Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII: Part 7 - The Vigil of Pentecost and the Holy Week Readings

We continue with part 7 of Gregory DiPippo's consideration of the texts, ceremonies and history of the Holy Week ceremonies from before and after Pope Pius XII's reforms in 1955.

The various ceremonies from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday have now been considered, we now turn our attention to various other matters, beginning with the Vigil of Pentecost and the readings of Holy Week.


Previous Installments in this series:

Part 1 - The Palm Sunday Blessing and Procession of Palms

Part 2 - The Masses of Palm Sunday, Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday

Part 3 - The Mass of Holy Thursday and the Mandatum

Part 4.1 - The Mass of Presanctified on Good Friday, Mass of the Catechumens and the Solemn Prayers

Part 4.2 - Good Friday, The Adoration of the Cross and the Rite of the Presanctified

Part 5 - Tenebrae and the Divine Office of the Triduum

Part 6.1 - Holy Saturday and the Blessing of the New Fire, the Procession into the Church, the Exsultet and the Prophecies

Part 6.2 - Holy Saturday and the Blessing of the Font, Litany of the Saints, Mass and Vespers


Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII


Part 7: The Vigil of Pentecost and the Readings from Sacred Scripture in Holy Week


by Gregory DiPippo


Synopsis of the Pre-Pius XII Ritual

Already in very ancient times, the sacrament of baptism was celebrated on the feast of Pentecost as on Easter; this is said explicitly by Pope Saint Siricius (384-399) in a letter to bishop Himerius of Tarragon. (Epist. ad Himerium cap. 2 : Patrologia Latina vol. XIII, col. 1131B-1148A) Pope Saint Leo I (440-461) reasserts that this was the practice of the Church in a letter to the bishops of Sicily, exhorting them to follow the example of the Apostle Peter, who baptized three thousand persons on Pentecost day. (Epist. XVI ad universos episcopos per Siciliam constitutos : P.L. LIV col. 695B-704A) This custom is expressed in the liturgy of the vigil of Pentecost, which resembles in many respects the rite of Holy Saturday. This resemblance is found in the Missal of St. Pius V, as in all of the missals that came before it, and in the medieval usages of the great cathedrals and religious orders.

The rite begins in the penitential color, violet. There is no blessing of a Paschal fire, nor of a Paschal candle, nor the Exsultet; therefore, the vigil begins with six prophecies, repeated from the vigil of Easter, each of which is followed by a prayer. (The three tracts from Easter night are also repeated in their respective places). The six prayers are different from those of the Easter vigil, but express in many respects the same ideas. After the sixth prophecy, the blessing of the baptismal font is repeated, changing only the prayer at the beginning, following which the Litany is sung. During the Litany, the major ministers return to the sacristy and change to red vestments for the Mass.

Other rites of the Easter vigil are repeated at this vigil Mass; there is no Introit, and the bells are rung at the Gloria in excelsis. (The Introit Cum sanctificatus fuero was later assigned for private Masses only.) The collect of the Mass refers to the baptismal character of this celebration even more clearly than that of the Easter vigil Mass. After the Alleluja of the Mass is sung the same Tract which is sung on Easter night. At the Gospel, the acolytes do not carry candles. Just as on Easter night the Resurrection is watched for, but not anticipated, so also with this same gesture, the Church watches for the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire, as Christ told His disciples to do, but does not anticipate it. A further reference to the baptisms done in the first part of the rite is found in the Canon of the Mass, in which the proper Hanc igitur of Easter is said. This text speaks explicitly of those whom the Lord “(has) deigned to regenerate of water and the Holy Spirit, granting to them remission of their sins. ” It is said in this Mass, and though the entire octave of Pentecost, as it is also said at the Mass of the Easter vigil, and throughout the octave.


Synopsis of the Pius XII Reforms

The 1955 reform almost completely removes this ancient tradition of the Roman Rite, suppressing the Prophecies, the blessing of the font, and the Litany. The Mass begins with the Introit which was formerly said only in private Masses. The rubrics about ringing the bells during the Gloria and not carrying candles at the Gospel are also suppressed. The text of the Mass itself is not changed; the same collect and the same Easter Hanc igitur are still said, although the baptismal rituals to which they refer are suppressed.

Regarding this change of the more ancient form of the vigil of Pentecost, one of the more important changes to the vigil of Easter must also discussed again in greater detail. As mentioned in the first article on the Easter vigil, there are twelve Prophecies in the pre-1955 rites, which were reduced to four in 1955. There were, however, also ancient rites in which four prophecies were read at the Easter vigil instead of twelve. Amalarius of Metz, who wrote about the liturgy in the middle of the ninth century, says quite clearly that there were four prophecies at the Easter vigil, (with their tracts), the same four which remain in the reformed Holy Week of 1955. This tradition of the shorter form of the Prophecies (not always the same four, however) is found in some ancient sacramentaries, from which it passed also to some medieval Missals, such as those of Sarum and Paris, and from them to the usages of some religious orders. In the usage of the Dominican Order, there are only four.

However, all of these same ancient sources and all of these Missals, both medieval and modern, have four Prophecies also at the vigil of Pentecost. In the Dominican rite, which in 1955 was the most widespread Latin use after the Roman, there are read on the vigil of Easter four of the Prophecies from the Roman Missal, the first, fourth, eighth and fifth, with the relative tracts and prayers. On the vigil of Pentecost are read the third, eleventh, eighth and sixth of the Roman Missal, also with the tracts and prayers.

In both the Dominican and Roman Missals, the ninth prophecy of the Roman Missal is also the Epistle of the Mass of the Presanctified, and the tenth is also the Epistle of Passion Monday. Therefore, although the Dominican Missal only has four prophecies on Easter night, only three of the Roman twelve prophecies are missing from the Dominican Use. (Most of Genesis 5, 31 – 8, 21, the second Prophecy of the Roman Rite, is read in both the Dominican and Roman Breviaries in Sexagesima week.) A similar situation obtains in the Sarum and Parisian Missals, among others.

The custom of singing the Passions of all four Evangelists in the course of Holy Week is found in nearly all of the historical rites of the Catholic Church. The Latin rite of the Church of Rome keeps this custom in a typically sober and simple manner, since its arrangement of the Passions is notably shorter than that of some other rites. They are sung on four days of the week, Saint Matthew on Palm Sunday, Saint Mark on Holy Tuesday, Saint Luke on Spy Wednesday, and Saint John on Good Friday.

In the Ambrosian Rite, which is closer to the Roman than any other, all of the Gospels of the Triduum are taken from Saint Matthew. At the rite of readings and prayers on Holy Thursday morning, called “Post Tertiam”, the betrayal of Judas is read, (chapter 26, 14-16), and at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, from the Last Supper to the imprisonment of Christ (26, 17-75). The rest of the Passion, to the death of Christ, (27, 1-56) is read at the Post Tertiam of Good Friday; at the Post Nonam of the same day is read the burial of Christ (27, 57-61). At the Post Tertiam of Holy Saturday, the placing of the guard at Christ’s tomb is read (27, 62-66); this passage is followed at the Easter vigil by the next part of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 28, 1-7, the first announcement of the Resurrection, found also in the Roman Rite.

There being no other place in the liturgies of the sacred Triduum for the three remaining Passions, they are read in the Divine Office of Good Friday, all three of them together in the second of two nocturns at Matins. The first nocturn has eleven psalms, and a homily of St. Augustine, divided into three readings; following the normal Ambrosian custom, there is a responsory after the first and second, but not the third. The second nocturn has seven psalms, followed by the Passion of St. Mark, with a responsory, the Passion of Saint Luke, with a responsory, and the Passion of St. John, precede by chapter 13 and the first six verses of chapter 14 of the same Gospel. In the 1957 edition of the Ambrosian breviary printed by Daverio, this Matins alone occupies 43 pages.

In the Byzantine rite, one of the most beautiful rites of Holy Week is the Matins of Good Friday, (regularly anticipated on the evening of Holy Thursday), called “the Matins of the Twelve Gospels.” The twelve Gospels are:

1. St. John 13, 31 – 18,1 (more than 4 chapters together)

2. St. John 18, 1 – 28

3. St. Matthew 26, 57 – 75

4. St. John 18, 28 – 19, 16

5. St. Matthew 27, 3 – 32

6. St. Mark 15, 16 – 32

7. St. Matthew 27, 33 – 54

8. St. Luke 23, 32 – 49

9. St. John 19, 25 – 37

10. St. Mark 15, 43 – 47

11. St. John 19, 38 – 42

12. St. Matthew 27, 62 – 66

During Good Friday itself are celebrated the “Imperial Hours”, at each of which one of the Gospels of this Matins is repeated. (At Prime, St. Matthew 27, 1-56; at Terce, St. Mark 15, 16-41; at Sext, St. Luke 23, 32-49; at None, St. John 18, 28 – 19, 37.) At the Vespers of the Deposition from the Cross, which is held on the afternoon of Good Friday, chapter 27 of St. Matthew is repeated, with verses added from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John.

These are not the only readings of the Passion in the Byzantine Triduum. At Matins of Holy Thursday is read the first part of the Passion of St. Luke (22, 1-39), and at the Divine Liturgy, the beginning of the Passion of St. Matthew (26, 1 – 27, 2) with verses added from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John. Finally, on Holy Saturday, the conclusion of St. Matthew’s Passion (27, 62 – 66, a passage that has no parallel in the other Gospels) is read at Matins.

Compared with the practices of these other rites, that of the Roman Rite surely cannot be deemed excessively long, since these readings are the narration of the most important events in the history of the human race, its Redemption by the salvific death of Christ.


Copyright (C) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

(Further installments will be forthcoming.)