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Out of Gas for an Hour


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 12

The flivver was quite frankly and hopelessly in the ditch, but so dilapidated was its general condition that an unskilled observer would have found it difficult to say whether there was any damage consequent upon the mishap. Fortunately it had been run off the road not far from a country school house, on the steps of which the Antiquary and the Liturgiologist were (more or less) calmly eating sandwiches from an old leather-covered box, which might have once served as a chalice case, and drinking coffee from a thermos bottle. The Antiquary was taking things (including the sandwiches) with his usual philosophic calm, but the Liturgiologist was voluble with mild vituperation. “Looks as if you’d been crowded off the road—if any of the crowd passes this way we’ll be in for contumelious ribaldry—why couldn’t you have been sure of your gas before we left Burgdale?"[1]


“Well,” drawled the Antiquary, “it’s no sin to be mistaken, and I did really think we had enough. As for looking as if we’d been in a wreck, that’s the natural complexion of Lizzie, and the only remedy for it is for you to come across with your share and help me, or rather us, to get a new one.”


“Never,” barked the Liturgiologist, the fringe of hair around his spacious bald spot bristling, “Not so much as one penny! I’ve suffered enough from this machine without being cajoled into subscribing for one that you could drive twice as fast on the level and ten times faster on a down grade! How much is Henry asking for his new model?"


Transeat,”[2] cooed the Antiquary. “For this once I’ll walk to yon farm house to borrow or buy oil—that is, I’ll go as soon as the sandwich supply is also exhausted.” (And to himself, submissa voce,[3] “You’ll contribute all right!”)


For a while the two friends munched in silence, then:—“Have you noticed how few celebrants at the Forty Hours observe the rule about putting the incense into the censer (before the procession) at the bench? All the ‘Approved Authors’ say that it is to be done there, and not in the middle of the sanctuary, yet hardly ever does one see it so,” said the Liturgiologist, tossing crumbs at a chicken which had wandered into the school yard.


“I should suppose,” answered the Antiquary, “that this little lapse from strict propriety had some connection with the similarly common practice of changing vestments in plano[4] before the altar instead of at the scamnum,[5] which is all right if the chasuble has not been placed previously on the altar (Decree 2207) and the bishop is not present (Decree 3110).”


“Nevertheless the old Baltimore Ceremonial[6] insists on the change being effected at the bench and liturgical writers generally, give this place the preference,” said the Liturgiologist, sighing, “Yet it has become very common for the celebrant at the Sunday sung Mass to change from cope to chasuble ‘in the midst’ and, when Benediction follows Mass, to change back again in the same place, without going to the bench. The rule seems to be that such changes of vestments shall generally be made at the bench, and the ceremonies of the Forty Hours are no exception.”


“I seem to remember that Fr. Rusticus,[7] who omitted the procession in his little church on the plea that there were not enough altar boys (tho there were eight priests present), performed the curtailed ceremonies of the Exposition at the beginning of his Forty Hours without changing to the cope—just came down from the altar after the Last Gospel, put incense into the censer in the midst before the lowest step, and censed the Blessed Sacrament, enthroned It, and went out, still in his chasuble.” The Antiquary’s tone was that of one who says “sic’em” to a pugnacious terrier!


“Fr. Rusticus is an excellent priest,” said the Liturgiologist, with speciously level voice, “he is a model pastor, but he excuses himself for his crass ignorance of ceremonial on the entirely invalid plea that his church is small, that necessary assistants are lacking, and that since he has the Faith mere details don’t matter! Of course, the processions, one or both of them, of the Forty Hours may be omitted for just cause, without impairing the integrity of the devotion, but permission to leave out certain ceremonies does not imply a change in the manner of carrying out those that remain, and he should change to the cope, at the bench, put incense into the censer there, and finish the ceremonies as directed, even when he does not have the procession.”


“To go to the other extreme:—at St. Urban’s,[8] where I preached last week, they had not only deacon and subdeacon, but a third priest, in stole, to enthrone the Blessed Sacrament at the Mass of Exposition, and to climb the ladder and bring It down at the solemn closing on the last evening. I looked it up, and found that it was all right, but, not being a precisionist in such matters, like yourself, I could not quite straighten out in my mind the matter of the celebrant and deacon kneeling when the one handed the monstrance to the other before and after the procession, and at Benediction.” The Antiquary thought he “had” the Liturgiologist there, but our ancient friend was ready for him.


“A very simple general rule governs, for Corpus Christi and the Forty Hours Devotion, that oft-mistaken action,” said he. “He who gives stands, he who receives kneels. And it should be noted that at ordinary Benediction, with deacon or assisting priest, both stand. The kneeling of the one or the other at this point of the ceremony is a peculiar distinction of the Forty Hours Devotion and Corpus Christi. Another point, not generally observed, is that the Celebrant receives the monstrance from the deacon at the foot pace,[9] but returns it to him in plano after the procession.”


“Hie!”[10] shouted the Antiquary, “Hie there!” And the conference came to an abrupt close as a large car came to a stop in answer to the hail. But the Liturgiologist’s relief in this timely rescue was mitigated by the fact that the succoring machine contained several priests, who fulfilled his fears of contumelious ribaldry!



1 A tongue in cheek reference to a suburb, “burg” for city and “dale” for a green area.


2 Latin for "forget it".


3 Latin for "in a low voice"; in this case, under his breath.


4 Latin for "on the floor".


5 Latin for "sedilia", the bench where the sacred ministers sit.


6 Referring to The Ceremonial for Catholic Churches in the United States of America which was prescribed by the First Plenary Council of Baltimore (hence its nickname) for use in this country. It was compiled by Bishop Joseph Rosati in 1829 and subsequently updated until 1935. This manual is noteworthy for being imbued with the Roman method of ceremonies as well as outlining the particular liturgical customs practiced in this country which generally have force of law.


7 “Rusticus” is a play on words meaning a country priest.


8 Another play on words this time meaning an urban, or city priest.


9 Another English word for the predella, the top altar step or platform.


10 The old-fashioned spelling for “Hey!”

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