Cardinal Schuster on To-day’s Offertory

The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, with verses and St Gall neums, from the Offertoriale restitutum.

Unhappily, far too few of our readers will have had the opportunity to hear the entirety of to-day’s sublime Offertory, Sanctificavit Moyses. The Offertory chaunt was originally a responsory, like the Gradual: a respond was followed by one or more verses, whereafter the entirety or part of the respond was repeated. During the course of the Middle Ages, however, the verses fell into obsolescence, and the Tridentine books ratified this situation by keeping only the Offertory respond. 

It is curious that the Offertory verses did not see much of a revival in the 20th century, when so many liturgical scholars and reformers set themselves to counteract the results of what they saw as the issue of mediæval liturgical decadence. In fact, both scholars and reformers generally ignored the Offertory chant; as we shall discuss in a future post, this is likely because the Offertory responsory challenged the prevailing liturgical shibboleths of that perfervidly reformist age.

The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, sung by Les Chantres du Thoronet.

To-day we shall limit ourselves to reproducing a meditation on the respond and verses of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses of the 18th Sunday after Pentecost by the Blessed Lord Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, Archbishop of Milan:

Sanctificavit Moyses altare Domino, offerens super illud holocausta, et immolans victimas: * fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Locutus est Dominus ad Moysen dicens: Ascende ad me in montem Sina et stabis super cacumen eius. Surgens Moyses ascendit in montem, ubi constituit ei Deus, et descendit ad eum Dominus in nube et adstitit ante faciem eius. Videns Moyses procidens adoravit dicens: Obsecro, Domine, dimitte peccata populi tui. Et dixit ad eum Dominus: Faciam secundum verbum tuum. 

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Oravit Moyses Dominum et dixit: Si inveni gratiam in conspectu tuo, ostende mihi te ipsum manifeste, ut videam te. Et locutus est ad eum Dominus dicens: non enim videbit me homo et vivere potest: sed esto super altitudinem lapidis, et protegam te dextera mea, donec pertranseam: dum pertransiero, auferam manum meam et tunc videbis gloriam meam, facies autem mea non videbitur tibi, quia ego sum Deus ostendens mirabilia in terra.

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

Moses hallowed an altar to the Lord, offering upon it holocausts, and sacrificing victims: * he made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. The Lord spake unto Moses saying, Come up to me in Mount Sinai and thou shalt stand upon the top thereof. Arising, Moses went up into the mount, where God appointed him, and the Lord came down to him in a cloud and stood before his face. Seeing him, Moses falling down adored him, saying: I beseech thee, Lord, forgive the sins of thy people. And the Lord said unto him: I will do according to thy word.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. Moses prayed to the Lord and said: If I have found favour in thy sight, shew me thyself manifestly, that I might see thee. And the Lord spake unto him saying: for man canst not see me and live: but go up to the height of the rock, and I will protect thee with my right hand, till I pass: when I shall have passed, I will take away my hand, and then thou shalt see my glory; but my face shall not be seen by thee, for I am God, shewing wonderful things in the land.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

The Offertory is epitomized from Exodus xxiv, and tells of the solemn sacrifice with which Moses ratified the alliance between Jehovah [sic] and Israel in the blood of the victims. It is to be regretted [the original is stronger: è un danno], however, that in the Roman Missal this splendid Offertory is cut down to a single verse. In the ancient Antiphonaries this Antiphon [sic] rises to the grandeur of a true liturgical drama. The Law-giver, at the command of the majesty of God, intercedes for the apostate people, imploring mercy for them. The Lord answers him: “I will do according to thy word.” Then Moses, taking courage, begs the Lord to reveal him his glory. “No one,” replies Jehovah, “can see my glory and live; but stand upon this rock, and when my glory shall pass, I will set thee in a hole of the rock and protect thee with my right hand till I pass, lest my glory shall blind thee. When I shall have passed I will take away my hand and thou shalt see my back, but my face thou canst not see” (Exod. xxxiii, 13-23).

This narrative, clothed in the splendid melodies of the Gregorian Antiphonary, has a deep significance. The vision of the Godhead is not for those who are still wayfarers in this life, and probably, as the doctors of the Church hold, it has never been granted to any living man, being the privilege of Christ alone. Our mortal nature is unsuited to such a condition, which in itself would imply the actual but inadmissible possession of the highest Good. Faith, however, here comes to our assistance, and acts as a veil before the face of God, in such a manner that the rays of his glory enlighten our path without too greatly dazzling us, and without taking away from us the merit of virtue, which presupposes the liberty of the human will. 

(Translation by Arthur Levelis-Marke.)

Part of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, in the Codex Sangallensis 376.

Gemma Animae (15 – 17): Why Pray at Midnight?

Ch. 15
On the Middle of the Night

cock 7

We perform the night office at midnight because we read that at midnight the Lord struck the sleeping Egyptians and set free the watchful Hebrews. It is sung at midnight because that is when the Lord was born in Bethlehem and the angels sang their hymn to him, appearing also to the shepherds who were keeping watch by night. Likewise in the middle of the night, on Sunday, the Lord laid waste to hell and freed those who were keeping watch. Further, on a Sunday at midnight the Lord will come in judgment and will cast out the sleepers from his city, but the watchful he will lead into the place of rejoicing.

CAP. XV. – De media nocte.

Nocturnale autem officium ideo media nocte agimus, quia media nocte Dominus dormientes Aegyptios percussisse et vigilantes Hebraeos liberasse legitur. Ideo enim in media nocte agitur, quia media nocte in Bethlehem Dominus natus legitur, eique mox ab angelis laus concinitur; qui etiam pastoribus cum lumine apparebant, qui vigilias noctis custodiebant. Ideoque, in media nocte, et in Dominica nocte, quia Dominus media nocte, et in Dominica nocte, infernum devastavit, et populum vigilantem in media nocte liberavit. Ideo nihilominus in media nocte, quia Dominus in media nocte, et in Dominica nocte ad iudicium veniet, et dormientes a bonis de civitate sua disperdet; vigilantes vero in bonis in locum exsultationis adducet.

Ch. 16
On the Saints’ Authority

When we sing praises to our Creator in the night, we are following the authority of the saints. For David and the prophets “rose at midnight” (Psalm 118:62) “to praise the name of the Lord” (Psalm 121:4), and the Lord himself spent the night in prayer, and Paul and Silas sang psalms all through their night in prison (Acts 16), when a great light shone from heaven. All who imitate these men will share in their reward.

CAP. XVI. – De auctoritate sanctorum

Auctoritatem vero a sanctis habemus, ut in nocte surgentes laudes Creatori nostro cantemus. David namque (Psal. CXVIII) et prophetae media nocte ad confitendum nomini Domini surgebant, et Dominus in oratione pernoctabat, et Paulus atque Sylas in carcere media nocte psallebant (Act. XVI), quando ingens lumen divinitus ibi resplendebat: hos qui imitantur, et praemiis participantur.

Ch. 17
Jerome’s Disposition of the Psalms

In Bethlehem, where Our Lord wanted to be born, Jerome first composed the night office and the other hours the Church sings today. Next Pope Damasus ordered it to be celebrated according to the same rite throughout all the churches. “Anti” means “against”; “φωνη” means “sound,” and thus “antiphon” takes its name from the fact that it “concerns the sound,” because the antiphon establishes the mode in which the psalm is sung. In ancient days, Ignatius Bishop of Antioch heard the angelic chorus alternating in heaven, and according to this form he taught his church to sing, and afterwards passed the custom on to all the churches. The responsory comes from “responding” because when the choir has sung, one person responds with a verse, and the choir responds by repeating the beginning. Ambrose of Milan first composed the responsory chant, and the whole Church received this form from him. For he composed hymns that the Church still sings in praise of Christ.

CAP. XVII. – Dispositio Hieronymi.

Hieronymus primum in Bethlehem, ubi Dominus nasci voluit, nocturnale officium vel reliquas horas, ut hodie canit Ecclesia, disposuit. Secundum Damasus papa per omnes Ecclesias eodem ritu celebrari constituit. Anti dicitur contra; φωνη vero dicitur sonus, inde antiphona nomen habet, quod circa sonum sonet, quia cum videlicet antiphona incipitur, secundum tonum eius psalmus canitur. Hunc cantum primitus Ignatius Antiochenus episcopus in coelo angelicum chorum alternare audivit, et secundum hanc formam suam Ecclesiam cantare docuit, unde mos ad omnes Ecclesias pertransiit. Responsorium a respondendo dicitur, quia choro canente versus ab uno respondetur, et huic iterum a choro per incoeptionem respondetur. Hunc cantum in primis Ambrosius Mediolanensis episcopus composuit, et ab eo tota Ecclesia formam accepit. Hic enim hymnos composuit quos adhuc Ecclesia in laude Christi canit.

Gemma Animae (2.6 – 14): The Second and Third Nocturns

The Second Nocturn

Ch. 7
On the Second Vigil and the Second Nocturn

Image result for book of revelation

The second vigil is taken to be the age of the Law, which is also divided as if into hours, since it consists of three parts, one from Moses to David, a second from David to Babylon, and a third from Babylon to Christ; or to put it another way, priests, judges, and kings, as the text of the psalms declares.
CAP. VII. – De secunda vigilia et secundo nocturno.

Secunda vigilia tempus legis accipitur, quod iterum quasi horis discernitur, dum tribus interstitiis dividitur, scilicet uno a Moyse usque ad David, secundo a David usque ad Babyloniam, tertio a Babylonia usque ad Christum, sive sacerdotibus, iudicibus, regibus, quod declarat psalmorum textus.

Ch. 8
On the First Hour

For Conserva me, Domine (Psalm 15) represents priests, for whom the Lord is “their portion and their cup.” They served their night duty at the first hour of this vigil when Aaron and others after him taught the people the Law of the Lord. Exaudi, Domine, iustitiam meam (Psalm 16) signifies the judges, whose judgment “comes forth from the Lord’s countenance.”
CAP. VIII. – De prima hora.

Nam Conserva me, Domine (Psal. XV), sacerdotes exprimit, quorum Dominus pars haereditatis et calicis fuit, qui prima hora huius vigiliae excubias servabant, dum Aaron et alii post eum, legem Domini populum docebant. Exaudi, Domine, iustitiam meam (Psal. XVI), iudices innuit, quorum iudicium de vultu Domini prodiit.

Ch. 9
On the Second Hour

The judges chose to take the second hour’s vigil, when Gideon and others judges the people in accordance with the Law of God. Diligam te, Domine (Psalm 17) shows the kings, whom the Lord “made head of the Gentiles,” and who kept watch during the third hour, when David and others ruled the people in justice.

CAP. IX. – De secunda hora.

Hi secundae horae vigilandi curam susceperunt, dum Gedeon et alii populum secundum legem Dei iudicaverunt. Diligam te, Domine (Psal. XVII), reges ostendit, quos Dominus caput gentium constituit, qui tertiae horae vigilias custodiebant, dum David et alii populum ad iustitiam regebant.

Ch. 10
On the Gloria Patri and the Third Nocturn

Each of the psalms are sung with the Gloria Patri because it is written that each of the afore-mentioned orders adored the Trinity, and for the same reason three psalms are sung. The three antiphons with which the psalms are sung are the praises given to the Trinity by these just men. The following readings are the preaching of these watchmen. The responsories are their actions, in which God’s “justifications were the subject of their songs” (Psalm 118:54). The readings are done at the kings’ watch because in that time the books of the prophets were written, and they taught the people in the second watch, and sang the song of good works.

CAP. X. – De Gloria Patri et tertio nocturno.

Singuli psalmi cum Gloria Patri psalluntur, quia singuli supradicti ordines Trinitatem adorasse scribuntur, ideo etiam et tres psalmi canuntur. Antiphonae ternae, quibus psalmi modulantur, sunt laudes quae ab illis iustis Trinitati exhibebantur. Sequentes lectiones sunt illorum vigilum praedicationes. Responsoria vero illorum actiones, quibus hic cantabiles erant Dei iustificationes. Ideo autem lectiones post ad vigiliam regum leguntur, quia illo tempore libri prophetarum scribebantur, et ipsi tempore legis, quasi secunda vigilia, populum docuerunt, et cantum bonorum operum personuerunt.

The Third Nocturn and its Watchmen (11 – 14)

Ch. 11
On the Third Vigil and the Third Nocturn

The third vigil is the age of grace, which lasts until the end of the world. This age is divided into three hours, the time of apostolic preaching, the time of persecution, and the time of peace.

On the first hour.

During the first hour of this watch, the apostles were on duty, as demonstrated by Psalm 18 Coeli enarrant, since “there are no speeches nor languages where their voices are not heard,” when “their sound hath gone forth into all the earth.”

On the second hour.

The martyrs replaced the apostles at their watch posts, as Psalm 19 Exaudiat te Dominus proclaims, for “the name of the Lord” protected them in their tribulations, and was “mindful of all their sacrifices.”

On the third hour.

Image result for emperor constantine

Constantine, who established peace with the faithful, took the third hour, as we see in Psalm 20 Domine, in virtute tua laetabitur rex. He is the king who “rejoiced” in Christ’s “strength” when the bull was raised from the dead through Sylvester in the name of Christ, in the midst of an international congress.[1] He “rejoiced exceedingly in God’s salvation,” when he convened a great synod in Nicea, for which the Church “set on his head a crown” of glory and “laid upon him great glory.” To this day the faithful people keep this watch, and their King “hopeth in the Lord.” The last verses of the psalm touch upon the times of the Antichrist. The Lord places him like a fiery oven in which he tests his vessels. But “in the time of his face,” i.e. on the day of judgment, the Lord “shall trouble them in his wrath” along with all the wicked when “fire shall devour them.” But the Lord will raise up the vigilant Church in his strength, and she will “sing thy power” forever.

All these psalms end with the Gloria Patri because all of these men venerated the Trinity. There are three psalms because each of them flourished in faith, hope, and charity. The antiphon melodies are the Church’s thanksgiving, and the songs of the night watch.

CAP. XI. – De tertia vigilia et tertio nocturno.

Tertia vigilia tempus gratiae exstat, quae usque in fine mundi perdurat. Haec quasi in tres horas dividitur, dum tempore apostolicae praedicationis, tempore persecutionis, tempore pacis distinguitur.

De prima hora.

Prima hora huius vigiliae apostoli vigilabant, quos demonstrat psalmus (XVIII), Coeli enarrant, quorum voces omnis loquela et sermo audivit, dum eorum sonus in omnem terram exivit.

De secunda hora.

Secunda hora martyres vigilandi curam subibant, quos psalmus (XIX), Exaudiat te Dominus, denuntiat, quos nomen Dei in tribulationibus protexit, et omnis sacrificii eorum memor fuit.

De tertia hora.

Tertiae horae excubias Constantinus dux pacis cum fidelibus suscepit, quem psalmus (XX), Domine, in virtute tua laetabitur rex, innuit. Ipse enim rex in virtute Christi est laetatus, dum Taurus in conventu totius orbis in nomine Christi est per Silvestrum resuscitatus. Super salutem Dei vehementer exultavit, dum maximam synodum in Nicaeam congregavit, unde Ecclesia coronam super caput eius posuit gloriae, et magnum decorem ei tribuit. Huius vigiliae custodiam adhuc populus fidelium servat, cuius rex in Domino sperat. Ultimi versus psalmi tangunt tempora antichristi. Quem Dominus clibanum ignis ponet, in quo vasa sua examinet. In tempore vero vultus sui, id est in die iudicii, eum cum omnibus iniquis Dominus in ira sua conturbabit, cum eos ignis devorabit. Ecclesiam vero vigilem in virtute sua Dominus tunc exaltabit, quae virtutes eius in aeternum cantabit. Hi psalmi singuli cum Gloria Patri terminantur, quia Trinitas ab his omnibus veneratur. Tres autem ideo sunt, quia in fide, spe, et charitate floruerunt. Antiphonae melodiae sunt gratiarum actiones Ecclesiae, et quaedam vigilum cantilenae.

Ch. 12
Paul the Sentinel

Paul sang a sweet melody during the first hour of the watch, when he rejoiced for the election of the Gentiles: Regi saeculorum immortali, invisibili, soli Deo honor et gloria in saecula saeculorum. Amen (1 Timothy 1).

CAP. XII. – Quod Paulus vigil fuerit.

Paulus vigil suavem cantilenam in prima hora cantavit, dum pro Gentium vocatione sic exsultavit: Regi saeculorum immortali, invisibili, soli Deo honor et gloria in saecula saeculorum, amen (I Tim. I).

Ch. 13
Laurence the Sentinel

On his watch, Laurence trilled a lovely song at the second hour, when he gave thanks from the grid-iron: Gratias tibi ago, Domine, quia ianuas tuas ingredi merui

CAP. XIII. – Laurentius vigil.

Laurentius vigil dulcem cantilenam in secunda hora est modulatus, dum in craticula sic est gratulatus: Gratias tibi ago Domine, quia ianuas tuas ingredi merui.

Ch. 14
Gregory the Sentinel

Gregory the sentinel intoned a delightful melody at the third hour, when he instructed us to to perform the divine office with the musical art. The lessons signify teaching given to the people. The responsories are the examples of those great them by whom others are formed. Hence the name “responsory,” for life corresponds with teaching through song. Song signifies the conversion of penitents, when something is converted from evil to good. The solo voice who sings the verse is in travail, just as the penitent who undergoes his suffering to satisfy for his transgression. The beginning of the chant that follows the verse is a general thanksgiving for the converted. Everyone comes to his aid with prayers, as if to support the soloist, for the angels shall rejoice “upon one sinner that doth penance” (Luke 15). In this way the cantors imitate soldiers on their night rounds, who are sorrowful when one of their comrades wanders into the camp of the enemy. But if he returns and escapes danger, they are happy for him.

The third response always has a Gloria Patri, because everything present, past, and future is subjected to the Trinity. The Gospel is recited at the third vigil because it was only preached in the third age. Further, the Alleluia is often sung in the antiphons of the third nocturn because in that time the praise and joy of eternal life was announced to the world. All of these things are performed on the Lord’s night because all the aforementioned men are saved through faith in Christ’s resurrection. The Te Deum represents “joy and happiness” (Psalm 50:10) for the Church rejoices in her liberation on the day of judgment. Perhaps someone is moved to ask why we have discussed only three vigils, when four night watches is our custom.

CAP. XIV. – Gregorius vigil.

Gregorius vigil delectabilem harmoniam in tertia hora sonuit, dum musica arte divinum officium agi docuit. Per lectiones quae recitantur, doctrinae fidelium designantur. Responsoria quae cantantur, sunt illorum exempla, quibus alii informantur, unde et responsorii vocabulum his, quia vita doctrinae respondet. Per cantum, usus poenitentium conversio intelligitur, cum quis de malo ad bonum convertitur. Sicut enim laborat, qui versum solus cantat, ita poenitens laborem subit, dum pro errato satisfacit. Post versum autem cantus incoeptio, est communis omnium pro converso gratulatio, cui omnes per orationes succurrunt, sicut canenti subveniunt, quia et angeli super uno poenitentiam agente gaudium in coelis ducunt (Luc. XV). Per hoc autem cantores milites in excubiis imitantur, quia si aliquis ex sociis suis inter hostes aberraverit, contristantur; si vero periculum evadens redierit, ei congratulantur. Tertio responsorio semper gloria Patri annectitur, quia Trinitati omne praesens, praeteritum et futurum subiicitur. Ad tertiam vigiliam ideo evangelium recitatur, quia in tertio tempore illud modo praedicabatur. Ideo et in tertio nocturno saepius in antiphonis alleluia cantatur, quia in illo tempore laus et laetitia aeternae vitae praenuntiabatur. Haec universa ideo in Dominica nocte actitantur, quia hi omnes supradicti per fidem resurrectionis Christi salvantur. Porro Te Deum laudamus gaudium et laetitiam nobis repraesentat, quia Ecclesia in die iudicii liberata exsultat. Forsitan aliquem movebit, cur tres tantum vigiliae a nobis ponantur, cum quatuor noctis vigiliae tradantur. Hic sciat cum ad noctem saeculi significatio refertur, tunc tres tantum vigiliae propter tria tempora ponuntur, pro quibus et tres nocturni psalluntur. Cum vero ad noctem temporis refertur, tunc quatuor vigiliae scribuntur, et per quatuor laudes canuntur. Et sciendum cum nocturnus dicitur, cantus intelligitur. Cum autem nocturna, tunc hora accipitur.


[1] Saint Sylvester became renowned as an expert on Holy Scripture and as a staunch defender of the Christian Faith. During the reign of the emperor Saint Constantine the Great, when the period of persecution had ended for the Church, the Jews arranged a public debate to determine which faith was true. Saint Constantine and his mother, the holy Empress Helen, were present together with a large crowd. Saint Sylvester spoke for the Christians, and the Jews had one hundred and twenty learned rabbis led by Zambres, a magician and sorcerer. Quoting the sacred books of the Old Testament, Saint Sylvester convincingly demonstrated that all the prophets foretold the birth of Jesus Christ from the all-pure Virgin, and also His voluntary suffering and death for the redemption of the fallen race of mankind, and His glorious Resurrection. The saint was declared the victor in the debate. Then Zambres tried to resort to sorcery, but the saint obstructed the evil by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. For Sylvester raised a dead bull from the dead, which Zambres had killed and was unable to raise. Zambres and the other Jews came to believe in Jesus Christ, and they asked to be baptized.”


Papal Humiliations, Part 1 : The Burning of Flax

Wise rulers throughout history have often taken care to surround themselves with salutary reminders of their own frailty and the transitory nature of power. The auriga who held the laurel crown over the head of a triumphing Roman general would whisper into his ear: “Memento homo (Remember that you are mortal)” and during the coronation ceremony of the Byzantine emperor, stone masons approached him to display samples of stone for the construction of his tomb.

Various rites, in the same spirit, have been proposed for the Successors of Peter, so that amidst all the pomp owed to the dignity of their sacred office, the Supreme Pontiffs might not forget the humble origins of the papacy in the Galilean fisherman, who betrayed Christ out of fear of the washerwoman.

Sic Transit

PART I: The Burning of Flax

One such rite is the burning of flax during the papal coronation ritual, a practice adopted by the papacy a thousand years ago and used continuously until modern times. Here is video of the burning during the coronation of John XXIII (short and long versions):

Gattico’s Acta Selecta Ceremonialia Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae contains this description of the rite, used for Innocent X’s coronation in 1644:

“Then the procession began in the usual fashion. The Pope was carried in his sedia under a baldacchino as described above. While proceeding toward the high altar, Dom. Dominicus Bellus, third Master of Ceremonies, when the Pontiff had reached the aforementioned Chapel of St. Gregory, lighting a small piece of flax on the top of a reed he had been holding, and raising it in front of the Pope who has stopped, genuflected and said: ‘Holy Father, so passes the glory of the world.’ He repeats it a second time in front of the bronze statue of St. Peter, and a third time in front of the entrance to the high altar, each time in a louder voice.”[1]

Flax is a very dry material. When lit, the fire consumes it very quickly. For this reason it has long been taken to signify the brevity and frailty of human life:

“Flax, used as a symbol of transience, recurs in various passages of the Bible (Sir. 21:10-11; Isa. 1:31). Its symbolism is powerful; basic in its simplicity, profound in its significance: ‘like nothing else, it symbolizes human…transience’ viewed in relationship to the exercise of power (gloria).”[2]

The Coronation of David, Paris Psalter (10th century)

A rite of burning flax was used in the coronation of the Byzantine Emperor, and migrated to the West in the 11th century, when it was adopted in a handful of western uses under the influence of Peter Damian, who is the first western author to write about it. The rite was performed at Besançon, for instance, four times per year.[3] A 13th century Ordinary of Lisieux notes a similar ceremony for Pentecost: ad processionem Missae stuppae inflammantur, quas custodes inveniunt.”

The rite was given various interpretations and ritual expresses in the early centuries, until some time around the Council of Trent it settled into its modern form. Originally, it was practiced several times a year in the papal court, especially at Easter and Christmas, being restricted only much later solely to the coronation ritual. There is the following reference to an Easter flax burning in Chapter 222 of the Gemma Animae. At one time, it seems, the splendor of the solemn papal Easter celebrations were marked by this memento mori:

“When the pope celebrates during Easter, a large lamp (pharum) made of flax is hung over him. The burning flax is allowed to fall down upon him, and is gathered up from the ground by his assistants. This ceremony reminds him that he is ash, and that all the glory of his garments will one day be reduced to cinders.”[4]

The 12th century Ordo Romanus XI describes a flax ceremony at St. Mary Major on Christmas morning. The author presents the burning flax as an eschatological symbol of the end of the world, rather than a memento mori directed personally to the pope:

“During the entrance the (cubicularii) hold a cloth over the head of the Pontiff. When he enters the sanctuary, the (mansionarius ecclesiae) hands him a reed with a lit candle. The Pontiff takes it and sets fire to flax placed on the capitals of the columns as a sign of the end of the world through fire.[5]

The rite continued at Avignon, by which time it had also been fully incorporated into western imperial ceremony, where it was used until some time around the Council of Trent, the same period when the rite was restricted to the papal coronation ceremony in its current form and fell out of use in the other churches of the West.


Coronation 4.jpg

The English chronicle of Adam of Usk is the first eyewitness description of the ceremony of igniting the flax:

“On the feast of St. Martin (11 Nov. 1404), the new pope, for the solemnities of his coronation, descended from his palace into the basilica of St Peter where, at the altar of St George, he put on vestments for the Mass that had been brought to him by the auditors of the curia. At the exit of the chapel of St. George a cleric, bearing in hand a long cane covered with flax at one end, lit the flax with a candle and declared out loud: ‘Holy Father, thus passes the glory of this world’ [Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi]; and twice again in the center of the chapel in an even louder voice he proclaimed: ‘Holy Father, Holy Father’; and still a third time, at the entrance to the altar of St Peter’s, he issued a triple exclamation in an even louder voice: ‘Holy Father, Holy Father, Holy Father!’ And each time, immediately afterwards, the flax was extinguished.”

Adam of Usk adds: “in the same manner, at the coronation of the emperor, at the moment of his highest glory, stoneworkers would present him with pieces of marble of every sort and color, worked in every style, shouting at him: ‘Most excellent Prince, from which marble do you want us to make your tomb?’”

The flax burning during the coronation of Pius II

According to Agostino Patrizi Piccolomini’s ceremonial, the dying pope was invited to repeat the words pronounced during the coronation ceremony: ‘Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world’ (Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi).”[6] Stephen of Bourbon mentions the rite in a chapter that contains a quotation from Plato on the necessity of meditating regularly on death and references to biblical texts concerning ashes.[7]

Gaetano Moroni’s Dizionario records several of the more notable flax burnings, as well as some extraordinary stories connected with it:

The Acts of the Council of Pisa tell us that in Alexander V’s coronation in 1409: “There were many solemn ceremonies on that day, such as the burnings of flax while saying Sic transit gloria mundi.”[8]

There is a moving story about Pius III (1503): “Pius III, seeing the burning flax and hearing the three-fold chant: Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi, was so stricken and moved, among other things because was unable to stand due to a disease, broke out in tears: ‘he broke out in tears and bemoaned the human condition, which so quickly passes away.”[9]

Sixtus V, who was renowned for his wit, contrary to the custom of remaining silent during the burning ceremony, cried out in response to the Sic transit: “Our glory will never pass away, because our only glory is in doing what is just!” He then turned to a Japanese ambassador in attendance, and admonished him: “Tell your princes, our sons, the meaning of this noble ceremony.”[10]

At Clement XIV’s coronation (1769), the flax would not light, perhaps because of the humidity. The pope-elect was quite pleased, taking it as a sign portending a long rule. Later on, he fell from his horse in the procession up the Capitoline, and recalled the verse Impulsus eversus sum, ut caderem, et Dominus suscepit me which seemed to fit his circumstances.[11]

Flax burning was abrogated by Paul VI ipso facto along with the coronation rite, as part of that generation’s apparent disgust with the “detritus of imperial Rome.” Its disappearance is in complete harmony with the principles of the new liturgical order, under which the Church’s historic penitential discipline and rites have been all but abolished as unattractive relics of medieval piety.

But as the Church and her Petrine office enter deeper into this season of humiliation and repentance perhaps it is time to reconsider the fittingness of ceremonial acts of penance. One hopes a more judicious generation will soon rediscover, in this picturesque rite borrowed from the Byzantine court, a fulsome and timely reminder that the Petrine ministry is a ministry of repentance, an example of conversion for the whole world, founded when Christ raised the over-zealous Peter from the dung-heap of his betrayal.


[1] “Inchoata post haec fuit processio juxta suum morem. Papa delatus fuit in sede sub baldacchino ut supra elevato, et procedendo versus Aram majorem Dom. Dominicus Bellus tertius Caeremoniarum Magister, cum fuit Pontifex extra praedictam Capellam S. Gregorii, accensa parva stuppa in culmine arundinis, quam prae manibus habebat, eaque elevata ante Papam tunc consistentem, genuflexus dixit in tono: Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi; quod et secundo ante statuam aeneam S. Petri, et tertio ante ingressum quadraturae Altaris majoris fecit semper altiori voce.”

[2] Agostino Paravicini-Bagliani, The Pope’s Body, p. 29

[3] Paravicini-Bagliani, op. cit., p. 29: “A completely analogous rite appears in the liturgy of the cathedral of Besançon that was reorganized by Archbishop Hugh I (1031-66). The archdeacon presented the archbishop with some linen flax that had been set afire and addressed him with the words: reverend father, so passes the world and your vitality.”

[4] Cap. 222: De vestibus patriarchae et apostolici.

Patriarchae quoque et apostolicus pallio utuntur, qui eodem officio praediti esse noscuntur. Porro apostolico in Pascha procedente, pharus ex stuppa super eum suspenditur, quae igne succensa super eum cadere permittitur; sed a ministris vel a terra excipitur, et per hoc ipse in cinerem redigi, et gloria ornatus eius in favillam converti admonetur.

[5] Mabillon, Musei Italici, v. 2, p. 126: “In introitu ecclesiae cubicularii alte portant mappulam super caput Pontificis. Cum autem intrat presbyterium, mansionarius ecclesiae porrigit ei arundinem cum cereo accenso. Tunc Pontifex accipit eam, et ponit ignem in stupa posita super capita columnarum ad figuram finis mundi per ignem.” Durandus gives the same interpretation in 4.6.13: “In quibus dam etiam basilicis circa medium chori manipulus stupae appenditur, cui Pontifex transiens ignem apponit, ut in conspectu populi cito incineretur, per hoc secundum adventum commemorans, in quo Christus vivos et mortuos, et saeculum per ignem iudicabit; nam ignis in conspectu eius semper ardebit, et in circuitu eius tempestas valida [….] Hoc etiam fit, ut Pontifex ignem apponens consideret quod ipse debet in cinerem redigi, et ornatus eius in favillam converti, et quod quemadmodum stupa facile comburitur, sic etiam facile, et quasi in momento, praesens mundus transit, et concupiscentia eius [….].

[6] The Pope’s Body, p. 130.

[7] Tractatus de diversis materiis predicalibus, I, De dono timoris, ch. 7, de memoria mortis, nos. 98-99.

[8] Cited in Cancellieri, Storia de’ solenni possessi de’ Sommi Pontefici, pg. 38: “Et illa die fuerunt multa solemnia, ut puta, de stupis combustis dicendo, Sic transit gloria mundi.”

[9] Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica, v. 70, pg. 93: “Pio III […] nel vedere ardere la stoppa e nel sentire il triplice canto: Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi, ne rimase talmente penetrato e commosso, anche per esser impedito da una piaga di stare in piedi, che ne pianse; flevisse statim, et humanam sortem ingemuisse dicitur, brevi perituram.”

[10] Dizionario, v. 70, pg. 93: La gloria nostra non passera mai, perche non abbiamo altra gloria, se non che far buona giustizia. To the Japanese ambassador: “Dite a’vostri principi nostri figli, il contenuto di questa nobile ceremonia.”

[11] Ibid. There are further accounts in Gattico, Acta selecta, e.g.: (1484) Innocent VIII, pg. 373; (1644) Innocent X, pg. 410; (1676) Innocent XI, pg. 423.

The Jubé (5): That Removing Jubés Mutilates Our Churches

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 26
Chapter 27

It is still little understood why the jubés in French churches were so quickly and methodically replaced in the 17th and 18th centuries, but one of the reasons the “ambonoclasts” of the time gave to justify removing screens was that they were “regarded as useless ornaments, irregular protrusions, and inconvenient obstacles which rob the faithful of a view of the holy altars and prevent them from contemplating the most august Mysteries at their leisure.”

In other words, an aesthetic complaint–they obstructed a clear view of the interior and its main lines–combined with a “pastoral concern”–that they excluded the laity. Fr. Thiers takes on the first of these objections in this chapter.

Chapter XXVIII:
Destroying the jubés mutilates our churches

One of the principal reasons that ought to arrest the immoderate and benighted zeal of the jubés declared enemies is that they cannot remove them from churches without rendering them imperfect, and I daresay, mutilated. For a thing is imperfect and mutilated when it lacks one of the parts that it should have and of which it ought to be composed. Now it is certain that, generally speaking, the jubés are an integral part of churches, especially of great and ancient churches.

For this reason St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, explaining the main parts of the church in his Meditation on Church Matters, includes the jubé. Symeon of Thessalonica, in his book Interpretation of the Christian Temple and its Rituals, published in Fr. Goar’s Euchologe, also places it among the parts of a church. William Durandus, speaking of the church and its parts at the beginning of his Rationale,[1] mentions the jubé explicitly. The Ceremoniale Episcoporum numbers the jubé among the things necessary for Solemn Masses: Ambones ubi epistola et evangelia decantari solent.[2] Hospinien[3] and Fr. Boulanger,[4] in their treatises on temples, did not neglect the jubés. Neither did M. Allatio in his second letter to Fr. Morin, Des Temples des Grecs d’aujourd’hui.[5] Fr. Goar[6] and M. de Schelstrate[7] gave them a place in the plans they made of eastern churches. Fr. Morin gives them ample treatment in his book De antiquis Christianorum Ecclesiis,[8] and mentions them elsewhere.[9] Finally, Fr. Cabassout very explicitly affirms, in his Diatribe de la situation, des parties, et de la forme des anciennes Eglises, that the jubé is the third part of the church: Tertia ecclesiae pars ambon dicebatur.[10]

I am well aware that there are a number of churches without jubés, of which, therefore, jubés are not an integral part. But I also know that this does not justify the conduct of the ambonoclasts. For these churches are either cathedral churches, parish churches, collegiate churches, churches belonging to regulars, or private chapels. I maintain that of those churches that do not now have jubés, some either had them formerly, or if they never had them, that there is a reason for it. Let me explain.

a) Cathedral Churches

I know of no great, ancient cathedral that does not have a jubé. But if there are some that lack a jubé, it is because they have been destroyed by fire, damaged during war, or demolished by the heretics. The new cathedrals that do not have jubés are:

1) Those that have all been built, repaired, for renovated recently by architects who do not know the rules of the Church, or did not want to be bound by them and thought the jubés completely useless. So there is no jubé in the new Cathedral of Besançon, though there was a very beautiful one in the ancient cathedral, which was demolished in our time.

2) Those that were formerly Huguenot churches, as that of La Rochelle;

3) Those that were erected over what used to be monastic churches, where there was no jubé originally. Jubés could very well have been built in such cathedrals after they changed their state and character, but the prelates and canons who governed them either were not willing or generous enough to make the expense, or did not find the space suitable for one, or had some other reason for not building a jubé.

Whatever the case may be, we must grant this in justice to the cathedrals, that they are incomparably more attached to ancient practice than other churches are, that they are less prone to make innovations, and that they preserve their jubés more religiously.

b) Parish Churches

The great, ancient parish churches too formerly had their own jubés, and there are many today where jubés may be found. The parishes of Rome, which later become the cardinals’ titular churches, are a good example. St. Sylvester had one built in the church of San Lorenzo;[11] Sixtus III beautified the jubé of the church of St. Mary Major with porphyry;[12] and Sergius I built the jubé of the church of Ss. Cosmas and Damian.[13]

Since there were formerly stational masses in the parish churches of Rome, there must have been jubés in these churches because the Ordo Romanus, which explains the ceremonies that were observed in these Solemn Masses, notes expressly that the Gospel is chanted in the jubé.

Image result for Église Saint-Pierre-le-Rond
View of the (later) screen at Saint-Pierre-le-Rond, Sens (Source)

In Sens there are jubés in the parish churches of Saint-Hilaire, Sainte-Colombe-la-Petite, Saint-Pierre-le-Rond, and Saint-Maurice. In Rouen there are jubés in the churches of Saint-Maclou and Saint-Vivien. Finally, there are jubés in innumerable other parish churches of various dioceses and cities where the piety of the people, the zeal and enlightenment of pastors and bishops have devotedly preserved them.

Church of St. Maclou (destroyed in 1944) (Source)
Jube (St. Maclou).jpg
At St. Maclou, the flamboyant staircase of the former jubé was transferred to the back of the nave, where it served as a staircase to the organ loft (Source)
Jube (St. Vivien, Rouen.JPG
The jubé at St. Vivien, Rouen, was destroyed in 1761 and replaced three years later with this Baroque arrangement (Source)

But it is not surprising that most small parish churches have never had jubés. For there would have been no use for them, since they were served by only one priest and it would not have been quite convenient for him to leave the the altar to go sing the the Epistle and Gospel on the jubé. Additionally, High Masses were often not sung in these churches for lack of cantors. When they were sung on certain solemn days, the priest could chant the Epistle and Gospel in a loud voice and be understood by the people, who were not numerous nor far removed from him. Centuries have passed and the situation is no longer so: there are scarcely any little parishes today where the Mass is not chanted at least on Sundays and solemn feasts.

As the number of faithful has increased, vicars and priests have been added to many parishes, and if they have not had jubés built it is not because they are not necessary to perform the divine offices well, but either because the arrangement of the space does not permit it or because neither the priests nor the people have had the means.

Nevertheless, there are still a large number of jubés to be seen in the churches of large towns and villages that fire, war, and heresy have spared, and which have not been exposed to the reckless and irregular renovation of the new ambonoclast architects.

c) Collegiate Churches

We can make the same judgment about collegiate churches as about the cathedrals. All the great ancient collegiate churches have their jubés, with the exceptions however that we made when speaking about cathedrals.

Screen (St. Etienne, Lyon).jpg
The jubé at St. Etienne, Lyon (Source)

There are jubés in the collegiate churches of Saint-Étienne and Saint-Just in Lyon, and there was once one in St. Nizier before the Huguenots demolished it in 1585. There are jubés in the collegiate church of Saint-Martin de Tours, Saint-Symphorien, and Sainte-Balsamie of Reims, of Saint-Pierre in Mâcon, Saint-André in Chartres, in Monbrison, in Saint-Quentin in Vermandois, etc.

d) Churches of the Regular Orders

With respect to the churches of the Regular Orders, we must make distinctions with respect to time periods and the different institutes in order to know whether they once had jubés, and if they had them, where they are today.


In the West it seems that religious went a long time without building jubés, as much because their churches were small in the beginning—nothing more than oratories as St. Benedict calls them several times in the rule—as because it was long forbidden to celebrate public masses in them, i.e., mass at which seculars were permitted to assist, and seculars were for a long time not at liberty to enter.

Nevertheless, it is not impossible that the monks of St Benedict, among others, had jubés in their churches before that time [the mid-12th century, before which religious were not permitted to administer the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist to the faithful, to hold public assemblies, or to say public Masses in the churches of their monasteries]. There were jubés in the Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland in the 9th century, in the Abbey of St Medard in Soissons in the 10th century, and in the Abbey of St Josse in Picardy in the 11th century, as we have already seen.

Pope Victor III, after the middle of the 11th century, while still Abbot of Monte Cassino, made a jubé to be built which in truth was made of nothing more than wood, but embellished with sculptures and gilding. Cardinal Leo, bishop of Ostia, who reports it, states that the lessons of Matins and the Epistle and the Gospel at Mass where read thereupon on the main feasts of the year.

There were also jubés in the churches of nuns of the Order of St Benedict from the 8th century. Chrodegang, bishop of Metz, ordered a very beautiful one to be built in Metz in the church of Saint-Pierre-le-Vieil, also called de Haut-moutier, or de Marmoutier, where there were once three hundred nuns, according to the observations of M. de Sainte-Marthe.

Finally, there are still jubés in the Abbatial Churches of Saint-Denys in France, of Saint-Cornille in Compiégne, of Saint-Rémi and Saint-Nicaise in Reims, of Saint-Pére in Chartres, of Saint-Faron in Meaux, of Saint-Ouen in Rouen, of Saint-Taurin in Evreux, in Fécan, etc.

1) The monks of Cluny, who appeared in 910, have jubés in their churches, but in very few of them, because there were few Cluniac monasteries where public masses were said, given the fervor of their institution.

For the same reason, many other religious congregations that came thereafter and also fight under the Rule of St Benedict have no or almost no jubés in their churches.

2) The Cistercians have jubés, at least in their great churches, and they chant the Lessons of Matins there, as we have shown in the words of Paris, Abbot de Foucarmont.[14]

3) The Canons Regular, such as those later known as the Canons Regular of St Augustine, also had jubés in their churches, for very ancient ones still exist at present at St. Denis of Reims and Toussaints in Châlon sur-Marne, etc.

4) The Carthusians do not have jubés in their churches because they belong only to themselves. The strict solitude they profess does not allow them to invite laymen in.[15]

5) The Premonstratensians also have them. The jubé of St. Sebastian in Vicogne [destroyed in the Revolution] is one of the most magnificent in all Christendom, and there are a number of others in churches belonging to this order.

6) The Missal of the Mercedarians presupposes that the churches of this Order have jubés.

7) If we took the time, it would be easy to show how the Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians once had and still do have jubés in their churches. They exist in most of their ancient churches, and where they do not, one can find some vestiges of them where indifference for the ancient ceremonies of the Church or some other bad reason has led to their destruction.

8) Since the Barnabites, Theatines, Jesuits, Fathers of the Oratory, and some other new Institutes never, or almost never say High or Solemn Masses in their churches, jubés would be quite useless for them. Thus they ordinarily do not have them. Yet their churches and chapels are not imperfect or mutilated, because they were not built to have jubés, and nothing is imperfect or mutilated unless it lacks one of its essential parts.


[1] Bk. 1. I: []

[2] Bk. 1, c. 12.

[3] Bk. 2. De Origine et Progressu Templorum, ch. 3.

[4] Bk. 1, Opusculum de Templo, ch. 17, 18.

[5] Pg. 171.

[6] Pg. 21, Euchologium.

[7] Dissert. 4 in Concil. Antioch., ch. 4, n. 5, pp. 186-187.

[8] This book was never published. It was once found in the library of the Fathers of the Oratory on Rue Saint Honoré in Paris, but it is not there now, removed for purposes I do not know.

[9] De Poenit., bk. 6, ch. 6, n. 10

[10] Notit. Concilior. 8 (Lyon, 1668).

[11] Anastasius on Sylvester.

[12] Platin. on Sixtus III.

[13] Anastasius on Sergius I.

[14] Du premier esprit de l’ordre de Cisteaux, ch. 1, sect. 2.

[15] This is wrong, or perhaps things changed later, because in fact Carthusians did have lay or converse brothers who would stay outside the rood-screen, whereas the fully professed where within. In the Charterhouse in Fréjus-Toulon the rood screen is still standing.