Thursday, March 23, 2023

Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII: Part 10 - Conclusion

My very first project for NLM, even before I became a staff writer, was a series of articles that described the changes made to the ceremonies of Holy Week under Pope Pius XII in 1955. It is almost hard for me to believe that they were published 14 years ago, in the spring of 2009. The poet Horace said that if you want to know whether something you have written is good or not, you should put it in a box and not look at it or think about it for nine years. If at the end of that period, you can read it without immediately dying of embarrassment, then it’s good. By that standard, I dare say that the articles have stood the test of time, although they are not, of course, flawless. I know a lot more about the subject now than I did then, and if I were writing them now, I would probably do some things differently; there are also a few minor errors. As a writing project, they began as something quite different, and in the form in which they were published on NLM, they benefited very greatly from some wise editorial decisions made by Shawn Tribe. Since I have never thanked him for this publicly before, I do so now.

The last article ends with a note that says, “The series will conclude in the next and final installment.” Over the years I have received quite a number of inquiries about it, and I would like to thank all of the inquirers for flattering my authorial vanity. I have replied to them all that the planned final article never jelled into anything in my head, and was therefore never published. Now that I have had fourteen more years to discuss the matter with many different people in many different forums, and to research and think about it in greater detail, I think it is finally a good time to say the last word in the series. In 2017, I published a more detailed series on just the Good Friday ceremony, and in 2020 (what with all the unexpected free time on my hands), I did a very detailed series on the rites of Palm Sunday. All the links to these three series will be given below.

Pope St John XXIII venerating the Cross on Good Friday according to the traditional form.
The Long-Overdue Conclusion
The Holy Week reforms of Pope Pius XII can be divided into three categories.
The first and largest category consists of absolute novelties, things that have no precedent in the tradition of the Roman rite, and for which no honest person claims any precedent. Among these would be: the blessing of the palms versus populum on a table, by clergy wearing red vestments; the elimination of all ceremony from the Palm Sunday procession; the mutilation of the synoptic Passions; the comically frequent vestment changes during the Good Friday ceremony; the removal of the rite of the Presanctified; the use of the “small bracket” for the Paschal candle during the Easter vigil; the removal of Vespers from the end of the vigil; the suppression of the baptismal rites from the vigil of Pentecost; etc.
There is simply no good reason why those who love the traditional Roman Rite should feel any particular attachment to these novelties. In their specific 1955 iteration, they were only in general use for 14 years, and many of them were not regarded as worth retaining by even their own inventors as they went on to create the Novus Ordo. Those that have been retained (such as versus populum or the Communion rite of Good Friday) are no less unmoored from the tradition, and no less theologically and pastorally problematic, for being so.
Strangely enough, the best example of the problem is the least theologically problematic, the Tenebrae services. Churches that use the liturgical books of 1962 are bound ad litteram legis to say them on the mornings of the Triduum without any of the traditional ceremonies. Meanwhile, many churches that would not touch the Missal or Breviary of St Pius V with a barge pole celebrate some form of Tenebrae service with many or all of the traditional ceremonies, in the evenings, (while, incidentally, completely ignoring the Liturgy of the Hours.)
Darkness streams through the windows of St Mary’s Shrine, home of the FSSP apostolate in Warrington, England, during a Tenebrae service in 2016.
The second, much smaller category is that of the partial restorations, changes which have some basis in the Roman tradition, but which are incorporated into the 1955 Holy Week reform in wholly novel ways. My favorite example of this is the very beautiful prayer “Deus, qui peccati veteris”, which is added to the beginning of the Good Friday ceremony. This prayer is very ancient, and was still used at the Mass of the Presanctified in some places even as late as the mid-16th century. But in 1955, it is said in a manner completely different from the way prayers are said at Mass, because the whole point of the “Solemn Post-Meridian Liturgical Action” is to divorce the Sacrifice of the Cross from the Sacrifice of the Mass as far as possible.
Another example would be the four prophecies at the Easter vigil, a custom which is attested as far back as the 9th century, and which is found in the Dominican Use. But of course, all Uses that had four prophecies at the Easter vigil also had four at that of Pentecost; the total disappearance of readings like the Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) or Ezekiel’s vision of the bones (chapter 37) from the Roman Missal is an impoverishment without precedent.
Ironically, the best known of these partial restorations is the most partial, the timing of the Triduum ceremonies. It is an authentic and ancient custom to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the evening, and one to which no reasonable person should object. But the celebration of the Easter vigil during the night, the supposed greatest triumph and restoration of 1955, and the earliest (permitted ad experimentum in 1951), is completely inauthentic, and, like most of the innovations of 1955, based on an historical falsehood.
In this regard, many places have embraced to some degree the practicality that prevails in the Byzantine churches, which do these ceremonies at times which are convenient for the faithful. (I have attended the Divine Liturgies of both Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday in both the morning and evening.) It would be much wiser for the Roman Church to do the same on a general level, and there is simply no good reason why those who love the traditional rite should insist on practices which are often pastorally inconvenient, and historically inauthentic.
A lectionary of the early 9th century, with the end of the 4th prophecy of the Easter vigil (Exodus 14, 24 -15, 1), the text of the Tract that follows, and the first part of the 5th prophecy, Isaiah 54, 14 - 55, 11. The latter was suppressed in 1955, but restored in 1969. (St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 365: Lectionarium plenarium:
But for the future, there is likewise no good reason why anyone should object to an intelligent investigation of the historical sources of the Roman Rite, of which the Missal of St Pius V is one, but not the only one. And there is no good reason to object to a future authentic restoration of some of what was done inauthentically in 1955. Many scholars believe that the huge collections of prayers for the blessing of palms found in some medieval sources were originally intended to offer the celebrant a choice: so why not restore the better ones to use ad libitum? The Palm Sunday procession could certainly be made more elaborate, as it was in the Middle Ages, rather than less elaborate, as it was in 1955. Prayers like “Deus, qui peccati veteris” could legitimately be restored to use, provided that this be done in an historically authentic manner. The Byzantine church which I attended for many years normally read only 7 or 8 of the 15 readings assigned to the Easter vigil; in theory (although I confess to some misgivings on this point), something similar could be done in the Roman Rite, again ad libitum. In short, there are riches to be rediscovered in the broader tradition of the whole of the Roman Rite, and there is no good reason to object to their legitimate recovery.
The third category consists of authentic restorations of this very kind, the return to traditional customs which through whatever accidents of history, fell out of use, and were brought back by the reform of 1955.
This category is empty.

The Original Series
Part 1 - The Palm Sunday Blessing and Procession of Palms
Part 2 - The Masses of Palm Sunday, Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday
Part 3 - The Mass of Holy Thursday and the Mandatum
Part 4.1 - The Mass of Presanctified on Good Friday, Mass of the Catechumens and the Solemn Prayers
Part 4.2 - Good Friday, The Adoration of the Cross and the Rite of the Presanctified
Part 5 - Tenebrae and the Divine Office of the Triduum
Part 6.1 - Holy Saturday and the Blessing of the New Fire, the Procession into the Church, the Exsultet and the Prophecies
Part 6.2 - Holy Saturday and the Blessing of the Font, Litany of the Saints, Mass and Vespers
Part 7 - The Vigil of Pentecost and the Readings from Sacred Scripture in Holy Week
Part 8 - The Hours of the Celebration of the Holy Week Liturgies
The Theology of Good Friday Series (2017)

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