Monday, December 23, 2019

On the Insertion of St Joseph’s Name into the Roman Canon

Traditional Catholics place a strong emphasis on the Roman Canon as an essential quality of the Roman Rite, something that enters into its very definition. Where you have the Roman Canon as the singular and necessary anaphora, you are dealing for sure with one of the Western or Latin Rites of the Church; certainly where you have the Roman Rite, you always have the Roman Canon. If this Canon is not present or if it is merely optional, you may have a valid Mass (provided all conditions are met), but you do not have the Roman Rite in any but a 30,000-foot sense of the term.

Given this premise, people like to ask about John XXIII’s insertion, in 1962, of the name of St Joseph into the first list of saints in the Roman Canon. The background story is told well enough by Fr Joseph Komonchak in this article at Commonweal, in which a quotation from Yves Congar’s diary certainly clues one in to the mentality of the progressives. In his Council daybook, Xavier Rynne relates more about the behind-the-scenes cause of Pope John’s unexpected and unilateral decision. A picture of the Latin decree may be found here. The insertion into the text is highlighted in bold:
Communicantes, et memoriam venerantes, in primis gloriosæ semper Virginis Mariæ, Genetricis Dei et Domini nostri Iesu Christi: sed et beati Ioseph, eiusdem Virginis Sponsi, et beatorum Apostolorum ac Martyrum tuorum, Petri et Pauli, Andreæ, Iacobi, Ioannis, Thomæ, Iacobi, Philippi, Bartholomæi, Matthæi, Simonis et Thaddæi: Lini, Cleti, Clementis, Xysti, Cornelii, Cypriani, Laurentii, Chrysogoni, Ioannis et Pauli, Cosmæ et Damiani et omnium Sanctorum tuorum; quorum meritis precibusque concedas, ut in omnibus protectionis tuæ muniamur auxilio. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
It is hard, at this point, to dispute that Joseph’s name should not have been inserted into the Canon. It was seen at the time by liturgical progressives as a mighty breach with the fabric of tradition and a sign that “hey, anything can be changed, as long as the pope says so!” In short: it played into the same growing hyperpapalism that enabled Pius X, Pius XII, and Paul VI to make deep and radical changes to inherited liturgical forms of 500, 1,000, or even 1,500 years’ duration, and encouraged the future members of the Consilium to stop at nothing in the magnitude and detail of their reformatory projects. [1]

Let no one misunderstand what I am claiming. I love St Joseph and pray to him daily. Not only is there nothing wrong with venerating him publicly, there would be something wrong if we did not venerate him publicly. The problem consists, rather, in making the Canon conform to momentary enthusiasms. Joseph had never been mentioned in this most solemn of prayers for 1,400 years, and we can’t say that the Holy Spirit, by willing or at least permitting this “lacuna,” intended him any disrespect, or caused any lack of the honor due to him as the foster-father of Jesus. If anything, it seems more in keeping with Joseph’s hidden sanctity that he be a light that shines out gradually from behind the constellation of the more famous saints. When we parachute him into the Canon, we are letting our devotional preferences shape the core prayers of the inherited liturgy. (John XXIII was well-known for his strong personal devotion to Joseph, which was his middle name, and is still one of the most popular names in Italy. [2])

Consider these incisive words of liturgist Bernard Botte in the 1950s:
We should be grateful to the people of the Middle Ages for having preserved the Canon in its purity and for not having allowed their personal effusions or theological ideas to pass into it. One can imagine the complete mess we would have today if each generation had been permitted to remake the canon to the measure of their theological controversies or novel forms of piety. We can only hope for a continuing imitation of the good sense of these people, who had their own theological ideas but who understood that the Canon was not their playground. In their eyes, it was the expression of a venerable tradition, and they felt that it could not be touched without opening the door to every sort of abuse. [3]
For those who wish to read more about this subject, I recommend (although without a blanket endorsement) Carol Byrne’s article “St Joseph in the Canon: An Innovation to Break Tradition.” [4] The late Fr. Carota observed:
Although different readings and saints feasts were added in the Roman Missal, the exact words of the Roman Canon were never changed since the slight change Pope St. Gregory the Great made in 600 AD, when he added a few words to it. The Roman Canon was unchanged for 1362 years. It was not altered at all until 1962 when Pope John XXIII permitted the name of St. Joseph to be inserted. Although St. Joseph is such a wonderful powerful saint for the Catholic Church, the Church carefully guarded the integrity of the Roman Canon from any alteration. In 1815, hundreds of thousands of signatures of clergy and laity were gathered to have his name inserted in the Canon. But the Church would not dare change it.
Fr Carota here steps beyond what is strictly true historically. We do not know with certainty that the final redaction of the Canon was the work of St Gregory, although a good case can be made for that view; we do know that minor variants were introduced here and there after his time, e.g., variable Hanc igiturs. Particular local saints were occasionally introduced into the lists of saints. [5] But a local devotional practice is one thing, a universal imposition from the pope is another.

From a strictly liturgical point of view, moreover, one may ask where in the Canon the name St Joseph best belongs, if his name is to be included in it. The Communicantes is not an ideal place to put him, seeing as the 24 names (12 Apostles and 12 Martyrs) were obviously chosen in reminiscence of the 24 elders in chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation. On the other hand, the Nobis quoque has 15 names (8 men and 7 women), which has no obvious symbolic value. If Joseph had been added after John the Baptist, nothing important would be disturbed, and the last Patriarch of the old covenant would be put next to the last Prophet, which is a very sensible arrangement.

When Fr. Carota says “the Church would not dare change it [the Canon],” he is alluding to a popular legend, the source of which I have not yet been able to track down (I would not be surprised if, as is often the case with legend, it rests on a true story). When Pope Pius IX was presented with support for inserting the name of Joseph, he is said to have responded: “I cannot do that; I am only the Pope.” Would that all of the successors of St Gregory the Great, even to our time, had maintained this attitude of sober humility and religious veneration!

Today, with the ongoing reevaluation of so many foolish changes in the 20th century, some raise the question of whether or not it may be worthwhile to seek the omission of Joseph’s name, so that the Canon may be restored to its perfect form (since, as just mentioned, the introduction of the extra name throws off the Canon’s careful design). Given the magnitude of other decisions facing the traditional movement, such as the restoration of the pre-1955 Holy Week, and given the ecclesiastical climate, it would seem that now is not the time to revisit this question. The addition of St Joseph’s name is a fait accompli we may regret, but we are not obliged to attribute to it the sinister meaning that the progressives of the 1960s and certain rad trads today are wont to do; we may simply accept it as one of those things we cannot change at the moment. It would be an ideal candidate to add to the raft of restorative changes yet to be made under a future pontificate, with a view to purifying the Roman Rite of the damage caused by post-World War II tinkeritis.

We can learn a lesson in this regard from the PCED’s flip-flop on the Confiteor before Communion. At first, they said: “No, this is not in the rubrics of the 1962 missal, so it shouldn’t be done.” Then later, they winked at it and said: “Well, wherever this is a custom, it can be preserved.” Rapidly, the somewhat Jesuitical argument spread: “This Confiteor had been a universal custom everywhere, and now that we are starting up the Latin Mass again in continuity with how it was being celebrated before the silly season of the 1960s, we will also retain this longstanding custom. Besides, only the legalistic sticklers at this point care about whether there’s a second Confiteor. We’ve moved past that phase for the most part.”

There we are — and I like to think that the intercession of St. Joseph, a wonderworking carpenter, might have something to do with this healthy spirit of rebuilding.


[1] The Roman psalter supplanted by Pius X was about 1,500 years old; some of the aspects of Holy Week modified by Pius XII were 1,000 years old; the prayers at the foot of the altar were in the Roman Missal for about 500 years when Paul VI removed them. Of course many other examples can be given.

[2] There is another story, possibly apocryphal, that Roncalli wanted to call himself Pope Joseph, but was dissuaded from doing so by the cardinals, since the name was not a traditional one. It seems that cardinals of such mettle were not on hand in March 2013.

[3] “Histoire des prières de l’ordinaire de la messe,” in B. Botte/C. Mohrmann, eds., L’ordinaire de la messe. Texte critique, traduction et études (Paris: Les éditions du Cerf/Louvain: Éditions de Abbaye du Mont César, 1953), 27.

[4] In contrast, Fr David Friel takes a relaxed, irenic approach in his article “Adding Joseph to the Eucharistic Prayers.”

[5] Here, for example, is folio 144r of the Gellone Sacramentary, a sacramentary of the Gelasian type, and one of the oldest in existence (later 8th century). The names of Ss Hilary, Martin, Augustine, Gregory, Jerome, and Benedict are added to the Communicantes. You can also see that the words pro quibus tibi offerimus, which are a later addition, are missing from the Memento; Pope Benedict XIV already noted in the 18th century that these words were missing from all of the oldest manuscripts of the Canon that they had at the time.

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