Thursday, October 01, 2009

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961: Part 5.2 - Further Observations on the Neo-Gallican Liturgy

We conclude our consideration of the neo-Gallican revisions to the breviary.

For terms and their definitions, please see the associated Glossary which accompanies this compendium.

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

by Gregory DiPippo
for publication on the New Liturgical Movement

Part 5.2 - Further Observations on the Neo-Gallican Liturgy

It is beyond the scope of these articles to offer anything more than a summary of the other changes made to the liturgy by the neo-Gallican reformers.

A common characteristic of all neo-Gallican liturgical books is the replacement of all ‘ecclesiastical’ compositions with Scriptural texts, whether in the Breviary or the Missal. Even some of the most ancient texts are not spared, such as the introit Gaudeamus omnes, used on several major feasts. In the Breviary, the Tenebrae Offices, dating back to the fifth century, are almost completely re-written; the result is in every respect grossly inferior to the Roman Tenebrae. Every antiphon of the early 10th-century office of the Trinity is changed, since none of them are scriptural. St. Thomas ’ Office of Corpus Christi, universally recognized as one of the finest ever composed, was extensively altered. The new preoccupation with Scripture not infrequently degenerates into the ridiculous; even the absolutions and blessings said before the readings of Matins are turned into scriptural quotes, each meticulously labeled with the book and chapter from which it has been taken.

The only ecclesiastical compositions permitted are the hymns, which of course cannot possibly be replaced with Scripture; several of the old traditional hymns are, however, replaced with brand new compositions. It is broadly admitted by liturgical scholars, even those otherwise opposed to the neo-Gallican uses, that many of these new hymns are in fact quite beautiful, and in several cases a vast improvement over Pope Urban VIII’s revised hymnal of the Roman Breviary. Some of them, however, are not so well done. The hymn O vos unanimes was written for the feast of the Holy Relics, kept at Paris on the Octave Day of All Saints’, in a meter used by Horace called the Third Asclepiadean. Its vocabulary is also borrowed largely from Horace, and its contorted word order, in the context of Christian hymnody, can only be described as grotesque.

Some of Don Guéranger’s harshest criticisms of the first Parisian revision under Abp. de Harlay refer to its skepticism towards certain legends of the Saints, which goes much further than did the Pian Breviary of 1568. “The correctors of the Breviary disinherit (the church of Paris ) of its ancient glory as the daughter of St. Denis the Areopagite”, who is now divided into St. Paul’s convert, the first bishop of Athens, with a feast on October 3rd, and the martyred third-century founder of the church of Paris, celebrated on the traditional date, October 9th. A similar operation is performed on Saint Mary Magdalene, whose feast remains on July 22nd; the rest of her is celebrated as ‘Mary of Bethany’ along with her siblings Martha and Lazarus on September 2nd.

Before the French Revolution, the neo-Gallican movement in liturgy was intimately linked with the Jansenist heresy. Among the prominent Jansenist contributors to the Parisian Breviary of 1736, was a certain Charles Coffin, who had refused to accept the condemnation of the heresy by Pope Clement XI; he was denied the last sacraments on his deathbed for refusing to recant. On the other hand, Archbishop de Harlay was a noted opponent of the Jansenists. Far more obvious in the new liturgical books than the taint of Jansenism is a strong leaning towards Gallicanism, the ‘independence movement’ of the French Bourbon monarchy’s church before the Revolution. (see )

To forward the Gallican position, the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul was downgraded, and its octave suppressed; the feast of Pope St. Gregory VII, extended to the universal Church by Pope Benedict XIII, was not only refused by a number of French dioceses, but also prohibited by the civil Parliament of the French government; explicit references to Papal supremacy were removed from the Matins lessons. The commemoration of Pope St. Damasus I on December 11 was outfitted with a new post-communion, a pastiche of quotations from Saint Jerome ’s Letter 15, addressed to the sainted Pope whom he served as secretary. The great Doctor’s words are re-arranged with a laughably obvious Gallican agenda, which Dom Guéranger unhesitatingly calls an attack on Pope Clement XI for his condemnation of the “Jansenist hydra.”

Archbishop de Vintimille was not the first incumbent of the See of Paris to change his liturgical books, nor was he the last. Further editions were put forth both before and after the Revolution; in their French houses, certain religious orders followed Paris in revising their missals and breviaries along neo-Gallican principles, as did Cologne, Trier and Mainz, the three German dioceses whose Archbishops were ex-officio Electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. Dom Guéranger does not exaggerate when he refers to the liturgical situation in France as “appalling anarchy.”

Despite an examination of the 1736 Breviary by the Holy Office, the Papacy had much more serious problems to deal with in the 18th century, many of them also coming from France, and did not press the point when the Archbishop of Paris failed to make certain corrections to his new Breviary as requested by Rome. (Batiffol, p. 245-6) In effect, the neo-Gallican movement is one of the most successful examples of a ‘tolerated abuse’ in the long history of the Church’s liturgy. But whatever one thinks of the actual liturgical books it produced, it was a faddish movement, and like all fads, passed with the era that created it.

“Honteuses et criminelles mutilations, témérités coupables – shameful and criminal mutilations, rash acts deserving of condemnation”; thus does Dom Guéranger brand one of the earliest neo-Gallican changes to the liturgy. As the liturgical revisions he describes become broader and more drastic, so does the force of his polemic against them increase, approaching at times something not unlike a hurricane. I think it fair to say, however, that the French churchmen of the 19th century who gradually brought their nation back into liturgical unity with Rome must have been impressed as much, if not more, by the eloquence with which the great scholar expresses his deep love and reverence for the Church’s ancient liturgy, and his hope to restore its rightful place in the spiritual lives of all the Christian faithful. He died in the year 1875, a few months shy of his 70th birthday, just as the last neo-Gallican diocese returned to the use of the liturgy of St. Pius V. At the beginning of the third Christian millennium, as we struggle with our own liturgical trials, there is still much to be learned from his work.

-- Copyright (c) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

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To read previous installments in this series, see: Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

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