The Voyages Liturgiques de France: St. Maurice of Vienne and the Solemn Pontifical Mass

Continuing with St. Maurice of Vienne, the author describes the cathedral liturgy as portrayed in a 13th century Ordinal, pointing out that little has changed in the meantime. The Calendar. Solemn Feasts. Christmas Mass.  (Download the original French here.)

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I think it will edify the reader to know about some of the most ancient customs that were formerly observed in this famous church, drawn from its Ordinal, which is four hundred fifty years old. In this Ordinal there is no mention of the Feast of the Trinity, Corpus Christi, or the Blessed Sacrament, of St. Bernard, St. Louis King of France, the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed on 2 November, nor of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. From this one can estimate the age of the manuscript and of the script, which contains characters and marks almost five hundred years old.

The solemn feasts feature the Cantores and Baudes. The Cantores are the Precentor and the Cantor who lead the choir. Baudes are the great bells, the largest of which is called Bauda.[1]

On Sunday the priest, uncovered and wearing a cope, blesses water in a bucket as in Lyon, then sprinkles the altars. The rest of the aspersions are traditionally done before the Mass during the procession by the celebrant, who wears his biretta. One can see that the Sunday procession before mass is actually meant for the aspersion of all the different places: the Church, cloisters, refectory, dormitory, kitchen, and the assistants, as we will see again later on. In fact, at Vienne they call it the “Aspersion” rather than the “Procession,” saying “sound the aspersion,” or “go to the aspersion.” The ancient Ordinal mentions the whole church and all the clergy, who come out of the choir; the cloisters; the refectory in front of which they said Oremus dilectissimi; as well as the other side of the cloister, and apparently the infirmary too, as far as I can judge from the oration Omnipotens sempiterne Deus moestorum etc.

They still hold several stations while singing Responsories. This gives the celebrant time to sprinkle everything, the station’s purpose being to wait for him, and the chant giving the choir something to do during the same time. The books indicate that the deacon carries the cross and the subdeacon carries the bucket. This ought to shame the lower-ranking clerics who perform these duties under them.

There is a rubric that we must not forget to mention. The procession should be done in this way every Sunday, except that when the reliquary with the head of S. Maurice is exposed on the altar, the procession should not be done in the cloister. (Probably so as not to leave the church where the relic of the holy Patron is exposed.) We can deduce from this that on the Sunday in the Octave of the Blessed Sacrament (or on a feast of the Patron) when the Body of Christ, the Holy of Holies, is exposed on the altar, the procession should not leave the Church.

On all ferias of Advent and from Septuagesima to Easter, they chant the hymn Christe qui lux es et dies at Compline.

They sing the great O antiphons solemnly, i.e., they repeat them after every verse of the Magnificat, as in Lyon, and as they still do at Rouen, three times in the Magnificat and Benedictus, on triple or solemn feasts.

They used to hold a station at a certain church on every Sunday of Advent and on Ember Days.

Often the subdeacons carried the candles, as we can see in many places in the Ordinary; among others, they did so on Ember Saturday of Advent and on Christmas day in three different places. On solemn feasts, it was even two priests in copes who carried the candles before the bishop.

(These lesser functions used to be seen in a different light than they are today. Subdeacons, deacons, and even priests considered it an honor to do what the least clerics deem below them today. The only reason for this is pride, or lack of understanding of how great these ministries are.)

On solemn feasts the archbishop incenses at the third, sixth, and ninth Responsories (as well as at the Te Deum). After adding the Gloria Patri, they repeat each one again from the beginning until the verse to give him time to finish his incensation.

1519 Missal of Vienne

Christmas Mass

On Christmas night the first six lessons were chanted by the canons, the seventh by an archdeacon, the eighth by the dean, and the ninth by the archbishop preceded by two priests in copes carrying two candles in front of him. During the ninth responsory the archdeacon vested in the sacristy in more beautiful vestments. Two subdeacons in albs carried candles before him, and a third subdeacon in a tunicle carried the thurible, and a fourth subdeacon also in tunicle carried the Gospel Book. Thus all five went to the jubé where the Genealogy was chanted cum cantu by the archdeacon.

The archbishop said the midnight Mass with the two subdeacons bearing candles, one subdeacon thurifer, one subdeacon canon, and an archdeacon. Before it began they held a station at the chapel of Our Lady. They did not say, and they still do not say, at the beginning of Lauds, either the priestly verse or the Deus in adiutorium. Rather, Lauds was embedded in the Mass, and right after the Communion they began it with the antiphon Natus est nobis, etc, with the Psalms, during which the celebrant was seated. They did not say a chapter or verse, but after the Benedictus and its antiphon, the celebrant returned to the altar to say the Postcommunion, and the deacon said Benedicamus Domino, alleluia, alleluia. The same rite is observed today. It is always an archdeacon who serves as deacon when the archbishop officiates, and the four archdeacons each have their feasts when they must serve as deacon to the archbishop. As solemn as this Mass was, it was much less so than the Mass after Terce.

At dawn they held a station at the chapel of St. Anastasia in imitation of Rome. Possibly this Roman practice explains why there is an oration or commemoration of St. Anastasia in the Mass. It was the dean who celebrated; the deacon was a simple canon; and at the end he said Ite missa est, alleluia.

The archbishop, who also celebrated the High Mass after Terce, had six priest assistants, seven deacons including the archdeacon, seven subdeacons, and seven candle-bearers, five of whom were subdeacons and two others choir boys or clergeons.

In the chapter room the Archbishop vested in pontifical vestments while Terce was sung, and the six priest assistants, seven deacons, and seven subdeacons, and seven candle-bearers vested either behind the altar, in the vestry, or in the sacristy. All members of the great choir were vested in silk copes during the Mass, before which they all went in procession to take the bishop from the chapter room in this order: First went the seven candle-bearers, then a subdeacon carrying the thurible and the canon subdeacon carrying the text of the gospels covered in gold, with the six assistant subdeacons. Then the archdeacon carried the gold cross followed by six other deacons and six assistant priests, then the cantors, who having received the archbishop’s blessing re-entered the choir and began the Introit of the Mass and the Psalm. The whole procession, the great number of ministers and officiators entered into the choir with the archbishop at the Gloria Patri. Having all removed their mitres and hoods or almuces (capellis et mitris remotis) in the middle of the choir, the archbishop first saluted the altar, then the right side of the choir, then the left, and was likewise saluted by the two choirs. Then he proceeded in front of the altar and there said the Confiteor with his ministers, the candles being set, some of them on the altar, and some at the head and end of the choir.

The Archbishop ascended the altar and incensed it, aided by the archdeacon. Then turning his back to the altar and supported by two deacons, he gave the kiss of peace to the deacons, assistant priests, and his chaplain vested in a cope. Then he went to his throne, a marble chair elevated on four steps behind the altar against the wall in the middle and back of the coquille or apse, which is still done today. In this way he can be seen by the clergy and by the people, as at Lyon.

Next they chanted the Kyrie eleison with the tropes Te Christe, etc (They are no longer sung at present.) and the Gloria in excelsis in three choirs, the bishop and his assistants comprising one. For the Gradual and Alleluia, however, two clergeons carrying tablets as at Lyon, to sing per rotulos.[2]

After the oration Concede, two major canon priests chanted (and still chant) the praises or acclamations Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat, as at Rouen, and returning to the choir before taking their places, as those who chanted the Epistle, Graduel, and Alleluia, receive the blessing of the archbishop.

The Offertory was chanted with several verses, as it is still done at Lyon and formerly at Rouen.

The six assistant priests recited the Canon with the bishop and made the same signs as he, as noted in the Ordinary of the cathedral church of 1524. Suburbani signa faciant durante missa ad modum episcopi; et sic in omnibus aliis majoribus festivitatibus.

Immediately after the Agnus Dei, the cantors standing before the altar invited the clergy and people to the holy Table to participate in the holy Eucharist by singing the Venite populi, etc, much like at Lyon. The members of the great choir, which is to say the major canons and the perpetuals, standing around the altar, and those of the small choir standing in front of the Râtelier,[3] the archbishop gave the kiss of peace to all members of the great choir. After this, those who desired to communicate stayed there and communicated and the others returned to the choir. They added the praises or acclamations to the Communion antiphon: Hunc diem, multos annos, istam sedem Deus conservet. Summum Pontificem Apostolicae sedis Deus conservet. Episcopum nostrum Deus conservet. Populum Christianum Deus conservet, feliciter, feliciter, feliciter. Tempora bona habeant. Multos annos Christus in eis regnet: in ipso semper vivant. Amen. This keeps the clergy and people occupied during the communion.

(All of this is still practiced at Vienne on the days of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, except that the seven candles are only carried on Easter day.)


[1] The cantores and baudes refer to a system of grading feasts in Vienne and elsewhere in France. Marked in missals and breviaries as ‘C’ and ‘B’ respectively, “cantores” (or “classicum”) signified some special role for the cantors, while “B” stood for the word baudes, derived perhaps from an old French word “esbaudir” referring to merriment or good cheer, to “some exterior manner of celebration whose nature is unclear” according to Robert Amiet, though here de Moléon connects it with use of bells. A calendar marks feasts with Cs and B’s to indicate their level of solemnity in a five-part gradation: 9 readings, C, 9 readings + C, C + B, C + B + 9 readings. See Robert Amiet, “Le missel du prieuré bénédictin de Saint-Sauveur-en-Rue au diocèse de Vienne,” Scriptorium 1965, p. 53 (

[2] "In ancient churches, or rather in the ancient liturgy, after the epistle the choir boys put down their candles at the foot of the ratelier (a large seven-branched candelabrum), went to the altar to take silver tablets, on which the Gradual and Alleluia are written upon pages of vellum and present them to a canon and three perpetuals who placed themselves in the the first high chairs of the right side of the crucifix on the epistle side. Then they left their places to four others to whom they left the tablets to chant the alleluia and verse. This whole ceremonial is called cantare per rotulos. The precenter held the first place on the epistle side and the cantor occupied the first on the Gospel side, each of them with their silver rods next to them” (Troisième et dernière Encyclopédie théologique, Volume 15, p. 1680).

[3] A large, seven-branched candelabrum, one of which De Moléon describes in St. Jean of Lyon: “Entre le Chœur et le Sanctuaire aumilieu est un chandelier à sept branches appellé Ratelier, en latin Rostrum ou Rastcllarium, composé de deux colonnes de cuivre hautes de six pieds, sur lesquelles il y a une espèce de poûtre de cuivre de travers, avec quelques petits ornemens de corniches et de moulures, sur laquelle il y a sept bassins de cuivre avec sept cierges qui brûlent aux Fêtes doubles de première & de seconde classe.” Here is a striking image from the chapel of St. Etienne in Lyon.

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