The Ceremonies of Holy Thursday in the Papal Chapel, Pauline Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica as Described in 1839

The following is an excerpt taken from C.M. Baggs work, "The Ceremonies of Holy Week at the Vatican and St. John Lateran's Described" which was published in Rome in 1839. Those interested in this work can find it online. This particular excerpt describes the ceremonies of the Sistine chapel which traditionally took place on this day, as well as the ceremony of the washing of the altar of St. Peter's Basilica which we have described here before.

In the Sistine chapel the crucifix and tapestry over the altar are covered with a white and not a purple veil; the throne also is white, and the Pope is vested in a white cope. The cardinal dean generally celebrates the High Mass; after the Gloria in Excelsis of which no bells are allowed to be tolled in Rome (except at the papal benediction) but in their stead are used troccole or boards struck with iron : this practice is observed until the Gloria in Excelsis is sung in the papal chapel on the following Saturday morning.

After the offertory of the Mass Palestrina's motet, Fratres ego enini, is sung... Two hosts are consecrated, one of which is received by the celebrant, and the other destined for the following day is put into a chalice, which the deacon covers with a paten and pall, as the dead body of Christ was wrapped in fine linen. At the beginning of the canon 12 lighted torches are brought in by bussolanti and after the elevation two masters of ceremonies distribute among the cardinals and others candles carried by clerks of the chapel, in preparation for the procession. The usual kiss of peace is not given, from detestation of the treacherous kiss given this day by Judas to his divine master, as Alcuin remarks.

Immediately after mass the cardinal celebrant with his ministers leaves the chapel; the other cardinals, bishops and mitred abbots, put on their respective sacred vestments, and the Uditori di Hota, the Chericidi di Camera, Votanti, and Ahhreviatori^ their surplices: the other prelates wear their usual cappae. They all now accompany the Blessed Sacrament to the Pauline chapel in solemn procession, which is regulated like that of Palm Sunday. The singers go to the sala regia, illuminated with large cornucopiae, and there begin to sing the Pange lingua (a hymn in honour of the holy Sacrament) as soon as the cross covered with a purple veil appears : the last verses of it are sung in the Pauline chapel, which is splendidly illuminated.
The cardinals bearing their mitres and torches precede two by two the Holy Father, who bare-headed and on foot carries the Blessed Sacrament under a canopy supported by eight assistant bishops or protonotaries. When the Pope reaches the altar, the first cardinal deacon receives from his hands the Blessed Sacrament, and preceded by torches carries it to the upper part of tho macchina; M. Sagrista places it within the urn commonly called the sepulchre, where it is incensed by the Pope. M. Sagrista then shuts the sepulchre, and delivers the key to the Cardinal Penitentiary, who is to officiate on the following day.

Two objects are obtained by this custom: First, the blessed sacrament is solemnly preserved for the adoration of the faithful on this anniversary of its institution, as well as for the priest's communion on Good Friday; second, the burial of our divine Saviour is represented: this is anticipated, in order that the principal altar may be stripped, in sign of mourning, and as He was stripped before His crucifixion.

The procession, of which we have already spoken, afterwards proceeds from the Pauline chapel to the loggia in front of S. Peter's: but the Pope , as he no longer carries the Blessed Sacrament, wears his mitre, and is seated in his sedia gestatoria under a canopy carried by eight Referendarii; and the flabelli* are carried at each side of Him. (* They are formed of peacocks' feathers, the eyes of which... signify the vigilance and circumspection of the Pontiffs. They arc mentioned in the apostolic constitutions, in which it is prescribed, that two deacons should hold them in order to drive away flies, flies, which might otherwise fall into the chalice. Accordingly, at the ordination of the deacons in the Greek church, among other instruments a Flabellum is given to them for their ministry at the altar. This St. Athanasius is said to have used while a deacon. Flabella are in the Latin church a mark of distinction, and are carried for the Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta, the bishop of Troja in Apulia, and the archbishop of Messina, as well as for His Holiness.) He now gives his solemn benediction to the multitude assembled before St. Peter's. This however is repeated with even greater splendour on Easter-Sunday, as well as on the Ascension and Assumption...

After the benediction, the cardinals and others take off their sacred vestments, and resume their cappae, which they wear during the lavanda or washing of the feet. This now takes place in S. Peter's, in a side-chapel adorned with two arazzi, one representing Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, is placed behind the benches prepared for the priests whose feet are to be washed by the Pope: and the other, which represents Providence seated on the j^lobe between Justice and Charity, above two lions holding banners of the church, is placed over the throne; near which are the flabelli resting on the wall, as at the public consistories. The Pope is habited in a red mantum, and wears a mitre. Seated on His throne, and surrounded by cardinals, prelates, and other dignitaries of His court. He puts incense into the thurible, being assisted as usual by the first Cardinal priest. He then gives the blessing usual before the gospel is sung, to the Cardinal-deacon habited in his sacred vestments, who sings that beautiful passage of the gospel of S. John, which explains the origin of this ceremony. "Jesus knowing that his hour was come, that he should pass out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Knowing that the Father had given him all things into his hands, he began to wash the feet of his disciples, and wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded, and he said to them; if I being Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet; for I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also." At the end of the gospel, the Pope kisses the book, the Cardinal Deacon incenses Him as usual, and the choir begins to sing beautiful anthems allusive to the affecting ceremony, and recommending charity, the distinctive virtue of Christians, more precious even than faith and hope. The Pope's cope is then taken off, and a towel is fastened to his girdle by the assisting Cardinal deacons; and then, in imitation of his Divine Master, he washes and kisses the right foot of 13 priests, called the apostles^ dressed in white and wearing high caps: each of them receives from him a towel, and a nosegay, besides a gold and silver medal presented by the Treasurer. The Pope then returns to his throne, washes his hands (the water is brought to him by the Prince assisting at the throne, and the towel is presented by the first Cardinal Priest), is vested once more in his cope, and recites the Our Father and concluding prayers.

His Holiness afterwards waits on the 13 apostles at table, in a hall in the Vatican palace, giving them water to wash their hands, helping them to soup, one or more dishes, and pouring out wine and water for them once or twice. The plates are handed to him by prelates of mantelletta and during the ceremony one of His chaplains reads a spiritual book. He then gives them his blessing and departs...

In the afternoon, at the office of Tenebrae, among other signs of mourning, the cross is veiled in black, and the candles are of yellow [unbleached] wax : the Pope's throne is stripped of its usual ornaments, and both it and the altar are without a canopy: the cardinals' and prelates' benches also are without carpets. The Cardinal Penitentiary goes to S. Peter's.... We may here recapitulate the principal ceremonies of the day. The oils are blessed in S. Peter's; the Pope assists at Mass in the Sistine chapel, carries the Blessed Sacrament to the Pauline chapel, gives His solemn benediction from S. Peter's, washes the feet of thirteen priests and serves them at table. In the afternoon Tenebrae in the Sixtine chapel, and the Cardinal great Penitentiary at S. Peter's.

In this basilica the Blessed Sacrament is preserved amid S.Peter's many lights in the Sepulchre in a side-chapel, many confraternities come in procession to venerate the relics, of which we shall speak in the next chapter. It is much to be regretted that the cross, which used on Holy Thursday and Good Friday to glow with 628 lights and to produce a splendid effect by the chiaroscuro which resulted from it in this vast and magnificent fabric, is no longer suspended before the confessio, in consequence of irreverent conduct on preceding occasions.

There still remains another remarkable ceremony customary in S. Peter's on Holy Thursday. After the office of Tenebrae, the chapter of that basilica proceeds in procession from the chapel of the choir to the high altar. The black stoles which six of the canons wear, and the yellow and extinguished tapers of the acolytes, are signs of mourning for the sufferings of Christ. They all carry elegant aspergilli of box or other wood, and having prayed for a short time in silence, they chant the anthem "They divided my garments etc." and the psalm "0 God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?" A fine cloth, which covered the altar, is then removed from it, and the Cardinal-priest of the church and the six canons pour wine upon the altar, and wash it with their aspergilli or brushes. After the other canons, beneficed clergymen, etc. have in turn washed it in like manner, the Cardinal and the six canons begin to dry it with sponges and towels; all then kneel down, and the ceremony comcludes with the verse, "Christ became obedient unto death etc.," the Our Father, and the prayer of the day "Look down, we beseech thee etc." (Formerly... this ceremony was performed in S. Peter's on Good Friday.) The chapter then venerates the relics shown as usual from the gallery above S. Veronica's statue.

For those who find this matter of the washing of the altars of interest, we have of course published an article on this subject, The Ceremony of the Washing of the Papal Altar in St. Peter's Basilica on Holy Thursday. In offering a bit of historical background, Baggs comments that "the stripping of the altars, which is practised on this day throughout the western church, is mentioned in the most ancient Ordo Romanus... The custom of washing the altar is observed in the churches of the Greeks, and in the Latin church in those of the Dominicans and Carmelites; and also according to Benedict XIV "in many churches of France, Germany and other remote countries" among which Cancellieri reckons Spain." In this regard then, this practice is not to be understood as uniquely 'papal' or 'Roman.'

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