Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Low Mass Culture Strikes Back!

Today's Saint consecrates his successor in the Sistine Chapel
on the last Sunday of Advent, 1907.
The seminarian with the Institute of the Good Shepard who runs the blog Ceremoniale Romanum has posted images (here and here) of Papal consecration of new bishops. The Rad Trad initially assumed such an event as an episcopal consecration would naturally take place in the context of a solemn Papal Mass. The doubling of the readings, the acts of obeisance to the Pope, and the move to the throne for Holy Communion would prolong the already lengthy ceremony, but not by more than 20 minutes. Indeed, in the photos the consecrating Pontiffs were solemnly vested, with gloves fanon, pallium, tunicle, dalmatic, and mitre; he was clearly using a Papal throne. And yet, as the Rad Trad read the rubrics cited by Abbé Krzych he was somewhat surprised to learn that all of these Masses were low Masses. You read that correctly. The formal standard of episcopal consecration by the Supreme Bishop of the Catholic Church was a spoken Mass. In retrospect how could I not have seen it? There were no deacons or assisting priests, only chaplains for the mitre and pastoral staff (this, opening the Holy Doors, and convening Councils were about the only occasions when the Pope made use of a staff). Moreover there was the low Mass culture that surrounded the days when these Papal ceremonies became formalized.

Although the prayers of the 1968 text for episcopal consecration do not approach the older ones in depth or beauty, one cannot help but wonder if Benedict XVI's episcopal consecrations this past Epiphany represent a better liturgical approach to such an event: the Mass was a public liturgy in St. Peter's, full Papal ceremonies were used (as they now exist), most everything was sung, and orientation of the whole thing was more communal and less Curial (by this I mean that elevation to the episcopacy is done for the Church's benefit, not as an internal promotion). One wonders what solemn consecrations in the old rite by the Pope were like before the above low Mass took root.

To date the Rad Trad has not been able to find very much useful information on the matter, but he would be interested in learning about the ceremony of consecrating the Bishop of Rome. The last person to be elected Pope who was not a bishop already was Gregory XVI, a monk and priest. From the most ancient days until the early second millennium the person elected Pope was usually a deacon or priest of the diocese of Rome. Many political disputes arose when those appointed to consecrate the Pope-elect, normally the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, refused to do so. Until the Reformation era, and there were still exceptions after the Reformation, there was no guarantee a given cardinal was a bishop. So what ceremonies were carried out in consecrating a Pope? How was he enthroned? Did he sit to the side like a regular bishop-elect or did he get a place of honor? Was there a unique act of obeisance afterward? How was the concelebration done? Did the coronation follow this Mass (it certainly did in the Middle Ages) or was it the separate votive Mass that survived until 1978? Question, questions, questions.


  1. This almost as shocking as when I had first learned that + della Chiesa (who would become Benedict XV)was made a cardinal not three months before St. Pius X's death. Talk about fast-track promotions!

    At least the 1988 SSPX consecrations were performed with full ceremonial...according to the rite of Econe, of course!

    1. I'd say della Chiesa, like Montini, knew long before he was made a cardinal what his eventual place would be.

      Were the 1988 consecrations done with any variations from 1962? The Confiteor at Communion is actually prescribed in 1962 for episcopal Masses (John XXIII left that end loose) and they did not have the chance to do one of their pontifical Missae Cantatae!

  2. I'm not sure if or to what extent any deviations from 1962 occurred at the Econe consecrations as my only knowledge of the ceremony is from the excerpts posted on YouTube. I suspect there's a full-length video of it somewhere, probably in French?

    My own parish, thanks to visiting FSSP clergy, now employs the diaconal sung Confiteor before Communion at Solemn Masses, but otherwise there is no second (or third) Confiteor in our 1962 village.

    1. Though an isolated event, we had a sung Confiteor before Communion at my daughter's baptismal Sung Mass.

  3. If the Pontiff-Elect was not yet bishop (or even not yet cleric), he was ordained to all necessary orders by one of the Cardinal-bishops before the day of Coronation. The Pontiff-Elect was assisted by the Cardinals in the vestments pertaining to the time and their grade in the Cardinalitial hierarchy.

    Cf. Piccolomini, Sacrarum Caeremoniarum ... libri tres.

    1. Protasi,

      What a wonderful resource. I will scour through it. My question as to how things were done had more to do with what the consecration of a Pope might look like in terms of ceremony (does the Pope take the standard place and the second concelebrant, does he sit off to the epistle side etc). I asked because before the baroque era, when those prescriptions in the resource you provided above came into being, the episcopal consecration and the coronation were done in the same liturgical function.

      Thank you again!