Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Catholic Festival in Peking, 11 June 1772

From a letter from the Rev. Father Cibot, SJ., concerning the festivities held on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Peking, 1772:

"At present, I know three Princes and several Mandarins in the Congregation [of Musicians], as well as many poor Neophytes who devote time they can ill afford to singing the praises of God.

"At about two o'clock in the afternoon on the Thursday of the Octave of the Blessed Sacrament, having said their prayer in the Chapel, the Missionaries come and sit in the tent [I am a loss to explain what is meant by this, whether it is a mistranslated French ecclesiastical idiom or an actual tent] when they listen to the rehearsal of the motets, canticles and various instrumental pieces... There are young singers ten or twelve years old, who show just as much devotion as the most fervent of the Novices. It is they who throw flowers before the Blessed Sacrament.

"At four o'clock, the first high mass is held, with music and symphonie. A motet accompanies the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; the symphonie that is inside the tent fills the intervals in the masses; the one that is inside the Chapel also plays a particular role in each mass. The Musicians, dressed in surplices, form two lines kneeling below the [altar]. When the Masses are over, prayers are solemnly sung; at that moment the tent is as full as the Chapel. After the prayers comes the Sermon, followed by the third High Mass. I forgot to mention that a second one was sung about six o'clock. It does not begin immediately, but there is first a pause to enable everyone to prepare to listen to it and to allow the musicians to have a cup of tea [!]. [...] This final mass lasts an hour and a half and ends with the blessing of the Sacrament, which is prededed by an amende-honorable [presumably expiatory prayers of some sort] and much shedding of tears. The Blessed Sacrament is then carried in procession. The order followed in the Procession is as follows:

"After the Cross come four young singers in long robes of purple silk, wearing ceremonial caps. They are followed by the musicians in secular dress,s then the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with the musicians dressed in surplices and four choir-boys wearing albs with silken belts of different colors, ribbons and golden fringes.

"The two choruses sing continuously and without any confusion, and their repeats act as a signal for the flower boys and thurifers.

"When the Cross enters the church, the drums and other instruments begin to play and they go on playing until the Most Blessed Sacrament is on the altar. This third group of musicians stands before the rood screen [!] which separates the nave from the chancel."

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: