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

In the first part of this series (first published on NLM in 2010 and republished here in a slightly updated form in 2022) we explored the solemn pontifical form of the Lyonese rite up to the conclusion of the Creed. As part of those initial considerations I addressed some of the features distinctive to the Lyonese rite and particularly of the Primatial Cathedral, Saint-Jean Baptiste de Lyon. I also discussed what is perhaps one of the most visually distinctive ceremonial aspects of this rite in its solemn pontifical form, namely the use of seven acolytes, seven subdeacons, seven deacons and six priests (which, in addition to the bishop himself makes the number seven again).  

One also sees within the Lyonese rite some distinctive vestural usages such as long-trained cassocks, not just for the Archbishop, but also for some of the other sacred ministers -- even the seven acolytes (see below) and the choristers. It is also worth noting that in the most solemn of occasions, the senior priest, deacon and subdeacon were granted the privilege of wearing the mitre -- however Archdale King suggests that these were not mitres per se but rather a variation on the amice being worn on the head which took on a pointed appearance similar to the shape of the mitre proper. 

Left and Middle, Mitred Subdeacon and Deacon; Right: Thurifer wearing the "ofroi" (deatched orphrey/clavi) over the alb.

The seven acolytes seen wearing long-trained red cassocks with a girded alb over top

This may be a good time to also note that when the acolytes were not holding their seven candles (as shown above) they were left standing before the high altar -- much like how candles are left on the steps of the altar in some of the rites of the religious orders such as the Dominican rite. 

In the Pontifical form of the Lyonese liturgy, the archbishop is also not attended by two deacons of honour but rather by two priests of honour vested in copes who carry a large gremial in the liturgical colour of the day before him (see the very first image illustrating this article above).  

Further, with the exception of the Offertory and Canon, the celebrant alone (in the case of the pontifical Mass, the archbishop) alone stands at the altar.

Finally, a general comment should be made about the use of incense in the rite. Unlike the Roman rite, the thurible is not used to incense the altar at the Kyrie, nor to incense the Sacred Species at the elevations. Instead, on great feast days in the primatial church two large standing urns are placed to either side of the altar. These urns are replenished with fresh incense at the Asperges, the prayers at the foot of the altar, the Gloria, the Sanctus and the elevations at the consecration. One can well imagine that it must have made for quite an impressive sight to see those two columns of smoke arising from either side of the high altar on these most solemn of occasions.  

The following is a short video, not available at the time of our first instalment, shows some of the introductory rites. While it doesn't pertain to the specific focus of this second part, it will provide you with a sense of the rite and its various sacred ministers more generally. 

(Note: The videos that are shown in this article were restored by Jean-Romain Guilhaume and provided to Liturgical Arts Journal by the Historical Archives of the Diocese of Lyon with the gracious assistance of former Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Thomas Gullickson. Under the terms and conditions of their permission to share these videos, they may not be reproduced elsewhere so we would ask that these terms and conditions be respected. LAJ would like to thank the Diocese of Lyon and Archbishop Gullickson for their gracious assistance in this matter.)

The number seven obviously features prominently -- at least in the Pontifical Mass -- and on this front I'd point our readers to a related article, Seven Deacons, Seven Subdeacons, Seven Acolytes, Seven Candles - An Inquiry, wherein we considered the history and possible origins of this practice.  Archdale King, in The Liturgies of the Primaital Sees, suggests that the Lyonese liturgy was derived from the stational liturgy of Rome -- and certainly one can see some similar characteristics as one considers the pontifical form of this rite. This includes the fact that in the Pontifical Lyonese liturgy the Archbishop traditionally never carried the crozier, only occasionally holds it -- it is otherwise carried for him by the Canon-Deacon. King attributes this possibly to the fact of the Roman pontiff did not himself carry a crozier in the stational liturgy.  (That said, in one of these video clips while we will indeed see this diaconal action in relation to the crozier, we will also see the archbishop carrying the crozier as he processes from the altar to the throne at one point -- possibly a modern Romanizing interpolation of more recent times.) 

The Primatial Cathedral of Lyon as it was at the end of the 19th century; left is the altar seen from the nave; right is the altar seen from the choir and cathedra behind. From this latter angle you can see the "altar of St. Speratus" located behind the high altar which functioned akin to a credence table during Mass.  Originally there was a great rood screen separating the nave from the chancel and sanctuary.

Since many of these elements have already been touched upon in the previous article, I won't repeat them all ad nauseam here beyond the brief refreshers already mentioned here; I would certainly recommend that you take a few minutes to re-familiarize yourself with what was written in part one as it will help inform this second and final instalment.  That said, one other point I would like to highlight readers, since we now have video of it, is that during the readings there was a procession to a side chapel for what was called the "Administration" which was effectively done for the purpose of tasting the bread and the wine and also for preparing the chalice with the wine and water which is to be consecrated during the Pontifical Mass:

One might note that no chalice veil is used in the solemn form of the Lyonese liturgy (pontifical form or otherwise). Rather what one sees used here is a kind of ornamental covering, or canopy, that is placed over the chalice. 
With that surrounding context now in mind, that segue ways us nicely into our considerations beginning with the Offertory.

The Offertory

At the conclusion of the Credo two acolytes who kneel before the Archbishop at the throne who, after having removed his pontifical gloves, purifies his fingers.  The pontifical gloves that he has removed are taken to the altar on a tray and set on it by a minor cleric (who wears a white cassock with long train and white shoes).

At the conclusion of the purification of his fingers, the archbishop is led by the six priests in chasubles to the altar.  At the foot of the altar his mitre is removed and he ascends to the altar through what is called the "holy door" waiting for the bread and wine to be brought to the altar. It is at this point that we should mention the balustrade that is set around the primatial altar. It has three 'gates' (or openings); a central one called the "holy door" through which only the archbishop may proceed (or in non-pontifical solemn Masses in the cathedral, the celebrant), and then a door one each side; one of the epistle side and one on the gospel side. Though these the other sacred ministers enter into the area of the altar which they call the "holy of holies" (coming with clear reference to the Temple). 

The seven acolytes remain standing facing the altar in a line and the six concelebrant priests proceed to the altar of St. Speratus, located behind the high altar, where they receive from the Ceremoniere the hosts that will be consecrated at the Mass. At the same time, the Canon-Subdeacon carries the chalice to the altar and presents it to the Canon-Deacon who in turn presents it to the archbishop. The six priests now proceed to the altar with the hosts to be consecrated at the Mass in hand. As they present the hosts to the primate, they kiss his episcopal ring and then genuflect toward the archbishop.  The archbishop then places these hosts brought to him in the ciboria found on the great corporal on the altar. 

The archbishop now takes the chalice in hand, with the paten still laid on top of it (as is seen in some other Latin liturgical rites such as the Dominican rite) and prays the offertory prayer.  The archbishop then hands the paten to the Canon-Deacon who in turn gives it to the Canon-Subdeacon who conceals it in his maniple (not the humeral veil as is the case in the Roman rite) and takes up a place seated behind the high altar. The archbishop then covers the chalice with the back part of the large corporal that is laid out on the centre of the altar.
The chief acolyte now comes with the incense and presents it to the primate who proceeds to bless the incense. The incense is then placed within the thurible and the archbishop proceeds to incense the bread and wine, the cross and the top (mensa) of altar itself -- with the rest of the altar being incensed around its circumference by the Canon-Deacon using the full length of the chain according to the Lyonese rubrics -- and similar to how one sees incensations done in the Eastern liturgical rites. The Canon Deacon then incenses the archbishop and then proceeds to incense the others in the sanctuary according to their rank, once again by means of full chain.

Proximate to all this taking place we can find a rather interesting ceremony, akin of the offering made to the pope by the canons of the Vatican basilica at the conclusion of the solemn papal Mass, whereby the Primate, with the Canon Deacon and Subdeacon to either side holding a  tray, receives an honorarium offering from his canons. Each of the canons come one-by-one before the archbishop, genuflect, kneel before the bishop and kiss his ring, and then give their 'offering' of a coin to the archbishop which is placed on the tray held by the deacon and subdeacon. 

The archbishop now purifies his fingers for the second time and continues the Offertory prayers bringing him to the Preface -- by which time the deacon has completed the incensations and lines up before the altar with the six other induti deacons.  The six priests in their chasubles are by now at the altar, three on each side of the archbishop.

The Sanctus and Canon of the Mass

At this point the archbishop chants the Preface of the Mass, at the conclusion of which the choir begins the Sanctus while the archbishop proceeds to pray the prayers of the Canon of the Mass -- the seven deacons lining up behind him according to their traditional function of "custodes" (guardians) of the bishop. Returning to our note about the use of incense in the primatial cathedral it is at this point that, on great feasts, incense is replenished in the two large standing bowls contained on either side of the altar.

At the "plenu sunt caeli" during the Sanctus, the seven acolytes and six subdeacons form two lines at the foot of the altar near the entrance of the chancel.  Four of the acolytes carry lighted torches while the other three hold their arms crossed before their breasts. These acolytes line up behind the seven induti deacons while the subdeacons line up to either side of the deacons, forming a line of thirteen sacred ministers -- the Canon Subdeacon to this point still being behind the altar with the paten. 

The Canon-Subdeacon now emerges from behind the altar and stands to the right of the altar on the epistle side, still holding the paten in his maniple; all genuflect together toward the altar and kneel in preparation for the consecration.  The Canon-Deacon proceeds up to the altar to kneel on the step near the primate in order to raise his chasuble at the elevations. (It is at this point that fresh incense is once again replenished in the large bowls to either side of the altar for the consecration). 

At the conclusion of the second elevation after the consecration of the bread and the wine, the sacred ministers once again rise and genuflect; the Canon-Subdeacon returns to his position behind the altar. 

Those who were behind the altar in the presbyterium now return there until the time of the Pater Noster, at which point they return to the foot of the altar. Unlike the traditional Roman rite, the archbishop will also pray, out loud, the "Libera nos" in accordance with the Lyonese usage (which is prayed silently in the Roman rite). The paten is now returned to the altar by the Canon-Subdeacon who kisses the archbishop's shoulder. 

At this point in the Lyonese liturgy, instead of offering the "Pax Domini," the bishop will now once again cover the chalice and will give a unique pontifical blessing.

The Pontifical Blessing

This blessing is a remnant of the ancient Gallican liturgy which was retained in the Lyonese rite. There is some speculation that this blessing may have served as a dismissal for the non-communicants at the Mass. There are five prayers that form part of this pontifical blessing, two of which are variable by the feast, each coming with the response "Amen." The Canon-Deacon is given the archbishop's crozier and, turning toward the congregation, holds it aloft with both hands and sings, "Humiltate vos ad benedictionem" (exhorting the blessing be received in humility) to which is responded "Deo gratias." The archbishop then recites the prayers of the blessing while wearing his mitre and at the fourth prayer he is handed the crozier by the deacon and he gives the pontifical blessing wearing the full insignia of his pontifical rank. At the conclusion of this blessing the archbishop then takes the particle of the consecrated Host that he had placed on the paten and chants "Et pax + quia si + semper vobis + cum" making the sign of the cross with the particle three times. 

The blessing having been completed, the archbishop turns back to the altar.

The Agnus Dei, Pax and Communion

At this point of the rite, the choir begins to sing the Agnus Dei -- the first two versicles of which are sung on their knees; at the third and final versicle, they rise and stand. Between the first and second versicles is sung the "Venite, populi." It is perhaps worth noting that in the Lyonese for of the liturgy, there is no striking of the breast as in the Roman rite at the Agnus Dei.  The portion of the Host that had been broken off is now dropped into the chalice to intermingle it with the Precious Blood similar to in the Roman rite. 

At the conclusion of these prayers the archbishop is presented with the Pax tablet (also called the pax instrument or pax brede) by the Canon-Deacon, which he kisses as a means of passing the sign of peace. The deacon then kisses it in turn and places it back upon the altar.  This is, in fact, the only time the kiss of peace is exchanged in the Lyonese rite - in the presence of the primate; otherwise it is excluded.

The "Domine non sum dignus" (Lord, I am not worthy) is now recited and communion made by the archbishop. At this point those officiants who are not priests, but who are to take communion, join the line of the deacons before the altar, forming a semi-circle around the altar in preparation to receive communion.  Together they genuflect and kneel around the balustrade surrounding the altar and a great communion cloth is spread out before them while they receive the Confiteor.  

Communion is then distributed to them by the Archbishop -- offering each communicant his ring to kiss prior to reception of the Sacrament.  Following the Archbishop is a chaplain who carries a chalice which is in turn offered to each communicant. This is not a case of communion under both kinds it should be noted, but in point of fact is unconsecrated wine which is offered as a form of ablution or purification of the mouth following reception of the Blessed Sacrament. Each of the sacred ministers communicating take a sip and are offered a purificator to wipe their lips with. 

The following image shows the Communion cloth; it is shown in the pre-1936 sanctuary arrangement went the balustrade around the altar had not yet been re-installed.

At the conclusion of the distribution of communion, if there are consecrated hosts remaining the Dean, wearing cope and humeral veil, comes to the altar to receive the ciborium from the archbishop. The archbishop solemnly kneels in reverence to the Sacrament and hands the ciborium to the Dean who, accompanied by a server who carries the ombrellino, four servers with lighted torches, priests vested in chasubles, other clerics in copes and the mace-bearer, process to the altar of the Blessed Sacrament to deposit them into the tabernacle. 

The ablutions are completed by the archbishop at the altar while the choir sings the Communion antiphon. During the ablutions he offers the chalice, covered with paten, in horizontal/lateral motion, first to the deacon on his one side and then to the subdeacon on the other; both respectively kiss the knob on the chalice.  The purified vessels are then returned to the altar of St. Speratus behind the high altar by the Canon-Subdeacon. 


The sacred ministers having returned in procession from the tabernacle at the altar of the Blessed Sacrament and the archbishop having now returned to his episcopal throne, the post-communion prayers are now recited.  The Canon Deacon of the Mass now sings the "Ite Missa est." 

In some instances there may be a papal blessing and indulgence announced (done on Easter Sunday and one other solemn day of the liturgical year of the archbishop's choosing); if that is done, it is offered at this point of the liturgy, but otherwise the liturgy proceeds to the recitation of the Last Gospel while the various ranks of clergy being to process out as part of the recessional. 

* * *

As there is no where else to include this, but wishing to give our readers full advantage of these rare video excerpts, we conclude with some random scenes taken at the primatial throne.

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