A reader asked me about the Rites of Holy Week prior to the 1955 revision by Pius XII. Let me refer anyone interested to a fascinating (fascinating to those of us who love the arcane) series of articles by Gregory DiPippo on the Blog New Liturgical Movement. As I have pointed out in previous postings New Liturgical Movement has definitely gone down the rabbit hole into ecclesiastical surrealism, but the historical research can actually be quite good. Mr. DiPippo’s series of articles begins with the Palm Sunday offices http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2009/03/compendium-of-1955-holy-week-revisions_28.html and will lead you to the subsequent articles as he gives an extraordinarily detailed description of both the pre-1955 rite and the revisions of Pius XII.
Let me first explain the importance of the 1955 revisions in preparing the way for the extensive liturgical changes that have followed the Second Vatican Council. The earlier rites were taken from the 1570 Missal of Pius V which was accompanied by a Papal Bull known as Quo Primum. Quo Primum declared that
"Let all everywhere adopt and observe what has been handed down by the Holy Roman Church, the Mother and Teacher of the other Churches, and let Masses not be sung or read according to any other formula than that of this Missal published by Us. This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world" Pius V went on to say: "By this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it…. No one whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition. Should anyone dare to contravene it, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul." In other words, Pius allegedly fixed the Roman Liturgy unchangeable for all time and in all places. No liturgical changes. Or so it was held.
Despite Pius’ monitum to the contrary, over the centuries from the Pius V to Pius XII various minor alterations had, in fact, been made to the Liturgy. New propers were composed and new feasts were added as saints were canonized. Prayers were appended to the end of the recited or low Mass. The communion of the faithful was re-introduced into the body of the Mass rather than more usually being a separate rite before or after Mass. But none of these changes were nearly as drastic as the revisions to the Holy Week rites that Pius XII introduced in 1955 and yet there was no claim that Pius lacked the authority to change the rites established by his predecessor. The changes proceeded smoothly but in many respects they were the Fort Sumter of our current Civil War of Liturgical renewal. Neo-Trads are beginning to identify the original villain of Liturgical Reform of Vatican II as Pius XII and Holy Week as his Trojan Horse.
Mr. DiPippo goes into great detail about both the pre and post 1955 rites and it would take me, as is did him, a long series of turgid postings to go over them in detail. Let me just outline a few for you.
1. In the pre-1955 rites only the priest received Holy Communion on Good Friday. At the Holy Thursday Mass the priest consecrated two large hosts, one for Holy Thursday and one to be reserved in the altar of repose for Good Friday. The Good Friday host was placed in a chalice covered by an inverted paten and pall and then veiled. The veil was ties securely around the knob of the chalice and it was carried beneath a humeral veil in solemn procession to the altar of repose where it remained until the Communion Rite of the Good Friday “Mass of the Pre-sanctified.” It was then carried in solemn procession back to the main altar of the church where it was placed on the corporal. Wine and water were poured into the chalice and the priest celebrant communicated. The other ministers and the laity did not communicate. In the 1955 revision, Pius XII mandated that sufficient hosts be consecrated for the faithful to also receive on Good Friday
2. In the pre-1955 rites the Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Friday “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified,” and the Saturday Easter Vigil were all celebrated about 9 a.m. The Vigil was a totally separate liturgy from the First Mass of Easter, which was to be celebrated at, or about midnight of Saturday into Sunday. This Saturday morning vigil led to the perception that “Lent is over at noon on Holy Saturday—pass the chocolate.” Similarly, Tenebrae (the offices of Matins and Lauds) which should have been said in the final hours of the night before dawn had shifted to early evening of the day before.
3. The pre-1955 rites required at least six sacred ministers in Holy Orders: a priest, four deacons, and a subdeacon. (It was common for priests to take the liturgical roles of deacon and subdeacon so you didn’t have to have four actual deacons or an actual subdeacon, six priests would do.) The unavailability of sufficient clergy in most churches led to a bit of cheating where the priest/celebrant, the deacon, and the subdeacon of the Mass of the Pre-sanctified removed their chasubles and assumed diaconal stoles to stand in as deacons for the chanting of the Passion.
4. The deacons and subdeacon(s) for the various ceremonies did not wear dalmatics and tunicles but the planetae plicatae
or folded chasubles—a chasuble—usually in the “fiddleback” style pinned up over the chest. (I remember seeing these as late as an ordination in 1964 and they were pinned both front and back, but Mr. DiPippo speaks only of them being pinned in front. I suspect the ordination folded chasubles were of a different symbolism than the ones in the Holy Week rites as this particular ordination was held a good nine years after the folded chasubles of Holy Week had been abolished.) At certain times the deacon also wore the chasuble folded over the left shoulder and caught at the right side below the hip so as to give the impression of the “broad stole.” This was worn over the deacon’s proper stole. The 1955 revisions did away with all this and replaced the planetae plicatae with tunicles and dalmatics.
5. The Blessing of Palms on Palm Sunday was an especially curious custom as while it preceded the Mass of the Palm Sunday it was a rite of its own that in many ways paralleled the Mass. The congregation met ideally in a church or chapel distinct from the sanctuary where the Mass was to be offered. The rite is a bizarre parallel to the Mass. The palms awaiting the blessing were placed flat on the altar. As the sacred ministers entered there was a sung introit followed by collect, epistle, gradual and gospel. This was followed by a prayer that corresponds to the “Prayer over the Gifts at Mass,” and that, in turn was followed by a preface, Sanctus, and a pseudo-canon consisting of five prayers over the palms. The palms were the distributed and a prayer, corresponding to the post-communion prayer is said before the procession leaves for the main church where the Mass was to be said. Violet vestments were used throughout both the Blessing of Palms and the Mass. (In the 1955 Rite, Red vestments are used for the Rite of Palms, Violet for the Mass. Similarly the Good Friday Service is done entirely in Black Vestments but in the 1955 revision, violet is substituted for black during the communion rite. This required more changes of vestments in the 1955 Rite than in the previous rites, especially for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter.)
I could go into far more detail about the pre-1955 rites but the point that strikes me most about both the 1570 Rite and the 1955 Rite is how little it incorporates the faithful. Other than for the Procession of Palms, there is no point in a congregation gathering—they are entirely irrelevant to the Sacred Action. It is, at best, an elegant ballet carried out by the corps des prêtres; often it was more of a “Chinese Fire Drill” of confused clergy, obtuse chierichetti, and unmarried men of a certain age and a seminary background who just like to hang around inside the altar rail fussing over burses, discarded copes, and the occasional humeral veil. I have seen a lot of this crap (carefully chosen word) lately on some neo-trad blogs about how one can have “full, active, and conscious participation” in the Liturgy simply by being present attentively. I understand that. That is how I fully, actively, and consciously participate in La Boehme as I don’t think I can any longer hit the higher notes and besides I would lose my season tickets if I even tried. But La Boehme is not the Mystery by which I am saved. Popes going back to Pius X have encouraged direct participation in the liturgy by the assembly. There have always been those liturgical mandarins who have wanted to restrict the liturgy to their own private preserve. Some are priests. (You know the pathology: “It’s my Mass!!! We will do it my way!!!) Others are choir directors. And now we have “liturgists.” It can be Father’s “friend” who has his or her hand in every pie. It can be any combination of people but in the end we must remember that the Liturgy is the work of the entire Church and it belongs equally to every member of the Church.
So I was delighted to participate in the simple and reverent rituals of my parish church with beautiful music, devoid of pomp, prayerful and solemn but not stilted with our women getting their feet washed alongside the guys, our altar girls and boys, lectors and catechumens. The only drama it encouraged was to walk the way of the Cross interiorly, in one own’s heart, as we accompanied Christ from the Upper Room of Thursday to the Empty Tomb of Easter Morn.