Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pontificalia III: the pontifical vestments

Thomas Becket, following his consecration as archbishop of Canterbury, gives the final blessing (Becket, 1964). Under his chasuble, you can see the pontifical dalmatic.

Previously in this series....

Pontificalia I: what is pontifical Mass?

Pontificalia II: the Mitre and crozier

Today, we look at the special vestments that a bishop wears for Mass. What's the thing that a bishop wears under the chasuble? Why don't bishops wear gloves anymore? What are "buskins"? Does a bishop put his vestments on differently than a priest?

What's the thing that a bishop wears under the chasuble?

Cardinal Burke with pontifical dalmatic and tunicle under a Gothic chasuble
Sometimes, you might notice another vestment peeking out from underneath the bishop's chasuble. We all know that the chasuble is the outer vestment that all priests wear for Mass--not so well known is the fact that, at a pontifical Mass, bishops traditionally wore not just the chasuble, but even the deacon's dalmatic and the subdeacon's tunicle underneath. By wearing all the vestments, cumbersome as they may be, the bishop teaches the faithful that he alone possesses the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, with the authority to confer the various degrees of ordained ministry upon others. The Extraordinary Form still requires the bishop to wear the under-dalmatic and tunicle for pontifical Mass. If he's conferring holy orders, he must wear them even if it's in the middle of a low Mass. The modern Ceremonial of Bishops no longer mentions the tunicle, but still recommends the pontifical dalmatic on major feasts. I've never seen a photo of Pope Benedict XVI celebrating a major Mass without one.

The prayer when vesting with the tunicle: "May the Lord cloth me in the tunicle of delight, and the garment of rejoicing."

For the dalmatic: "Cloth me, Lord, with the garment of salvation, and the raiment of joy; and ever place upon me the dalmatic of justice."

Both the above prayers may, of course, also be used by deacons and subdeacons when vesting.

By the way, the first time I ever noticed that the under-dalmatic was a "thing" was by watching the film Becket, which I've featured in the top photo and elsewhere in this series. Notice that the dalmatic in that scene is richly detailed enough to be worn on its own! I actually did a search for this very garment online, and it appears to have been sold by auction, together with the chasuble, in 2011 (as a "tunic, cape, and collar" set) for $5,500.

The clip above should start at the blessing scene. You'll even see the tunicle under the dalmatic. 

Why don't bishops wear gloves anymore?

Pontifical gloves of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg: 1588
From about the 10th century on, bishops, starting in France, wore gloves in the color of the day at pontifical Mass. The practice soon spread to Rome, then to bishops everywhere, and then to even the mitred abbots. Later, the openings were enlarged to appear like the cuffs of a gauntlet (similar, in my imagination, to the epimanikia--the bracers worn by the Eastern rite clergy).

In the old Mass, the bishop wore the gloves until the Offertory. The ring was worn over them, and so whenever he took the gloves off (such as to wash his hands), it was the job of the assistant-priest to hold on to the ring. The perceived fussiness of taking the gloves off and putting them back on is undoubtedly part of the reason why they're not mentioned in the post-conciliar Ceremonial of Bishops. For 99% of the world's bishops, it would seem that once the gloves disappeared from the rubrics, they also disappeared from the sacristies. Force of custom held no argument, save perhaps your London Oratory types. That said, there was an awkward period spanning over a decade (1970-1984) when the mainstream Latin Church was using the new Mass but the old Caeremoniale Episcoporum, with all its "Carolingian court ritual", was still in force. I wonder if any of you experts out there could comment on just how much of the pontificalia was actually retained at the average cathedral during these years.

The vesting prayer for the gloves is a long one: "Place upon my hands, Lord, the cleanliness of the new man, that came down from heaven; that, just as Jacob Thy beloved, covering his hands with the skins of goats, and offering to his father most pleasing food and drink, obtained his father’s blessing, so also may the saving victim offered by our hands, merit the blessing of Thy grace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who in the likeness of sinful flesh offered Himself for us."

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger wearing a pontifical dalmatic and even gloves at what I assume is an Ordinary Form Mass.
(Edited to add: after I posted this article, I was informed by several readers that this photo was actually at an FSSP ordination in 1990, and thus an EF Mass. Well, never mind, then!)
Abbess Benedicta von Spiegel with crozier and gloves. I mentioned the mitred abbesses in a previous entry.

What are "buskins"?

Buskins for every occasion except black. The old rite omitted them for Requiems.
I often get these mixed up with another thing: the pontifical sandals. The buskins are liturgical stockings in the color of the day which, indeed, have their own prayer to accompany them. Mercifully for both the bishop and his MC's, the usual practice at a pontifical Mass (and only Mass--like the maniple, these aren't worn at Vespers, for instance) in the old rite is for the bishop to vest with them on his own even before arriving at the church.These days, they're just worn over his regular socks.

The buskins, in turn, go under pontifical sandals. Yes, the bishop even had to wear liturgical shoes in the old days. In the first millennium, even ordinary priests and deacons wore special shoes at Mass, but by the 10th century, this became restricted to bishops and other prelates with pontifical privileges. The original form of the sandals appears to have been just what you might imagine from ancient Roman times... but by the time the Baroque era got its hands on them, they had morphed into something more like court slippers, complete with a heel and even a bow on some. 

Pontifical sandals
It probably goes without saying that the buskins and sandals are basically never seen anywhere except in the Extraordinary Form, where they remain a requirement for pontifical Mass (excepting Requiems).

The prayer for the buskins: "Shod my feet, Lord, unto the preparation of the gospel of peace, and protect me under the cover of thy wings."

The Archbishop of Cebu (Philippines) vesting with the buskins. One of my friends, a former FSSP seminarian, fondly recalled his service in pontifical Masses by comparing the vesting of the bishop to "assembling Voltron".

Does a bishop put his vestments on differently than a priest?

Yes, he does! Or at least, he has the option. While a bishop has the right to process to the altar already vested like an ordinary priest, the ancient tradition runs the bishop through a gauntlet of ceremonies from the moment he darkens the front door.

First, the bishop arrives in his choir dress (the purple cassock, rochet, mozzetta or mantelletta, and perhaps the cappa magna) and is greeted by the canons or senior clergy at the door. The rector or pastor of the church, wearing a cope, offers the bishop a crucifix to kiss and holy water to sprinkle everyone in the area. The bishop then walks at the head of the procession down the church as the choir sings the responsory Ecce Sacerdos Magnus. He's taken to the altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved to pray for a moment. A lot of traditional Catholics are perplexed and even a little scandalized when I say that cathedrals weren't supposed to reserve the Blessed Sacrament over the high altar; and that if a bishop was celebrating Mass at a parish, the pastor was supposed to move the Sacrament to a side chapel.

Solemn reception of Bishop Lopes at the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter's cathedral in Houston
After praying, the bishop may go to the sacristy to vest in private, or he may go to his faldstool in the sanctuary and vest ceremonially in view of the faithful. The vestments are laid atop the high altar and brought to him one by one, while his ministers assist him in putting on each item. Finally, if the bishop is celebrating from the throne, the full rite supposes that he vests in a special side chapel prepared for him, called the secretarium. Here, surrounded by his clergy, the bishop vests while leading the minor hour of Terce. Then he returns in procession to the sanctuary. This format can be seen to some extent in the recording of the grand pontifical Mass with Bishop Slattery at the National Shrine in DC in 2010.

The video above should skip right to when the bishop enters the secretarium.

The prayer for removing the cappa before vesting is potent with meaning: "Take off of me, Lord, the old man with his manners and deeds: and put on me the new man, who according to God is created in justice, and the holiness of truth."

Surprisingly, with the exception of Terce, pretty much everything mentioned above is still explicitly mentioned as options for the bishop in the Ordinary Form. The modern Ceremonial of Bishops also still directs the Blessed Sacrament to be moved away from the high altar if normally reserved there, though this is routinely ignored.

I hope my readers have enjoyed this series so far. By the time I post the next one, I'll probably be able to incorporate some photos from a very special Mass that I'll be assisting (and had a hand in organizing): a gargantuan celebration of the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum on September 14, 2017 at the Cathedral Basilica in Philadelphia. By permission of the archbishop of Philadelphia, our visiting bishop, +Joseph Perry, will celebrate from the throne.

If you're local, I hope to see you there! Otherwise, please tune in to EWTN, where it'll be broadcast live, or check their Facebook page around 7pm eastern time for the livestream (no account needed).


  1. Loving this series so far. Thanks for it.

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  3. I hate to be this person, but there's actually no option for a Bishop to vest in the sacristy when celebrating Mass. The Ceremonial requires vesting in a chapel, or at the high altar if there is no suitable chapel. Just quickly looking through Stehle confirms that as well. It is definitely something that is common, but it isn't 'permitted' as such.

  4. Wow, only two weeks ago and I missed it! Story of my life... As a veteran Clementine, I have great respect for Peter Richard Conte's work. Not only is his choir directing world-class, but his inspired service-playing is my ideal as an organist of lesser stature. I don't know anyone who can make a congregation sing the way he can.

    Applause too for remembering the composer Charles Tournemire in your blog! I understand that he was the first major composer whose concept of Gregorian chant was inspired by the ideals set forth by Solesmes. As with Cesar Franck, his beloved teacher and predecessor at S. Clothilde, Paris, his piety and devotion to the church put him at odds with his contemporaries and almost guaranteed that his worldly success would be limited, but under the surface his influence has been tremendous. Tournemire was reputed to be the finest improvisateur of his generation. The Canadian-American virtuoso Lynnwood Farnam came away from his playing at S. Clothilde one Sunday morning exclaiming, "It nearly tore me inside out, it was so thrilling." I believe that (at least by way of Pierre Cochereau, a later standard bearer) he set the tone more than anyone else for the tradition of organ improvisation that we can hear in France to this day. Olivier Messiaen acknowledged his debt, saying "Un jour on rendra justice a Tournemire." Perhaps that day is approaching. The book _Mystic Modern: The music, thought, and legacy of Charles Tournemire, expanding upon the papers delivered at an academic conference, appeared in 2014. Of course, his unique magnum opus "L'Orgue Mystique", steeped in the Gregorian proper repertoire throughout the year, is central in the topics discussed. (A French reader commenting on this book for Amazon expressed regret that his countrymen had allowed the Americans to beat them to the punch in producing such an overdue analysis and appreciation.)

    On another topic, I wonder whether you have researched Msgr. Bartolucci, eventually let go after a long tenure as choirmaster of the Sistine Chapel but finally honored by Pope Benedict with a cardinal's hat. Bartolucci had strong convictions as to the proper performance of chant and polyphony which were at odds not only with Solesmes, but with most authorities all over the world. During this time, the Sistine Chapel Choir was known as the Sistine Chapel Screamers. Yet he was revered not only by the musically sophisticated pope whose brother was Choirmaster of the Regensburger Domspatzen, but by many other conservative church musicians in Rome and Italy. I could never understand this when I naively assumed that musical work in the Vatican remained immune from the assaults that assailed us everywhere else in the world. But evidently it did not: Bartolucci was besieged by these forces as well, to the extent that he eventually resorted to taking his choir on tour primarily because it was the only way he could see to maintain their historic repertoire. So possibly he was honored at last for reasons unrelated to, and more fundamental than, his eccentric ideas about choral tone and performance practice. Liturgically Cardinal Bartolucci was a conservative through and through, declaring late in life that he had never celebrated mass using the Novus Ordo.

  5. You ate not going to believe this. I was at the same Mass that Bp. Lopes entered the door of Our Lady of Walsingham here in Houston Tx. This was the Mass he received his cathedra (chair), and his Church (cathedral) in the Ordinariate Form, aka, AU.

  6. If you want to hear a catholic cathedral choir in the pre- reformation style, lolk at the fb page of St Mary's Cathedral Sydney. They are a living critique of the Italian post-mediaeval operatic style.