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Hot Air and Pulpits


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 16

In spite of the inclement weather the new Scoot had made a number of trips over the icy boulevards of the city, and even out into the country for a sacerdotal jubilee. To say that the new car was a source of pride to its owner (or owners!) would be putting it mildly. They gave the road to no one, not even Fr. Torculus in his limousine. The engine purred like a great cat as the glistening car took the hills. But, “man never is, but always to be, blessed,” and the matter of accessories troubled the calm waters of life for the two old friends. The Antiquary maintained that, inasmuch as the new Scoot was practically a present, the donor should equip it. The Liturgiologist answered that he was responsible for only half of the car, for which he had paid good money (at least was paying it in monthly installments) while the Antiquary had acquired his equity by a lucky turn of fortune’s wheel, which cost him exactly turn of fortune’s wheel, which cost him exactly five dollars. “You ought to put on all the necessary thingumabobs,” said the Liturgiologist, “cigar lighters, those little ship’s lanterns on the running board that you admired so much when Fr. Torculus got ‘em for his car, and, not least important, a heater.[1] You’d think a fine car like this would have one already built in—”


“And hot and cold water,” sneered the Antiquary. “It has electric lights already. What do you expect for your money?”


“Well, those little heaters certainly are a comfort,” retorted the Liturgiologist, with mild persistence. “And ingenious, too. We had one on the late lamented flivver, and when it worked it certainly was grand! They take the hot exhaust from the engine, baffle out the smell, and send the heat right up one’s legs in a most consoling manner. I wish we had one in the car right now, for I don’t mind telling you my feet are cold.”


“Stamp ‘em on the floor,” was the unfeeling advice of the Antiquary. But on the return trip, a drop of several degrees having taken place during the jubilee ceremonies, he was more amenable to his friend’s suggestion. “Hot air is very well in its place,” said he, “and its place is evidently right here in this machine. Pity we didn’t give Msgr. Loquax[2] a ride back to town—he’d have kept us warm enough!”

“Now, now, Pere don’t be uncharitable!” murmured the Liturgiologist. “The old monsignore believes in giving an audience its money’s worth, and you got a good nap out of that sermon anyhow!”


“No souls saved after the first twenty minutes,” growled the Antiquary. “Besides, we all know Fr. Oldham[3] is a good and holy and successful priest. Only one parish in his whole twenty-five years out. That speaks for itself, and needs no encomium.[4] Anyhow, I couldn’t hear a word of the eulogy, and I doubt if anyone in the sanctuary could. That shell[5] on the pulpit may throw the sound out to the congregation, but it shuts off every word from everybody not directly in front of it. And why musts they wheel the pulpit out into the middle of the church when everybody knows it ought to be permanently located over on the gospel side.”


Distinguo,”[6] chirped the Liturgiologist. “As an Antiquary, you are carried away by the beautiful idea that the modern pulpit is nothing more nor less than the ancient ambo[7] from which the Gospel was sung. You might just as well claim that our pulpits ought to be hung up somewhere in the chancel-arch because in England the mediaeval priests went up into the rood-loft to chant. As a matter of fact the pulpit is about as purely a utilitarian affair as can possibly be imagined. Useful, sometimes ornamental, but no part of the official furniture of any Catholic church.”


“Do you say that just because your friend Fortescue omits the pulpit from his list of the furnishings of the church,” asked the Antiquary, with a tinge of malice.


“Show me an ‘Approved Author’ who includes it!” was the instant reply of the Liturgiologist, somewhat nettled at having his pet authority called in question. “No one should know better than you that the elaboration of the pulpit is nothing but a back-wash from Protestantism. But that is not the point exactly—I said that the pulpit is, par excellence,[8] utilitarian, being nothing more nor less than a convenience for the preacher of the sermon, a platform where he can be seen, from which he can be hear (if the acoustics are any good, which they usually are not!) and whatever mystical symbolism may have attacked itself in modern times to the pulpit itself, or its location in the church building, is purely fortuitous.”


“It would be interesting to know whether the use of the pulpit is on the decline here in America,” said the Antiquary. “Many of our churches have none, and many of our clergy do not use them when they have ‘em. The sermons at Low Mass on Sunday are generally preached by the celebrant from the altar.”


“Yes,” interrupted the Liturgiologist, “and said celebrant very seldom seems to be aware that the sermon (to say nothing of the announcements) is not part of the Mass, and that he should take off his maniple while preaching, if he does not, indeed, remove the chasuble as well. ‘If he preach from the pulpit,’ says the incomparable Fortescue, ‘generally he will go to the sedilia, with the ministers, take off the chasuble and maniple (assisted by the M.C.) and will leave them there. At the end of the sermon the celebrant comes to the sedilia and puts on the maniple and chasuble; the ministers go with him, in the usual (longer) way, to the altar.’”


“That would certainly be more seemly than wearing the chasuble in the pulpit, even when he does not have to leave the sanctuary,” assented the Antiquary. “But what is this about a longer way in returning to the altar after the sermon?”


“Why,” said the Liturgiologist, “it’s very simple, and the rules are given in every liturgical author I know of, yet somehow they are seldom observed. If the celebrant leaves the altar to sit during the Gloria or Credo, or to preach, he is directed to genuflect (if the Blessed Sacrament is reserved at the altar, otherwise he bows) on the foot-pace,[9] and then go ‘by the short way,’ that is by coming down the altar steps at the epistle end, or diagonally, and so going directly to the scamnum.[10] The altar boys, or sacred ministers if there are any, genuflect in their places at the same time, and go with him to the bench. There is no authority for the method so frequently seen, of the celebrant coming down to the midst in plano,[11] and there genuflecting with the ministers before going to the sedilia. When he returns to the altar, after the Gloria, Credo or Sermon, he comes to the midst, genuflects on the lowest step, and goes straight up to the altar to resume the Mass.”


“And if he preaches,” queried the Antiquary, “he goes first to the scamnum to take off the vestments, and thence to the pulpit?”


“Certainly,” replied the Liturgiologist. “It is the general rule that a priest makes any necessary changes of vestments either in the sacristy or at the bench. bishops sometimes vest before the altar…”


“Who’s uncharitable now?” laughed the Antiquary.


“There’s a supply shop,” said the Liturgiologist clara voce,[12] “let’s stop and look at some of those heater-things!”



1 Yes, a heater was an accessory in the 1920s and 30s!


2 A humorous play on the word "loquacious".


3 The name “Oldham” is a play on the phrase “that old ham!” meaning  “what a character!”


4 A Latin word of Greek derivative that means "the praise of a person" (or thing), but this word can also refer to "a general category of oratory", "a method of rhetorical pedagogy", or even "a figure of speech". Thus there are several layers to this play on the word.


5 Referring to a backdrop hung behind and slightly behind the pulpit that was intended to reflect sound into the nave, though in reality such a device was not very effective. These were in vogue in churches in the United States before the advent of the microphone and electric sound systems.


6 Latin for "let's make a distinction".


7 An ambo is a raised platform from which certain texts were read so they could be heard better. These were common in the ancient and medieval church, and often churches had two ambos, one for chanting the Epistle and lessons, and the other (usually on the Gospel side) for chanting the Gospel. Several churches in Rome still have their ambos preserve, the most famous being St. Clement’s Basilica, which actually has three.


8 A French expression for "by excellence".


9 An English term for the Italian "predella".


10 Latin for "sedilia".


11 A Latin rubrical term that means "on the floor".


12 Latin for "in a clear voice".


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