The Liturgy Series: Watts & Co. Paschal Stylus

The Liturgy Series is committed to bringing readers examples of beautiful liturgical objects and useful objects for liturgical use. Today, The Catholic Man Reviews is honoured to review an item that is used once in the liturgical calendar, but often neglected. I am also delighted to write this review on this day, as the government of Ontario allow for places of worship to open at 15% capacity in lockdown. Therefore, where I live in the Archdiocese of Toronto, we will be allowed to gather for Mass in time for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, as well as all throughout Holy Week. While many places in the world are still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, that in no way diminishes the dignity and the nature of the Liturgy. Even a Mass with just the priest present in the worst case, or a church at 15% capacity, the Liturgy, in particular the Easter Vigil must be celebrated with great solemnity.

Paschal Candle diagram

The Easter Vigil is my most favourite liturgy. St. Augustine called it the “mother of all vigils.” It is the most solemn of all liturgies of the liturgical year. The first part, known as the Lucernarium takes part in a darkened church. A small fire is lit (at least for my parish, it is small, though I have seen some parishes with larger fires), and the fire is blessed. The new Paschal Candle is lit, and “After the blessing of the new fire, one of the ministers brings the paschal candle to the Priest, who cuts a cross into the candle with a stylus.” (RM, EV 11, emphasis added) I don’t think much if the congregation knows of this part of the Lucernarium, because often times it takes place outside of the church, or in my parish, the vestibule. The people would hear:

Christ yesterday and today / the Beginning and the End / the Alpha / and the Omega / All time belongs to him / and all the ages / To him be glory and power / through every age and forever. Amen.

RM, EV 11

As all of this is being said, what is not seen by most of the congregation is the priest cutting or tracing the cross, the Alpha and Omega and the four numbers of the year on to the Paschal Candle, signifying Christ reigning yesterday, today and forever – with the resurrection, Christ showed that God alone triumphs, even over all evil.

The Roman Missal uses the term, “cuts” though I think in reality, rarely if any priests do that because nowadays, when Paschal Candles are bought, they come in elaborate designs either with wax appliques or painted. At my parish we get the “highly Ornamented” design from Cathedral Candles. Cathedral Candles offers a wide variety of designs, many of them traditional-style. Thus, the priest often never “cuts” into the candle.

Per the rubrics, the priest should still be using a stylus at the Lucernarium. I think some priests have the mindset, “It’s such a small thing, no one will notice.” As a result, my pastor for years have used a plastic pen from the dollar-store for this act, and honestly, it look… cheap and undignified. My pastor is not the only one to not have attention to this point, worse, I have seen some priests (and bishops) use their thumb to trace the symbols. An attempt I have seen was a priest using one of the paschal-nails to trace the symbols. These are all interesting attempts in lieu of a “stylus.” However, I wonder why not many parishes have a paschal stylus? Probably because it would be something only used once a year. It is no wonder that upon my search, no religious store or supplier in Canada seems to have paschal stylus in their catalogue. A place I would expect to see a paschal stylus would be in Italy and they don’t even have one in their online catalogue!

Yet, that does not mean that a paschal stylus is impossible to find. For the “mother of all vigils,” I think a paschal stylus is worth investing on. A search of “paschal stylus” on Google Images gives one an interesting variety of styles. Tonini Church Supply store in Louisville, KY has an economic version of a paschal stylus for only 95 cents (USD). However, at that price range, you’re left with a stylus that resembles more of a barbecue skewer than a stylus. Another store, Agnus Church Supply U.K. has a better version made of brass, with a “comfortable handle,” for $23.40 USD. It looks more dignified than the economic version from Tonini. A step up from that is the “Jerusalem Cross stylus,” from Church Stores Australia for $45.00 AUD ($35.69 USD as of Mar 12) and is the best of the three thus far.

However, the best on the market is that of Watts & Co., based in London, England. Here are some images of this beautiful stylus:

The description on their site of this paschal stylus is as follows:

Used for inscribing the Paschal Candle at the great Easter Vigil with the Cross, Alpha & Omega, and calendrical year. 

 Our styluses are based on those originally made by Prinknash Abbey in the 1950s due to the revision of the Holy Week rites in that decade. 

 The stylus is made in sturdy pewter and engraved. Complete in a presentation box.

When I opened the handsome presentation box with the Latin, “Stilus Paschalis,” for “Paschal Stylus,” I was stunned by the beauty of such an object rarely seen by the congregation the the Easter Vigil. Though small and “hidden” from many, Watts and Co. provides a tool worthy to be used at the “mother of all vigils.”

“Sturdy pewter” indeed – I had a cross made of pewter and the bottom portion of it was bendable. Therefore, I have not had a good experience with pewter, but upon encountering this paschal stylus, I guess there are better types of pewter, and it may also depend on the method used to fire it – note though, I am no expert in this field.

There are beautiful delicate “cutouts” and engraving on the stylus. The top portion features a Chi-rho. The front portion features, “Alpha et Omega” (Alpha and Omega) at the top of the Chi-rho, and on the front body, has the words, “Christus Heri et Hodie” (Christ Yesterday and Today). The top front on the reverse side says, “Ipsus sunt Tempora” (All time belongs to him) and the reverse body says, “Principium et Finis” (Beginning and the End). In other words, engraved in detail is a neat little “package” of what the priest would say when tracing the symbols of the paschal candle.

The reason why I wanted to feature this paschal stylus in The Liturgy Series is that it is such a simple tool, but external signs, even as small as this paschal stylus means a great deal. This year, with the pandemic restrictions still going on, the Lucernarium might be done in front of the sanctuary. Therefore, perhaps more people will be able to see the Lucernarium in closer detail than ever before. There may be someone who may question, “Father, what unique tool did you use at the Lucernarium?” A priest can give a whole catechesis to explain the symbolism on this stylus. That is what good liturgical tools do, it evokes questions, evokes a deeper understanding into these external signs, and thus draws the people of God deeper into the Sacred Mysteries celebrated in the Liturgical Year. The same goes with beautiful chalices, and Sacred Vessels – people are interested in knowing what the designs mean. Beautiful liturgical objects draws people up to the author of Divine Beauty, which is God. I know for a fact, Watts and Co. is a fine example of making this point present. And this won’t be the last of them in The Liturgy Series!

Until then, wishing everyone a blessed last half of Lent, as well as a holy Easter season ahead.

You may purchase the Paschal Stylus from Watts & Co. here.

One thought on “The Liturgy Series: Watts & Co. Paschal Stylus

  1. Pingback: Day 11: Watts & Co. Mantilla | The Catholic Man Reviews

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