Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Feria IV Cinerum - Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is a privileged greater feria. No feast can be celebrated on this day whatever its rank. The liturgical colour of the day is violet.

The third part of the Pontificale Romanum still contains the rite for the Expulsion of Public Penitents - De Expusione Publice Poenitentium ab Ecclesia in feria Quarta Cinerum. In that rite, after Sext, when the bishop was to celebrate Mass this day, the bishop vested in pontificals as far as the dalmatic and then donned a violet cope. Public penitents assembled in sack-cloth in their bare feet and were given a penance for Lent and then were given ashes, which the bishop had blessed. Then followed a ceremony that included the Seven Penitential Psalms and Litany and culminated in them being led, physically, from the church and expelled. The Caermoniale Episcoporum alludes to the Expulsion of Penitents in churches where it is the custom, C.E. Lib II, Cap.18, 2. Although no longer generally practised echoes of the above can be found in today's Liturgy. The Liturgy is interesting too in that much remains of the Office of the Septuagesima season as originally Lent began with the Office of the first Sunday.

The Office of Ash Wednesday begins with Mattins. The invitatory, hymn, antiphon and psalms are from the ferial Office and are those used on other ferial Wednesdays, with nothing particular to Lent. The second scheme of Mattins for Wednesday is used, wherein Psalm 49 is split into three fragments rather than the usual two. The lessons in the nocturn are from a homily of St. Augustine reflecting on the LORD's Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew's Gospel. The responsories are taken from the third nocturn of Quinquagesima Sunday. At Lauds the second scheme is used (Pss. 50, 64, 100, Canticle of Anna & 145), the antiphon on the Benedictus and collect are proper to the day. After the antiphon on the Benedictus is sung in full after the canticle the choir kneels and the ferial preces are sung. After the collect of the day a commemoration is sung of St. Frances of Rome.

At the Hours the ferial antiphons and psalter are used. Prime has a fourth psalm displaced from Lauds by the Miserere, so the psalmody at Prime Pss. 25, 51, 52 & 96. At Prime both the Dominical and ferial preces are chanted kneeling, the chapter is the ferial Pacem et veritatem. At the other Hours the short set of ferial preces are chanted with the choir kneeling.

The blessing of Ashes and Mass follows None. The celebrant vests in a violet cope with the deacon and subdeacon wearing violet folded chasubles. The organ is silent following the general rule when folded chasubles are worn. The Ashes, made from the preceding year's Palms, are blessed with four collects of blessing. The short conclusion of these prayers probably indicates the blessing was separated by the Expusion of Penitents from the Mass which follows. The Ashes are imposed whilst two antiphons are chanted Immutemur habitu and Inter vestibulum. These are followed by the poignant responsory Emendemus in melius. The Mass that now immediately follows is proper. The Gloria is not sung. The second collect is of St. Frances of Rome. The preface of Lent is sung. The ferial tones are used for the orations, preface and Pater noster. The choir kneels for the Orations and from the Sanctus until Pax Domini. After the last collect the deacon sings Humiliate capita vestra Deo and the celebrant sings the Oratio super populum. The dismissal is Benedicamus Domino, sung by the deacon facing the celebrant and altar.

Vespers are first Vespers of the following feast of the Forty Martyrs with a corresponding colour change to red. A commemoration of the feria is made (the antiphon at the Magnificat and collect are proper) and of St. Frances of Rome.

In the 'liturgical books of 1962' the ferial preces are sung at Lauds and Vespers only. At Prime there are three psalms 25, 51 & 52 and the chapter is Regi saeculorum. At the blessing of Ashes and Mass the ministers wear dalmatic and tunicle. Judica me Deus etc is omitted from the beginning of Mass. There is one collect. The extended kneeling is omitted with the choir rising at the conclusion of the Canon. The dismissal is Ite missa est. Vespers are of the feria without any commemorations.


Peter said...

If no feast may be celebrated in place of Ash Wednesday, then why are the Vespers of Ash Wednesday not also privileged as the Mass is?

Rubricarius said...


A combination of reasons I suspect including a)that Ash Wednesday doesn't strictly have Vespers; b) the liturgical day beginning at sunset; c) Lent originally not starting until the after the First Sunday.