Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Ceremonies of the Passion: Guest Article by Fr William Rock, FSSP (Part 1)

As we look forward to Holy Week, we are grateful to Fr William Rock, a priest of the Fraternity of St Peter, for sharing with us this article detailing the customs that govern the singing of the Passion. Fr Rock was ordained in the fall of 2019, and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, Texas. He thanks his confreres Frs James Smith and Seth Phipps for their contributions to this article.

There is a great variety of rules and customs about how the Passion is to be sung at the Masses of Palm Sunday (St Matthew), Holy Tuesday (St Mark), Spy Wednesday (St Luke) and Good Friday (St John). This explanation of them will start with the account given in Sacrae Liturgiae Praxis juxta Ritum Romanum by Jean Baptiste de Herdt, censor of the Roman Sacred Liturgy Academy. In ninth edition (1894), de Herdt gives the following options for the celebration of the Passion (III, 27):
  1. The Passion is sung by three deacons or priests who are not the sacred ministers of the Mass.
  2. The deacon and subdeacon of the Mass, even if the subdeacon is not ordained as a deacon, are able to sing the Passion together with the celebrant, as the authorities judge (uti auctores consentiunt; here he references the ceremonialist C.M. Merati, d. 1744), as the practice of many churches hold, and as the next point argues.
  3. The celebrant, when unaided by other ministers, is able to sing the Passion with two others. Here he references a decree from the Sacred Congregation of Rites (S.R.C.) from 10 January 1852 (n. 5166, 2 [1]). According to de Herdt, these two others need to be at least minor clerics, that is tonsured, who would be vested in surplice.
  4. In minor churches, the celebrant reads, the Passion, rather than singing it, and then the deacon of the Mass sings the Gospel.
From our second Palm Sunday photopost of last year, the singing of the Passion during the Mass celebrated by the FSSP apostolate in Guadalajara, Mexico.
To understand this last point, an explanation of how the ceremony would be carried out according to the first option is useful. The three deacons or priests of the Passion, facing north, chant the Passion from their positions on the north side of the sanctuary with each singing one of the assigned parts: that of Christ, that of the Narrator, and that of the Synagogue. The celebrant, meanwhile, reads the Passion account silently at the Epistle corner, accompanied by the deacon and subdeacon standing as they would at the Introit. Once the celebrant has completed this doubling, the ministers of the Mass, remaining at the Epistle corner, turn north to face those singing the Passion.
Once the Passion is completed and those singing it have departed, the celebrant, accompanied by the subdeacon, prays the Munda cor and Jube, Domine in the center of the Altar, then reads to himself the text as indicated (Matt. 27, 62-66; Mark 15, 42-46; Luke 23, 50-53; John 19, 38-42) at the Gospel corner, while the deacon of the Mass prepares for the Gospel. Then, with more or less the usual ceremony, depending on the day, the deacon chants the conclusion of the Passion, which constitutes the Gospel of the Mass. Returning to the fourth point, in minor churches where the Passion is not sung, the celebrant reads the Passion from the Gospel corner and, after praying the Munda cor and Jube, Domine at the center of the altar, reads to himself the concluding text. Then the deacon would chants that same text indicated as the Gospel of the day. It should be noted that in all of these, the option for a singer to do multiple parts is not given.
From our first Good Friday photopost of last year: the Passion sung with the celebrant of the Mass taking the part of Christ, at the church of the Most Holy Sacrament in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Fábio Azenha)
Earlier, but in much the same vein, the 1887 ceremonial manual of Innocenz Wapelhorst, a liturgy professor, allows the ministers of the Mass to be the singers of the Passion (Compendium Sacrae Liturgiae, 178.6). To support this, he also references Mertai, an earlier version of de Herdt, and a decree of the S.R.C. from 12 March 1836 which allows the celebrant of the Mass, on account of a lack of singers of the Passion, to sing part of the Passion from the Gospel corner (n. 2740, ad 2). Although it does not explicitly state that the deacon and subdeacon can also sing the Passion (the question proposed only concerns the celebrant), this is clear ecclesiastical approbation for the celebrant to serve as one of the singers of the Passion. Referencing the same 1852 S.R.C. decree as de Herdt, he explains that the celebrant, if not assisted by a deacon and subdeacon, can be assisted by two other singers who must be at least tonsured clerics (Wapelhorst, 178.2). He does state, however, that it is preferable, but not mandatory. that the singers of the Passion be at least in the order of deacon.
In 1879, Pio Martinucci, Prefect of Pontifical Ceremonies, in his explanation of Palm Sunday, states the following regarding those singing the Passion (Manuale Sacrarum Caeremoniarum, II, 22, 90):
These cantors should at least be deacons: this action may not be supplied by minor clerics, since singing the Gospel belongs to a deacon. They should be entirely different people from the celebrant and ministers of the altar, even if each minister is a deacon and priest, since the celebrant cannot at the same time fulfil the role of a deacon and the celebrant; the deacon should be serving the celebrant; the subdeacon cannot at the same time fulfil the office of both a deacon and a subdeacon.
It is curious that Martinucci takes such a hard stance regarding both minor clerics and the ministers of the Mass singing the Passion as there seems to be an established custom behind these practices, as well as decisions of the S.R.C. which were decades old at the time of his writing. The three named authors, however, all agree that three are needed for the Passion to be sung. If Martinucci is followed, then, in cases where these three singers distinct from the ministers of the Mass are lacking, the celebrant would read the Passion and the deacon would chant the Gospel as explained above. This course of action, of the celebrant reading a text if the proper minister(s) are not present, would not be unique to the singing of the Passions.
For example, if a cleric, who was not a minister of the Mass, was not present to sing the prophecies of the Easter Vigil, the celebrant was to read, not sing, them. From this, a liturgical principle can be ascertained that, if there were not enough ministers to properly fill each role, then the solemnity of that particular part was lessened (e.g. from sung to read). This interruption of the otherwise sung liturgy can serve as an indication that the liturgy is being performed in a defective mode, so to speak. Such a practice would strongly express that the full, solemn ceremony, with all of the proper ministers, is the ideal, and any deviations from that must necessarily be understood as a loss. [2]
From our first Holy Saturday photopost of 2018: a reader sings a prophecy at the Chapelle St Augustin in Lausanne, Switzerland.
A few years later, on 1 February 1895, after both de Herdt and Martinucci, the S.R.C. published the following:
Question: If other ministers are lacking, can the Passion of the Lord be sung by the deacon of the Mass in the Gospel tone with the celebrant singing the part of Christ; or by two deacons of which one is the deacon of the Mass; or (if the subdeacon of the Mass is of the diaconal order) by the two ministers of the Mass? [3] Response: Affirmative.
In this question, the celebrant, who always sings the part of Christ, is assisted either by the deacon of the Mass alone (who sings both the part of the Narrator and of the Synagogue in the Gospel Tone), the deacon of the Mass and another deacon, or the deacon and subdeacon of the Mass, if the subdeacon is at least in the order of Deacon. The position put forward by de Herdt and Wapelhorst, but rejected by Martinucci, is officially permitted by Church authority, at least with regards to the ministers of the Mass singing the Passion. However, when the decrees of the S.R.C. were collected in 1900, this response was not included, and therefore held to be abrogated. The ceremonialist J.F. Van Der Stappen, a Dutch auxiliary Bishop, writing in 1903, states that so long as the decree remains revoked, and three separate deacons of the Passion are unavailable, the celebrant is to read the Passion and the deacon sing the Gospel, while also asserting that the practice of having the ministers of the Mass sing the Passion does not seem altogether forbidden because of previous custom; he also gives a description of the corresponding ceremony (Sacra Liturgia, V - Caeremoniale, 94, II, pp. 251-253).
Van Der Stappen seems to have split the baby in this respect. Further on in his treatment, he references an S.R.C. decree from 16 January 1677 (n. 1588, 8), which itself references the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (the liturgical book which explains ceremonies presided over by a Bishop), forbidding subdeacons and laymen from singing the Passion. The Caeremoniale, then, seems to be the ultimate foundation for the ceremonies under discussion. With a decree of such pedigree, it is a wonder that a later decree, the 10 January 1852 one cited by de Herdt and Wapelhorst, allowed simple clerics to sing the Passion. This decree of 1677 is the furthest this article is able to go into the past. Furthermore, this decree forbids the celebrant to sing the Passion outside of solemn ceremonies. Van Der Stappen also references an S.R.C. decree from 13 June 1899 (n. 4031, ad II et III) which directs that, in a Sung Mass, the celebrant is to read the Passion and then sing the Gospel; he is not to sing the part of Christ with the laity singing the parts of the Narrator and of the Synagogue.
It is worth noting that the principle of lowering the solemnity if all of the proper ministers are not present can be seen in the short-lived 1895 response. If only two were available to sing the Passion, the celebrant could sing the part of Christ with its proper tone, but the one singing the other two parts was to sing them both using the Gospel tone, not to switch between the tone of the Synagogue and the tone of the Narrator. This implies that the ideal of the Passion is that each part is sung by a different singer. But, if this is not possible and the Passion is still to be sung, then, in a non-ideal situation, some of the unique solemnity of the ceremony is lost, as is the case elsewhere.
[1] This follows the old numbering system. The author did not have access to the text of his decree. It seems that this decree was eventually revoked, but it is unknown to the author when this happened, perhaps in the 1900 collection.
[2] Regard ceremonies other than the Passions, and what to do if there is a lack of ministers, there is much greater agreement and continuity among the authorities. For example, regarding the Prophecies of the Easter Vigil:
Matters Liturgical [1956] (504, n): “In the absence of chanters the celebrant shall merely read the Prophecies aloud at the altar; they may not be sung by the deacon and subdeacon.”
Fortescue & O’Connell [1943] (pg. 316): (concerning the Solemn Ceremony): “If there are no clergy to chant the prophecies, the celebrant will read them in a clear voice…”
Wapelhorst [1887] (pg. 322 [208 - De Functione Solemni] note 2) also Wapelhorst [1931] (XIX, V, B, 252, p.376): “Deficientibus lectoribus celebrans eas [the Prophecies] alta voce legit…”; de Herdt [1877] (vol. III 62, pg 92 ): “Si clerici ad cantandas prophetias non habeantur; tunc nec etiam a diacono et subdiacono cantandae videntur; sed sufficit, ut a celebrante alta voce legantur.”
It is worth noting that according to the Memoriale Rituum [1950] (VI, II, §III.3), the celebrant is directed to read the Prophecies from the Epistle corner “nisi, in functione cum cantu,” in which case they are chanted “per clericos” and the celebrant doubles at the Epistle corner. The celebrant, however, is not given the option of chanting the Prophecies himself. This is distinct from other points in the Memoriale Rituum (such as during the Exsultet [VI, III, §II.6]) where the celebrant is given the option of saying or singing the text himself.
[3] An Passio Domini, deficientibus aliis Ministris, cantari possit a Diacono ministrante quoad textum Evangelistae, et a celebrante quoad verba a Christo prolata; vel a duobus diaconis, quorum alter sit ipse diaconus ministrans; vel (si subdiaconus ministrans sit in ordine diaconali) a duobus Missae ministris?

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