Quomodo sedet sola Civitas.

good-friday2016How doth the city sit solitary… so goes the lamentation of Jeremiah the Prophet.

In the Roman rite (and the Anglican Missal), the Blessed Sacrament is taken to the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday, and is consumed at the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. After that, the Church is empty, bare and dead. It is something like a redundant church or what happened to all too many sanctuaries in the wake of the liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic Church.

In the Use of Sarum and for some other northern European traditions, the Blessed Sacrament (the third Host from Maundy Thursday) and the crucifix are “buried” from the end of the Mass of the Presanctified, and remain so until shortly before the Mass of Easter Sunday. This is the Easter Sepulchre, on which  have already written, citing articles by others on this subject.

Which is better? I am inclined to have taken a liking to the idea of “death with hope”, in the knowledge that Christ rose from the dead – represented by the crucified body and the sacramental Body. There is a superimposition of this continuing “latent life” and the total renewal symbolised by the New Fire and the ceremony of light and the Paschal Candle. This is my impression from the experience of Sarum.

My Sepulchre is something of an improvisation, consisting of a small credence and the wooden urn I used to use for the Altar of Repose when I celebrated the Roman rite. It is covered with a humeral veil. The crucifix is laid on a cushion on the floor under the credence, and covered with a cloth to symbolise the burying.

Sorry to have forgotten to take the ugly gas heater out of the picture!

I wish all my readers an illuminating Transitus Domini and everything this Paschal Mystery can bring each and every one of you.

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4 Responses to Quomodo sedet sola Civitas.

  1. Rubricarius says:

    I think the praxis of Sarum, and similar rites/uses superior to the ‘modern’ Roman liturgy. The introduction of the altar of repose and development of the Maundy Thursday services into a mini-Quarant’Ore rather distorted the events of the last days of Holy Week. The Sepulchre ceremonies maintain a better liturgical flow culminating in the opening of the Sepulchre before Mattins of Easter. Actually, in the Roman rite the return of the Sacrament which has been in a ‘suitable’ place – without veneration – is to be returned after the Holy Saturday service.

  2. Abraham says:

    Father,
    In order to enhance your readers appreciation of your beautiful chapel could you share with us the dimensions of your altar, the height of your dossal and riddels and any other pertinent information? I also notice your sanctuary lamp is smaller than many, is it necessary to replenish the oil on a daily basis?

    • I’ll give you the dimensions in metric (you can convert them into imperial if you need to). An altar needs to be exactly 95cm high. I took this measurement from an altar in a church in France, on which it was most comfortable for saying Mass. 1m is too high, and any lower is a strain on the back. This altar is 1m 60cm in length. More length is an advantage if it is proportionate with the width of the sanctuary. Depth – I recommend at least 70cm and 80 is even better. I have no gradines.

      The height of your dossal and riddels will depend on the window above the altar or whatever else there is. If there is no restriction, I suggest a little less high that the altar. You can have riddel posts or simply iron brackets (which I forged myself) screwed to the wall with suitable plugs (eg: for plasterboard, etc.).

      I have used a large glass sanctuary lamp with olive oil and a floating wick. The wicks have to be replaced more frequently than the oil. Also, you get greasy black soot on the ceiling above the lamp – great fun to wash off! Another solution is melting down your old candle ends and pouring them into glass pots with a piece of string from the bottom and held at the top with a piece of cardboard. You can’t use any old string for wicks, so you need to buy the wicks with little weights. Ordinary string will flop into the molten wax, extinguish the flame and then the wax solidifies with the wick “swallowed”. You can also use votive lamps and change them once or twice a day. There are lamps that last for a week that you buy in red plastic pots – expensive and ugly. You see what I’m getting at… Presently, I am using little white lamps sold for plate warmers, and very cheap at the supermarket – but they don’t last very long. In the end of the day, a sanctuary lamp is a signal (along with the tabernacle or pyx veil) that the Blessed Sacrament is present. There are almost never any people in my chapel outside service times, and then a new lamp is lit. It is different from a public church. Another solution, which I find tawdry is an electric bulb that imitates a flame. I don’t like it.

      Here is my article on the chapel from 2008.

  3. Abraham says:

    Father,
    Thank you for answering my questions and the link to the other article, it is very inspiring. I must admit I am very envious.

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