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A Papal Mass is the Solemn Pontifical High Mass when celebrated by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

There are numerous special ceremonials which are particular to the pope. A Solemn Papal Mass would be celebrated on solemn occasions such as a Papal Coronation, an ex cathedra pronouncement, the canonization of a saint, or a major feast such as Easter or Christmas.

Many of the ceremonies that were once connected with such a Mass have fallen out of use since the time of Pope Paul VI and some, such as the reservation of Communion to the Pope, the deacon and the subdeacon, since the time of Pope Pius X.

Ceremonial in the past

What follows is a description of usage in the early twentieth century, before the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI.

Assistant ministers

In the papal Mass a cardinal-bishop acted as assistant priest; this honor fell on the most solemn occasions to the Cardinal-bishop of Ostia, the Dean of the College of Cardinals. Cardinal-deacons were assistant deacons and deacon of the Mass, an auditor of the Sacra Rota served as subdeacon. There were also a Greek-Catholic deacon and subdeacon, vested according to the Byzantine Rite. The other offices were filled by the assistants to the pontifical throne, the members of the prelatical colleges, etc.


Before the beginning of the ceremony, the pope was vested in the falda (a particular papal vestment which forms a long skirt extending beneath the hem of the alb), amice, alb, cincture, pectoral cross, stole, and a very long cope known as the "mantum" (or "papal mantle"). Finally, the papal tiara was placed on his head.


The pope's solemn entry into St. Peter's Basilica was accompanied by a fanfare of silver trumpets. The entrance procession was headed by the cardinals, bishops, prelates, and those who composed the pontifical capella, vested according to their rank and in their prescribed order of precedence. A thurifer and seven acolytes accompanied the cross-bearer, and the apostolic subdeacon carried the Gospel Book (a function now reserved to a deacon). At the end of the procession the pope was carried into the basilica on the sedia gestatoria and with the two flabella borne on either side. He was accompanied by an entourage which included the Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms and members of the Roman nobility in formal court dress. At times, a canopy was carried above his head. Two protonotaries apostolic raised the front of the falda as the pope walked to and from the sedia, and two papal chamberlains carried the train. The dean of the Rota carried the jewelled mitre (the mitra pretiosa), and finally two patriarchs or archbishops carried the book and bugia (hand-candle) respectively.[1]

The pope was received at the door by the cardinal-priest and the Canons of St. Peter's. He then knelt briefly, leaning on a faldstool, to adore the Blessed Sacrament. Fittingly, this often took place at the St. Gregory's Altar in St. Peter's. He then went to the small throne for the chanting of Terce, during which he received the obedience of the cardinals, bishops, and abbots. While the psalms of Terce were being chanted, he read the prayers of preparation for Mass, during which his buskins and papal slippers were put on. He then sang the prayer of Terce.

After Terce, his outer vestments were removed as far as the cincture, and the pope washed his hands, and put on the following vestments, assisted by the deacon:

(He did not use the crosier or the bugia at this point). He then gave the kiss of peace to the last three of the cardinal-priests.

The Mass


The Elevation during the Papal form of Solemn Pontifical High Mass celebrated by Pope John XXIII in St. Peter's Basilica in the early 1960s. Note the mitre and the papal tiaras placed on the high altar. The Greek clergy are standing - as is customary - while the others kneel.

The Mass proceeded according to the order of a Solemn Pontifical High Mass with the following differences:

At the Confiteor, the cardinal bishop stood to the right of the pope, the cardinal deacon to the left, with the other ministers behind. The pope then put on the maniple. The Pope wore a special maniple intertwined with red and gold threads, symbolizing the unity of the Eastern and Western rites of the Catholic Church. After the first censing, the cardinal deacons kissed the pope on cheek and breast, and the Pontiff retired to the throne before the Chair of Saint Peter in the apse.

The senior deacon, who wore a mitre, sat on a faldstool before the altar and facing the throne; the apostolic subdeacon, together with the Greek ministers, sat on the steps of the altar; while the assistant bishop and the two assistant deacons remained near the throne.

The Epistle was sung first in Latin by the apostolic subdeacon and then in Greek by the Eastern Rite subdeacon, following the ritual of the Greek Church. After the Epistle, the two subdeacons went together and kissed the feet of the pope. Likewise the Gospel was chanted first in Latin by the cardinal-deacon and then in Greek by the Eastern Rite deacon. The Latin Gospel was accompanied by seven candles, the Greek Gospel by two. After the Gospel both Gospel Books were brought to the pope, who kissed both of them.

While elevating the Host and the chalice the pope turned in a half circle towards the Epistle and Gospel sides, respectively, as the "Silveri Symphony" was played on the trumpets of the Noble Guard (an honorary unit which was abolished in 1970). Eight prelates held torches for the elevation, but no sanctus bell was used at any time in a Papal Mass.

It was customary for some of the bread and wine used at the Mass to be consumed, as a precaution against poison or invalid matter, by the sacristan and the cup-bearer in the presence of the pope, first at the offertory and again before the Pater noster in a short ceremony called the praegustatio.[2]


After giving the kiss of peace to the assistant priest and assistant deacons, the Pope went to the throne, and there received Communion, standing.

The master of ceremonies placed a twelve-rayed asterisk on the paten, to cover the Host. The cardinal deacon elevated the paten to the height of his forehead so that it was seen by the people and the pope. He then placed the paten in the hands of the subdeacon, which had been covered with a richly embroidered veil known as the linteum pectorale, so that the subdeacon could bring it to the pope at the throne. The deacon then elevated the chalice in the same manner as the paten, the master of ceremonies covered the chalice with an embroidered pall, and the deacon carried it to the throne. The pope consumed the smaller portion of the Host, and communicated from the chalice through a thin golden tube called the fistula. He then divided the remainder of the Host, gave communion to the deacon and subdeacon; the deacon stood to receive communion and the subdeacon knelt. They then kissed the pope's ring, and he gave them the kiss of peace. Only these three individuals received communion.


After communion, the pope received the wine of the purification from another chalice and purified his fingers in a little cup. The deacon and subdeacon, having returned to the altar, partook of the chalice through the fistula, the subdeacon consumed the particle of the Host in the chalice, and both the deacon and the subdeacon consumed the wine and the water used in the purification of the chalice.

The pope then returned to the altar to finish the Mass. After the blessing the assistant priest he published a plenary indulgence. At the end of the "Last Gospel" (usually John 1:1-14), the pope went to the sedia gestatoria, put on the tiara, and returned in procession as he had entered.

Modern Day

Modern Papal Mass in São Paulo, Brazil.

The full ceremonial detailed above has not been used since early in the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. In fact, many of the offices of the Papal Court required for the celebration of the Papal Mass were abolished by Paul VI.

Paul VI ceased using the papal tiara soon after his coronation. He discontinued the use of many traditional features of papal dress, including the papal slippers and pontifical gloves. He did however carry a distinctive form of papal cross, which was used throughout the pontificate of John Paul II.

There were occasions when Pope John Paul II would wear the fanon while celebrating Mass. The custom of having the Gospel chanted in Greek by a Greek Catholic deacon remains on specially solemn occasions, when Latin is used instead of the vernacular language.

The modern papal Mass tends to emphasize less the person of the pope, and more the universality of his ministry. Whereas in the older papal Mass, only the pope, the deacon, and the subdeacon would receive Holy Communion, in modern Masses, many communicants receive, the pope himself administering Communion to some of them.

In recent decades, the more important papal Masses have taken place outdoors in Saint Peter's Square or in outdoor stadiums. These Masses tend to point out the universality of the Roman Catholic faith, with participants from many lands and portions of the Mass done in different languages. The Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve normally takes place inside St. Peter's Basilica and is telecast throughout the world.

See also


  1. An unfavourable description is given in Robert Willis, The Democracy of God: An American Catholicism (iUniverse, 2006), p. 106.
  2. King, Archdale A. (1957). "Appendix I: Solemn Papal Mass". Liturgy of the Roman Church. Milwaukee: Bruce. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 

External links