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Ordination customs

14 July 2017

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The Catholic Herald has lately reported the revived “Extraordinary Form” ordinations (i.e. under the old Latin rite) in St Mary’s, Warrington, with an array of photos that show the RC Archbishop of Liverpool wearing a long purple train, but also the newly ordained priests with their chasubles pinned up at the back. What is the origin of these customs, and does anyone recall witnessing them followed in an Anglo-Catholic context before the liturgical reforms of the 1960s?

This is a complex question with practices built up over many years. This is, of necessity, a simplification. As I have not seen the photos, there is some guesswork.

It is likely that the “long purple train” is the cappa magna, a garment previously worn by Roman Prelates. This garment is worn but rarely now, and is likely to be seen only at events using the extraordinary form. The garment is often seen as representing worldly pomp and is, therefore, deprecated. Strictly, it is not a liturgical garment and would normally be set aside when the bishop vested for mass.

The ordination rite developed piecemeal over the ages with elements from the Gelasian and Leonine Sacramentaries. Some further material can be found in the Ordines Romani (e.g. IV, that of St Amand [seventh century], and VIII and IX [c.850]). By the time of the Council of Trent, at the ordination of priests, after the laying on of hands by the bishop, they were vested in stole and chasuble.

The chasuble was let down at the front, but pinned up at the back, in a manner similar to a folded chasuble worn in penitential seasons. It remained pinned up while the priest’s hands were anointed and bound with the manutergium (a linen cloth for wiping the excess oil). The candidates were then presented with chalice and paten.

The newly ordained concelebrated with the bishop and then received communion as the Body of Christ and from a chalice containing plain wine and water. After communion, there followed the commission to absolve, and after this the back of the chasuble was unpinned.

As can be seen, the rite was fragmented.

I have never come across the use of these ceremonies in toto in the Church of England, but parts have been borrowed by Anglo-Catholics (e.g. the giving of chalice and paten, vesting, but without the pinning up). I believe that the complete rite was used in some missionary areas of Africa and the Far East in years gone by.

(The Revd) John Chamberlin

North Shields, Tyne and Wear


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