Monday, 28 December 2009

The Holy Innocents

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, it is a Double of the Second Class with a simple Octave. Today the altars and ministers change their recent festive colours to the violet of mourning. In practice, in larger churches, the most decorated violet vestments used for the Vigil of the Nativity and for Gaudete and Laetare Sundays would be used this day.

The feast of the Holy Innocents is unique in the Roman rite in that it changes its liturgical colour depending on whether it falls on a weekday or a Sunday. This year as the feast falls on a weekday it is celebrated in violet. When it falls on a Sunday, as it did last year, the feast is celebrated in red. The origin of this practice is a compromise between the differences in Gallican and Roman praxis.

Mattins has nine lessons. In the first nocturn the lessons are from Jeremiah. In the second nocturn the lessons are taken from a sermon of St. Augustine on the Saint and in the third nocturn the eigth antiphon, Isti sunt, is proper and the homily on the Gospel is from the writings of St. Jerome on St. Matthew's Gospel. The Te Deum is not sung but a ninth responsory in its place, Isti qui amicti sunt... At Lauds a comemmoration is made of the Octave of the Nativity. At the Little Hours the hymns have their Doxology changed in honour of the Incarnation, the festal psalms are sung and at Prime the short lesson is Hi empti sunt

At Mass, violet vestments are worn. The Gloria is not sung, the second collect is of the Octave of the Nativity. The Alleluia and its verse given in the Missal is not sung today but in its place the Tract Effuderunt sanguinem Sanctorum. The Credo is sung and the preface and communicantes are of the Octave of the Nativity. The beautiful solemn tone of Benedicamus Domino is sung as the dismissal, heard only on the Vigil of Christmas, Holy Innocents' Day and Masses pro re gravi.

Vespers are of the Nativity, but from the chapter of the Holy Innocents with a commemoration of the following day's feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury and of the Octave of the Nativity.

Rubricarius must confess to never having seen the feast of the Holy Innocents celebrated in any colour until today. This afternoon, after writing the post, I watched the live 'webstream' from St. Gertrude the Great Church in Ohio. Bishop Dolan gave a very lovely sermon to the children and mentioned the use of the best violet vestment. (See below). I guess Ohio must have a plague of clothes moths looking at state of the surplices of the chaplains and the alb!

In the old Roman Breviary today also had commemorations of the Octaves of St. Stephen and St. John. Following the 'liturgical books of 1962' the feast of the Holy Innocents looses its penitential aspect and is celebrated in red. The Te Deum replaces the ninth responsory. At the Hours the hymn tones and conclusions are ordinary and ferial pslamody is sung. At Prime the short lesson is of 'the season'. At Mass the Gloria and Alleluia are sung. The Tract and magnificent Benedicamus Domino are never heard. At Vespers there is only a commemoration of the Octave of the Nativity.


Hoxie18 said...

The surplices are called semi-lace surplices, worn normally only by the principal MC's and Bishop's chaplains, as well as the clergy at Saint Gertrude's. The other servers wear the full lace surplices. Merry Christmas!

Rubricarius said...

Dear Hoxie18,

I would call them lacy cottas rather than the proper surplices called for by the rubrics. I dread to think what a "full lace surplice" looks like.

Now just think how much better the celebration would have looked with good, full, linen surplices that almost touched the ground! I would describe that as getting close to liturgical perfection.

A very Happy Christmas too!

Francis said...

"Vespers are of the Nativity, but from the chapter of the Holy Innocents with a commemoration of the following day's feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury and of the Octave of the Nativity."

So are the Vespers in white or violet? Or does it start in white and then switch to violet after the capitulum?

Rubricarius said...



Francis said...

Thank you very much.

So, is it a general rule that when Vespers start with the psalms of one feast and then become something else after the capitulum that the colour for the whole Office is that of the second part?

Rubricarius said...


Yes, if Vespers if 'from the chapter of the following' the liturgical colour is that which belongs to the chapter.

Within the Nativity Octave there are clearly several layers of rubrics. The normal rules get somewhat obscured.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about surplices - if, as rumours suggest, the Missale Sarisburiense is resurrected, servers at anything other than low masses will be wearing amices, albs and cinctures - the amices and albs probably having apparels.

Rubricarius said...


What rumours?

Acolytes in apparelled albs and amices (and tunicles on greater days) - what a wonderful thought.

Anonymous said...

I understand that the Vatican is working on an editio typica of the Sarum Missal, for use, at the very least, in the Anglican ordinariates.