Liturgical Notes on the Solemn Pontifical Mass of the Rite of Lyon (Part 1 of 2)

The following is a description of the Mass of Catechumens of the rite of Lyon in its pontifical form. The Lyonese rite has long interested me and it is said that some of its features find similarities to the papal liturgy of old -- namely, as described in the Ordo Romanus Primus. To what extent those connections can or cannot be made is a consideration for another article and time; today we begin with a consideration of the rites and ceremonies of the first half of the pontifical Mass and in another article -- which will be cross posted both here and at New Liturgical Movement, we will then consider the Mass of the Faithful. 

Terce and Vesting

To begin with, a brief mention might be made to note that at the Mass of the Archbishop in the Primatial Church the office of Terce was always sung immediately preceding Mass, intoned by the archbishop who would then retire to vest in the sacristy while it was being sung.


In describing the procession of the Pontifical Mass of the Lyons rite, Archdale King describes 36 individuals as taking part in this solemn entry, which occurs during the singing of the introit. The procession is in this order:
  • Seven acolytes in red cassocks with trains and girded albs carrying candles;
  • Crucifer and crozier-bearer in copes;
  • Seven subdeacons in tunicles (six "induti" subdeacons and the "canon subdeacon" bearing the archepiscopal cross);
  • Seven deacons in dalmatics (with the "canon deacon" holding the crozier);
  • Six "concelebrant" priests in chasubles (what this means will be covered in part II);
  • Two priests in copes holding the gremial, with Archbishop between;
  • Trainbearer for the primate;
  • Four insignia bearers - book, bugia, mitre, maniple.
In addition to these are the "suisse" and mace-bearer who head of the procession. (See Notes on the Catholic Liturgies, p. 130)

Lest it be missed, it would be worth noting here that within this mix we see the number seven figure prominently: Seven acolytes; seven subdeacons; seven deacons and, inclusive of the archbishop himself with his six assistant priests, seven priests.

A Word About the Altar and Sanctuary of the Primatial Church

According to King, inside that space delineated by the balustrade of the high altar was what the Lyonese referred to as the "holy of holies". The balustrade had three doors: the "holy door" reserved for the use of the archbishop (or officiating canon outside pontifical Mass), and two side doors for use of the other sacred ministers. King tells us that in the period of its loss and prior to the restoration of this screen in 1936, it was symbolically and ceremonially represented by a carpet -- something which will be seen in the photographs below. (See Liturgies of the Primatial Sees, p. 33)

The high altar of primatial cathedral in the period prior to its renovation in the 1930's.

The twentieth century high altar. Aside from the restoration of the balustrade, one can see the evident influence here of the twentieth century liturgical movement, including its fixation on shorter candles and candlesticks.

The primatial cathedral as seen today

One might also note an object seen on the altar. Archdale King explains: "A cushion of the liturgical colour, on which lies the textus or gospel-book, is placed in the middle of the altar for Mass on semidoubles (and over). It is removed to the credence when the book has been kissed at the conclusion of the gospel." (Ibid., p. 32) While just barely visible, it is also worth noting that the Lyonese custom for the middle altar card was that it be in the form of a triptych, and further, no cards were found at the sides of the altar. (Ibid.)

Mention should also be given to the smaller altar seen directly behind the high altar. This is the altar of St. Speratus, which also functioned as a kind of credence for solemn Masses.

A view of the pre-1936 high altar as seen from the choir; you are seeing the high altar from the back and you can see the altar of St. Speratus

Historically, prior to 1748, before the high altar stood the ratelier, a great candelabrum which had seven candles, one of which burnt all of the time. The others were for the various liturgical functions.

Much more could be said about some of the ceremonial which surrounded these elements or the ceremonial implications of their removal, but we shall let that suffice and continue on with our consideration of the Pontifical Mass.

Preparatory Prayers

After the solemn procession we come to the preparatory prayers at the foot of the altar. The seven subdeacons would take their position in the lower part of the choir until the Gloria and the seven acolytes would place their seven candlesticks within the chancel near the sanctuary in a line, and then stood and faced each another with their arms crossed over their breasts.

The assistant priests and the deacons stand in a line on either side of the primate for the preparatory prayers.

The Confiteor as seen in the arrangement of the Primatial Church on Holy Thursday 1934, taken from behind the high altar looking toward the nave. One will note the line of assistant priests and deacons, and one can also see the acolytes behind with their seven candles still in their hands as well as the subdeacons proceeding to their spots. 

Following the prayers at the foot of the altar, the archbishop and his six assistant priests go to the altar. The archbishop goes to the centre, and the assistant priests to the sides of the altar, kissing it at the same time as the archbishop (who himself kisses the altar and then also the gospel book that is placed on the cushion).

Kyrie and Gloria

Unlike the Roman rite, the altar is not incensed at this point -- though King mentions two standing bowls of incense near the altar. The Archbishop proceeds to his throne which is located within the apse directly behind the high altar, his assistant priests are seated around him. 

Illustration showing an unobstructed view of the cathedra

The introit is prayed and Kyrie sung, followed by the Gloria. During the Gloria (and collects), the seven acolytes again take up their candles.

During all of this, the seven deacons remain in a line facing the altar, "to represent the seven angels who stand constantly before the throne of God" (as La Messe Pontificale Lyonnaise describes it).

The seven deacons lined up facing the altar, the seven acolytes holding their candles and the Archbishop seated on the primatial throne, surrounded by his assistant priests

During the Collect
Readings and "Administration"

After this comes the Epistle which is read by the subdeacon while seated, and with an assistant subdeacon holding the book before him on a cushion.

Following the Epistle and while the gradual is being sung, comes the Lyons equivalent of the praegustatio ceremony, called the "administration". This took place in a side chapel.

Administration at the altar of Notre-Dame du Haut-Done.

This ceremony involved the tasting of the wine and is described by King accordingly:
The participants in the ceremony include the acolytes, subdeacons, deacons, a priest in a cope, the first 'perpetual', another in a mozetta, and the sacristan... The senior subdeacon carries the empty chalice with the paten and host, covered with a veil (pavillon); the senior deacon, the cruet of wine raised in his right hand' while the priest in mozetta brings the burse and corporal. On arrival in the chapel, the acolytes and ministers form two lines, with the senior acolyte in the middle near the entrance. The priest in the corporal goes up to the altar, where he unfolds the corporal, places the vessels on it, and, extending his hands over the host, says: Dixit Jesus discipulis suis, etc. The deacon then presents the wine, which the manilier tastes... (Liturgies of the Primatial Sees, p. 109)
Once the wine had been tasted, it would be poured into the chalice and brought back to the altar of St. Speratus. Water will then be added. All of this occurs prior to the Gospel.

The Gospel is proclaimed, and at both its beginning and conclusion, the subdeacon incenses the cross three times. Prior to the removal of the rood screen, the gospel was proclaimed from the rood loft.

After the veneration of the gospel book, the Creed is then said.

This concludes the consideration of the Mass of Catechumens. Part II will consider the Mass of the Faithful.

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