Mass in the Sala Ducale of the Apostolic Palace

The Sala Ducale is one of the grand rooms in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican. It has always been closed to the public, while viewed as being especially suitable for the reception of special groups of pilgrims who visit the Vatican. 

This stately room was occasionally set up for Mass with the Pope, evidenced here during the reign of Pius XII. This was done for small groups, when the Pope would celebrate Low Mass on a permanently set up portable altar on one side of the majestic room. The scene gleamed with a luster of history, mood, and color with golden and crimson highlights reflected by the altar.  

For privileged visitors from across the globe, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity never to be forgotten. During the pontificate of Venerable Pius XII, many groups were admitted here for early morning Mass on various days throughout the year, with the altar surrounded by a dozen priests of the Papal Chapel and members of the Palatine and Swiss Guards. 

An altar set up in the Sala Ducale was not unusual; another similar audience room in the palace also had a similar altar set up, as seen below in the Sala Concistoria.

The Sala Concistoria

In both the Sala Ducale and the Sala Concistoria, Mass was celebrated facing East, as can be confirmed by the map below. Also, the Sala Ducale was attached to the Sala dei Paramenti, the room where the pope would ordinarily put on his sacred vestments for large public liturgies in St. Peter's or the Sistine Chapel. The Pope lived a stone's throw in the attached Palace of Sixtus V. 

The Sala Ducale room happens to be my favorite Renaissance room in the Vatican. I have been privileged to spend time in here on two occasions in my youth; the experience was one of the great thrills of my life. The arms of the room engulf visitors, with an incredible ceiling arch of unparalleled genius. 

The Sala was originally divided into two separate rooms, until both rooms were united by Bernini who cleverly concealed a large arch of gigantic dimensions between the two rooms with a grandiose ceiling in the shape of drapery held up by swirling cherubs, a stunning architectural feat that makes this room a favorite. 

The vault is decorated with images by Raffaeillino da Reggio and Lorenzo Sabatini, with panels by Marco Pino. The walls are decorated with landscapes by Paul Brill. Some of the lunettes and walls have been decorated with more modern frescoes. 

The coat-of-arms on the walls, seen in the above topmost photo are those of Pius IV, a Medici from Milan, who had decorated part of the chapel. His coat-of-arms depict the familiar "coins" of the Medici family, who were bankers in Florence. 

This Pope presided over the final session of the Council of Trent and his nephew was Charles Borromeo, a close advisor. While Pius IV is best remembered as having initiated a number of building projects in Rome, including one to improve the water supply, he also decorated this beautiful room with his good taste. He was pope from 1559-1565. 

The Sala Duale played in important role in solemn papal liturgies. Historically, according to long-established protocol, popes would begin their procession here, in cope and tiara, ascending the sedia gestatoria and processing with the Papal Court to the Vatican Basilica for Solemn Mass. This was a rare occurrence that happened usually only a few times a year, with more liturgies commonly celebrated in the Sistine Chapel. 

All of this sadly came to an end with the changes made to the Papal Chapel (Cappella Pontificia) in early 1968, an annus horribilis, when the Papal Court (Aula Pontificia) was reorganized and renamed the "Papal Household." The document, Pontificalis Domus, still holds today, but will hopefully one day be revisited to restore some (or hopefully all) of these lost customs. 

Ven. Pius XII in the Sala Ducale

Before these reforms in 1968, the Congregation of Ceremonies regulated these traditions of papal liturgy and safeguarded them for future posterity. Although this Congregation was probably the least important congregation in the Curia, it had a small staff and an important role, even though it had nothing to do with the government of the Church. 

Ven. Pius XII in the Sala Ducale, Being Carried to St. Peter's Basilica

Instead, the Congregation had two functions: it regulated ceremonies of the Papal Court and served as a protocol department, also assisting the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See with all matters protocol. The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation was the Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, Eugenio Cardinal Tisserant. 

The Dean held this role of Prefect due to the intricate and specialized nature of this work, obviously being long familiar with the procedural machinery and the ins and outs of the liturgical and state functions of the Vatican. 

Low Mass with Pius XII in the Sala Ducale

The Sala Ducale is positioned behind the Sistine Chapel, across the Sala Regia, the room that adjoins the two. For Mass here with Pius XII, visitors would arrive at the Portone di Bronzo (Bronze Portal) in St. Peter's Square and walk up the Scala Regia (Royal Staircase), built by Bernini under Alexander VII, winding around to the top where they would enter under a very tall entrance the Sala Regia (Royal Hall), the state hall with seven doors. And from here they would proceed to enter the Sala Ducale, an incredible experience that afforded a rare glimpse of the official entrance into the palace as well as a chance to see some immensely important fresco work and decoration in the Vatican that is not ordinarily seen by the public. 

The Sala Ducale under the reign of Pius X, with walls covered in silk

This route was designed as the official pathway for visiting monarchs, heads of state, and other important dignitaries who would walk this way when being received on official visits to meet the popes (this has changed today, where they drive into the courtyard and take an elevator up to the top floor of the palace). The Scala Regina is a sight to behold, owing to a remarkable arrangement of the pillars supporting the vault, which project further from the wall below than above on the staircase -- the effect of a very imposing perspective is therefore gained. 

Ven. Pius XII exiting the Sala Ducale for Solemn Papal Mass

Above is an image of Pius XII leaving the Sala for Soleman Papal High Mass in the Vatican Basilica. Below is a larger image of the topmost image, depicting Papal Low Mass, served by the clergy attendants of the Papal Chapel. 

Papal Low Mass in the Sale Ducale

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