Libera Me - covering what action? Mystery solved from a medieval manuscript.
  • Hugh
    Posts: 194
    For many years singing the Libera Me at the Absolutions at Traditional Requiems, the question has arisen for me and for many colleagues of mine: why is there nothing happening liturgy-wise as we sing it? Why are the ministers standing around doing nothing (and the thurifer quietly fretting about his cooling coals) while the choir sings on? This seems to break the rule of music covering actions in the traditional liturgy/ies.

    And then the obvious question: why is the Libera Me not sung while the celebrant is asperging and censing the coffin?

    Today, working on a requiem booklet, I stumbled on the answer. In the middle ages at least in some areas or communities, the Libera Me DID in fact occur at the censing of the coffin!

    I'm no liturgical historian, so this may be common knowledge. But it was such a liberating discovery to me! It makes so much sense!

    See, I happened on the 14th century Manuscript Plimpton MS 034 which is a death ritual for the Clarissan nuns (Poor Clares as we now know them).

    Here's what happens at the Libera Me in a Poor Clare Convent in 14th century Brussels (emphasis added: H):

    The rubric:
    DUM RESPONSORIUM CANTATUR SACERDOS INCENSAT CORPUS sicut prius. Quo finito cantrix incipiat Kyrie [Eleison,] Christe [Eleison,] Kyrie [Eleison.] Quo comuniter decantato sacerdos dicat alta voce


    WHILE THE RESPONSORY IS BEING SUNG LET THE PRIEST INCENSE THE BODY as before. When finished the cantrix begins Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. When this is finished, let the priest say in a loud voice

    Pater noster, ( etc)

    Here's the link to the page.

    My question: does anyone have any other sources indicating this rubric obtained outside of the Clarissan nuns of Brussels? I'd be very grateful to know. I highly suspect it is so. I doubt that the Clarissans of Brussels were the radical feminist liturgical innovators - the "nuns on the cart", as it were - of the 14th century !!


    For practical purpose in the traditional rite as celebrated today, here's an amendment I'd like to see in the traditional liturgy at this point, in view of this manuscript, which would rectify what I and my colleagues see as a very awkward situation, liturgically.

    Currently what happens is: Non Intres (Celebrant), then Choir sings Libera Me with Kyrie/Christe/Kyrie eleison. Then the celebrant intones the Pater Noster incipit & then sprinkles and incenses the body, completing the prayer silently until Et ne nos &c. Then the rest of the prayers follow.

    So: minsters doing nothing for a long time while choir sings Libera Me, followed by choir doing nothing for a long time while celebrant sprinkles & incenses body. Crazy!

    Based on the Clarissan ritual (and others?) we could make a simple adjustment to our rite bringing it into line with (sensible) medieval practice.

    Celebrant: Non Intres. Then Choir: Libera Me & Kyrie Eleisons WHILE the body is sprinkled/incensed. Then after 3rd Kyrie is complete, Celebrant: Pater Noster recto tono (or even silently as now) up to Et Ne Nos ... (no big deal either way for me - it's only a few seconds) ... and then the rest of the ceremony would be as currently practised.

    But I'm not a liturgist or an historian. Other views/suggestions welcome.
    Thanked by 3Kathy eft94530 stepg
  • JahazaJahaza
    Posts: 468
    It seems that a responsory (as in Matins) is generally not supposed to accompany any action? While practically, the servers and priests don't usually sing during the chanting of the responsory, there's no reason for them not to?
  • rarty
    Posts: 96
    I get that it feels a bit awkward, especially when only a small choir is singing instead of a whole church-ful of mourners together. But it also isn't strange to "do nothing" during the singing of responsories like the Libera me. For instance, everyone sits during the Gradual at Mass and during the responsories at Matins.

    For more context, the Pontificale Romanum (Liber Usualis, p. 1823) has more of the medieval solemnity (for bishops, kings, etc.), with five-fold suffrages at the Absolutio: five separate responsories, Kyries, Pater nosters, censings, sprinklings, etc.

    And as I understand it, before the 1614 Rituale Romanum (Tridentine reforms, Roman/Franciscan standardization and simplification), many local usages had two or three-fold suffrages at the Absolutio, even for lay folks.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • I have a source which might help. It's called A Sense of the Sacred: Roman Catholic Worship in the Middle Ages.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,433
    What an amazing discovery!!!

    I wonder if the same could be found in friars' books of the period, or in regional Missals in Brussels at the time?
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,773
    I am sure that there are other liturgical variants in ritual and text at this point of the Requiem Mass. If someone can reproduce a rite protected by Quo Primum, or at least seek guidance and approval on grafting local customs which can be easily transformed from text into practice into the Roman usage, then so be it. Having an Lenten array is probably fine, for example, if you are in England. The same goes for much that can be taken from Salisbury, even items which break rubrics, especially given that were it not for the unfortunatedly complicated legal situation of the Sarum usage, the priest would just up and use it.

    Otherwise, we should not be about to change the usage of Rome because people feel awkward. The difference here too is that it’s a proposed universal law.

    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • Hugh
    Posts: 194
    Thanks for above comments,- all v. helpful.

    As I say, I'm not a liturgical expert. But I note a distinction between reponsories in the Office and the small number of responsories that occur in the context of the Mass. Those in the Office (esp Matins) function as reflections on scripture readings (as does the Gradual in the Mass), so it makes sense on all these occasions just to sit and ponder them together with the readings on which they comment. But those surrounding the Mass are accompanied by action of the ministers: Thus the Subvenite accompanies the procession of the body into the Church and Obtulerunt (Candlemas) and Ingrediente (Palm Sunday) likewise accompany processions. The Libera Me would seem to fall into the latter category; there being no prior scripture reading, but action aplenty just thereabouts.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,773
    Again, the curial usage of Rome treated it differently. Who knows why? But it did...
  • PLTT
    Posts: 131
    Hugh, you can find the sprinkling and incensing in many of the descriptions of the medieval liturgy. As was mentioned above, in the centuries preceding the 1614 Rituale Romanum, there were usually 2-3 of these 'absolutions' (still - again, as noted previously - retained in 5-fold absolution of the EF Pontifical) featuring a responsory, abbreviated preces (.e. Kyrie, Pater, versicles), and then Collect.

    Usually, the instruction is to sprinkle and incense during the responsories. You can find such an instruction in the 13th century 'Ordo Sepulturae' of the Franciscans (printed by S.P.J. Van Dijk in his 'Sources of the Modern Roman Liturgy') right upto the 'Sacerdotale Romanum' (early 16th century).

    However, from the time of the 'Rituale Sacramentorum Romanum' (the first post-Tridentine Rituale), the rite is changed slightly - the priest imposes incense during the responsory, and incenses during the Pater. This sequence was then taken up into the Rituale Romanum, and influenced even local usages.
    Thanked by 3rarty Jahaza Simon