Saturday, March 28, 2009

Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII: Part 2 - The Masses of Palm Sunday, Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday

We continue with Part II of Gregory DiPippo's consideration of the texts, ceremonies and history of the Holy Week ceremonies from before and after Pope Pius XII's reforms in 1955.

Here, we pick up upon the the Masses of Palm Sunday and the Tuesday and Wednesday in Holy Week.

Previous Installments in this series:

Part 1 - The Palm Sunday Blessing and Procession of Palms

Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII

Part 2: The Masses of Palm Sunday, Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday

by Gregory DiPippo

Synopsis of the Pre-Pius XII Ritual

In the rite of St. Pius V, the Mass celebrated immediately after the Palm Sunday procession differs from other Masses in one very important respect, namely, the ritual with which the Passion of Our Lord according to Saint Matthew is sung. The same ritual is observed when the other Passions are sung during the course of the week: St. Mark on Holy Tuesday, Saint Luke on Spy Wednesday, and Saint John on Good Friday. As far as Tuesday and Wednesday are concerned, the only changes made in 1955 were to the manner of singing the Passion, and therefore I include them here with Palm Sunday. Good Friday will of course be treated in entirely separate articles; suffice it here to say that on that day, the ritual of the singing of the Passion is slightly different from that of the other three days, and will be described in its own place.

The Passions are sung by three deacons, dressed in amice, alb, cincture, maniple and diaconal stole; they are not the major ministers of the Mass itself. Of these three, one sings the main narration of the Passion in a middle voice; another, in a lower voice, sings the words of Christ; the third sings in a higher voice the words of all of the other people. This is a ritual proper to the Roman Rite; in other historical rites, for example, the Ambrosian and the Byzantine, one deacon sings the whole Passion by himself. The three deacons enter the sanctuary towards the end of the Tract, genuflect before the altar, and go to stand in the place where the Gospel is usually sung. They do not say “Munda cor meum”, nor are they blessed by the Priest.

The three deacons sing the Passion nearly to the end; on Palm Sunday, they stop after the Burial of Christ, (at verse 27, 61), on the other three days, they stop where the Evangelist speaks of the witnesses to the death of Christ. (Saint Mark 15, 41; Saint Luke 23, 49; Saint John 19, 37) When they have reached this point, the three deacons leave the sanctuary.

The last part of each Passion (Saint Matthew 27, 62-66; Saint Mark 15, 42-46; Saint Luke 23, 50-53; Saint John 19, 38-42) is sung by the deacon of the Mass. After the three deacons have departed, the deacon, subdeacon and acolytes perform all of the rites which normally precede the Gospel procession; the Missal is moved to the Gospel side, the Gospel book is placed on the altar, incense is imposed in the thurible, the deacon says the “Munda cor meum”, asks for and receives the blessing of the celebrant, and they all go to the place where the Gospel is normally sung. Omitting “Dominus vobiscum” and the title, the deacon incenses the book, and sings the end of the Passion. As in other solemn Masses, the celebrant receives and kisses the Gospel book, brought to him by the subdeacon, and is then incensed by the deacon.

The pause between the end of the Passion and the beginning of this Gospel dramatically represents the astonishment of all of Creation, including the Church Herself, at the sorrowful Passion of Jesus Christ, the Crucified God. With the great reform of Gregorian chant in the reign of Pope St. Pius X, a special tone for this Gospel was re-introduced into general use (ad libitum), one of the masterpieces of sacred chant. This tone, with a long descant at the beginning of each verse, and a long and solemn conclusion, represents the weeping of the Church over His death.

Synopsis of the Pius XII Reforms

In the Holy Week reform of 1955, the following changes were made to the Mass of Palm Sunday. Items two and three also apply to Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday.

1. The prayers before the altar are omitted, because another liturgical rite takes place before the Mass itself. This same change is found in the rite of Holy Saturday, and with the reform of 1962, is extended to Ash Wednesday and Candlemas.

2. In the reform of 1955, the three synoptic Passions were shortened at the beginning; the first 35 verses of Saint Matthew were removed, the first 31 verses of Saint Mark, and the first 38 of Saint Luke. Furthermore, at the end of the Passion of Saint Matthew, the last six verses were also removed. These passages appear nowhere else in the Roman Missal, which therefore no longer contains the Gospel account of the preparations which the Lord made for the celebration of the Last Supper, the washing and anointing of His feet, the betrayal of Judas, and the Last Supper itself. From the end of the Passion of Saint Matthew was removed the account of the guard set by Pilate and the Pharisees at the tomb of Jesus, a passage which has no parallel in the other Gospels.

3. The particular rite for the singing of the Passion was almost entirely removed. The three deacons come before the altar, kneel, and say “Munda cor meum”. Then they go to the Priest, ask for and receive the blessing, and go to the place where the Gospel is sung. They are not accompanied by the acolytes with candles, nor is incense used. The last part of each Passion is sung by the narrator, not by the deacon of the Mass, without pause between the Passion and the Gospel. The special tone of the “weeping” is not found in the typical edition of the chant of the Passion, though it was not explicitly abolished. (However, the part of Saint Matthew which is sung in this special tone was deleted from the text of the Passion.) The book of the Gospel is not brought to the celebrant, who is not incensed.

In the typical edition of the new OHS, every time the Passion is mentioned, the rubric says “cantatur vel legitur”, “proceditur ad cantum vel lectionem”. Thus it is foreseen that the Passion, even within the context of the Solemn Mass, may read, rather than sung.

Let it be noted that this description of the singing of the Passion presumes, as does the Missal, that there are present three deacons to sing the Passion, apart from the three major ministers of the Mass. It was of course a common custom that when there were not sufficient clergy present, the major ministers could take the parts of the three deacons, but this should not be considered the ideal or normative practice.


For the sake of brevity, I originally planned to omit from these articles any reference to certain other changes which were made to the Masses of Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Tuesday, and Spy Wednesday. These changes touch on aspects of the Holy Week liturgies which are not exclusive to Holy Week itself, such as the use of folded chasubles.

For the sake of completeness, however, here is an addendum covering these aspects of the reform as well.

1. On Palm Sunday, the Asperges, which is normally done before every Sunday solemn Mass throughout the year, is omitted.

2. In the pre-1955 Holy Week rites, folded chasubles are worn by the deacon and subdeacon on the first four days of Holy Week, as also in Advent and Lent. (cf. Shawn Tribe's recent article for the complete explanation of when they were used: Use, History and Development of the "Planeta Plicata" or Folded Chasuble) With the 1955 reform of Holy Week, the deacon and subdeacon wear dalmatic and tunicle instead at all four of these Masses. Although the use of the folded chasubles was later completely suppressed, this reform originally applied only to Holy Week itself, and the folded chasubles continued to be used throughout Lent and Passiontide, right up until the day before Palm Sunday.

3. The addition prayers of the Mass, which were appointed by the Missal of St. Pius V to be said at almost all Masses of the Ordo temporalis (varying from one liturgical season to another), were removed from the Masses of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. (They were not said on Palm Sunday.) Likewise, the commemorations of Saints’ feasts are completely excluded from all of Holy Week; in the rite of St. Pius V, they were excluded from the Mass of Palm Sunday (not from the Office), and from the Sacred Triduum.

4. In the pre-1955 Holy Week rites, the celebrant of a solemn Mass reads in a low voice at the altar all of the parts of the Mass which are sung aloud by a deacon, subdeacon or lector. In the 1955 reform he longer does so. Although the “doubling” of the readings (as it is commonly called) was later completely suppressed, this reform originally also applied only to Holy Week itself, and the readings continued to be doubled outside of Holy Week.

5. In the pre-1955 Holy Week rites, the celebrant of a solemn Mass or sung Mass says the first two words of “Orate fratres” at the end of the Offertory out loud, and the rest silently, as he turns towards the Missal. In the 1955 reform he says the entire “Orate fratres” out loud (‘clara et elevata voce’). The “Orate fratres” continued to be said in the same manner as in the Missal of St. Pius V outside of Holy Week, until the post-conciliar liturgical reforms.

Copyright (C) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

(Part III will take up the consideration of Maundy Thursday. This will be followed by parts upon the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified, Tenebrae, and the Vigil)

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