Papal Chamberlain

Papal Mass

A Papal Mass is the Solemn Pontifical High Mass when celebrated by the Pope.

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.

Assistant ministers

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


Before the beginning of the ceremony, the pope is 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 is placed on his head.


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

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

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

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

The Mass

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

At the Confiteor, the cardinal bishop stands to the right of the pope, the cardinal deacon to the left, with the other ministers behind. The pope then puts on the maniple. The Pope wears 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 kisses the pope on cheek and breast, and the Pontiff retires to the throne before the Chair of Saint Peter in the apse.

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

The Epistle is 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 Epistles, the two subdeacons go together and kisse the feet of the pope. Likewise the Gospel is chanted first in Latin by the cardinal-deacon and then in Greek by the Eastern Rite deacon. The Latin Gospel is accompanied by seven candles, the Greek Gospel is accompanied by two. After the Gospels both Gospel Books are brought to the pope, who kisses both of them.

While elevating the Host and the chalice the pope turns 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 hold torches for the elevation, but no sanctus bell is used at any time in a Papal Mass.

It is 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.


After giving the kiss of peace to the assistant priest and assistant deacons, he goes to the throne, and there receives Communion, standing.

The master of ceremonies places a twelve-rayed asterisk on the paten, to cover the Host. The cardinal deacon elevates the paten to the height of his forehead so that it is seen by the people and the pope. He then places 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 can bring it to the pope at the throne. The deacon then elevates the chalice in the same manner as the paten, the master of ceremonies coveres the chalice with an embroidered pall, and the deacon carries it to the throne. The pope consumes the smaller portion of the Host, and communicates from the chalice through a thin golden tube called the fistula. He then divides the remainder of the Host, gives communion to the deacon and subdeacon; the deacon stands to receive communion and the subdeacon knelt. They then kiss the pope's ring, and he gives them the kiss of peace. Only these three individuals receive communion.

Post communion

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

The pope then returns to the altar to finish the Mass. After the blessing the assistant priest he publishes a plenary indulgence. At the end of the "Last Gospel" (usually ), the pope goes to the sedia gestatoria, put on the tiara, and return in procession as he had entered.

Modern Day

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 later in his pontificate.

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 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 an Eastern Rite deacon read the Gospel continues on important occasions.

Some of those usages discontinued by Paul VI have been resurrected by Pope Benedict XVI. Prior to his inauguration in 2005, Pope Benedict had a special wider and longer pallium fashioned—similar to an Eastern omophorion—which is worn at liturgical functions only by the pope.

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.


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