Saturday, February 16, 2013

The 1955 Holy Week: a can of worms

Today I am publishing on Rorate Caeli another FIUV Position Paper. These papers have been very successful in drawing attention to the issues in the 1962 Missa, in the context of a brief but careful consideration drawing on the Magisterium and scholarship.

We have had a bit of a break in the series; the first thirteen are now available from Lulu as a short book.Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

You can also download them as pdfs from the FIUV website.

So today I return to the fray, as the person editing and publishing these things on behalf of the Una Voce Federation, with a real can of worms: the 1955 Reform of Holy Week. Go over the Rorate Caeli to read it. It is in fact only Part I of what will be two parts; Part II is about individual services, this one is about general issues.

It is rare to meet a Catholic attached to the Extraordinary Form who has a good word to say about the 1955 Reform. They swept away a number of much-loved aspects of Holy Week: the banging of the church door with the foot of the processional cross on Palm Sunday, the evening celebration of Tenebrae, where the candles were extinguished one by one in the deepening gloom, popular devotions such as the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday afternoon, the Seven Altars and the Easter Sepulchre. They completely changed the rite of blessing the Paschal candle, on the basis of an over-enthusiastic attempt to capture some supposed ritual of the 8th century, which they failed, in fact, to do.

For myself I recall the rather shattering effect of reading the account of Holy Week in Guéranger's great work, 'The Liturgical Year', during Holy Week a number of years ago. This is a massive, edifying, and very informative commentary on the liturgy of the whole year, and it is one of the joys of the Traditional Mass that something written by a French monk in the 19th century is still applicable to what one is experiencing, liturgically, today. But this isn't true of Holy Week: large parts of it are scarcely recognisable, and Guéranger's commentary is highly confusing, if not useless. There is a discontinuity of the the liturgical tradition.

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Tenebrae in St Mary Moorfields last year, organised by the Latin Mass Society
The most popular argument in favour of the reform, apart from practicality (the reformed services are shorter, despite adding some peculiar, extraneous, bits and pieces), is that it is just illogical to have the Easter Vigil on Saturday morning, which is what used to happen. To which one might answer: what has logic got to do with it? What sort of reductionist, functionalist, attitude says that the way of celebrating the vigil adopted by the Church for perhaps eight centuries must be stopped because the service is called a 'vigil', and was in the distant past celebrated at night? The liturgy is not governed by a literal-minded analogy with the events it celebrates, or an assumption that everything which developed in the Middle Ages is necessarily bad. Once we escape from those two ideas, which once made explicit must be seen as absurd, it becomes very much an open question.

3 comments:

  1. 'The liturgy is not governed by a literal-minded analogy with the events it celebrates, or an assumption that everything which developed in the Middle Ages is necessarily bad. Once we escape from those two ideas, which once made explicit must be seen as absurd, it becomes very much an open question.'

    Those two sentences contain a wealth of wisdom and should be set in stone. I think we also need to bear in mind the 'Middle Ages' lasted for something like half of the Church's history. As to the literal-minded interpretations why are are the not applied to Qui pridie and Mass only celebrated on Thursdays?

    The major problem with this debate, in my view, is that liturgical considerations are secondary to arguments and psychological drivers that want to put all the blame for the Church's woes on the Second Vatican Council. As a result of that process anything before the SVC must be considered 'OK' - hence the absurd first comment on the paper at Rorate Caeli.

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  2. And yet the desire to undo the reforms set out under the Venerable Pius XII does need careful scrutiny.

    Having the Christmas Vigil (Midnight Mass) at three o'clock in the afternoon, or transferring a weekday Holy Day's memorial to the nearest Sunday, or allowing Sunday Mass obligation to be fulfilled early on a Saturday evening - while very useful indulgences - cannot strike anyone as always entirely fitting.

    There is nothing wrong in seeking, having or using such indulgences .. no moreso than it was wrong to hear Matins and Laudes recited together of a darkening afternoon. But the desire to make things easier for one group of souls to appreciate a gift can make it difficult for others to comprehend the gift. What must be remembered in all this is the basic principle of indulgence; the lightening of a necessary obligation so that it would not be unbearable (or distasteful) .. that was desire to set Tenebrae in the late afternoon, also the Pian prompt to replace it, and the driving force in celebrating Christmas the day before Christmas etc.

    Sadly, indulging in indulgences (even of the holy variety) can all too often undo any good that may have prompted their introduction.

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  3. 'And yet the desire to undo the reforms set out under the Venerable Pius XII does need careful scrutiny.'

    As surely then must those set out by the Venerable Paul VI.

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