Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Bishop Elliott on the Recent PCED Clarification

Our thanks to Bishop Peter Elliott, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia, for these observations on the different forms of Pontifical Mass. His Excellency is of course well-known to our readers for his many writings on liturgical matters, and his books The Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite and Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year.

But Were There Exceptions to the Rule?
A comment on the clarification of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
The clarification of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is to be welcomed, so as to ensure that the distinctions between the three forms of a Pontifical Mass are maintained in the Extraordinary Form. (editor’s note: the solemn high Pontifical, the Missa praelatia, and the Mass in the Presence of a bishop.) But let us not imagine it has always been as simple as that. In mission territories, which came under the Sacred Congregation Propaganda Fidei, I wonder what privileges and modifications were available to bishops in celebrating Mass in their own territory. Some research would be welcome. Until 1978 my own country, Australia, came under Propaganda Fidei and was deemed to be a “mission territory”. One thus has some historical intimations of a certain flexibility.

In 19th-century rural Australia, newspaper reports of the blessing and opening of new churches describe the bishop celebrating a “High Mass”, with an assistant priest, deacon and subdeacon, local clergy who are always named. There is no mention of deacons of honour. Unless this was Solemn Pontifical Mass at the faldstool, these reports suggest that Ordinaries celebrated a modified form of Solemn Mass at the Throne.

As was normal in 19th-century colonial society, the music was of a high standard, Masses by Haydn, etc. with a local orchestra or band, and often soloists were imported from the bigger cities. The music was an ecumenical effort, as was the collection taken up to build the new church, that is, up to the later years of the century, when rising Irish nationalism smothered nascent ecumenism.

In 19th-century Melbourne, when our immense Gothic cathedral of St Patrick rose on the Eastern Hill, Pontifical Mass at the Faldstool was favoured for major events, with Bishop Corbett of Sale as celebrant, and the Metropolitan and other Ordinaries assisting in choir. Bishop Corbett had a legendary voice; the other prelates admitted that they were not good singers, nor could they project the voice as well as he could, in an era before microphones.

Photographic evidence is also interesting. When Bishop Phelan of Sale consecrated his modest cathedral in 1915, he celebrated Mass with a deacon and subdeacon, who had no doubt acted as the assisting deacons during the long and complex rites that preceded the Mass. He did not wear dalmatic and tunicle, but they are fully vested. The Metropolitan was represented by the then-Coadjutor Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Daniel Mannix, in choir dress. Was this a Pontifical Mass in a modified form?

However, before the several interesting reforms of the rites for the dedication of church, the long ceremonies were very tiring for aging prelates, also expected to fast for the occasion. Therefore, the Mass at the Consecration of a church was often only a Pontifical Low Mass, as happened when Auxiliary Bishop Jerome Sebastian of Baltimore consecrated the new cathedral of Mary Our Queen on October 13th, 1959.

Returning to Australia, in 1966 a later Bishop of Sale, Dr Patrick Lyons, celebrated the centenary Mass of the Sisters of St Joseph, founded by St Mary of the Cross McKillop. Here, during the post-conciliar transition, we see the first blurring of the three pontifical forms of Mass. The deacons of honour are replaced by a deacon and subdeacon at the throne, with the assistant priest in cope making perhaps his final appearance. Bishop Lyons was punctilious and traditional.

After Vatican II, a major factor that broke down the classical distinction was the arrival of ritual Masses for the Sacraments, in particular, Confirmation. I celebrate these Masses every week in the Winter-Spring Confirmation season in Melbourne (May to November). The variations in the Ordinary Form are wide, ranging from a solemn form with fine music to a minimalist affair with no servers and the parish priest juggling with my chrismatory and crozier. The music at these latter events is best forgotten.

It should also be remembered that Mass for the Ordination to the Priesthood before Vatican II was often a Pontifical Low Mass. The ordaining prelate was bound to wear pontifical vestments; he used the crozier and two miters, and, in accord with the rubrics, he was assisted by two chaplains in surplice. The common and proper were sung, apparently even before the wider provision granted in 1958 for singing at Low Mass. It was thus a much more modest liturgy than our post-conciliar ordinations with hordes of concelebrants, wandering deacons and tumbling MCs.

But those two chaplains in the old rite had a specific role. They strictly supervised the word and action of the bishop to ensure validity and liceity. One famed bishop had a penchant for reaching out and turning two pages of the Pontificale at once. Now that could be a problem, particularly before Pope Pius XII defined the matter and form in 1947. Two beady-eyed Redemptorists kept him under control.

Our post-conciliar episcopal ordinations should be easier, with matter and form clearly indicated in the rite, thanks to Dom Botte. However, recently I watched an elaborate episcopal ordination in Italy. As far as I could see, the chief consecrator alone said the form, and, although they had laid hands on the candidate, the twenty aging co-consecrators seemed unaware that they were also meant to articulate the form! But not long ago during a rather prominent episcopal ordination in the US, the ancient practice of deacons imposing the Book of the Gospels just did not happen. An MC forgot? Not good. Bring back those strict chaplains.

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