Lenten Stations in the Ancient Rite of Paris (Part 4: The Third Week of Lent)

We present the fourth part of Henri de Villiers’ article on the Lenten stations observed by the church of Paris. The French original was published on the blog of the Schola Sainte-Cécile; since it is fairly lengthy, we have broken it up into six parts, each covering the stations celebrated that particular week.

Part 1: General Introduction.
Part 2: The First Week
Part 3: The Second Week

  1. Monday of the Third Week of Lent: station at the abbatial church of Sainte-Geneviève-du-Mont en l’Université (Sancta Genovefa de Monte in Universitate).

    Saint-Etienne-du-Mont à gauche et l'ancienne Abbatiale Sainte-Geneviève à droite.
    Saint-Etienne-du-Mont on the left and the old Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève on the right.


This famous Parisian great abbey was founded in 502 by King Clovis and his wife Queen St Clotilde on Mount Lucotitius, where there was already a cemetery called the monastère des Saints-Apôtres,  originally dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul). St Genevieve had the custom of praying there and took a path that would later become the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. When she died in 512, her body was buried in the crypt of the abbatial church next to that of King Clovis, who had died and been buried there the previous year.They were joined in 545 by Queen St Clotilde. Several councils were held there during the 6th and 7th centuries, notably in 577 against Prætextatus, bishop of Rouen. Ravaged by Viking invasions in 857, the abbey was not rebuilt until the beginning of the 12th century by Stephen of Tournai; at the time, it was under the order of Cluny. During the trial of the Templars, a pontifical commission used the abbey as its headquarters from 8 August 1309 to 5 June 1311; nearly 600 Templars came there to defend their order. On 24 June 1667, Descartes’ copper coffin was placed there under a marble monument.  The abbatial church was famous for holding the relics of St Genevieve, patroness of Paris; great processions with these relics marked the great crises in the history of the city and of France. As the headquarters of the congregation of Augustinian abbeys known as the Génovéfains, the abbey enjoyed great influence throughout Europe beginning in the 17th century. This congregation, set up by Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld, abbot of Sainte-Geneviève, had the goal of effecting in Augustinian abbeys the reforms demanded by the Council of Trent. During the 18th century, the ancient abbey was falling in ruin and King Louis XV, in fulfillment of a vow he made during an illness in 1744, decided to build a vast new basilica to replace the old church, placed further to the west over the abbey gardens. The project, entrusted to the architect Soufflot, began in 1758 and was finished in 1790. On 4 April 1791, however, the Constitutional Assembly secularized the church of Sainte-Geneviève and transformed it into a “Pantheon for great men”. What remained of the old abbatial church was demolished in 1807 to make way for the Rue Clovis. Of the original church, there only remains the clocktower, known today by the name of “tour Clovis” (Clovis Tower), placed inside the Lycée Henry-IV, itself composed of the old conventual buildings of the abbey, which date from the 13th and 17th centuries. Napoleon I gave the building over to Catholic worship by a decree of 20 February 1806, but the July Monarchy secularized it again to remake the Pantheon. The future Napoleon III restored the building to Catholic worship by a decree of 6 November 1851 and the Third Republic suppressed it on 19 July 1881.

  1. Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent: station at the abbatial church of Saint-Victor au dit faubourg (Sanctus Victor in suburbio ejusdem).

    L'Abbaye de Saint-Victor en 1655 - gravure de Mérian.
    The Abbey of Saint-Victor in 1655 – engraving by de Mérian.

Around 1108, the famous theologian William of Champeaux retired from teaching with some disciples and moved into an abandoned hermitage next to a chapel dedicated to St Victor, on the foothills of Mount Sainte-Geneviève. In 1113, when he was elected bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, Louis VI the Fat transformed his little hermitage into a richly endowed abbey, and the following year, the pope confirmed the foundation. William’s successor was Gilduin, his most beloved disciple and the king’s confessor. Born in Paris, he was abbot from 1113 to 1155, and wrote a rule—the Liber ordinis Sancti Victoris—characterized by rigorous asceticism, where silence and manual work were dominant. Because of the personality of its founders, Saint-Victor quickly became an intellectual center of the first rank: its school foreshadowed and contributed to the foundation of the University of Paris in the following century. Ss Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas Becket (1118-1170) both made retreats here, and the bishops of Paris had an apartment in the abbey. At the death of its first abbot Gilduin in 1155, the abbey already presided over 44 foundations, and a letter from Pope Gregory XI dated 2 July 1233 lists 70 daughter-houses, not only in northern France, but also in Italy, England, and even Denmark. In 1237, a chair of theology, linked to the University of Paris, was established there. At the beginning of the 14th century, most of the 12th-century buildings were destroyed and replaced by new, bigger, and better-lighted structures. Nevertheless, beginning in 1350, the abbey faced several difficulties and, despite several reforms, it was finally absorbed by its great rival, the Congregation of France (Génovéfains) in 1633. The Abbey of Saint-Victor was suppressed in 1790, but the abbatial church became a parish in 1791; the buildings were then sold as nationalized property, before being finally demolished in 1811. They were situated on the site of the current Université Jussieu and the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes. One of the last vestiges of the interior of the abbey, the so-called Tower of Alexander, upon which the Saint-Victor Fountain was raised, was destroyed together with the latter in 1840.

  1. Friday of the Third Week of Lent: station at the collegiate church of Saint-Marcel au dit faubourg (Sanctus Marcellus in suburbio ejusdem).
La collégiale Saint-Marcel sur le plan de Turgot de 1739.
The collegiate church of Saint-Marcel on Turgot’s 1739 plan.

St Marcellus is the ninth bishop of Paris whose name has come down to us. He was born in 505 in Paris, on the Île de la Cité, to a humble family living near the Petit-Pont. Having become bishop of Paris, he protected St Genevieve and performed several miraculous healings; he is honored as the third protector of Paris, together with Ss Dionysius and Genevieve. When he died on 1 November 436 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, he was buried near the southeast exit from Paris, in one of the cemeteries which ran along the old Roman road. A little later a church was erected over his tomb, which became gradually surrounded by houses. During the 6th century, this place had enough homes for Gregory of Tours to call it a vicus (village); this is the origin of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel (in the current 5th and 13th arrondisements). This original church was destroyed at the end of the 9th century during the Norman invasions, but the relics of St Marcellus were kept safe in the cathedral and preserved. Around 1040 a new church was built over the ruins of the old and became a collegiate church in 1158. This collegiate church was of considerable size, with a nave about 50 metres long, 38 metres wide at the transept; its crypt housed the Saint’s tomb. Peter Lombard, the 72nd bishop of Paris and teacher of Philip of France, son of Louis VI, was buried there in 1160. Until the 17th century, the collegiate church remains outside the walls of Paris. It was closed during the Revolution in 1790 and then destroyed in 1806. Its last vestiges disappeared when the Boulevard Saint-Marcel and the Rue de la Collégiale were laid out (their names preserve its memory), with the exception of one of its towers, which survived until 1874. Today, a boundary stone of the city of Paris, set up on the Boulevard Saint-Marcel around number 81, reminds passers-by of the existence of the old collegiate church.

The Lenten Stations of the Rite of Paris, by Henri de Villiers

This article by Henri de Villiers was originally published in French on the blog of the Schola Sainte-Cécile. Since it is fairly lengthy, it will be presented in six parts over six weeks, each covering the Lenten stations celebrated that particular week. Today’s article includes the general introduction; there is only one station this week, that of Ash Wednesday. 

Part 2: The First Week of Lent

Following the example of the Pope in Rome, the Bishop of Paris led his people in prayer during the stational liturgies of Lent. As in Rome, these liturgies included a procession followed by a Mass in the most notable sanctuaries of our city.



Among the ancient Romans, the word station designated an outpost of armed men or sentries keeping watch. Christians took up this terminology very early, at least from the 3rd century. Tertullian in particular frequently uses this term; for him (cf. De oratione XIX) a Christian’s station was the “guard” that the faithful—”the soldiers of God”—kept on certain days through fasting and ardent prayer, as a way of crowning the holy sacrifice of the Mass:

The station has taken its name from the example of the army—for we are indeed the soldiers of God— because in the camp neither joy nor sorrow interrupts the soldier’s station duty (Tertullian, De oratione XIX, 5).

In Tertullian’s time, the station days were Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. On these days, the fast lasted until the hour of None (around 3 p.m.). The Wednesday and Friday fast—universal in the East and West—had been established from the earliest days of the Church, as attested by the Didache, the ancient Christian work from the 1st century, contemporary with the New Testament itself:

“But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second (Monday) and fifth (Thursday) day of the week; but rather fast on the fourth (Wednesday) day and the Preparation (to the Sabbath, i.e. on Friday)” (Didache VIII, 1).

During Lent (and later during the season of Septuagesima), Monday was added to Wednesday and Friday as a third station day in the West.

In Rome, the practice of the stational liturgy is attested under Pope Hilarius († 468); it was reorganized both by his successor Simplicius (468-483) and especially by St Gregory the Great (590-604). At the hour of None, the Roman people convened in a church—called the church of the collect—that had been announced by the archdeacon at the end of the preceding station. There, the Pope sang an oration, the collect of the day (collecta meant the prayer over the people assembled at that place), and then a large procession was organized towards another church—the church of the station. Walking in procession behind the cross borne by the stational subdeacon, the faithful and the clergy chanted the litanies (including the invocation Kyrie eleison). At the church of the station, the Pope celebrated Mass and often gave a homily.

Missale Romanum - Mercredi des Cendres - station à Sainte-Sabine.
Missale Romanum – Ash Wednesday – Station at Sancta Sabina

Originally, stations were held in Rome only on penitential days: Ember Days, Advent, and Lent. But in Rome, contrary to the custom in Africa and the East, Saturdays were fasting days as well (Ember Saturdays therefore have stations). Then, very early on, the collect, procession, and station were also performed on Sundays and great feasts, which were not fasting days (Christmas, Easter and its octave, Advent and Lenten Sundays, for example). This stational liturgy lasted in Rome up until the 12th century, when it fell into disuse. The exile in Avignon dealt it a serious blow. Some elements nonetheless have survived until our time. Thus, the term given to the first oration at the beginning of the Mass—the collect—and the singing of the Kyrie eleison are vestiges of the ancient church of the collect and the stational procession. Above all, the Roman Missal has preserved until the present day the practice of naming the churches where the Roman stations were carried out from the time of St Gregory the Great (one also finds mention of the churches of the collect in mediæval manuscripts). Pope St John XXIII restored the ancient usage of the Roman stations during Lent. The practice was partially taken up again by St John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, who have hence several times celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass in the church of Santa Sabina, as indicated in the Missal of St Pius V.



One might be tempted to think that the Lenten stations in Paris were nothing more than a clever local adaptation of a purely Roman papal liturgy, imported just as it was during the Carolingian era. We should note, however, that the existence of stational liturgies in Gaul is attested from the 5th century, before the importation of the Roman liturgy. Curiously, the framework of the Parisian stational liturgy remained limited to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of Lent, probably the sole days that were stational during Lent in Rome before the 6th century. The survival of this quite archaic trait until the end of the 18th century is very interesting. In Rome, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of Lent were characterized by a more marked penitence, and included the singing of a Tract during Mass (which the other Lenten ferias did not). These same days also had special Epistles and Gospels during the three weeks of preparation for Lent (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima), readings which the majority of medieval diocesan uses (including Paris) preserved, but which fell into desuetude in the missal of the Roman Curia on which the Missal of St Pius V is based.

The order of the Lenten stations in Paris is not mentioned in Parisian missals. It is only known through the Processionals and is described very precisely in the Parisian Ceremonial published under Cardinal de Retz and edited by Martin Sonnet in 1662.

Lenten stations were held in Paris on Ash Wednesday and then all Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays beginning with the first week of Lent until the Friday before Palm Sunday (Passion Friday). They were characterized by a procession that set off from Notre-Dame and headed for another church where the stational Mass of the day was sung. These stational churches—as noted in the Parisian Processional of 1662 (ch. VIII, 18)—are among the most ancient, dignified, and noteworthy in Paris. In fact, this stational itinerary through ancient Christian Paris can lead us to rediscover large swaths of our patrimony, often, alas, destroyed by the Revolution and then by the attentive care of Baron Haussmann, a Protestant[1].

This stational itinerary of Lenten Paris follows a rigorous geographical plan, beginning with the nearest church on the first day—Saint-Christophe, on the Place Notre-Dame —and finishing with the furthest on the last day—the Royal Abbey of Montmartre. During the first week of Lent, one visited three of the most ancient churches of the Île de la Cité. During the second week of Lent, it was the turn of the three most ancient churches of the neighbourhood and faubourg of Saint-Jacques du Sud to be visited. During the third week of Lent, one processed towards the great abbeys of the southeastern region. On the fourth week, one headed towards the ancient churches near the city on the right bank of the Seine, in order to finish, during Passion Week, with the abbeys further north from there. Note that the procession and the stational Mass were suppressed if a double or semi-double feast fell on the day.

Here is the list of stational churches of Parisian Lent:

  1. Ash Wednesday: station in the church of Saint-Christophe près l’Église Métropolitaine (Sanctus Christophorus prope Ecclesiam Metropolitanam).

    Saint-Christophe sur le parvis de Notre-Dame - plan de Turgot de 1739.
    Saint-Christophe on the Place Notre-Dame – plan by Turgot (1739)

On the Place Notre-Dame there used to be a collection of buildings that in 690 housed a convent of nuns, then in 817 a hospice for the poor and infirm, and subsequently for travelers and foreigners. It was known as the Saint-Christophe hospital, and had its own chapel. This church was rebuilt a bit further north of the square in the 9th century and transformed into a parish in the 12th century. The canons of Notre-Dame administered this collection of buildings from 1006. Rebuilt in 1494, the church was demolished in 1747 in order to allow for the construction of the Hospice des Enfants-Trouvés (a hospice for abandoned children).


[1] Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann was appointed by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive renovation of Paris.

Voyages Liturgiques: Lenten and Rogation Processions in Rouen (6)

Processions in Rouen

Here I give, in abbreviated form, the most remarkable of the major processions of the year, taken from the about 200-year-old Ordinal, and which is still performed today except for some small details that I will be sure to point out.

alter servers 14 (cesare-auguste detti (cesare auguste detti), the confirmation procession)
Cesare-Auguste Detti (Cesare Auguste Detti), The Confirmation Procession

1) Lenten Stational Processions

On all Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent after None, the clergy with subdeacon, deacon, and priest in albs, maniples, and stoles go to a stational chapel in procession while chanting the Litany of the Saints in a sorrowful tone. When they have arrived, the Litany is broken off to say the Prayers and Suffrages. Formerly they lay entirely prostrate during these Prayers. Today they do the same, but in an even more humiliating way: there are several curved benches over which the clergy all bend, and additionally kneel during the Prayers. We will see this elsewhere too; it is called protratio super formas or se incurvare super formas. This is similar to the ancient prostration. When the Prayers and Collects are finished, the two chaplains take up the Litany where they left off and continue it until everyone has gone back to their places [in choir]. Then they ended it and immediately began the Mass. On these two days the stations included longer prayers and more austere fasts.

Processions in Rouen are carried out with great seriousness and pomp. There are five or six that are so beautiful, that we must mention them here.

On Palm Sunday they do a very unique procession called The Procession of the Sacred Body (La Procession du Corps Saint). The ritual is as follows. Between three and four in the morning the sacristan of the cathedral church lets down the suspended pyx and places the sacred Ciborium in a sort of tabernacle or half-cut lantern of wood and glass attached to a litter. He places this close to the southern door of the choir on a table decorated with a rug and two chandeliers with lighted candles. There it is exposed for the veneration of the faithful who come there from all parts of the city to accompany the sacred Body of Jesus to the place where it is to be carried. Meanwhile, Matins is said and toward the end of Lauds at around 5:30, two chaplains of the Commune vested in albs approach, and at the sound of the great swinging bell they carry the litter on their shoulders, surrounded by twelve great torches provided at the archbishop’s expense and bearing the prelate’s coat of arms. An unbelievable number of people attend, but none of the clergy besides these two chaplains, because the gentlemen of the chapter, so zealous for ancient custom, even refused a benefice to accompany the procession with a number of the clergy. They go by the large rue des Carmes to the church of St. Godard, which is adorned with the most beautiful tapestries in the city. They put down the litter in the middle of the choir on a rich dais, where it stays until 9:00. In the cathedral, at 7:30, after Terce and the sprinkling, the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon, vested without chasuble or tunicle, preceded by an uncovered crucifix and lighted candles come down into the nave with the clergy who line up in two lines in front of the crucifix while the celebrant and his ministers ascend the Altar of the Cross (better known as the Altar of St. Cecile)[1] and there blesses the palms for all the canons, who each get one, and branches for the cantors, chaplains, and choir boys. For this blessing a dry Mass is said, composed of an antiphon, Collect, Epistle chanted at the jubé by the subdeacon who wears a tunicle and faces the people, a Gradual, Gospel Cum appropinquasset, etc. also chanted at the jubé by the deacon in a dalmatic, another collect, Preface, three[collects, and finally two antiphons and a final collect.[2]

Le reposoir de la Fête-Dieu, devant la résidence du Dr. Joseph Woods, coin Sussex et Cathcart, juin 1927. Photo : originale dans la collection de Jean Woods. Université d’Ottawa, CRCCF, [b]Fonds Jean-Robert-Woods[/b] (P178), Ph57-2.
An altar of repose for Corpus Christi, Ottowa, Canada, 1927 (Source)
After the distribution of the branches by two priests in surplices, everyone goes in procession, carrying their palms or branches in hand, to the church of St. Godard, ad sanctum Gildardum, chanting responsories and antiphons. When they arrive there, there is a sermon (today) in the neighboring church of St. Laurent; formerly it took place in a large cemetery that is between these two churches. For the event, in the cemetery on the side of the Rue de l’École, they used to construct a large wooden tribune of 20ft² for preaching in the midst of such large crowds of people. I have seen it several times, and it was canceled only forty years ago due to the uncertainty of the weather, which was such that the preacher always caught a cold or was inconvenienced in some other way. As a result they currently hold the preaching in the church of St. Laurent, which is nearby. When the sermon was finished, the clergy of the cathedral church return to St. Godard, where five chaplains stand before the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament and sing some verses or antiphons to which the ministers and the choir respond in alternation. The celebrant kneels with his ministers and incenses the Blessed Sacrament.

Related image
An altar of repose for Corpus Christi, Geispolsheim Village, France (Source)

After the antiphon Hosanna filio David, the Cantor begins the antiphon Coeperunt omnes turbae, and the procession returns in very pompous array. The roads it passes through are strewn with tapestries. The most wealthy bourgeois of the city and a crowd of people follow the procession, and the Fiftiers (Cinquanteniers) and the one hundred arquebusiers are there on the edges of the procession so there is no confusion. When they arrive to the place where the ancient city gate once stood, the Gate of St. Apollonia, patroness of the nearby church of the Carmelites (and sometimes also called the Gate of the Great Bridge) they hold a station at an altar of repose; the choir boys and musicians go up to a nearby room (formerly to one of the gate’s towers) cum Processio ad portam civitatis ornatam venerit, sex pueri turrim ascendant and sing the verses of Gloria, laus et honor.[3] While the archbishop sings the Gloria, laus with the Cantor, the vested ministers and the choir, he continually incenses the Blessed Sacrament in the altar of repose. When the verses are finished, the Cantor begins the Responsory Ingrediente Domino in sanctam civitatem, and the procession enters the city (in the words of the Ordinal), by which it means the old boundaries of the city. When they enter the parvis or forecourt of the church, the Cantor begins the Responsory Collegerunt Pontifices.

alter servers 14 (jose gallegos)

Four priests vested in black copes (formerly red and green) sing before the church door the Versicle Unus autem ex ipsis. Finally, two vested priest-chaplains carry the litter upon which the Body of Our Lord rests inside the lantern across the door, and hold it firmly, such that all the clergy and people enter the church passing under the Blessed Sacrament.

Immediately thereafter, they uncover the great crucifix and the Archbishop, the Cantor, the deacon, and the subdeacon kneel and sing Ave Rex noster, which the choir repeats. Finally they enter the choir and, if the Archbishop is present, he blesses the people. The Blessed Sacrament is again reserved, and the Mass begins.

2) Rogation Processions

On Rogation Monday after Sext, says the Ordinal, they prepare the procession, which the clergy and the people of the city are obliged to attend and do attend, carrying their reliquaries, crosses, and banners. They come together in the Metropolitan Mother Church: ad metropolitanam et matrem Ecclesiam convenire tenentur. While the processions from the other churches make their way thither, the reliquaries of the saints are taken from the church treasury and placed on the High Altar one after the other by two chaplains of the Commune vested in albs. The relics are escorted to the sanctuary enclosure by two choir-boys carrying candles, the deacon and subdeacon with their usual vestments except the tunicle, the officiating hebdomadary or journeyeur also in an alb, stole, and purple maniple, who incenses each reliquary from the treasury until the entrance to the choir, while the cantors sing an antiphon proper to the saint whose relics are borne. After the antiphon is done, the officiant stops with his ministers, and sings the versicle and collect proper to the saint whose relics are being carried, and places them on the High Altar. When all the reliquaries have been placed upon the altar, and the clergy of the city is assembled, the procession begins from the Cathedral church at about 9:30 in the morning, that is to say at the hour when Sext begins.[4] They are not so delicate as to fear the blazing sun, and in other places where, to avoid it, they begin the procession at 7 in the morning, interpreting the rubric post Sextam as meaning after 6 in the morning.

First go the reliquaries of three or four parishes with their clergy under their banners, and three or four reliquaries of the Cathedral church with two torches or candles flanking each one. Then follow all the crosses and banners of all the other parishes. The cross and banner of the church of St. Maclou, the biggest parish in the city, is the one under which walks all the numerous clergy of all the parish churches of Rouen in a straight line, in two rows, with the parish priests of the city that walk last.

After them walk the canons regular of the church of La Madeleine and St. Lô, who take their place in choir together with the canons of the Cathedral on one side. Then come Benedictines, both the reformed and those of the ancient Royal Abbey of St. Ouen. They also have their place on the other side of the choir with the canons of the Cathedral. These churches have a common association, as I shall say in its proper place.

Then comes a beadle of the Chapter carrying the great banner of the Cathedral church, and after him comes an acolyte who carries the processional cross with a small banner attached, under which walks all the clergy of the Cathedral church, composed of the choir-boys, a great number of chaplains, and the cantors who are also considered chaplains.

saint romanusBetween the cantors, according to the Ordinal, walked the Lord Cantor preceded by the two parish priests of the churches of St. Denis and S. Vigor, holding white batons in their hands to keep the procession of the chaplains in line both going and returning. Then come the canons, the last of which are the deacon and the celebrant. After them come two great dragons which the common folk call Gargouilles  (similar ones are carried in other churches of France, such as Paris, Lyon, etc.) and which follow the reliquaries (or fiertes, from the Latin feretrum) of Our Lady and St. Romanus between players of various musical instruments. Then come the richest merchants of the city and the people. When the procession passes in front of the door of a church, and the door of the stational church, the clergy is incensed by the parish priest or the vicar.

The batons which the two parish priests of the churches of St. Denis and S. Vigor carried to keep the order of procession were not unique to the church of Rouen. We have also seen them in Lyon ad defendendam or custodiendam processionem, that is, to protect the way of the procession, to indicate that free passage be given, and to prevent confusion. The other parish priests of the city and many other clerics have them too, and the dignités and elder canons as well. But, since all things degenerate with time, they were later shortened to 2 feet or 2.5 feet. Finally they have had the audacity to carry them uncovered and adding flowers on the top, and then in the middle of the baton.

Formerly the Benedictines of Bec going to these three Rogation Processions carried batons  or canes to support themselves, or to remove from the way anything that might obstruct the path, since these processions used to be carried out barefoot, as one can see in the Roman Ordinal (and, as I have remarked, in Lyon). Since the Abbey of Bec belongs to the Diocese of Rouen, it is not very far from the city, and followed a good part of the rites of Rouen, it is possible that the batons carried today by part of the clergy—all the ones that receive or buy them—used to be longer and thicker, and employed for the same reason as the Benedictines. Each of the monks of St. Martin-des-Champs of the Congregation of Cluny in Paris still carry a baton during the Rogation Processions, and likewise those of St. Benigne in Dijon, Lisieux, and the entire Order of Cluny. This helps confirm my conjecture. Further evidence is the fact that in Rouen on Rogation Tuesday they process to the church of St. Gervais outside the city, and must go uphill. The same was the case on Rogation Wednesday, when they went to the Abbatial Church of the Mount of St. Catherine, which is a very high mountain, very tough and painstaking to climb. Batons or canes would have been very helpful for climbing up and down. I leave the matter to those learned in the rubrics to decide.

Let us resume the course of our Monday procession. It goes to the parish church of St. Eloi.

After the procession enters the church, they have a sermon, which apparently used to take place after the Gospel of a dry Mass celebrated there, perhaps like in Metz in Lorraine, for the subdeacon, deacon, and celebrant vested as for saying a ferial Mass, except for the chasuble. (In Vienne the celebrant walks in procession with the chasuble.) After the end of the sermon, they say the preces kneeling (formerly everyone prostrated himself) in front of the altar. Then, three cantors or chaplains sing the Litany of the Saints until they go back into the choir of the Cathedral church, where they finish it.

The Ordinal of the Cathedral church adds: Nota quod qualibet die trium dierum processionis Religiosi S. Audoeni tenentur mittere per suos servitores ad domum Cantoris Ecclesiae Rotomagensis vel ejus locum tenentis, hora prandii unum panem magnum, unum galonem boni vini, honestum ferculum piscium, et unum magnum flaconem de pinguedine lactis, sicque in duobus diebus reportantur vasa, et in teria die dimittuntur, et pertinent Cantori.   (“Note that on each one of these three days of the procession, the religious of St. Audoenus must send their servants at lunch time to the house of the Cantor of the Church of Rouen or his locum tenens bearing a large loaf of bread, a gallon of good wine, a large helping of fish, and a large flagon of cream. The dishes are brought for two days and returned on the third.”)

On Rogation Tuesday the Procession goes to the church of St. Gervais with the same ceremonies as yesterday. There is a sermon, and after it is over, they say the preces kneeling (formerly everyone prostrated himself in front of the altar), and then they sing the Responsory O constantia martyrum. When that is over, three canons sing the litany that begins with Humili prece et sincera devotione ad te clamantes  Christe exaudi nos, which the choir repeats after each couplet or combination of stanzas, each of which are composed of a verse in hexameter and one in pentameter, containing the names of the saints in order. The text is as pitiful as the chant is charming.


The procession goes to the edge of the dry moat in which there are towers, arrow-slits and vaults, and much echoing that resounds with this beautiful chant and its cadences. Nothing is more pleasing or charming to the ear. The cantors continue the Litany until they entered the choir of the Cathedral church, where they finish it with two final stanzas, the last of which is in Greek.

On Rogation Wednesday they go in procession to the church of St. Nicaise (formerly to the Abbatial Church of the Mount of St. Catherine before it was destroyed) at the same time and with the same ceremonies as on Monday, and also with a sermon. On their way back three cantors first sing the Litany Ardua spes mundi,[5] which is repeated after a stanza composed of a verse in hexameter and one in pentameter, which contain the names of the saints in order. The text is not beautiful, and neither is the chant. But when they reach a certain crossroad, three priest-chaplains begin another litany with a beautiful chant, and which produces quite a beautiful effect with its refrains. This is its order: the three priest-chaplains begin by singing Rex Kyrie, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos. The choir repeats the same. Then the three priest-chaplains in the middle of the procession sing Sancta Maria ora pro nobis. After that, three deacon-chaplains sing Rex virginum Deus immortalis. Three subdeacon-chaplains add, Servis tuis semper miserere. The choir sings, Rex Kyrie, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos. And thus they all take the Litany up anew all the way unto the choir, where they finish. Upon their return they say None, and then go to lunch, for it is well after midday.

To read more from the Voyages Liturgiques about the liturgy of Rouen, see

Part (1): The Cathedral Chapter of Rouen
Part (2): Major Feast Days
Part (3): Ordinations and Saints Feasts
Part (4): The 15th Century Ordinal of Rouen
Part (5): Public Penance
Part (7): The Privilege of St. Romanus


[1] In the jubé.

[2] The same structure as the pre-Pius XII Roman rite, except that the latter has six collects after the Preface (the use of Rouen lacks the collects Petimus, Domine; Deus, qui dispersa; and Deus, qui miro present in the Roman rite.

[3] De Vert, Explication…., vol. 2, pg. 90.

[4] Because the little hours are anticipated on fasting days.

[5] “This rhymed verse litany is actually much more ancient: it was composed by the monk Ratpert of Saint Gall († 884) to be chanted in the Sunday processions of that famous Swiss abbey. It is one of many witnesses to the extraordinary intellectual, artistic, and scientific flowering of St. Gaul, one of the spearheads of the Carolingian Renaissance. Due to the great influence of the chant school of St. Gaul, Ardua spes mundi like many other pieces from the liturgical repertoire composed for the use of the famous abbey, was rapidly taken up by a number of churches in the West, and even received the approval of Pope Nicholas III († 1280). (Cf. Schubiger, Die Sängerschule St Gallens, p. 37). It is often found assigned to Rogation processions (in the diocese of Trèves it is sung on Tuesday of the Rogations).”

Cette litanie  versifiée et rythmée est de fait beaucoup plus ancienne : elle fut en effet composée par le moine Ratpert de Saint-Gall († 884) pour être chantée aux processions dominicales de cette fameuse abbaye suisse. C’est un témoin parmi bien d’autres de l’extraordinaire efflorescence intellectuelle, artistique et scientifique, qui caractérisa Saint-Gall, alors l’un des fers de lance de la Renaissance carolingienne. En raison du grand rayonnement de l’école de chant de saint Gall, Ardua spes mundi, comme bien d’autres pièces du répertoire liturgique composé pour l’usage de la fameuse abbaye, fut rapidement reprise dans de nombreuses Eglises d’Occident, et reçut même une approbation du pape Nicolas III († 1280) comme litanie (cf. Schubiger, Die Sängerschule St Gallens, p. 37). On la retrouve souvent assignée aux processions des Rogations (dans le diocèse de Trèves, elle est ainsi chantée le mardi des Rogations). [https://schola-sainte-cecile.com/2013/05/08/une-litanie-rythmee-de-saint-gall-en-usage-a-rouen-le-mercredi-des-rogations/]

St. Maurice of Vienne (3): On Lent

Part (1), (2)

The reader will recall that de Moléon is describing ceremonies taken from a 12th century Ordinal (hence the past tense). He indicates when these ceremonies are still practiced in the 18th century when he is writing.

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Vienne Missal (14th c.), Lyon, Bibl. mun., ms. 0526, f. 111v

On all Sundays from Septuagesima to Easter there was a procession or station at a church in the city.


On Ash Wednesday there were also stations.

After None they blessed the ashes. Then the archbishop (or in his absence the priest of St. Pierre de Vienne) and his chaplain, vested in black silk copes came into the choir, taking the place of the Dean along with the deacon and subdeacon who carried the ashes.


On all days of Lent before Compline they said the Office of the Dead, then went to the chapter room for a reading from the Dialogues of St. Gregory, after which they went to the refectory to drink some wine.

They called this the potus caritatis. Even then they did not eat. That came later.

Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent is called in the Ordinal of Vienne and their last Missal Feria quarta in Scrutiniis. They still perform the scrutinies today in this church, even though all those to be baptized are children, with the subdeacon reciting the Credo for each child before the priest, as a profession of faith. For good reason, the Gradual of this Mass is Venite filii. The ceremonies are too long to record here in French. They can be found in Latin in the Ordinal, which we hope to make available to the public.

They said the Te Deum laudamus on Palm Sunday, as at Lyon and in the whole Order of St. Benedict on the Sundays of Advent and Lent, and I see no sound reason to omit it.

The blessing of palms was done by the archbishop (or in his absence by the priest of Saint-Pierre) vested in alb, amice, stole, and greek silk cope. The cross was bare in the procession and they did not say Attollite portas.

On Spy Wednesday at the Mass they said (and still say) all the solemn intercessions for the various states as on Good Friday.

On Holy Thursday after None the archbishop, vested in alb and amice, stole and silk cope with his mitre and crosier went to the doors of the church to admit the public penitents who were waiting their to receive permission to enter.

Then he gave a sermon, at the end of which he said three times Venite filii. The archbishop said the verse Accedite and let in the penitents. Immediately the seven penitential psalms were said, during which the archbishop and penitents lay prostrate before the pulpit. Then the archbishop said the prayers, verses, and collects, and gave them the pardon and indulgence.

Currently there is no more trace of this public penitence except the seven penitential psalms, along with this rubric in the Supplement to the missal:

Feria V in Ecclesia Primatiali ante missam sit officium catechumenorum et reconciliatio poenitentium, et ideo dicuntur septem psalmi poenitentiales.” They still do the office of the catechumens.

The blessing of the oil of the sick was done before the Per quem haec omnia Domine and the blessing of the oil of catechumens and chrism after the Pax Domini. Vespers were embedded in the Mass and ended with the Postcommunion.

To this day, after the Mass, the deacon carries the Blessed Sacrament to the place prepared for it, and brings it back the next day to the high altar for the Mass ex praesanctificatis, as at Chartres.

In the Mandatum ceremony when the canons’ feet are washed, the archbishop, his ministers, and the clergy were barefoot. The archbishop and the dean washed their feet, poured water over their hands, then gave them unleavened bread and wine blessed by the prelate.

On Good Friday only the archbishop in black silk cope and his ministers in albs say the Confiteor in the vesting room, then come out entirely barefoot (and still do so today), prostrate themselves before the altar and spend some time in prayer. Rising, the reading of the two prophecies begins, and the chanting of the two tracts. Then an archdeacon chants the Passion according to St. John. (The whole rest of the office is nearly the same as in the ancient Ordinal of Rouen from the 11th century). Afterwards they return barefoot to the vesting room.

After Communion, in a loud voice the celebrant said (and still says) In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus sancti. The response was Et cum spiritu tuo. This is still the cases in the missal of 1519; the response today is Amen. Then the cantors, standing before the altar, begin a Responsory and verse, then repeat from the beginning up to the verse, while the archbishop does the incensation. In ancient times and up to the present in Vienne, this ceremony constitutes the whole of Vespers for this day.

On Holy Saturday the archbishop, vested in a silk cope and the archdeacon in a white dalmatic, preceded by candle-bearers, a subdeacon, and twelve curés-prêtres assistants and the master of the choir boys, went to the chapel of Our Lady in the cloister to admit the infants to be baptized, and the archdeacon said: Orate electi, flectite genua, Levate. Complete Orationem vestram, et dicite Amen. Then the sign of the cross was made on their heads.

The archbishop asked each the name of each, and said the oration or exorcism Nec te lateat, Satana. Then the archdeacon said Catechumeni recedant, Si qui Catechumeni, exeant foras. After the catechumens left, the archdeacon, having received the blessing of the archbishop, descended with the subdeacon in the choir in front of the altar to perform the blessing of the Paschal candle. Meanwhile the members of the minor choir stood and the major choir sat until the deacon said Dominus vobiscum.

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Vienne Missal (14th c.), Lyon, Bibl. mun., ms. 0526, f. 110v

During the blessing of the candle, the choir master (capiscol) or scholastic vested in a silk cope blessed the incense and fire, and then carried the grains of incense to the archdeacon whom he helped to embed in the holes of the candle at the proper time. Then the archdeacon lit the Paschal candle with the new fire. (Some of the faithful take away flames from this blessed fire to their homes, as at Lyon and Rouen.) Then a lector climbed the jubé to read the prophecies, which were intermixed with orations and Tracts, as they are today. (The twelve curés chanted each oration after each of the twelve prophecies according to the Missal of Vienne of 1519. Today it is done by two priests who chant them alternately.)

When they began the Tract Cantemus Domino, the choir-master took a priest and his boys with him (and perhaps the rest of the cantors too) and went to the baptismal fonts which were in the chapel of St. John the Baptist (in the cloister) and there chanted the Litany, repeating each verse three times. (This is called the Litania terna. It is the origin of the nine-fold Kyrie eleison in the Mass, in which each group of three was sung by the cantor and the two choirs in alternation.) After the Litany, everyone returned to the choir.

After the prophecies, Tracts, and Orations were finished, they invited forward those who were to be baptized. They placed the boys on the right side and the girls on the left, and said over them the orations for catechumens. Going in procession to the baptismal fonts, the Curé of St. John went with the priest assistants carrying the vase of holy chrism, as the cantors chanted the second litany and the two choirs responded. After it was finished, the archbishop blessed the fonts conjointly with the twelve curés, as they do today at Troyes; namely, they made the blessings in the form of the cross and the aspirations with the bishop, and held their hands up like him, though they did not touch either the water or the candle, as is marked in the Ordinal of the cathedral church of Vienne written in 1524.

Exultet Roll.jpg

The reason these curés assisted at the blessing of fonts at the Saturday vigils of Easter and Pentecost is because they brought with them to the cathedral all the infants of their parishes that were to be baptized. For in ancient times the only baptismal fonts were located in the cities, in the cathedral churches, as is the case today in Florence, Pisa, Parma, Padua, and elsewhere. The bishop put holy chrism in the water in the form of a cross. After the ordinary questions on the faith of the creed and other things, the priest baptized each of the infants by three immersions, plunging him three times in the water (sub trina mersione) and invoking the holy Trinity: saying Et ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, then plunging the infant once into the water, then et Filii, and plunging him for a second time, and et Spiritus Sancti, and plunging him in for the third time. Taking the infant from the font, the priest took a bit of holy chrism with his thumb and made a sign of the cross on the top of his head saying the prayer Deus omnipotens. Then the priest clothed him in a white robe in the form of an alb, saying the usual words Accipe vestem candidam etc. (Receive this robe, white and without blemish, which he must carry before the Tribunal of Our Lord Jesus Christ, if you wish to attain eternal life.) Terrible words on which Christians would do well to reflect….

After this, if the bishop is present (according to the Ordinal), he also gave the infants the Sacrament of Confirmation. Si Episcopus adest, statim confirmari oportet infantulum. Then the procession returned to the choir as two priests chanted the third litany, which was repeated seven times.

The archbishop went to prepare for the Mass, and as he returned to the altar the deacon said (and still says) in a loud voice: Accendite[1] (as the canons still do in Lyon, and used to do in Rouen less than one hundred years ago; and as is still done at Angers on major feasts). Then all the candles were lit and they began the Kyrie eleison. The whole rest of the mass and Vespers are the same as everywhere else, except that at the end, instead of Ite missa est, the deacon says Benedicamus Domino without Alleluia, on account of Vespers.

I was very surprised not to find a communion of the newly baptized in this Mass, which (as Rosweyde and Cardinal Bona prove) used to be given not only to adults but also to newborn infants. It is found in the ancient Ordo Romanus, cap. de Sabbato sancto, and was still practiced in France in the 12th century in the time of Hugh of St. Victor, who in his first book on Ecclesiastical Sacraments and Ceremonies, chapter 20, speaking of a newly baptized, said that the priest dipped the end of his finger in the blood of Christ and in this way gave the Sacrament of the Eucharist to the newly baptized infant who has learned by nature to suck. Pueris recens natis idem Sacramentum in specie Sanguinis est ministrandum digito sacerdotis, quia tales naturaliter sugere possunt.[2]

This practice of giving communion to newly baptized infants was present, not only in the 12th century, but at Beauvais less than three hundred years ago, as we see in the Ordinals of this church that go back to that time, and hence comes the custom, even today, of carrying the newly baptized infants to the high altar, which is done in the whole diocese of Rouen and in many others.)


[1] In the Ordo Romanus I, this is the word said by the subdeacon to indicate that the pope is ready to leave the sacristy and begin the stational Mass: Quod cum nunciatum fuerit, statim sequitur subdiaconus adstans ante faciem pontificis usque dum ei adnuat pontifex ut psallant: cui dum adnuerit, statim egreditur ante fores secretarii et dicit : Accendite. Qui dum accenderint, statim subdiaconus sequens tenens thymiamaterium aureum, pro foribus  ponit incensum ut pergat ante pontificem.

[2] Author’s note: “On this question, see St. Augustine in his book to Boniface against the Pelagian heresy (1.22) and his letter to Vitalis, St. Ambrose, (Lib de Initiandis, ch. 8) and St. Paulinus, Letter 32. Everyone knows that the deacon in the African church gave both species to infants in their mothers’ arms, something the Greeks still do today.”