06 April 2011

Rare Video of Papal Low Mass

Via Gloria.TV, via the blog Te Igitur, by way of NLM, here is a rare video of the Venerable Pius XII celebrating a public Papal Low Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in 1942 on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of his Episcopal Consecration.

For those of you not used to some of the traditional vestments, and ways of doing things, I will try to explain some of them ahead of time.  Since I know there are readers who know far, far more about these things, I welcome any corrections in the combox, and will edit to ensure accuracy.

The piazza and basilica are packed.  There appear to be far more faithful inside the basilica than you would see at any Mass today.  There are no pews in St. Peter's, and I am guessing that chairs were not laid out for this occasion, and that fire marshalls were busy in Abyssinia at the time.  The Holy Father is carried in on the sedia gestatoria, and it appears as though he is using the throne of Pius IX that Pope Benedict has lately often used. 

The Holy Father is celebrating Low Mass, but wait-- is he facing the people?  Yes and no.  The orientation of the altar in St. Peter's is such that for the celebrant to face actual, geographical East, he would be facing the part of the Church nearest to St. Peter's square, where most of the faithful are.  You can see this most easily at the final blessing, where the Holy Father does not turn to bless the faithful, but just gets right to it. 

This subject often comes up in online discussions about ad orientem worship, as someone will always point out that "at St. Peter's the Pope faces the people..."  Historically, if I am not mistaken, at the time of the consecration, there would be a proclamation along the lines of "Let us turn to the Lord" or something like it, and the entire congregation would turn and face the same way as the Pope, so that the consecration was not viewed by them.  Again, anyone with better knowledge may correct me.

Thus, when you hear of ad orientem worship today in either Form of the Roman Rite, you usually will be discussing, either explicitly or implicitly, "liturgical East", because though many Churches were built without the proper Eastern orientation of the altar, the high altars required facing in the direction the Church is built.  Not all any Churches have the room of St. Peter's, after all.  Thus the celebrant faces "liturgical" East, and "liturgical" North for the proclamation of the Gospel.

It is interesting to note, that the current Holy Father uses and promotes  an altar arrangement exactly like this one.  the candles and altar crucifix serve, among other functions, to provide that sort of holy barrier, a mini rood screen, if you will.  Back to the 1950s, or just the 50 ADs, maybe.

Also the number of assistants is much, much fewer for a Papal Low Mass than a Solemn Papal High Mass.  I don't know their official titles.  But you will note that the surplices have considerable lace and ornamentation, and that they wear tufted fascia (i.e., the sash ends not in a fringe, as is common today, but in a tuft) on their cassocks.  In the congregation are many prelates wearing things you don't often see anymore like the mantelletta (the last one I saw was worn by Bishop Robert Hermann in procession at the Oratory for confirmations last year).  I point all this out because it contributes beauty to the liturgy, does not emasculate anyone, and is pretty cool, if you ask me.  The narrator of this video speaks Italian, so I could be wrong, but I don't think I heard him saying the wildly gesticulating crowd was denouncing the clericalism of such display (I kid because I love!).

You will note that the sedia gestatoria is accompanied by a bunch of soldiers with sabers-- if anyone stumbles out into the procession to attack the Pope like happened last Christmas, I imagine they would get a close haircut.  Even in a time of more religious fervor, it appears they protected the Pope better than they do now.

In the procession at the end of the video you will see the Holy Father wearing the Papal Tiara.  For the history and symbolism of this mighty headgear, you can read here.

Well, if you read all that, here is your reward.  If you skipped all that, welcome to the blog!:


frater_pl said...

Better explanation is not needed. Good job.

Oratorian in exile said...


Any idea when we can get this weeks sermon?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, that clip was a real treat to see!


Romanitas Press said...

Here are the basic positions:

Master of Ceremonies (wearing a surplice over his rochet); he is usually on the far right and is the one who kneels during the Last Blessing when all of the others remain standing (because he's only a monsignore, not a canon).

2 chaplains; these are most likely canons from the chapter at St. Peter's Basilica; they are also wearing rochets over surplices, and one is wearing a type of pectoral cross, probably a chapter privilege; which was a common one).

A prelate, either a bishop or cardinal, most likely the later (on the left with his train drawn up) and papal chamberlain (on right in mantelleta) assist with the Lavabo. The former might be the camerlango, who has charge of the papal household.

There is also a bugia bearer (the hand candle) and it appears an acolyte (also wearing a rochet over a surplice), a rather young monsignore it appears (perhaps of the apostolic household).

A pair of servers are also seen in the back during the Offertory, and they appear to be Franciscans by their habit (their hoods are over the back of their surplices).

The Noble Guards are there in full splendor, and the famous Silverni symphony is play on their pair of trumpets during the Consecration.

You will notice at the end during the Last Blessing that three of the chaplains do not kneel, but only bow when the pope gives the triple blessing. This is a privilege of chapter canons, as well as prelates (bishops on up), but not for monsignore.

Hope this helps.

Louis J. Tofari (romanitaspress.com)