Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Fraction Rite of Good Friday

This article concludes this series on the rites of Good Friday. The previous articles may be read at the following links: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

In 1956, Fathers Annibale Bugnini and Carlo Braga published in the Ephemerides Liturgicae a commentary on the Holy Week reform which Pope Pius XII had promulgated late in the previous year. Considering that it is supposed to explain changes which were by far the most significant made to the Tridentine Missal since its first publication in 1570, it is weirdly (one might almost say ‘oppressively’) reticent about what exactly was done and why.

Nowhere is this more the case than where it treats of the last part of the Good Friday liturgy, the so-called “Mass of the Presanctified.” The commentary concerns itself almost entirely with the question of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful, which before 1956 had not been done for centuries. However, even assuming that it was wise, opportune or necessary to restore this, it has nothing to do with the ceremony itself. There is no reason why Communion could not be given on Good Friday within the traditional rite; one could simply consecrate an extra ciborium on Holy Thursday, bring it to the Altar of Repose along with the chalice containing the large celebrant’s Host, and bring it back to the main altar on Good Friday.


What the commentary does say is that the presence of the fraction rite “seems (my emphasis) to accept the theory of consecration by contact: ‘But the wine that is not consecrated is sanctified by the sanctified bread.’ (Sanctificatur autem vinum non consecratum per sanctificatum panem.)” The words “But the wine…” are given as a quotation; the reason for this will be explained below. Further on, they note that “the rites which form ‘the Mass of the Presanctified’ of the Roman Missal are all found in the ordines written in the 14th century.”

In 1948, Fr Ferdinando Antonelli had written a “Memo on liturgical reform” (Memoria sulla riforma liturgica), together with several collaborators; he attributes “the bulk of the work” to Fr Joseph Löw. The Memo outlines the many issues which the newly-appointed liturgical commission of Pope Pius XII might discuss; it was circulated only among a very small number of people, and not published until 2003 in La riforma liturgica di Pio XII, Centro Liturgico Veneziano. (Antonelli would later play a major role in the post-Conciliar reform.) In it, he states the same idea about the Mass of the Presanctified more categorically. “Since there existed at the beginning of the Middle Ages the belief that simply putting the consecrated bread in the wine was sufficient to consecrate also the wine itself, this rite (i.e., the fraction and commingling) was introduced; when the Eucharist had been better studied, it was realized that this belief was groundless, but the rite remained.” (p. 65)

Later on, Mons. Mario Righetti, who was one of the persons originally privy to the “Memo”, and served as a peritus at Vatican II, expresses the same opinion in the section of his Manual of Liturgical History that deals with the liturgical year. The fraction on Good Friday “harkens back to the Eucharistic doctrine which predominated in the Middle Ages, and already declared in the 9th century by Amalarius and other liturgists, that mere contact with the consecrated Bread was sufficient to consecrate the wine as well.” (vol. II, p. 212, ed. Àncora, Milan, 1969)

The “Memo” also states that the entire matter of reforming the Good Friday rite “should be studied by specialists and discussed by the Commission.” In point of fact, the fraction rite on Good Friday had already been studied exhaustively (and exhaustingly) by Michel Andrieu (1886-1956), in a series of eight articles titled “Immixtio et Consecratio” published in the Revue des Sciences Religieuses. (From vol. 2, no. 4 (1922) to vol. 4 no. 3 (1924))

The sum of Andrieu’s study as it regards the Mass of the Presanctified is as follows. Originally, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved on Holy Thursday under both species for Communion on Good Friday. By the beginning of the 9th century, this custom had changed, and only the Body was reserved. A description of the ceremony which was already old by that period says that the celebrant performed a fraction while “saying nothing”, into a chalice previously prepared by the subdeacon with “unconsecrated wine.” It is first attested in Codex Sangallensis 614 (ca. 800 A.D.), and subsequently in “innumerable” missals and sacramentaries. But these ordines merely describe the ceremony, without giving any explanation of it, and it is “difficult” for us to know if the explanation later given by Amalarius of Metz corresponds to the ideas that originally inspired the rite. This is a radical understatement on Andrieu’s part; there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Amalarius’ theory had anything to do with the creation of the rite.

A 12th-century manscript of Amalarius of Metz’ treatise Liber officialis. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 2401. folio 34r) The words “Sanctificatur enim...” are seen in the penultimate line of the main text.
Amalarius himself, writing in the 9th century, originally believed that in this rite, “the unconsecrated wine is sanctified by the sanctified bread.” (Sanctificatur enim vinum non consecratum per sanctificatum panem.) However, he later revised his opinion on the basis of a letter of St Gregory the Great (Ep. XII ad Joannem Episc. Syracusan., PL 77, 956A) which states that the Apostles had effected the consecration of the Mass by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer alone. This convinced Amalarius that the Good Friday ceremony was a relic of this “apostolic consecration.” (Andrieu cites a 12th century missal that also expresses this idea in a rubric before the rite of the Presanctified, “Here follows the Mass of the Apostles.”)

This notion of “the Mass of the Apostles” was still considered worth discussing by liturgical scholars such as Sicard of Cremona and Durandus centuries later. But regardless of its merits or acceptance, it cannot possibly be an explanation for the origin of the rite; if the bread and wine were consecrated on Good Friday solely by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, there would be no need at all to reserve the Eucharistic species on the previous day, an incongruity which Amalarius himself recognized. “Were it not commanded by the Roman ordo that the Body of the Lord be reserved … there would be no need to reserve it, since the Lord’s Prayer would suffice to consecrate the Body, as it suffices to consecrate the wine and water.” This mistake really should have suggested to modern scholars that Amalarius might also have been wrong in supposing that the Fraction rite originated as a form of “consecration by contact.”

Despite this change of opinion as to how the rite works, Amalarius’ first notion, that the wine is consecrated by the particle of the Host dropped into it, was widely diffused. His formulation of it is repeated in the same or very similar words in liturgical books though the Middle Ages and into the early years of printing, right up to the 16th century and the Tridentine reform. It is even included, with minor variations, in the Ordo of Pope Innocent III at the beginning of the 13th century, the ancestor of the Missal of St Pius V, and in two of the later Ordines Romani (XIV and XV). This is also the text cited by Frs Braga and Bugnini in their 1956 commentary on the Holy Week reform.

The rubrics of the Mass of the Presanctified, from the 1502 Missal of Augsburg, Germany. In the left column, immediately after the last black text, is Amalarius’ formula “Santificatur autem vinum...” There follow the words “On this day is recalled the memory of the Apostles, who would say only the Lord’s Prayer over the Body of the Lord and the Blood of the Lord.”
No one will be surprised to learn that this is not the whole story.

The sixth article of Andrieu’s “Immixtio et Consecratio” series is entitled “Liturgical books which contradict the theory of consecration by contact.” As a result of the writings of Hugh of St Victor (1096-1141) and Peter Lombard (1100-60), and later theologians informed by them, “from the 12th century, we find missals, ordinaries and pontificals in which the liturgy of the Presanctified is described in terms incompatible with the theory of consecration by contact.” Even in Amalarius’ own city of Metz, a 13th century ordinary of the church of St Arnoul prescribes that the celebrant of the Good Friday liturgy “drink the wine, and not say the prayer May the Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ etc., because although the wine is sanctified by the Body of the Lord put into it, there is no consecration, and it is not the Blood of Christ.”

The distinction between “sanctify” and “consecrate” in this rubric (which, as Andrieu had documented earlier in his articles, was not a strict one in the writings of the Fathers and the early Middle Ages), is also elaborated by the liturgical writers of this later era. Sicard of Cremona says at the end of the twelfth century “Is the wine consecrated by contact? … Not consecrated, but sanctified, for there is a difference (between them.) ‘To consecrate’ is to transubstantiate the consecration; ‘to sanctify’ is understood in a similar sense, but broadly, for ‘being sanctified’ means being made an object of reverence by contact with a sacred thing.” (Mitrale 6, 13. We may note here in passing his beautiful explanation that the Agnus Dei is omitted “because it is not fitting to call upon one who is seen dying in agony.”)

About a century later, Durandus writes that after the fraction, “the prayers Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God and Thy Body, o Lord, which I have received are omitted (on Good Friday), because mention of the Blood is made in them.” Here, it must be remembered that Durandus is not just any schoolman expressing a theological opinion; his Rationale Divinorum Officiorum stands in relation to the earlier commentaries on the liturgy as St Thomas’ Summa theologica does to earlier Summae. Furthermore, he created the edition of the Pontifical which ultimately formed the basis of the Pontifical of Clement VIII; it is partly through the diffusion of that work that these words became the rubric which “triumphs definitively” in the liturgical books of the era, “denying any power of consecration to the rite of commingling.” (Andrieu’s sixth part, p. 87)

Even before Durandus incorporated them into his Pontifical, a slightly different version of the rubric had been included in the Franciscan Missal, the famous missal by which the proper use of the Roman Curia was spread throughout Western Europe: “the prayer Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God being omitting, because it makes mention of the Blood.” This was also included in the original version of the Missal of St Pius V, where it appears as follows: “(After the fraction), omitting the prayer Lord Jesus Christ, who said to Thy Apostles, because it makes mention of the Peace, and the prayer Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, because it makes mention of the Blood, he says only the following prayer, The receiving of Thy body etc.” (Pope Clement VIII’s 1604 edition of the Missal then simplified this rubric to “omitting the first two prayers…”)

The rubrics of the Mass of the Presanctified, from the Missal of St Pius V. The rubric described in the preceding paragraph begins in the third to last line of the left column with the words “Postmodum, praetermissa oratione...”
It hardly needs stating that the Missal of St Pius V is a product of the Counter-Reformation. It was published to guarantee that Catholics everywhere would celebrate the Eucharist in accord with the tradition of the Fathers and the Church’s perennial teaching, as reinforced by the decrees of Trent, against the Protestants’ rejection of that tradition. If the fraction rite of Good Friday had been thought to contain even a hint of Eucharistic heresy, it most certainly would have been removed.

To sum up: while the theory of consecration by contact was known and widely accepted from Amalarius’ time, there is no reason to believe that it is the origin of the fraction rite on Good Friday. The theory itself was repudiated 300 years before the Council of Trent, and this repudiation was definitively accepted. Nevertheless, the fraction rite was retained as the Church’s immemorial custom; clearly, no one thought that in and of itself, it intrinsically expressed the idea of consecration by contact. The editors of the Missal of St Pius V, who would have every reason to remove it if it were perceived in any way to bring the Church’s Eucharist doctrine into disrepute, retained it, and on the same terms in which it had been accepted by the medieval schoolman so hated by the Protestants. And so it remained until 1956.

One is left wondering, then: why the sudden change in that year? It cannot be supposed that those responsible for the Holy Week reform were unfamiliar with the work of Andrieu, a well-known and extraordinarily productive scholar; Righetti cites the Immixtio et Consecratio series in his footnotes, and Andrieu’s work on the Pontifical is cited in the 1956 commentary in Ephemerides.

“Since there existed … the belief that simply putting the consecrated bread in the wine was sufficient to consecrate also the wine itself, this rite was introduced; when the Eucharist had been better studied, it was realized that this belief was groundless, but the rite remained.” This asks us to believe that at the very heart of the Church’s liturgy, on one of the most solemn days of the year, there exists a rite which originated with a material heresy, and which endured for centuries solely as the result of a blind and unthinking conservatism. If we accept this idea, would we not logically have to ask ourselves what else might be lurking in the pages of the Missal solely as the result of the same blind and unthinking conservatism?

“Don’t you worry, we’ll take care of that.”

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