Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Palm Sunday Procession in the Missal of St Pius V

This article is the fourth in an ongoing series about the theology of the various forms of the rites of Palm Sunday. The previous articles covered the blessing of the Palms (part 1, part 2, part 3.) The next article will cover the procession in the reforms of 1955 and 1969, followed by the discussion of the Mass.

In the Roman liturgical tradition, a procession before Mass is always a penitential act, whether it is accompanied by a blessing, as on Candlemas and Palm Sunday, or not, as on the Rogation days. This understanding of the nature of processions goes back to the institution of the oldest among those which later become a fixed feature of the liturgical year, which we now call the Lesser Litanies or Rogations. In the later 5th century, when the city of Vienne in Gaul was afflicted by a series of disasters, the bishop St Mamertus declared a special series of prayers and processions to beg for God’s mercy. The Major Litanies, so-called because they were instituted in Rome itself by no less a figure than St Gregory the Great, were established about 120 years later in response to a plague, and likewise accompanied by a great procession of all of the orders of society.

The Procession of St Gregory the Great, by an anonymous Sienese painter of the mid-16th century. The traditional story recounts that when the seven parts of the procession converged at the bridge in front of the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which is fairly close to St Peter’s Basilica, an angel appeared over it with a drawn sword in his hand, which he then sheathed, symbolizing the end of the plague as in 2 Samuel 24.
This is why the blessing and procession of Candlemas, and the processions and Mass of the Rogations, are all done in violet, the color of penitential seasons, even though the Mass of the former and the season of the latter are celebrated in white. Likewise, the Palm Sunday procession uses the normal color of Lent and Passiontide, violet; the deacon and subdeacon wear folded chasubles, which are only used in penitential seasons.

It is true, of course, that the Corpus Christi procession is celebrated in white, and that its character is celebratory, and not penitential. In this case, however, not only is the procession done after the Mass, and thus, in a certain sense, as an extension of it; it also has no proper liturgical texts attached to it [10], and is not even mentioned in the Missal. It is obligatory, and therefore part of the liturgical year, as a matter of custom and tradition, but not as a matter of universal liturgical law, and therefore does not rank among those officially appointed by the Church specifically to ask for God’s mercy. The same holds true of the processions traditionally held in honor of the Saints on their feast days.

In the Missal of St Pius V, the Palm Sunday procession is celebrated with characteristically Roman simplicity. After the Palms have been blessed and distributed, and the concluding prayer has been said, the procession forms in the customary order, led by the clergy, with the faithful following after the celebrant. The subdeacon walks at the head, carrying a processional cross, which is veiled like all of the crosses in Passiontide. The rubrics of the Missal presume that the route goes outside the church and returns to it, but it was also common to bless the palms in one church, and process to another, where the Mass was held. Six antiphons, the first two of which are much longer than the others, are assigned to be sung along the way.

From our fourth Palm Sunday photopost of last year, the procession of the FSSP’s apostolate in Guadalajara, Mexico, based at the church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
On arriving at the doors of the church, the clergy and faithful stand before them, while two cantors enter and close them over. From within, these cantors sing first the refrain of the hymn Gloria, laus et honor, which those standing outside repeat, and then the verses, after each of which, those who are standing outside repeat the refrain. When the hymn is done, the subdeacon knocks on the doors with the staff of the processional cross; the two cantors open them at once, and everyone enters the church, while the responsory Ingrediente Domino is sung. When the major ministers have entered the sanctuary, the priest removes his cope, and puts on the chasuble; the Mass then begins.

From the third post, the station at the door of Old St Patrick Oratory, the Institute of Christ’s church in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Missal of St Pius V derives from the specific historical use of the Roman Rite observed by the Papal Curia in Rome. As a liturgical tradition created for a group of very busy people, it is generally shorter and simpler than the Uses of the great cathedrals and abbeys. To give just a small example, it is the only Use in which the Te Deum is said in place of, rather than after, the ninth responsory at Matins. This is also why it often does not contain elaborations of the liturgy which were otherwise omnipresent in the Middle Ages, such as the singing of the genealogies of Christ at Matins of Christmas and Epiphany. And likewise, its version of the Palm Sunday procession, which involves only the procession and the station at the doors of the church, is extremely simple.

For the sake of comparison, here is a very bare outline of the procession as it was done at Sarum, an example which I choose simply because the rubrics in Sarum liturgical books (in the case, the Missal and Processional) are far more complete than those of many other churches. (These rubrics also tend to be very repetitive, and a simple translation of them would make for a tedious read and convey none of the ceremony’s splendor.)

Folio 49v of a Sarum Processional printed at Antwerp in 1545, an illustration showing the “station when the branches are blessed on Palm Sunday.” This image and others like it, either the originals or the reproductions in WG Henderson’s 1882 study edition, seem to have been the inspiration for Fr Fortescue’s illustrations in his Ceremonies of the Roman Rite. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Réserve des livres rares, B-1852)
After the distribution of the Palms, the procession was formed, including a lantern, a processional cross with no corpus, and two banners; the celebrant wore a red silk cope. From the high altar, it went out the west door and through the cloister, to the far end of one of the church’s cemeteries, where, as in all medieval cemeteries, there stood a large cross; several antiphons are assigned to be sung along the route. Here it was met by a bier, carried from the church by a different route, which contained both the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx and various relics. [11] At the cross, the deacon sang a Gospel, Matthew 21, 1-9, with the usual ceremonies of Mass. (The Gospel at the blessing is John, 12, 12-19.

A series of antiphons are then sung according to a very complex arrangement, alternating between a group of three cantors who stand before the cross, the choir, the senior member of which intones them, and a boy chorister “dressed like a prophet” who sings verses described as “prophetic readings” between them. At several points, the clergy and choir kneel and kiss the ground. The procession then moves, accompanied by more antiphons and a responsory, to a second station on the south side of the church, where the Gloria, laus et honor is sung in alternation between a group of seven boy choristers and the main choir. While the first part of a responsory is sung, the procession moves through the cloister to a third station at the door of the church, where three cantors sing the verse and repetition of the responsory.

The bier with the Sacrament and relics is then lifted up at the door, and the procession passes under it as it enters the church, singing the responsory Ingrediente Domino. The fourth station is then done before the Cross on the rood screen, which was previously unveiled for this ceremony. The head of the choir intones the word “Ave”, the choir continues “Rex noster”, and all kneel and kiss the ground. This is done three times, with the voice raised each time, much as the voice is raised at the Ecce lignum Crucis on Good Friday and the return of the Alleluja at the Easter vigil. The choir then completes the antiphon: “(Hail, our king), son of David, Redeemer of the world, whom the prophets foretold would come as the Savior of the house of Israel. For the Father sent Thee into the world as a saving victim, whom all the Saints awaited from the beginning of the world, as do they now. Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.”

The ritual of the Ave, Rex noster in the Use of Braga: the first words are repeated three times and three genuflections are made while the celebrant scatters leaves of blessed olive. Celebrated at the church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Providence, Rhode Island, as explained in this post from 2018.
As one of responsories of Matins is sung, they enter the choir, and all the crosses in the church are uncovered until after Vespers. A versicle and respond are sung, followed by a prayer, the same as the Collect of the Mass, which begins immediately.

Rituals like this are attested in many different versions in medieval liturgical books, but regardless of their countless variations, they all have in common one or more stations, at which the procession halts and some ritual action is performed, accompanied by specifically chosen liturgical texts, whether antiphons or hymns.

Notes (continuing the numeration from the previous articles): 
[10] By “proper” I mean texts which are specific to the procession, and only to the procession, like the antiphons of Palm Sunday. The Roman Ritual does give a series of hymns for the Corpus Christi procession, namely, the three of the feast’s Office, the two of the Office of the Ascension, plus the Te Deum, Benedictus and Magnificat. It is significant that the Ritual does not mention the common custom of stopping and holding Benediction at one or more stations along the way.

[11] The idea of this was that the bier carrying the Body of Christ and the relics represented Christ and the Apostles coming from Bethany, while the main procession of the choir represented the crowd; they meet outside the church, which represents Jerusalem, and enter it together. (Nigel Davison, “So which way round did they go? The Palm Sunday Procession at Salisbury.” Music and Letters, vol. 61, no. 1, p. 2) After Trent, it was forbidden to have the Blessed Sacrament exposed or in procession with relics, lest it appear that the Church regards it as a relic.

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