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Freshets and Floors

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First; Chapter 5


As a preliminary note, here the term "freshets" seems to be used in relation to the ministers being able to "take rest" when sitting, as well as to a body of water.

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“Midwinter thaws no longer terrify the rural Pastor,” remarked the Antiquary, as the Swerve[1] ran merrily along the paved road, banked high between what seemed to be wide-spreading lakes, but were really corn fields submerged under a foot or two of water from the swollen creek. “The old-timers tell wonderful tales of the horseback days, when mud was a more potent enemy than snow. But the automobile made good roads—”


“And good roads make the automobile—” cut in the Liturgiologist. “One would be rather useless without the other. It’s the old philosophical problem in a new guise (as the rooster said, ‘Yesterday an egg: tomorrow a feather duster; gosh, what’s the use!’). But, as you say, things have improved, not but what there’s plenty of room for further improvement.”


“You were speaking of sanctuary floors, just before we struck this good pavement,” said the Antiquary, with that delightful non sequitur[2] which was one of his greatest conversational charms. “Did I understand you to say that green is the required color for a rug or carpet in the sanctuary?”


“It is so ordered in the Ceremonial of Bishops” (Caeremoniale Episcoporum, I. 12), answered the Liturgiologist. “That volume is the norm, not only for episcopal functions, but for the arrangement of churches and sanctuaries in general. But you need not suppose that this direction precludes the tile floor you are planning for your new church, or that the tiles must be green. If you had a carpet, it should be green, which seems to be a sort of general color for various semi-liturgical coverings. For example, the scamnum, or bench, for the celebrant and sacred ministers, is to be covered with green cloth, except when the color of the function is black or violet, when the bench is bare.”


“Ah, yes, bench, scamnum, sedes[3]—” murmured the Antiquary thoughtfully. “You don’t approve of those Florentine chairs I had in mind for the sedilia?”

“What I approve or disapprove has nothing to do with it,” growled the Liturgiologist, testily. “The Holy Catholic and Roman Church, by decree of her Congregation of Sacred Rites, forbids armchairs of any kind in any sanctuary, for any purpose except as thrones for bishops (S.R.C. 2621 ad 6, 2734 ad 2 et alia). The Ceremonial of Bishops calls the seat where the celebrant and sacred ministers repose during the Kyrie (if it be long), the Gloria, the sermon (if there be one at all, short or long) and the Credo, not to mention specified times in other functions ‘an oblong bench—with or without a back.’ This may be raised by a sort of half step from the floor of the sanctuary, more than this elevation is forbidden (S.R.C. 2135 ad 2). The bench, it would seem, may be divided by low arm-rests, for convenience and comfort, provided it does not appear to be a throne or armchair (sedes camerales[4]) and the back, if any, should be low, so that the vestments may be conveniently disposed without crushing or folding.”


“What about the altar boys?” asked the Antiquary, not without malice, for he remembered a former occasion on which the Liturgiologist had held forth on this neglected point of ecclesiastical etiquette.


“The altar boys do not sit on the scamnum with the celebrant, i.e., at missa cantata.[5] But they have small stools, or very low-backed chairs, placed at the ends of the scamnum, but a little back of the line of the sacred ministers. Also, if anywhere in the sanctuary, altar boys are to be accommodated during the times when the celebrant sits, they will have stools, or plain benches. And, by the way, the boys should never sit unless the celebrant does so. The congregation may, and usually does, sit during the Offertory, after the Ablutions, etc., but the boys in the sanctuary should not do so; they stand or kneel according to the direction, and are seated only when the celebrant is away from the altar, or seated himself. As soon as he rises, all within the sanctuary rise also, nor do they sit down until he has done so, bowing to him first.[6] That’s only good manners. And if boys are too little, or too weak, to observe them they would much better not be in the sanctuary at all.”


“I think I can get some very nice ecclesiastical stools for the new St. Inveteratus,” said the Antiquary. “After the pattern of the seats in the Da Vinci Last Supper, you know.”


“Good art, but rotten archaeology!” barked the Liturgiologist, who was not enjoying himself in the Swerve, with the Antiquary at the wheel. His own Buck[7] was not yet bought—he said he’d wait till Spring, but that was not his real reason for delaying the purchase! “I hope you aren’t going to sprinkle prie dieus[8] all around your sanctuary.”


“Why not?” replied the Antiquary, this time really wondering why his old friend should decry an all but universal, and certainly most comfortable, custom.


“Kneeling benches in the sanctuary are not mentioned by any liturgical writer, for the simple reason that there are not supposed to be any there. The bishop uses what is called a genuflexorium, a kneeling bench covered with cloth the color of the day or function. But that is not a permanent fixture, even in the cathedral, but is plainly to be brought in when needed, and removed when not in actual use by the bishop. The decrees of the Congregation of Rites on this subject are interesting. They show that various prelates, from time to time, have abrogated to themselves the use of the genuflexorium, during sacred functions, of course, and have had to be reprimanded. Indeed, this article of furniture is only for use, in the sanctuary that is, during sacred ceremonies, not for private prayers. If clergy are present during ceremonies they are supposed to occupy stalls in the liturgical choir, or around the sanctuary wall.”


“But we have so few churches with liturgical choirs,” said the Antiquary, “And practically none with choir stalls around the sanctuary walls. What’s the pious Priest to do who wishes to pray in the sanctuary during Mass or at other times?”


“By all means let him have a prie dieu off in some inconspicuous corner. No objection to that at all,” said the Liturgiologist. “He will edify the people at least. But he isn’t part of the function; he’s just present in his private capacity, even when there’s a number of him, as for a special service of some sort. For such, there might be benches arranged choir-wise. Or the Clerics might replace the altar boys along the communion railing. No one expects to be highly comfortable on such occasions. Look at the photographs of Roman functions, Papal Mass in St. Peter’s for example, Consistories and the like. Behold the cardinals occupying benches like so many altar boys, bishops and monsignori on stools and venerable priests (even bishops and patriarchs on occasion) strewn on the steps of the altar!”


“They say the roads in Italy are terrible,” remarked the Antiquary, with seeming irrelevance. “And even the cardinals drive in old barouches[9] drawn by horses almost as old. Common or garden variety priests walk.”


Nego paritatem!”[10] shouted the Liturgiologist, with a burst of laughter.



1 The name of the priests’ new car.


2 Latin for “it does not follow”.


3 Latin for “seat”.


4 Latin for a type of “box seat” which was a chair with a canopy overhead, the kind nobility were accustomed to use, even in churches until prohibited by the S.R.C.


5 A “sung Mass”; per the 1960 code of rubrics, this term now refers exclusively to “High Mass”.


6 Here the Liturgiologist’s commits a rare faux pas, for there is no prescription for the inferior ministers to do this, nor is it mentioned by rubrical authorities (e.g., Fortescue, J.B. O’Connell and L. O’Connell); thus such unprescribed bows should be omitted.


There is one exception though: if the acolytes (after having assisted the deacon and subdeacon at the sedilia) pass in front of the celebrant sitting at the sedilia, then they must bow to him first.


It’s also noteworthy that the deacon and subdeacon are not required to bow to the celebrant before sitting, though they bow to each other first.


7 Another car.


8 The French term for a kneeler.


9 A shallow slung horse-drawn carriage of the 17th century that had a half-folding hood.


10 A Latin phrase meaning “I deny that the conditions are similar”.

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