Saturday, June 04, 2022

Fr Carlo Braga on the 1955 Holy Week Reform (Part 4)

This is the last of the four parts of an 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. The first three were published earlier this week: part one, part two, part three. In order to keep each section to a roughly equal and manageable length, it was necessary to break his discussion of Good Friday off in the middle: here he resumes with the adoration of the Cross.

In keeping with the general tenor of his discourse, this part is also filled with important-sounding vaguery, some historical excurses, and a good deal of verbiage about fairly trivial matters such as the definition of the “Triduum” (Thursday to Saturday, or Friday to Sunday?), while almost entirely avoiding any substantive discussion of the changes themselves. I hope to write a more extensive commentary on this whole speech in the coming week.
However, on one point he is absolutely clear: Fr Braga, who was a close collaborator of Fr Bugnini, has no doubt whatsoever that the 1955 reform was the beginning of the process that would culminate in the creation of the post-Conciliar rite. “Its principles, even within their limits, continue to be valid, and we find them, completed and updated, at the basis of the current liturgical books renewed by the post-conciliar reform...” And in this regard, he was, for once, entirely honest.
The second part of the celebration (third according to the Ordo) concerns the adoration of the cross. This is the heart of the celebration on this day. The rite originated in Jerusalem, where it was possible to venerate the true relics of the cross, and was imitated by other churches possessing some of the same relics. We find this rite in Rome already in the fifth century, under influence of the Eastern liturgies. It gradually spread to other churches and, where there were no authentic relics, a simple wooden cross was used instead.
A reliquary of the True Cross presented to the Pope by the Byzantine Emperor Justin II at the end of the 6th century, traditionally used for the Good Friday ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Gfawkes05, CC BY-SA 4.0)
In Jerusalem, the adoration was held on Golgotha. Egeria recalls that the community gathered in the early morning. Before the bishop, sitting on the cathedra, was placed a table covered in a white cloth where the silver reliquary with the relics of the cross and the titulus was brought. Everyone would then walk past to venerate them. The bishop and deacons would make sure that no one touched them, lest someone remove some fragment. The whole rite took place in silence, with no singing and no readings: another celebration followed at a later hour.
In Rome, perhaps as early as the 7th century, the adoration of the relics of the cross took place in the church of the Holy Cross ‘in Jerusalem’, where the pope, together with the clergy, solemnly carried the holy relics in procession from the Lateran, walking barefoot and carrying a thurible. Initially it was a very simple rite of veneration, with no accompanying liturgical celebration. This gradually took shape until, in the tenth century, all the elements that remain to this day can be found. The Ordo instauratus introduced no innovations in the rite and chants found in Pius V’s Missal. A curiosity: the rubric that describes the sequence of the procession of the faithful approaching the cross indicates “primum viri deinde mulieres.” (First men, then women.)
In large congregations, individual adoration of the cross would have caused difficulties in terms of the long time it would require. The solution was found in the use of several crosses, spread out in different spots of the church. The clash between this utilitarian solution and the meaning of the rite is evident. The 1957 Ordinationes provided a solution (the worst possible one) in collective adoration. “The celebrant, after the adoration of the clergy, if any, and of the ministrants, shall receive the holy cross from the hands of the ministrants and, from the altar predella, having invited the people with brief words to adore the holy cross, shall present it, raised up, for a brief and silent adoration by the faithful.” (IV 17)
The real innovation of the Good Friday reform was the introduction of the Eucharistic communion of all participants as the final part of the celebration. In the more ancient tradition, Good Friday was devoted to the memory of the bloody sacrifice made by the Lord on the cross on that day. Thus the community abstained from the celebration of the Eucharist as well as from communion of the presanctified, so much so that Innocent I could write to Decentius of Gubbio: “Traditio Ecclesiae habet biduo isto sacramenta penitus non celebrari.” (“The tradition of the Church has it that on these two days, the sacraments are not celebrated at all.” PL 20, 555). For Rome, the first document to provide for the communion of the faithful dates back to the seventh century. In the papal liturgy, however, no one, not even the pope, communicated; the faithful could do so, but only in other churches of the city, the so-called tituli. (cfr. Gelasian Sacramentary) By contrast, in the 9th-10th century, communion on Good Friday was a precept. It would be the 12th century crisis in Eucharistic piety to make communion optional until, at the end of that century, the Ordo suburbicarius would establish that “communicat solus pontifex sine ministris”. And this norm was to flow into subsequent liturgical books until the Missal of Pius V. However, despite explicit prohibitions by the Holy See, the practice of communion of the faithful was preserved in the tradition of some monasteries and dioceses.
The Commission for the reform discussed at length the convenience of restoring communion of the faithful on Good Friday. While in favour, they presented the question to the pope, and Pius XII answered that there did not seem to him to be any insurmountable difficulties. This was not merely an act of devotion, but a way of emphasizing the proclamation of the Lord’s death, not only through the faith expressed in the adoration of the cross, but also through participation in the sacrament of the Lord’s death (cfr. 1 Cor 11, 26).
Now that the fundamental questions had been settled, what remained to be structured was the rite to be used. It was not possible to maintain the existing rite, nor was it possible to merely incorporate the rite of communion outside of Mass. The contribution of different traditions had made this rite a sort of Mass, the so-called “Mass of the Presanctified”, which included the offertory elements of the Eucharistic celebration, i.e. the preparation of the chalice, the incensing of the “oblates”, the lavabo, the Orate, fratres. Then the Pater and its embolism; the fractioning of the bread was preceded by an elevation of the host; the immixtio was performed without any formula, “nisi forte (sacerdos) aliquid secrete dicere voluerit”, one pontifical specifies, while another clarifies its significance: “Sanctificatur autem vinum non consecratum per sanctificatum panem”. This was followed by the priest’s communion and the ablutions of the chalice; then the assembly dissolved in silence, with no concluding formula.
The Ordo instauratus stuck to the truth of signs. First of all, it eliminated the offertory elements; there is no use of the chalice; it begins immediately with the Pater and its embolism, followed by the rite of communion with the confession and absolution as in a regular Mass. To conclude, three prayers are taken from the Gelasian and Verona (i.e. Leonine, so-called) Sacramentaries, but without any indication of their genre. Thus, the one that is an oratio super populum, which should be the last, comes first; the other two are clearly additional texts of prayer after communion.
The linearity and severity of the primitive tradition of the Good Friday rites are preserved. (This is blatantly false on many different levels, the most notable being the comical element introduced into the rite by requiring the clergy to change their clothes three times, and element which was happily abolished from the Novus Ordo.) Added is the sacramental act of communion, a sign of full participation in the mystery of the body and blood of the Lord immolated for us.
6. Easter vigil – I won’t dwell on this chapter. The reform of the Easter Vigil belongs to a different moment of the reform of Holy Week: it inaugurated it; it was the ram’s head that pierced into the fortress of our by then static liturgy; with the gradual running-in it carried out since 1951 it eased the advancement of the liturgical reform of the whole week. By the time the reform of the Easter triduum came into force, it had already been celebrated for the sixth time. However, it had not been substantially modified. Some Ordinationes, added in 1952, had merely specified some juridical issues, i.e. Eucharistic fast, the time of the celebration, the connection with other forms of popular piety. It was in this form that it entered the Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae instauratus, which, in the Instructio, reserves for it a fairly large space of pastoral and spiritual context. After explaining the meaning and value of the liturgical silence of Holy Saturday, it refers to the various moments and elements of the celebration to remind how “the purpose of the vigil is to demonstrate and liturgically recall how our life of grace has flowed from the Lord’s death”. With the Triduum reform, the vigil no longer remained isolated, even in the unique importance of its nature, but was organically linked to the rites that precede it, and which it crowns.
The problem remained, and was left unclear – even in the Ordo of Holy Week – of the extent of the Easter triduum. Traditionally, in the liturgical books prior to the reform, it embraced the day of Thursday, with the sacramental anticipation of the mystery of the cross; Friday, with the memory of the Lord’s passion and death; and the morning of Holy Saturday, with the glory of the resurrection. On the other hand, the decree Maxima redemptionis nostrae mysteria refers to the “triduum of Christ, dead, buried and resurrected” (St Augustine), thus suggesting Friday (death), Saturday (burial) and Sunday (resurrection). But it does not seem that the Ordo of Holy Week had fully grasped this dimension. In fact, it retained the Easter celebration within the three traditional days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and while restoring to Saturday the content of the expectation of the Resurrection, it continued to consider the Easter Vigil a part of Saturday, as if its conclusion. The same had been done by the Ordo of the Easter Vigil, whose title was Ordo sabbati sancti, quando vigilia paschalis instaurata peragitur, and not just Ordo vigiliae paschalis instauratae. The Sunday of the Resurrection was indeed part of the tempus paschatis, but did not belong to the triduum, which ended with the celebration of the vigil. A first correction was introduced by the 1962 Missal, which, while maintaining the Easter Vigil in the context of Holy Saturday, included, before the Mass, the indication “Tempus Paschatis”. Yet in this way the Easter Vigil was split into two parts belonging to different liturgical seasons. The definitive clarification would come with Paul VI’s reform of the calendar: Maundy Thursday belongs to Lent; “the Easter triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, has its fulcrum in the Easter Vigil, and ends with Vespers on the Sunday of the Resurrection” (n. 19). Small but significant corrections that arise from experience.
A concluding general overview
It has been written that the reform of Holy Week was “the most important act in the history of liturgy, from St Pius V to the present day.” We did appreciate this, as we revisited the various parts of the Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae instauratus. We have highlighted the restored or new elements introduced by the reform, illustrating them with numerous references to their history and their topicality. This document is now fifty years old. It is no longer new; on the contrary, it has been revised, corrected and improved. We read it today with a different gaze and heart from those who read it fifty years ago. Let us not stop at the minor flaws: “let us make remembrance of it”, as I noted at the beginning. Its principles, even within their limits, continue to be valid, and we find them, completed and updated, at the basis of the current liturgical books renewed by the post-conciliar reform, and they still influence our pastoral action and our spirituality in living the mystery of Easter. For this, we must give thanks to God who inspired them to the Church half a century ago; for they created a soil in which true liturgical pastoral care and Christian life have grown and borne fruit; and for they have strengthened the foundations of the liturgical renewal we are experiencing today. This is why today we rejoice in reaping their fruits, while acknowledging that the path they marked out was not yet complete.
In conclusion, I would like to return to the fundamental aspect, both in principle and in implementation, of the reform of Holy Week made fifty years ago: its pastoral and spiritual nature. The decree of promulgation states: “The rites of Holy Week not only have a special dignity (because they celebrate the maxima redemptionis nostrae mysteria), but they also possess a singular sacramental power and efficacy to nourish Christian life.”
I can hear in these words of the Decree an echo of the teaching of Pius XII in Mediator Dei and of Pius X in his Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini. Pius XII insisted on a shift from a view of the liturgy as an external rite, a ceremony, an observance of rubrical laws, to an understanding of it as a “memorial”, the action of Christ and of the Church, capable of making present and communicating salvation. And Pius X had taught that conscious and full participation in the liturgy is “the first and indispensable source from which Christians can draw a truly Christian spirit.” We may add: above all in the celebration of the greatest mysteries of the Redemption.
All this urges that liturgical pastoral care see and bring live the liturgical year in its fullness, as well as in the hierarchy of its times and values. The celebration of Easter, by its very nature, is the center of the liturgical year; it has its radiation and projection in Sunday, the Easter of the week, throughout the year. On Sundays, the Church relives the paschal sacraments, especially the memorial of the Lord, and projects them into the life of the Christian.
Liturgical pastoral care must have as its specific aim to incorporate into the life and doctrine of the Christian the fulfilment of the paschal mystery, made lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
Let us not forget how the reform of Holy Week wanted to initiate the Christian community into a conscious, devout, active and full participation in the liturgical celebration. It simplified the rites, it wanted the assembly to be at the center of the sacred action by seeing, listening, responding, singing. They were the beginning of a journey dreamed of by the liturgical movement and that the liturgical reform was then beginning to achieve.
Above all, let us not forget that these beginnings are to be placed among the first stones of a road which, starting from the rediscovery of the Maxima redemptionis nostrae mysteria, led us to the liturgy as “culmen et fons” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10) of the Church’s life and pastoral action.

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