Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day



No midnight Mass. But we did get to the wonderful "Third Christmas Mass - in Daylight" (the Puer natus est nobis Mass)celebrated in the ancient Roman Rite at Santa Teresita Chapel.

For Christmas, something from the Blessed Ildefonse Cardinal Schuster's Liber Sacramentorum on this "Third Mass" and Christmas Day in the Rome of long ago:

Up to the time of Gregory VII (1073-85) the third Christmas station was held, as was usual in Rome on very solemn days, at St Peter's, as if to keep Christmas as a family feast around the mensa Petri - the table of the common father and shepherd. The shortness of the winter days, however, and the difficulty of going in procession to the Vatican in those troublous times when the Pope was actually torn from the altar ad præsepe at the midnight Mass, and was dragged off as the prisoner of a hostile faction, caused the Liberian Basilica to be preferred as being nearer to the Lateran, the more so as during the eleventh century St Peter's several times fell into the hands of schismatics and their anti-popes.

This custom, which was first made necessary by the difficulties of the times, ended by becoming permanent, and the station at St Mary Major was substituted for that at St Peter's , with this difference, however, that whereas the midnight Mass was celebrated in the oratory ad præsepe, which could accommodate only a limited number of persons, the third Mass took place in the vast aula of Sicininus, which had been restored by Liberius (352-66) and Sixtus III (432-40).

When the Pontiff entered the church – so the ancient Ordines Romani describe the ceremony – the cubicularii received him under a kind of baldachino, and the Pope, holding a taper affixed to the end of a rod, set the two alight which had been entwined in the capitals of the pillars.

This rite, which at the present day [i.e., early 20th century] takes place only on the occasion of the consecration of the Sovereign Pontiff, typified festive joy, as well as providing a figura finis mundi per ignem, but this secondary and symbolical meaning was not attached to it until much later. In more recent times the primitive meaning has undergone yet another modification. As the Pontiff, in all his glory, approaches the altar of St Peter in order to put on the triple crown, a master of ceremonies displays the burning tow before him, saying : Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi. The lesson is a deep one, but the Humanists of the Renaissance, to whom we owe it, did not seem in the least to comprehend the unsuitableness of reciting it before the Head of the Faith just as he was in the act of taking possession of the papal throne.

When the procession reached the presbyterium, the primicerius, having removed the Pope's mitre, kissed him on the shoulder, and the Pope, in his turn, having kissed the Codex of the Gospels, exchanged the Kiss of Peace with the senior cardinal-bishop, and surrounded by his seven deacons, began the liturgical action.

After the Collect, the lesser clergy, under the direction of the archdeacon, sang a series of acclamations in the form of a litany — as is always customary at the coronation of a Pope — in honour of the Pontiff, who repaid this compliment by presenting each of them with three pieces of silver. At the Offertory seven other ecclesiastics — bishops and cardinal-priests — went up to the altar and celebrated with the Pope; in fact, this rite of the eucharistic concelebration at a solemn papal Mass was maintained in Rome for a very long time.

At the conclusion of the holy sacrifice the Pontiff was crowned by the archdeacon with the regnum — the second and third crowns were added during the period of the papal exile at Avignon — and the splendid cortege set out on horseback to return to the Lateran, where they dined. Before getting off their horses the cardinals drew up in order in front of the little Basilica of Zacharias, where — like the Polichronion of the Byzantine Court at the Christmas festival — the archpriest of St Lawrence similarly intoned : Summo et egregio ac ter beatissimo papae N. vita. His fellow-priests answered three times : Deus conservet eum. Salvator mundi, or Sancta Maria, omnes sancti, replied the archpriest, and at each invocation the others answered in chorus : Tu ilium adjuva. The Pope gave thanks for these good wishes and distributed three pieces of silver money to each of the cardinals. The judges then came forward, and the primicerius intoned Hunc diem, upon which the rest repeatedly exclaimed: Multos annos. The archpriest then continued, Tempora bona habeas, and the others sang in conclusion : Tempora bona habeamus omnes.

Then at last the Pope dismounted, and, having entered one of the halls, made the customary distribution of money to his attendants, following, in so doing, an ancient tradition of the Caesars. It is very interesting to note how the papal court of the Middle Ages preserved so many traditions of the imperial era of Rome and Byzantium. In addition to the customary gratuities received by all alike, twenty pieces of money went to the Prefect of the city, four to the judges and to the bishops, three to the cardinal-priests and deacons, and two to the lesser clergy and to the singers. When everyone present had been gladdened by this largess, they sat down to the banquet which was spread in the great triclinium of Leo III (795-816), the mosaic apse of which is still to be seen on the piazza of the Lateran in a building of later date, completed in the time of Benedict XIV (1740-56). Near the Pope at table there sat — in their sacred vestments — on the right the cardinal-bishops and priests, on the left the archdeacon and the primicerius with the high officials of the Court. In the middle of the hall stood the lectern with the book of homilies, from which, halfway through the banquet, a deacon read a passage from one of the Fathers. The reading did not last long; the Pope sent an acolyte to invite the schola to perform some sequences from their collection in commemoration of Christmas, from which we learn the position allotted in Rome to the sequence as being a devout and popular but extra-liturgical chant. After the singers had given proof of their musical skill, they were admitted to kiss the Pope's foot, while he graciously offered to each one a cup of wine and a piece of money (bezant). What poetry lay in these ancient ceremonies of papal Rome, and, above all, what an influence the sacred Liturgy exercised over the whole religious life of the people !