The Ceremonies of Palm Sunday in the Papal Chapel and St. John Lateran 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. It describes the ceremonies of the Palm Sunday procession as celebrated in the presence of the Supreme Pontiff prior to the 1960's and also includes some further insight into the use of the penitential rod which we recently published an article on.

At about 9 o'clock on Palm Sunday morning the cardinals assemble in the Sistine chapel dressed in their cappae of purple silk. The crucifix and the pictured tapestry over the altar are veiled, in token of the mourning of the church over her divine spouse's lights used sufferings. Over the altar are six lighted candles and over the cancellata or rails are others. The latter vary in number, according to the dignity of the person who officiates: 8 are lighted for the Pope,; 6 for a cardinal, and 4 for a bishop. Other torches are brought in after the Sanctus of the Mass, and held till after the elevation, in honour of the Blessed Sacrament, by four acoliti ceroferarii.

The Pope enters the chapel preceded by prelates mantelletta and mantellone, habited in purple and of scarlet cappae, by the conservators and other noble officers of His court. The cross is carried before him in token of his authority by a prelate (Pietro de Marca maintains that this crucifix was substituted in place of the labariun or standard carried before the emperors. That of Constantine had the form of a cross and was surmounted with 'XP' the first letters of Christ's name), and on these occasions by the last auditor of the Rota, acting as a subdeacon... The Pope wears a mitre of cloth of silver, a red cope [mantum] supported by the two assistant Cardinal-deacons, and adorned with a large clasp, called a formate; and His long white train or falda is supported by two apostolic protonotaries, (succeeded during the service by two auditors of the Rota) and by the prince assistant at the throne. He is followed by bishops assistant at the throne, the dean of the Rota, whose duty it is to bear his mitre, and by two camierieri segreti to bear his train.

After a short prayer before the altar he goes to the throne and there receives the uhbidienza [obedience] or homage of all the cardinals present, who in turn kiss His right hand covered with the cope. This ceremony which takes place at all solemn offices, except on Good Friday, masses for the dead, bears some resemblance to the old homage of feudal times.

As the pope is now to bless and distribute the palms, and a solemn procession is to take place, the Cardinals put on their sacred vestments, viz, all of them the amice, the cardinal bishops the surplice and the cope, the priests the chasuble, and the deacons a chasuble shorter in front than that of the priests [the folded chasuble]. The auditors of the Rota, Cherici di Camera, Votanti and Abbreviatori put on a cotta or surplice. The bishops and mitred abbots wear the copes and the Penitentiari or confessors of St. Peter's the chasuble. The copes of the cardinal bishops are ornamented with a formale adorned with three large bosses or projections of pearls arranged in a perpendicular line, while the Pope's are in a triangular order, evidently alluding to the blessed Trinity. As this is a day of mourning, the sacred vestments are purple.

Some palms are arranged on the altar. The Pope's cbief Sacristan, who is a bishop chosen from the Angustinian order bears orte, and kneels on the steps of the throne between the deacon and subdeacon, who bear two larger palms. His Holiness reads the usual prayers over the palms, sprinkles them with holy water and incenses them, three times... A richly embroidered apron is now placed over the Pope's knees, and the cardinals in turn receive palms from him, kissing the palm, his right hand and knee.
The bishops present kiss the palm which they receive and his right knee: and the mitred abbots and Penitenzieri kiss the palm and his foot as do all who come after them... (Of the antiquity of the custom of kissing the Pope's foot we have proofs in Anastasius the librarian in the lives of Popes Constantine and Leo IV. When Valentine was elected Pope in 827, his feet were kissed by the Roman senate and people at S. John Lateran. Numerous instances also are on record of sovereigns who have kissed the feet of the Popes, and Pouyard has written a dissertation to show that this custom was anterior to that of marking the papal shoes or sandals with a cross. This token of profound respect was given also to the emperors of the east at Byzantium.)

During the distribution of the palms, the anthems Pueri Hebrceorum etc. are sung by the choir; and when it is finished, the Pope washes His hands, and says the usual concluding prayer: the prince stationed at the throne brings the water and, the Cardinal Dean presents the towel to His Holiness. The Pope then puts incense into the thurible for the procession, and the first Card. Deacon turning towards the people says in the ancient formula 'Let us proceed in peace"; the choir answers *in the name of Christ. Amen'. The procession, in which the blessed palms are carried, moves round the sala regia... the Subdeacon ... carries the cross ornamented with a small palm, between two acolytes carrying candles, the Penttenzieri, the mitred abbots, bishops and the Cardinal deacons, priests and bishops all wearing their mitres. The Pope is preceded by many officers of his guards (who enter the chapel towards the end of the distribution of palms)... the Senator and Governor of Rome. His Holiness is carried on his Sedia gestatoria under a canopy supported by eight Referendarii (prelates of the tribunal of Segnatura)... (The kings and chief magistrates of ancient Rome were entitled to a sella curulis, or chair of state, which used to be placed in their chariots. They were seated on it also at their tribunal on solemn occasions. Virgil makes old king Latinus say 'Et sellam regni trabeamque insignia nosiri.' The Romans had borrowed it from the Etruscans: it was richly adorned, conspicuum signify according to Ovid, Pont. IV, 5, 18. In the pope's carriage even now there is a chair of state , and to Him alone is reserved the honour of a sedia gestatoria. Pope Stephen II in 751 was carried to the basilica of Coostantine on the shoulders of the Romans exulting at his election and from this fact some derive the custom of carrying the pope in his chair on solemn occasions.)

During the procession the choir sings in the sala regia the anthem, Cum Appropinquaret etc. When the entire procession is in the sala regia, two soprano singers reenter the Sistine chapel and shut the door: then turning towards the door, they sing the first verse of the hymn, Gloria, Laus et Honor, and the other verses alternately with the choir, which remains without. The subdeacon knocks at the chapel door with the cross, and it is immediately opened; the procession returns into the chapel, and the choir sings the concluding anthems...

When the procession is ended, the cardinals, bishops, and mitred abbots take off their sacred vestments and the prelates their surplices, and they all resume their respective cappae; the Penitenaieri retire, and Mass is celebrated by a cardinal of the order of priests... we shall here mention those [parts of the Mass[ which are peculiar to Palm Sunday.

At those words of the epistle (which is sung as usual by the subdeacon), "in the name of Jesus let every knee bow" the whole assembly kneels to adore their divine Redeemer, who became obedient unto death for our salvation. The affecting account of His sufferings and death is then sung by three priests belonging to the pontifical choir, and habited as deacons in alb and stole. The history itself is sung by a tenor voice, the words of our Saviour by a bass, and those of any other single voice by a contralto, called the ancilla as he sings the words of the maid to S. Peter: the choir sings the words of the multitude. The church, mourning orer the sufferings of her divine Spouse, does not allow the incense, lights, or the benediction and salutation usual before the gospel; but the palms are borne to signify the triumphs consequent on His death. All stand up as usual from respect to the holy gospel, but kneel for a short time at the words, "Jesus crying with a loud voice yielded up the ghost," to adore that God of love who died for mankind. The latter part of the gospel is sung in the usual chant by the deacon, but without the customary lights. At the offertory is sung the first part of the beautiful hymn Stabat Mater, the music is Palestrina's... Both the introit and communion are sung without, and the offertory with, counterpoint: the Kyrie eleison, Gradual and tract, in plain chant. At the end of the Mass, as there has been no sermon, the Card, celebrant announces from the altar the Pope's usual grant to all present of an indulgence or remission of the temporal punishment due for past sins, whose guilt has been already remitted.

When the Mass is ended, the palms are carried home by those who have received them, and are preserved with respect. Two larger than the rest are kept until the Ascension, in the sacristy called the Letto dei Paramenti because anciently the aged Pontiff, after their fatiguing walk to the stational churches, used to repose on a letto or bed prepared for them in the sacristy. The paschal candle also, an emblem of Christ, "the true light," as we shall afterwards see is removed on the day of the Ascension: this circumstance may explain the above-mentioned

In the afternoon of Palm Sunday, the Cardinal Penitentiary goes in state to S. John Lateran's. at S. John's he is met, before he enters their college, by the minor penitentiaries... [after signing documents related to his state, he] enters into the basilica of St. John Lateran's; where he is received sed by four canons. Here seated at his tribunal of penance, He touches with his rod [i.e. the so-called penitential wand] the heads of the prelates, ministers and others who approach to him; and for this act of humiliation they receive an indulgence, or remission of the canonical penance, of 100 days. He also hears the confessions of any persons who nay choose to present themselves: but the solution of difficult cases and absolution from crimes reserved to his jurisdiction may be obtained without confessing to his Eminence on so public an occasion.

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