Most Catholics will be familiar with the multi-part reading of the Passion Gospel during the liturgies of Holy Week in the Roman Rite. In previous centuries all throughout Europe, elaborately staged, mimetic enactments of the Passion took place in and out of the liturgy, but especially during the Gospel of the Liturgy of the Presanctified.
The Good Friday Procession for the Burial of Our Lord survived in the Rite of Braga, even after the general adoption of the Roman Rite and the various Tridentine prohibitions regarding these florid Passion dramas of the Middle Ages. The ceremony has also survived in the Holy Sepulcher by a similar accommodation.
For the liturgy of Good Friday, the Tridentine Missal prescribed the three-part recitation of John’s Gospel, and nothing more. The Franciscans of the Holy Sepulcher faithfully adopted the Tridentine reforms, but preserved the Funeral of Christ (Processio funebris Feria IV in Parasceve) by transferring it out of the Liturgy of the Presanctified to the evening of Good Friday.
Here it continues to flourish as a paraliturgical devotion for the edification of modern pilgrims and visitors, and stands as a unique remnant of the faithful fervor of medieval Latin Christianity for the Passion of Our Lord. It is attended by nearly 250 friars and clergy from the patriarchate, and thousands of native and pilgrim Christians. The Franciscan ceremony has this further advantage, that it is performed in the very sacred places that Our Lord sanctified with the blood of His Passion.
The ceremony unfolds in seven stations, following nearly the same route as the daily procession. At each station, the corresponding verses from various Gospels are read, with certain dramatic elements accompanying the crucifixion, deposition, anointing, and burial of the latter stations. Originally, each station featured a homily and not a Gospel reading, but the homilies became too long and so they were replaced by Biblical texts, now read in vernacular languages.
(1) The Chapel of the Apparition/Mary Magdalene (Mt 20: 1-5; 20 – 25, Italian) (2) Shrine of the the Division of Christ’s Garments (Mk 14:53 – 72, Greek or Polish) (3) Shrine of the Crowning and the Improperia (Lk 22:66-71; 23:1-12 , German) (4) The Chapel of the Crucifixion, Latin altar, (Place of Crucifixion) (Jn 19:1-16), English) (5) The Chapel of the Crucifixion, Greek altar (Place where Christ Expired) (Jn 19:17-37, French) (6) The Stone of Unction (anointing ceremony and Arabic sermon) (7) The Tomb or Aedicule (Jn 19:38-42, Spanish)
a) First through Fourth Stations: From the Chapel of the Apparition to the Chapel of the Crucifixion (Ad capellam apparitionis; Ad capellam divisionis vestimentorum; Ad columnam coronationis et improperiorum; Ad locum crucifixionis D.N.J.C)
The procession begins at 8:10pm in the Chapel of the Apparition, with the following ministers:
The Custos (the superior of the Franciscans in the Holy Land and custodian of all the holy sites) in alb, stole, and cope, who is assisted by the Vicar of the Custody and the Steward, vested the same way; six priests in Franciscan habit and four deacons in dalmatics; the Secretary of the Custody in stole bearing a special crucifix on which an effigy of Christ with articulated limbs has been affixed; and nearly three-hundred friars and local clergy take part, all in surplices.
The black vestment set used by the Custos and four deacons is a 19th century Spanish set.
Each station begins with a chant, after which one of the six priests dons a black stole and reads the Gospel passage that corresponds to the station, retaining the stole after his reading. On the way between the stations, the cantors chant the Miserere (Psalm 50) with the antiphon Parce Domine between each verse.
The procession begins, like the daily process, at the Chapel of Mary Magdalene, also known as the Chapel of the Apparition, which is located to the north of the Tomb and is the part of the Holy Sepulcher belonging to the Latin Church, and thence passes through the shrines in the ambulatory to the various stations. There is no explicit dramatic element until the fifth station in the Shrine of the Crucifixion, on the far side of the ambulatory next to the southern door.
The shrine is built on top of Mt. Calvary itself, the exposed rock of which can be seen in several places. One has to climb up a steep staircase to reach the top. The shrine is richly decorated with frescos, scores of lamps and candles and a large crucifixion scene above the Greek altar, The Altar of the Crucifixion proper. The two Latin altars south of the Greek altar commemorate the place of crucifixion (The Altar of the Nails of the Cross or the Medici Altar) and the Mother of Sorrows, the place where Mary stood.
The procession goes first to the Latin altar–at the place where Christ was nailed to the Cross–for the fourth station.
b) Fifth Station: The Deposition (Ad locum ubi Christus in Cruce exspiravit)
When the Gospel of the fourth station is finished, the procession passes to the Greek altar (which the Latins are allowed to use uniquely for this ceremony) where the processional cross is taken behind the Greek altar and placed to the very hole where the Holy Cross was inserted into the stone of Mt. Calvary:
Deinde ad locum ubi Christus exspiravit proceditur, et collocatur Crux in ipso foramine Calvariæ rupis ubi Crux Christi erecta fuerat. Hic habetur quinti Evangelii lectio Gallico idiomate.
At the point in the Gospel reading when Christ expires on the Cross, there are some moments of silence, and then a deacon finishes the Gospel, which tells of Joseph of Arimathea’s intercession with Pilate, in an elaborate chant tone.
At the end of the Gospel, two of the deacons. representing Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, remove their dalmatics to perform the deposition ceremony:
Expleto Evangelio, per binos diaconos, Iosephi et Nicodemi personas agentes, fit Imaginis Christi e Cruce pendentis Depositio.
The ceremony takes place in solemn silence, except for three hammer strokes. First, the Crown of Thorns is removed, and placed on a silver platter donated by Charles V.
The two deacons behind the Cross remove the nails from Christ’s hands and feet, first striking the wood of the Cross with a hammer. The first deacon removes the first nail from Christ’s right hand. When the nail is removed, the articulated arm of Christ slides down at the shoulder. Likewise, after a second hammer stroke rings out in the silence of the chapel, the second nail is removed, and the other arm swings down. Likewise for the third nail, and all are placed in a second plate. The Body is lowered from the cross with a white cloth.
The deposed Christ is laid on the altar where the burial shroud has been spread. The choir begins the chant Velum templi scissum est.
c) Sixth Station: Anointing at the Stone of Unction (Ad petram unctionis)
At this point, the six priests in stoles bear the body down the mountain of Calvary to the Stone of Unction. Here the Custos removes his cope and girds himself with a towel to anoint the body.
The anointing consists of three parts.
(1) The Custos sprinkles grains of incense onto the uncovered Body. (2) He then anoints the Body with myrrh. (3) Finally, he incenses the Body.
The Stone of the Unction stands directly opposite the Southern door (the only modern entry point into the Sepulcher). A large mosaic depicting the deposition and anointing provides the backdrop for this moving ceremony.
After the anointing, a homily is delivered in Arabic for the local faithful.
d) Seventh Station: The Burial in the Tomb or Aedicule (Ad sanctum sepulchrum)
After the anointing, the Body of Christ wrapped in the Shroud is carried to the Tomb by the six priests, where it is reposed in the Tomb of Christ Himself and incensed to the chant Sepulto Domino.
The ceremony ends with the Christus factus est, then the Custos reads the following prayer, after which the clergy depart for the sacristy in silence:
Réspice, quǽsumus, Dómine, super hanc famíliam tuam, pro qua Dóminus noster Iesus Christus non dubitávit mánibus tradi nocéntium et crucis subíre torméntum. Qui tecum vivit et regnat in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.
*Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this post are provided courtesy of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
This article is being printed in advance of Holy Week. During Easter Week, we hope to post an eye-witness account of this year’s ceremony, along with a more in-depth look at the historic vestments, vestments, and decorations used during the Procession.
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.
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.
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.
These Lenten veils were a veritable instrument of catechesis through image, educating the people on the history of salvation.
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:
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.
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.
Hodie cantandus est nobis puer, quem gignebat ineffabiliter ante tempora pater, et eundem sub tempore generavit inclita mater.
Interrogatio: Quis est iste puer, quem tam magnis præconiis dignum vociferatis? Dicite nobis, ut collaudatores esse possimus.
Hic enim est, quem presagus et electus symnista Dei, ad terras uenturum preuidens, longe ante prenotavit sicque predixit:
Puer natus est nobis…
To-day we must sing of that child, Whom His Father ineffably begot afore time, and Whom His glorious Mother bore in time.
Question: Who is this child, whom you proclaim worthy of such great acclamations? Tell us, that we too might praise Him.
Response: For He is Whom the soothsayer and chosen companion of God, foreseeing that He should come to earth, foreshewed and foretold:
A child is born unto us…
Farced introits represent the largest repertory of tropes after Kyrie tropes 1, and one of the most fascinating. Like sequences, they had their origin in that hotbed of liturgical creativity that was the Abbey of St Gall in modern-day Switzerland.
The earliest account of their composition in found in the continuation of the Casus sancti Galli, a chronicle of the abbey written by Ekkehard IV. Towards the end of the ninth century, a precocious young monk (plane iuvenis acutissimus) named Tuotilo wrote introductory verses for the introit of the Mass of Christmas Day—Puer natus est—which begin Hodie cantandus est. These verses proved popular, like the sequences that Tuotilo’s confrère and close friend Notker had invented some years earlier, and Tuotilo went on to write several other tropes throughout his life. Although he was nowhere near as prolific a composer as Notker, Tuotilo’s pieces were much admired; one of those who delighted therein was Emperor Charles the Fat:
The melodies Tuotilo composed are distinctive and easily recognisable, for his music is sweeter, whether on the psaltery or the rotta, at which he excelled, as is manifest in Hodie cantandus and Omnium virtutum gemmis. Indeed, he presented these tropes to Charles to be sung at the offering the king himself would make [i.e. during the offertory of the Mass, when the king would present his offerings]. When Tuotilo had composed the offertory Viri Galilæi 2, the king even bade him to add verses, [which were,] as they say, Quoniam Dominus Jesus Christus cum esset, Omnipotens genitor, fons et origo, with the following: Gaudete et cantate, and others indeed; but we mention these, so that, if you be a musician, you might know how different his music is from that of others.3
The Hodie cantandus est trope itself is an example of the melodic peculiarity that characterises Tuotilo’s compositions: the trope is in the first mode, whereas the subsequent introit is in the seventh mode; a striking modulation in the third phrase of the trope allows it to conclude in G to match the first note of the introit.
Howsoever idiosyncratic the melody of this trope may be, its text a classic example of exegesis one expects of a trope. Its dialogical structure, reminiscent of Psalm 23, is almost catechetical—Statement, Question, Response. The statement is a dogmatic proclamation of the mystery about to be celebrated in the Mass, and it elicits the question that allows the announcement of Christ’s birth to be tied into the words of the Prophet Isaias (presagus et symnista Dei) that form the introit antiphon. And at the same time the initial proclamation is a scholium on the words Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis: this son is born in time of the blessed Virgin, but is given to us by the Father, who begot him before all ages.
The Hodie cantandus est trope enjoyed great popularity throughout the Middle Ages, and is found in liturgical books as late as the 15th century, well after the general decline in the popularity of tropes.
Tuotilo’s example, moreover, proved influential in the composition of introit tropes in the succeeding centuries. In particular, there arose an entire genre of chant verses to be sung before the introit which served almost as introductions to the feast commemorated in the Mass of the day, often labelled Tropi ad processionem in northern French manuscripts and Versus ad officium in English ones. Since they were part of the procession before Mass, or even sometimes of a pre-Mass ritual, some scholars have rather pedantically decided to argue they are not true tropes. Howbeit, in some instances they do seem to have acquired a life beyond that of a mere trope, taking advantage of the dramatic possibilities inherent in the dialogical structure of the Hodie cantandus est verses. Such is the case of the Quem quæritis dialogue on Easter, whereon we hope to dedicate a future post.
1. By way of example, in volumes I and III of the Corpus Troporum, which contain tropes for Christmastide and Eastertide respectively, one finds 1,044 introit trope verses, against 250 trope verses for offertories and 113 for communions.
2. This offertory responsory is different from the one preserved in the Tridentine missal, and can be found on pp. 4-5 here (without the added verses).
3. Que autem Tuotilo dictauerat, singularis et agnoscibilis melodie sunt, quia per psalterium seu per rotham, qua potentior ipse erat, neumata inuenta dulciora sunt, ut apparet in Hodie cantandus et Omnium uirtutum gemmis, quos quidem tropos Karolo ad offerendam quam ipse rex fecerat, obtulit canendos. Qui rex etiam Viri Galilei offerendam cum dictasset, Tuotiloni versus addere iniungit, ut aiunt: Quoniam Dominus Ihesus Christus cum esset, Omnipotens genitor, fons et origo; cum sequentibus: Gaudete et cantate, et alios quidem; sed istos proposuimus, ut quam dispar eius melodia sit ceteris, si musicus es, noris. (Ekkehard IV, Casus sancti Galli).
In L’année liturgique, Dom Prosper Guéranger recounts what must have been one of the most sublime ceremonies in Christendom: Papal Matins. The ceremonial calls for a knight to read the fifth lesson and for the Holy Roman Emperor himself to read the seventh, bearing witness to the organic whole that was mediæval society.
The Divine Infant, who is to be born amongst us, is the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, whose government is upon his shoulders (Isa. ix 6), as we shall sing to-morrow, with the Church. We have already seen how the God of Hosts has honoured this power of Emmanuel, by leading powerful Nations to acknowledge him to lay in the Crib of Bethlehem as the Lord to whom they owed their adoring fealty.
The same recognition of that Babe as the Mighty God is made by the ceremony to which we allude. The Sovereign Pontiff, the Vicar of our Emmanuel, blesses, in his name, a Sword and Helmet, which are to be sent to some Catholic warrior who has deserved well of the Christian world. In a letter addressed to Queen Mary of England and to Philip, her husband, Cardinal Pope gives an explanation of this solemn rite. The sword is sent to some Prince, whom the Vicar of Christ wishes to honour in the name of Jesus, who is King: for the Angel said to Mary: The Lord will give unto him the Throne of David his father (St Luke i 32). It is from him alone that the power of the sword comes (Rom. xiii 3, 4); for God said to Cyrus: I have girded thee (with the sword) (Isa. xiv 1, 5); and the Psalmist thus speaks to the Christ of God: Gird thy Sword upon thy thigh, O thou most Mighty! (Ps. xliv 4) And because the Sword should not be drawn save in the cause of justice, it is for that reason that a Sword is blessed on this Night, in the midst of which rises, born unto us, the divine Sun of Justice. On the Helmet, which is both the ornament and protection of the head, there is worked, in pearls, the Dove, which is the emblem of the Holy Ghost; and this to teach him who wears it that it is not from passion or ambition that he must use his sword, but solely under the guidance of the divine Spirit, and from a motive of spreading the Kingdom of Christ.
[… During the second nocturne, after the psalms have been sung] the Book of the Sermons of the Holy Fathers is opened, and a passage is read from one of those magnificent discourses of St Leo the Great, which enraptured the people of Rome in the fifth century.
At Rome, if there be in the Holy City the Knight, who has received the Helmet and Sword, blessed, as we have described, by the Sovereign Pontiff, the fifth Lesson is given to him to sing, because it speaks of the great Battle between Christ and Satan in the glorious mystery of the Incarnation. Whilst the Choir is singing the Responsory O magnum mysterium, the Knight is taken by the Master of Ceremonies to the Pope. Standing before the Holy Father, he draws his sword, thrice sets its point on the ground, thrice brandishes it in the air, and then wipes the blade upon his left arm. He is then taken to the Ambo, or reading-desk, takes off his helmet, and, having vested the Cope over his armour, he sings the Lesson. These ceremonies of our holy Mother, the Church of Rome, were drawn up in days when might was not right, and brute force was made subservient to moral power and principle. The Christian Warrior, cased in his steel armour, was resolved, as indeed he was bound, never to draw his sword save in the cause of Christ, the conqueror of Satan: was there anything strange in his expressing this by a sacred ceremony?
[… After the third nocturne] are read the beginnings of the three Gospels which are said in the three Masses of Christmas Day. To each portion of these Gospels is appended a passage from a Homily by one of the Holy Fathers.
The first of the three is that of St Luke, and the Homily given is that of St Gregory the Great. It relates the publishing of the Emperor Augustus’s edict, commanding a census of the whole world. This seventh Lesson, according to the Ceremonial of the Roman Church, is to be sung by the Emperor, if he happen to be in Rome at the time; and this is done in order to honour the Imperial power, whose decrees were the occasion of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, and so fulfilling the designs of God, which he had revealed to the ancient Prophets. The Emperor is led to the Pope, in the same manner as the Knight who had to sing the fifth lesson; he puts on the Cope; two Cardinal-Deacons gird him with the sword, and go with him to the Ambo. The Lesson being concluded, the Emperor again goes before the Pope, and kisses his foot, as being the Vicar of the Christ whom he has just announced. This ceremony was observed in 1468 by the Emperor Frederic III, before the then Pope, Paul II.
(Translation by Dom Laurence Shepherd, OSB)
L’Enfant divin qui va naître est le Dieu fort, le Prince de la Paix ; il porte la marque de la royauté sur son épaule, comme nous le chanterons demain avec l’Eglise. Pour honorer cette puissance de l’Emmanuel, déjà, ainsi que nous l’avons vu, le Seigneur des armées a amené aux pieds de la Crèche les deux grands chefs de la nation franque, Clovis et Charlemagne ; et voici que le Pontife suprême, le Vicaire de l’Emmanuel, bénit en son nom, dans cette nuit même, une épée et un casque destinés à quelque guerrier catholique dont le bras victorieux a bien mérité de la république chrétienne. Cette épée, dit le grand Cardinal Polus expliquant ce rite dans une lettre célèbre adressée à Philippe II et à la reine Marie, son épouse, est remise à un prince que le Vicaire du Christ veut honorer, au nom du Christ lui-même qui est Roi ; car l’Ange dit à Marie : Dieu lui donnera le trône de David son père. C’est de lui seul que vient la puissance du glaive; car Dieu dit à Cyrus : Je t’ai ceint de l’épée; et le Psalmiste dit au Christ : Ceignez-vous du glaive, ô prince très vaillant ! Mais le glaive ne doit se tirer que pour la justice; et c’est pour cela qu’on le bénit en cette nuit, au milieu de laquelle se lève le divin Soleil de justice. Sur le casque, ornement et protection de la tête, est représentée par un travail de perles l’image de l’Esprit-Saint, afin que le prince connaisse que ce n’est point d’après le mouvement de ses passions, ni pour son ambition, qu’il doit faire usage du glaive, mais uniquement dans la sagesse du divin Esprit et pour étendre le royaume du Christ sur la terre.
[…] A Rome, si le chevalier auquel ont été destinés le casque et l’épée, qui ont été bénits avant les Matines par le Souverain Pontife, se trouve présent, c’est lui-même qui doit lire la cinquième Leçon, parce qu’il y est parlé du grand combat du Christ contre le démon, dans le glorieux mystère de l’Incarnation. Pendant le chant du Répons O Magnum mysterium, les maîtres des cérémonies le conduisent aux pieds du Pape, en présence duquel il tire son épée, en touche trois fois la terre avec la pointe, la brandit trois fois d’une façon martiale, et enfin l’essuie sur son bras gauche. Il est ensuite conduit au pupitre, ôte son casque, se revêt du pluvial par-dessus son armure, et lit enfin la Leçon. Telles sont les dispositions du Cérémonial de la sainte Eglise Romaine, dressé à une époque où la force matérielle aimait à s’incliner devant l’idée morale, où le chevalier bardé de fer attestait qu’il voulait marcher à la suite du Christ, vainqueur de Satan.
[…] On lit ensuite successivement le commencement des divers textes du saint Evangile qui seront lus plus tard en entier, à chacune des trois Messes par lesquelles l’Eglise honore la Naissance du Sauveur. Les saints Docteurs commentent ces sublimes mystères dans leurs Homélies.
Le premier texte, qui est de saint Luc, est expliqué par saint Grégoire le Grand. Il rapporte l’édit de l’empereur Auguste pour le dénombrement de l’empire romain. Cette septième Leçon, suivant le Cérémonial de la sainte Eglise Romaine, doit être lue par l’Empereur lui-même, s’il se trouve à Rome, afin d’honorer la puissance impériale dont les décrets, appelant à Bethléhem Marie et Joseph, procurèrent l’accomplissement des volontés du Très-Haut, manifestées par les Prophètes. L’Empereur est conduit devant le Pape, comme le chevalier qui a chanté la cinquième Leçon; on le revêt du pluvial; deux Cardinaux-Diacres lui ceignent l’épée et l’accompagnent au pupitre. La Leçon étant lue, l’Empereur se présente de nouveau devant le Pontife et lui baise le pied, comme au Vicaire du Christ qu’il vient d’annoncer. Ce cérémonial fut encore observé, en 1468, par l’Empereur Frédéric III, en présence du Pape Paul II.
℟. Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna in die illa tremenda, quando cæli movendi sunt et terra, dum veneris judicare sæculum per ignem.
℣. Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo, dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
℣. Dies illa, dies iræ, calamitatis et miseriæ, dies magna et amara valde.
℣. Quid ego miserrimus, quid dicam vel quid faciam? cum nil boni perferam ante tantum Judicem?
℣. Plangent se super se omnes tribus terræ: vix justus salvabitur, et ego? ubi apparebo?
℣. Nunc Christe, te deprecor, miserere peto: qui venisti redimere, perpetim veni salvare.
℣. Tremebunt Angeli, et Archangeli: impii autem ubi parebunt?
℣. Commíssa mea pavesco, et ante te erubesco: dum veneris judicare, noli me condemnare.
℣. Vox de cælis: O vos, mortui, qui jacetis in sepulcris, surgite! et occurite ad judicium Salvatoris.
℣. Creator omnium rerum Deus, qui me de limo terræ formasti, et mirabiliter proprio sanguine redemisti: corpusque meum licet modo putrescat, de sepulcro facias in die judicii resuscitari: exaudi, exaudi, exaudi me Deus, ut animam meam in sinu Abrahæ patriarchæ tui jubeas collocari.
℣. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
℟. Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death in that awful day: When the heavens and the earth shall be shaken: When Thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
℣. I am seized with fear and trembling until the trial shall be at hand, and the wrath to come.
℣. That day, a day of wrath, of wasting, and of misery, a great day, and exceeding bitter.
℣. What will I, most wretched, what will I say, or what will I do? Since I have accomplished nothing good to proffer before such a mighty Judge.
℣. All the tribes of the earth shall mourn for themselves: the just shall scarce be saved, and I? Where will I appear?
℣. Now, Christ, I beseech Thee, I beg Thee, have mercy: Thou who camest to redeem, come to save forever.
℣. The Angels and Archangels shall tremble: but the wicked, where shall they appear?
℣. I dread my misdeeds, and I blush before Thee: when Thou shalt come to judge, do not condemn me.
℣. A voice from the heavens: O ye dead, who lie in your tombs, arise! And hasten to the judgement of the Saviour.
℣. God, creator of all things, Who formedst me of the slime of the earth, and wondrously redeemedst me with Thy own blood: although my body should now rot, Thou shalt make it rise again from the tomb in the day of judgement: hear me, hear me, hear me, O God, that Thou mightst command my soul to be placed in Abraham’s bosom.
℣. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Although most of the great responsories of Matins have only a single verse, it was not uncommon in the Age of Faith to augment the more solemn instances of this repertoire with additional verses. The poignant Libera me responsory in particular enjoyed a remarkable wealth of verses already in the 10th century. It is the ninth responsory of the Office of the Dead when all three nocturns are sung (when only the third nocturn is sung, it is replaced by another responsory that also begins Libera me), and is also chanted after a Requiem Mass at the beginning of the Absolution at the bier. Additional verses were surely composed to provide additional solemnity for major funerals and for the special commemoration of the dead on 2 November, and also because this responsory was also frequently sung during funerary processions.
The verses Tremens, Dies illa, Quid ego (or its variant Quid ergo), and Plangent appear in the earliest MSS; the Tridentine books have only preserved the former two. In the Dominican use on 2 November, the verses Quid ego and a variant of Nunc Christeare sung in addition to the verses in the Roman books, while the Norbertine use has preserved the verses Quid ergo, Plangent, and Nunc Christe on 2 November and on the Office of the Dead sung upon the passing of a member of the community.
The prolix verse Creator omnium, with its beautiful melisma on jubeas, first appears later in the Middle Ages to be sung in procession after Requiem Masses, and it has been retained for this function in the Dominican rite.
Around the 15th century, a set of three rhythmic verses began to be sung with the Libera me responsory. Each stanza has seven verses of ten syllables with a cæsura after the fourth, and all three stanzas are sung to the same melody. Whereas the previous verses speak in the name of one of the dead begging for mercy on the Last Day, these rhythmic verses take up the voice of a narrator describing the Last Judgements, quoting Our Lord Himself as he separates the dead as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. Our Lord’s words in praise of the saved and in condemnation of the damned are put to the same melody, with striking effect.
℣. Quando Deus filius Virginis
Judicare sæculum venerit,
Dicet justis ad dextram positis:
Accedite, dilecti filii,
Vobis dare regnum disposui:
O felix vox! Felix promissio!
Felix dator, et felix datio!
℣. Post hæc dicet ad lævam positis:
Nescio vos, cultores criminis:
Vos decepit gloria sæculi;
Descendite ad ima barathri,
Cum Zabulon et suis ministris.
O proh dolor! Quanta tristitia!
Quantus luctus! Quanta suspira!
℣. Jam festinat Rex ad judicium,
Dies instat horrenda nimium;
Et quis erit nobis refugium?
Nisi Mater Virgo, spes omnium,
Quæ pro nobis exoret Filium.
O Jesu Rex, exaudi poscimus
Preces nostras, et salvi erimus.
℣. When God the Son of the Virgin shall come to judge the world, he will say to the just on his right hand: Come, my beloved children, I have prepared a kingdom to give unto you. O happy word! Happy promise! Happy giver, and happy gift!
℣. Hereafter he will say to them who on his left: I know you not, workers of wickedness! The glory of the world hath deceived you! Go down to the depths of the abyss with the devil and his ministers. Alas! Oh, how much sadness! How much grief! How much sighing!
℣. Now the King hastens to judgement. That day exceeding terrible is nigh, and who shall be our refuge? None but the Virgin mother, the hope of all. May she pray for us to her Sun. O Jesus, our King, hearken, we beseech thee, to our prayers, and we shall be saved.
 The text of this verse manifestly inspired the sequence Dies iræ; even the first notes of the latter are based on the melody of the verse.
Nunc, Christe, te petimus, miserere, quæsumus; qui venisti redímere perditos, noli damnare redemptos.