Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Station at St Paul

Well, we never got to it did we. The funeral didn't take long at all and they only wanted three tunes but the rest of the day was nibbled to death by a host of inconsequentials and the feast of St Paul ended unblogged.

But the Blessed Cardinal Schuster does indeed say a great deal of interest about the feasts of Ss Peter and Paul. Far too much to put up entire. So here is his text about the Station at St Paul. There were in the ancient church three papal stations for this feast day and the third one in the evening was at the Basilica of St Paul. The good Cardinal does seem especially interested in this station: he was at one time Abbot of the attached monastery.

The Evening Synaxis
Station at St Paul's.

The ancient Roman rite knew nothing—properly speaking —of our modern Vespers, for, apart from the daily psalmodic cursus of the monastic choirs, the festival evening Office in its original conception was only the anticipation or extension of the vigiliary synaxis—an Office, that is, in preparation for the feast.

In Rome, Easter week and the solemnity of the two Princes of the Apostles formed exceptions to this. For the latter feast the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary contains at least eight alternative Collects.

According to the Ordo Romanus XI of Benedict the Canon, the Pope, with all his court, proceeded on the afternoon of June 29 to St Paul's, and after Vespers sat down there to supper with his attendant clergy. As at St Peter's, so also at St Paul's, the vigiliary rite was twofold.

The first Office began immediately after supper. Three psalms having been sung, the monks of the abbey read the first three Lessons from the Acts of the Apostles, which tell of the Conversion of Saul. Between each Lesson the soloists sang a responsorial chant whilst the Pope, assisted by the cardinals, incensed the tomb of the apostle. The fourth and fifth Lessons were read by two bishops, the sixth and seventh by the cardinals, the eighth by a subdeacon, and the ninth by the Pope himself.

During the singing of the fourth responsory the Pope, instead of incensing only the altar, opened the fenestella confessionis with a golden key and went into the empty space, which can still be seen between the tomb of the apostle and the altar.

On the sepulchral slab dating from the time of Constantine the following may be read:

The two square openings which divide the word Paulo were called cateracte by the early Christians, and through these it was customary to insert veils and other objects of devotion which it was desired to bring into contact with the apostolic tomb. One of these two openings is deeper than the other, for it was a favour granted only to persons of distinction to introduce their objects of piety (sanctuaria usque ad secundam cateractam.)

The central aperture, on the other hand, served for the performance of a touching ceremony. Every year on St Paul's day, while the soloist on the ambo sang the melodies of the fourth vigiliary responsory, the Pope, entering, as we have said, into the camera confessionis, withdrew the censer -which had been let down through the hole on to the tomb of the apostle at this same Office in the preceding year, and introduced another also full of burning incense. Benedict the Canon adds that the archdeacon distributed amongst the people the remains of the incense and of the charcoal which had stood for the space of twelve months in such close proximity to the bones of the apostle—hac ratione, ut quicumque febricitans devote in fide Apostoli ex his biberit, sanetur.

The second vigiliary Office began towards daybreak and ended with the solemn Mass which the Pope was to celebrate with all the splendour of the Roman rite, celeberrime, says Benedict the Canon, further adding that the oblations placed by the faithful on the altar of St Paul served to recompense the clergy who had been present at the ceremony. The arch­deacon received the customary eighteen denarii, out of which, however, he had to pay the soloists who sang the responsories; each of the other singers received a coin of the value of four denarii pro beneficio solemnitatis.

Until 1870 a last survival of this great solemnity existed in the cappella papale, which the Pope held each year on June 30 in the Basilica of the Doctor of the Gentiles. The Pontiff first celebrated the holy Sacrifice at the altar of the Confessio, then, when he had taken his seat on the throne, surrounded by his noble court, by the patriarchs and the bishops assisting at the pontifical throne, and by the monks in the choir, the solemn pontifical Mass began, accompanied by the classical music of the Sistine Chapel.

The ceremony being over, the usual frugal refrigerium of Rome followed in the neighbouring monastery—a last memorial of the agape of love—and at this the Pope, the cardinals, the prelates of the court, and the monastic com­munity all took part happily together, much as we have seen it described in the Ordines Romani by Benedict the Canon.

We will reproduce here in honour of the two Princes of the Apostles the simple and touching inscription which the early collectors of epigraphs copied from the gate which in the sixth century was known merely as the gate of St Peter.


Peter, the doorkeeper, has erected his own sanctuary outside
this gate :
Who can now deny that our city with its towers is like
heaven itself?
On the opposite side the sanctuary of St Paul encloses the
Between the two is Rome. Here, then, is God's own seat.