So, according to the old Roman Pontifical, on Ash Wednesday the Bishop expelled the Ashed Penitents from Church "with tears" (did the MC have to provide the Pontiff with a sliced onion?).
On Maundy Thursday, the Penitents were received back into the Church, the following Prayer being used.
Perhaps one of the ills which lie at the roots of our present problems is the loss of a sense of an actual Order of Penitents in the Church. There is evidence that, in first-Millennium Ireland, there were special areas, below the Church on 'ritual' hillsides, where the Penitents were expected to stand.
It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, almighty everlasting God, through Christ our Lord;
Whom, almighty Father, thou didst will ineffably to be born, that he might loose the debt of Adam to thee the eternal Father, and destroy our death by his own, and carry our wounds in his own body, and wash away our stains with his own blood; that we who have fallen by the envy of the ancient enemy might rise again by his mercy. Through him, Lord, we humbly beg and beseech thee that thou vouchsafe to hear us on behalf of the excesses of others, though we are not sufficient to pray thee for our own. Do thou therefore, most merciful Lord, call back to thyself, with thy wonted love, these thy servants, whose sins have separated them from thee. For thou didst not despise the humbling of Ahab the most wicked, but put away the punishment which he deserved. Peter also thou didst hear when he wept, and didst later commit to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and to the confessing thief didst promise the rewards of that same kingdom.
Therefore, most merciful Lord, mercifully gather back those for whom we pour our prayers before thee, and restore them to the bosom of thy church, that the Enemy may in no wise have the power to triumph over them, but that thy Son may reconcile them to thee, and cleanse them from all sin, and deign to admit them to the banquet of thy most holy supper. And may he so refresh ["reficiat" ... remake?] them with his flesh and blood, that after the course of this life he may bring them to the kingdoms of heaven; even he, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
You might like to observe that this Prayer is after the pattern of the Roman Canon as it must have been before the insertion of Sanctus-Benedictus:
"Vere dignum ... ";
A 'legalistic' recitation of precedents from both the Old and New Testaments;
"Therefore most Merciful ..."; and finally
Request that the Rite be efficacious.
After many more prayers and psalms, the Pontiff gave a solemn Absolution, framed in the old 'precative' way rather than in the modern 'declarative' mode.
These elements witness, surely, to the great antiquity of the rite.
22 February 2023
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My understanding, from somewhere, is that Penitents stayed in the back of church or the entrance area, which is often where the women with babies also were (by choice). Sometimes (in warmer countries) they stood just outside church.
But I cannot remember why I have this idea, or where I read it. I'm sure it was something to do with Confession, and how penances used to be stiffer in early Christian times.
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