HE OTHER DAY, I mentioned a few Catholics who had a great sense of humor. To this list, I should have added Father Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923). He was one of the leading scholars of his age, and earned three doctorates. (This was so extraordinary, the Holy Roman Emperor came to confer them on Father Fortescue.) But Fortescue also possessed a great sense of humor. He wrote a hilarious commentary on a translation by Father Hilarius Dale, who insisted on using Italian phrases when he translated a book by Giuseppe Baldeschi (Master of ceremonies at the Vatican): 1
For instance, in Dale you do not bow to the celebrant, you “proceed to make the customary salutation”; you do not stand, you “retain a standing posture.” Everyone “observes” to do everything: you “observe” not to kneel, you “observe to retain a kneeling posture.” The Master of Ceremonies does not tell a man to do a thing, he “apprizes him that it should he performed.” The celebrant “terminates” the creed; he genuflects “in conjunction” with the sacred ministers—then he observes to assume a standing posture in conjunction with them. The Master of Ceremonies goes about apprizing and comporting himself till he observes to perform the customary salutation. The subdeacon imparts the PAX in the same manner as it was communicated to him. Everyone exhibits a grave deportment. Imagine anyone talking like this! Imagine anyone saying that you ought to exhibit a deportment!
Vespers On Holy Thursday:
In the 1955 revision of Holy Week, the office of Vespers on Holy Thursday was suppressed by Pope Pius XII. In the Pre-1955 version, Vespers on Holy Thursday is to be recited not sung. However, before 1955 it seems that certain churches did sing Vespers on Holy Thursday, and the Vatican allowed this to continue. You can find these Gregorian chants if you look the Appendix of certain books:
* PDF Download • Sung Vespers for Holy Thursday (1954)
—On page 430, the Antiphonale Monasticum (1934) has a version which is slightly different.
Writing in 1913, Father Adrian Fortescue has some fascinating information to share vis-à-vis Holy Thursday:
After Mass the procession takes the SANCTISSIMUM to the place where it is kept till the next day. This is an example of a real Roman procession, having a definite object. It is usual to call the place to which the Blessed Sacrament is taken the “altar of repose.” This is a harmless popular name; but it is not really an altar. No sacrifice is offered on it. At first it seems that nothing more was done than to keep the SANCTISSIMUM reverently in some safe place, often in the sacristry, as it is still reserved in many Eastern Churches. Then people realized that this was the one occasion when they had the Blessed Sacrament in their churches. So they made much of it. They fitted up and adorned a place of honour; they began to watch and pray before the “altar of repose” all the day and all night. Much of the ideas of such later developments as Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, of the “Forty Hours,” and so on, seems to have begun during this time between Mass on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And then, even after it had become usual to reserve the SANCTISSIMUM on the altar of nearly every church all the year round, the old custom of special reverence on this occasion continued. That, too, is nearly always so. Custom preserves many things in liturgy after their first reason has ceased. This accounts for the special reverence with which we still treat the SANCTISSIMUM at the altar of repose, although we have it now in the tabernacle always. And, indeed, on this night of all nights, when our Lord was suffering his bitter torment, it is natural that people should spend part of the time with him in prayer, honouring the gift of that day.
We leave the altar of repose, come back to the High Altar and say Vespers. This is not really a special feature of these days. On all fast days Vespers are now said in the morning, from the old idea that one does not break one’s fast till after Vespers. Easier legislation now allows people to eat at midday on fast days; but the liturgical sequence is preserved; so the meal pushed Vespers back to the morning. The fact that on fast days at the end of Mass the deacon says not: “Ite missa est,” but “Benedicamus Domino,” meant once that he did not dismiss the people then, because they were to stay for Vespers. After Vespers the altar is stripped. This ceremony has become to us one of the features of Holy Week; yet it is only one more case of an archaic custom otherwise abolished, but preserved on these days. Once, after Mass on any day, the altar was stripped. Now on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the stripping of the altar has become a symbol of desolation, or a memory that our Lord was stripped of his garments.
The Maundy follows…
For the Holy Thursday Maundy (“washing of the feet”), Father Fortescue says the thirteen men chosen should be poor. By the way, most readers probably remember that before 1955, the Maundy was never part of the Mass. It took place later in the day. (It will be remembered that all the Triduum Masses before 1955 took place in the morning.)
Speaking of the Pre-1955 Holy Week, there is a book from 1670AD which describes all the ceremonies. On Palm Sunday, it says the Gospel is read facing the people “that they may hear the Gospel.” I don’t know why this is, but I’m hoping one of the readers can enlighten me. It’s not in the rubrics published in 1853. Nor is it in the rubrics published in 1750AD. Very curious.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 When it comes to the stripping of the altars on Holy Thursday (“Ad Denudationem Altarium”), Father Fortescue doesn’t like how Father Hilarius refers to this as the denudation, as you can see: “Predella, zucchetto, bugia, cotta, and so on; then genuflexorium, denudation (he means stripping) of the altar. His rage for Italian goes to such a length that he spells berretta each time.”