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
Pulcher et fortissimus
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.’)