Monday 9 June 2014

Repost: In which Catholicus refutes the myth of Paul VI's Whit Monday story by checking the calendar

On Wit Monday, the day after Pentecost when everyone is required to be funny, in 1970, Pope Paul VI turned up in the sacristy for Mass.  Red vestments had been laid out on the vesting bench. 

"Che diavolo sta succedendo?" [Oh, dear, what is going on?] intoned the Holy Father.  "Non ti ricordi che ho abolito l'ottava di Pentecoste?" [Do you not remember I abolished the Octave of Pentecost?] he continued.  "Dove sono la casula verde?" [Where is the green chasuble?]

"Beh, Santo Padre, oggi, 18 maggio 1970, è la festa del martire, San Giovanni I. Così i paramenti devono essere di colore rosso." [Well, Holy Father, today, 18th May 1970, is the feast of the martyr, Saint Pope John I.  So the vestments should be red.] replied the sacristan.

"Beh che rovina alcuni miti, vero?" [Well that will ruin a few myths, won't it?] chuckled Paul VI.

You can read the myth here and here and all over the place.  Or in fact read it below:

Years ago I told this Pentecost Monday tale and it has made the rounds.

It stands being repeated.

I think this stands as a lesson for what happens when we lose sight of continuity.

Take this for what it may be worth. Some years ago I was told this story by an elderly, retired Papal Ceremoniere or a Master of Ceremonies who (according to him) was present at the event about to be recounted.

You probably know that in the traditional Roman liturgical calendar the mighty feast of Pentecost had its own Octave. Pentecost was a grand affair indeed, liturgically speaking. In some places in the world such as Germany and Austria Pentecost Monday, Whit Monday as the English call it, was a reason to have a civil holiday, as well as a religious observance.

The Monday after Pentecost in 1970 His Holiness Pope Paul VI rose bright and early and went to the chapel for Holy Mass. Instead of the red he expected, there were green vestments laid out for him.

He queried the MC assigned that day, "What on earth are these for? This is the Octave of Pentecost! Where are the red vestments?"

"Santità," quoth the MC, "this is now Tempus ‘per annum’. It is green, now. The Octave of Pentecost is abolished."

"Green? That cannot be!", said the Pope, "Who did that?"

"Holiness, you did."

And Paul VI wept.


  1. I know that, if the traditionalist stereotypes mean anything at all, I should love the triple-tiara but I just can't...

    Do you think I'm going to hell? :)

  2. Yes, I would say most definitely.

    Or maybe not. The triple tiara was of its time. Venerable Pope Paul was trying, in his own way, to live according to the hermeneutic of continuity. So he got crowned and then effectively did away with much of the courtly stuff, leaving JP1 to drive the stake through the heart of it.

    I don't think coronation of a Pope makes any sense. With king or queen, they are crowned and annointed by the Church, but has the standing to crown a Pope?

    That said, there is something wonderful in old pictures of Pius XII. I often look at him as I eat my biscuits of the plate which bears his profile. And I've been told my hands are very like his.

  3. Well, if Elvis were still alive he'd probably be able to do the anointing and crowning. Rex ad regem. With his (as yet not satisfactorily proven) demise, idk, maybe Bono could do it?

    I wonder if your Pius XII plate looks anything at all like my Pius XII plate (?!) I'll have to take a pic when I get home.

  4. Side profile facing left. Oval shaped, 18.5cm by 17cm. On back says "Crown Clarence, England, PPA". There's one on sale on ebay for £4.99

  5. Pope St. John I's memorial is optional on the General Roman Calendar. The fact that the Monday after Pentecost was on May 18 that year is no guarantee that the vestments would be red that day.

  6. In the Vatican feast day's of Popes are always celebrated, whether or not they are optional in the general calendar. the vestments were red.

  7. It was also Paul VI who in 1969 approved the revision of the Liturgical Calendar in which the [optional memorial] of St. John I was moved from May 27 to May 18.

  8. Easter and Pentecost had "specially privileged" octaves, during which no other feast whatsoever could be wikipedia says...

    So if Paul VI was caught unawares, the green vestment story sticks!

  9. As the author of this blog states, the story is false, and not just because of the pope-saint's feast day that day. There is a published letter from Paul VI to Bugnini in which he questions the removal of the Pentecost octave, but then says that he understands the reasoning behind Bugnini's proposed change. Paul VI in fact paid very close attention to the development of the new missal. This silly story needs to stop being repeated.