Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Palm Sunday Procession in the Reforms of 1955 and 1969

This article is the fifth in an ongoing series about the theology of the various forms of the rites of Palm Sunday. The previous articles covered the blessing of the Palms (part 1, part 2, part 3) and the procession according to the rite of St Pius V (part 4). The next group of articles will cover the Mass.

As noted in a previous article in this series, the 1955 reform makes the blessing of the Palms and procession into a completely different ceremony from the day’s Mass, isolating it from the rest of Holy Week. This is done by the use of a different liturgical color, red, which is used nowhere else in the week, and by the removal of all but one glancing reference to the Passion [12], with which the Mass that follows and the rest of the week are principally concerned. This separation is furthered by the removal of the most distinctive symbol of the liturgical season of Passiontide, the veiling of the processional cross, which a new rubric specifies is to be uncovered.

Palm Sunday at St Benedict’s Parish, the FSSP church of  in Chesapeake, Virginia; from our first Palm Sunday photopost of 2017. Note the unveiled processional cross.
Of the six processional antiphons in the rite of St Pius V, the first three, Cum appropinquaret Dominus, Cum audisset populus, and Ante sex dies, are removed. The first two of these are not only the longest, but also the most musically complex. The remaining three are supplemented by the addition of four others, taken from medieval sources: Coeperunt omnes, Omnes collaudant, Fulgentibus palmis and Ave, Rex noster. (The rite that accompanied the last of these at Sarum is described in the previous article of this series.) The first three of the “new” antiphons are at roughly the same level of musical complexity as the three traditional ones that remain; the Ave, Rex noster is longer and more complex. However, none of the ceremonies that accompany these or other chants in the various medieval Uses is added to the rite. The one particular ceremony found in the Tridentine Missal, the station at the door of the church and the knocking on the door with the processional cross, is abolished.

The hymn which previously accompanied the station, the famous Gloria, laus, et honor, is therefore assigned to the procession as well, after Coeperunt omnes. The antiphon Omnes collaudant is sung with Psalm 147, clearly chosen for its opening words “Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem”; this is said with the doxology, contrary to the rule that the doxology is not said anywhere in the Masses of Passiontide. There being no station, the procession simply enters the church as the final responsory Ingrediente Domino is sung.

Folios 9v and 10r of a collection of tropes, proses and processional music made for the church of St Martial in Limoges, France, in the 10th or 11th century, with four processional antiphons for Palm Sunday: Cum audissetAve Rex nosterAppropinquante Jesu, and Occurrunt turbae. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des manuscrits. Latin 1120)
At the end of the procession, an element which is found in medieval Uses, a concluding prayer, has been inserted; the text is a based on a few words and phrases of the prayer Deus qui dispersa congregas, formerly the 2nd of the blessing of the Palms. Like the blessing, this prayer is to be done versus populum; the celebrant therefore reverences the altar, then turns and stands in the middle of the top step of the altar, while an acolyte comes in front of him to present him the book. Just as the prayers of the 1955 Good Friday liturgy and Easter vigil are said in a novel manner, different from that of the ordinary rite of Mass, the rubrics specify that he is to keep his hands closed; the prayer ends with the short conclusion, which is also never used at Mass.

One final novelty further separates the first part of the ceremony from the Mass; its final rubric specifically states that that the blessed palm branches are NOT to be held during the singing of the Passion, as was the custom in the earlier rite.

The cumulative effect of these changes is to erase the historical character of the Palm Sunday procession. The former rite is a penitential act, celebrated as the penitential season of Lent reaches its culmination; a prelude to the Lord’s Passion, ritually distinct from any other procession, but wholly integrated into the rites of Holy Week. The character of the new rite is professedly celebratory, like that of the Corpus Christi procession, and lacks any distinctive ritual. The combination of the radical abbreviation of the blessing, the removal of any unique ceremony from the procession, and the ritual isolation of them both from the rest of Holy Week, clearly diminishes the solemnity and importance of the rite as a whole.

In the post-Conciliar Missal, the procession is fundamentally similar to that of the 1955 rite, in that it consists solely in the act of processing, and has no station or other ritual. As noted previously in this series, the color is still red, but that of the Mass has been changed to red, restoring an important sign of unity between the two parts of the rite. The use of incense is made optional; the processional cross may be veiled, since there is no longer a rubric to the contrary, and the veiling of crosses in Passiontide or Holy Week is itself now completely optional. A new rubric specifies that the deacon carry the Gospel book, a custom which was often observed in the Middle Ages.

The Palm Sunday procession at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana, celebrated according to the post-Conciliar rite; note the veiled processional cross. From our Palm Sunday photopost of 2015.
None of the traditional processional antiphons, nor those added in 1955, are mentioned in either the Missal or the Ordo Cantus Missae, the official directory of how to use the traditional chant repertoire in the modern rite. The two antiphons Pueri Hebraeorum, traditionally sung while the palms are distributed, are now assigned to the procession, since the palms are no longer distributed. In 1955, these are said with the doxology, contrary to the rule that the doxology is not said in the Masses of Passiontide; in 1969, they are said without it, in keeping with the rule that the doxology is no longer said at Mass at all. The Gloria, laus et honor and Ingrediente Domino are also retained, which is to say, all of the easiest chants. Of course, any one of these may be replaced by “another suitable chant”, but one is therefore free to determine that the antiphons which previously accompanied the procession for a millennium or more are “suitable.”

The final prayer added to the end of the procession in 1955 is now deleted, and with it, the peculiar manner in which it is said; on reaching the altar, the priest incenses it ad libitum, then changes into the chasuble if he has worn a cope for the blessing and procession. The Kyrie is optional, for some reason.

The post-Conciliar Missal also contains a rubric in four parts which explains what to do in cases where the procession cannot go outside, and says nothing that could not be said by basic common sense. This is followed by another in two parts which is labelled “the simple entrance,” which says nothing of relevance at all, since it differs in no meaningful way from the regular low Mass.

Note (continuing the numeration from the previous articles):
[12] The glancing reference is in the hymn Gloria, laus et honor, the word “passuro – about to suffer”, the future participle of the verb “patior.”

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