Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Modern Pontifical Court: Here’s why it matters.

By Jean Du Bois


The modern Pontifical Court (Pontificia Corte) is the direct continuation of the historic Pontifical Court and is formally part of the Anglican Patriarchate, Patriarchal See of the Stato Pontificio (Pontifical Roman State) and temporal successor of St. Peter the Apostle. It is distinct from the modern Pontifical Household of the Bishop of Rome in the Vatican City-State.

In modern society today, some question the necessity of such a ceremonial organisation as the Pontifical Court. With its ancient traditions and style that it continues, some think it is anachronistic and want it to fall prey to the countless cultural revolutions that take place. But it is not only relevant, it is essential to the faith and to the Church. What some perceive as anachronistic or out of step with the world is instead its strength, for it demonstrates in a living way the unchanging truth of the faith and love of Christ.

The Pontifical Court is not a hobby or a past time. It is not entertainment. It is not even a special privilege granted to the chosen. Instead, it is a vocation of service. Every single clergyman and every single layman, whether male or female, who is admitted to the Pontifical Court is expected to serve. That service may be at times directly in the court, and it may be service in many other areas. It comes with privileges, such as the laissez passer (a sort of diplomatic passport) of the Stato Pontificio and Anglican Patriarchate. But with position comes expectation of filial respect, dedication, and service. Members of the Pontifical Court are expected to give all of themselves in service to God.

The Grand Master of the
Noble Company
There is no denying that the Pontifical Court has a certain mystique about it. It is complex, an arena of silk, velvet, golden-tasseled hats, and long, flowing capes. It is comprised of clergy and laity, most of whom are of the nobility. There are priests, and there are knights. There are scarlet-coated gentlemen, and there are guards with a legacy back to the Crusades. There is the jeweled tiara of the Archfather, and the flabella (ostrich-feathered fans). Then there is the Noble Company, with its green robes and silver and gold collars. Most clergy are prelates and addressed as Monsignor – with twelve different levels. On one hand it is theatrical, but the theater has a purpose. That purpose is to support the Church, protect it against its enemies, and sustain it into the future. The theatre’s symbolism also attracts, explains, and preserves historical heritage. The ostentatious display was and is for God alone.

And what exactly is the Pontifical Court? It is the ceremonial and administrative organisation that supports the ministry of the Archfather-Prince and Coadjutor of Rome. In the past, it fulfilled the same function for the Bishop of Rome, but that has now been replaced by the Pontifical Household of the Vatican. Its membership has always included both the laity and the clergy. In its current organisational structure, it has several key sections. First is the Chapter, which is part of the upper-half of the court known as the Nobile Anticamera Segreta. It includes the senior-most dignitaries of the clergy. Their role is to serve as spiritual advisors to the Archfather and to fulfill various ceremonial roles in the liturgy. The Pontifical (or Patriarchal) Household is considered the immediate family and includes the three Archprinces and three Archprincesses of the Patriarchate, among a very few others.

The Master of the Chamber
Then there is the Pontifical Family, which spans both the Nobile Anticamera Segreta and the Seconda Anticamera and includes certain high officials, both clerical and lay, that support the Anglo-Roman Papa in his ceremonial and administrative duties. These include Patriarchal Chamberlains (clergy) and Chamberlains of Honour (lay nobles), Parafrenieri (noblemen who serve as grooms), the Patriarchal Majordomo (who can be a cleric or a layman), the Guardroba (wardrobe master), and certain other nobles, both male and female.

The Nobles of the Anticamera form another part of the Nobile Anticamera Segreta. The remainder of the Seconda Anticamera includes Private Chaplains of His Holiness and Eminence (clergy) and Private Chaplains of Honour (laity). Offices in this section include the mace bearers, bussolanti (ushers who also serve as altar servers), and Patriarchal Cursors (heralds), and also private attendants, assistants of the household, and porters.

The Chief of the General Staff,
Pontifical Walsingham Guard
Today with all of the various “-isms” that we all hear about on the news and read on the internet, each claiming to be the latest, greatest solution to all the woes of the world, the traditions of the church are put under pressure to “get with the times.” The Church naturally responds that this is impossible, for the message of the Church is timeless and also knows no geographical or political borders. This pressure is compounded by blatant anti-Catholicism with which society is bombarded by the media, in popular entertainment, in the workplace, and in politics. The ultimate goal appears to be first to convince the population that there are no absolute truths, and that one idea is just as good as another. From there, it is not a difficult leap for people to reach the sad conclusion that God does not exist. This is already taking place, with some churches proclaiming that belief in Jesus is not necessary to be Christian. This sad state of the world today may have differences from the environment of the past but nevertheless echoes the threats to Holy Mother Church that have always existed. This is the reason why the Pontifical Court, complete with all its pomp and ceremony, complete with all its complexity and grandeur is absolutely essential and necessary in the world today.

Some Members of the Patriarchal Chapter
Maintaining the traditions of the Pontifical Court is a tried-and-true method of maintaining the moral fibre of the church so necessary to transmitting the Christian Faith and providing Christian service to humanity. As society changes, it also provides mechanisms of service for noble families, both ancient and modern, who may be struggling with keeping their family identity and relevance in the modern world. The Church truly is eternal, and the message of Christ is timeless. Showing that to the world is the mission of the Pontifical Court. Christ founded the Church, and both the authority of the Church hierarchy and the traditional, complementary structure of society are believed by the doctrine of the faith to be divinely ordered. This is demonstrated in the Pontifical Court. With all its grandeur, the court awakens the imagination, engages the senses, and opens the mind to the truth of Christ.

Today the Pontifical Court is part of the intangible cultural heritage safeguarded by the Anglican Patriarchate by divine right under the leadership of the Archfather as temporal successor to St. Peter the apostle. It is a sacred duty and obligation not only of the Anglo-Roman Papa, but of all members of the Pontifical Court, to safeguard its traditions in the face of outside pressure so that the glory of God may be reflected on earth now and in the future until the end of the world.