Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Post-Vatican II Reform of the Proper of Saints in the Missale Romanum – As Told by Fr Carlo Braga, C.M. (Part 1)

Various essays examining the post-Vatican II reform of the Missale Romanum, written by members of the «Consilium ad exsequendam» or those closely associated with it, were published in the 1970 volume of the journal Ephemerides Liturgicae. In general, this material contemporary to the reforms (as well as other similar essays elsewhere) does not seem to be very well-known in English-speaking circles, which is a bit of a shame, as there is nothing quite like getting things 'direct from the horse's mouth', so to speak! 

Therefore, I present here a translation of one of these essays, written by Fr Carlo Braga, C.M., a close collaborator of his Vincentian confrere Annibale Bugnini, in which he examines the reform of the Proper of Saints, giving the basic principles behind the reform as well as examples of replacements and changes to the corpus of orations in the traditional Roman Rite. As the essay is quite long, it will be posted in five parts here on New Liturgical Movement over the next few days.

The original article in Italian can be found in: Carlo Braga, "Il «Proprium de Sanctis»", Ephemerides Liturgicae 84.6 (1970), pp. 401-431. The English translation is mine, with the exception of most of the orations, for which I have either used or adapted the 2011 ICEL translation of the post-Vatican II Missal. Some contextual additions have been made: these are designated by [italics in square brackets].

In this first part, Braga explains the general principles underlying the reform of the Proper of Saints, which he says was "concerned with creating something organic and effective, capable of speaking in a relevant way to modern man" (p. 401). By the final part of this essay, readers should be able to judge for themselves whether this goal was achieved, or, indeed, was at all necessary.


The Proper of Saints

Carlo Braga, C.M.

[Abstract:] An enumeration is given of the general principles on which the reform of this part of the Roman Missal is based; examples are cited for the individual sections into which the reform itself can be divided. Consequently, the following will be discussed: the particular characteristics of the Saint or mystery of the day, which are distinctly expressed in the collects; the place of the Sacred Scriptures or works of the Fathers and Saints, which inspired certain formulas; a review of some of the prayers; a more appropriate assignment of some texts that would otherwise have been lost. The whole article strives to provide and explain the general vision of the finished product.

p. 401] Among the various parts of the Missal, the Proper of Saints certainly constitutes one of the most interesting chapters: for the history of its formation, for the content of its doctrinal and catechetical elements, and for the influence that various forms of spirituality and hagiography have had on it. Its formation, even more than that of other parts, has been staggered over time, from the 7th to 20th centuries, and hence is affected by the diversity of eras and systems of construction of its texts, along with the diversity of sources and occasions that these various forms originated in. And this euchological whole, even though it is so important on a pastoral level for the education of the faithful, has never been reorganised in a systematic way. Indeed, very often faced with the necessity of creating new formularies, we have limited ourselves to drawing inspiration from other pre-existing ones, or using those parts that sound good, or recovering those elements that could be applied to other occasions without difficulty.

The current work of reform has been simultaneously broad and profound, inspired by the duty of respect for existing values and concerned with creating something organic and effective, capable of speaking in a relevant way to modern man.

In this discussion of ours, necessarily limited to an overall vision and explanation of the issue [p. 402] and which therefore does not propose to examine all the details,[1] it seemed useful to us to recall, first of all, the main criteria that inspired and directed this work; meanwhile, in other sections, we will pause to examine certain issues more specifically.

General Principles

1. As in the Proper of Time, the principle according to which every Mass must have at least its own proper collect, as an element that characterised the celebration of the day, has also been applied in the Proper of Saints. Depending on the rank of the feast or the importance of the figure of the Saint, the super oblata and postcommunion have also been added.
    The different nature of the three texts has inspired the composition of each. This does not detract from the fact that the Common of Saints has also been profoundly revised and considerably enlarged. The use of the Commons is always permissible, in celebrations generally and also for those elements that do not occur in the Proper of Saints, as well as for particular celebrations, which often refer back to the texts of this section of the Missal.

2. We must now underline what is meant by the particular “physiognomy” of each of the three orations of the Mass. There is no need for a full treatment of this subject; a few hints are enough.
    Among the three orations, the one that truly characterises the celebration is the collect: in fact, it presents the meaning and the subject of the feast, and highlights, more than the other prayers, the proper features of the mystery or the Saint. As it is also taken up in the Divine Office, it punctuates the whole liturgy of the day with these notes. In general, that which characterises the feast is found in the first part of the collect, i.e., the invocation with which one turns to God, glorifying him for what he has done in the Saint. Then the actual petition follows, which involves the mention of the Saint, whose intercession is interposed or whose merits, example or doctrine are recalled. Finally, the subject of the petition is expressed, [p. 403] which, as a rule, is in harmony with and almost a derivation of the introductory invocation.
    On the contrary, the super oblata and postcommunion prayers are rather two ‘functional’ orations, the first acting as a conclusion of the rites of the preparation of the offerings, and the second as the conclusion of the communion rites, with elements of thanksgiving and of petition for the fruits proper to participation in the Eucharist.
    It follows that the role of the Saint in these two orations is not as direct as in the first. He is remembered, but indirectly, by a recollection of the nature of the celebration: on the memorial, celebrating the anniversary, etc. In these cases, the Saint, rather than being presented as an intercessor with God for the acceptance of the offerings or participation in the fruits of the Eucharist, is the first of those who offer, the first of those who have enjoyed the fruits of this sacrifice. [2]
    Some examples that we will see later will serve to better clarify this particular aspect of the issue.

3. The starting point of the work was a careful reading of the entire existing repertory, in order to identify the part that is still effective and separate it from the elements to be abandoned. This examination has extended to both ancient and more modern collections, those proper to various dioceses or religious families, and those of the various ecclesial traditions. For, in fact, it is known that alongside many excellent texts of the ancient Roman tradition, above all perfect in their style, conceptually dense and terminologically precise, there are often equally appreciable texts, especially with regard to the characterisation of the Saint, which occur in the subsequent tradition up to the present day.
    This work of reading and selection involved:
    a) The identification and, accordingly, the conservation of those texts which, in spite of their generic nature, still offer good elements [p. 404] on a liturgical and euchological level, and thus merit to be saved when, following the suppression of some feasts from the general calendar, they would otherwise be destined to disappear. The re-utilisation of these texts was carried out primarily as a replacement for other texts, already contained in the Commons, and as a result became too generic.
    b) A simplification of terminology and expressions that were too abundant, especially in the field of appellations. [3] The accumulation of terms such as “bishop and martyr”, “confessor and doctor”, etc., was certainly not uncommon in the previous Missal. The new Missal attempts to reduce this to the essential, and in general retains the appellation that characterises the Saint only in the collect, while in the other two prayers the Saint’s name is not accompanied by any appellation. Exceptions to this rule are quite rare.
    The same process of simplification also seemed to impose itself, within the framework of an organic revision, with regard to the use of certain expressions of praise and certain superlatives. Putting generalities to one side, if, in composing an oration for a Saint, one can easily be led to speak of praeclaris vitae meritis, or eximiis virtutibus, or of gifts given superexcellenter, then this way of speaking is extended until it becomes commonly used, and even if this content is toned down, it reaches the point when one doubts the actual reality of what is expressed.
    c) A simplification with regard to a certain redundancy of [p. 405] style, characteristic of some eras of Latin euchology, but for which today there is no correspondence in the expressions of modern languages. It was a question of limiting the use of some adjectives, being satisfied with saying only once what was said at first in a negative form and then repeated in a positive form, etc. Finishing touches, if you like, but ones that do not fail to reflect a certain importance in the whole economy.

4. All these things have not led to a renunciation of the peculiarities of the Roman euchological style, which is characteristic for its sobriety and skilful in its use of allusions to biblical or other texts (e.g., the writings of the Fathers) rather than resorting to actual quotations or explanations. The corrections made here, instead of obscuring these characteristics, have highlighted them. And it was necessary to make these corrections precisely to restore an element so often neglected in more or less recent times. It is enough to cite two texts as examples, generally recognised as less consonant with this criterion: the collect of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, with its long enumeration of historical elements, and the collect of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, with its initial quote Domine Iesu Christe, qui dixisti: Nisi efficiamini…
    It is important that, in the Proper of Saints, care was taken to maintain the closest possible fidelity to this sign of Roman style, this incisive sobriety, whereas there is less concern in this regard for other sections of the Missal, such as the ad diversa Masses. In fact, the close bond that, in the liturgical cycle, connects the Proper of Time and Proper of Saints should not be forgotten, while the section of Masses and prayers ad diversa constitutes a separate part, meaning that a certain uniformity of style can more easily be left to one side.

5. Finally, each text was judged on the basis of its universality and correspondence to the mentality of modern man.
    It is notable how many prayers were inspired by local elements, events proper to and characteristic of a particular Church, or religious family, or region, etc.; or else from an expression of the marvellous and miraculous, destined to arouse admiration, and characteristic of a certain type of hagiography of the past. The strictly local elements are fine, and they can, for particular Mass propers, be usefully kept. Retaining the extraordinary elements is, of course, worth considering when they have their own well-founded certainty, but more for edification than [p. 406] imitation, which instead is the main purpose of the celebration of the Saint. Moreover, the mentality of modern man is more inclined to seek, in the figure of the Saint, words of guidance or of inspiration, rather than a pure admiration of abstract and remote ideals. Thus, many of these elements have disappeared, and this also involved a necessary reconstruction of the text, to preserve the appropriate connections between the various parts of the oration.

6. It should also be noted, on the level of form, the constant corrections that restore the invocations to directing the prayers to the Father through the Son. In many modern compositions, the invocation was addressed to the Son, either because of the scriptural text from which the oration was inspired, or to underline the adherence of the Saint to the life of Christ, or, more often, because of the prevalence of certain expressions of a more recent form of piety. With very few exceptions, the texts of the new Missal respect the most authentic general norm of the Roman style, that of addressing the petition to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit.
    These seem, to us, to be the most important and most influential principles that inspired and directed the revision of this part of the Missal. We have stated them in general and theoretical form; now, we think it will be interesting to follow a series of examples, which will better clarify the scope of the reforms, placing us in direct contact with the texts.


[1] Nor do we intend in the course of this presentation to give an exhaustive documentation of the sources of the texts cited. We will limit ourselves to the essential indications, such as some biblical quotations and some references to ancient texts. For the traditional texts of the Roman Missal we will not provide any indication of sources: anyone, using the work of P. Bruylants, Les oraisons du Missel Romain, will be able to find them very easily.

[2] The principle followed in this specific field for the revision of the Roman Missal was specified by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in the Instruction De Calendariis particularibus atque Officiorum et Missarum Propriis recognoscendis, 24th June 1970, n. 40: Ex orationibus, solummodo collecta rationem directam habet cum Sancto qui celebratur: expedit ipsam in lucem proferre indolem propriam ipsus Sancti, aspectum ipsius vitae spiritualis vel actuositatis apostolicae, vitatis tamen locutionibus quae semper eadem inculcant, ex. gr. miracula aut familiae religiosae institutionem. Contra, orationes super oblata et post communionem, directo ad mysterium eucharisticum referuntur: si in his mentio de Sancto inicitur, hoc fiat forma indirecta tantum. [See Notitiae 58 (1970), pp. 348-370]

[3] The revision of pre-existing titles and the assignment of new ones was done on the basis of these principles, also enshrined in the same Instruction referred to in the previous note, at n. 27:

Demptis titulis qui sequuntur: «Confessor Pontifex», «Confessor non Pontifex», «Nec Virgo nec Martyr», «Vidua», nominibus Sanctorum hi tituli apponantur, ut in Calendario generali.
a) Tituli usu recepti: Apostolus (Evangelista), Martyr, Virgo.
b) Tituli gradum in hierarchia sacra habitum indicantes: Episcopus (Papa), Presbyter, Diaconus.
c) Tituli qui Sanctum indicant familiae religiosae ascriptum fuisse: Abbas (Monachus), Religiosus, Religiosa.
Titulus Abbas tribuitur omnibus Sanctis qui ad Ordinem religiosum pertinuerunt, abbatiale munus habentum etiamsi presbyteri fuerunt, ex. gr. S. Bernardus; titulus Religiosus religiosis non presbyteris assignatur; titulus Religiosa datur ei quae ante ingressum in religionem vitam matrimonialem duxerat; ceterae religiosae titulo traditionali Virginis nominantur.
Etsi in Calendario generali nomina Sanctorum laicorum qui non sunt martyres aut virgines nullus peculiaris titulus sequitur, nihil tamen impedit quin in Calendariis particularibus appellationes serventur, quae conditionem eius vitae quodammodo in mentem revocant (ex. gr. rex, paterfamilias, materfamilias, etc.).

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