Friday, February 01, 2013

Compendium of the 1961 Revision of the Pontificale Romanum - Introduction

The purpose of this series is not to give a general history of the Pontificale Romanum per se, but only to describe the reform of a single part, the second of the three sections into which the book is traditionally divided. This reform was officially promulgated by a decree of the Sacred Congregation for Rites on April 13, 1961, which states in part,
“In the second part of this sacred book are contained those consecrations and blessings of things, … which over the course of the ages very often from a simple action, have come to so much more grand a form, being filled with very many ceremonies, that sometimes the obvious sense of the sacred action, for the exceeding richness of the ceremonies, appears obscured in some places. Therefore, in our own times, which are so deeply changed from those that preceded them, the origin and significance of the individual rites being better known, the legitimate desire has arisen that the more important sacred actions in this second part of the Roman Pontifical be suitably revised, and reduced to a simpler form, so that the faithful may more easily be able to participate in them, and understand their profound significance.”
The Contents and Arrangement of the Pontificale 
The Roman Pontifical contains the texts and rubrics of those rites which are traditionally reserved to bishops, although some of them may occasionally be delegated to other ranks of the clergy. An arrangement traditional since the end of the thirteenth century separates the book into three sections. The first of these contains the rituals for the Sacrament of Confirmation, followed by Holy Orders according to the various ranks, starting with the tonsure. With these are grouped blessings or consecrations which are celebrated with rituals analogous to those used in the Sacrament of Order, such as the blessing of an abbot or abbess, the consecration of a nun, and royal coronations. The second part, with which this series will be principally concerned, contains the rituals for the consecration of a church building in its various parts, and the blessing of its furnishings, all of which are reserved by ancient custom to the head of the diocese. The third part contains the ceremonies for specific events in the life of the Church, such as the celebration of a synod or the visitation of a parish, which of course fall within the competence of bishops by definition.

The liturgical formulae for such ceremonies were originally included, along with the prayers of the Mass, in the books known as sacramentaries, the primitive form of the missal which contained only the proper parts of the celebrant. These sacramentaries were Roman in origin, but imported in Carolingian times into France and western Germany, where they were enriched and expanded by the addition of local material. In the same period, the texts and rubrics for episcopal ceremonies began to be gradually separated from the sacramentaries, and gathered into collections known as pontificals; since such rituals could only be performed by a bishop, only one copy of them was necessary per diocese, while many more missals were needed as the number of priests and Masses continued to grow through the Middle Ages. The basis of the traditional pontifical is one such compilation, originating in the west German city of Mainz in the middle of the tenth century, and adopted at Rome at the beginning of the eleventh.

Prior to the reign of Charlemagne (768-814), the church in Gaul used an extremely complicated and lengthy form of liturgy now called the Gallican Rite; Charlemagne personally and several of his senior prelates were responsible for the adoption of the much simpler and more sober Roman Rite throughout his domains. So completely did the Roman Rite replace the Gallican that we can now only partially reconstruct the latter from a comparatively small number of surviving manuscripts. However, many elements of the Gallican liturgy survived by being incorporated into the liturgical books of the Roman Rite. The most notably Gallican element in the Pontifical are a number of very lengthy prayers and blessings, typical of the prolixity of the Gallican ceremonies; Carolingian liturgical writers were also very fond of establishing very elaborate Biblical symbolism and prefigurations for their ceremonies, and working statements of them into the text of the liturgy.

The Mainz Pontifical is a truly vast work, which also includes a great deal of material than is not specifically for the use of bishops, and many rubrics for the celebration of different parts of the Mass and Office. Over the following centuries, it was in various ways edited and reworked, often shortened in the process, for the use of various dioceses. The most important such edition was the work of the canonist and liturgical scholar William Durandus, bishop of Mende (1237-96), who gave the Church the first pontifical properly so-called. To create a more universally applicable collection of ceremonies, he removed from his sources all the material regarding rites specific to Rome and the Papal court, and all the material that was not exclusively for the use of bishops. He is also responsible for the traditional division of the book into three sections, the first regarding persons, the second church buildings, and the third events.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the Pontifical was edited once again by Johannes Burchard and Agostino Piccolomini, masters of ceremonies at the court of Pope Innocent VIII (1484-92). Finally, a new edition for general use was issued by Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) in 1595, as part of the general reform of the liturgy in the post-Tridentine period. (This edition was published in 1595, but the constitution by which it was approved and formally promulgated it was dated February 10, 1596; I shall use the former date throughout for simplicity's sake.) Although St. Pius V had permitted local churches and religious orders to retain their proper uses for the Mass and Office, the Pontifical of 1595 was imposed upon the entire Western Church without exception, and the use of all others forbidden, even within the Ambrosian Rite of Milan. Apart from the later removal of obsolete material in subsequent editions, the Clementine Pontifical remained essentially unchanged until the revision of the second part promulgated in 1961, which is the subject of this series of articles.

Organization of This Series 
The basic procedure of these articles will be the same as those used for the Holy Week series published in 2009. Some of the articles will appear in pairs, both within the same week, the first describing the older form of the ceremony, the second the newer. Where the articles are so paired, the second will begin with a link to the first for the reader’s reference. Some of the revisions consist in only fairly small modifications, or only in the removal of material; many of these smaller changes can easily be described within a single article. By far the longest and most complicated ceremony of the Pontifical is the ritual for the consecration of a church; in an edition printed by H. Dessain at Mechlin in 1865, it occupies exactly one-hundred pages. I have broken the description of this ceremony into six parts; this division may seem somewhat arbitrary to the reader, since the ceremony was not only radically shortened in 1961, but significantly reordered.

Where I did at least attempt to be as thorough as possible in describing the rites of Holy Week, the description of the Pontifical ceremonies will not always be absolutely complete. Some aspects of them will not be mentioned because they are not particularly relevant to the main subject, the changes of the texts and ceremonies. So, for example, the rubrics for the frequent taking off and putting on of the miter will be ignored; suffice it to know that as a general principle, a bishop takes his miter off when saying a prayer, and puts it back on when performing a ritual action. Some abbreviation is necessary in order not to exhaust the patience of the reader with a great deal of repetition, (or at least, not to exhaust it as much the writer’s.) So, for example, many of the prayers traditionally said with the long conclusion, (“through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”) are said with short conclusion (“through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”) in the revision of 1961. Rather than give the complete text of these conclusions each time, those prayers for which the conclusion was changed will be noted with the words (long conclusion) in parentheses in the description of the old version, and with (short conclusion) in the new.

A few other general principles should also be noted, regarding some changes which appear in several places in the 1961 revision. It is a common practice to accompany the rites of the Pontifical with the singing of responsories, psalms and antiphons; the traditional form of the blessing of bells has 14 psalms, for example. Many of these are removed, (the blessing of the bells retains two) and those that remain are often no longer finished with the doxology “Glory be unto the Father…” as they were in the older rite. Many prayers which were traditionally precede by classically Roman formula “Oremus – Flectamus genua – Levate (sung by the bishop, deacon and the subdeacon respectively) are now preceded by “Dominus vobiscum” and “Oremus.” A very large number of crosses made with the hand (as in the Canon of the Mass) are omitted. (Font support issues require that these be represented by red plus-signs. + ) The common formula “Benedicere, sanctificare et consecrare” (“bless, sanctify and consecrate” in various grammatical forms) is often shortened to “benedicere – bless”; the older form is often accompanied by three crosses, which are often reduced to one or occasionally none.


The prayers and chants of these ceremonies will be given in English translation, but not the full text of the psalms (cited by number according to the Vulgate); for those who wish to consult the Latin text, there are several editions of the Pontifical available for viewing and download on googlebooks. Many of the prayers are omitted or shortened, sometimes quite notably, in the 1961 revision. If the prayer has only been shortened, the omitted parts will appear in the shortened version in italics; if the words have been changed, the different words will be noted in bold, and the reader may consult the original version in the description of the earlier form of the ceremony. The prayers so changed will be marked at the end in parentheses (italics omitted) or (changes in bold).

Many pontifical ceremonies include a form of preface, preceded as in the Mass by the Preface dialogue. (“Dominus vobiscum”, “Sursum corda” etc.) The end of these prefaces is usually the same as the long conclusion of the prayers, as noted above. This long conclusion was very often said in a low voice, not sung; in the 1961 revision, it is usually sung as part of the preface itself. This change will be marked as (long conclusion in low voice) and (long conclusion sung).

Some of these articles will also include a table summarizing the changes, with the two forms of the ceremony side by side, each feature noted with only by few words. However, in several cases, the material has been re-ordered in the newer version in such a way that the table format is not particularly clear. It is often the case that as one goes along with a project of this sort, one learns a better way of formatting and explaining the material, so I may decide to change the procedure a bit as we go along. The first two articles, on the blessing of the corner-stone of a church, will appear next week.