Deconstructing the Stage-Playing Self : Priests, Actors, and Viaticum Ceremonies in 17th-Century Paris

Joy Palacios (Simon Fraser University)

In 17th-century France, the last communion given to a dying Catholic gave rise to a series of processions. Two kinds of errances intertwined in these processions. Participants underwent a mini-déplacement, leaving church and home for an hour or two. Their steps had a corrective purpose, especially when the dying person had a reputation for bad living. The processions book-ended not only someone’s last communion but also their last confession. Given that Parisian priests involved in the Counter-Reformation began in the 1640’s to refuse to administer sacraments to stage players unless they renounced their profession, the person putting end to his or her spiritual wandering in order to receive the last communion was from time to time an actor. This paper considers the way priests in the parish of Saint-Sulpice, where the Comédie-Française occupied a theater within blocks of a parish church and seminary, used the processions and ceremonies associated with the last communion to reabsorb actors into the liturgical community.