Epiphany and its Octave (GA 3.16 – 21)

Ch. 16
On the Sunday Dum medium silentium

Image result for theophany painting

The Sunday that occurs between Our Lord’s Nativity and Epiphany signifies that time when the Lord was in Egypt. Hence the Communion antiphon Tolle puerum et matrem eius (Matthew 2).

CAP. XVI. – De Dominica, Dum medium silentium.

Dominica, quae inter Nativitatem Domini et Epiphaniae occurrit, significat tempus illud quo Dominus in Aegypto fuit, unde et in communione, Tolle puerum et matrem eius (Matth. II), canitur.

Ch. 17
On the Saints and their Octaves

We celebrate the birthdays of saints because through death they were born from this world into eternal life. We keep their octaves because in the octave, i.e. in the Resurrection, their glory will be doubled in Christ.

CAP. XVII. – De sanctis et octavis eorum.

Natalia sanctorum ideo celebrantur, quia de hoc mundo in aeternam vitam per mortem nascebantur. Octavae vero illorum ideo coluntur, quia in octava, id est in resurrectione, gloriae eorum per Christum duplicabuntur.

Ch. 18
On Epiphany


Formerly the Octave of the Ides of January was a feast for the triple triumph of Augustus Caesar. We celebrate the same day, which we call the Lord’s Epiphany, for three reasons: because a star showed the way to Our Lord and he was revealed to the nations on that day, and after thirty years he was baptized in the Jordan on the same day, and one year later on the same day he was manifested as God at the wedding of Cana through the conversion of water into wine. Thus it is called Epiphany or Theophany, which means appearance or manifestation or showing forth. For it is said that on this day the Lord fed the five thousand from the five loaves. Thus the first nocturn concerns the star’s appearance, the second nocturn the Magi’s visit, and the third Our Lord’s baptism. In the sacraments of the Mass the subject is the conversion of water into wine and the feeding of the people from the loaves.

CAP. XVIII. – De Epiphania.

Octava Idus Ianuarii olim habebatur celebris ob triplicem triumphum Augusti Caesaris. Hanc eamdem diem, quam Epiphaniam Domini vocamus, ob tres causas celebramus, quia Dominus stella duce illa die gentibus est revelatus; et post triginta annos eadem die in Iordane baptizatus, et revoluto anno ipsa die per aquae in vinum conversionem ad nuptias Deus est manifestatus. Ideo Epiphania vel Theophania appellatur, quod apparitio vel manifestatio aut ostentio interpretatur. Traditur enim quod hac die quinque millia hominum de quinque panibus Dominus satiaverit. Itaque in primo nocturno stellae apparitio. In secundo nocturno Magorum visitatio. In tertio Domini baptizatio. In sacramentis missae agitur aquae in vinum conversio, vel populi de panibus saturatio.

Ch. 19
On the Magi

Image result for chinese christmas painting magi

The king Zoroaster was the first to discover magic, and from his seed came Balaam who prophesied this about Christ: Orietur stella ex Jacob, et consurget homo de Israel (Numbers 24). The Magi who came to the Lord with gifts were descended from Balaam. Now Magi are a kind of astronomer, experts in the stars. Our Lord wanted to be sought by these men because he wanted a testimony from the wise men of the world on the basis of which the gentile peoples might believe. He wanted to be found by three men because he wanted to be worshipped in the three parts of the world, namely Asia, Africa, and Europe. He wanted to be found through a star because he wanted the people to be converted through Sacred Scripture. He wanted to be found on the twelfth day after his nativity because he wanted to draw the world to himself through the twelve apostles. Now Our Lord wanted to be baptized for three reasons. First, to “fulfill all justice”; second, to endorse the baptism of John; and third to sanctify the waters for us. He wanted to be baptized after thirty years before he began preaching because he wanted to teach the people at the perfect age after he had gained wisdom. He wanted to be baptized by John and no other because from him he wanted a witness among the people because the Jews believed that John was a prophet.[1]

CAP. XIX. – De Magis.

Primus Zoroaster rex magicam invenit, de cuius semine Balaam exstitit, qui de Christo hoc praedixit: Orietur stella ex Iacob, et consurget homo de Israel (Num. XXIV). Ex cuius progenie hi Magi fuerunt, qui ad Dominum cum muneribus venerunt. Magi autem sunt dicti, quasi mathematici, scilicet in stellis periti. Ideo autem Dominus ab his quaeri voluit, quia testimonium a sapientibus mundi habere voluit, quibus et populus gentium credidit. Ideo vero a tribus inveniri voluit, quia a tribus partibus mundi scilicet Asia, Africa, Europa, coli voluit. Ideo hoc per stellam fieri voluit, quia per sacram Scripturam populum converti voluit. Ideo in duodecimo die a nativitate sua hoc fieri voluit, quia per duodecim apostolos mundum attrahere voluit. Propter tres autem causas Dominus baptizari voluit: primo, ut omnem iustitiam impleret: secundo, ut Ioannis baptismum comprobaret: tertio, ut aquas nobis sanctificaret. Idcirco autem post triginta annos baptizari, et tunc praedicare voluit, quia nos adepta scientia in perfecta aetate populum docere voluit. Ideo vero a Ioanne, non ab alio, baptizari voluit, quia ab illo testimonium ad populum habere voluit, quia videlicet populus Iudaeorum illi, ut prophetae, credidit.

Ch. 20
On Matins of the Epiphany

In this night, we do not sing the Invitatory, because turn down Herod’s deceitful invitation to the Magi, yet the sixth psalm we sing is Venite exsultemus (Psalm 94), because we celebrate that in the sixth age of the world the gentiles came to the faith. In the third nocturn, we sing the antiphon Fluminis impetus[2] and the psalm Deus noster refugium (Psalm 45), because we remember that, in the third age, the city of God (civitatem Dei), i.e. the Church, was gladdened by the river of baptism. And so in the third nocturn we frequently sing Alleluia, because we announce that in the third age, joy came through the baptism.

CAP. XX. – De Matutinis.

In hac nocte invitatorium non cantamus, quia subdolam Herodis invitationem cum Magis declinamus; in sexto tamen loco psalmum, Venite exsultemus (Psal. XCIV), canimus, quia sexta aetate mundi gentes ad fidem venisse plaudimus. In tertio nocturno antiphonam fluminis impetus (Psal. XLV), et psalmum Deus noster refugium (ibid.), psallimus, quia tertio tempore flumine baptismatis civitatem Dei, scilicet Ecclesiam, laetificasse cognovimus. Ideo in tertio nocturno Alleluia frequentamus, quia in tertio tempore per baptismum laetitiam advenisse annuntiamus.

Ch. 21
On the Octave Day of Epiphany

On the Octave Day of Epiphany, we celebrate the baptism of the Church, as in the antiphons Veterem hominem[3] and Te qui in spiritu.[4] Baptism is performed with water, since this element is clearly contrary to fire. Now, the fire of punishment is lit by the kindling of sin, but extinguished by the water of baptism. Hence is it written that in the beginning the Holy Spirit sustained it, for water washes filth away, extinguishes thirst, and restored the image, and so by baptism we are washed of the filth of our sins, drink from the fount of life, and are restored to the image of God.

CAP. XXI. – De octava Epiphaniae.

In octava Epiphaniae baptismus Ecclesiae celebratur, sicut in antiphonis, Veterem hominem, et te qui in spiritu. Ideo autem in aqua baptizatur, quia hoc elementum igni contrarium comprobatur. Fomite vero peccati ignis poenarum accenditur, sed per aquam baptismatis exstinguitur. Ideo hanc Spiritus sanctus in principio fovisse legitur. Aqua enim sordes abluit, sitim exstinguit, imaginem reddit, ita nos baptismate a sordibus peccatorum nostrorum lavamur, a fonte vitae potamur, imagine Dei renovamur.


[1] This chapter quotes the antiphon Tribus miraculis.

[2] Fluminis impetus lætificat, alleluia, civitatem Dei, alleluia.

[3] Veterem hominem renovans Saluator venit ad baptismum ut natura quae corrupta est per aquam recuperaret incorruptibili veste circumamictans nos.

[4] Te qui in spiritu et igne purificas humana contagia Deum ac redemptorem omnes glorificamus. These and the rest of the day antiphons of the Octave of the Epiphany were of Greek origin, translated into Latin and put into the Roman liturgy at the request of Charlemagne. They were not received into the Roman curial breviary and were therefore not included in the Tridentine breviary.

Introducing Gemma Animae, Book 3: On Advent

After the Mass commentary of Book One, and his commentary on the Divine Office in Book Two, the third book of Honorius’ Gemma Animae comments on the feasts and practices of the liturgical year, beginning with Advent.

Ch. 1
On the Lord’s Advent

This is as much as we wanted to say about the Hours. It remains to offer a few observations about the solemnities.

We celebrate the Lord’s Advent for three reasons. First, to recall the time when he was foretold by the ancient saints. Second, we “come before his presence with thanksgiving” when he we know he will come to each of us at the end of our lives. Third, we commemorate the time when we hope that he will come as Judge. In the Lectionary and Evangeliarium, five Sundays are assigned to the Lord’s Advent because all the centuries have foretold his Advent throughout the five ages of the world. In the Antiphonary and Gradual books, it is given four weeks because Christ’s Advent was announced by the Law, the prophets, the psalms, and by the books of the Gentiles. In this season the Gloria in excelsis and Te Deum laudamus are not sung, because the just men before Christ’s Advent were trapped in the sadness of hell. In addition, the dalmatic and tunicle are not worn, because the garments of innocence and immortality were given to us by Christ. We also forego using these things so that we may receive them back with more joy at our Lord’s Nativity, and so that we may perceive how much the grace of the New Testament is more excellent than the Old.

On the Responsory Aspiciens.


The Responsory
Aspiciens a longe is sung in the person of John the Baptist, who “peering from afar,” i.e. from earth into heaven, announces that “God’s power,” i.e., divinity, is “coming” in the flesh, and “a cloud covering the whole earth,” i.e. the faithlessness that smothers all Judea. He said “Go out to meet him” when he prepared the way of the Lord. Three verses are sung in this responsory because all of this was foretold through the Law, prophecy, and psalmody. For there are three times understood, namely the time before the Law, under the Law, and under grace, in each of which Christ’s coming was declared. Therefore we sing in the third verse Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and the one who is to rule shall enter in. Again, three verses are sung in adoration of the Trinity, and for the same reason the Gloria Patri is added. The Responsory is repeated because Christians expect Christ’s Advent a second time. As in Aspiciens we honored Christ’s divinity, so in Aspiciebam we honor his humanity. Thus we sing: Behold on the clouds of heaven the Son of man is coming.” Just how the divinity became incarnate is shown by the third responsory Missus est Gabriel angelus who told the virgin, Ave, Maria, gratia plena.[?].  is confirmed by the prophecy that said: “Listen to the word of the Lord: Behold a virgin shall conceive (Isaiah 7:14). It is also proven by the Law, when Moses said “I beseech thee, Lord,” and then, because he is coming, said “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.”

On Lauds




The morning Lauds celebrate Christ’s two advents. The first advent is on that day when the “mountains” of the apostles preached “sweetness” and the hills of the doctors “flowed with the milk and honey” of doctrine.
Then the “daughter of Sion,” i.e., the Church of the Jews, “rejoiced greatly,” and the “daughter of Jerusalem,” i.e. the Church of the Gentiles, “shouted for joy”. The antiphon Ecce Dominus veniet celebrates his second advent; the antiphon Omnes sitientes, praises his first advent, when the faithful came to the water of Baptism. Ecce veniet propheta magnus praises his second advent, when Jerusalem will be made new. The antiphons Spiritus sanctus and Ne timeas, Maria praise his first advent. The ferial antiphons are the various prophecies.

CAP. I. – De Adventu Domini.

Haec utcunque de horis diximus, nunc restat de solemnitatibus pauca perstringamus.

Adventum itaque Domini ob tres causas celebramus: Primo, quia illud tempus recolimus, quo eum ab antiquis sanctis praenuntiatum cognovimus. Secundo, faciem eius laudibus praeoccupamus, quo eum unicuique nostrum in fine vitae adventurum non ignoramus. Tertio, illud commemoramus quo eum adhuc adfuturum iudicem speramus. In Lectionario et in Evangeliario quinque hebdomadae Adventui Domini adnotantur; quia per quinque aetates saeculi Adventus eius a saeculis praenuntiabatur. In Antiphonario et in Graduali libro, quatuor septimanae ei attitulantur; quia per legem, prophetas, psalmos et gentilium libros Christi Adventus praeconabatur. In hoc tempore, Gloria in excelsis, et: Te Deum laudamus non cantantur, quia iusti ante Christi Adventum in tristitia inferni tenebantur. In hoc etiam dalmatica et subtile non portantur, quia vestes innocentiae et immortalitatis nobis per Christum reddebantur. Haec cuncta ideo etiam intermittuntur, ut in Nativitate Domini festivius amplectantur, et ut gratia Novi Testamenti praestantior Veteri cognoscatur.

De Responsorio Aspiciens.

Responsorium, Aspiciens a longe, in persona Ioannis Baptistae cantatur, qui aspiciens a longe, scilicet a terra ad coelum, potentiam Dei, id est divinitatem in carne venientem praeconatur, et nebulam totam terram tegentem, scilicet infidelitatem totam Iudaeam operientem: Ite obviam ei dixit, quando viam Domini praeparavit. Tres versus ideo ad hoc responsorium canuntur, quia per legem, et prophetiam, et psalmodiam hoc totum praenuntiabatur. Tria enim tempora, scilicet ante legem, sub lege, sub gratia intelliguntur, in quibus singulis hoc futurum praedicabatur. Unde et in tertio versu, Tollite portas principes vestras, et introibit qui regnaturus est, cantatur. Tres enim versus ideo cantantur, quia Trinitas in hoc etiam adoratur. Ideo et Gloria Patri adiungitur. Responsorium denuo repetitur, quia adventus Christi denuo a fidelibus exspectatur. Sicut autem in aspiciens Christi divinitas, ita in aspiciebam honoratur eius humanitas. Unde cantatur: Ecce in nubibus coeli Filius hominis venit. Qualiter divinitas incarnata sit, tertium responsorium ostendit, Missus est Gabriel angelus qui ad virginem dixit, Ave, Maria, gratia plena, hoc per Apostolum confirmatum, Salvatorem exspectamus, per prophetam quoque roboratur qui dixit: Audite verbum Domini. Ecce virgoconcipiet (Isa. VII): per legem nihilominus comprobatur, ut Moyses ait: Obsecro, Domine, et quia iam venit, ideo laetentur coeli, et exsultet terra.

De laudibus.

Matutinae Laudes utrumque Christi adventum sonant, primum in illa die quando montes apostoli dulcedinem praedicabant, et colles doctores lac et mel doctrinae fluebant. Tunc iucundata est filia Sion, id est Ecclesia de Iudaeis, tunc exsultavit filia Hierusalem, id est Ecclesia de gentibus. Secundum eius adventum antiphona: Ecce Dominus veniet. Primum antiphona: Omnes sitientes, quando fideles ad aquam baptismatis veniebant. Secundum Ecce veniet propheta magnus, quando Hierusalem renovabitur. Primum adventum eius antiphonae sonant Spiritus sanctus. Ne timeas, Maria. Feriales antiphonae sunt diversae prophetiae.

Ch. 2
On the Second Sunday in Advent



On the second Sunday in Advent the preaching of the prophets concerning Christ’s advent in Jerusalem is signified, and we sing Hierusalem cito veniet, Civitas Hierusalem, and Hierusalem, surge.

CAP. II. – De secunda Dominica in Adventu.

Secunda Dominica praedicatio prophetarum de Christi adventu ad Hierusalem denotatur, ubi cantatur, Hierusalem cito veniet, et Civitas Hierusalem et Hierusalem, surge.

Ch. 3
On the Third Sunday in Advent

On the third Sunday Christ’s second advent is foretold, and we sing Ecce apparebit Dominus, et cum eo sanctorum millia.

CAP. III. – De tertia Dominica.

In Dominica tertia secundus Christi adventus praenuntiatur, ubi cantatur, Ecce apparebit Dominus, et cum eo sanctorum millia.

Ch. 4
On the Fourth Sunday in Advent

On the fourth Sunday the call of the nations through Christ’s advent is proclaimed, when we sing in the person of the apostles Canite tuba in Sion, vocate gentes, and intuemini quantus sit qui ingreditur ad salvandas gentes and “Radix Jesse qui exsurget regere, in eum gentes sperabunt.”

On the Week before the Lord’s Nativity

The next week before the Lord’s Nativity is called the preparation, and in it the [history] Clama in fortitudine is sung along with six [matutinalibus = antiphons at Lauds] because a people was being prepared for his advent throughout the six ages of the world, and we are prepared for his [second?] advent through the six works of mercy.

CAP. IV. – De quarta Dominica.

In quarta Dominica vocatio gentium per Christi adventum declaratur; ubi in persona apostolorum cantatur, Canite tuba in Sion, vocate gentes, et intuemini quantus sit qui ingreditur ad salvandas gentes. Et radix Iesse qui exsurget regere: in eum gentes sperabunt.

De hebdomada ante nativitatem Domini.

Hebdomada proxima, quae ante Nativitatem Domini praeparatio nominatur, et in ea historia, Clama in fortitudine, cum sex matutinalibus laudibus cantatur, quia per sex aetates mundi populus ad adventum praeparabatur, et nos in adventu eius per sex opera misericordiae praeparamur.


Lebrun: The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar


The Public Preparation at the Foot of the Altar


This first part of the Mass contains three things 1. The desire to go up to the altar with confidence in God’s good will. 2. The confession of one’s faults. 3. Prayers to obtain their remission and the grace to ascend the altar with complete purity. These preparatory prayers take place at the foot of the altar, or often at a slight distance from the altar, since they are meant as a preparation for going there. They are mentioned in the Missals only very rarely, and are absent entirely from the first Roman Orders. The six ancient Orders printed by Fr. Mabillon tell us that the bishop, after dressing in the sacristy and signaling the choir to chant the Introit psalm, went first to the head of the choir with all his officers; that he made a bow there,[1] made a sign of the cross on his front, gave a sign of peace to his officers, and stood for some time in prayer before making the sign to the chanter to say the Gloria Patri; that then he advanced to the steps of the altar,[2] and there asks pardon for his sins;[3] that the ministers, except for the acolytes and thurifers, remain kneeling and praying with him; and that he continued to pray until the repetition of the Introit verse.[4]

None of these ancient Ordines describes the prayers of the preparation. In the Latin Church they are not found in writing before the ninth century, being left to the private devotion of the bishops and priests to say them either individually and silently[5] or with the other ministers. No council or pope prescribed the form or terms of these prayers, any more than the moment when they should take place. Some have performed them in a particular chapel, as it is done today at Tours at the tomb of St. Martin; others do it in the choir, as at Laon and Chartres, or at the entrance of the sanctuary, far from the altar, as at Soissons and Châlons-sur-Marne; others at the left or Gospel side of the altar upon entering, as the Carthusians who have taken many of their usages from Vienne and Grenoble; finally, others do them in the sacristy, as at Reims.[6] Various bishops have determined the place they are to be said and used whatever prayers were convenient for their devotion. This is why these prayers differ in their wording and content. Since the ninth century they have been included in some Missals, and more commonly in Pontificals, Manuals, or Ordinaries of the churches. We must look for them there, at least until the 14th century.

These preparatory prayers pertain as much to the assistants as to the priest, and they are said publicly at the foot of the altar, so that no one need assist at Mass without preparation.

Carthusian Rite Confiteor.jpg
Carthusian Confiteor (Source)


[1] Pertransit Pontifex in caput scholae et inclinat caput ad altare, surgens et orans (Ordo Romanus I; Mus. Ital. p. 8) In caput scholae et in gradu superiore (Ordo Romanus II; p. 43); In tribunal Ecclesiae (Ordo Romanus III; p. 56).

[2] Non prolixa completa oratione… annuat cantori ut Gloria dicat: ipse vero ductus a diaconibus pergat ante altare, inclinatisque ad orationem cunctis, stantibus acolythis cum candelabris et thuribilus, etc (Ordo Romanus V; p. 66).

[3] Inclinans se Deum pro peccatis suis deprecetur (Ordo VI; p. 71).

[4] Pontifex orat super ipsum oratorium [prie-Dieu] usque ad repetitionem versus (Ordo I; p. 8). Stat semper inclinatus usque ad versum prophetalem (Ord. II; p. 43).

[5] Pontifex concelebrat interim secreto orationem ante altare inclinatus (Ord. III; p. 56).

[6] See Meurier, writing in 1585, “Sermon 6” and the Ceremonial reprinted in 1637.

Lebrun on the Procession to the Altar

Article VII

Leaving the Sacristy and Going to the Altar
(from Pierre Lebrun’s Explanation)


The priest, clothed in all his vestments, preceded by the minister in surplice carrying the Missal, walks from the sacristy to the altar, with his head covered, with eyes downcast, in a dignified manner, and with his body erect.


1) The priest goes from the sacristy to the altar. The Roman Ordines up to the thirteenth century indicate that the celebrant, including a bishop or pope, first goes to the sacristy for preparation and vesting, then goes in procession to the altar.[1] In most of the cathedral churches of France, on solemn days, this procession is very impressive.[2] The authors writing from the ninth century to the end of the thirteenth[3] have regarded the celebrant, preceded by the deacons, subdeacons, and other ministers as an image of Christ entering the world preceded by the prophets, or even by the Apostles in their missions, while the music sung by the choir expresses the sentiments of the people attending the Mass. It is only beginning in the 14th century that this procession is sometimes suppressed, and when the Roman Order of Cajetan notes an alternative to the sacristy or sanctuary as the place where the bishops vested.[4] As for priests, they must always vest in the sacristy, except when he is in a chapter where the absence of a sacristy makes it necessary to vest at the altar.

Lyon Procession 1.jpg

2. He walks in a dignified manner. The intention of the Church is that the grave and modest manner with which the priest walks from the sacristy to the altar should announce the great action that he is about to perform.

3. The priest walks with his head covered. Seven or eight centuries ago it was always the custom to go to the altar with the head uncovered. This custom has been preserved in many churches: at Trier, Toul, Metz, Verdun, Sens, Laon, and Tournay the celebrant and ministers go to the altar with heads bared. In Cambrai, the priest alone is covered with the hood of an almuce, and among the Premonstratensians by a square biretta; the deacon and subdeacon who accompany him are uncovered, which is generally the custom for the inferior ministers and the children of the choir.

For several centuries, as a matter of our local custom, it has become a mark of authority and preeminence to be the only one covered in an assembly. As he goes to the altar vested in the priestly garments, the priest is vested also with the authority of Christ and the Church to offer the Holy Sacrifice. He has the preeminence over the whole assembly. He does not greet anyone and does not uncover himself except to genuflect when he passes before an altar where the Holy Sacrament is exposed, or the Elevation is taking place, or communion is being given. The only thoughts that occupy him are of Christ his master, and he only uncovers when he sees him.

Lyons Procession 2.jpg

4. He is preceded by a minister, because it is fitting that he doesn’t walk alone, clothed as he is with the sacred vestments. At least one minister is required to make the responses, because the Church forbids him to say the Mass alone.[5] The councils foresee that there be at least one person with him to represent the people who together with the priest form the assembly of the faithful. For the Mass is that which it was anciently called, the Synax, i.e. the Assembly. Therefore it is very fitting that when the priest says such holy and efficacious prayers as those of the Mass, we should observe what Christ said when he promised his presence among us: If two or more are gathered in my name….[6]

By a minister in surplice. The Rubric is referring to nothing more than what has been ordered expressly by the councils of the last five or six centuries, which prescribe that this minister should be a cleric wearing a vestment suitable for the altar. We may even add that it is only by toleration that a simple cleric is allowed to approach the altar. If we go back to antiquity, we find that the deacon, who is the priest’s minister properly speaking, had to accompany him to celebrate the Holy Mysteries even in a Low Mass without ceremony. During the time of persecutions, St. Cyprian sent priests into the prisons, and though he made sure they did not go there in groups,[7] to avoid making noise or being refused entry, nevertheless he ordered that the priests who went there to say Mass should always been accompanied by a deacon.[8] St. Laurence was speaking about the practice of the deacon’s assisting at Mass when he said to Pope Sixtus, as he went to his martyrdom: Where, holy priest, are you hastening without your deacon? Never were you wont to offer sacrifice without an attendant.[9]

In later times such a great number of Masses were said that it was not possible for each priest to be accompanied by a deacon. But the councils have dictated that the minister who takes the place of the deacon must be a tonsured cleric vested in a surplice. This is stated expressed in the Statues of Paris by Eudes of Sully (1200),[10] in the Council of Oxford (1222),[11] and in many others.[12] The Council of Aix (1585) orders that in churches that do not have the means to maintain a cleric, the priest should not say Mass without having obtained the written permission of the bishop.[13] Finally, the Council of Avignon (1594) prescribes that no layman should serve the Mass except in case of necessity.[14] This council is the last to have explained this rubric. Every church, therefore, must ensure that each Mass is celebrated with a cleric, if possible; or, as is done in some places by young boys of mature character, vested like clerics. If it is necessary to make use of a layman, it is at least desirable that one choose a person whose modesty and piety will inspire respect.

Carrying the Missal. At present, the cleric does not carry the Missal unless it is not on the altar already. It is put there for the High Mass and in this case the Rubric does not require the subdeacon to carry it. But according to all the ancient Roman Ordines[15] and Amalarius,[16] the celebrant always leaves the sacristy preceded by the book of the Gospels, carried with great respect. We find this practice still observed in many cathedrals, where the uncovered subdeacon carries the book and presents it to the priest to be kissed before the Mass. The Missal of Paris[17] simply indicates that on solemn feasts the subdeacon should give the book to the priest to be kissed as he arrives at the altar. The practice is to be recommended, according to which the book is always carried with respect before the priest, since it contains the power that Christ gave to priests to celebrate the Mass, saying: Do this in memory of me; hoc facite, etc.


[1] Cum vero ecclesiam introierit pontifex, non ascendit continuo ad altare, sed prius intrat in secretarium (OR I; II; III). Intrat sacrarium… et processionaliter vadunt ad altare sicut est moris (OR XII).

[2] In the church of Lyon, the archbishop is accompanied by more than forty ministers. At

[3] Amalarius 5.5; Alcuin De Divinis Officiis; Rupert 1.28; Gemma Animae 1.84.

[4] Quod si pontifex juxta altare induatur, non oportet huiusmodi processionem fieri (OR XIV).

[5] The Council of Mayence (813), c. 43. The Capitularies of France 5.159; the Council of Paris (829) 1.4; Pope Leo IV (850); the Constitutions of Riculfe of Soissons (889); and the Council of Nantes, in Buchard 3.68 and Yves of Chartres 3.70 expressly forbid the priest to say Mass alone. It is true that permission has sometimes been granted to solitaries and even to cenobitic monks, as we see in the Capitularies attributed to Theodore of Canterbury, ch. 49 of Spicil. and in Stephen of Autun de Sacram. Allar. ch. 13. But the Council of Nantes ordered this abuse abolished. Pope Alexander III also decreed that the priest can not say Mass alone (Decret. 1.17 proposuit) and it appears that it has not been tolerated since the 13th century.

[6] Matthew 18.19 and 20.

[7] Caute et non glomeratim.

[8] Ita ut presbyteri quoque qui illic apud Confessores offerunt, singuli cum singulis diaconis per vices alternent (Cypr. epist. 5).

[9] Ambrose, De Officiis, 1.41.214.

[10] Nulli clerico permittatur servire altari, nisi in superpellicis aut cappa clausa (Synod. Eccles. Paris. ch. 7).

[11] Ut qui altari ministrant, superpelliciis induantur (Concil. Exon., ch. 10).

[12] Concil. Nemaus. (1298); Council. Bud. (1279), ch. 22; Synod. Colon. (1280); Conc. Lameth. (1330).

[13] Sacerdos ne se conferat ad altare, nisi clericum in decenti habitu, et cum superpellicio mundo cum manicis sibi inservientem habuerit. Quibus vero in locis propter inopiam clericus ita commode haberi non poterit, caveat ne celebret absque huiusmodi clerico, nisi facultatem ab episcopo in scriptis impetraverit (Conc. Aqu. tit. de celebratione Missae).

[14] Laicus, si fieri potest, nullo modo ministret Altari (Tit. 23).

[15] OR I; OR II; OR III.

[16] 3.5

[17] 1685 and 1706

Non Est Authenticum: The Micrologus against the Feast of the Holy Trinity

The feast of the Holy Trinity was a rather peculiar addition to the Roman liturgical kalendar inasmuch as it does not commemorate a specific saint or event in the history of salvation, but rather a theological idea. It was in fact an observance that emanated without Rome: the Mass in honour of the Holy Trinity was composed by Stephen, bishop of Liège, around 910, and the feast itself arose about a century later. By 1030, Cluny was celebrating it on the first Sunday after Pentecost and, thanks in great part to its reticulate influence, the feast diffused throughout Christendom.

220px-pope_alexander_iiIt encountered redoutable resistance in Rome, however. In 1061, Pope Alexander II, replying to the archbishop of Tortona’s question about the use of the pallium on Trinity Sunday, noted the absurdity of honouring the Holy Trinity with a special feast day, since the Trinity is daily honoured by the Minor Doxology and other praises in the liturgy. “And so, my brother archbishop,” the Pope rather tartly concludes, “I can scarcely give you a proper answer about the use of the pallium on the day when the feast of the Holy Trinity is celebrated.”1

A century thereafter, Pope Alexander III pointed out that a feast of the Holy Trinity makes as much sense as a feast of the Holy Unity: both are superfluous, since these mysteries are celebrated in the quotidian liturgy. Writing around 1150, Abbot Potho of Prüm listed the feast of the Holy Trinity together with those of the Transfiguration and Conception of Our Lady as novæ celebritates, disapprovingly asking Quæ ratio festa hæc celebranda induxit? 

But resistance was doomed to failure. The sons of St Bernard of Clairvaux, whose view of novel feasts was much that of his contemporary Potho’s, adopted the feast of the Holy Trinity in 1271, and finally, in 1334, Pope John XXII, residing in Avignon, introduced it into the Roman kalendar, thereby relegating the First Sunday after Pentecost to a mere commemoration, which the next Pope John entirely suppressed in 1960. (Of course, the Mass of the First Sunday after Pentecost can be said on any feria in the week following). Other “idea feasts” eventually made their way into the Roman kalendar as well, including Corpus Christi (which also originated in Liège, interestingly enough), the Sacred Heart, and Christ the King. 

In this extract from chapter LX of the Micrologus de ecclesiasticis observationibus, Bernold of Constance discusses the feast of the Holy Trinity. He evinces a pervading concern that liturgical feasts be authentica, i.e. part of the tradition of the church of Rome, and the feast of the Holy Trinity’s failure in this count consigns it to Bernold’s disapprobation. 

Some celebrate the service of the Holy Trinity on the Octave Day of Pentecost, although without added alleluias, and think that it ought to be observed throughout the entire week following, but this is not authentic. It is said that this office as well as the history of the Invention of St Stephen were composed by Stephen of Liège; both of these are rejected by the Apostolic See.

When Pope Alexander [III], of pious memory, was asked about this matter, he replied that, following the Roman order, the solemnity of the Holy Trinity should not be assigned to any particular day, just as no solemnity of the Holy Unity is assigned to any particular day. This is precisely because the commemoration of both is celebrated every Sunday, nay, rather, every day.

One should know that Charlemagne’s teacher Alcuin [Albinus Flaccus], at the request of the Archbishop St Boniface, as they say, composed Mass orations of the Holy Trinity, and of Wisdom for Monday, the Holy Ghost for Tuesday, Charity for Wednesday, the Angels for Thursday, the Cross on Friday, and Our Lady on Saturday. This was so that the priests of that time, who were recently converted to the faith and were not yet instructed in the ecclesiastical offices nor provided with the necessary books, might have something with which they could carry out their duty on whatever day. As a result, even to-day some insist on saying these same orations daily, even when they have access to the proper offices. Moreover, nearly everywhere the service of the Cross is observed on Fridays and of Our Lady on Saturdays, on the basis not so much of authority as of devotion.

In the same way, therefore, that these sorts of observations do not pertain more to one week than to another, neither does that of the Holy Trinity. Hence it seems incongruous to celebrate one Sunday of the Holy Trinity with the Alcuin’s orations and Stephen’s chants when all Sundays are endowed with authentic offices which relay to us the honour of the Holy Trinity no less.

Note that we take up the practice of singing the preface of the Holy Trinity on Sundays based on the authority of Rome, not of Alcuin; it is one of the nine things which Pope Pelagius [II], Gregory [the Great]’s predecessor, ordered to be observed. Nevertheless, the work Alcuin performed for the Holy Church is not to be contemned, for it is said that he collected the Gregorian orations into the books of the sacraments, adding a few which he nonetheless decided to mark with an obelus. He then collected other prayers or prefaces which, even if not of Gregorian origin, are nevertheless appropriate for ecclesiastical celebrations, as is stated in the prologue which he placed after the Gregorian prayers in the middle of the same book. 

Quidam autem officium de sancta Trinitate in octava Pentecostes instituunt, licet non sit alleluiatum, quod et per totam subsequentem hebdomadam observandum putant, sed non est authenticum. Nam quidam Leodicensis Stephanus idem officium, sicut et historiam de inventione sancti Stephani, composuisse asseritur; quae utraque ab apostolica sede respuuntur. Unde piae memoriae Alexander papa de hac re inquisitus, respondit iuxta Romanum Ordinem nullum diem specialiter ascribi debere solemnitati Sanctae Trinitatis, sicut nec sanctae unitatis, praecipue cum in omni Dominica, imo quotidie, utriusque memoria celebretur. Sciendum autem quemdam Albinum magistrum Caroli imp. rogatu sancti Bonifacii archiepiscopi, ut aiunt, missales orationes de Sancta Trinitate composuisse, et in secunda feria de sapientia, in tertia de Spiritu sancto, in quarta de charitate, in quinta de angelis, in sexta de cruce, in Sabbato de sancta Maria. Et hoc ideo ut presbyteri illius temporis nuper ad fidem conversi, nondum ecclesiasticis officiis instructi, nondum etiam librorum copia praediti, vel aliquid haberent cum quo officium suum qualibet die possent explere. Unde et adhuc quidam easdem orationes quotidie, etiam cum propria abundent officia, nolunt praetermittere. In singulis quoque hebdomadibus, sexta feria de cruce, et Sabbato de sancta Maria pene usquequaque servatur, non tam ex auctoritate quam ex devotione. Sicut igitur huiusmodi observationes nulli magis hebdomadae quam alii ascribuntur, ita nihilominus et illa de sancta Trinitate. Incongruum ergo videtur unam Dominicam cum orationibus Albini, et cantu Stephani de sancta Trinitate celebrari, cum omnes Dominicae authenticis abundent officiis, quae non minus nobis intimant honorem sanctae Trinitatis. Praefationem autem de sancta Trinitate, quam in diebus Dominicis frequentamus, non ex Albino, sed ex Romana auctoritate suscepimus. Nam haec est una ex illis novem quas solas Pelagius papa, antecessor Gregorii, constituit observari. Fecit tamen idem Albinus in sancta Ecclesia non contemnendum opus, nam Gregorianas orationes in libris Sacramentorum collegisse asseritur, paucis aliis adiectis, quas tamen sub obelo notandas esse indicavit. Deinde alias orationes sive praefationes, etsi non Gregorianas, ecclesiasticae tamen celebritati idoneas collegit, sicut prologus testatur quem post Gregorianas orationes in medio eiusdem libri collocavit.


1. Præterea festivitas sanctæ Trinitatis secundum diversarum consuetudines regionum a quibusdam in octavis Pentecostes ab aliis in dominica prima ante Adventum Domini celebrari consuevit: ecclesia siquidem Romana in usu non habet, ut in aliquo tempore hujusmodi celebret specialiter festivitatem cum singulis diebus Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, et cætera consimilia dicantur ad laudem pertientia Trinitatis; quare tibi, frater archiepiscope, de usu pallii eo die quo sanctæ Trinitatis festivitas celebratur certum nequaquam potuimus dare responsum. (De feriis, lib. 2, tit. 5, cap. Quoniam).