Society Magazine

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope Resigned...

By Pinkall @pinkall
February has come to an end, and there are several very exciting moments on the horizon.  As many of you know, I have an obsession with ceremonial music and one of the biggest world events of the year will occur next month in Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI has resigned, but we can look forward to some awesome ceremonial music within the election of his successor.  Benedict is the first Pope since 1415 to resign, and interestingly of the 265 Popes in history, only 9 have resigned and 3 of them have been named Benedict.  One of these, Benedict IX (1012-1056) has an incredible history.  He was elected Pope as a teenager - he was from a powerful family that produced 7 popes!  Famously, he was the first actively homosexual pope, and even more amazing, he was pope 3 times.  He was eventually removed by force twice and but initially was convinced to resign by selling the papacy to his godfather, becoming the only Pope to sell the papacy.

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope resigned...

Believe it or not, this is Pope Benedict XVI with the last pope to resign voluntarily, Pope Celestine V in 1294!

Nevertheless, this rare event brings with it some exciting and ancient traditions that display some of the greatest musical gems in history.
So here is what to expect
Interregnum - this is the time between popes.  Obviously, since Benedict XVI hasn't died, then there will not be the normal funeral that has preceded most papal elections, so for that matter I won't bother you with the music details of that.  Instead this period will be highlighted by the soon-to-begin Conclave, which must begin within 21 days of the vacancy.  They will begin the Conclave with a morning Votive Mass for the Election of the Pope.  The music for the mass will be performed by the Schola cantorum or the papal choir using the old Gregorian chant originating from the 8th Century A.D.
Unfortunately for many music history professors (and the Catholic Encyclopedia) who teach this incorrectly, Gregorian chant was not created by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), but actually was a melding of several different chant traditions commissioned by the Carolingian Family in the 8th Century.  Charlemagne was a member of this family and once he became Holy Roman Emperor, this Gregorian chant spread throughout the Christian world and is still the basis for the most solemn masses of the Catholic Church.
For Catholics out there, because it is Lent (the period that leads up to Easter), you will not sing the "Gloria" in the mass, because it is banned if the priests wear purple vestments.  The Votive Mass for the Election of the Pope is one of the only times that the Catholic Church performs the Gloria during Lent as the vestments are red.  Here is the version performed at the papal conclave:

After the votive mass in St. Peter's Basilica, they will process to the Sistine Chapel to the chant Veni Creator Spiritus or Come Creator Spirit.  This 1,100-year-old hymn always begins the Papal Conclave:

The Vote - The College of Cardinals then vote by secret ballot and whoever receives a super-majority (more than 2/3rds of the vote) is elected Pope.  The ballots are then burned and white smoke billows out of the chimney for the public to see.  If no pope has been elected after a vote, a chemical is added to the ballots and the smoke appears black.

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope resigned...

Sistine Chapel 

The Inauguration - At the Inauguration Mass of the Pope, he will receive his ring and pallium (a band of cloth around his neck).  All the Cardinals enter from the tomb of the first pope, the Apostle Peter, in St. Peter's Basilica and then parade out to the crowd of thousands in St. Peter's Square, while chanting the Litany of Saints - a short repetitive chant asking an enormous list of saints for their help and guidance.

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope resigned...

St. Peter's Basilica

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope resigned...

Altar in St. Peter's Basilica

The mass is chanted and special anthems and ancient hymns are performed   One exception to this great collection Roman Catholic music history is the recessional which in Benedict XVI's case was the unfortunate choice of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor!  The oddest part isn't that he programmed a Lutheran's music for a Papal Inauguration, and I don't mean to give any disrespect, because it is a beautiful musical decision.  But, amid the American media clamoring and showing pictures when he was in the Hitler Youth and serving in the Nazi Air Force Reserve, perhaps a less angry Bach selection would have been sufficient?

The Enthronement - The Enthronement is a mass celebrated at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, where the actual throne, or cathedra, of the Pope rests.  The Basilica of St. Peter is not the most important church in Catholicism, rather it is the nearby Archbasilica that holds the title of the highest ranking church.  Musically, there is one very interesting part of the Enthronement that has left a rather embarrassing mark. The original throne was called stercoraria and made of red marble. It was named that after the anthem that is performed during the Enthronement called "De stercore erigens pauperem" meaning "lifting up the poor out of the dunghill."

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope resigned...

The Papal Cathdra (throne) at St. John Lateran

The Coronation - I will be very interested and excited to see if this happens, because no pope has had a Coronation since Pope Paul VI in 1963.  It was a tradition held for nearly 800 years and it involves some very interesting traditions and music.  The Coronation would begin at St. Peter's with a blast of specifically silver trumpets playing Gounod's Himno Pontificio as hundreds of priests, bishops, and cardinals enter down the center aisle and following them the new pope is carried down the center aisle wearing no less than 8 robes on a platform chair surrounded by the Swiss Guard and large fans of feathers!  Meanwhile a long chant of various psalms called the terce is sung.  As the pope is carried on his chair, he is stopped 3 times and a bundle of weeds is burned before his feet, and the procession continues.  The long chant is still sung while all the pope's robes are taken off at the altar so he can wash his hands.  Then 8 other robes are placed on him along with gloves, ring, and hat (Mitre).  Keep in mind the chant is still continuing while all 120 Cardinals individually kneel and kiss the pope's ring one at a time, and finally the procession and the chant is finished.  Poor musicians!

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope resigned...

The Pope carried during the Coronation

For musicians, the Coronation is very exciting because it has featured the same mass setting since the 16th Century, and one of the most famous pieces of Renaissance music, Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass.  Here is an excerpt of the Sanctus.

The entire ceremony is completely filled with music and the grandest ancient gems in music history - even the readings from the Bible were sung and all the prayers were sung.  During the preparation for communion, the Silveri Symphony was performed by a choir of trumpets.  The highlight of the Coronation was the crowning of the Papal Tiara to the words: "Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns and know that thou art father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world on earth, the vicar of our Savior Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory through all ages"
Obviously, being crowned Ruler of the World has its problems in this modern era and the Coronation hasn't been performed in 50 years, but as a musician, it would be great to see a massive event like this only so we can have a better record of its tradition in this modern era.  Only 3 have ever been filmed.

Ceremonial Music 101: So, the Pope resigned...

The gigantic papal tiara

If you want to learn more about Ceremonial Music, browse my past projects on the Olympics and other ceremonies right here on my blog!

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