Lebrun on the Sacrifice of the Mass (2): Sacrificial Typology

The continuation of Fr. Pierre Lebrun’s Treatise on the Sacrifice of the Mass (First part. Download the whole here)

Mosaic showing Abel sacrificing a lamb and Melchizedek,  Priest-King of Salem, sacrificing bread.
The Sacrifice of Abel and Melchisedec, San Vitale, Ravenna

XV. The Sacrifice of the Eucharist is the same as that of the Cross

The exterior environment of Calvary that is not present at the altar had nothing to do with the action of the Sacrificer. The essential thing in the sacrifice of the Cross consisted in the oblation Jesus Christ made of his body. He continues to offer this same body on the altar and, bringing to its final perfection this divine sacrifice, which could not be eaten by the faithful on Calvary, He truly nourishes us every day with the sacrament of his Passion, as St. Ambrose says[1] the consumption of the victim was lacking on the altar of the Cross, and constitutes the perfection of the sacrifice of our altars. “We have an altar,” St. Paul says, “from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat.”[2] That is what was lacking on the altar of the cross, and it is on the altar of the Church that this consumption is accomplished through the comunion. The same victim is offered on Calvary and on our altars, but on Calvary it was only offered; here it is offered and distributed, as Augustine says speaking about the dedication of his Mother to the Sacrifice of the Altar.[3] We assist at this divine Altar, where we know that the holy Victim is dispensed, by which the stain of sin has been washed away. Jesus Christ thus offers himself on the altar, just as he offered himself dying on the Cross, the only difference being in the manner of offering, as the Council of Trent says, following St. Augustine and the other Fathers.[4]

XVI. The Sacrifice is one with the glorious mysteries

He offers himself here as he did at his Resurrection, offering his immortal and glorious body. He offers himself as he did at his Ascension, for he ascends again from the altar of the earth to the sublime altar of heaven, according to the expression of the Canon, to reside there and intercede for us, thus offering always one and the same Host.[5] That is why we saw at the Mass, that we offer this sacrifice for renew the memory of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus we can behold the union of all the mysteries who were the different parties or the continuation of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the truth of what we sing in the Psalms,[6] that in giving us the true food, God has renewed the memory of all his wondrous works.

It remains to see how the divine Victim of this adorable Sacrifice fulfills all the conditions that belonged to the victims of the old Law in the the most perfect sacrifices.

XVII. All the conditions of sacrificial victims contained in the Eucharist

Four conditions were required, forming the four parts of sacrifice. First, the reception of the victim by the priests. 2nd, the oblation to God. 3rd, the change or destruction of the victim. 4th, the consumption or communion of the victim.

1) Reception. A choice host was required, pleasing and acceptable to the Priests, following the command of God who had established what they must permit for the sacrifice and what they must reject. The priests of the New Testament accept bread and wine destined to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and they receive them following the choice of the Eternal Father who declared his Beloved Son a priest according to the order of Melchisedech. Thus they offer bread and wine: a bread that will be changed into the body that God has destined to be the true victim.[7]

2) The Oblation to God. The Host was offered to God by the priests of the Law, and thus elevated above the common state. The priests of the New Testament representing Jesus Christ offer to God the bread and the wine, to become—as before—the body and blood of Our Lord for our salvation.

3) Immolation and changing of the victim. In the holocausts, sin offerings, and guilt offerings, the victim was immolated and eaten. It changed its state. In this case the bread and the wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ who is immolated and so to speak in a state of death on the altar, because there he is deprived of the functions of natural life that he had on the earth, and because he is represented with the signs of death in the mystical separation of his body and blood, just as St. John saw the living Lamb standing before the Throne of Heaven.[8] He is also as immolated and dead due to the scars of his wounds and the marks of his bloody immolation which he conserves even in the state of glory.

4) Consumption of the Victim. Finally, the consumption of the host was necessary. If a holocaust was being offered, everything was burned in honor of God. In the other sacrifices, a part was consumed for God, the rest was distributed to the priests and those who had presented the host. In the Eucharist, the victim is entirely for God, and entirely consumed by the men who offer it. It is entirely communicated to everyone without any division and it is consumed in all without ceasing to exist.

Once again, the Sacrifice of this divine Victim contains all the truths of the figurative sacrifices.

XVIII. How the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is a holocaust

Firstly, there is a holocaust constituted by the destruction of the bread and wine. As in the ancient holocausts the material fire devoured and consumed the host with the breads and liquids in order to render homage to the sovereign power of God, in the same way the flame of the Holy Spirit, which the Church invokes for this purpose,[9] in a sense consumes the bread and wine, changing them into the body and the blood of Jesus Christ which renders to God his Father the infinite hommage that he is due.

XIX. How it fulfills the notion of all the other sacrifices

Secondly, it is a sacrifice of propitiation for sins, since it is the victim which expiates them.

Thirdly, it contains in a manner par excellence all the sacrifices of the peace offerings directed to obtain graces, since it contains the true peace offering, Jesus Christ, through whom we ask and obtain every gift.

Fourthly, it is a thanksgiving sacrifice because it was instituted by jesus Christ to render thanks to his Father for all the gifts he had received for the Church, and further, because by this sacrifice we give a worthy signs of our gratitude by offering him on the altar his own Son who is the most excellent gift he has given us, one we may present to him in return for all the graces we have received. It is also a holy sacrifice of praise, as St. Augustine writes,[10] in addition to one of thanksgiving, and what greater thanksgiving than what is rendered to God for his grace in Jesus Christ Our Lord, as it is made in the Sacrifice of the Church known to all the faithful, and of which the ancient sacrifices were all only shadows?

XX. The whole Church is united to Jesus Christ in His Sacrifice

Behold how the adorable sacrifice of the Eucharist, though infinitely elevated above all the ancient sacrifices, fulfills all their ends and conditions. Little remains but for us to observe that this sacrifice of Jesus Christ is at the same time the Sacrifice of the entire Church, who is offered with Jesus Christ, and that it is the sacrifice of all the Fathers who offer it, and of all those who desire to participate in it. These must by consequence offer themselves in sacrifice as Jesus Christ and his Church offer themselves to God. Listen to St. Augustine who teaches us wondrously about this truth: “the whole redeemed city, that is to say, the congregation or community of the saints, is offered to God as our sacrifice through the great High Priest, who offered Himself to God in His passion for us, that we might be members of this glorious head, according to the form of a servant. For it was this form He offered, in this He was offered, because it is according to it He is Mediator, in this He is our Priest, in this the Sacrifice.”And to continue following St. Augustine, “this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.”[11]

XXI: The Church offers and is offered

Jesus Christ is the one who offers, as Priest, and who is himself the gift that is offered, and in the same way the Church must offer herself when she offers. And as St. Augustine says,[12] God makes her see this mystery in the sacrifice she offers each day, for just as she is the body of such a Head, she learns to offer herself for Him. The Sacrifice of the Mass is thus that of Jesus Christ and of his Church, the only exterior sacrifice that must be offered to God, the true and unique sacrifice that contains the meanings of all the others, the only one that can satisfy for sins, that can merit graces for us, and that will continue until the end of the ages.

[1] Significans passionem Domini Jesu, cuius quotidie vescimur sacramento (Ambr. in Psal. 43).

[2] Habemus altare, de quo edere non habent potestatem qui Tabernaculo deserviunt (Hebr. 13:10).

[3] L. 9 Confess. c. 12. 13.

[4] Una enim eademque est hostia, idem nunc offerens Sacerdotum ministerio, qui seipsum tunc in cruce obtulit, sola offerendi ratione diversa (Conc. Trid. Sess. 22. cap. 2).

[5] Hic autem unam pro peccatis offerens hostiam in sempiternum, sedet in dextera Dei (Hebr. 10:12)

[6] Memoriam fecit mirabilium suorum (Ps. 110:4).

[7] Corpus autem aptasti mihi (Hebr 10:5).

[8] Et vidi, et ecce in medio Throni…. Agnum stantem tanquam occisum (Apoc. v. 6).

[9] Fulgent admonit. l. 2 c. 6. et seqq. Optat. Milev. l. 6 Isidor. Peus. epist. 109 et 313. Miss. Goth. Miss. 22.

[10] Quod est autem sacratius laudis sacrificium quam in actione gratiarum, et unde maiores agendae sunt gratiae quam pro ipsius gratia per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum? Quod totum fideles in Ecclesiae sacrificio sciunt, cuius umbrae fuerunt omnia priorum genera sacrificiorum (Aug. contr. adversar. Leg. et Prophet. l. 1 c. 18).

[11] De civit. l. 10 c. 6.

[12] Cuius rei sacramentum quotidianum esse voluit Ecclesiae sacrificium, quae cum ipsius Capitis corpus sit, se ipsam per ipsum discit, offerre” (Ibid., bk. 10, c. 20).


Gemma Animae (31-33): The Sacrifice of Bread and Wine

Ch. 31

On the Sacrifice of Bread

This sacrifice is of bread because Christ called himself the bread of life (John 6), whom Scripture prefigured as the bread of angels (Psalm 77). This bread is made without yeast, because Christ was without sin. And so it is made with wheat, for Christ claimed to be the grain of wheat. But the grain is extracted from its shell by rubbing. Dried by contumelies and insults from the Jews and from the gentiles, as if by two stones, it is crushed by blows, and sifted and strewn as it is prepared, and when separated from his own, pouring out his blood he was fixed to the cross, where as bread baked in the fire of his Passion he was changed toward immortality.

Jesus and Barabbas.jpg
Jesus and Barabbas, Giovanni Gasparro (Source)

Ch. 32

On the Church and its Signification

And thus the body of Christ is made from bread, which is confected out of many grains, because the Church, which is composed of the many elect, is the body of Christ and is built up by it. The grains, i.e. the elect, are removed from the shell of the old life by the whip of preaching, dried by penance, and milled as if by two stones, as they are gradually imbued with the two laws through careful self-scrutiny. Sifted and strewn, they are prepared, separated from the unfaithful, born again in the water of Baptism, and joined by the bond of charity through the Holy Spirit in faith just as bread baked in the oven is made white, and tested in the way of tribulation they are reformed unto the image of God. In like manner, as bread, those made from the bread of Christ are restored, and they do not die forever.

Ch. 33

On the Sacrifice of Wine

And thus is the sacrament of wine made, for Christ called himself the vine, and Scripture asserted that he is the wine of gladness. Now, the grape, squeezed in the winepress by two wooden beams, is strained into wine, and Christ, pressed by the two wooden beams of the cross, poured out his blood as a drink for the faithful. And therefore the blood of Christ is confected from wine, for it is pressed from many grapes, because by it the Church, the body of Christ, which is assembled from many just men, is built up. She is trodden by the pressures of the world, as if in a winepress, and is incorporated into Christ by these sufferings.



[1] Honorius’s allegorical extrapolations on the meaning of the bread are echoed in St. Thomas, who includes a similar interpretation in his commentary on the Old Law (I-II, q. 102 , a. 3, ad 12), when explaining why both bread and corn were offered in former times:

“The figurative cause is that the bread signifies Christ Who is the “living bread” (John 6:41-51). He was indeed an ear of corn, as it were, during the state of the law of nature, in the faith of the patriarchs; He was like flour in the doctrine of the Law of the prophets; and He was like perfect bread after He had taken human nature; baked in the fire, i.e. formed by the Holy Ghost in the oven of the virginal womb; baked again in a pan by the toils which He suffered in the world; and consumed by fire on the cross as on a gridiron.”

[2] The tradition of allegorical interpretation we have seen practiced in the Gemma Animae was much more than a literary conceit or a method of personal piety. It also left a deep impact on the liturgical rites of the Middle Ages. Perhaps the most striking case of this influence of piety on rite is found in the elaborate ceremonies that our medieval fathers used to surround the production, the transportation, and the offering of the bread and wine for the Eucharistic sacrifice.

In many places the baking of the Eucharistic bread was surrounded with great care and symbolism. These ceremonies formed a sort of ritual exegesis of the symbolic content of the Eucharistic species and their significant role in the Eucharistic mystery, drawing out all the mystical reasons for the use of bread and wine.

Jungmann gives a general description of these rituals:

In the West, too, the making of bread was for a time given a liturgical form, particularly within the ambit of the Cluniac reform movement. According to the customs of the monastery of Hirsau in the Black Forest (eleventh century), the wheat had to be selected kernel for kernel; the mill on which it was to be ground had to be cleaned, then hung about with curtains; the monk who supervised the milling had to don an alb an humeral. The same vesture was worn by the four monks to whom the baking of the hosts was confided; at least three of these monks were to be in the deacon’s orders or even higher rank. While working they were to keep strict silence, so that their breath might not touch the bread [1]. According to the instructions in other monasteries, on the other hand, the monks were to combine their work with the singing of psalms according to a precise plan [2] (MS, vol. 2, pg. 35).

Thus the production of the Eucharistic species becomes a sacred action in itself, in which their role in the Mass sacrifice is anticipated. The grains, the mill, the table, the oven, are treated with the same care as sacred vessels at the altar and are entrusted to the deacon. The bakery is shrouded with a veil, just like an altar would have been during the Canon. In a way analogous to the proskomedia rites of the Byzantine Church, the preparation of the gifts furnishes a moment for a small-scale symbolic recapitulation of the Paschal Mystery, a chance to meditate and pray on the unfathomable spiritual mysteries of the Eucharist.

Vessels and instruments for the Byzantine Liturgy made in Moscow in 1679, now in the treasury of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. (Source)


Bernardus, Ordo Clun., I, 53 (Herrgott, Vetus disciplina monastica, 249); cf. William of Hirsau, Const., II, 32 (PL, CL, 1086 f.).

Consuetudines of Fruttuaria (11th c.; Albers, Consuetudines, IV, 138); Lanfranc (d. 1089), Decreta pro O.S.B., c. 6 (PL, CL, 488 f.).

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 his article Le voile de Carême – Velum quadragesimale.”  Also published at Liturgical Arts Journal.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.

A History of the 40 Hours Devotion, by Henri de Villiers

A warm thanks to Henri de Villiers and the Schola Sainte Cécile for permission to publish this translation of “Les Quarante-Heurs: Histoire et Liturgie.” Also published today on New Liturgical Movement.

Forty Hours at the London Oratory

The Forty Hours refers to a period of devout prayer sustained by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, solemnly exposed on the altar of a church for 40 hours. Traditionally, this form of prayer takes place in the hours that precede the beginning of Lent, from Quinquagesima Sunday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, but it may be arranged at other times of the year as well.

HISTORY. During Holy Week the faithful used to keep vigil in the churches before a representation of Christ’s sepulchre from the time of his death—at None of Good Friday—until His resurrection, which is celebrated by the Paschal procession in the early morning of Easter: a period of around 40 hours in total. In many places, the clergy lay the Body of Christ to rest in a tomb along with a host after the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, and it was this host that was taken from the tomb and led in solemn procession to be placed triumphantly on the altar on the morning of Easter. This symbolic number of 40 hours spent by Christ in death harkens back to an old tradition already reported by St. Augustine (De Trinitate IV, 6): Ab hora ergo mortis usque ad diluculum resurrectionis horae sunt quadraginta, ut etiam ipsa hora nona connumeretur. Cui numero congruit etiam vita eius super terram post resurrectionem in quadraginta diebus.

“From the hour, then, of His death to the dawn of the resurrection are forty hours, counting in also the ninth hour itself. And with this number agrees also His life upon earth of forty days after His resurrection” (Source: New Advent). [We should keep in mind that the ancient form of reckoning the hours does not correspond to our current practice of counting hours with a fixed 60-minute duration].

The Forty Hours, church of Bottanuco

The veneration of Christ in the tomb—which in many parts of medieval Europe became a veritable military guard of the Eucharistic Body at the tomb awaiting the resurrection—was repeated outside of Holy Week beginning in the 16th century, in response to the Protestant denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacred Host outside the Mass.

The Forty Hours—at first considered as an exceptional devotion—appeared in Milan in 1527 amidst wars and calamity, the sack of Rome and the French invasion of the Duchy of Milan. They were instituted by Giovanni Antonio Bellotti for the beginning of each trimester until 1529. In 1537, the Milanese Capuchin Giuseppe da Ferno took up the practice and made of it a series of solemn prayers with a Eucharistic procession: when one parish ended its Forty Hours, another took its place, such that the Holy Sacrament was adored perpetually (this practice is the origin of perpetual adoration). St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria (1502 † 1539), the founder, also at Milan, of the Clerks Regular of St. Paul (the Barnabites) promoted them with great zeal.

The Forty Hours at Azzone in Italy

The Capuchins and Barnabites rapidly diffused the Forty Hours beyond Milan. Giuseppe da Ferno introduced the devotion to Pavia, Siena, and Arezzo during his missions there in 1537-1539, and his confrere Francesco di Soriano established the custom in Umbria. In 1550, St. Philip Neri introduced them in Rome and had the custom of organising them at the beginning of each month in the various churches of the Confraternities he directed, among which was the Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. At Messina, besieged by the Turks in 1552, it was the Jesuits who organized them to beg for and obtain the liberation of the city. Beginning in 1556, the Jesuit order was used to making the Forty Hours prayer from Quinquagesima Sunday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, in order to expiate the faults committed during Carnival.

The Forty Hours Machine at the church of Bienno, Italy

In 1575 the archbishop of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo, in a pastoral letter of wondrous eloquence on the sacredness of Septuagesima, deplores the sad state of those lukewarm Christians who use these precious days so poorly, when they should be giving themselves over especially to prayer and good works. To that end, he ordered the organization of Forty Hours in the largest diocese of Europe: the Blessed Sacrament would be exposed for three days before Lent, in the cathedral of Milan, and in thirty other churches in the city; in the morning and evening there would be a solemn procession, and the parish priests would distribute the hours of the day for their parishioners, in such a way that there would always be a large number of adorers before the Most Holy Sacrament.

The Forty Hours machine of the parish of Colere in Italy

On the 25th of November 1592, Pope Clement VIII, in the Constitution Graves et diurturnae, organized the Forty Hours in the city of Rome in the form in which it had been done previously by Giuseppe da Ferno: in a continuous manner, the prayers would begin in one Roman Church just as they ended in another. The Pope asked that the prayer of Forty Hours be made for three intentions:

  1. For the salvation of the Kingdom of France, at that time rent by the succession of Henry III,
  2. for the victory of Christianity against the Turks,
  3. for the unity of the Church.

The pope began this series of prayers on the 30th of November 1592 at the Sistine Chapel.

Neapolitan machine

Pope Clement XI (1700 † 1721) published, on 21st January 1705, several directives for the maintenance of this observance in the churches of Rome. But it was Pope Clement XII (1730 † 1740) who published them on 1st September 1731, in the form of an instruction in Italian, the Clementine Instruction, which fixed the liturgical order of the Forty Hours devotion in Roman churches. The Clementine Instruction was not, strictly speaking, rigorously obligatory anywhere but in the Eternal City, but the general rules that it established gained currency everywhere through the rubrics and decisions of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (n°2403). Stercky calls it “an excellent treatise on the exposition of the Holy Sacrament” to which one ought to refer and conform in all the dioceses of the Roman Rite.

Notice of Cardinal Noailles for the Forty Hours at Paris (1725). Download

THE FORTY HOURS IN FRANCE. France was not to be outdone by Italy, for from 1574 a Jesuit, Father Auger, had received the permission of the Archbishop of Paris to organize the Forty Hours in all the churches of our capital, despite the strong opposition of the Curé of Saint-Eustache. From Paris, the Forty Hours devotion spread rapidly throughout all France. We find them at Rouen in 1584 and 1589, at Isle-sur-Sorgue and at Lyon in 1593, at Avignon in 1596, at Annemasse in 1597, at Thonon in 1598, at Marseille in 1599, at Gap in 1604, etc… The Forty Hours were celebrated with great solemnity in the context of preaching missions, at the initiative of the Capuchins to encourage the faithful who had been seduced by Protestantism to return to the Church, and to strengthen the faith of the neophytes. The Forty Hours in our country become a veritable “war machine” of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, drawing huge crowds (100,000 persons at Gap in 1618 for example) and inspiring numerous conversions, by bringing together all the arts (extraordinary decorations and majestic musical pieces were employed on every occasion) to magnify the Holy Eucharist.

In his brief Sacri apostolatus ministerio, Pope Gregory XV (who reigned 1621 to 1623) exhorts the archbishops and bishops of France to organize the Forty Hours devotion throughout the realm, for “the success of the royal enterprise against the heretics of the realm, the extirpation of heresies and the exaltation and peace of our Holy Mother the Church.” This brief granted a plenary indulgence to French faithful who, after having confessed and received communion, prayed for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff (this indulgence was made general for the whole Catholic world by Pius XI in 1931). Shortly afterwards, in 1625, Pope Urban VIII gave French Capuchins who heard confessions during the Forty Hours (and afterwards to other missionary orders) wide powers of absolution reserved ordinarily to bishops, something that contributed not a little to the success of many Capuchin missions—always accompanied by a magnificent Forty Hours—all throughout the 17th century in our country (the faithful preferred to come en masse to make their confessions to passing missionaries rather than to their parish priest, who—in cases reserved for the bishop—could not give them absolution!).

In 1617 at Cahors, the crowds of people desiring to assist at the Forty Hours celebrated in the church of the Jesuits were so numerous that it led to riots. At Gap in 1628—where the Forty Hours led to the recanting of 1,500 Protestants—“heretics who came from the highest mountain reaches of the Dauphiné, upon entering the church and seeing the great pomp and magnificence, illuminated with so many lights in honor of the Most Holy Sacrament that was exposed, cast themselves to their knees, believing themselves to be in paradise and crying aloud: Praised be the Roman Church which is so wonderful, and not the temple of those ministers which by comparison are like the stables of beasts!” (Archives departementales de Hautes-Alpes, 3H2, 1, p. 89, cited in Bernard Dompiner, Un aspect de la dévotion eucharistique dans la France du XVIIème siécle: les prières des Quarante-Heures, Revue d’histoire de l’Eglise de France, 1981, Vol. 67, n. 9178, p. 17).

The Forty Hours were celebrated throughout the year in Capuchin missions, as in Italy, and the custom very rapidly grew of having them in Quinquagesima for the three final days before Lent. At Paris, the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet had an annual celebration of Forty Hours during Quinquagesima starting in 1616. Several of the parish’s acts between 1628 and 1637 indicate that the Forty Hours there were a grandiose prelude to Lent, coupled with an invitation to confession and communion. The acts describe in great detail how these solemn devotions were carried out at Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet: the bell-towers rang out as on first class feasts, the main altar was decorated with reliquaries, paintings, a great number of candles, “and other pious and sacred ornaments,” “all with the dress, ornaments, ceremonies, and solemnity of a solemn feast as on the day of Corpus Christi itself, and even beyond, were it possible.” The Paris Province of the Capuchins decided to organize the Forty Hours during Quinquagesima of 1621-1622. But it was the French Jesuits—and St. Jean-François Régis (1597 † 1640) in particular—who generalized the Italian custom of their Society of making the Forty Hours in Quadragesima as a prelude to Lent.

1956- Forty Hours in the sanctuary of San Francesco de Gironimo

The French Revolution dealt a heavy blow to the Forty Hours in our country, and it seems that the custom of making them became less usual in the course of the 19th century. One indication of this disaffection is found in the various ceremonials and manuals of liturgy published in the course of that century in France, where it is unusual to find a description of the ceremonies of the Forty Hours. The Religious Week of the diocese of Lyon notes in 1911 that “in our diocese, it is never possible to observe the Clementine Instruction to the letter, and to make the Forty Hours without interruption either in the day or the night” (p. 218). It is probable that the Second World War dealt an even more serious blow to this tradition, which has nevertheless remained lively in the United Kingdom and Italy up to our times, including in the new rite.

THE FORTY-HOURS MACHINES. In order to heighten the solemnity of the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during the Forty Hours, the piety of the faithful, allied with the whole decorative genius of the Baroque age invented marvelous temporary constructions to form an elevated throne for the monstrance and decorated it with a great many candles. These temporary constructions for the three days of the exposition earned the name “Forty Hours Machines” (Macchine della Quarantore in Italian). The first machine seems to have been conceived by the Jesuits in Rome. The greatest architects and artists collaborated in their construction, which testifies to the extraordinary piety of our fathers. In 1633 Nicolas Poussin received the commission for the Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the Adoration of the Magi to beautify the Forty Hours of a Roman oratory.

Here we can see the machine designed in 1650 for the Jesuits’ Forty Hours devotion in the church of the Gesù in Rome:


Here we have an engraving representing Pope Pius VI in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament placed on the extraordinary Forty Hours machine designed by Bernini himself for the Vatican:


Louis-Jean Desprez (Auxerre, 1743 – Stockholm, 1804) and Francesco Piranesi (Rome, 1758/9 – Paris, 1810) – “Pius VI in adoration in the Pauline Chapel during the ceremony of the Forty-Hours,” around 1783-1785. Watercolour and gouache (Desprez) over an engraving (Piranesi). Source: La Galerie Tarantino, which we heartily thank for this iconographical support.

Here are four more designs of Forty Hours machines from the 17th century:

  • The first bears a manuscript note indicating that the machine held 140 candles.
  • The second is a plan for the decoration of a Forty Hours. Rome, end of the 17th century. Source: Galerie Tarantino.
  • The third is a decoration project for the Forty Hours showing the “Return of the explorers from the land of Canaan” by Giacinto Calandrucci (a student of Maratta), sold to the National Gallery in Washington (the explorers had taken 40 days to explore Canaan).
  • Beneduci di Orzinuovi—design for a machine for the Forty Hours.


This is a video of the Forty Hours machine belonging to the Church of Santa Maria dell’Orto in Rome, still in use today (but only for the Altar of Repose on Good Friday). Built in 1848, it boasts 231 candles. It is the work of one Luigi Clementi, which according to the archives cost 500 scudi for the woodwork and 50 more for the gilding.

– The number 40 is mentioned many times in Scripture, and often in relation to an encounter with God. We list the principal occurrences below:

  • The rain of the Deluge lasted 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:4, 12, 17). At the end of 10 months of the Deluge, the waters began to recede and after 40 days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark (Genesis 8:6).
  • Isaac (Genesis 25:20) and Esau (Genesis 26:34) were married at the age of 40.
  • Moses stayed 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai in the presence of God without food or drink, and at the end of this period he received the tables of the Law (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9,11, 18, 25; 10:10).
  • Moses’ messengers explored the land of Canaan in 40 days (Numbers 13:26), then Israel was condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years (Numbers 14:33-34; 32:13; Exodus 16:35; Deuteronomy 8:2–4; Joshua 5:6).
  • In the Mosaic Law the number of stripes given to punish a criminal could not exceed 40 (Deuteronomy 25:3; II Corinthians 11:24).
  • The reigns at the apogee of the Jewish kingdom, that of David (I Samuel 29:27) and that of his son Solomon (1 Kings 11:42), both lasted 40 years.
  • The prophet Elijah crossed the desert during 40 days to meet God on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).
  • The prophet Jonah calls Nineveh to repent under pain of destruction at the end of 40 days (Jonah 3:4).
  • Our Lord Jesus Christ was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem, in conformity with the Law of Moses, 40 days after his birth (the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin on the 2nd of February – Luke 2:22; Exodus 13:2, 11-16; Leviticus 12:2-4, 6-8).
  • Christ began His public ministry with a fast of 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:1-2; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2), and His Ascension took place 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3), which, according to a tradition recorded by St. Augustine (cf. supra De Trinitate 46), took place after he passed 40 hours in death.

LITURGICAL RUBRICS. The Forty Hours devotion is regulated by the Clementine Instruction, promulgated in 1731 by Pope Clement XII based on a prior version published by Pope Clement XI in 1705. This document is cited in the ninth place in the official list of liturgical books of the Roman Church (Sacred Congregation of Rites, n°4266 of 17th May 1911).

The instruction is divided into 37 paragraphs which offer a succinct presentation of the liturgical rules for the celebration of the Forty Hours:

General Rules

Forty Hours at the London Oratory
  • An external sign (a shield or a banner) must be hung to the main door of the church where the Blessed Sacrament is solemnly exposed. This sign must include a symbol of the Blessed Sacrament, in order that the people may know that the Forty Hours are being carried out in this church.
  • The altar or place of exposition must not display any relics of saints or funeral symbols. It is usually the high altar of the church. If there is a painting on the reredos of the high altar, it must be covered up with a white or red sheet. Likewise for the statues of saints that decorate the altar (but not those of angels holding candelabra).
  • An elevated throne must be placed atop the altar where the monstrance that holds the Blessed Sacrament will be placed. White curtains (with golden trims, Barbier de Montault adds) forming a canopy may be used, especially is the throne is not covered.
  • The frontal and decorations of the altar must be white, and must never conceal the monstrance.
  • Flowers must never be placed before the tabernacle. Flowers are not prohibited, but must be arranged discreetly. They are not used in Rome.
  • It is appropriate that a minimum of 20 candles burn permanently at this altar, both by day and by night.
  • No lights may be placed behind the Host to try to make it shine.
  • The windows of the church near the altar can be covered, the ideal being that the altar candles shine amidst the shadows, in order to inspire concentration and prayer.
  • A kneeling-bench is to be prepared and placed for the adoration of the clergy at the bottom of the steps of the altar of exposition after the Mass of exposition and the procession are finished. This bench can be covered in red or green.
  • Reservation of the Eucharist—if It is usually reserved at the altar of exposition—must take place at another altar. In any case, communion cannot be received at the altar of exposition.
  • The church bells must ring solemnly the evening before the start of the exposition at the Angelus, then a half-hour before sundown, and one hour thereafter. During exposition, the church bells must ring every hour, during the night as well as the day.
  • The Blessed Sacrament must not be visible from the street during Adoration (to avoid blasphemy, especially during Carnival time). A sheet is to be hung before the entry if necessary, in order to hide the view to the exposition altar from the street.
  • Although the Forty Hours are held by custom beginning on Quinquagesima Sunday, one may also celebrate them at any time of the year except during the Paschal Triduum, when they are, of course, prohibited. Nevertheless, if while the Forty Hours are taking place, one is to hold the blessing of candles and procession of Candlemas, the distribution of ashes and procession of Ash Wednesday, or the blessing and procession of Palm Sunday, the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament must be interrupted throughout the length of these ceremonies and resumed thereafter. Specific rules also exist in the case where the Forty Hours are held during the 2nd of November.

Rules for the Clergy and the Laity

  • Two members of the clergy must always be present in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
  • They may not use the stole whilst they adore.
  • The clerics that look after the lighting must always be in surplice. Laymen may supply for these clerics, in the condition of donning a cassock and surplice while they care for the candles.
  • One must genuflect on both knees every time one enters or leaves the sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, and each time one passes before It.

Celebration of the Mass

  • Mass shall not be celebrated at the altar of exposition, except on the first day for the Mass of Exposition (even though exposition does not “technically” begin until after the procession that follows this Mass) and on the third day for the Deposition.
  • The Masses of Exposition (on the first day) and of Deposition (on the third day) shall be solemn votive masses of the Blessed Sacrament (with Gloria and Credo), sung with sacred ministers (deacon and subdeacon), unless these votive masses are impeded by the mass of the day. On impeded days, the mass of the day shall be said with a commemoration of the Blessed Sacrament under one conclusion. Nevertheless, the frontal of the altar of exposition and the humeral veil shall always be white, whatever the colour of the mass being celebrated.
  • On the second day a solemn votive mass with sacred ministers shall be celebrated, for peace or some other necessity (with Gloria unless the mass is in violet vestments), following the bishop’s instructions.
  • This mass of the second day shall not be celebrated at the altar of exposition or at the altar where the rest of the hosts are reserved.
  • During the exposition, no Requiem Mass may be said.
  • The frontal of the altar of exposition shall always be white, whatever the colour of the Mass or Office of the day.
  • When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, the use of a bell during low masses is prohibited. It is appropriate that its use be also prohibited during solemn masses.
  • It is likewise prohibited to take any collection in the church whilst the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, or to set up special collection boxes.
  • Sermons during the Forty Hours are not encouraged, but if they nevertheless take place, they must be brief and may only be about the Eucharist; the preacher is not permitted to use a biretta or stole. The preacher must stand sideways by the altar of exposition in such a way that none of the faithful need turn his back to this altar.

Particular Features of the Mass of Exposition

  • The altar is prepared before Mass for Exposition but only the usual six candles are to be lighted at the beginning of the Mass. The altar cross remains at its place. A corporal may be placed at the throne of exposition if the latter is in a different place from the altar cross. The montrance is to be prepared, covered by a white veil, as well as the book used for the final prayers after the procession (they are found in the Rituale Romanum, for example). The canopy, two candles to be borne during the procession, and two thurifers for the same shall also be prepared.
  • During this mass of the first day, the celebrant consecrates two large hosts, one of which will be exposed.
  • The monstrance is placed over the corporal after communion.
  • From the moment when the second large host is placed in the monstrance by the deacon, the rest of the mass is celebrated following the rubrics for a Missa coram Sanctissimo:
    • The celebrant and ministers genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament each time they approach It or leave the area of the altar.
    • When the celebrate or deacon address the people (for the Dominus vobiscum, Ite Missa est, and the final blessing), they stand sideways at the gospel corner in order to avoid giving their backs to the Most Holy Sacrament.
    • During the course of the Last Gospel, the celebrant genuflects at the Et Verbum caro factum est turning towards the Body of the Lord.
  • After the Last Gospel, the celebrant and his ministers genuflect with both knees at the bottom of the altar steps and then go to the sedilia where they put down their maniples and the celebrant takes of the chasuble in order to put on the cope, always making sure never to turn their backs towards the Blessed Sacrament. The two thurifers come from the sacristy with the candle-bearers. The celebrant imposes the incense, without blessing it, on both thuribles, at the sedilia (the only time the liturgy allows this), assisted by the deacon while the subdeacon lifts the cope. The celebrant and his ministers go to kneel at the foot of the altar and he incenses (with the first thurible) the Blessed Sacrament (like during Benediction), and then takes the humeral veil from the Master of Ceremonies, which the subdeacon fastens. The celebrant goes up the steps with the ministers and kneels. The deacon, having genuflected on the footpace, takes the monstrance and gives it to the kneeling celebrant. Whilst this is happening, the procession is formed.

Procession of the Blessed Sacrament
It is very similar to the Corpus Christi procession.

  • The singers intone the hymn Pange lingua and the procession sets out.
  • The confraternities must walk before the cross and clergy.
  • The cross-bearer wears a surplice (and not a tunicle) and is accompanied by two acolytes followed by the singers.
  • Eight priests or clerics must walk before the canopy. All have their heads uncovered and they may not wear a skull cap for health reasons.
  • Everyone (clergy and laity) carry candles in honour of the Blessed Sacrament, which they hold with their external hand.
  • The clerics who are parati may only use white vestments.
  • During the course of the procession, boys and girls are not allowed to perform tableaux vivants about the saints (this was done a lot in France during the 17th century).
  • The clergy carry the canopy. Nevertheless, most honourable magistrates can take over from them by carrying the poles of the canopy, but only outside the church.
  • The two thurifers ahead of the canopy must continually incense the Blessed Sacrament without turning themselves.
  • The celebrant, even a bishop, must walk and carry the monstrance in his hands, and not with the aid of a machine.
  • All bells must ring during the procession, not only those of the church, but also those near which the procession shall pass. The procession may also be done inside the church (in which case it will turn right when leaving the choir to take the side aisle, and then take the central aisle).
  • If the route is to be long, one or two altars of repose can be set up.
  • When returning to the altar when the exposition shall take place, the deacon takes the monstrance from the celebrant and places it on the throne of exposition. The two last stanzas of the hymn Pange lingua are then sung: Tantum ergo and Genitori Genitoque.
  • The officiant imposes the incense and thurifies the Blessed Sacrament as usual.
  • Two singers then come to kneel in the middle of the choir and begin the Litany of the Saints. Everyone remains kneeling. After the Litany, the celebrant, who remains kneeling, entones the Pater noster which is continued in silence. The singers then intone psalm 69, Deus in adjutorium meum intende, which the choir takes up antiphonally. Then the celebrant sings the versicles Salvos fac servos tuos and the rest. He rises for the Dominus vobiscum and sings the five collects of the Forty Hours in the ferial tone. After these collects, the celebrants sings the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam, the singers chant the versicle Exaudiat nos omnipotens et misericors Dominus and the celebrant finishes recto tono on a low note: Fidelium animæ per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Then the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament begins.
Forty Hours reposition mass, celebrated with the Blessed Sacrament exposed

Particular Features of the Deposition
Deposition at the end of the Forty Hours is basically identical to the Exposition, with the following order, however: Mass, Litany of the Saints, Procession, end of the Litany (instead of Mass, Procession, Litany of the Saints).

  • The Mass of Deposition must be chanted at the altar of exposition, before the exposed Sacrament, and must, consequently, follow the rubrics for Missa coram Sanctissimo.
  • At the end of the Mass, as at the Mass of Exposition, the celebrant and ministers go to the sedilia to remove their maniples and chasuble; the celebrant puts on the cope. The altar cross (if one was used), the altar cards, and the missal are removed from the altar, a corporal is put out at the center of the same, and the tabernacle key and a white humeral veil are prepared.
  • The sacred ministers and the celebrant kneel on the first step at the bottom of the altar. Two singers, kneeling before the middle of the altar, sing the Litany of the Saints followed by psalm 69. The celebrant sings the versicle up to the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam with its response.
  • Towards the end of the Litany of the Saints, two thurifers go to prepare their thuribles, the procession forms up and candles are distributed to all.
  • When the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam with its response have been sung, the celebrant stands and imposes incense into the two thuribles, without blessing it. He receives the humeral veil and goes up the steps with the ministers. There, the deacon gives the kneeling celebrant the monstrance, as on the first day, and the procession sets out.
  • During the procession, the Pangua lingua is sung, as on the first day of the Forty Hours, and then it returns to the altar. The deacon puts the monstrance atop the corporal at the centre of the altar. The two last stanzas of the Pange lingua (Tantum ergo and Genitori Genitoque) are then sung, and the Blessed Sacrament is incensed as usual during the last stanza.
  • As during Benediction, the singers chant the versicle Panem de cœlo, the celebrant stands to sing the collect of the Blessed Sacrament Deus qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili (without Dominus vobiscum, as usual) and adds the four other prayers of the Forty Hours, as on the first day.
  • As on the first day, after these collects, the celebrant sings the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam, the singers sing the versicle Exaudiat nos omnipotens et misericors Dominus, and the celebrant finishes recto tono on a low note: Fidelium animæ per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace.
  • The celebrant then gives the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament, as usual. The deacon returns the Most Holy Sacrament to the tabernacle, everyone extinguishes their candles, and the clerics return to the sacristy after having genuflected before the altar.

The Modern Origins of Liturgical Ressourcement: Pierre Lebrun’s “Literal, Historical, and Dogmatic Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of the Mass” (1726)

Canticum Salomonis is pleased to introduce another long-term translation stream, this time taken from the work of the French liturgical scholar and Oratorian Father Pierre Lebrun (1661-1729).

Our 7th February post of Alexander VII’s bull Ad aures nostras introduced us into the period of the first vernacular translations of the Mass. Pierre Lebrun occupies a central place in France in subsequent efforts, which largely ignored Alexander’s bull, to educate Catholics in the liturgy.

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 9.45.47 PM
Frontispiece of the 1843 Edition of Explication


I. The Work of Father Pierre Lebrun

Fr. Lebrun is praised by no less than Dom Guéranger, whose famously cantankerous sensibility spares some unusually choice words for this Oratorian predecessor:

(1726). Pierre Lebrun, Oratorian, whose find work on the Mass we have already cited many times, is one of the last liturgical writers truly worthy of the name that France has produced. His knowledge was equal to his orthodoxy. L’Explication littérale, historique et dogmatique des prières et cérémonies de la Messe is in four volumes in-8°, published at Paris between 1716 and 1726.

Jean LeClerq has this to say:

“The masterwork of Father Lebrun is his Explication de la Messe which appeared between 1716 and 1726. After two centuries have passed, we must admit that nothing has replaced it, despite some admirable attempts. With Lebrun it is like Jacques Goar: their works are the basis of any serious attempt to address the questions they treated. However, it would be a good thing to reprint Lebrun, taking account the best and most recent theories, new or corrected texts, and the points of detail that have been better clarified and definitively fixed. But a work of this nature would require as much erudition as modesty, which explains perhaps why no one has tried it. (Advertisement in Explication de la Messe, Lex orandi 9 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1949).

More recently, the Abbé Quoëx observed that as a Mass commentary, Lebrun’s Explication is a work that “remains unsurpassed and whose amplitude and complexity is well expressed by the title.”

Coming to liturgical scholarship by a curious route–first taking the part in a contemporary controversy in favor of satire–his scholarly interests became closely tied with the evolving political situation of his day. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, high churchmen and servants of the king actively cooperated in a large-scale effort to convert and catechize the Calvinists of France. As Lebrun describes in his Preface (available below), this effort included the publication of vernacular translations of the Mass Ordinary and even of full-length missals. What was once forbidden had become had now become ubiquitous:

Finally, after the editions made by order of the King for the benefit of new converts after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, such a large quantity have been printed every year, with the authority of the bishops, that it is no longer a question at present whether vernacular translations are proper and whether they ought to be read by the people. It is an established fact. We find them in everyone’s hands, and there is nothing more to be done except to give them, by means of an exact explanation, as much or more respect for it than was attempted to inspire in them by the secrecy with which it was kept from them. It is this that compelled many persons of distinction to demand with earnest the work that we here present.

If in the Middle Ages the thirst for Mass explanations had been slaked by the famous allegorical commentators, among them Honorius and Durandus, there had not yet emerged a parallel literature for the modern period. Further, in Lebrun’s eyes the great medieval allegorists, “as able as they were, were not well-versed in antiquity, and […] had not the time to do the necessary research,” or in other words, they did not base their mysticism on knowledge of Patristic literature. Therefore, a new effort was necessary,  nothing less than a comprehensive study of the liturgy and the history of its interpretation, beginning with the earliest sources:

For a long time many learned and experienced men have desired that what is mysterious should not be confused with what is not. But however edifying may be the views that are presented in order to nourish the piety of the faithful, they must cede their place to the chief ideas that have been held by the Church. Whether it was necessity, convenience, or seemliness that was the first cause of the ceremony in question, that we must say; and then rise as high as possible to discover the spiritual reasons the Church has, so to speak, superimposed upon the reason of institution. The most recent ideas that propose themselves must come last in our consideration.

The immediate provocation of the Explication was the printing of Benedictine Claude de Vert’s Explication simple, littérale et historique des cérémonies de l’Église (4 vol., Paris, 1709-1713), which purports to fill this gap. M. de Vert’s work gives us a fascinating glimpse into the world of 18th century scholarship, and into the cradle of liturgical rationalism, when no less than a Benedictine monk attempts to give an entirely literal, physical explanation for the origins of liturgical prayers and ceremonies. Perhaps inspired by the success of the Cartesian project, which “penetrated into the Temple of nature” and revealed the rational structure behind the changing forms of the universe, Vert seems to apply a Cartesian method to the piety of the Church, in which the words and ceremonies once encumbered with fictitious mystical causes are reduced to their true first physical causes. The words and actions of the rite are viewed as a physical system governed by the laws of physics: physical effects kept in motion by inertia.  All “imaginary” causes–allegory, mysticism, etc–are dismissed as “bad taste,” for this is “the taste of learned men, who in every genre of science and literature always come back to the simple and the natural, and thus to the truth.” The result sounds perhaps just as ingeniously imaginative and entertaining as the medieval allegorists!

M. de Vert describes the inspiration for his work:

Having heard in passing, more than thirty years ago, from a very intelligent man and besides well-versed in antiquity, that candles were not originally used in the Church for any other reason than for illumination, the idea struck me, and set me on the track of the natural and historical meaning of the ceremonies, and I understood at that moment that all the other practices of the Church must also have had a primitive physical cause and reason for their institution. I thus set myself to investigate the causes and reasons [….] I have drawn my conclusions, formed my opinion, taken my side, and drawn up my system.

The application of this principle is thoroughgoing. Candles are used in Church because they were needed in the dark of the catacombs. Once their practical purpose had ceased, they were kept anyway out of habit. Again, the primitive purpose of incense is to dispel bad odors, and the Baptismal candle was to help the baptizandi find their way to the font! These usages were only “spiritualized” afterwards. Again, the reason we kneel at the et incarnatus est is by the physical causation of the liturgical word. This is Lebrun:

If we genuflect at the words of the Credo: Et incarnatus est, that is because a little before we say descendit. It is quite easy to perceive, M. de Vert says, “that this ceremony is nothing more than the effect of the impression of the sound and the letter of the word descendit, for genuflection is a sort of descending.” And if in many churches the genuflection is maintained until the word sepultus has been said, do not think that this comes from the desire to adore through this posture of voluntary abasement the humiliations of the incarnate Word. No! It is because we are waiting for a word that tells us us rise, and this word is resurrexit, “for,” he adds in a note, “RESURGERE in its proper sense signifies to rise, to stand erect.

In the Passion reading in the Roman Rite, the faithful prostrate themselves in many places at the death of Christ. Again Lebrun:

Does the Christian people prostrate themselves on the earth in order to adore in the humblest manner possible this precious death that Jesus Christ has suffered for our sins? M. de Vert sees nothing in this ceremony but the attempt to represent a man expiring: “We lay ourselves on the ground,” he says, “and bow our heads in the manner of one expiring and giving up the soul and falling down dead. What’s more,” he adds, “in the Roman Rite a pause is observed here, as if to express, perhaps, the repose of the dead, which is to say, the state of human bodies after death.”

One could call de Vert’s scholarship a scholarship of “enlightened literary taste.” The same early modern sensibility that in philology sought to clear medieval accretions from “authentic classical texts” and in architecture replaced the colors of the Gothic with white Neo-Classical temples, here seeks to reduce the colorful pageantry of the inherited liturgical tradition to clean and pseudo-scientific causes that flattered the literary and rational tastes of that generation. As such it received sharp criticism from the parti des dévots, including the bishop of Soissons, Jean-Joseph Languet de Gergy in his Du Véritable esprit de l’Église dans l’usage de ses cérémonies.

Portrait of French bishop and theologian Jean-Joseph Languet de Gergy (1677-1753)

Father Lebrun is quick to point out de Vert’s arbitrary method of procedure and its unsatisfactory results. Beginning with a materialistic a priori is not impartial research, and leads necessarily to the exclusion of the witness of the Church and her tradition, which claim symbolic reasons for many things. In fact, M. de Vert’s rationalism ironically falls into the same error, though on the opposite extreme, as the medieval commentators: that of ignoring the true nature of the literal sense.

The literal sense is not reducible to a physical cause. Rather it is pure and imply that which the author intended when instituting it, and in many cases this is a symbolic, mystagogical purpose:

The true literal and historical sense of a writing or a ceremony is that which the author or institutor had in mind, and it is often a figurative sense, of symbol and of mystery. If we consider the scepter of kings and the crosier of bishops and abbots in a coarse and material fashion, we might say that it is given to them for support while walking, because this is the more ordinary use of staves and because in fact in ancient times bishops and abbots availed themselves of staves in their travels. But since we are seeking the reason for the institution of the ceremony of the pastoral staff, we would distance ourselves from the true sense of the Church if we gave, as a reason of institution, the ordinary usage of support while walking; for the scepter and the crosier are given to both young and old to be used only in actions of magnificence and ceremony. The proper and historical significance of the scepter is to be the symbol of the power of the king in all his dominions, just as the pastoral staff is given by the Church to bishops and abbots to mark their authority in their diocese and in their monasteries, and because as pastors they have the crook to protect their flock and to chastise those who trouble its peace and good order. The Church herself teaches us these symbolic senses in her pontificals.

Of course, Lebrun is not unaware that certain practices or ceremonies only acquired their symbolic senses after their practical use had ceased: as in the case of the maniple. Rather, he admits a variety of causes. His response presents a balanced approach to mystagogical exegesis firmly based in the literal meaning of the text, which both approves and corrects the imaginative methods of the medieval commentators.

He sets himself to discover whether the origins are convenience, seemliness, necessity, or symbol, and admits any combination of these. Nevertheless, he is firm in his conviction that many usages have nothing but a symbolic reason for their institution:

There are some uses that have never had anything but symbolic and mystical reasons. Some persons doubt that this has been the case since their origin, but it will be easy to persuade them, if we consider the the first Christians always had in view the raising of the mind to God; that everything that passed through their hands became, so to speak, symbolic; and that, as the sacraments were instituted under the form of symbols, they were inclined always to spiritualize everything. This is easy to see in the Epistles of St. Paul, in the writings of St. Barnabas, St. Clement, St. Justine, Tertullian, Origen, etc. The ancient author of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy writing under the name of St. Dionysius, tells us that the symbolic reasons for the ceremonies were kept in secret, and that only the heads of the Church knew them and revealed them to the people on certain occasions.

St. Paul gives nothing but mystical reasons for the practice of praying with heads uncovered which men must observe in church, and the Fathers of the Church who explain the words of St. Paul too give nothing but mystical reasons for this use. It is also for a mystical reason that throughout many centuries the newly baptized were vested in a white robe, and that Constantine, the first Christian emperor, dressed his bed and chamber in white after having received Baptism during the illness of which he died. When the first Christians turned toward the sun as they raised their prayer, it is because they regarded the orient as the figure of Jesus Christ; and when they went to pray in places that were elevated and well lit whenever that was possible, it is because the exterior light represented the light of the Holy Spirit, as Tertullian teaches us.

Contemporary Relevance

Claude de Vert’s materialist method is more than just a curious museum piece. It is one of the first major efforts in a project, which still endures in areas of the liturgical academy in modern times, that views with suspicion or even contempt the mystagogical tradition of the West and symbolic aspects of the liturgical rite. Modern Cartesian literalists apply de Vert’s principle, for example, to vestments: the maniple is nothing but an absurdly glorified handkerchief, and the chasuble just a Roman “business suit” that would have been worn without any mystical connotations by early Roman priests, and so forth. In this sense, Lebrun’s vigorous indictment of the thoroughgoing rationalism of these “grammarians” of his day might apply just as well to some modern historical critics in every discipline of theology.

M. de Vert claims that his ideas introduce us to “the taste of learned men, who in every genre of science and literature always come back to the simple and the natural, and thus to the truth.” There is nothing more excellent than such taste, as long as it is retained within its just bounds, just as nothing is more pernicious than a taste that is ruined for not knowing how to restrain itself. We must acknowledge, to the glory and the shame of our century, that we have both conceived good taste, and so often spoiled it; that spirits otherwise capable of good things are given to deplorable excesses even while explaining the word of God. Origen and many ancient interpreters depended too much on allegory, enough to lead their so-called critics to dispense with them entirely. These latter have carried out their design so thoroughly, that it is no longer acceptable to find in Moses, the Prophets, and the other Holy Books, that which Jesus Christ revealed there to his disciples, and that which they later elaborated for the entire Church. These pretended critics are all grammarians at best, whose works are pernicious to the faithful, and useful only to good theologians to help them understand the scope of certain terms. They are strangers in the Old and New Testament, hospites Testamentorum. On the specious pretext of looking for the simple, literal, and historical sense, M. de Vert has allowed himself like them to be blinded, but also like them, he has allowed himself to be duped.

Modern Catholic scholarship largely inherited these prejudices under the influence of the Biblical scholars, and an anti-priestly, anti-cultic, anti-mystical bias found its way thence into the liturgical movement. [1] Abbe Quoëx explains the modern narrative about the allegorists:

In the wake of A. Wilmart and liturgists such as J. A. Jungmann, P.-M. Gy, and more recently E. Mazza, critiques have been mounted against the allegorical method of commentary of which Amalarius, more than the inventor, was a sort of “high priest.” They have highlighted the arbitrary constructions and the imaginative piety of these works. They have emphasized the decisive influence of the cleric of Metz on the greater part of the expositiones missae of the Middle Ages, from the Liber de divinis officiis of Remigius of Auxerre to the fourth book of the Rationale divinorum officiorum of Durandus of Mende, and thence on the ritual elaborations of the medieval period and the understanding of the Mass in general until the Reformation and beyond.

Setting aside the question of Amalarius’s influence, real or overstated, claims like these have contributed to throw no little suspicion on the mystagogic approach to the liturgy and, in recent times, to discredit the value and the significance of medieval ritual developments that, grafted onto the ancient Gregorian ordo over the course of five centuries, have produced nothing but a “liturgy encumbered with secondary, not to say superfluous, signs.”

The work of picking up the pieces and restoring a balanced appreciation of the medieval mystagogical tradition has yet to be taken up.

One of the great misfortunes of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, as Alcuin Reid has pointed out in The Organic Development of the Liturgy, is that it did not learn from the mistakes of the early modern period. The rationalizing liturgical trends that crystallized in the condemned Synod of Pistoia (1786) and the neo-Gallican rites was an experiment in “modernization” that was not only roundly condemned but, as we shall see, cogently addressed by faithful Catholics in the 18th century.

Fr. Lebrun’s comprehensive work can serve as a model of liturgical ressourcement that both acknowledges the capacity of liturgy to bear a plethora of symbolic meanings, and respects its historically conditioned manifestations. Its clear, concise, pastoral approach makes it a useful handbook for introducing the Catholic faithful to the Latin liturgical tradition of the West without forfeiting the great benefits of modern historical research. Finally, it is a basic introduction to liturgical sources, not only the textual but also the mystical.

LeBrun intended to write 9 volumes, but only finished three, finally published in 1726 as four volumes. It was reprinted more than a dozen times. No portrait of the author is known to the editors who reprinted the work most recently in 1949, though without editorial comment, along with a short biography.

(Translation of the Preface to follow this week……)


[1] Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, pg. 133: “Father Bouyer’s constructive critique of the direction that liturgical theory and practice had taken during the post-Tridentine period is expressed with a typical French clarté: ‘Nothing of lasting value, then, can be achieved without a preliminary criticism of both the Baroque and the Romantic mentality, since the false notion of the nature of the liturgy has been formed by both periods.’ Today we would describe the temper of this opinion as overly influenced by a preferential option for the primitive.

Other professionals of his generation shared Father Bouyer’s evaluation of the Baroque and Romantic periods, which include the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. So it became fashionable to criticize Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875) for his restoration of ‘all the pomp characteristic of the later days of Cluny’ and to praise primitive Benedictinism instead. Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was wrong to tell his beads when he presided at but did not celebrate the Mass. And so forth. Liturgists came to prefer the very remote past to the more immediate past. Modern biblical studies and historical theology, especially patristic studies, began to shape the approach that professionals took to liturgy.