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Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies

Based on the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, Decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites and Approved Authors

By Right Rev. Aurelius Stehle, OSB

Revised by Fr. Emmeran A. Rettger. OSB, MA

[2 volumes in 1]

A review by Louis J. Tofari

As I have mentioned in my previous review of the 1963 Liber Usualis, I had the opportunity to freelance as a reprint manager for Preserving Christian Publications (aka, PCP) for a number of years. During my tenure, one of the projects that I recommended and managed for reprinting was Abbot Aurelius Stehle’s classic Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies. In fact, the original set used for its reproduction came from my personal library.

My reason for suggesting this project to PCP was due to the outstanding and even invaluable resource that Stehle’s work provided for those involved with pontifical ceremonies. Furthermore, the recommendation came at just the time when some American bishops were taking interest in—and even utilizing—the traditional episcopal ceremonies. Another factor was that Stehle’s Manual—unlike Fortescue’s or Ahern-Lane’s editions—provided the specific customs observed in the United States.


Concerning the author, Fr. Aurelius Stehle (1877-1930) was a Benedictine who in 1918 became the archabbot of St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. As Fr. Stehle writes in his preface, originally he was intending to revise and reprint an existing work, Pontifical Ceremonies by the Irish Fr. J. Hughes published in 1850. But Stehle soon realized that a new work, “revised and recast” was instead required.


In 1914, Fr. Stehle finally published his Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies that was “substantially a new work” and one that he hoped (as expressed in the Preface to his First Edition):


If what is set forth in the following pages will be of assistance to others, and will contribute something to the glory of God by instructing His ministers and effecting a more exact observance of the Rubrics in the public worship of His Divine Majesty, the purpose of the compiler will have been fulfilled, his labors fully requited.


His devotion to ensuring that the celebration of “the Divine Liturgy according to the strict mind of the Church” (as Bishop Connare wrote in his Foreword to the 1961 edition) was rewarded by a contemporaneous favorable reception by bishops, priests, masters of ceremonies and sacristans alike.


Indeed, Stehle’s Manual went through a further four editions (and thereby revisions as necessitated by various liturgical reforms) until its final Fifth Edition, posthumously edited by Fr. Emmeran Rettger, also a Benedictine of St. Vincent’s Archabbey, where he was professor of liturgy. (By happy providence, some years ago I had the opportunity to speak with a priest that Fr. Rettger trained to celebrate Mass, and who related to me his professor’s similar solicitude for an exact and worthy celebration of the Holy Sacrifice.)


Thanks to Preserving Christian Publications’ reprint of Abbot Stehle’s Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies, this manual continues to be held in high regard in America for its comprehensive treatment of pontifical functions. In fact, I would say that his manual is a necessity for the rubrical library of every bishop and master of ceremonies who desires to better understand the episcopal rites of the Roman Liturgy, which are its highest forms.


In addition to clearly explaining the various ceremonies (whether of the pontifical forms of Mass, the Divine Office, the administration of the sacraments, and other rites), the Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies provides a systematic treatment of the general principles of pontifical ceremonies, the offices of the various ministers, and common ceremonial actions. It also features helpful lists of preparations, diagrams, and perhaps a fortiori, footnotes that provide gems of interesting and in-depth rubrical points.


In some cases, Stehle’s Manual can even be used as the ceremonial book, such as for Confirmations, wherein even the Confirma hoc chant notation has been provided. Other interesting rites completely provided are for the Investiture of a Monsignor and the Form of Profession of Faith to be made by a Dying Bishop.


Originally divided into two volumes, the first for Ordinary Episcopal Ceremonies and the second for Occasional Episcopal Ceremonies, the second part includes the pontifical versions of Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, the Holy Week Rites, how a bishop assists during the Sacred Triduum, or conduct the Processions for St. Mark’s Day (Rogations) and Corpus Christi, and perform ordinations. Also, both volumes feature a table of contents, helpful glossary of terms, and are fully indexed, which makes for easy reference.


Also and particular to the United States, as I stated earlier, Stehle’s Manual uniquely gives the customs that were traditionally practiced (and had force of law) here in America at pontifical ceremonies, such as bowing to prelates instead of genuflecting and the assistant deacons wearing albs rather than surplices. Thus through this invaluable rubrical resource, we Americans can hope that our country’s legitimate customs for pontifical ceremonies will one day be restored (as they have in other countries).


When Preserving Christian Publications first reprinted Archabbot Stehle’s Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies, it was done as the original in two separated volumes. When it came time for the second reprinting (thus indicating its continued popularity), it was decided to combine the two volumes of 444 pages under a single cover to reduce the binding costs, though with the same quality of the first printing.


The Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies has been worthily reprinted on high-quality cream-colored paper and hardbound in a maroon cloth cover with elegant gold-embossing. As usual per PCP’s binding standards, the book is Smyth-sewn and the book block is finished with red and gold headbands. A convenient red marking ribbon is also included. And all of this for just $46.00!


Also, if you require only the Ordinary Episcopal Ceremonies volume, you can purchase this alone as several overruns are available from the original 2-volume printing for just $18.00!

So whether you are a veteran of pontifical ceremonies, a novice just learning them, or even a curious Catholic about how they should be done, Stehle’s Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies is for you!

My thanks again to Preserving Christian Publications for keeping this invaluable rubrical work in print!

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