Friday, April 19, 2013

Interesting Article on Old Holy Week

Many readers have viewed our page of images explaining the traditional Mass of the Pre-Sanctified on Good Friday and the old Vesperal Mass of Holy Saturday. Interest in the older rites, which pre-date the 1962 liturgy, is clearly on the rise in the Roman rite of the Church.

Good Friday sepulchre in Jerusalem
It behooves us to be aware of the history of these rites and their continued usage beyond 1956. After the introduction of the Pauline rites in 1969, 1970, and 1975, many clergy at or near retirement age switched back to the old Mass and, even though they technically old had permission to use the 1967 rites, used those rites practiced before the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, when the modern liturgical reform gained steam. Anyone who remembers the early days of the Institute of Christ the King or the Society of St. Pius X recalls that they normally used the traditional Holy Week, too. I would not be surprised if some local clergy even continued using the old Holy Week, confident the Pian books were a passing fad. Pope John XXIII celebrated the old Good Friday at least once, in 1959, and ordered certain traditional practices, like the hymn Vexilla Regis, to introduced into the Pian Holy Week. It begs the question: was John XXIII even using the Pian rites as Patriarch of Venice?

But there is one church in Latin Christendom that observed the old Holy Week until the 1990s without interruption: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or of the Resurrection, if you prefer) in Jerusalem. I came across a news article from 1998 detailing the first practice of the new Holy Week rites, with photographs. The majority of the article details the new rites, neither describing nor depicting the old, yet there is an explanation of why the old praxis continued. Apparently internal bickering with the other residents of the Church, the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Oriental Orthodox, prevented the implementation of the reforms. An indult to continue the old practice was granted and a commission to install the new ceremonies did not form until 1986! The actual new rites were not observed until the next decade when, in 1997, the old rites were celebrated for the last time. You can read the article here.

The difficulty in effecting the change does not surprise me, nor should it surprise anyone appraised of the disputes that transpire in Christendom's most sacred site. Franciscans ran the Church during and after the Crusades, only to cede most of it back to Eastern Churches who, when they do not dispute with the Latins, dispute with each other. The Greeks and Armenians typically have one big brawl a year, normally utilizing the most noxious of ancient weapons: the broom. The Immovable Ladder summarizes the past and current state of affairs.

I would be interested in knowing how the old rites were practiced after the last changes legislated by Paul VI, namely the new Mass and Office. Did they hold the new Easter Vigil at 9am? Did they read all the texts and perform all the ceremonies in the old order, with the new Mass at the end?—and with the Pauline Vespers? Was it the "Tridentine" arrangement outright? Fascinating for liturgical history buffs.


  1. After the, sad, demise of the Old Rite services the Pauline services are celebrated but in the Holy Sepulchre they are still celebrated in the morning!

    1. Excellent news. The schedule indicates Tenebrae on Wednesday night, too!