Wednesday, March 15, 2017
All Lined Up
I present you with a speculative question: when and how did the unitary movement of the three senior ministers at solemn Mass come about in the Latin Church? It is so fundamentally a part of the physical vocabulary of the Latin Church's liturgy that by the time of Trent it was done in seemingly every Western rite descended from the Church of Rome, hence excluding the Milanese and Toledoan rites.
My own guess is that it came in two stages: first with the principle of a singular celebrant for each Mass and second with the increase of reverences paid to the altar.
Why did the number of ministers and celebrants become reduced? Requiem Masses, private votive Masses, and additional Masses for the day had much to do with it. Outside of a few major feasts (Christmas, potentially Pascha, Nativity of St. John the Forerunner etc) it was very uncommon for a priest to celebrate more than once a day. The rise of unique Requiem Masses for deceased monks and votive Masses in honor of Saints gave monastic celebrants the option between a private Mass for a specific intentional and the communal Mass, which would be celebrated regardless. As the number of celebrants declined to one so the number of deacons, subdeacons, and acolytes declined to one each. As late as the age of Innocent III the Cardinal-Priests still concelebrated with the Pope on special feasts (then again the primitive Office was still used in St. Peter's and the Lateran, and the primitive Mass on the feast of St. Peter's Chair; the Pope may be referencing these usages and not the curial books popularized by the Minorites). While archaeological evidence remained at Papal Mass, Lyon, and Salisbury of additional ministers in the form of honorary attendees, the older number of active ministers clearly declined by the end of the High Middle Ages. There was one of each minister assigned, as they were in ancient times, to a step from the altar according to each minister's dignity.
This brings us to the second phase in the development of the concurrent movements of the ministers: the increased reverenced paid to the altar. With the single ministers aligned step by step they began to move in unison with the celebrant, who would reverence the altar before greeting the people with Dominus vobiscum. This happened with greater or lesser frequency depending on place. Sarum made a few reverences to the altar and the Dominus vobiscum before the orations happened from the corner where the Missal rested. In Rome the celebrant would move to the center of the altar, kiss it, and return to the Missal for the Collects and post-Communions, so the ministers moved with him.
If done without fuss the movements of the ministers rightly reflects the sacred order of the heavenly hosts, the choirs of angels and the saints in their place before the even high Lord of All. If overdone, these movements can appear comical, which was the impression a friend's mother (JP2 type) received after her first "old" Mass. "I like it when they nod their heads together."
I welcome any further insights on the development of these very Roman movements.