Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part III: Devotionalism

We have now come to the third part in our series on the causes for the twentieth century reforms of the Roman rite liturgy. Today's cause, what I have termed "Devotionalism," is the first that can be attributed to the laity rather than the clergy or clerical culture. What is meant by "Devotionalism?" Two things:
  1. A tendency to over-emphasize private devotions at the cost of liturgical prayer.
  2. Private devotions entering into the liturgical calendar of the Roman Church, such that the calendar loses its rhythm.
Let us consider these issues in the order above.

The two most popular anatomical devotions: the Immaculate Heart of Mary
and the Sacred Heart of Jesus
First, private piety. Private piety underwent a considerable change during the baroque period. Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and in the Eastern rites to this day, the demarcation between liturgical prayer and extra-liturgical devotional prayer did not seem as sharp as it is in the modern Roman Church. This is not to say private prayers that follow some particular meditation or formula, such as the Rosary, were foreign. But the Rosary was clearly a private prayer. There was such a thing as public devotion, which had a very liturgical expression. One immediate example is the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a mini-Divine Office following Marian themes that would often be sung on low ranked days. The Byzantine rite Akathist sung at Compline on the days leading up to the Annunciation resound as a modern day example of public devotion. Before Masses in medieval cathedrals the clergy and laity would visit the altars of the various saints, honoring them in hymns and asking for their prayers. Northern Europeans "raised" the Cross before Mattins and Lauds of Easter Sunday, a reflection of the "deposition" from the Cross on Good Friday—East and ancient West.

Devotion could clearly be a public act of worship or a personal prayer. During the years after Trent most of this changed. Local customs often remained, although liturgical centralization reduced them in their variety (more on that in a later post). While customary public devotion diminished, private devotions proliferated. St. Pius V popularized the Rosary beyond the Dominican Order, the Sacred Heart appeared on the scene in the seventeenth century, as did many other "anatomical" devotions, such as the Precious Blood. The Lady of Mount Carmel devotion also became popular, as did the associated "Brown Scapular"—which is actually just a symbol of a full scapular.

A private oratory named for Our Lady of Sorrows. A statute
of Our Lady of Sorrows in visible above the altar.
The Church has never deemed these devotions necessary, only requiring attendance at Mass for the laity and the Office of the clergy. Yet the "low Mass culture" examined two days ago cultivated a church setting where one would simply be listening to a priest talk in Latin for 45-60 minutes, a setting which required very little other than attendance of the laity. The low Mass culture is not conducive to sung Offices, much less any of the extra-liturgical functions mentioned above. Private prayer and private meditation filled the void for the laity during Mass. Indeed, as mentioned in the previous post, many methods of "hearing Mass" centered around these devotions.

The names of churches in the last four or five centuries tell the story. How many post-Trent churches are named Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mercy, Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy etc? How many received conventional names like St. Mary's or St. Peter's?

Here we reach the second point, wherein Devotionalism becomes not just a private liturgical substitute, but actually took root in the liturgical calendar.

Private devotions held by the laity or private devotions Rome wished to popularize found themselves in the calendar, often affixed to certain Sundays rather than days of a given month. Some examples are the Holy Name (second Sunday after Epiphany), St. Joseph (third Sunday after Easter), the feast of the Precious Blood (first Sunday of July), St. Joachim (Sunday after Assumption), Our Lady of Sorrows (third Sunday of September), the Rosary (first Sunday of October), and others like the Sacred Heart (falls on third Friday after Pentecost). Fr. John Hunwicke once called these devotional days "lollipop" feasts.

There were two consequences to this phenomenon. The first is that the Sunday Mass given for the time after Epiphany or Pentecost was said perhaps half the time, while these devotional feasts and other Double-rank feasts (see first post in series) impeded them. The second consequence was that the Masses for the time after Epiphany and Pentecost, which recount Christ's teaching and His miracles more than His actions, were rarely observed. This contrasts with many Eastern Sundays such as the "Sunday of the Prodigal Son," the "Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican," and the "Sunday of the Rich Man and Lazarus" to name a few. Each of these "green" Masses was a self-contained lesson on the teaching life of Christ, yet feasts based upon private devotions often won the ranking competition. If Holy Week recounts Christ's Passion, if Eastertide recounts the time after His Resurrection, and if Advent and Christmastide recount His birth, then these "green" Sundays recount His preaching career. Double-ranked feasts and devotional feasts lessened the significance of these Sundays. The inevitable result was the replacement of public devotion and public liturgical life with folk religion.
Fr Antonio Rosmini

Naturally, many early members of the Liturgical Movement or those who favored drastic reforms of the Roman liturgy wished to force people out of their private devotions and into communal liturgical participation. One motive for the adaptation of vernacular and for "simplified" ceremonies during the last period of the Liturgical Movement, during the Second Vatican Council, was the wish to pop people out of their private prayer bubbles during Mass. Pius XII, anticipating certain excesses, attempted to moderate these views by issuing Mystici Corporis and Mediator Dei, as well as implementing certain demands of the Movement under Papal authority, but eventually these changes were of no avail and actually accelerated the reform process.

Reformers such as Rosimini constantly called for more "simple" ceremonies, as if the Roman liturgy was not already very sparse compared to Eastern and other Latin liturgies. Indeed, in his Five Wounds of the Holy Church Rosmini caterwauls over the separation of the people from the clergy, from the scriptures, and of the overgrown liturgy which caused this. Rosmini saw Europe secularizing and partially blamed the compartmentalized relationship between the priest and people at Mass for it. Of note: in the first chapter of his Five Wounds, Fr. Rosmini suggests that while Latin has become a barrier between priest and laity, the abolition of Latin was not the answer. He demands further effort in helping the laity understand the Latin Mass and also admires the Eastern Churches' retention of their own sacred languages. Rosmini wrote of the problematic separation of the laity from worship:
"This worship, to which God united the grace to render men and women capable of practising the moral precepts they had received, was not simply a spectacle for the people to behold. The people were not to be present simply to look at what was happening without genuinely participating in this drama of religious worship."
St. Pius X, for all the criticisms possible of his psalter and breviary rubrics, presents an elegant solution to the intrusion of Devotionalism into the calendar. He assigned each devotional feast a particular day of a month (ex. Precious Blood moved from first Sunday of July to July 1st) and gave the option for the Mass of the feast to be repeated on the next Sunday, provided the feast was not observed at the main Mass of the day.

John XXIII's adjustments to the calendar go far beyond Papa Sarto's changes, a true predecessor to "Ordinary Time," an endless monotony of "green" Sundays well beyond that which would have been experienced even under the sparse local calendars of ancient Rome and monastic settings during the Middle Ages. Pope John's calendar compressed the liturgical rankings of various days and gave preference to "green" Sundays to the point where feasts of the Apostles except Ss. Peter and Paul, would be excluded from even a commemoration on Sundays. Oddly, these simplified rubrics, when they do permit other feasts to overtake the "green" Mass, rarely commemorate the "green" Mass. Pope Roncalli's changes also diminished the number of lessons read at Mattins by about two thirds. "Ordinary time" in the Pauline liturgy completes this shift. The Roman general calendar swung like a pendulum from one extreme peak to another, briefly passing a nice position midway through the shift.

To conclude the thesis of this post in our series: public devotion evolved into private Devotionalism, which introverted a large number of laity and obscured important features of the calendar. Reformers began to demand simplified ceremonies to engage the laity and to alter the calendar in such an extreme fashion that all but a few feasts could ever take precedence over Sunday "green" Masses.

We should be very aware that while vernacular certainly shook the laity out of their private prayers during Mass, as I mentioned in my previous post on the "low Mass culture," very few of the changes to the calendar or to the form of the Mass took place during the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the seeds of this problem began in the baroque period and calls for change started a century before Vatican II and the changes themselves started 50 years prior to Pope John's council. You can see that we soon will be reading about the Liturgical Movement!

I hope I do not appear to be blaming the laity for their private piety, that is not my intention. As someone who prays the Rosary and recommends you all do as well, I value devotion, but all things have their proper place. The second most recent position paper from Una Voce published by Dr. Joseph Shaw on use of the older Holy Week considers the times of the older rites pastorally preferable because, among other reasons, parishes would have time for Stations of the Cross after the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified. Is this Devotionalism or is it a semi-liturgical public devotion, like those of Northern Europe in times gone by? At the very least, a conversation has been started about more fundamental concepts of liturgy by papers and conferences such as Dr. Shaw's.

Our next post, likely shorter than these past three, will investigate the separation of liturgy and doctrine, in its precedents and its consequences. Stay tuned! Happy Low Sunday and a blessed Easter season to all!


  1. When I saw the next installment was out, I went and made a coffee to drink with it, to maximise enjoyment! Keep them long! I'm reading this with the same joy that I read Fr Hunwicke's and Dr Shaw's multiple-part posts.

  2. "Keep them long!"

    First time I've heard that, Johannes!

  3. I just wanted to add that I too have been enjoying these posts, and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

    Btw this is Désiré. I decided to shorten my blogger name, to Mercier.

  4. Thank you Désiré/Mercier! Next one is up.

  5. I was reading some liturgical magazines from the early 20th century here in Portugal, and a constant mention is made of how the liturgical calandar tended to be ignored here in Portugal. Insignificant feasts were given precedence over the more important feast days, feasts were not kept on their appropriate days, etc.