Saturday, April 11, 2009

Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII: Part 6.2 - Holy Saturday and the Blessing of the Font, Litany of the Saints, Mass and Vespers

We conclude part 6 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, looking at the Easter Vigil.

This comprises the second of the two parts upon the Easter Vigil.

Please note, further pieces on other specific aspects of the Pian reforms to Holy Week will be forthcoming.

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


Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII


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


by Gregory DiPippo



(The pre-1956 Easter Vigil celebrated at Westminster Cathedral)


Synopsis of the Pre-Pius XII Ritual

When the prophecies are done, if the church has a baptismal font, it is now blessed, and so all go in procession to the baptistery. During the procession the famous Tract Sicut cervus is sung, the beginning of Psalm 41, which gave rise to the widespread custom of decorating baptisteries with images of deer drinking from a fountain. Before entering the baptistery, the priest sings a prayer which makes reference to the deer, comparing it to the people that longs for rebirth in the waters of baptism.

When all have entered the baptistery, the priest says another prayer, then a Preface, typical of the Roman rite, during which he performs the rite of blessing the water. He divides the water in the form of Cross with his hand, then makes the sign of the Cross over the font three times, at the words “per Deum vivum, per Deum verum, per Deum sanctum”. Dividing the water again with his hand, he sprinkles some of it towards each of the four cardinal points, as he says “He that made thee flow forth from Paradise in a fountain, and commanded thee to water all of the earth in four rivers.” He continues the Preface, and then breathes upon the waters three times in the form of a Cross. The Paschal candle, which is brought to the baptistery in the procession, is immersed in the water three times, slightly deeper each time, while the priest sings, “Let the power of the Holy Ghost descend into this plenitude of the font.” The priest then breathes again over the water, in the form of the Greek letter Psi, Ψ, (for "psyche" - Spirit) and sprinkles the people with the water.

An acolyte brings the Oil of the Catechumens and the Holy Chrism to the priest, who pours a bit of both into the font, and then some of both together in the form of a cross. The water thus infused with oil is spread though the whole font. If there are persons to be baptized, this is now done as in the Rituale.

After the baptisms, all return to the church, singing the Litany of the Saints. If there is no font to be blessed, the priest removes his chasuble, the deacon and subdeacon remove their folded chasubles, and then prostrate themselves before the altar for the Litany of the Saints. The Litany is sung in a much abbreviated form; however, each invocation is sung twice, first by two cantors, with the response, then again by the whole choir, with the same response. This doubling of the invocations is a remnant of an ancient custom whereby the Litany was sung once on behalf of the catechumens while processing to the baptistery, again while returning to the church, welcoming the newly baptized into the company of the Saints.

In the middle of the Litany, (at “Peccatores, te rogamus audi nos”) the priest, deacon and subdeacon rise, and return to the sacristy with the acolytes. They dress in white Mass vestments for the Solemn Mass that follows, while the acolytes prepare the altar, lighting the candles, setting the relics upon it (or uncovering them if they are veiled), and flowers. At the end of the Litany the choir sings a very long Kyrie. The altar having been readied, all return to the sanctuary and the Mass begins.

The Mass of the Vigil has a few significant differences from a regular Solemn Mass. The Gregorian antiphons of the Mass are not sung, a sign that the Church’s joy in the Resurrection is not complete until the Savior Himself appears. There being no Introit, when the Kyrie is done, the priest intones the Gloria in excelsis, which is then sung with the same rite as on Holy Thursday; all the bells of the Church are rung for the beginning of the celebration of Easter. During the Gloria, the images of the Saints and paintings, which have now been veiled for almost two weeks, are uncovered. A Collect and Epistle are said as usual. After the Epistle, the priest sings three times a beautiful melismatic Alleluja particular to this rite, raising his voice at the second and third time. This is the official return of the Alleluja to the liturgy, which the choir repeats after the priest each time. There follow the Gradual, and then a Tract, the last of Lent. The mixture of Alleluja, the song of joy, and Tract, sung when the Alleluja is suppressed at Septuagesima, symbolizes the fact that the revelation of the Risen Lord is not yet complete; in the sacred liturgy, the Church lives in expectation of Christ’s Resurrection as did His Mother, trusting in Him though She has not yet seen Him.

The Gospel of this Mass, St. Matthew 28, 1-7, also reflects the fact that the Church still awaits the appearance of Christ; it recounts the appearance of the Angel to the women when they stood at the tomb, and the words he spoke to them, announcing the Resurrection, before the dawn. “And in the end of the Sabbath, when it began to dawn on the first day, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher.” Christ, the Light of the World, has not yet been made manifest to the Church, therefore, the acolytes do not carry candles at the Gospel.

The Creed is not said at this Mass, nor is there an Offertory antiphon; the Agnus Dei is not said, and the peace is not given, all signs again that the Risen Lord has not yet appeared directly to give peace to His disciples. ( St. John 20, 19-21) In place of the Communion antiphon, first Vespers of Easter are sung, in the very simple form of one Psalm, (116, the shortest of the Psalter), with the well-known antiphon of the sixth mode “Alleluja, alleluja, alleluja.” The Magnificat follows immediately thereafter; the first words of its antiphon are the first words of the Gospel of this Mass, cited above. This very brief Vespers is already found in the Compiègne antiphonary, a manuscript of the ninth century; but inasmuch as an analogous rite is also found in the Ambrosian Easter vigil, it is probably much older.

The Postcommunion prayer is sung as the conclusion of both Mass and Vespers together, and the deacon sings “Ite, missa est, alleluja, alleluja”; the dismissal is sung thus with two allelujas through whole Octave of Easter. The Mass ends as usual with the Last Gospel, a reminder that the work of our redemption accomplished in the Resurrection of Christ is the work of God Himself, incarnate for our salvation.


Synopsis of the Pius XII Reforms

The blessing of the font has been moved from its traditional place to the middle of the Litany of the Saints, after “Omnes Sancti et Sanctae Dei, intercedite pro nobis.” Thus, even when there is a font, the Litany begins immediately after the fourth prophecy. The text of the Litany is not changed, but the invocations are no longer said twice in the ancient manner. The priest, deacon and subdeacon kneel, rather than prostrate themselves, and without removing the cope and dalmatics (as a reminder,the use of dalmatics here was one of the reforms discussed it part 6.1; prior to 1955, folded chasubles were used instead of dalmatics); the rubric does not specify that they kneel before the altar, as opposed to remaining at the seat.

At this point is introduced a new rite ad libitum for the blessing of the water. It is permitted, but not obligatory, to bless the water not in the font itself, but in a vessel set in the middle of the choir for that purpose, and then brought to the font and poured in. In this case, the Tract Sicut cervus is sung while the water is brought to the font, and afterwards, the prayer which speaks of the deer as a symbol of the Christian people. As with the prayers of the preceding day, the prayer is now to be said with hands closed.

The blessing of the water itself is not changed, in either text or rite. Indeed, there remain the words “O God, who by water didst wash away the crimes of the guilty world, and by the pouring out of the deluge didst give a figure of regeneration, so that one and the same element might in a mystery be the end of vice and the beginning of virtue” (translation from “the Daily Missal” of Dom Gaspar Lefebvre), even though the prophecy to which they refer, Genesis 5, 31 - 8, 21, has been suppressed.

A new rubric specifies that, if the blessing of the water is done in the baptistery, “the cantors and the people remain in their place, and continue the chant of the Litanies, repeating the invocations from ‘Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis’, if need be”; meanwhile, the clergy go to bless the font without them. There will almost certainly be need to repeat the Litany in such a case, since the blessing of the water is quite long, and the Litany itself quite short; nor can the Litany continue from ‘Propitius esto…’ until after the water has been blessed.

After the first part of the Litany, and the blessing of the water (if this is done), a rite of renewal of baptismal promises has been inserted. The priest removes his violet cope, and dons a white one; the deacon and subdeacon do not change their violet dalmatic and tunicle. Before the renewal of baptismal promises begins, the priest imposes incense in the thurible again, and incenses the Paschal candle. Then, facing the people, he explains to them the purpose of Easter vigil, exhorting them to consider themselves “dead to sin, and living unto God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He then invites them to the renew their baptismal promises, and to say together with him the Lord’s Prayer, and sprinkles them with holy water. All this may be done in the vernacular.

The rest of the Litany is sung from “Propitius esto”; as in the previous rite, at “Peccatores, te rogamus audi nos”, all return to the sacristy, and dress for solemn Mass, while the acolytes prepare the altar. The only change here regards the Paschal candle, which is moved from its little bracket to the column (“in candelabrum suum”).

The Mass of the vigil is changed in only a few respects. The prayers at the foot of the altar are not said. The first prayer of the priest’s communion “Domine Jesu Christe qui dixisti” is also omitted as on Holy Thursday, because the peace is not given; this omission of the prayer is the normal practice in Masses for the Dead.

In place of the Vespers which are sung after Communion in the pre-1955 rites, something entirely new has been created, a form of the Hour of Lauds, much abbreviated, in the same way that the ancient Vespers was abbreviated. With the same antiphon “Alleluja, alleluja, alleluja,” is sung psalm 150, and the Benedictus, instead of the Magnificat, with the following antiphon: “And very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they come to the sepulcher, the sun now being risen, alleluja.” This antiphon, the first words of the Gospel of the Mass of Easter Sunday, clearly reflects the fact that it was originally meant to be sung at Lauds on the morning of Easter Sunday. These Lauds substitute both Matins and Lauds of Easter morning; Easter therefore becomes the only feast of the year that has no first Vespers, no Matins, and no Te Deum.

The Postcommunion is sung as the conclusion of both Lauds and Mass together, and the deacon sings “Ite, missa est, alleluja, alleluja”, as in the previous rite. The Last Gospel is omitted.



Copyright (C) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

(This concludes the first section on this series, which has summarized the ritual according to the pre-reform, as well as what was reformed. Further sections will be forthcoming which will consider other aspects of the reforms to Holy Week by Pius XII)