Monday, October 8, 2018

Organic Development of the Liturgy Since Trent

Not quite the quire of Westminster Abbey
source: New Liturgical Movement
At its surface, the old Roman liturgy did not appear to change very much between the pontificates of Pius V and Pius X, the former codifying the extant medieval liturgy and the latter initiating sixty years of liturgical tinkering. The texts of the Office and Mass hardly changed saved the addition of numerous Duplex feasts for canonized founders and foundresses of French and Italian communities of religious. The erection of the Congregation for Sacred Rites in 1588 ensured that there could be no further significant textual or structural developments in the Roman rite, like those that happened in late antiquity and in the high Middle Ages. The Roman rite at the dawn of the 20th century, on paper, really looked no different than it did at the dawn of the 16th century, but in fact there had been several organic changes due to circumstance or popular piety which changed the way the liturgy was celebrated and even what was celebrated.

The most obvious changes can be viewed from the lens of architecture. Upon walking into a post-Tridentine church one easily sees the high altar, elevated against the reredros and crowned in the center with the tabernacle. The sacred space is partitioned by a Communion railing [sic], a hint that the sanctuary is something to be viewed and not touched. The ceiling ascends heavenward and without obstruction, an open and breathing arrangement. Additional altars to saints flank the main altar, although their use for Mass is more infrequent than in past times; these altars proclaim tales of heresy, fidelity, damnation, and the glory of the saints; each altar is as much a sermon as it is a shrine. Scattered Confessionals awkwardly stand out of any open space in the nave or aisles of the church, invitations for ambulating sinners to reconcile themselves at a moment's notice. Most obviously, and loathsomely, pews litter the nave itself, confining anyone who desires to witness the Holy Sacrifice to his own static place, a sight-seer and viewer of the Mass and devotions rather than a full participant in them.

Within this casual characterization of a post-Tridentine church rests a thousand assumptions concerning the change in liturgical praxis, although rarely text, that followed the pontificate of St. Pius V. Above all, the post-Tridentine liturgy emphasized witness to the liturgy and Incarnation rather than a personal and communal participation in Christ's Passion which characterized the preceding medieval cathedral rites. Medieval churches, narrow and high, impossible to see straight in unless one was staring down the nave at the Holy Rood, always directed the attention of the faithful to the Cross and then upward; everything else was shrouded in mystery, things one could see and to an extant understand, but not know in entirety. After Trent the prevailing designs suggested a liturgy which could be beheld and known, for it took place in plain sight.

Devotion in this piety shifted away from the Divine Office and more toward new liturgical acts of piety which underscored the arrant nature of the new liturgy. Now, when the priest held up the Sacred Species during the Canon saw the Incarnated Christ in open space. Unlike previous generations, peering through screens at the elevation once a Mass, new generations would extend the elevation of the Sacred Host by means of a new ceremony called Benediction. They sang hymns and offered incense before directly displaying the Sacred Host for a few moments in blessing, a short time to be sure, but more time than was afforded during the Mass. The song of the day was no longer Ave verum corpus, but Tantum ergo Sacramentum.

These new forms of devotion met the mood of the day, still largely communitarian in towns, but more amotized in cities, where Catholicism went from being the religion of the people to being the religion of the majority of people. Personal encounters with grace, be it Confession or Benediction or a quick Mass, replaced the public processions and liturgical anamnesis which would derisively be rebranded as theater in our times.

Mass itself underwent a simplification in its ceremonial observance. As sounds became more complex and polyphony superseded chant as the normative style, people came to see music more as ornamental than as essential. Following the reduced ceremonies of the Roman Curia's Missal published by Saint Pius, servers and ministers followed the prescriptions as to what needed to be done to complete the Sacrifice. Said Mass replaced sung Mass, even without deacon and subdeacon, as normative. Still, a desire for the Mass to be sung and celebrated with as much effort as possible prevailed in some places and a sung version of low Mass evolved into the Missa cantata, styled more as a "high" Mass without the other ministers.

Once of the less obvious liturgical changes since Trent, which was not a variation of something directed in the Missal, was the addition of rose as a liturgical color. The medieval and Pian Missals directed violet for Gaudete and Laetare Sundays. The true differentiation between these Sundays and the other Sundays of Advent and Lent are the use of the dalmatic and tunicle instead of folded chasubles, which would also permit the organ to be used to elevate the music from sober chant into polysonic joy. Rose accomplished a similarly end, providing a break in the exercises of the seasons, to a culture bent towards a simpler liturgy. Rose eventually gave birth to a vast array of colors deemed proper for the Mass and even replaced the seasonal violet in the cardinatial choir dress on those Sundays.

Liturgy as it existed in the years after Trent has been examined and criticized extensively on this blog for its reduction of the Latin liturgy to bare essentials which neglected large pieces of the Church's patrimony. In context, these reductions also reflected creeping individualism and a less communal culture from which sprang the medieval Mass. And yet the post-Tridentine Church was not without its own development in art, architecture, liturgy, and devotion. One wonders what a genuine reform to the liturgy would look like in our even more isolationist age.


  1. What do you think facilitates the communal sense of the liturgy?

    1. Marko,

      I would think the most apparent and first element of community is, of course faith. But going a bit deeper I would think that would mean people who believe in the same manner, not just the same things. The Nicene era Church had a sense of both mission and triumph, having outlasted the Roman persecutions and desirous of using the examples of their martyrs to convert the rest of the Empire. The medieval Latin Church had its love for the Passion of Christ and an Incarnational take on the Liturgy; the contemporary Greek Church understood the Liturgy as the celebration of the Resurrection alone. It certainly shapes the way people pray and receive guidance from the Liturgy and the custodians of the Church in their place.

      Lastly, the hardest facet of community to create is an actual pre-existing community. For most of Western history a parish has a sense of community because the local church exists to serve people who already know each other, love each other or hate each other, have the same customs, traditions, veneration of the same saints etc. It's why they develop certain aspects of their piety in common and not others (like the making of peace before Paschal communion in the Sarum rite). Even in Apostolic times the poor lived in common with the Apostles and were cared for by the deacons. The post-Nicene Church saw the secular clergy live in common after leaving their wives for ordination. Rediscovery and reviving this particular aspect of community, the most obvious one, has had a lot to do with every genuine revival of the faith (11th century monasticism, the Franciscan revival, the counter-Reformation etc). It cannot be feigned where it lacks and when it does exist it pours over into the liturgy.

  2. I wonder if practices of service of the altar makes a difference in fostering a communal sacrifice - the sense that everybody in their different ways is performing a common Act.

    There isn't much sense of gradation and participation in top-down "participation" which manifests as multiple middle-aged female EMHCs and a couple of small boys in badly-fitting cassock-albs stumbling around. It feels more like the teacher's pets being given the good roles - that the rest of class are secretly relieved they aren't performing.

    But in the older Anglo-Catholic practice that I witnessed, and still do witness in the Ordinariate parish I attend, there are plenty of lay-people in the sanctuary - acolytes, crucifer, thurifer, sub-deacon - but they are carrying out formal and auxiliary roles for the clergy and for the sacred action, in formal dress. As is the cantor/choir. This gives a different feel to the whole thing for the laity, who have a visible liturgical enactment of their "participation" that isn't patronising "inclusion".

    This may not meet with some trads approval as a suggestion, but the careful placement of the right congregational hymn e.g. after the gradual etc. that amplifies the liturgical text can aid the communal sense of the liturgy.

    1. I think a lot of trad/conservative communities do actually have a good sense of place with regard to things like servers, making sure younger boys have the simpler jobs (like holding the incense boat) and using the more "acolyte" positions to get the priesthood into young men's minds.

      I think you hit the nail on the head in one aspects of your third paragraph, that community in the liturgy descends from fulfilling one's office, whatever that may be, provided it is a real office (which is the difference between being an acolyte and EMHCs).

      I would expand on this and my own prior response to say that since Christ redeemed the world and seeks to sanctify it by drawing it and the people in it to Himself, then another sense of community in the liturgy derives from the structure of existing society. Somewhere on this blog a year or so ago I discussed how in rural France it was still common in the 19th century for the Mayor of a village to attend Mass in choir because he, like the priest, was charged with care of people before God. In the anointing of the Holy Roman Emperor, the sovereign would be ordained to the subdiaconate for the same purpose.

      The obsession with community and inclusion today is more symptomatic of the disparity between Christianity (something inherently communal and hierarchical) and modernity (flat and very atomistic).