Friday, April 17, 2020

The Novus Ordo Mass of Palm Sunday

This article concludes the descriptive part of this series on the theology of the various forms of the rites of Palm Sunday. Two more articles on broader topical issues are planned. Previous articles covered the blessing of the Palms (part 1, part 2, part 3), the procession (part 4, part 5), and the traditional text of the Mass (part 6).

My consideration of the post-Conciliar Mass of Palm Sunday presumes that the Latin text is the norm, even though, in defiance of the will of the Council itself and all common sense, its use in reality is the exception. This includes the Gregorian chants indicated for it in the Ordo Cantus Missae, the official directory of how to use the traditional chant repertoire in the Novus Ordo. This summary will be fairly brief, because, despite a number of changes, the basic tenor of the Mass texts remains the same as it was in the traditional version.

As noted previously in this series, the 1955 reform changed the liturgical color of the blessing and procession from violet to red. This not only changes their character from that of a penitential act to that of a celebratory one; it is also one of the many ways in which that reform breaks the Palm Sunday liturgy into two completely separate ceremonies. In the post-Conciliar reform, the color of the Mass is changed to red, and while this is alien to the Roman tradition (as is so often the case, it is the bastardization of an Ambrosian custom), it does repair this breakage.

Palm Sunday in the traditional Ambrosian Rite at the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione in Milan in 2018. The procession is done in penitential violet...  
...while the Mass is done in red, which was anciently considered to be a color of mourning in Milan, and is therefore used at all the cermonies of Holy Week, including Holy Thursday. (This is also one of my favorite photopost contributions of all time, for the way it perfectly captures the swing of the Ambrosian coverless thurible.)
If the blessing of palms and procession are done beforehand, the procession is treated as part of the Mass, and therefore, the entrance into the church, (or into the sanctuary, if the procession has not gone outside) replaces the Introit. As soon as the priest reaches the altar, he incenses it ad libitum, changes into a chasuble if he has worn a cope for the procession, and then either says the Collect immediately, or right after the Kyrie, which is also ad libitum. (The Collect is unchanged from the traditional Mass.) The Ordo Cantus Missae therefore gives no Introit for the Mass at all. [18] In the Missal, however, an option is provided for a Mass without procession, which does include an Introit, the antiphon Ante sex dies which was traditionally sung during the procession, but abolished in the 1955 reform.

The first two readings and the chants that follow them are the same every year of the three-year Sunday cycle. The Old Testament reading, Isaiah 50, 4-7, the third of the “Suffering Servant” passages, partly coincides with the traditional Epistle of Holy Monday, verses 5-10 of the same chapter. It was chosen for Holy Week especially because of the words of verse 5-6, which describe things that happened to the Lord in His Passion: “I do not resist: I have not turned back. I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them; I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me.” Some of the verses removed from the end for Palm Sunday are still said when the reading is repeated on Spy Wednesday in a longer form, verses 4-9a, stopping short of the insufficiently irenic words “Lo, they shall all be destroyed as a garment, the moth shall eat them up.”

The Mocking of Christ, with the Virgin of Sorrows and St Dominic, by Fra Angelico (1395 ca. - 1455); fresco in one of the cells of the Dominican convent of San Marco, painted in 1440-2.
There follows the long Tract from Psalm 21 traditionally said on Palm Sunday, even though the Tract was historically always the second of the two chants before the Gospel, after the Gradual. This inversion (also found on Good Friday) was clearly done so that it would correspond to the responsorial Psalm version noted in the Ordo Lectionum, with one of the most badly conceived choices of refrain, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

The Epistle, Philippians 2, 6-11, is almost the same as the traditional one, shortened by the removal of the first verse, for no discernible reason. The traditional Gradual Tenuisti has been moved to the previous day, and is now replaced by one of the most beautiful and well-known examples of the genre, Christus factus est. This is traditionally sung on Holy Thursday, but speaking about the passion on the day the Eucharist was instituted is one of those complexities which lies far beyond the ken of Modern Man™. It is therefore sung on both Palm Sunday and Good Friday before the Passion.

The Passion Gospels are the only part of the Liturgy of the Word which changes according to the three-year Sunday cycle, with that of Matthew in year A, Mark in year B, and Luke in year C. Passions are no longer read on Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday, and thus the modern lectionary lamentably breaks with an extremely ancient and universal tradition, and no longer reads all four within Holy Week.

Nevertheless, it does also partially correct one of the most grievous errors of the 1955 reform by restoring most of the verses that were removed from the Synoptic Passions. St Matthew now begins at 26, 14, which still unfortunately omits Christ’s last prediction of the Passion, the conspiracy of the priests and elders against Him, and the anointing of His feet in the house of Simon the leper. However, the betrayal of Judas and the Last Supper are restored, as is the placing of the guard at the tomb at the end of chapter 27, which is in no other Gospel. St Mark is restored to the full text, and even lengthened by one verse at the end. St Luke begins at 22, 14, still omitting the conspiracy of the chief priests, Judas’ betrayal, and the preparations for the Last Supper, but now including the Last Supper itself; it is also slightly lengthened at the end, by three verses.

This correction is very much to the good, since it restores to the Roman Rite the Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper, and thus also, the uniquely Roman custom of reading these accounts in conjunction with the rest of the Passion. But it cannot be overlooked that the new lectionary also offers on Palm Sunday what is perhaps its single most appalling feature. Each of the three Passions can also be read in a shortened form, which reduces Matthew’s to 44 verses (27, 11-54), Mark’s to 39 (15, 1-39), and Luke’s to 49 (23, 1-49). In each case, more of the historical reading is omitted from this shorter form than is included. [19]

The Offertory and Communion chants are left undisturbed. As noted in the previous article in this series, the traditional Secret and Post-Communion, while very ancient, are also rather generic, and make no reference to the Passion, nor to the palms. They are therefore replaced with new prayers that do refer to the Passion; the Post-Communion is partly taken from the prayer which opens the blessing of the palms in the Missal of St Pius V. The Mass is also given its own preface, which, like the collect and some of the traditional texts in the blessing, reminds us on the Lord’s day that the Passion is completed not with Christ’s death, but with His Resurrection. “Whose death wiped away our sins, and whose Resurrection brought about our justification.”

Folio 47v of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780-800, with the Secret (with its more ancient title, “super oblata”), the post-communion, and oratio super populum of Spy Wednesday. (Bibliothèque National de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048; image cropped.)
In the original Missal of Paul VI, the final prayer super populum was removed from the ferial Masses of Lent, a stupid impoverishment that was happily undone in the most recent typical edition, although the prayer is now, of course, ad libitum. It has also been added to the Sundays of Lent, without the ad libitum rubric which is present on all the ferias. The super populum added to Palm Sunday is the prayer Respice which was formerly said in the same place on Spy Wednesday, and served as the Collect for all Offices of the Triduum. In the Liturgy of the Hours, it is now said as the prayer of Good Friday.

Notes (continuing the numeration from the previous articles):
[18] Many chants whose liturgical function is suppressed in the new rite were moved to other days; the traditional Introit for Palm Sunday, Domine ne longe facias, is now assigned to the previous day.

[19] No such abbreviated form is given for the Passion of St John on Good Friday; however, John’s account of the Last Supper is not included in his Passion, and does not describe the Institution of the Eucharist.

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