Monday, September 21, 2020

A Look Back on the Festival of Saint Louis

Early in the summer, St. Louis, Missouri, was the site of crowds threatening to vandalize or eliminate the great statue of the saintly king in Forest Park. Catholics quickly organized and rallied to the defense of their city’s patron, gathering daily all summer to pray the Rosary around the statue. But something special had to be done on his feast day, August 25th, this year above all, and that is what the following article is about. We are grateful to Anna Kalinowski for submitting the text, photos, and videos to NLM. May this inspire many other Catholics around the world to plan similar days around patron saints.

Apotheosis of St. Louis in Forest Park

Catholics of Saint Louis and others from far abroad gathered this year in the Rome of the West to celebrate in a spectacular way the feast of their patron, King St. Louis IX. The festival of Saint Louis witnessed hundreds of Catholics gathering to offer praise on the 750th anniversary of the Crusader King’s death and birth into heaven, with many of the ancient liturgical uses he would have recognized.

In June 2020, amid widespread riots and the destruction of historical monuments all over the country, a few voices shouted for the removal of the iconic statue of St. Louis in Forest Park, which, until the construction of the St. Louis Arch, was universally considered the symbol of the city. A group of Catholics in St. Louis immediately responded by planning peaceful prayer in support of the statue, reciting the rosary there for the first time on June 21st. This nightly rosary continued, rain or shine, and praying Catholics were openly harassed by disgruntled rioters. It wasn’t long, however, before the rioters lost interest. The Catholics, on the other hand, had only just begun. The rosary continued night after night, storming heaven for the preservation of the statue and for peace and unity in the city. As it became clear that the campaign of prayer had succeeded, the St. Louis Forever Rosary Coalition began to plan with other Catholic groups to bring the nightly rosary to a close with a magnificent Catholic festival in honor of the city’s patron.

The celebrations began officially with solemn First Vespers of St. Louis on the evening of Monday, August 24th, followed by adoration and Benediction. After a night of celebrating, many rose early on August 25th to take part in full sung Matins and Lauds at 5 a.m. The proper chants for Vespers, the hymn at Lauds, and the propers of the Mass were taken from a manuscript of an Office composed just after St Louis’s canonization in 1297 for use at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It was, for many years, the most widely celebrated Office for St. Louis. The last time this formulary was estimated to have been chanted before its transcription for the celebration this year was perhaps in the 14th or 15th century, although some parts have been in use in Paris. *

Manuscript for the proper chants of the feast of St. Louis, King of France: “glory of all kings who reign.

The Feast begins! Benediction just after First Vespers.

Blessed image of St. Louis receiving Holy Communion while wearing the humble robe of a friar. This was displayed for Matins and Lauds, which took place at Epiphany Catholic Church.

Our Lady shared her altar with King Louis for his Feast day at St. Luke’s Catholic Church, the location of most of the liturgies.

Solemn Mass was celebrated at midday, complete with its glorious proper sequence, Parisian chant, and polyphony. The fact that Mass took place in the middle of a week day did not stop hundreds of people from making the effort to attend – taking off work, requesting absences from school, and so forth. In fact, a petition, which can be signed here, is being mounted to make this day a municipal holiday in the city.

Solemn Mass in honor of St. Louis IX, King and Confessor.

A few hours after Mass, Second Vespers was sung as even more Catholics gathered to worship our Lord in Adoration. After Benediction, the church became the staging point for a massive two-mile procession from the church to the statue of St. Louis in Forest Park. The procession was accompanied by banners, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, a relic of St. Louis, and a large number of lay faithful, marching through sweltering heat as St. Louis himself would have done on Crusade.

Around 300 faithful adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament before setting out on a procession through the streets of St. Louis.

The procession begins. The faithful are overjoyed to follow Our Lady and ...

...a Relic of St. Louis, King of France.

The procession sings Le Roi Louis, a traditional French ballad in honor of the Crusader King.

Christus Vincit!

The final stretch leading up to the statue of St. Louis in Forest Park. Yes, the golfers were astounded.

We couldn’t resist singing Non Nobis at this point.

Rose Petals fly through the air to pave the path of Our Lady and the King.
Lest the readers be scandalized, this was not liturgical dance--just a very zealous flower girl.

A fifteen-decade Rosary

One valiant altar boy supported the statue of Our Lady, keeping her steady and safe for all fifteen decades!

The procession met up with more Catholics at the statue for a fifteen-decade Rosary, which concluded with a delicious feast thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. One participant in the day said that it was “one unending fête.” Truly, as Joseph Pieper says, leisure is the basis of culture. Another who observed the day’s events said that he had trouble thinking of any non-monastic celebration of a patronal feast that was so complete in living memory.

The people of St. Louis continue to beseech their patron’s intercession and are planning an even bigger celebration next year. You are invited!

Footage of full procession and Rosary

* Our particular thanks to Dr. Cecilia Gaposchkin of Dartmouth for the use of the transcriptions and translations in Blessed Louis: the most glorious of kings, and to Henri Adam de Villiers of Schola Sainte-Cecile in Paris for the transcription of the Sequence of the Mass.

Photo Credit: Heartfelt thanks to Kiera Petrick for her stunning work as the official photographer of the Oratory of Ss. Gregory and Augustine.

Video Credit: Heartfelt thanks to Alex Davidson who walked backwards for most of the procession and put a lot of time and effort into getting and editing some great footage!

No fewer than 400 roses used for petals in the procession. Because if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing extravagantly!

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