Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Octave of Pentecost: A Proposal for Mutual Enrichment

This week is one of the liturgical seasons where the discrepancies between the two forms of the Roman Rite are most evident; the Extraordinary Form retains the Octave of Pentecost, with its three Ember Days, while the Ordinary Form does not. The presence of such discrepancies is an absolutely anomalous situation in the history of the Roman Rite, and indeed of the whole of Catholic liturgy. This anomaly will be noticed more and more as the number of churches where both forms of the Rite are routinely celebrated grows; to invent an example, the clergy and faithful will more regularly see in the same parish a 9 a.m. Sunday Mass in green for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the 10:30 Mass in violet for Sexagesima. Such a thing was unknown before 1969, and was extremely rare before the 1988 motu proprio Ecclesia Dei.

The Proper of the Seasons (‘Proprium de Tempore’ or ‘Temporale’ in Latin) is built around the most ancient and important features of the Christian year, the shorter cycle of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and the longer cycle of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Over the centuries, the Church enriched the two cycles with many additions, such as the Ember Days and the various octaves and vigils. The Wurtzburg Lectionary, a manuscript of the mid-7th century, and the Murbach Lectionary of roughly a century later attest between them to all of the same seasonal observances from Advent to Pentecost as the Missal of St. Pius V, lacking only the Minor Litanies and the octave of the Ascension. Most of these features are of course quite older than the manuscripts; for example, St. Leo the Great (444-461) preached on the Ember Days, and believed them to be of apostolic origin. Only one feature of the Proper of the Seasons as attested by these early manuscripts has disappeared, the “Pascha annotinum”, which was a commemoration of the previous year’s Easter and the baptismal anniversary of the catechumens.

The Minor Litanies were introduced into the liturgy of Rome in the reign of St. Leo III (795-816), but had been established in Gaul by St. Mamertus of Vienne over three centuries earlier; the octave of the Ascension was added by St. Leo IV in 847. Before the 20th century, only two further additions were made to the Temporale; no further subtractions were made until 1969. The feast of the Holy Trinity was first instituted in the diocese of Liège by Bishop Stephen in the early 10th century, but only quite slowly received throughout the Roman Rite; Pope Alexander II (1061-73) famously remarked that he saw no more need for a feast of the Trinity than for a feast of the Unity. To Liège also belongs the honor of having first celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi, officially promulgated for the universal Church in 1264 by Pope Urban IV. This feast was also slow to be received in some places, but by the 15th century, both of these observances had become universal; the Proper of the Seasons was thus received into the Tridentine reform unaltered, and remained exactly the same for almost four centuries, with one addition. The feast of the Sacred Heart, added to the General Calendar by Bl. Pius IX in 1856, was definitively added to the Proper of the Seasons in 1928 by Pius XI, who clearly wished to underscore the great importance of the feast and devotion by making it the first such addition in nearly 700 years.

It must also be noted that many of the features of the traditional Proper of the Seasons are specifically Roman in origin. The shorter Advent (the Ambrosian Advent and the Byzantine fast of the Nativity both begin in mid-November), the Ember Days, the season of Septuagesima, Passiontide as distinct from Lent (a feature which is more evident in the Office than in the Mass), and the Major Litanies are all originally Roman practices, some of which were adopted by other rites, and some not. The Roman Temporale is in this respect the richest and most developed of all of the western rites.

As the Roman Rite was adopted in western Europe and beyond in the early Middle Ages, the Proper of the Seasons was taken on as part of it with almost perfect uniformity, although there was no central liturgical authority to compel the individual churches to receive it in toto. The various features of it remained common to all of the Roman Rite’s usages and variants until 1969; thus, the first Sunday of Advent, for example, was the first Sunday of Advent every year in every church which followed the Roman Rite anywhere in the world. (Small differences from the Roman practice do occur before Trent, but they are minor and rare; after Trent, they are unheard of.)

The Second Vatican Council’s decree on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium nowhere suggests that the Temporale should be altered, or that any feature of it should be suppressed. Indeed, article 107 of the same constitution clearly presumes that it will not be changed: “The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times.” This statement is in perfect harmony with the mind of the great scholars of the Liturgical Movement such as Dom Guéranger, Fr. Fortescue and Bl. Ildefonse Schuster, who wished for traditional observances such as the Ember Days to be more deeply inculcated into the spiritual lives of the faithful, as an intrinsic part of the Church’s liturgical patrimony.

Despite what the Council says on the subject, the Proper of the Seasons was notably altered in the Novus Ordo. The four sets of Ember Days, Septuagesima, the Major and Minor Litanies and the octave of Pentecost were all suppressed; Passiontide was effectively subsumed into Lent. Even before the Council, the 1955 simplification of the rubrics suppressed four octaves of the temporal cycle (Epiphany, Ascension, Corpus Christ and the very late Sacred Heart) and one vigil (Epiphany); the vigil of Pentecost was deprived of its very ancient baptismal character in the Holy Week reform of the same year.

One of the best possible examples of the mutual enrichment of the two forms which the Holy Father spoke of in Summorum Pontificum would be restoration to the post-Conciliar liturgy of at least some of the major features which were eliminated from the Proper of the Seasons; most prominent among them would be the octave of Pentecost, the suppression of which famously brought Pope Paul VI to tears. Likewise, it is very difficult to see what was gained by the removal of Septuagesima, the loss of Passiontide, and the shortening of the Triduum. The traditional rite’s more gradual approach to the Passion and Resurrection impresses their importance upon us more effectively, as Pope Paul noted when he compared the four stages of preparation for Easter to the “bells calling people to Sunday Mass. The ringing of them an hour, half-hour, fifteen, and five minutes before the time of Mass has a psychological effect and prepares the faithful materially and spiritually for the celebration of the liturgy.”

Likewise, it would an excellent idea not only to restore the fast days of the traditional rite such as the Ember Days to the Novus Ordo, but also to restore at least some of the fasts themselves, most of which had been mitigated or abolished long before Vatican II. The constant tradition of the Scriptures, the Fathers and Catholic spiritual writers down to our own age is unanimous on the spiritual benefits of fasting, and we could hardly imagine an age more in need of this particular sign of contradiction. It would be an excellent thing if the recent decision of the English bishops’ conference to restore abstinence from meat on Fridays were imitated throughout the Catholic world; it would be even better if such abstinence was restored to its proper place as part of the Church's liturgical life, as it was in antiquity and remains among Byzantine Christians.

Of course, there are also a very large number of differences between the calendars of Saints’ feasts in the two forms of the Roman Rite, and this seems to be the cause of much debate and angst in some places. The 1962 calendar has far more Saints on it, (some would say too many), and several important feasts were moved from their traditional days in the 1969 Calendar or suppressed. This problem will also come to be noticed more and more in those churches where both forms of the Roman Rite are habitually used, especially when it comes to the feast of a patron Saint, for example. However, the presence of multiple calendars within the Roman Rite is per se much less problematic than having two different Temporalia. The Proper of the Seasons was traditionally a uniformly observed part of the liturgy throughout the Roman Rite, as it is in other rites, but there have always been significant differences in the calendars of Saints’ days from one diocese to another, and even between one major church and another within the same diocese. In 1924, the calendar of St. Peter’s Basilica contained 57 feasts which were not on the General Calendar of the Roman Rite; a great many of these were also not kept in the rest of the diocese of Rome. Prior to the liturgical reform of St. Pius V, August 5th was the feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major in Rome, the feast of St. Dominic in the Order of Preachers and several dioceses, St. Oswald in England, and the Transfiguration in Liège. This is only one of many examples of such variation in local calendars that could be noted, both before and after the Tridentine Reform.

The question of the calendar of Saints may therefore be regarded as less pressing in terms of future liturgical reform; I would add that there is one particular feature of the post-Conciliar reform which should prove particular useful in resolving it. I think it is generally agreed that the calendar of 1962 is a little over-full, and the calendar of 1969 a little meager. The introduction of the optional memorial in the Ordinary Form resolves the problem very nicely; the calendar can be stuffed as full as you like with Saints, but the keeping of feasts need never prove excessively repetitious. On the other hand, the keeping of Saints’ days as commemorations, which is very common in the Tridentine period, but almost gone from the Novus Ordo, should be re-introduced into the latter to honor those Saints who are not kept with a full feast. This would also restore the integrity of the various liturgical seasons of the Temporale, which in the Ordinary Form are not mentioned at all when a feast occurs.

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