The Voyages Liturgiques de France: Easter and Other Feasts at the Cathedral of St. Maurice of Vienne

[While liturgical ceremonial is not traditionally considered a "liturgical art," here on LAJ we have chosen to take a broader interpretation. Ceremonies and ceremonial, after all, form a part of the incarnate nature of the sacred liturgy; a part of the 'dance' if you will. They, like the plastic arts, are expressive of the realities of the sacred liturgy and accordingly deserve attention in their own right. Zachary Thomas has pursued the translation of the "Voyages Liturgiques de France," a 17th-century traveler's account of French cathedrals and monasteries. (See here for parts (1)(2) and (3) for example). We are pleased to include some of the installments here on LAJ. -- SRT]

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High Altar of the Cathedral of St. Maurice of Vienne. To the right, the funerary monument of two archbishops of Vienne. (Source)
On Easter day (at the end of Matins) the two candle bearers were sent to fetch the archbishop who came to the Sepulcher vested in a white cope and there said the Confiteor. After saying this prayer, he kissed the Sepulcher and the altars. Then, preceded by the two candles he went to kiss the Dean, and entered the choir, and standing with the cantors said “Resurrexit Dominus; the cantor responded “Et apparuit Petro.” Then the archbishop gave the kiss of peace to the two cantors. All the other ecclesiastics did the same thing. (This kiss of peace during the Resurrexit Dominus on the day of Easter is still practiced not only in Vienne, but also in the famous collegial church of the canons of St. Vulfran of Abbeville. It is found in the ancient Ordo Romanus, in the chapter In vigila sancti Paschae in nocte. Less than one hundred years ago it was still done in Rouen. Today in the Eastern Church the only way that both the clergy and the people greet one another from Easter to Ascension is by saying Χριστός ἀνέστη, Christ is risen.)

On Easter the whole office was done, and is still done, with the same number of assistant priests, ministers, and candle-bearers as on Christmas day, and they also chanted neumes at every antiphon. There are only three or four peculiarities which I will describe.

After Lauds the archbishop or the deacon, dressed in priestly vestments, blessed water and sprinkled the altars and the people, while the subdeacon carried the bucket. Then they returned to the vesting room and went to sing a High Mass a the altar of the Sepulcher.

After Terce the archbishop vested in his pontifical garb for the Mass before the Sepulcher, and his six assistant priests, seven deacons, seven subdeacons, and seven candle-bearers did so behind the altar or in the vesting room. Then they went to fetch the bishop in procession to the Chapel of the Sepulcher in the same order as on Christmas day. Then the Dean, having been blessed by the archbishop, goes with the other canons through the middle of the choir behind the altar, and they chant O mors, which is repeated after the verse. Then they returned to the Sepulcher. There the candle-bearers say the antiphon Ite, nuntiate, etc. in a loud voice When this is finished, all turn toward the Sepulcher. Then the cantors, backs to the Sepulcher, begin the Quem quaeritis? Two canons respond Jesum Nazarenum. The cantors: Non est hic, surrexit. The two canons chant Alleluia, Resurrexit Dominus as they return to the choir where, when the procession has arrived, the cantors immediately begin the Introit Resurrexit in a softer voice, as in Lyon. This in indicated in the ancient Ordinal by the words voce submissa. While they chant the Gloria Patri in full voices, the archbishop enters in full pomp with all the ministers, and says the Mass with all the same ceremonies as Christmas, with Lauds and the Venite populi after the communion. The Mass ends with Ite, missa est, alleluia.

Throughout the whole day, except during Mass, the archbishop is vested in a cope over an alb with his stole and maniple, and at all the minor hours as well as after Mass he was conducted by two candle-bearers back to his residence, with his mitre on his head and his cross in hand. He even dined that day vested in his pontifical vestments.

At the last strike the bells for Vespers the archbishop, so vested, came from his residence into the cloister (this is still done today on major feasts) preceded by two candle-bearers. These immediately went to the choir to fetch the deacon-crucifer, who was vested in cope and came with the candle-bearers and all the clergy and cantors in copes, with mitres atop their heads and batons in hand, to lead the archbishop processionally into to the church.

Vespers are done very much as in Rouen: they chanted the psalm Laudate pueri while going to the fonts, and the psalm In exitu on their return. The two Benedicamus of Vespers and the procession were sung with) two alleluia, after which the archbishop gave the blessing, saying Sit nomen Domini benedictum, etc.

On Easter Monday they held the station at Saint-Pierre. The archbishop chanted the Mass with five deacons and five subdeacons. Between the Prose[1] Victimae and the Gospel there was a sermon for the people, then the archbishop gave the indulgence. When the bells first rang for Vespers the clergy assembled in the house of the archbishop where tables dressed with honey and other things were laid out, along with wine. At the last strike everyone returned to the Chapel of Notre-Dame, then they went to the church as on the day previous.

On Saturday and Sunday in albis they continued the procession to the baptismal fonts, but instead of the psalms as on the other days they chanted a Responsory with an oration.
On the three days of Rogations, the clergy and the whole people assembled at the cathedral church after Terce: the clergy of St. Severe, the religious of Sainte Colombe, the religious of S. Andre-le-haut, the monks of S. Andre-le-bas, and of St. Pierre all attended. When they entered the church of St. Maurice, all the bells were rung.

The archbishop standing in the dean’s place, or the dean if he was a priest, or else the Hebdomadary sprinkled the whole clergy, religious, and sisters when they exited the choir two by two. A deacon carried the banner, two canons of the minor choir carried two crosses, the subdeacon hebdomadary carried a third cross, the deacon hebdomadary the Gospel Book, and a cleric carried the tablets on which the Litany is written. Those who carried the crosses were (as at Lyon and Bec) barefoot, and their heads sprinkled with ashes. In this procession the priest is vested in a chasuble even today.
When the procession arrived at the church of the station, a priest and two deacons lay prostrate before the altar until the Litany was finished. They did six or seven stations each day. The canons, monks, and sisters all chanted the Litany. (We will see the sisters assisting at these processions elsewhere too.)

On Ascension Day after Terce, the clergy, in copes with the archbishop or (in his absence) with the Abbot of St. Pierre, made a procession in which they carried all the reliquaries. It came down by the steps of the great portal and entered by the door of the cloister. After they were all arranged in the nave of the church, the archbishop vested in his pontifical garments, or in his absence the Abbot of St. Pierre, went to the altar of the Sepulcher preceded by two clergeons bearing candles, three subdeacons also carrying candles, a fourth subdeacon thurifer, a major subdeacon carrying the Gospel Book, the archdeacon carrying the golden cross, followed by the other deacons, then the archbishop. Then the cantors, with their backs turned to the Sepulcher said: Quem creditis? Two or three canons responded, Christum qui surrexit. The cantors: Jam ascendit. The canons: Alleluia. As they were singing this, the procession re-entered the choir and the archbishop began the Mass with the same ceremonies as on Easter, but without priest assistants and without the Venite populi.

There was a peculiarity about this feast. After the Offertory with its verses they went in procession in the almonry. First went the holy water bucket-bearer, the two candle bearers, and the thurifer chanting the Responsory Christus resurgens with the verse.[2] There they blessed the food saying Edent pauperes, etc., sprinkling water on it and incensing it. Then there was a sermon. The Mass finished in the usual way.

On the Vigil of Pentecost they held the same ceremonies of Baptism as on Holy Saturday. Six vested priests assisted, but not at the Mass. Today before beginning the Mass they do not say Accendite. Before the Postcommunion they said Vespers with the psalm Laudate Dominum omnes gentes and the Magnificat with two antiphons, following the rite of Holy Saturday, and Vespers ended with the Postcommunion. The ceremony is done in the same way today.

On Pentecost one finds all the same practices and ceremonies as on the day of Easter, except the Office of the Sepulcher. Before Vespers and before Mass there is a Processio ad introducendum archiepiscopum as on Christmas; and the Venite populi for the Eucharist as on Easter and Christmas; the same rite of Vespers as on Easter, during the procession to the fonts singing the psalm Laudate pueri and on the way back the psalm In exitu. The same is done on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. In fact it is meant to be the same thing: for the two Saturdays of Easter and Pentecost were dedicated to solemn baptism of the catechumens, and during the Week after Vespers the newly baptized were taken in procession to the baptismal fonts where they had been regenerated, and the priest said a prayer over them. Note particularly that the prayer ad fontes is especially for them.

After the Octave of Pentecost they read not only the books of Kings, but also Chronicles, as formerly at Rouen.

On Christmas day after Vespers, St. Stephen’s day, and St. John’s day, they made solemn processions for the deacons, priests, and boys of the choir, as formerly at Rouen.[3] The following morning at Mass there was a special ceremony for them: the choir boys had their boy-bishop who presided over the whole office except the Mass.

On Holy Innocents the Te Deum, Gloria in excelsis, and Alleluia are still sung in Vienne as in Lyon before the Gospel. Elsewhere they are not said because formerly Christians fasted on this day more Quadragesimali.

On Candlemas after Prime, the archbishop or Abbot of St. Pierre, vested in an apparelled alb, amice, stole, maniple, and a while cope with his mitre and crosier, preceded by his ministers, comes to the altar to bless the candles which he sprinkles and incenses. The sacristans distribute candles to the clergy who light them, and then there is a procession in the cloister.

On St. Mark’s day there is no mention of the Major Litany or a procession, and these are still not done in Vienne, just as they are not at Lyon.

On the second day of June, the feast of St. Blandina and her companion martyrs, they held a great solemnity in Vienne: it was called the Feast of Miracles. There were great festivities on boats in the Rhone. The clergy of the church of Saint-Severe and the cathedral, the monks and the religious of Saint-André-le-haut all went in procession to the church of Sainte Blandine, preceded by two crosses and followed by all the people. There they said the Mass of holy martyrs. After the Epistle they chanted the Gradual, then read the martyrs’ Acts in the manner of an Epistle, taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (Book 5, chapter 1) with the title Lectio Libri Ecclesiasticae Historiae. They do this still today. (This is worthy of note, because in it we can see a practice was mentioned by St. Gregory of Tours: that the Acts of the martyrs were recited in the divine offices and sometimes even in the Mass.) After this reading of the Acts the Alleluia and Prose are chanted, and the deacon reads the Gospel.

There were three different Masses of St. John the Baptist counting that of the Vigil.[4] The second was said after Lauds, and the third after Terce.

On the 30th of June, in place of the Commemoratio S. Pauli, they have the Celebratio, like the Celebritas of Lyon.

On the 1st of August the martyrdom of the Maccabees was read after the Epistle at the conventual Mass, and it is still read today.

On the 8th of August the Feast of St. Severus, priest of Vienne, the cathedral church went at night in procession to the church of St. Severus; in ipsa nocte statio ad sanctum Severum.

The day of St. Maurice is like Christmas. After First Vespers the monks of Saint-André-le-bas come to the cathedral church to chant Matins, and next the monks of St. Pierre do the same. After Prime the processions come to their mother-churches, and a their arrival all the bells must ring.

The archbishop vested in chasuble and pallium, after incensing the altar at the beginning of Mass, goes to sit in his throne of white marble behind the high altar. After the Prose the archbishop gave a sermon to the people and gave an indulgence.

In other sources we find that until the year 1100, in the diocese of Vienne Lent began on the Monday after Quinquagesima, which they currently call (by corruption) Lundi gras, and not on Ash Wednesday, as they do now. Perhaps this is why in some communities they abstain from meat during these two days.

Formerly no one in Vienne could be married from the Rogations until Trinity.

If a canon quits his canonry, he can no longer assist at the cathedral church as an honorary member. Whereas, if the canon had once been a choir boy, he would always have retained the right to assist as a canon because he was nourished and brought up in gremio Ecclesiae; and even if he did not possess a second canonry, he would take his old place, always retaining the right to assist and keep his rank there.

In Vienne, if at the moment of death, a poor man requests to be buried in the little cemetery of the cloister of the cathedral church, and he dies as a true Christian, fortified by the sacraments, he is buried there in the following manner. All the clocks of the cathedral church are rung, just as they would be for a canon; all the canons, the whole rest of their clergy, and even the archbishop when he is in the city go preceded by the cross and silver candlesticks to take the body and bury it with as much ceremony as if the man had been a canon, except the things that are proper to priests alone. On the second week after Easter many Masses are said for these poor dead in the chapel of the Sepulcher. This is an example of extraordinary piety and charity toward the poor, (and we shall see something like it elsewhere.)

The Wednesday after the fourth Sunday of Lent is called the Feria quarta in scrutiniis, and they still do the examination of the catechumens in the cathedral church on that day, and on Holy Thursday they do the Office of the Catechumens.

On Holy Saturday the faithful bring the new blessed fire back to their homes.

Quasi modo Sunday is called Dominica in Albis depositis.

Feasts of nine lessons have twelve when they fall on a Sunday. The eighth and the ninth lessons are read as one, and for the ninth they read the Gospel of the Sunday, and then the three lessons of the Homily are read as one. Likewise, on many feasts of three lessons, one finds five, even in Paschal time, because very often they say the two or three readings of the Gospel as one. Their Breviary has very long readings, but no one complains about them in Vienne, as they do not in Lyon.

On solemn feasts the Necrology is not read after Prime and the customary prayers for the dead are not said. In their place they say a verse that is appropriate to the mystery or the feast.

On the first Monday of Lent and on the Vigil of Christmas in the primatial church of Vienne, before the conventual Mass they pardon those who have broken the statues of the chapter.

At the three Christmas Masses, besides the Epistle they also chant a prophecy, according to the ancient practice of the Gallican Church. This used to be done at Rouen and Orleans until 150 years ago. It is done in Vienne after the Epistle.

During Advent and from Septuagesima to Easter (excluding feasts) they use black vestments.
On Palm Sunday they use green, and at the Masses of Holy Thursday and Saturday, white.


[1] Prose is the usual French term for Sequence.

[2] Its proper verse. These sometimes varied, but it seems the standard one for this responsory was "Dicant nunc Judaei quomodo milites custodientes sepulcrum perdiderunt Regem; ad lapidis positionem non servabant Petram justitiae; aut sepultum reddant, aut resurgentem adorent, nobiscum dicentes". See the music and an article about the procession here:

[3] In the Middle Ages, the Feast of the Holy Innocents (which began after Christmas Vespers) was considered a special day for children, St. Stephen’s Day was a day of celebration for the order of deacons, and St. John’s Day for priests.

[4] An ancient Roman custom.

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