Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE FEAST OF FOOLS
inferior clergy in general, of the vicars choral, the chaplains, and the choir-clerks, as distinguished from the canons. For this rabble of poor and low-class clergy it was no doubt a welcome relaxation, and one can hardly wonder that they let themselves go in burlesquing the sacred but often wearisome rites at which it was their business to be present through many long hours, 01 that they delighted to usurp for once in a way the functions ordinarily performed by their superiors. The putting down of the mighty from their seat and the exalting of them of low degree was the keynote of the festival. While " Deposuit potentes de sede : et exaltavit humiles" was being sung at the " Magnificat," it would appear that the precentor's bacillus or staff was handed over to the clerk who was to be "lord of the feast" for the year, and throughout the services of the day the inferior clergy predominated, under the leadership of this chosen " lord." He was usually given some title of ecclesiastical dignity, " bishop," " prelate," " archbishop," " cardinal," or even " pope," was vested in full pontificals, and in some cases sat on the real bishop's throne, gave benedictions, and issued indulgences.
These lower clergy, it must be remembered, belonged to the peasant or small bourgeois class and were probably for the most part but ill-educated. They were likely to bring with them into the Church the superstitions floating about among the people, and the Feast of Fools may be regarded as a recoil of paganism upon Christianity in its very sanctuary. "An ebullition of the natural lout beneath the cassock " it has been called by Mr. Chambers, and many of its usages may be explained by the reaction of coarse natures freed for once from restraint. It brought to light, however, not merely personal vulgarity, but a whole range of traditional customs, derived probably from a fusion of the Roman feast of the Kalends of January with Teutonic or Celtic heathen festivities.
A general account of its usages is given in a letter addressed in 1445 by the Paris Faculty of Theology to the bishops and chapters of France :
"Priests and clerks may be seen wearing masks and monstrous visages at the hours of office. They dance in the choir dressed as
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