Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part I: Feasts

Since Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which declared the liturgy of 1962 available for near-unrestricted use, interest has increased in the Roman rite as it existed before 1962, both to understand the nature of the 1962 liturgy and also the transition process to the liturgy of Pope Paul VI, who introduced his rite of Mass in 1969 and his Divine Office in 1975.

Many today believe the Roman liturgy was pristine before 1962, while the reformers then believed it totally corrupted. Conservatives tend to think that Archbishop Annibale Bugnini infiltrated the Vatican, possibly with Masonic motivations, and thrusted a new rite upon the Roman Church without precedent. This is folly. Bugnini and his Concilium did create the new Roman rite, but he and his commission were products of their time and of the problems in the Roman rite. I wish to draw attention to what those problems were. From there we can understand the evolution of the Roman liturgy in the twentieth century a bit better.

This series will examine the following problems in the Roman liturgy as it existed in the twentieth century, specifically the issues St. Pius X, Pius XII, and John XXIII attempted to address, namely:

  1. The inflation of Double-ranked feasts in the post-Tridentine Roman Church
  2. The "low Mass" culture which replaced sung Mass and public observation of the Divine Office in most churches
  3. Devotionalism
  4. The separation of liturgy and doctrine
  5. The left-turn of the Liturgical Movement
  6. Centralization
In this first post I will address the inflation of Double feasts. A little background information is necessary to see the problem. The Mass is the observation of Christ's order "Do this in memory of me," which He gave at the Last Supper according to St. Paul first epistle to the Corinthians and the three Synoptic Gospel accounts. Separate, but no less important, is the Divine Office, the praying of the psalms—mixed with scriptural and patristic readings and some hymns, which is the public prayer of the Roman Church. Indeed, it is no mistake that every Apostolic church has a Divine Office. The Divine Office and the Mass combine to form a regular schedule of prayer for the Roman rite called its liturgy. In the Roman rite the Mass was unique to Sundays, major feast days, and a few other feasts. Otherwise, the Mass was taken from either the previous Sunday or it was taken from a general formula called a Common. The Office, on the other hand, had different psalms every single day, unless a feast day occurred, on which certain prescribed psalms and hymns were sung. The way in which Mass and the Divine Office was observed was determined by rank of the day. In ancient days the ranks were three:
  • Ferial day: the psalms, hymns, and scriptural readings for the Divine Office are of those given for the day of the week and season of the year. Intercessory prayers in a versicle form are said at most hours of the Office. The Mass is that of the previous Sunday (except during Lent, during which every day had a unique Mass).
  • Simple day: the Divine Office is that of the Ferial day, but a local Roman saint is celebrated at Mass. Most local Roman saints' Masses were from a "Common" formula.
  • Double feasts: the psalms, hymns, and scripture are unique to the feast given. The intercessory verses are omitted. The Mass is of a major event in the life of Christ, His Mother, or of some other universally important saint. The psalms demanded for these days are mostly, but not entirely, those of Sunday. Moreover, the psalms at Mattins, the hour dedicated to readings, are organized into three groups of three psalms called "nocturns." On Simple and Ferial days, twelve psalms were sung straight through at Mattins. These Double feasts began with Vespers the night before and ended with Vespers that night.
During the Middle Ages a new type of feast called "semi-Double" developed, in which a universal, but not universally important, saint would be observed. These feasts would use the psalms and hymns of a Double, and have first Vespers, but also have the versicle prayers and votive prayers of a Simple or Ferial day. These were the most loathsome of days.
St Pius V

By the end of the Middle Ages certain patterns had developed in the observation of semi-Double and Double feasts. Vespers for most any Double feast would include psalm 109 and 112—with many male saints having 110, 111, and 116 and many females having 121, 125, and 147. These psalms would be said at first and second Vespers. Mattins had a similar pattern. Lauds, Ferial or feast, varied very little from day to day. The "little hours" (Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Compline) were meant to be said any time of day, particularly on break from work, so their psalms never changed from day to day. Days within octaves, eight day celebrations of feasts, would basically use the feast day psalms every day.

St Aloysius Gonzaga
When St. Pius V promulgated his Roman Breviary in 1568 and his Missal in 1570, essentially a trimmed version of the 1474 liturgy used by the Papal court, there were 149 feasts that contained the word "Double" in the title, meaning the use of those certain psalms. By the papacy of St. Pius X in 1907 that number had nearly doubled to 280! Why? And why do we care?

There were two reasons why this, insane, inflation of Double feasts occurred. First, was a hyper-emphasis on Counter-Reformation era saints. Saints such as Aloysius Gonzaga were no sooner canonized than they were given Double feasts, liturgically the most important in the Church. St. Aloysius was a wonderful priest and chaplain, but he ought not have a feast on par with Mary Magdalen and Gregory the Great!

The second matter was the Double feasts were simply easier than Simple or Ferial days. They involved fewer psalms, had no versicle prayers, and could supersede the Sunday liturgy (which had a whopping 18 psalms at Mattins, rather than the Double-ranked nine). There was no one moment when Double feasts were printed en masse, like a central bank can do with money. Popes just kept adding these feasts out of popular devotion and to ease the prayer life of the clergy.

This was bad. As a result, outside of Lent, the weekly psalms were almost never said. By the time St. Pius X reformed the Divine Office in 1911, I doubt one could go three days without reciting psalms 109 and 112. The Office, slackened for the sake of convenience, had become monotonous. Sadly, the solution of Pope St Pius X was not an elegant one.
St Pius X, perhaps reading his new Divine Office?

Papa Sarto's solution to repetition in the Office was to toss the entire psalter out of the window and create a new schedule for the psalms which would somewhat preserve the old psalms on Sundays and the most important of Double feasts, but not for the rest of the week. Part of his re-distribution of the psalms involved cutting them into parts, i.e. splitting longer psalms into roughly equal 15 verse portions. Now one long psalm was two small ones. If a priest told you to say two prayers at penance in confession, would you cut the Hail Mary into halves and say that it counted as your penance? Except for the highest ranking Doubles, the psalms in a given day would be of the new psalter and the hymns and variable prayers would be of the saint of the day. This made for a strange, strange division in the Office. Also, the ancient system whereby the "little hours" would remain constant from day to day, for the sake of familiarity, was axed, as they too were made variable.

This had a poor effect on prayer, splitting single prayers into parts. Moreover, if meant that, if pastoral reason permitted the right authority to do so, the most ancient prayer systems could be changed at a whim. St Pius X certainly had no evil intentions in doing what he did. Like later reformers, he was something of a product of his age, but was his decision prudent? I am inclined to say it was not. He could have saved the old psalter, and himself a lot of work, just by lowering the feast rank of those Counter-Reformation era saints to Simple. But he did not do this. Instead we got a new Office, and more importantly, a new precedent. The Pope did not guard the liturgy. He guarded it, but could also create it.

What do you think? Did the Pian Office fix the problem? Was it a cause or a symptom of the problems in the Roman liturgy? Are we ready to blame someone else other than the members of Concilium group 10?


  1. Only the first problem is the problem with the liturgy itself.
    Other problems have men in center.

    2.low Mass - it's the priest's fault if he will not celebrate Missa Cantata or publicly celebrate the Divine Office. It's not like there were some impediments in the liturgy itself.

    3. devotionalism. what does it mean? is it the popular complaint that people prayed the Rosary during the Mass? remember that st. Francis de Sales recommended Rosary as one of the most venerable ways to meditate upon mysteries of the Mass

    4. in what ways did liturgy and doctrine separated? need i remind you of Mediator Dei?

    5. also it's the blame on the people of the later liturgical movement to take the left turn - not the problem in the Roman Liturgy itself

    6. centralization? oh you mean the dissapearance of the local uses? well that was also entirely upon the will of the people and bishops. Council of Trent had precise guidelines for keeping the particular uses. many of the rites fulfilled the criterions of the Council of Trent. but it's the bishops who renounced them and accepted the Roman Rite. this happened with the rite of capital city of my country Croatia which is Zagreb. It had it's own rite - for sacraments, Mass and Office. but the bishop accepted the Roman Rite in 18th century.
    we witness even greater centralization today - when not even the Orders cherish their particular Rites.

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  3. Marko,

    I will explain those points in future posts. I am trying to help people understand what the causes were for the liturgical reform and what created a culture conducive to it, among both the laity and the clergy, which did not exist a century earlier.

    The Rad Trad

  4. Okay.
    Thank you :)

    It sure puts a wider perspective.

  5. You seem like a cool guy. Got some book recommendations you might be interested in, and you seem like the sort who would have interesting stuff to reciprocate with. Like some stuff by Geoffrey Hull, read any of that? So how would one contact you, o Raddius Traddius?

  6. Johannes,

    My suggestion is that one become acquainted by reading the old Missal and breviary, or perhaps perusing an Ordo (like the St Lawrence Press edition, which follows the 1939 liturgy). You can read the 1570, 1910, Pius X, and John XXIII Offices at divinumofficium.com

    If you want books, I would recommend Laszlo Dobszay's "The Bugnini Liturgy," which aside from discussing the post-Conciliar liturgy relays a lot of information, both historical and spiritual, on the Tridentine liturgy and the pre-Tridentine, medieval liturgy. Also good is Gregory Dix's "Shape of the Liturgy." Dix was an Anglican, but his knowledge of patristic texts applicable to liturgy is paralleled only by Fr Robert Taft, SJ (who is far more competent in the Eastern rites than in the Roman rite). I've been meaning to read Dr Hull's book, thus far I have only read his article "Proto-History of the Roman Liturgical Reform."

    The Rad Trad