14 Jan – Happy Feast of the Ass!

Tomorrow – 14 January – is the Feast of the Ass, the Festum Assinorum (in Latin, plural… inclusive!).

No, I am not talking about whom you think I’m talking about.  And, no, it’s not a special Jesuit feast.

The feast which became popular in France, could have stemmed from the so-called “feast of fools”.  It may tendrils into biblical donkeys, or the integration of the ass into the nativity narrative.  It could have been in part inspired by a sermon of pseudo-Augustine.

The day included the tradition of a parading a couple of kids (not goats) on an ass (not a Jesuit) right into the church, next to the pulpit during the sermon.  The congregation would respond with loud “hee haws”.

Who said that the Middle Ages were dreary?

In any event, it was celebrated for a long time and then faded out.

Here are possible greeting cards.

One for your parish priests….

Dear Fr. ___

There is a rather long entry about this at Wikipedia.  It includes a liturgical note:

At Beauvais the Ass may have continued his minor role of enlivening the long procession of Prophets. On the January 14, however, he discharged an important function in that city’s festivities. On the feast of the Flight into Egypt the most beautiful girl in the town, with a pretty child in her arms, was placed on a richly draped ass, and conducted with religious gravity to St. Stephen’s Church. The Ass (possibly a wooden figure) was stationed at the right of the altar, and the Mass was begun. After the Introit a Latin prose was sung.

The first stanza and its French refrain may serve as a specimen of the nine that follow:

Orientis partibus
Adventavit Asinus
Pulcher et fortissimus
Sarcinis aptissimus.
Hez, Sire Asnes, car chantez,
Belle bouche rechignez,
Vous aurez du foin assez
Et de l’avoine a plantez.

(From the Eastern lands the Ass is come, beautiful and very brave, well fitted to bear burdens. Up! Sir Ass, and sing. Open your pretty mouth. Hay will be yours in plenty, and oats in abundance.)

Mass was continued, and at its end, apparently without awakening the least consciousness of its impropriety, the following direction (in Latin) was observed:

In fine Missae sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice ‘Ite, Missa est’, ter hinhannabit: populus vero, vice ‘Deo Gratias’, ter respondebit, ‘Hinham, hinham, hinham.’

(At the end of Mass, the priest, having turned to the people, in lieu of saying the ‘Ite missa est’, will bray thrice; the people instead of replying ‘Deo Gratias’ say, ‘Hinham, hinham, hinham.’)


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7 Responses to 14 Jan – Happy Feast of the Ass!

  1. Legisperitus says:

    The Middle Ages rocked!

    New Middle Ages motto: “They’re in the middle for a reason.”

  2. Traductora says:

    Gee, we missed all the mediaeval fun! I spend a lot of time in Spain, and there were many, many vivid folk customs that continued (and were occasionally suppressed when they got out of hand) for a long time and still pop up here and there. Oddly enough – or perhaps not that oddly – one of the things that nearly destroyed them was VII, which destroyed not only the Mass but popular customs, I guess because they were considered retrograde. It was actually a “rebellion” by the lay organizations – the equivalent of US sodalities – responsible for the events that protected Spain’s processions and things like the Misterio de Elche (for the Assumption). Sadly, they didn’t get a lot of clerical support and, as to be expected, very few bishops except for those who thought it might be a tourist draw for their town.

    BXVI was very supportive and one of the things I remember about the WYD in Madrid was that the Spanish had brought out the best of their figures (often very beautiful, but even including one humble ass on wheels for Palm Sunday) to line the route of BXVI when he came in.

    These things, even the apparently silly ones, are very important. Personally, I think they’re in the sights of the New Church. That’s why the procession of the Magi (Los Reyes) in an area of Madrid this year featured three drag queens covered with glitter as the “Three Kings”. And the response of the Archbishop of Madrid, a Francis appointment, was mild demurral. Everything, no matter how apparently harmless, is under attack.

  3. GregB says:

    I don’t know if there is any connection, but in Judaism the tefillin contains a verse from the Torah about redeeming the first-born of an ass.


    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. majuscule says:

    I would love to change my username to “hinhannabit”…!

  5. The French song was often sung to the tune of the Marian hymn Concordi Laetitia. Meanwhile, across the Channel was a ballad associated with the occasion.

    The Watersons: King Pharim

  6. brotherlapin says:

    Very good of you to remember the Feast of the Ass. I forgot today, and a friend in the USA reminded me – with a link to your blog. Here’s a link to mine. Remember the Ass Feast prose:


  7. Danteewoo says:

    Plenty of asses in the Church today as well, but I like the medieval one a lot better.