Thursday, April 30, 2020

An Invitation to Join in the “Octave of Liturgical Restoration,” May 1–8

Enterprising traditionalists from Down Under have proposed that May 1 through May 8 be observed by proponents of the usus antiquior as the “Octave of Liturgical Restoration.” This week is certainly one of the weeks that sustained the most damage under Pius XII and John XXIII.

The longstanding connection of May 1 with “Pip n’ Jim” was lost, to be replaced by a “workerist” feast intended to vie with the Communist’s International Workers’ Day, but never successful in doing so. The ancient feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross on May 3 was abolished, as was an equally ancient feast of St John at the Latin Gate, commemorating the attempted martyrdom of the Beloved Disciple. The octave culminates in the Apparition of St Michael on May 8, also removed from the general calendar — all this, even prior to the global devastation visited on the calendar by a “trio of maniacs” (in Louis Bouyer’s words) whose revisions were approved by Paul VI. (The other four feasts — St. Athanasius, St. Monica, St. Pius V, and St Stanislaus — remain on their traditional dates in the 1962 Missale Romanum.)

The octave would be observed in two ways: first, by celebrating the older feasts on these dates, as far as possible; second, by praying privately a Collect that was lost in the ill-considered reform of Holy Week under Pius XII (the text of the Collect will be found on the image that accompanies this post). In this way, the octave could become a time of special annual prayer for the restoration of the fullness of the Roman Rite.

The laity may easily follow along with the ever-popular reprint of the 1948 St. Andrew Daily Missal.

A Garden Nursery Is An Essential Business - Especially in Lockdown!

In this period of lockdown, a focus on gardening can be a way to facilitate the meditation upon the beauty of God, in even the most mundane of homes.

There are some who want to see a beautiful culture, who suggest that one of the reasons that we see such ugliness in modern culture is that the guiding principle in design is utility. In a society that is so utilitarian, driven by economic considerations only (so the argument runs), there is no use for beauty and so in order to cut corners, architects give it little consideration.

I don’t hold to this view.

First, I believe that beauty does have a utility. It is a visible sign that something is good at fulfilling its purpose. A beautiful house is beautiful because it houses people well. This means it has to be liveable in such a way that the people who live there can actively pursue their supernatural end. Such a house will be structurally sound, will encourage the creation of community, and prayer, as well as all the mundane and everyday activities of life that we engage in - eating, sleeping, and even watching movies from time to time!

In principle, every building, no matter how mundane its primary function, can be designed to account for the fact that the human beings who occupy it are body, soul, and spirit.

When people see such a house (or factory, warehouse, hospital, university, shopping mall...), they will instinctively know that it is good for them - even if they can’t say why - and will want to live there or go there. Beautiful houses sell, therefore. Furthermore, I suspect that generally, even the most cynically profit-driven developers know that visual appeal will create demand for what they build, and would try to make their buildings as beautiful as they can within budget.

The main reason that there is such ugliness, I suggest, is that architects no longer know how to design beautiful buildings. They try, but they can’t do it. They are ignorant of or do not understand the basic rules of harmony and proportion that were developed as design principles for buildings that are in harmony with this highest and most noble purpose - enabling people to work towards their supernatural end. As a result, they are unable to design beautiful buildings. They are generally ignorant of these principles of design, and even if they are aware of them, because they do not recognize the true end of man, they would not acknowledge their importance.

This architect was trying to create beauty!


Most of us are not in a position to influence the design of the homes we live in. Economic considerations direct us to a limited range of choices. However, there are things that we can do to create a more beautiful environment. The need for a beautiful home that elevates the soul has increased recently, given that we are bound to spend so much time at home.

One way to respond to this is to plant for beauty, so that we can create little Edens that encourage meditation upon God’s creation. Just as an icon corner can be a focus for prayer at home, beautiful plants and flowers can nourish the soul. Every plant, as a reflection of divine beauty, naturally incorporates the principles of harmony and proportion of the cosmos, and so can be an object of meditation and aid to contemplation. If you can create a medieval walled garden, that would be great,


but if not, the tiniest space can be planted out - even if it’s a window box.


I was pleased to discover that because construction is considered a necessary business in California, and landscaping is an aspect of construction, garden nurseries have remained open. I don’t know if this an inspired recognition of the need for divine beauty in people’s lives in these troubled times (I suspect not), but it is welcome nevertheless.

Here is a little corner outside the building where I live, which I have planted up. It is a tiny concrete space, but becomes a place for prayer when the sun shines. I’m no expert at this, but just to have something like this makes a huge difference in my appreciation of being at home.

TLM Training Webinars to Begin May 13

Beginning May 13, Mr Louis Tofari of Romanitas Press will host a 12-week curriculum of live webinars for priests seeking to improve their knowledge and celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. Each of the twelve weekly sessions will consist of three 40-minute lessons (thus two hours per week), with approximately 20-minute breaks between lessons. Topics to be covered include the various liturgical books of the Roman Rite, the historical development of the Missale Romanum and a section-by-section examination of its contents, the different tones of voice prescribed by the rubrics, the proper positioning of the hands at various parts of the Mass, and the layout and appointments of the church building. Priests may subscribe to individual sessions (to be presented every Wednesday from May 13 to July 29) or, ideally, to the entire curriculum. These webinars are intended for priests, but seminarians, too, may subscribe. Lessons will be recorded for the sake of participants who may be called away or unable to “tune in” live. For detailed information and to register, click HERE.

I encourage all priests to avail themselves of this opportunity, even those who may be inclined to think they don’t need it because they’ve already attended a training seminar such as Sancta Missa, or have seen an FSSP or SSPX training video, or have been saying the traditional Mass for years now. The more knowledge, experience, and confidence priests accumulate, the more they tend to rely on their quick “already know the answer” instincts. Too many are making mistakes big and small, as I have, because “they don’t know what they don’t know.” After more than a decade of offering and assisting at the more ancient form of Mass, its inexhaustible riches offer me surprises.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Bugnini on the Reform of Palm Sunday (Part 1)

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. This commentary makes for an incredibly frustrating read. It is supposed to explain changes which were by far the most significant made to the Tridentine Missal since its first publication in 1570, and the harbinger of greater changes soon to come. And yet for the most part, it concerns itself with fairly minor issues, and gives far less space than one would wish to the more substantive ones.

A full account of what it says about the changes to Palm Sunday would be tedious, since much of the material is dedicated to historical matters that have little to do with the then-recent reform. Therefore, I will consider it here by order of topic, following the liturgical texts in the Missal of St Pius V.

The commentary reports that the first example of the blessing of the palms arranged in imitation of the Order of Mass is found in an ancient Roman Ordo also called the “10th century Pontificale Romano-Germanicum,” and notes the presence therein of all of the traditional elements, the Introit, Collect, Epistle etc. Immediately, we are presented with an equivocation: the Collect of the blessing, which is abolished by the 1955 reform, is present on Palm Sunday in the Gelasian Sacramentary, the oldest copy of which (Vat. Reg. 316) is from the beginning of the 8th century. It is true that the Gelasian Sacramentary does not give a rubric to explain its use, and that the blessing of the palms is not mentioned. Nevertheless, in suppressing it, the reformers removed an element that was present in the Roman Rite from as far back as we have records.

Folio 46r of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780-800, with the prayer “Deus quem diligere”, the Collect for the blessing of Palms in the Missal of St Pius V, at the bottom of the page. (Bibliothèque National de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048; image cropped.)
The commentary also points out that evidence for the blessing of the palms in Rome itself before the adoption of this Pontificale at the very end of the 10th century is scant, and largely conjectural, and that the Mass is focused on the Passion. This is quite true. And yet, in the manuscript cited above, we also find the title “Dominica in Palmas de Passione Domini”, and in the Gellone Sacramentary, from the end of the 8th century, “Dominica in Palmas.” (shown above)

There follows the Epistle, Exodus 15, 27 – 16, 7; in the first article in this series, I explained in detail what this reading signifies in the context of the blessing of the palms. About it, the commentary has this to say: “The reading taken from the book of Exodus was chosen for this reason only, that at the beginning, it mentions seventy palm trees, while in the remaining verses, it has no relation to the day’s celebration.”

Here we are confronted with a series of embarrassments. The authors have completely failed to notice that, just as the day itself is occupied with more than one event (the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Passion), and just as the very form of the blessing alludes to the principal event of another day (the Institution of the Mass on Holy Thursday, which is also read in the Passion Gospel), likewise, the reading is not concerned to speak only about the event celebrated on this day, but also to connect that event to the rest of Holy Week and Easter. And here, I confess my own embarrassment at reporting that the authors have borrowed this “observation” (without citation) from none other than the Blessed Ildephonse Schuster, who says the same thing in his commentary on Palm Sunday in The Sacramentary.


In and of itself, this may seem like no more than a peculiar lack of literary sensibilities, (although that it no small flaw in the study of the liturgy, which is, after all, to a large degree the study of various bodies of literature.) I am inclined to think this is the case with Schuster, who says that the reading “does not appear (my emphasis) to be in keeping with today’s mystery”, but nevertheless draws his own connection between it and the Passion, while missing five allusions to the rest of Holy Week.

The underlying attitude of Bugnini and Braga is something worse, and more damaging. They ask us to believe that in the process of creating a blessing of tremendous solemnity, the opening rite of the most important week of the liturgical year, the medieval Church marred it by adding something for a purely superficial, almost accidental reason. Moreover, this element was accepted almost universally within the Roman Rite, and persisted in use for roughly a millennium. This notion that a rite of such importance could really be no more than a collection of accidents and mistakes, “a wholly artificial composition”, as they call it (again, copying Schuster), begs for an invitation to scour through the rest of the Missal for similar mistakes. Such an invitation would be issued shortly after Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Likewise, à propos of the two options for the gradual that follows it, they write that “they were certainly chosen only out of the necessity of putting a chant between the two readings.” No space is given to the notion that the rite’s creators might have been men of greater literary skill than themselves, or that their choice might have been made for good and deliberate reasons.

The same attitude permeates their explanation of the blessing of the palms. The Preface, they tell us, was created for a different purpose, and probably chosen only for this rite because of the words “Thy creatures” and “Thy creation”: another superficial, accidental choice, as if the rite’s creators could not possibly have selected or written a more suitable text. The prayers were originally not intended to be all said, but chosen, depending on the type of branch; then “little by little, they acquired the force of an obligation; either because of a false idea of increasing the strength of the blessing through the multiplication of the prayers by which it is given, or because of a desire to make the rite more solemn by increasing its elements.” It seems not to have occurred to them, even though they were both Italians, that more than one type of branch may have been blessed at the same ceremony, as is still commonly done in Italy to this very day.

Here again, we are presented with an equivocation. Earlier on, the commentary does give a brief summary (less than 90 words) of the blessing of palms from the Pontificale Romano-Germanicum, the ancestor of the blessing found in the Missal of St Pius V. What it does not say is that this earlier form of the blessing is vastly longer, and the ceremony accompanying the procession is vastly more complex. This brings us to a section of the commentary which makes it difficult to maintain a lively belief in the authors’ honesty, and which will be discussed in the second part of this article.

The Solemnity of St Joseph 2020

From the Encyclical Quamquam pluries of Pope Leo XIII on St Joseph, issued on the feast of the Assumption in 1889.

The special reasons for which St Joseph is held to be Patron of the Church, and for the sake of which the Church has such great confidence in his protection and patronage, are that he was the spouse of Mary, and was reputed the father of Jesus Christ. From this come forth all his dignity, grace, holiness and glory. Certainly, the dignity of the Mother of God is so exalted that nothing can be greater. But nevertheless, since the bond of marriage united Joseph to the most blessed Virgin, there is no doubt but that he attained as no other ever has to that most eminent dignity by which the Mother of God far surpasses all other creatures.

The Holy Family, by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), 1659, now in the Szépművészeti Múzeum in Budapest.
For marriage is the most intimate of all unions, which by its nature brings with it the sharing of goods between the spouses. Therefore, if God gave Joseph to the Virgin as Her spouse, He certainly gave Her not only Her life’s companion, the witness of Her virginity, the protector of Her honour, but also one who shared in Her sublime dignity by virtue of the conjugal bond. Likewise, he alone stands out among all men with the most august dignity, since he was by the divine counsel the guardian of the Son of God, and among men reputed to be His father. From this, it came about that the Word of God was duly subject to Joseph, obeyed him, and rendered to him all the honor which children must render to their parents. Moreover, from this two-fold dignity followed the duties which nature has laid upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and defender of the divine house whose head he was. …

St Joseph as Patron of the Catholic Church; this image was used as the header of his feast under that title in liturgical books printed by the German company Frideric Pustet, from the later 19th to mid 20th century. The Papal crests of Popes Bl. Pius IX and Leo XIII are seen to either side of St Peter’s Basilica.
Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within itself the beginnings of the new-born Church. The most holy Virgin, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, is the mother of all Christians, since She bore them on Mount Calvary amid the dying torments of the Redeemer; and Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born among Christians, who by adoption and the Redemption are His brothers. For these reasons, the most blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as entrusted specially to himself; this innumerable family, spread over all the earth, and over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ, he holds, as it were, the authority of a father. It is therefore suitable and especially worthy that, just once as the Blessed Joseph was wont in most holy fashion to protect the family at Nazareth and provide for all its needs, so now he should protect and defend the Church of Christ with his heavenly patronage.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Two Royal Psalters

One of the things that always impresses me in the study of the liturgy is the continuity which one can see over enormous distances in time, and here is a small but interesting example. The first set of pictures is taken from a Psalter made in the palace of Charles the Bald, a grandson of Charlemagne who ruled as King of the Western Franks from 840-77, and Holy Roman Emperor for the last 2 years of his life. An invocation is added to the Litany of the Saints, “that Thou may deign to preserve our spouse Ermentrude,” which dates the manuscript between her marriage to Charles in 842, and her death in 869. The name of the copyist and illuminator, Liuthard, is known from his signature at the end of the manuscript: “Hic calamus facto Liuthardi fine quievit. – Here the pen of Liuthard rested when the end was reached.”

The wooden covers are mounted with cabochons in metal frames, surrounding carved ivory plaques; the plaque on the front represents God protecting the soul of King David from various adversities. (Bibliothèque National de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 1152)
King David, with four of the other persons named by the titles of the Psalms as their authors, Asaph, Heman, Ethan and Idithun.
A portrait of Charles the Bald, with the hand of God reaching down to bless him. The inscription at top reads, “Since Charles sits crowned in great honor, he is like Josiah, and the equal of Theodosius.”
“The noble translator and priest Jerome, being nobly able, transcribed the laws of David.” The tradition of showing St Jerome as a cardinal has of course not yet arisen in the 9th century, and he is here shown as a Benedictine monk.
“The Book of Psalms begins.”

Another Update to The Liturgy

...for the year of the virus: how to dismiss the catechumens when the liturgy is live-streamed.

William Byrd: English Catholic Composer and Recusant, and The Hows and Whys of Illuminated Chant Manuscripts - Latest Episodes of Square Notes

We’ve settled into a more regular posting regimen at Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast, releasing a new episode each Sunday evening. Here are the latest!


In episode 11, we discuss life as a Catholic under the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and look at what makes Tudor era polyphony tick, as well as how Byrd’s music evolved throughout his life. Our guest is the renowned expert on these topics, Dr. Kerry McCarthy.




In episode 12, we look at the process of producing an illuminated chant manuscript, and the role this process played in the lives of monastics, as well as what the modern person can take away from the medium. Mrs. Elizabeth Lemme of Pelican Printery House shared with us a little bit about her own growth in faith through this artistic medium, as well as her expertise in all its details.




You can catch us on our website, YouTube, iTunes, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app. Please note that we have discontinued publishing on SoundCloud.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Should the Postures of the Laity at the Traditional Latin Mass Be Regulated, Legislated, or Revised?

One plan; not the only plan.
Over the years, I have noticed an interesting group of people who are passionate on the subject of the postures of the laity at the traditional Latin Mass. They sometimes have the zeal of crusaders warring against a stubborn enemy, be it Indifference (laity who couldn’t bother to care who’s kneeling or standing or sitting, when, or why), Diversity (varying customs from country to country or even church to church), or Disorderliness (lack of uniformity at the same Mass). To them, it is very important that a consistent rubric derived from custom or argument be created and implemented.

One can, after all, sympathize with them. We all know about the mayhem that can occur inside a church when the congregation is made up of a mix of regular attendees and newbies who are clueless about what’s going on in the TLM. At various moments, certain decisive individuals kneel decisively, and people look around sheepishly as if to figure out what they’re supposed to do. Sometimes you have a visiting European, or perhaps an American who intensively studies Liturgical Movement brochures, who follows a different set of customs; the confusion multiplies. One can understand, from a purely pragmatic point of view, why a common rubric might be helpful.

This is the perspective offered by a friend who sent me the following letter:
Ever since I started attending the Latin Mass last year, I have wondered about the physical gestures done by those around me. For example, making the sign of the cross during the prayer after the Confiteor, during the Gloria, and during the Sanctus, as well as striking the breast during the consecration. I am not sure if I am supposed to be doing all these or not (or even what all of them are—is there a list somewhere?).
       Having grown up in the Novus Ordo, I have been accustomed to seeing people all doing the same thing, and I had always been told that it was wrong when certain individuals did their own thing (e.g., kneeling during the Agnus Dei), on the basis that “since the Church doesn’t say we’re supposed to do these gestures, we’re not supposed to do them.” Am I mistaken in thinking that a gesture of the people must be approved or instructed to be done by the GIRM? Would this assumption only apply to the Mass of Paul VI?
       I suppose my inclination toward uniformity in gestures comes from a desire to have the “say the black, do the red” consistency of the Tridentine Mass equally present for both the priest and the people. I want to go to Mass and (as you said in this article) “know what I am going to see and hear. The same texts, the same gestures, the same ethos, the same Catholic religion.” Am I misguided in desiring that consistency among the congregation?
       In one way, I lean toward desiring to perform more gestures as a layperson. I’m not sure why, but it seems like a more wholly immersive experience if my arms are symbolizing a truth of the liturgy in addition to my legs (kneeling and standing). On the other hand, my desire to “do” more might just be the permeation of the faulty desire of the late Liturgical Movement to create more opportunities for “active participation,” as if my standing there in reverent, attentive participation isn’t enough. I am torn and don’t know what to do, in both the old and new Mass.
IKEA’s worship aid. (This version is missing the other 67 languages.)

My response was as follows.

You raise a great question about bodily participation. The wonderful thing about the old Mass is that the laity’s bodily postures and actions were never regulated. For nearly 2,000 years, and even now, there are no rubrics that govern what the laity do. Whether they stand, sit, kneel, beat their breasts, make the sign of the cross — all of this is up to them.

The liturgical reformers, who were generally of a bureaucratic and even fascist mentality, were disturbed about this lack of uniformity, which struck them as devotionalistic if not dissolute, and succeeded in creating, in the Novus Ordo, a totally regulated set of actions for the congregation. The problem is, what they agreed on is rather minimalistic, so that one ends up with the surprising paradox that the old rite tended, in the customs that grew up around it, to promote more bodily activity during the Mass, while the new rite tends to encourage something more rationalistic and passive. In this article (which became a chapter in this book), I document the wide variety of actions that are often seen at the TLM (note: as customs, not as requirements).

I suggest that you relinquish the very modern idea that everyone should be doing the same thing at the same time. It may be fitting to make certain physical gestures, but they simply can’t be imposed or demanded. It seems better that books (or occasionally homilies) should explain to the faithful how their discreet imitation of some of the priest’s gestures can be a way to make their prayer more holistic, more “whole-person,” and more likely to elicit real prayer—without any of it being required. Basically, if it helps, do it; if it doesn’t, no bother.

To my mind there is a judgment call with the Novus Ordo. If one attempts to do all of the old gestures at it, one will probably become a distraction to others, and perhaps to oneself. If, on the other hand, no one is likely to notice you, why not do some of the same gestures that one would do during the old Mass? It may be a form of “mutual enrichment,” such as Benedict XVI called for. When I was still attending the Novus Ordo, I found myself making all sorts of “extra-rubrical” signs of the cross, kneeling when I wasn’t “supposed” to, and so forth. I could get away with it easily enough because I basically lived in the choir loft!
Has our thinking become permeated with the GIRM?
To this, my intrepid friend responded:
The article you linked from 1P5 does a good job clarifying that active participation is more perfectly present in the TLM, a point I remember reading about in Resurgent too. I am, however, still left with some confusion.
       You said that I should relinquish the modern idea that everyone should be doing the same thing. I can see why this idea is wrong when it is motivated by bureaucratic and fascist intentions, but I do not understand what could be wrong with it when it springs from an authentic desire for liturgical unity among the laity, consistent with the precise liturgical unity demanded of priests during the Mass. If it is demanded down to the last detail that the priest have specific physical gestures, why is it unreasonable to similarly demand specific physical gestures from the laity?
       It seems like such a demand would promote the liturgical unity and consistency you so often extol. I remember you telling me once about why the rubrics of the traditional Latin Mass were originally “nailed down”: years of regional liturgical variances had resulted in a certain anarchy within Catholic worship. To recover liturgical unity in the face of the Protestants, the Church demanded that priests adhere to the rubrics she put forth, which were not novel but had organically developed through the centuries.
       The situation with the laity seems similar to me. Even if distraction by what others are idiosyncratically doing during Mass is the sole detrimental result of the lack of gestural unity, that lack itself seems to contradict the marvelously regimented spirit of the old Mass. Would it not be helpful for the Church to put forth a set of TLM rubrics that definitively list the physical gestures she wants the people to follow, as long as the gestures on the list are the ones that have organically developed throughout the centuries of tradition?
       Perhaps I am misunderstanding the shortcomings of a regulated set of actions created by the liturgical reformers. In order to avoid the danger of minimalism, doesn’t it seem better to establish a more thorough and rightly-ordered rubric?
       Your advocacy of “extra-rubrical” gestures in the Novus Ordo surprises me, considering what GIRM 42 says (2011 ed., USA): The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all. Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice. A common bodily posture, to be observed by all those taking part, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them.
       The part I put into italics sounds reasonable to me; am I barking up the wrong tree?

In response, I wrote:

There is something indescribably beautiful about people being allowed to pray in their own way, and peacefully. Now, obviously, some large-scale postures can be expected of everyone: this is consistent with piety, and who would complain? We all stand at both Gospels (the Gospel of the day and the Last Gospel); we all kneel at the “Et incarnatus est” and during the Canon. There are some other widespread customs.

But the moment one tries to legislate details such as “everyone makes the sign of the cross at these eight times, and everyone beats their breast at these four times, and everyone should bow their heads at these five times,” etc., it becames extremely difficult to implement and enforce, and also turns into an occasion for policing and hectoring. It’s too complicated to ask it of everyone all the time. Heck, I don’t even do quite the same thing each time I attend Mass. It partly depends on how slowly or quickly the priest is celebrating it, or how well one can hear the priest and servers! [1]

To achieve total uniformity, one would have to “put people through their paces,” like a marching band or a squadron of soldiers. In addition, one would be forced to simplify to a minimalist extent, as has indeed occurred with N.O. rubrics for the laity. The very thought of it makes me cringe. I honestly don’t think it’s either possible or desirable. It is good to have some broad agreement on major postures and then broad latitude about everything else.

Even with the major postures, customs differ from country to country. Why should the bishops or liturgists of the USA or Canada, the United Kingdom or Ireland, Poland or Germany, etc., get to be the ones who decide how the rest of the world will behave?

Jacques and Raïssa Maritain were convinced that Rome was the friend of liberty in this regard — even as late as the years just before the Second Vatican Council; and perhaps, indeed, she once was. Here is what they say in a book published in French in 1959 and in English in 1960:
Against the pseudo-liturgical exaggerations it behooves one to defend the liberty of souls. . . . Rome has always been vigilant in opposing any attempt to regiment souls. She knows that the spirit of the liturgy requires respect for the Gospel liberty proper to the New Law. On the contrary, in holding as valid one single form of piety, that in which each one acts in common with the others, and in demanding of all that by word and gesture they obey the liturgical forms with a military precision; in challenging or putting in question private devotions, nay even the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass, those who confuse liturgy and pseudo-liturgy impose on souls rigid frameworks and burden them with external obligations which are of the same type as the observances of the Old Law. [2] 
The Maritains, earlier in their career
So, in a truly Catholic spirit, we should let the Irish kneel throughout High Mass if that is how they pray best, and let Americans stand a lot instead; we should let some countries or parishes make all the Mass responses, and others say a few or none. Catholicity involves both holding the most important things in common, and having a wide variation and flexibility in how things that are not matters of natural or divine law are conducted. I am reminded of the old saying, which is no less true for being vague and overused: “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas” — in necessary matters, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in everything, charity. I think one would be extremely hard-pressed to argue successfully that a regulated uniformity of lay postures and gestures during Mass is something essential to our fruitful participation in the liturgy.

As Michael Fiedrowicz writes:
In typical Catholic vastness, a great variety of individual possibilities for participation accompany the rubrical strictness of the rite that do not need to be regulated in any way, but should be respected. Even being silently present and merely watching do not necessarily indicate a lack of interior involvement. The very act of listening, be it with the ears or with the heart, is assuredly a form of active participation. (The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite [Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2020], 228)
I would hazard to guess that most traditional Catholics prefer it when everyone is doing the same things in regard to the major actions of standing, sitting, and kneeling, as it removes occasions of confusion and distraction and assists in prayerful engagement with the liturgy. But this much has become clear to me from my travels: whenever I am somewhere unfamiliar, I don’t sit in the front row but rather towards the back, and, keeping my wits about me, I look at what the majority are doing, and follow the local custom, as St. Augustine recommended long ago in his Letter 54 to Januarius. Few things are worse than the stranger who acts like an angel sent by God to correct singlehandedly the waywardness of backwater yokels. If it matters much to you to keep your own postures, be sure to sit far in the back where you won’t be a bother to the rest. (Fr. Z offers similar advice.)

There is but one further angle to examine: the Problem of Pews. Since nearly every Catholic church in the West is now equipped with pews, usually bolted down for permanence, the topic is far more speculative than what we have discussed heretofore, and deserving of a separate treatment.

NOTES

[1] I recommend two articles for further reading: “ASK FATHER: Excessive pious gestures during Mass”; “Is Passivity Mistaken for Piety? On the Perils and Pitfalls of Participation.” Concerning the GIRM, this article discusses two different approaches to rubrics in the Novus Ordo.

[2] Liturgy and Contemplation, trans. Joseph W. Evans (New York: P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1960), 88–90.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s websiteSoundCloud page, and YouTube channel.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Good Shepherd Sunday 2020

Alleluia, I am the Good Shepherd, and I know my sheep, and mine know me, alleluja. (The second Alleluia of Good Shepherd Sunday.)

The Good Shepherd, by Cristóbal García Salmerón (1603-66), originally painted for the church of St Genesius in Arles, France, now in the Prado Museum in Madrid. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Alleluja, Ego sum pastor bonus, et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meae, alleluia.


I
n the Ambrosian Rite, the Gospel for today is St John’s account of the Baptism of Christ, chapter 1, 29-34, which the Roman Rite reads on the octave of Epiphany. In the oldest Ambrosian lectionary, the Gospels for the Sundays between Low Sunday and the Ascension continue the instruction of those who were baptized at Easter, and are centered on the figure of Christ. Today John calls him “the Lamb of God”, and on the following Sunday (John 1, 15-28), “the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father.” On the next two Sundays, Christ speaks of Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8, 12-20) and “the way, the truth and the light (John 14, 1-14).” In the Carolingian era, when the Ambrosian Rite underwent a significant Romanization, the latter three were replaced with the traditional Roman Gospels for these Sundays, but the Gospel of today remained; it is accompanied by the following particularly beautiful preface.

John the Baptist Indicates the Lamb of God to Ss Peter and Andrew; fresco by Domenico Zampieri (1581-1641), generally known as Domenichino, in the ceiling of the apse of the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome, 1622-28. (Image by AlfvanBeem released to the public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.)
VD... Aeterne Deus: Qui omnia mundi elementa fecisti, et varias disposuisti témporum vices: atque hómini ad tuam imáginem cóndito, universa simul animantia, rerumque mirácula subjecisti. Cui licet orígo terréna sit: tamen, regeneratióne Baptísmatis, caelestis ei vita confertur. Nam devicto mortis auctóre, immortalitátis est gratiam consecútus: et, praevaricatiónis erróre quassáto, viam réperit veritátis. Per Christum.

Truly ... eternal God: Who made all the elements of the world, and arranged the various changes of time, and subjected to man, who was made in Thy image, all living things, and the wonders of creation. And though his origin is of earth, nonethless, the life of heaven is conferred upon him in the regeneration of baptism. For then the author of death was conquered, he obtained the grace of immortality, and when the error of his transgression was brokwn, he found the way of truth. Through Christ...

In the Byzantine Rite, today is called the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women from its Gospel, Mark 15, 43 - 16, 8. In the first part of this reading, Joseph of Arimathea requests from Pilate and receives the body of the Lord for burial, wraps Him in the shroud, and lays Him in the tomb; in the second (which the Roman Rite reads on Easter itself, minus the last verse), the women come to the tomb to anoint the body, and meet the angel who tells them that He has risen, and bids them go tell the disciples.

A fresco of the Myrrh-Bearing Women in the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt Athos.
At Matins of Holy Saturday, which is usually sung on the evening of Good Friday, the first set of proper chants at the beginning of the service is based on this Gospel. (The traditional setting in Church Slavonic is one of the best loved and most moving pieces of music among the Slavs.)


The noble Joseph took down from the Cross Thy spotless Body, and when he had wrapped It in a clean shroud with spices, he laid It for burial in a new sepulchre.
– Glory be. When Thou went down to death, o immortal Life, then didst Thou slay Hades by the brightness of the Godhead; and when Thou raised up the dead from the netherworld, all the powers of heaven cried out, ‘Christ our God, Giver of life, glory to Thee.’
– Now and ever. The angel stood by the tomb and cried to the myrrh-bearing women, ‘Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has been shown free from corruption.’

At Vespers of the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, these same chants are sung at the end, but the first two change places, and the second and third have additions (marked here with *) which make them more appropriate for the Easter Season.

When Thou went down to death, o immortal Life, then didst Thou slay Hades by the brightness of the Godhead; and when Thou raised up the dead from the netherworld, all the powers of heaven cried out, ‘Christ our God, Giver of life, glory to Thee.’
– Glory be. The noble Joseph took down from the Cross Thy spotless Body, and when he had wrapped It in a clean shroud with spices, he laid It for burial in a new sepulchre; * but Thou didst rise on the third day, o Lord, granting great mercy to the world.
– Now and ever. The angel stood by the tomb and cried to the myrrh-bearing women, “Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has been shown free from corruption. * But cry out, ‘The Lord is risen, granting great mercy to the world!’ ”

This video includes only the first one, which has a rather more cheerful melody in its Paschal version.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Rite of Blessing of the Agnus Deis

Following up on our post last week about the blessing of the Agnus Deis, we here give the text of the blessing promulgated by Pope Benedict XIV, and a previous version from the late 15th century. This post is reproduced with some modifications from the website of the based Cappella Gregoriana Sanctae Caecilia (St Cecilia Gregorian Choir), based in Manilla in the Philippine Islands, with their kind permission, and our thanks.

In 1752, Pope Benedict XIV ordered the publication of the text of the Blessing of the Agnus Dei. (Latin text in pdf here.) The rite, republished in 1865 by Father Jules Caron, begins with the consecration of the water wherein the waxen discs are to be later submerged. To the blessed water are mixed balsam and chrism. Afterwards, the Pope distributes the consecrated water to other fonts that will be used for the submersion of the discs, to be presided by other cardinals. The Pope himself, assisted by cardinals, presides over the blessing in the main font.

The Pope then approaches the Agnus Dei, which are placed in baskets, or some similar vessels, and pronounces a three-fold blessing over them, the first addressed to God the Father, the second to God the Son, and the third to God the Holy Spirit. These collects enumerate the various graces gained by bearers of the sacramental, such as deliverance from calamities and diseases, protection during childbirth, and consolation in this life and life-everlasting. After these powerful prayers, the Pope censes the discs thrice, and then into every font of consecrated water, the discs are submerged, and then later taken out and brought into an adjoining chamber where they are dried.

The Pope afterwards enters this chamber, and then pronounces the final collect, which highlights one of the central mysteries behind the sacramental, and this is the Conception of the Lord, otherwise known as the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. The wax used for the discs traditionally came from the paschal candle of the Sistine Chapel, and of the other churches of Rome, from the previous Easter, and into this wax was usually mixed an amount of pure unused wax, hence the last collect calls it the cera virginea. And just as the conception of the Lord was preserved from human contact, so the last collect expresses its hope that bearers of the Agnus Dei will be protected from mortal troubles, and after death will merit eternal life. In the end, the discs are gathered in the baskets, and are distributed on the following Low Saturday, after the Agnus Dei is chanted at Mass.

Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58), by Pierre Subleyras, 1741 (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Blessing of waxen Agnus Dei
published in 1752 by order of Pope Benedict XIV
The Supreme Pontiff, standing without Mitre, says:
V. Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
R. Who hath made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray. O Lord God, Father almighty, Creator of all the elements, and Giver of spiritual grace, from Whose Only-begotten Son’s most holy side did flow forth waters together with Blood, and Who didst sanctify the waters of the Jordan through the same Only-begotten Son, and didst vouchsafe all nations to be baptised in these waters, and didst finally institute the greatest sacraments in the substance of the waters: benignly and mercifully attend, and deign to bless and sanctify this element of water, that crimes may be washed off and graces may be granted to Thy servants devoutly venerating the waxen discs plunged in this water, that they may merit to obtain eternal life with Thy elect. R. Amen.

This Collect complete, the Supreme Pontiff receives the Mitre, and, with the most senior Cardinal ministering the ampoule of Balsam, which the Sacrist hands to the Cardinal, the Supreme Pontiff pours the Balsam from the ampoule into the Water, in the form of a cross, saying:

Deign, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these waters through this holy pouring of balsam, and Our blessing. Here, thrice he signs with his hand, saying: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then, from another ampoule of Chrism, with the most senior Cardinal ministering, as above, the Supreme Pontiff pours the holy Chrism into the same Water, in the form of a cross, saying:

Deign, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these waters through this holy anointing of Chrism, and Our blessing. Here, thrice he signs with his hand, saying: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The water blessed, the Supreme Pontiff, with a ladle or a silver spoon, takes from this water and pours into other fonts of water in the form of a cross, saying nothing: then he turns to the baskets in which are place the Agnus Dei, and standing close to them, the mitre removed, says:

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray. O God the Author of all hallowing, Who didst look upon Abel’s lamb of sacrifice, Who didst vouchsafe that a ram stuck in the brambles should be sacrificed in the place of Isaac’s immolation as a foreshadowing of our redemption, and didst command Moyses that a perpetual sacrifice should be offerred in lambs, humbly we beseech Thee, that Thou mayest deign to bless and sanctify these waxen figures fashioned with the image of the most innocent Lamb, that, in their presence, the crash of hailstorms, the storm of whirlwinds, the force of tempests, the rage of winds, the troublesome thunders may dissipate: and, just as the Angel, at the sight of the blood which Thy people had sprinkled on the upper door posts and on the side posts did pass over striking without harm upon the houses thus sprinkled, so at the sight of these images may malignant spirits flee and tremble, and may unprovided death not meet devout bearers of these images, may the human enemy not prevail against them, may no adversity reign over them, may no shadow incite fear in them, may no pestilential breeze or corruption of the air, nor epilectic or any other violent disease, nor storm or tempest of the sea, nor inundation of rivers or waters, nor conflagration of fires, inflict harm upon them: through the invocation of Thy Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who art the true innocent Lamb, offered upon the altar of the Cross for the salvation of the world, by Whose death mankind was delivered from eternal death and diabolic power, and recalled unto life, deign to bless, sanctify, and consecrate these waxen images of the Lamb, that those devoutly carrying them, out of reverence and honour to Thy Name, may be delivered from sudden death, and from all cunning and wickedness of infernal deceit: and may the pangs of mothers in childbirth be thus soothed, so a safe delivery with the mother be kept through the power of Thy Passion: Who livest and reignest in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

Let us pray. O nourishing Spirit, Who with Thy breath makest the waters fruitful and holy, and turnest their bitterness into sweetness, deign to bless, sanctify, and consecrate these waxen lambs about to be poured forth with water and holy Chrism, that all their bearers, strengthened by the fortitude of Thy power, may rejoice in Thy consolation, Who art truly called the Paraclete, and, with the Father and the Son, livest and reignest, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

From the YouTube channel of British Pathé, some unused footage (without sound) of Pope St John XXII blessing Agnus Deis in 1959.

The Collects complete, the Supreme Pontiff places incense in the thurible, a Cardinal-Priest ministering the boat, blessing it in the usual way, while saying: Mayest thou be blessed by Him in Whose honour thou art burned.

Chanting Monastic Vespers Webinar

Following the March 15th webinar on monastic Compline, I’m offering a 4-part series on chanting monastic Vespers, for which I will be joined by Dom Benedict Andersen of Silverstream Priory in Ireland. We will spend 40 minutes learning, and then chant Vespers together. Each week will cover a new topic, and it’s not necessary to join each week, though the information shared will be cumulative throughout the series. A Vespers booklet with all the music (Gregorian chant, and an English adaptation of the chants for personal use) will be shared with all participants.

Part 1 - Psalms and Psalm Tones
Part 2 - Antiphons and Complex Psalm Tone Endings
Part 3 - Hymns, Responsories, and Magnificats
Part 4 - How to sing different feasts and seasons after the webinars end

5:00-6:10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (New York)
May 3, 10, 17, & 24, 2020
Price: Free


Sponsored by the Sacred Arts Guild of Alberta.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Abbey of St Benedict in Polirone (Part 2)

Here is the second set of Nicola’s photos of the abbey of San Benedetto in Polirone near Mantua. As I mentioned in the previous post, the church was founded at the beginning of the 11th century, but as it stands today, is the result of a significant restructuring and redecoration by the architect Giulio Romano in the 1540s. As you can see below, one of the chapels preserves extensive remains of the mosaic pavement of a previous church, dated to the year 1151.

Niches in the apse above the choir, with terracotta statues of Abraham, Moses and Aaron by Antonio Begarelli, several of whose other works are shown in the previous post.
The dome of the crossing.
The tomb (now a cenotaph) of Matilde, countess of Canossa, more commonly known in English as Matilde of Tuscany, whose grandfather, the count Tedaldo, founded the abbey in 1007. She is famous among the powerful lay rulers of her era as one of the most important supporters of the Church, and particularly of Pope St Gregory VII, during the Investiture Controversy. As a sign of her support, she freed the abbey from her control and gave it to the Pope, who in turn gave it to the abbey of Cluny, which made it into one of the great centers for the spread of reforming ideals in northern Italy. She was buried here when she died in 1115. Over 500 years later, when the abbey had fallen on very hard times, the abbot permitted the Pope to transfer her remains to Rome in exchange for a large sum of money. Since 1645, they have been enshrined in a large tomb by Bernini in St Peter’s Basilica.
A bust of Pope Pius II Piccolomini (1458-64), who visited the abbey in 1459 while attended a council which he had called in order to proclaim a crusade.

A Concert of Ukrainian Sacred Music for the Easter Season

The Axios Men’s Ensemble, a choir which specializes in performing both sacred and secular music of the Ukrainian tradition, has recently published on their YouTube channel a video of a concert which they gave in New York City in 2017. This was the final in a series of concerts in various places on the East coast of the United States, featuring over 50 singers from Canada, the United States, and Ukraine, from several different ensembles (listed below). It was conducted by Michael Zaugg, the principle conductor and artistic director of Pro Coro Canada; the concert also showcased a brand-new liturgical composition by an American-Ukrainian priest, Fr John Sembrat OSBM, and other liturgical music from the Ukrainian tradition. The full program is given below.


Part I: Music composed by Fr. John Sembrat OSBM
Христос Воскрес II (Christ is Risen)
Слава: Єдинородний (Glory be: Only-begotten Son)
Третій Антифон (The Third Antiphon, first verse; Volodymyr Kudovba, tenor, Vasyl Pudchenko, bass)
Херувимська Пісня (The Cherubic Hymn)
Вірую (Nicene Creed)
Милiсть Mиру (Anaphora)
Ангел Звістив (The Angel Proclaimed)
Отче Наш (The Lord’s Prayer)
Єдин Свят: Тіло Христове (One is Holy: Body of Christ)
Христос Воскрес (Christ is Risen)

Part II

– Воскресіння Твоє, Христе Спасe (Your Resurrection, O Christ, traditional Kyivan chant. Arrangement by Mykola Hobdych (b. 1961); solo: Serhiy Bortnyk)
– Христос Воскрес (Christ is Risen; Composer: Fr. John Sembrat OSBM (b. 1943); Solo: Fr. Taras Koberynko)
– Канон Пасхи, пісня 1-ша (Paschal Canon, Ode 1; Composer: Artem Vedel, 1767-1808)
– Благослови, душе моя, Господa (Bless the Lord, O My Soul; Kyivan chant)
– Be still and Know that I Am God (Composer: Roman Hurko, b. 1962)
– Плоттю (In Your Death, O King and Lord; traditional Galician chant arrangement: Boris Derow; Soloists: Evhen Zamorsky, baritone, and Vasyl Pudchenko, bass)
– Канон Пасхи: пісня 4-та (Paschal Canon, Ode 4; Composer: Artem Vedel)
– Тобою Радується (All Creation Rejoices in Thee; Composer: Fr. John Sembrat OSBM)
– Стихири Пасхи (Paschal Stichera; traditional Kyivan chant arrangement: Mykola Hobdych)
– Ангел Bопіяще (The Angel Proclaimed; Composer: Roman Hurko)
– Да Воскресне Бог (Let God Arise, Psalm 67, 2-5, 35, 36; Composer: Dmytro Bortniansky, 1751-1825)
– Христос Воскрес (Christ is Risen; Composer: Artem Vedel; Arrangement: Hryhory Kytasty. 1907-84)
– Молитва за Україну (Prayer for Ukraine; Composer: Mykola Lysenko)

Encore: Христос Воскрес (Christ is Risen; Composer: Artem Vedel; Arrangement: Hryhory Kytasty)

The members of the choir come from the following ensembles:
Boyan Ensemble of Kyiv
Chorus of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
National Philharmonic of Ukraine
Homin Municipal Choir of Lviv
Vydubychi Church Choir of Kyiv
Pro Coro Canada
Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of Detroit
Axios Men’s Ensemble
Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus of Winnipeg
Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Unity and Disunity in the Rites of Palm Sunday

In my 2017 series on the rites of Good Friday, I explained the various ways in which the traditional liturgy of that day, commonly known as the Mass of the Presanctified, imitates the rite of Mass, in order to emphasize the union of the Last Supper and of the Mass with the Sacrifice of the Cross. I then explained how the 1955 Holy Week reform divorced the Last Supper from the Sacrifice of the Cross by divorcing the rite of Good Friday from that of the Mass. This divorce communicates the Protestant idea that the Last Supper, and the rite which Christ instituted thereby, were merely a commemoration of the Sacrifice of the Cross, rather than the anticipation of the Sacrifice and its perpetuation in time, as the Church believes and teaches. I then explained how the post-Conciliar reform undid this change in some respects.

The Elevation of the Host during the Mass of the Presanctified. (From our first Good Friday photopost of last year.)
In the current series, I have explained how the changes to the rites of Palm Sunday follow a similar trajectory. In the 1955 reform, the Palm Sunday Mass was altered far less than the blessing of the palms and the procession were; the only textual change was the removal of the first part of the Passion of St Matthew, including the narration of the Institution of the Eucharist. This change is, however, far the most theologically significant, and far the most dangerous. Together with the removal of the parallel passages from the Passions of St Mark and Luke, it underlines the divorce between the Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross effected by the changes to the Good Friday liturgy. The post-Conciliar reform then recognized and partially corrected this mistake by restoring most of the Gospel passages deleted from the Missal in 1955, including the accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist.

I have also explained how the traditional form of the Palm Sunday blessing and procession is closely united not just to the Mass of that day, but also to the rest of Holy Week and Easter as well, and how the 1955 reform detached them from the rest of Holy Week and Easter. The post-Conciliar reform undid this change in a few respects, while keeping the fundamental tenor of the 1955 rite. Although far more extensive, this change is by definition less theologically problematic than the change to the Mass, since it impinges on a rite which was instituted by the Church, not by the Lord Himself: a sacramental, rather than a Sacrament. One may therefore argue that is it not positively necessary for the blessing of Palms or the procession to be celebrated in a manner that unites them to the rest of Holy Week, whereas it is not merely inappropriate to divorce the Last Supper from the Sacrifice of the Cross, but dangerous to the Faith.

One might further argue that the traditional Roman Rite is exceptional in emphasizing the unity of Palm Sunday with the rest of Holy Week as strongly as it does, and that other venerable liturgies are less emphatic on this point. In the 1955 reform, the first part of the ceremony becomes the only part of Holy Week that is celebrated in red; in the traditional Ambrosian liturgy (a favorite putative model for the modern reforms), it is the only part of the week that is done in violet. In the Byzantine Rite, Palm Sunday is actually formally categorized as a feast day, one of a special group called the Twelve Great Feasts; it is commonly celebrated in green, a color which it shares with Pentecost and the feasts of certain Saints. [20] Within the Roman Rite, there were many variant forms of the ceremony; at the time of the 1955 reform, the most widely diffused among them by far was that of the Dominicans, which was done in white, and follows an order similar to that of the 1955 reform. [21]

From our third Palm Sunday photopost of last year, the distribution of the palms at the church of St Joseph in Troy, New York. The Old Carmelite Rite, which is celebrated at this church, also uses white for the first part of the Palm Sunday rite.
All of this is true, but only superficially relevant. While there are many variations to the Palm Sunday ceremonies, there is one element which they all have in common, namely, that they all explicitly keep the day as a prelude to the Passion.

Among the antiphons which the Ambrosian Rite sings at the procession, we have the following: “…the children of the Hebrews came to meet Thee, and taking palms in their hands, they blessed Thee: ‘Blessed art Thou who hast come to the Passion of Thy own will to deliver us; Glory to Thee!’ ” In a similar vein: “Come all, let us adore the throne of dominion six days before the Passion…” The Mass of Palm Sunday does not read the Passion as the Gospel, which is a uniquely Roman custom, but is no less focused on it for that. The first reading is Isaiah 53, the last of the Suffering Servant passages, and the Gospel, John 11, 55 – 12, 11, recounts the conspiracy of the priests and Pharisees against the Lord, and the anointing of His feet, which He Himself said “was done for (His) burial.” Several of the Mass chants also refer to the Passion, as for example the Ingressa, which is the same as the Roman Introit for Spy Wednesday. “In the name of the Lord let every knee bend, of those on heaven, on earth and below, for the Lord became obedient unto death, the death of the Cross…” (Following the normal Ambrosian custom, this is also sung at the Mass of the three following days.)

The Byzantine Rite keeps Palm Sunday rather differently from the Roman, since palms are blessed the evening before, after the Gospel at Matins, not before the Divine Liturgy, and furthermore, the procession is no longer done. But the day’s liturgical texts also refer to the Passion repeatedly. One of the most frequently used, the tropar that closes Vespers and is sung at the Divine Liturgy, says “Confirming the general resurrection before Thy Passion, Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead, O Christ God! Wherefore we also, like the children bearing the symbols of victory, cry out to Thee, the conqueror of death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” Many other references to the Cross or Passion might be adduced to the point. The Dominican prayer for the blessing of the palms begins with a statement that immediately associates it with the Passion: “Almighty and everlasting Redeemer, who deigned to come from heaven to earth, and to Thy voluntary Passion, that Thou might deliver the human race with Thy precious blood….”


By contrast, the reforms of 1955 and 1969 leave the whole first part of the rite with but one glancing reference to the Passion, the single word “passuro” in the hymn Gloria, laus et honor. This, of course, is in the official Latin text, but may well disappear with the choice of “another suitable song” in the modern rite. Ritually, the separation between the blessing and procession on the one hand, and the Mass on the other, is more rigidly enforced in 1955, mostly notably by specifically suppressing the long-standing custom of holding the blessed palms during the singing of the Passion.

The 1955 reform changes the character of the procession from a penitential rite to a celebratory one, a change which carries over into the post-Conciliar rite. This is expressed, within the limits of the drastically reduced number of texts, by a new emphasis on Christ as King. The hymn Gloria, laus et honor is given a new label, “a hymn to Christ the King”, and a new rubric states that “Christus vincit or another hymn in honor of Christ the King may be sung.” The prayer added to the end of the procession, which was suppressed in 1969, begins with the words “Lord Jesus Christ, our King and Redeemer.” In the more recent reform, the first of two options for the prayer of the blessing includes the phrase “we who in exultation follow after Christ the King”, and it contains the same rubrics about the music as the 1955 version, without specifically mentioning the newly unfashionable Christus vincit.

However, with the textual and ritual divorce of the blessing and procession from the Passion, the Kingship of Christ which they celebrate is divorced from the context in which it was won and made manifest.

In the Gospels themselves, Christ is referred to as a “king” almost exclusively in two contexts, at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and during the Passion. At the former, He is hailed sincerely as the son of David, heir of Israel’s greatest king, and thus also as the long-awaited political liberator of the Jewish people. But it is not here or now that He conquers and is crowned; as He Himself said to Pilate, in the words of the Passion of St John which the Church reserves for the actual day of His death, His kingdom is not of this world. Having entered the Holy City and cleansed the temple, He withdraws from it almost at once.

It is at the Passion, not the triumphal entry, that Christ did what He came to do when He entered the city, “to fight with the prince of death for the life of the whole world, and by dying to triumph.” It is at the Passion that He is hailed, mockingly now, as the King of the Jews, and yet still crowned. And it is at the Resurrection that His triumph and His kingdom are made manifest, when He tells the disciples, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

Ecce Homo, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), 1612, now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The traditional Roman blessing of the palms, with its many references to the other days of Holy Week and to Easter, therefore does exactly what the Gospels themselves do; it connects the great event of Our Lord’s triumphal entry to its greater context, presenting it as the prelude to His saving Passion and Resurrection. It is of the very essence of the liturgy that we celebrate these events, not as things in the distant past, but in such a way that we ourselves are present for them; and thus, the penitential character of the traditional procession serves a reminder that if we would truly follow Him, we must follow Him to Calvary, and there share in His triumph.

Notes (continuing the numeration from the previous articles):
[20] The Byzantine Rite does not have a formalized color scheme like the western rites, but appoints bright vestments for Sundays and feast days, and dark ones for penitential days. Within this rule, there are a great many traditions about using certain colors on certain days, which are adhered to with greater or lesser strictness in different places.
[21] The Dominican blessing of the palms consists of a single prayer, followed by the distribution of the palms while the two antiphons Pueri Hebraeorum or sung, and then the Gospel. This is the same order found in the 1955 Palm Sunday, but the prayer is much longer, and the Gospel is done with the normal ceremonies of the Mass.

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