sacerdos induetur, tota unita per Moysem legiferum instituta primitus demonstratur. Jussit ergo Dominus fieri dissimilatum vestimentum, ut talem sacerdos induerit, quale indui populus non auderetur. Ideo sine manicas, quia sacerdos potius benedicit quam ministrat. Ideo unita prinsecus, non scissa, non aperta ; quia multae sunt Scripturae sacrae secreta mysteria, quae quasi sub sigillo sacerdoti doctus debet abscondere, et unitatem fidei custodire, non in haerese vel schismata declinare.

The chasuble, which is known as amphibalus and which the priest wears, shows the original unity of all that was instituted by Moses the Lawgiver. Now, the Lord commanded that diverse vestments be made, so that the people might not dare wear what the priest wears. Hence it has no sleeves, since the priest’s duty is to bless rather than to minister. Hence from the start it has been of one piece, and not split or opened, since many are the hidden mysteries of Holy Scripture, which the learned priest must conceal under a seal, as it were, and preserve the unity of the faith, nor to fall into heresy or schism.

Nevertheless, well before this first mention, numerous frescoes, mosaics, and miniatures from the 4th century onward show beyond doubt the chasuble was largely adopted during this era as a liturgical vestment, in the East as well as the West.

Chasuble-de-saint-Ambroise-à-Milan
St Ambrose of Milan wearing a chasuble. Note the cut that facilitates the movements of the right arm. Mosaic dated 375 from the chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro in the basilica of St Ambrose.

At this time, the chasuble was the general vestment of all the clergy, not only that of bishops and priests, but also of deacons, subdeacons, and—according to Alcuin (c. 730-804)—in certain circumstances even of acolytes! Amalarius of Metz (775-850) tells us that the chasuble was still worn in his time by all clerics without distinction. He calls it the generale indumentum sacrorum ducum [4]. t was still employed by acolytes in certain regions into the 11th century [5].

For the celebrating bishop or priest, this vestment did not create any discomfort in carrying out the sacred ceremonies, as St Germain of Paris notes: “Hence it has no sleeves, since the duty of the priest is to bless rather than to minister”. But the ministers—deacons and subdeacons—had to adapt the chasuble for their purposes: they rolled back the front part of the vestment, so that the arms of the ministers would be free to handle the sacred vessels. And thus they were dubbed “folded chasubles”, or planetæ plicatæ ante pectus, as the Latin liturgical books say.

In order to better understand the form taken by this folding, below are some photographs taken from the journal L’Art d’Église (n. 4, 1948), which show a very successful attempt to recreate the ancient shape of the folded chasuble by the monks of the St Andrew’s Abbey in Belgium:

The subdeacon’s folded chasuble.

From the singing of the Gospel until the end of the Mass, the deacon, in order to be freer in his movements, rolled up his chasuble and slung it across his shoulders over his stole:

The deacon’s chasuble: rolled and slung over the shoulder or simply folded, depending on the different moments of the Mass.

The celebrant’s chasuble did not need to be folded [6] precisely because the deacon and subdeacon would help him by lifting up its edges at certain times during the incensings and at the elevations. This beautiful gesture was faithfully kept by the Roman liturgy, even when it ceased to be necessary after celebrants’ chasubles began to be clipped and reduced in shape.

In fact, the folded chasubles worn by deacons and subdeacons were a clear symbol of their proper function as sacred ministers, i.e. of their role as servants of the celebrant.

Deacons’ and subdeacons’ folded chasubles were later replaced, beginning in the 5th century, by two new vestments: the dalmatic and the tunicle, vestments endowed with sleeves that it more manageable to carry out their liturgical and ministerial functions.

Still, Rome took a long time to adopt this novelty, and the Ordines Romani that describe the Roman liturgy at the time of St Gregory the Great and a bit thereafter (7th century) still name the chasuble as the vestment worn by the pope, the deacons, and the subdeacons. Moreover, John the Deacon (c. 825-880), the biographer of St Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), in his Vita Gregorii Magni, designates the rest of the clergy that accompanied the Pope on processions with the term planeti (“those wearing planetæ“, i.e. chasubles).

When Rome finally accepted the use of dalmatics and tunicles, she nevertheless kept the use of folded chasubles for the deacon and subdeacon during Lent and penitential seasons, following the generally observed liturgical principle that the seasons considered the most holy are also those that are spared from liturgical innovations.

Furthermore, the dalmatic and tunicle are sumptuous vestments that symbolize joy and innocence. For a long time, their colour had to be white, and ancient dalmatics were also adorned with the two bright purple vertical bands (lati claves) that adorned the senatorial garb of old. During the ordination of a deacon, the bishop imposes the dalmatic upon him with these words: “May the Lord attire thee in the garment of salvation, and the vestment of joy (indumento lætitiæ), and ever surround thee with the dalmatic of justice”. The equivalent prayer for clothing the subdeacon with the tunicle also speaks of a vestimento lætitiæ. The use of the dalmatic and tunicle was consequently entirely inappropriate for penitential seasons, during which the old folded chasuble was hence preserved.

The distribution of candles during the Feast of the Purification.

RULES FOR LITURGICAL USE. Folded chasubles are therefore used in the Roman liturgy during penitential seasons. The exact extent of these seasons is described in chapter XIX, §§ 6 and 7 of the rubrics of the Roman Missal of St Pius V (De qualitate paramentorum) [7]:

“In cathedrals and major churches, chasubles are used folded before the breast on fasting days (except on the vigils of the saints), and on the Sundays and ferias of Advent and Lent, and on the Vigil of Pentecost before Mass (except on

  • Gaudete Sunday, and when its Mass is repeated during the week,
  • on Lætare Sunday,
  • on the Vigil of Christmas,
  • on Holy Saturday during the blessing of the candle and during Mass, and
  • on the Ember Days of Pentecost)

also during the blessing of candles and procession on the day of the Purification of Our Lady, and during the blessing of ashes and the blessing of palms and the procession.

“In smaller churches, however, on the aforesaid fasting days (the deacon and subdeacon) minister only with the alb; the subdeacon with the maniple, and the deacon also with the stole hanging from his left shoulder under his right.”

Ordinations on Ember Saturday: the deacon and subdeacon, ministers of the bishop, wear folded chasubles.

We shall here explain certain aspects of this rubric in greater detail. Despite its apparent complexity, it follows some simple and logical principles:

1. Folded chasubles were only used on penitential seasons, and hence only in violet or black. They were not used (even if the above rubric does not make it explicit) for the Mass on Maundy Thursday, celebrated in white, but were for the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, celebrated in black. Before the reforms of the 1950s, the Vigil of Pentecost was like a second Paschal Vigil, and comprised six prophecies before the beginning of the Mass. This fore-mass was celebrated in violet and hence folded chasubles were used. The subsequent Mass was in red. Likewise, on Holy Saturday, the deacon blessed the Paschal candle in a white dalmatic, then put on the folded chasuble again for the Fore-Mass in violet (which comprised twelve prophecies and the blessing of the font). The Mass following this Fore-Mass was in white vestments.

2. Sundays of Advent and Lent are not fasting days (one never fasts on Sundays, which always celebrates Christ’s resurrection) but are still included as part of penitential seasons because they are celebrated in violet. Nonetheless, the rubric of the Roman Missal does not mention Sundays of Septuagesima, which are also celebrated in violet. With some exceptions, medieval commentators did not recommend the use of violet chasubles during the season of Fore-Lent. (To follow the rubric rigorously, one should not use them on Sundays during Septuagesima, but one could consider using them on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on the three weeks of this season, since they were formerly fasting days).

3. The two Sundays of Gaudete and Lætare are breaks in the middle of Advent and of Lent, days of joy when the Church gives the faithful a foretaste of the rejoicing that awaits them at the end of these two penitential seasons: the vestments are rose-coloured instead of violet, altars are adorned with flowers, and the organ and other musical instruments are played. The Mass of Gaudete Sunday can be celebrated again during the week that follows, and is endowed with the same privileges (the Mass of Lætare Sunday cannot be repeated during the following week, since each feria of Lent is provided with a proper mass).

4. The Ember Days of Pentecost are the sole Ember Days without fasting, because they are included in the Octave of Pentecost. Hence, unlike the Ember Days of September, Advent, and Lent, folded chasubles are not used during these masses.

5. By “major churches”, the rubric means cathedrals, collegiate churches, and also parish churches. This was confirmed by a decision of the Sacred Congregation of Rites dated 11 September 1847 addressed to Nicholas Wiseman, bishop of London, who was then reestablishing the Catholic hierarchy in England and whose entirely new parishes were still often bereft of vestments. The same decision counseled him to celebrate Mass in his cathedral without sacred ministers rather than have deacons and subdeacons without folded chasubles. This decision must have seemed a bit inflexible because it was suppressed in later collections of decrees of the S. C. R.: a major church lacking folded chasubles can always have ministers serve without folded chasubles, wearing only with alb, stole, and maniple.

6. Smaller churches seems to have been dispensed from using folded chasubles not so much because they lacked them but because it was more difficult to have three perfectly matching chasubles, two of which were folded.

7. Another response by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (n. 5385, 31 August 1867) specifies that folded chasubles must be used before the exposed Blessed Sacrament during the Forty Hours Prayer taking place in Advent or Lent.

8. The use of folded chasubles was linked to an idea of liturgical time, for they were not used during Requiem masses, which are not tied to any particular season:  black dalmatic and tunicle are used instead.

LITURGICAL USE. For the ministers to assist the celebrant, it suffices that the front of their chasubles be folded; but when the deacon or subdeacon must carry out those tasks proper to them, they entirely remove this vestment or fold it still further.

Thus, the subdeacon takes off his folded chasuble before singing the epistle, and puts it on again immediately thereafter [8].

The proper office of the deacon begins with the singing of the Gospel and continues until the end of communion; during this time, he does not remove his folded chasuble entirely, but wears it folded and strung over his left shoulder, attached under the right arm with thin cords (or even by making a knot), over his stole. After communion, he unrolls the fabric and wears the chasuble folded as before.

Deacon wearing his chasuble rolled up for the singing of the Gospel.

To simplify this procedure, the custom arose of folding another chasuble in advance, which the deacon put over his shoulder at the appropriate time. Later on, this folded chasuble was often replaced by a simple band of the same fabric, commonly dubbed a broad stole [9].

Evolution of the transversed chasuble to the broad stole: on the left, a rolled chasuble on a mediæval stature of Wells Cathedral in England; on the right, the broad stole in its modern shape: a simple band of fabric without trims on the edges.

During Pontifical Mass, the assistant deacons put on their vestments—viz. a chasuble folded in front, over a cotta or rochet—towards the end of Terce, before the bishop sings the collect [10].

The cross-bearer subdeacon also wears a folded chasuble [11].

Chasuble pliée & stolon de la basilique Sainte-Marie-des-Anges à Rome.
Folded chasuble and broad stole from the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome.

EVOLUTION OF THE SHAPE. From the folded chasuble to the cut chasuble.

The use of actually folding the front part of the chasuble and keeping it folded with cords or hooks has persisted to our days.

In the 17th century, Pisacara Castaldo notes that folded chasubles must not be different from that of the celebrant [12]. In the 18th century, Merato, commenting on Gavantus, further specified that the hooks that keep them folded must be removed between ceremonies lest the chasubles be damaged, and in order that priests might comfortably use them in low masses [13].

A folded chasuble is therefore exactly what its name suggests: a chasuble like any other, worn with the front part folded from within up to the level of the elbows, and often held in place by two steel clips.

New Jersey - USA - FSSP.
Mater Ecclesiæ Church, New Jersey, USA

Nevertheless, over the centuries, as chasubles for celebrants became clipped on the edges for convenience’s sake, the folds of chasubles for deacons and subdeacons became definitively stitched up, and finally the excess fabric was entirely cut off (one might therefore speak of “cut chasubles”, but common use has kept the term “folded chasubles.)

Formes classiques romaines : stolon du diacre, chasuble du célébrant et chasuble pliée du sous-diacre - Londres
Classical Roman shapes: deacon’s broad stole, celebrant’s chasuble, and subdeacon’s folded chasuble. Juventutem London.

Notes

  1. Cf. De Oratoribus chap. XXXIX, attributed to Tacitus (58 – c. 120)
  2. There are many chasubles that are said to have belonged to St Paul.
  3. Tertullian, De Oratione, chap. XV.
  4. Amalarius of Metz, De ecclesiasticis officiis, II, 19 (PL 105, 1095).
  5. A. King, Liturgy of the Roman Church, London-New York-Toronto, Longmans, 1957, p. 130.
  6. Even if some celebrants’ chasubles sometimes have folds or cords; this was the use in the cathedral of Rheims.
  7. De qualitate paramentorum tit. XIX, n. 6, 7. “In diebus vero ieiuniorum (præterquam in vigiliis Sanctorum) et in Dominicis et feriis Adventus et Quadragesimæ ac in vigilia Pentecostes ante Missam (exceptis Domi‐ nica Gaudete, si eius Missa infra hebdomadam repetatur, et Dominica Lætare, Vigilia Nativitatis Domini, Sabbato Sancto in benedictione Cerei et in Missa, ac quatuor temporibus Pentecostes) item in benedictione Candelarum et Processione in die Purificationis Beatæ Mariæ, et in benedictione Cinerum ac benedictione Palmarum et Processione, in Cathedralibus et præcipuis Ecclesiis utuntur Planetis plicatis ante pectus ; quam planetam Diaconus dimittit, etc. In minoribus autem Ecclesiis, prædictis diebus ieiuniorum Alba tantum induti ministrant : Subdiaconus cum manipulo, Diaconus etiam cum stola ab humero sinistro pendente sub dextrum.”
  8. “If the ministers are wearing the folded chasuble, the first acolyte rises during the last collect before the Epistle and takes the folded chasuble from the sub-deacon, then the latter takes the book, chants the Epistle, and kisses the hand of the celebrant. After returning the book, he revests again in the folded chasuble—either by the altar or at the credence—and transfers the Missal from the Gospel side with its cushion or book-stand.” Pio Martinucci, Manuale sacrarum Caerimoniarum, chap. VI, n. 14.
  9. “After the celebrant has begin reading the Gospel [in a low voice], the deacon descends from the altar by the side, as has been said. At the credence he deposits the folded chasuble and puts on the broad stole; then he takes the Gospel book, carries it to the altar, and completes the rest of his functions.” Pio Martinucci, Manuale sacrarum Caerimoniarum, chap. VI, n. 15.
  10. Caerimoniale Episcoporum, Book II, chap. XIII, n. 3.
  11. Pierre Jean Baptiste de Herdt, Pratique de la liturgie selon le rite romain, p. 213.
  12. A. Pisacara Castaldo, Praxis caeremoniarum, Neapoli, Scoriggium, 1645, p. 178.
  13. B. Gavantus—G.M. Merato, Thesaurus Sacrorum Rituum, Venetiis, Balleoniana, 1792, I, p. 48.

A Vestige of Ancien Régime Versailles in the Holy Land (3)

Part 1: The French King as Bishop in the Use of the Royal Chapel at Versailles, 1
Part 2: The French King as Bishop in the Use of the Royal Chapel at Versailles, 2

Part III:
Modern Survivals of Royal Honors in the Liturgy of the Holy Sepulcher

Much of the glorious liturgical patrimony of the Gallican church—the stational processions, public penance, local chant traditions, the rich urban liturgy sustained by great beneficed clergy of the cathedral chapters—perished alongside the King in the revolutionary despoliations.

There is one place, however, where a curious relic of the honors once given to the bishop-king of France lives on: in Jerusalem. Many ancient practices have weathered the centuries under the hallowed dome of the Sepulcher, whose liturgical customs were essentially “frozen” in the 19th century by a series of consensus agreements between the six Churches, managed and enforced by the Ottoman authorities, and collectively called the Status Quo.

Designed to eliminate all future cause for disruption or dispute between the various Churches over possession of parts of the ancient basilica, it essentially means that, whatever the Greeks, Latins, Armenians, Syriac, Copts or Ethiopians were doing then—whatever shrines they possessed, feast days they celebrated, candles they lit—they must keep doing so in perpetuity, on penalty of breaking the agreement. Consequently, medieval practices like the Funerals of Christ and the morning-time Easter Vigil, vanished everywhere else in the Latin West, survive here by the iron force of custom, and valiant pilgrims may still attend midnight Matins with the Franciscans on feast days.

Image result for messe consulaire au saint sépulcre"

One such custom harks back all the way to the Royal Chapel of Versailles: the traditional honors given to the French Consul, formerly the French king’s official representative in the Protectorate of the Holy Land.

In a remarkable and puzzling anachronism, many of the ceremonial honors once offered to the French king in his palace at Versailles are still given to the Consul General of the French Republic on several occasions throughout the year, as a special recognition of France’s role in defending the Christian patrimony of the Holy Land.

Before approaching these fascinating glimpses into the past, a brief review of France’s role in the Holy Land is in order.

The Ottoman Period

French interest in the Holy Land goes back, of course, to the Crusades and before, but the stable presence and advocacy of the French in the Levant began in the 16th century. The Capitulations between King Francis I and the Sublime Porte gave France special guardianship of all Christians (Latin and Greek) in the Holy Land and the entire Ottoman empire. Essentially, it put Christians under French legal patronage, so that Christian grievances could be aired by the French ambassador directly at the Ottoman court, and the ambassador in turn could negotiate ever more rights for missionaries and other French citizens. This was a distinguished role that, despite the waxing and waning of her influence, France never quite relinquished.

16th century copy of the 1569 Capitulations between Charles IX and Selim II.

Subsequent Capitulations augmented French claims and led to the establishment of a French Protectorate over the Holy Land, with Louis XIV declaring himself the protector of Christians of all rites in the Ottoman Empire. French consuls resided first at Sidon and Alexandria, visiting Jerusalem in their circuits. Finally, in the nineteenth century, the French government established a French Consulate General in Jerusalem itself to manage the affairs of its citizens and to perform France’s traditional advocacy on behalf of Christians there.

The Franciscan custodians of the Holy Sepulcher began to offer liturgical honors to the consuls early on in their private chapels, as a token of gratitude and deference for their special role.[1] Some 19th century authors claim that these honors are directly based on the use of the Chapel, while others such as Santi are reticent about the obvious similarities.[2] When private chapels gave way to public churches at some point in this period of the consolidation of the Protectorate, the Franciscans continued to treat consuls with the same liturgical honors in all their Churches in the Levant, including the Holy Sepulcher.

For the French, this was an important sign of preeminence in the intense competition with other 19th century colonial powers. As Catherine Nicault argued, they were “carefully codified liturgical honors which made them the most eminent foreign dignitaries in Jerusalem.”[3]

In 1742, the Sacred Congregation intervened to codify the rite, acknowledging the honors but forbidding the kissing of the Gospel book:

  1. The Te Deum will be sung at the Consul’s entry into his duties
  2. A special place will be reserved for the Consul in the Church
  3. The Prefect will send a servant to inform the Consul at the time for Mass
  4. The Consul must not take the aspergillum from the priest’s hands, but the priest will approach with it and the Consul will take it with his finger at the end of the sponge. The priest will keep hold of the aspergillum.
  5. After genuflecting before the altar, the celebrant will bow toward the Consul before and after Mass
  6. The Consul will not be allowed to kiss the Gospel book
  7. The Consul will be incensed separately and the pax-brede will be given him to kiss
  8. The Consul will follow the procession holding a candle given him by one of the clergy
  9. On various special occasions, the prayer for the most Christian King will be said.

A Royal ordinance of 3 March 1781 countered, reaffirming the Consul’s exclusive right to a place of honor, to kiss the book, to receive the aspergillum from the priest’s own hand. Further, it made attendance at all Consular Masses obligatory for the Consul, Vice-Consul and his staff, on pain of a 30 livre fine (to be used for the redemption of slaves).

The Modern Period

After France’s aggressive secularization law of 1904, the French consul refused to continue to participate in these traditional ceremonies. The fate of royal honors seemed sealed when the fall of the Ottoman Empire, bringing with it the abolition of the Capitulations, abrogated France’s special privileges in the Levant.

The story of France’s tenacious attempts to retain the honors, to the irritation of the other Mandate powers, is told in fascinating detail by Catherine Nicault.

After fierce negotiations, the Holy See reached an accord with France on 4 December 1926 to reinstate the honors “in recognition of centuries of services rendered to Catholic individuals and communities of all nationalities in the Levant by the diplomats and consuls of France.”

The Accord permits the Consul all the usual honors and the right to sing Domine salvum fac Rem publicam, save for omitting the right to kiss the gospel book (already suppressed by the Congregation), the bows before and after Mass, and the right to sit in choir.[4] It does leave untouched, however, any local customs to the contrary.

 

 

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This modification of the traditional verse Domine salvum fac regem nostrum, sung during the ancien régime, was first assigned to be sung after Mass by the Concordat of 1801.

Several decades later, the Franciscans decided to extend the honors to other officials representing Catholic countries traditionally offered protection to the Holy Land. These are, currently, Italy, Belgium, and Spain. Consequently, the French Consul is no longer the only state official to receive these special honors, and they have been diverged away from their origin in the use of the Royal Chapel.

The honors are given not only in the Sepulcher but in several Franciscan churches in the Holy Land, such as Beirut. I should also point out that the Eastern Rite and Orthodox Churches have their own tradition of consular liturgies and other honors, which are not discussed in this article, but may be studied in Santi’s Les Messes Consulaires.

The Honors

The honors in their present form consist principally in the rite of Solemn Entry and the ceremonial of consular Masses.

1) Solemn Entry

The first honor is the privilege of a solemn entry into the Holy Sepulcher, recalling the King’s reception by the Vincentian fathers of the Royal Chapel. According to Franciscan custom, it is otherwise reserved to cardinals.

Today, Consuls receive this solemn reception within thirty days of assuming their post. On 6th November 2019, the new Consul General of France, René Trocaz, made his solemn entry into the Holy Sepulcher. The consul walked in procession with a Franciscan cortege from Jaffa Gate to the Holy Sepulcher, and then to the French church of St. Anne, where a Te Deum was sung.

Royal Honors 6Royal Honors 7Royal Honors 8Royal Honors 9

Official entry of new consul Pierre Cochard in 2016. The official booklet with rubrics and prayers for the event can be downloaded here.

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2) Consular Masses

Besides the solemn entry, the Consul is present as a matter of protocol at two types of liturgies during his tenure: Consular Masses and Masses in the Presence of the Consul.

The protocol for these Masses is given on the website of the General Consulate:

1) A place of honor with prie-Dieu and carpet is reserved for the Consul General.
2) The Consul General is received at the door of the church by the clergy, who offer him holy water and conduct him to his place.
3) When he arrives at the altar, after his genuflexion the celebrant turns and bows to the Consul General.
4) After the Gospel is read by the deacon, he carries it to the Consul General (after the celebrant) to be kissed.
5) At the Offertory, the deacon incenses the Consul General immediately after the celebrant.
6) At the end of the Mass, after the Postcommunion the Domine salvam fac Rem publicam is sung twice (see above).
7) The celebrant bows to the Consul General before leaving the altar.
8) The clergy leads the Consul General to the door of the church.
9) In solemn processions when the Consul General is present, a place of honor is reserved for him immediately after the clergy. Upon entering or exiting the church, he is received and accompanied as described above.
10) When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, the honors provided in 3, 5, and 8 are not given.
11) At Masses for the Dead, the honors provided in 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are not given.

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A Consular Mass with Consul Pierre Cochard

 

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Consular Mass, 2016

Some consular Masses are fixed, others vary each year. The Consulate website lists the schedule for 2017:

Consular Masses in 2017

4th February 2017 – Saint Maron. Maronite church.
April 2017 – Syrian Catholic Exarchate. Syriac Catholic church.
25th May 2017 – Ascension – Greek Catholic Exarchate. [Domaine de l’Eleona]
14th July 2017 – French national holiday. Basilica of St. Anne.
August 2017 – Armenian Catholic Exarchate. Armenian Catholic church.
11th August 2017 – Saint Clare. Convent of Poor Clares.

Masses in the presence of the Consul

6 January 2017 – Epiphany. Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem
3rd March 2017 – Crowning with Thorns. Ecce Homo.
16th April 2017 – Easter. Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.
14th July 2016 (St. Anne’s)
14th July 2018 (St. Anne’s)

Conclusion: A curious anachronism?

Of course the question that begs to be asked is why the French state, rigorously secular, allows its representatives to take part in these ceremonies and receive these honors, and, in turn, why the Franciscans continue to render this homage to them. The Consulate’s website explains these honors in sympathetic detail, if in a way that distances the Consul from their religious implications:

As part of his required duties, the Consul General continues to assume the role of protector of several religious communities in accordance with treaties that were signed with the Ottomans and that have remained in force throughout the changes in states…In exchange, in the name of the Republic the Consul receives certain liturgical honors, such as the ceremony of his entry into the Holy Sepulcher, which recalls French protection over the holy sites, consular Masses, his presence in uniform at Christmas and Easter celebrations alongside other consuls from Catholic countries. If this religious role assumed by the Consul General has become less central, nevertheless it has its purpose: not only as a matter of tradition but also for the purpose of maintaining stable relations with the Christian community, whose future is always delicate and uncertain.[6]

The survival of this practice invites several interesting questions.

First of all, it is an open question, from a sacramental point of view, how honors exclusively reserved for the king in virtue of his quasi-sacramental ordination as Davidic King of France could be transferred to a diplomatic representative (of any stature) who has had no such anointing. Are there any other cases when royal honors are offered to an ambassador acting, so to speak, in persona regis? Honors given to the King and others in their capacity as members of the Order of the Holy Spirit do not seem like a relevant parallel, since they did not include such honors.

But in pure speculation let us assume that such a transfer were theoretically possible; namely, that royal honors could be given to the king’s agent in view of the quasi-episcopal ordination the king receives in his unction, in which the representative in some way participates. The fact is that today the Consuls, who might not even be baptized, no longer represent an ordained monarch but France’s secular head of an avowedly secular state born in bloody hatred of the Church.

In the final analysis, have the royal honors have become mere political protocol and historical curiosity, having lost their historical connection with France and the Royal Chapel, or even with the Catholic faith of France’s representatives?

Whatever the case may be, these ancient honors are a touching pre-revolutionary atavism, a reminder of the gesta Dei per Francos, when the Eldest Daughter of the Church bestirred herself in defense of the mother of all Churches, defending her siblings and vindicating the sovereign rights of God in heathen lands. The honors are no longer the outcome and the symbol of the protectorate, but first of all the memory of a past which no one can abolish.

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Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Ms-5089 réserve, fol. 168v.

NOTES:

[1] The ceremonies must have grown out of an understanding between the Franciscans and the French government over proper liturgical protocol for French representatives. The Archives of the Custody contain consular correspondence that indicates their attendance at Franciscan liturgies in Alexandria and Sidon, and their use of a special chair, e.g., in the Holy Sepulcher.

[2] P. Santi, Les messes consulaires des rites orientaux, Beirut, 1968

[3] Nicault, Catherine (1999). “The End of the French Religious Protectorate in Jerusalem (1918-1924)”. Bulletin du Centre Français de Jérusalem.

[4] The items of the Accord are as follows:

  1. a) The Representative of France will be invited to the solemn Mass
  2. b) a place of honor will be reserved for him outside and facing the choir. Nevertheless in churches where the French consuls’ chair is a fixed and immovable piece of the structure at the time of the signing of this Accord, the Representative of France will retain use of it, even if this chair is located inside the choir.
  3. b) the clergy will receive the Representative of France at the door of the Church, will offer him holy water and lead him to his place
  4. d) during the ceremony, the clergy will incense him before the others in attendance
  5. e) at the end of Mass the clergy will accompany him to the exit

[5] “Dans le cadre de sa circonscription, le Consul général continue à assumer un rôle de protection des communautés religieuses dans la ligne des accords signés avec les Ottomans, toujours en vigueur par le jeu de la succession d’États. À cette proposition diplomatique s’ajoutent des subventions, la mise à disposition de coopérants et, dans le cas des domaines nationaux, la prise en charge de l’entretien et du gardiennage. En échange, le Consul jouit, au nom de la République, des honneurs liturgiques, comme en témoignent la cérémonie de son entrée au Saint-Sépulcre qui rappelle la protection française sur les Lieux saints, les messes consulaires, ou encore sa présence en uniforme aux célébrations de Noël et de Pâques, aux côtés des autres consuls des pays catholiques. Si ce rôle religieux assumé par le Consul général devient moins central, il demeure utile non seulement eu égard à la tradition mais aussi au maintien d’équilibres communautaires délicats et à l’avenir toujours incertain des Chrétiens dans la région.” (Source: https://jerusalem.consulfrance.org/Histoire)

 

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


Notes.

[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.