Friday, June 03, 2022

Fr Carlo Braga on the 1955 Holy Week Reform (Part 3)

We continue with the third part of this address by Fr Carlo Braga CM, given in 2005 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1955 reform of Holy Week, in a translation by Mr Carlo Schena. Here he begins to discuss the reforms of the individual celebrations. In order to keep each of the four parts to a roughly equal and manageable length, this breaks off after the discussion of the solemn prayers of Good Friday.

Palm Sunday. - This was the medieval name for this Sunday. It emphasized the most conspicuous element of the day’s liturgy: the blessing of the palms and the procession in honor of Christ the Redeemer.
In the Roman sacramentaries, we find a richer denomination. The reference to the palms is associated with the memory of the Passion: Dominica in palmis. In passione Domini. This is a clear reference to the nature of the week which this Sunday begins. The main feature in the liturgy of Rome was the reading of the Passion. Leo the Great used to illuminate it with his discourses.
The origin of the celebration goes back at least to the second half of the 4th century: Egeria mentions it in her travel diary, when describing the celebration in Jerusalem. At mid-afternoon, the Christian community gathered on the Mount of Olives and thence descended in procession to the Anastasis, where the celebration would conclude in the evening with the celebration of the lucernarium and the veneration of the cross.
In the West, the celebration of the palms was already present in the seventh century and was gradually enriched by elements also deriving from the sacred dramas. Characteristic were the dramatized singing of Theodolf’s hymn, Gloria, laus, which was first sung at the city gate and then moved to the church door, and the knocking on the door asking it to be opened to welcome the king of glory.
Losing sight of the importance of the palms by blessing them with lots of prayers, earlier this year in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  
The Middle Ages introduced two innovations that, to some extent, changed the significance of the celebration’s elements.
The most noticeable change involved the blessing of the palms. Following the customs of the time, a kind of “Missa sicca” was created, which was preserved up to the Missal of Pius V. (This is an historical falsehood; the blessing of the Palms is unique in being structured like a Mass.) It comprised an Introit, a Collect, two readings, an oration to replace the Super Oblata, and the singing of a Preface and a Sanctus. The blessing of the branches followed (with as many as eight prayers, conceived to be interchangeable according to the quality of the branches to be blessed). Then came the distribution of the blessed branches and the conclusion with a prayer to sum up. Then the procession would start (most of the times confined within the church) and, upon returning to the altar, after the procession’s concluding prayer – which broke the unity of the celebration – the Mass ensued, starting again with the singing of the Introit. The Mass included the reading of the Passion according to Matthew.
The solemnity of the blessing endowed the palms with an autonomous “sacramental” value and made them a blessed element in their own right, a sacred, protective object, to be carried in the homes and fields, and made them lose their true relationship with the procession.
The rite was really burdensome, particularly because of the anticipated and undue repetition of parts of the Mass and the multiplication of the blessing formulas. A simplification was rightly called for. The new Ordo preserves the essential lines: an opening hymn, the blessing with a single oration (the last one in the Missal of Pius V), the distribution of the branches, the reading of the Gospel of the Entrance into Jerusalem, to explain the meaning of the procession, the procession itself and then the Mass.
The emphasis is on the procession: it is linked to the principal Mass, thus gathering a considerable number of faithful; it must be done outside the church; it is to be an expression of faith through the singing, even of popular hymns, to Christ the Redeemer.
This is reinforced by the color of the vestments (red for the whole celebration), a sign of royalty and of festivity. The one element that is a little off in the new Ordo is the concluding prayer of the procession, which breaks the unity of the celebration. (In 1956, this element was described by Braga himself, writing together with Fr Bugnini, as a “restoration” of the most authentic Roman tradition, and then suppressed in 1969.) This was perhaps less evident at the time of the reform, when a change of vestments (purple took over) was also prescribed for the Mass.
It was a simplification, achieved with the criteria of agility and effective participation of a community. Evident were the signs of the Church’s glorification of Christ the Redeemer, in view of the Passion, which opened the door to the Easter triumph. The work was agile as all the elements could already be found in the liturgical books of the Roman tradition. It was therefore easy to discern whatever could actually serve to bring about the desired reform.
Maundy Thursday. - The heart of the celebrations of this day, devoted, in the context of Easter, to the memory of the institution of the Eucharist, the sacrament of the sacrifice of the cross, is to be found in the Eucharistic celebration, which since ancient times had been carried out in the evening, that is, in the hours when the Lord sat at table with his disciples for the last time. And, in order to represent that supper in an even more sensible manner, when the practice of concelebration had disappeared, a single Eucharist was retained, presided over by the bishop or the presbyter first in dignity, and during which all, priests included, received communion.
This day, however, coincided with the end of the Lenten period. Thus it also marked the conclusion of the two institutions characteristic of this season: the catechumenate for the newcomers to the faith, and the end of public penance for those who needed to be reconciled with the Church. The ancient sacramentaries had framed these two celebratory moments in the framework of two distinct Eucharistic celebrations, which were held in the morning: one for the reconciliation of penitents, and a second, reserved by its nature to the cathedral church, designated for the consecration of chrism and the blessing of the Oils, above all that of the catechumens, with its Paschal projection.
These two celebrations did not involve the whole community. The community was called together, as such, for the Mass in Cena Domini, towards evening.
Changes to this discipline came through the natural evolution of things. The Mass for the Reconciliation of Penitents was dropped as the discipline of public penance fell. The progressive anticipation of the Mass in Cena Domini to the morning hours ended up merging the consecration of the Chrism and the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper into a single celebration, making of the blessing of the Oils a burdensome appendix to the Mass in Cena Domini. (This statement is historically false. The Chrism Mass dropped out of use long before it became the general custom to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the morning.) It remained, however, the sole Eucharistic celebration of the community, in which all, priests included, received communion.
The major practical difficulty with this liturgical arrangement was that priests were unable to celebrate on the very day on which the Church also commemorated the institution of the priesthood. Three solutions were proposed: the possibility of concelebrating sacramentally, the possibility of celebrating individually (many had, for a variety of reasons, the privilege of doing so), and the possibility of a “ritual” concelebration, in which the priests, standing in choir and clothed in priestly vestments, would say all the parts of the Mass, minus the words of institution, and would then receive Eucharistic communion from the one presiding over the celebration.
How did the reform work through this?
The key issue was to restore the nature of the Mass in Cena Domini as the proper and central celebration of the day and of the community, removing the insertions of the blessing of the oils. This wasn’t difficult: all the elements could remain in their traditional form. It was enough to restore the afternoon schedule. And so it was done, allowing for the participation of the whole community.
As for the participation of the priests, sacramental concelebration did not seem feasible (the mentality, even among some influential members of the Commission, was not yet prepared), a purely “ritual” concelebration was ruled out, and even more so an individual celebration, which would have erased the communal value of the Mass in Cena Domini. Indeed, the respective dicasteries of the Holy See should have been asked not to grant further privileges in this regard. What was left was a celebration in which the presbyters would take part in choir, wearing stoles, and then receive communion like the whole assembly.
In the Mass, the Mandatum was restored as a complementary yet proper – though not obligatory (ubi ratio pastoralis id suadeat) – part of the liturgy. Originally an act of the liturgy of the day, it had gradually passed into monastic or chapter uses, but separate from the Mass of the day. It did appear as a liturgical act in the Missal of Pius V and in the Cerimoniale of bishops, but as a celebration in its own right, consisting of the reading of chapter 13 of John, the singing of a set of antiphons with the hymn Ubi caritas and a concluding prayer. Under the new Ordo the rite was integrated into the Mass, preceded by its explanation in the homily. Unfortunately, the prayers and the final oration, which were retained, continued to make it appear as a separate rite, breaking the unity of the celebration.
The Instructio recommends that the celebration of the Mandatum lead the community to make it an occasion for abundant works of Christian charity.
Another restored element was the Missa chrismatis for the blessing of the oils. The euchological component was retrieved from the ancient sacramentaries, and included the proper preface, extant as such in the sacramentaries, then merged with the prayer of consecration of the chrism when this was included in the Mass in Cena Domini. This was an important rite for the particular church, a sign of communion with the bishop on the part of the whole community and above all of the presbyters. And yet, strangely enough, neither in the Instructio of 1955, nor in the Ordinationes of 1957, nor in the Ordo itself, is there a single word of presentation that underlines its importance and details how it is carried out. There are but two specifications: the first concerns its celebration in the morning, after Terce, and the second, perhaps out of fear that this would prejudice participation in the evening Mass: “In hac Missa communionem distribuere non licet.” (In this Mass it is not permitted to distribute Communion.)
The traditional visit to the “Sepulchres”, with its somewhat superstitious overtones, could pose some difficulties for the celebration of Mass in Cena Domini in the evening hours. The “Sepulchre” was popularly referred to as the place where the Eucharist was reposed for communion on the following day. Like other rites, this reposition has undergone its own evolution: the Eucharist, initially conserved under the two species, was then kept only under the species of bread, at first for the whole community, and then only for communion by the priest presiding over the liturgical action on Friday. It was always conserved in a closed tabernacle. This is what inspired some allegorical authors of the Middle Ages to the idea of the deposition of the Lord in the tomb. This was welcomed by the people’s piety, and it still is, to some extent, at least in popular language. The term “Sepulchre” is used in the Memoriale rituum of Benedict XIII (sacellum Sepulcri) and was sanctioned by a decree of the Congregation of Rites in 1896 (no. 3939): the Altar of Reposition represents both the burial of the Lord and the institution of the Eucharist!
The new rite of Holy Thursday highlights the reposition of the Eucharist and its adoration, but restores the various elements to their proper meaning. The pastoral Instructio recommends two things in this regard:
“The faithful should be instructed in the love with which Christ our Lord, on the day before he suffered, instituted the most holy Eucharist, sacrifice and sacrament, perpetual remembrance of his passion, to be perpetually celebrated by priests.”
“The faithful are likewise invited to make a fitting adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament after the Mass in Cena Domini” (n. I 2b)… “at least until midnight, when, that is, the memory of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist is replaced by the memory of the Lord’s Passion and Death” (II 10).
5. Good Friday. The joyful solemnity of the day that recalled the institution of the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Lord’s sacrifice, left to us as a sign of his boundless love, is superseded, in the celebration of the paschal mystery, by the austere solemnity of Good Friday with its remembrance of the bridegroom being taken away. This is why the Church withdraws into the intimate silence of the severity of the Good Friday rites, recalling the suffering and hope of the glorious cross. This is the day that Ambrose calls “dies amaritudinis”, yet Tertullian had already called “Dies paschatis.”
The Good Friday liturgy is characterized, in the Roman rite, by the absence of any celebration of the Eucharist, the memorial of the sacrifice, as the liturgy is fond of recalling on that very day the selfsame sacrifice offered on the cross. And the rites are still those of the early centuries of the Church, centered on the adoration of the cross, the blessed cross, the origin of that salvation contained in the sacred mysteries.
Here is how the 1955 Instructio lists and proposes the ritual elements and the spiritual features of the celebration of this day: “The faithful are to be prepared to understand the unique function of this day, in which, after the sacred readings and prayers, the Passion of our Lord is solemnly read, prayers are offered for the needs of the whole Church and of the human race, and then the whole Christian family, clergy and people, devoutly adore the Holy Cross, the trophy of our redemption; finally, according to the rubrics of the new Ordo, and as has been the custom for many centuries, all those who wish and are properly disposed may receive Holy Communion, all the more so that, by devoutly receiving the body of the Lord, who died for all on this day, they may perceive the fruits of redemption more abundantly.” (I 2c)
The reform has been respectful of rituals from a holy tradition. The changes were few, though significant. (This is so manifest a falsehood that it is very difficult to see how Fr Braga could have said this in good faith. Not only is the ceremony of three of the four parts very considerably changed; none of the changes have any precedent in tradition.
On the other hand, the corpus of the “great orations” or “orationes sollemnes” has undergone some adjustments. Their proclamation has been returned to the logical execution of the different elements: first the introduction (still up to the celebrant), then a pause for silence after the deacon’s invitation to kneel (Flectamus genua), and finally the proclamation of the collect by the celebrant.
The formulary of prayer for the civil authorities has been revised, as had already been done in the revision of the Exsultet of Easter night . The new text begs for the help of God’s spirit for all who have governing responsibilities, that through them their homeland may enjoy freedom of religion and tranquility. In the Missal of Paul VI the text will undergo new refinements, in a broader vision, as inspired by Gaudium et spes.
However, there remained unchanged two expressions which, even then, created difficulties, not only of a psychological nature; namely, in the prayer for the conversion of the Jews. The problem had been raised during the work of the Commission, but it had not deemed necessary to change the traditional wording, while recognizing the psychological difficulties. A proper catechesis should have been sufficient to explain the exact meaning of the expression. A more exact formula, in a new ecumenical vision, was to be drafted by the Missal of Paul VI. Unchanged was also the text of the prayer Pro unitate Ecclesiae. The sensibility in the field of ecumenism ushered in by Vatican II was still missing.
A note: the renewed scheme of the Good Friday Ordo highlights the prayer of the faithful and gives hope for its restoration, regardless of the concrete forms, which were yet to be studied. However, it does not underline that is belongs to the liturgy of the word, as an echo and conclusion to it. Indeed, it is designated as a second part of the celebration, apart and separate from the liturgy of the word. This separation is made even more evident by the change of vestments: the celebrant wears the cope, whereas during the Liturgy of the Word he only wore the stole. This is just one of the few minor inaccuracies.

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