Saturday, April 26, 2008

An Interesting Suggestion for the Easter Liturgy

In today's edition of the FIDES newsletter (the news agency of the propaganda fide), Don Nicola Bux, vice-president of the Europe-Near Est Center (ENEC), vice-dean of the Ecumenical Theological Faculty of Bari, consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is also very interested and knowledgable in the liturgy, and a friend of the Holy Father, has a short article on the Easter celebrations of the Eastern Rite Churches, which will we be held tomorrow. In this article, he highlights a part of the Eastern Holy Saturday liturgy and makes an interesting suggestion, regarding the restoration of an element of the Roman Rite Holy Week abolished in the reform of Pius XII in 1955:

An important rite, leit motiv of the Byzantine Easter, takes place on Holy Saturday in the doorway of the Church, where the celebrant sings, “Christ is risen from the dead, by death He conquered death, and to those in the graves He granted life.” At the same time, the cross touches the doors of the Church, which begin to open. The bells toll, the candles in everyone’s hands shine their light, while the Paschal Canon of Saint John Damascene is sung. It is a work that corresponds to the Latin Exsultet, attributed to Saint Ambrose.

An interesting observation: the rite of opening the doors with the touching of the cross, sign of Christ opening the doors of the underworld, was also present in the ancient rite, before the Holy Week reform of Pius XII. Ecumenism ante litteram, as it could be reinserted into the Latin Rite, prior to entering the church with the Paschal Candle. This would be a significant act, in resonance with the particular attention that Benedict XVI has given to the reestablishing of the liturgical tradition, and it would also be appreciated by the Orthodox as a concrete sign of “drawing nearer” as Christians. It could also, perhaps, facilitate the task presented in Vatican II, in trying to find a common date for the celebration of Easter “with our brethren who are separated from the communion with the Apostolic See” (cfr Appendix of the Liturgical Constitutions, n. 1)

I will note that, as far as I am aware - and please correct me if I am wrong -, in the Roman Rite Holy Week liturgy prior to 1955, the rite of opening the church doors with the touching of the foot of the processional cross only ocurred on Palm Sunday, not during the Easter Vigil. If this is so, to be frank, I don't know whether Msgr. Bux has himself possibly confused the two liturgies, or whether he suggests a modified restoration, i.e. introducing the rite into the Easter Vigil instead of the Palm Sunday liturgy. While the latter alternative would not be unproblematic, the interesting point in this, in my eyes, seems to be not so much the specifics of the proposal, but firstly that a not uninfluential voice in the Church has publicly raised the possibility of restoring elements of the unreformed Holy Week liturgy, and secondly that he has put this into the context of ecumenism with the Orthodox.

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