Monday, February 2, 2015

Photo essay: our solemn high nuptial Mass, part II - the Mass of the Catechumens

This installment picks up where I left off in part I. Here, you can read about and see pictures of our marriage rite up until the beginning of Mass, with some commentary on the wedding rituals used. Below, I've written on a short response to the question, "why have a nuptial Mass?", and then posted pictures of the nuptial Mass with a walkthrough of the liturgy, written as though the reader has never attended a Catholic Mass before.


Prelude chants: Gaudeamus (introit for the feast of Saint Thomas Becket) and Veni Sancte Spiritus
Organ Processional: Prelude from the Suite Medievale by Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Minor Propers (Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, Communion): Gregorian chant from the Liber Usualis
Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei): Missa Pange Lingua by Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521)
Offertory: antiphon extended with two verses from the Offertoriale
Preface: of the Nativity, in the "most solemn" tone
Motet during the ablutions: Salve Regina, solemn tone with oblique organum (drone)
After the Last Gospel: the hymn of thanksgiving, Te Deum, simple tone in alternation with organ
Organ Recessional: Acclamations carolingiennes from the Suite Medievale by Jean Langlais

Why have a Mass?

The nuptial Mass, wherein ordinary bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ and offered especially for the souls of the bride and groom, is often an excruciating addition to any newlywed couple's guests who aren't Catholic; and, to be honest, even for many that are. When they see "Mass" on an invitation, it's a good sign that the ceremony will take more than twice as long as the usual American wedding. From procession to recession, thanks largely to our very particular musical selections, ours ran almost two and a half hours. We had two choirs: an all-male schola cantorum of Gregorian chanters vested in cassock and surplice singing the propers in makeshift choir stalls at the front, and a choir of male and female voices in the organ loft, drawn from musical professionals at the parish and all around the state of Texas to sing the Ordinary of the Mass according to Josquin des Prez's Missa Pange Lingua..... and all this for a very small group of guests in attendance (fewer than the total number of ministers, servers, and singers). I can only hope that our guests, Catholic or not, came away with the impression that they bore witness to a very sacred and special rite.

A rare example of a preconciliar solemn nuptial Mass
(Saint George's, Sudbury).
During the height of Christendom, say the 13th century, the nuptial Mass and its blessing was considered by the vast majority of the faithful to be an integral part of marriage. Priests had to go so far as to remind their flock that the nuptial blessing (which was always bestowed only during Mass, never outside of it) wasn't necessary for their marriages to be valid. Simply put, if a couple got married in the Church at all, even if it was a second or third marriage, and even if children had been born out of wedlock, they almost certainly followed it with the nuptial Mass... though not necessarily on the same day. Why, you ask? This is mostly because the Church, until the 20th century, was very strict on which days of the year the nuptial Mass (and other votive Masses for various intentions) could be celebrated. Sundays were forbidden, for they were to be reserved for the Lord's Day. The seasons of Advent and Lent were restricted because the nuptial Mass, a joyous affair, couldn't be held on a day of penance. So, too, were major feast days and entire octaves off limits; of which the medieval Church had a great many. (By medieval standards, our own nuptial Mass would probably have been disallowed since it occurred within the octave of Christmas.) Therefore, it wasn't unusual for a couple to wed during Lent and then wait until after Quasimodo Sunday to have the nuptial Mass.

By the 20th century, the fervor that all but demanded the holy Sacrifice to be offered for a newlywed couple's intentions waned into indifference for everyone but the devout. The traditions that added solemnity and splendor to the marriage rites, such as the care-cloth or nuptial veil, faded into obscurity as man marched from one world war to the next in the name of progress. Multiple recollections from "old timers" attest that in the years before Vatican II, it was quite normal for couples in America to marry on weekday mornings without Mass, even back to back or in large groups. Those who did request the nuptial Mass almost invariably had it low, with just one server and no music; solemn Mass with incense and a choir became the preserve of the elite, and even then, more as a sense of obligation to fit the trappings of state and station, rather than a desire to express the fullness of the liturgy.

There are, of course, perfectly good reasons why a Catholic couple may opt not to have the nuptial Mass, to postpone it for some day after the wedding, or keep it simple with a low Mass. The solemnity of our nuptial Mass, described below, should in no way imply that Madame and I are holier or "better" Catholics than couples who wedded with a less elaborate liturgy or none at all. Our own position was simply to strive toward the liturgical ideal as best as we knew how. As a bonus, it was a great way to introduce our friends, some of whom are not churchgoers of any kind, to a great treasure they had never seen before.

Here follows an overview of the Mass as it was celebrated at our wedding. It was offered according to the Missal of 1962, the last edition of the Roman Missal before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, by the Rev. Father Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP. He was assisted at the altar by a deacon and "straw" subdeacon from the same Fraternity. My friends or their sons made up the body of altar servers: one master of ceremonies, one crucifer, one thurifer, two acolytes (both in formation at our local diocesan seminary), and four torchbearers. There were eight chanters in cassock and surplice. Nine singers formed the choir for the Josquin Mass.

The Mass of the Catechumens

The reformed order of Mass calls its first half the Liturgy of the Word. The older form, though, uses the more antiquated expression, Mass of the Catechumens. In the earliest centuries of the faith, when the holy mysteries were still being offered in private homes and catacombs, visitors and new converts were permitted only to attend the first half of the liturgy. This was made up of prayers, hymns, and lessons from Scripture that the first Christians, who were nearly all Jews, easily adapted from the synagogues. A prospective convert, called a catechumen, was expected to study and grow in faith by hearing the Scriptures read and the teachings of Christ preached for a year (or more) before being admitted to the waters of baptism and full participation in the Church's rites. Until that time, the catechumens were to be dismissed after the homily.* Though the requirement of catechumens to depart has long since fallen out of use, the overall structure of the Mass of the Catechumens; confession of sins, hymn, readings from Scripture, and homily; remained.
*This was perhaps also a safety measure. We know that the early Christians were suspected in Rome of practicing cannibalism. Someone without an understanding of the sacrament, witnessing Christians eat and drink the flesh and blood of their god, might have invited the wrath of the legionaries during the age of persecution.

The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar

After the last prayer of the marriage rite, the priest changes from the cope to the chasuble, which he wears only when he is about to perform the holy sacrifice. Together with the deacon and subdeacon, they prepare themselves before ascending the altar steps by quietly reciting the "prayers at the foot of the altar": the 42nd Psalm ("Judge me, O God"), and the Confiteor, or confession of sins. The schola chants the Introit, the first of five "minor propers": chants that are assigned to each particular Mass of the year or occasion. The 1962 Missal calls the schola to sing the same antiphon used to begin the nuptial Masses in Rome since at least the era of Charlemagne, Deus Israel (Tobit 7:15 and 8:19).

This video below, though it uses our pictures, is not a recording from our nuptial Mass. Rather, it's a recording from my phone of three of the same chanters, plus myself, singing at another couple's wedding five days later. Unfortunately, I have no quality audio or video recordings from our nuptial Mass, so this is the best I can do.

Introit: Deus Israel

Deus Israel coniúngat vos: et ipse sit vobíscum, qui misértus est duóbus únicis: et nunc, Dómine, fac eos plénius benedícere te.

(Ps. 127 :1) Beáti omnes, qui timent Dóminum: qui ámbulant in viis eius.
V. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper: et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.

Deus Israel...
May the God of Israel join you together: and may He be with you, who was merciful to two only children: and now, O Lord, make them bless Thee more fully.
(Ps. 127:1) Blessed are all they that fear the Lord, that walk in His ways.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
May the God of Israel…

Introibo ad altare Dei... "I will go unto the altar of God: to God, who giveth joy to my youth."

The priest bows and confesses to his brothers, the deacon and subdeacon, "that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my own most grievous fault".

The Kyrie, Gloria, and Collect

Immediately after the Introit is sung Kyrie eleison. The last vestige of the ancient Greek liturgy in the west, the choir invokes each Person of the Trinity: "Lord, have mercy", "Christ, have mercy", "Lord, have mercy". On joyous occasions, such as the nuptial Mass, the Kyrie is followed immediately by the Church's most ancient hymn of praise, Gloria in excelsis: "Glory be to God on high". The Kyrie and Gloria together make up two of five "movements" that frequently or always appear in every liturgy, called the Ordinary of the Mass.

These regularly occurring movements have inspired countless composers across the ages to set the Ordinary to more and more elaborate scores. Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) was one of the preeminent composers of the northern Renaissance. From what little we can gleam of his life, he learned his craft in France as a chapel chorister for the Duc d'Anjou. From there, he moved to Italy to serve the powerful Sforza family in Milan, and even had a stint in the Sistine Chapel choir under the infamous Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. Josquin's musical career spanned 50 years; his last two decades concentrated ever more on Mass settings and other religious works. Around 1515, at the eve of the Protestant Reformation, Josquin composed what is believed to be his final Mass, a setting inspired by the Eucharistic hymn of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pange lingua gloriosi. The Missa Pange Lingua was one of four Masses by Josquin which were based on plainchant rather than secular melodies of his age. You can listen to the first two movements, the Kyrie and Gloria, sung by the Ensemble Clément Janequin, much as it sounded at our Mass, in the videos below:
Kyrie (from Josquin's Missa Pange Lingua)

(An excellent alternate, less studio-like recording of the Kyrie can be listened to below)

P. Kýrie, eléison.
S. Kýrie, eléison.
P. Kýrie, eléison.
S. Christe, eléison.
P. Christe, eléison.
S. Christe, eléison.
P. Kýrie, eléison.
S. Kýrie, eléison.
P. Kýrie, eléison.
P. Lord, have mercy.
S. Lord, have mercy.
P. Lord, have mercy.
S. Christ, have mercy.
P. Christ, have mercy.
S. Christ, have mercy.
P. Lord, have mercy.
S. Lord, have mercy.
P. Lord, have mercy.
As the choir sings Kyrie eleison, the priest receives the thurible from the deacon and incenses the altar. He first blesses the grains before they are loaded onto the coals, saying, "Be thou blessed by Him in whose honour thou shalt be burned." 

Gloria (from Josquin's Missa Pange Lingua)


Et in terra pax homínibus bonæ voluntátis.
Laudámus te.
Benedícimus te.
Adorámus te.
Glorificámus te.
Grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam.
Dómine Deus, Rex coeléstis, Deus Pater omnípotens.
Dómine Fili unigénite, Iesu Christe. Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris.
Qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis.
Qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram.
Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis.
Quóniam tu solus Sanctus.
Tu solus Dóminus.
Tu solus Altíssimus, Iesu Christe. Cum Sancto Spíritu in glória Dei Patris.
And in earth peace, goodwill towards men.
We praise Thee.
We bless Thee.
We worship Thee.
We glorify Thee.
We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
For Thou only art holy;
Thou only art the Lord;
Thou only, O Christ,
with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

The priest returns to the altar to sing the Collect, so called to collect all the prayer intentions of the faithful there present into one petition. The Collect varies by the day, and sometimes more than one can be said if the Mass falls on multiple occasions. (For example, a collect for the nuptial Mass, and a collect for the feast of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.)

"Let us pray: Hear us, almighty and merciful God: that what is performed by our ministry may be abundantly fulfilled with Thy blessing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. R. Amen."

The Lessons

The modern order of Mass typically has three Scripture readings: a prophecy from the Old Testament, a New Testament Epistle, and one of the four Gospels. A similar cycle was used by the early Church, but by the Middle Ages, had dropped to only two: Epistle and Gospel. The 1962 Missal still uses just the two readings, with a handful of exceptions where the ancient Old Testament prophecies yet remain (such as the ember days).

At solemn Mass, the Epistle is sung by the subdeacon while standing on the right side, the Epistle side, of the church.

The Epistle of the nuptial Mass in this form is always Saint Paul's lesson on marriage: Ephesians 5:22-33.
"BRETHREN: Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; for the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. He is the savior of His body. Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it: that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it; as also Christ doth the Church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great Sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself, and let the wife fear her husband."
As in the synagoguges of the Old Covenant, the readings are punctuated by the singing of a psalm, called the Gradual. The eminent rubricist, the Rev. Adrian Fortescue, wrote that it is the "oldest and most important" of all the propers, because where the others are sung by the choir to fill time while the priest carries out his duties, the Gradual alone is sung for its own sake, while all are seated attentively. It is believed to have gotten the name from an ancient practice whereby two clerks sang the verse from a gradus, or step, leading up to the ambo where the Gospel would be sung. The medieval Church, over time, dropped the singing of an entire psalm in favor of just a few verses... but the anonymous monks who left us the body of Gregorian chants embellished these fragments into the tours de force now found in books such as the Graduale Romanum and Liber Usualis today. The nuptial Mass's gradual is taken from the "marriage psalm", Psalm 127.

Gradual: Uxor tua

Uxor tua sicut vitis abúndans in latéribus domus tuæ. V. Fílii tui sicut novéllæ olivárum in circúitu mensæ tuæ.
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house. V. Thy children as olive plants round about thy table.

The schola chanting the Gradual and Alleluia, one after the other.

On most days of the year, the Gradual is followed by another proper chant, the Alleluia. Alleluia, an ancient expression meaning "All hail to Him who is", was retained in its original Hebrew form and adapted as an outburst of joy long after people forgot precisely what it originally meant. Alleluia is sung twice, then a verse from Scripture (usually a psalm), then Alleluia again. When sung using the full scores given in the Liber Usualis, the second and third alleluia are extended by a long phrase called a jubilus. The medievals placed a remarkable, even a mystical, significance to this extension. Bishop Guillaume Durandus (c.1230-1296) said of it: "the Alleluia is short in word and long in neum, because that joy is too great to be expressed in words. For the neum or jubilus at the end denotes the joy and love of the faithful". The nuptial Mass's Alleluia follows the usual pattern, with the verse taken from Psalm 19.

Alleluia: Mittat vobis

Allelúia, allelúia. V. (Ps. 19: 3) Mittat vobis Dóminus auxílium de sancto: et de Sion tueátur vos. Allelúia.
Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Ps. 19: 3)  May the Lord send you help from the sanctuary, and defend you out of Sion. Alleluia.

The extended "a" of the Alleluia, signifying unending joy, is called the jubilus.

The servers line up to take the Gospel in procession while the schola sings the Alleluia. The deacon genuflects before the priest and says, "Bid, sir, a blessing". The priest blesses him with the sign of the cross, replying, "The Lord be in thy heart and on thy lips: that thou mayst worthily and fitly proclaim his Gospel: In the name of the Father, and of the Son,  and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
The Lindau Gospels
Meanwhile, the servers form up to escort the book of the Gospels in procession to the place where it will be sung; typically somewhere in the left side, the Gospel side, of the church, near or even well within the nave. The Gospels have always been accorded a greater dignity than other books of the Bible when read in the liturgy, and by the fifth century, the right to read them in church was reserved to the deacon alone, rather than the lector. In the eastern churches, the Gospel book is always the most handsomely bound book in their possession and is treated as an icon of Christ, just like the altar; traditionally, they have even eschewed any covers made from the skin of animals in favor of gilded metal cases studded with precious stones. The west, too, once shared this reverence for the Gospels. The most famous Gospel book in history, after all, is the Book of Kells, produced in the British Isles around the 9th century. Unfortunately, as the frequency of solemn Mass (and, therefore, gospel processions) declined, the art of publishing Gospel books dwindled into virtual non-existence by the 20th century. Few Tridentine Latin Mass communities today have solemn Mass, so they have no need to buy a special Gospel book. With the aid of other patrons, we ordered a recent publication called the Canticum Clericorum Romanorum, which compiles the Epistles and Gospels together in full chant notation. The deacon at our nuptial Mass sang from this book according to the tonus antiquior, the "more ancient" tone.

In the old Mass, the deacon reads the Gospel facing north. Some medieval authors wrote that this was to signify the preaching of the Gospel to the pagan "barbarians" north of Rome, earlier in Christian history. Others say this was a directive from the Pontificale, so that the deacon would not turn his back on the bishop if present, whose throne would be on the Gospel side. 

The Gospel of the nuptial Mass is always Matthew 19:3-6.
"AT THAT TIME: The Pharisees came to Jesus, tempting Him and saying; It is lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who answering said to them, Have ye not read, that He who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? and He said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore, now they are not two but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."

If there is a homily, or sermon, it will usually be preached after the Gospel reading.

Some priests are content to say no more than the exhortation before marriage, as found in the Ritual. But we invited Father Romanoski to prepare a homily to also teach those present about the Catholic Mass, some of whom had never attended one before. He was very glad to do so.

The summary of faith: the Creed

On Sundays and other major feasts, the Mass of the Catechumens is brought to an end with the singing of the Nicene Creed. The Creed was composed by the bishops of the Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325) and Constantinople (381) to settle debates then raging over the divinity of Christ, and to set down the most necessary teachings of the Christian faith. Because it was introduced into the western liturgy much later than the other parts of the Ordinary, there are fewer settings of the text into plainchant.

The Credo is rarely sung at nuptial Masses, but because December 29 falls within the octave of Christmas (the eight days following the feast), the 1962 Missal required its use. Here, it was sung from Josquin's Missa, the priest first intoning the words Credo in unum Deum.

Credo (from Josquin's Missa Pange Lingua)

(an excellent alternate recording of the Josquin Credo below, if Ensemble Clement is not to your liking)

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem,
factórem cæli et terræ,
visibílium ómnium et invisibílium. Et in unum Dóminum Jesum Christum,
Fílium Dei unigénitum.
Et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine,
Deum verum de Deo vero. Génitum, non factum,
consubstantiálem Patri:
per quem ómnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de cælis. Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine: Et homo factus est.
Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis: sub Póntio Piláto passus,
et sepúltus est.
Et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras.
Et ascéndit in cælum:
sedet ad déxteram Patris.
Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória judicáre vivos et mórtuos:
cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in Spíritum Sanctum,
Dóminum et vivificántem:
qui ex Patre,
Filióque procédit.
Qui cum Patre, et Fílio simul adorátur et conglorifícatur: qui locútus est per Prophétas.
Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam.
Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum.
Et vitam ventúri sæculi.
I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of very God,
Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made;
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man,
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried,
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
And ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
The Lord and giver of life,
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the life of the world to come. Amen.

If the Credo is sung to a prolonged score, the priest may return to his seat after reciting it privately at the altar. The master of ceremonies customarily remains standing, ready to direct the clergy on when to bow or return to the altar.

Following along in a hand missal and being nervous.

The series will continue with the second half of the Mass in part III: the Mass of the Faithful here! Below is a preview photo featuring the nuptial veil, or care-cloth, during the nuptial blessing....


  1. Congratulations on your nuptials! I just found your blog by way of my priest.

    My wife and I were married 20 years ago this June and, although it was the Novus Ordo rite, we were quite medieval. I really need to digitize those photos and video.

  2. I still remember the shiver that went down my spine when hearing the choir rehearse the Introit on our wedding day. It is a melody still stuck in my head to this day.

  3. Thanks a lot for this long informative post. My friend sought my help on finding this and I am glad I got everything in one single post. The part 1 is great too. Even I am making arrangements for his wedding reception as he is quite busy.

  4. I enjoyed your wedding post series very much. May the good Lord bless you and your bride.
    Here's a little something I thought you might enjoy - my recording of Josquin's Missa Pange lingua in the context of the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament.