Friday, December 6, 2013

The Immaculate Conception and Liturgical Development

As the feast of the Immaculate Conception approaches an opportunity presents itself to demonstrate that, while the Roman liturgy on the whole was in a slide since the Council of Trent (owing to centralization, I actually like the 1570 Missal's balance quite a bit) there were spots of legitimate and true development. One was the feast of St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church instituted by Pius IX. Another favorite example of mine was also instituted by the same Pius IX, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The celebration of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is well attested in older manuscripts of Latin rite liturgies. One edition of the Sarum Missal shows a variation of the Gaudeamus omnes introit and Mass used in that diocese. The Roman practice is more difficult to ascertain. Several scanned copies I possess of the 1474 Missale Romanum list the "Conception" of Our Lady for December 8th, but gives no actual Mass in either the temporal or sanctoral cycles. Alas, one copy does indeed give an actual Mass for that day, with an introit based on 3:11 of the Canticles of Solomon, Egredimini: "Go forth and see your queen, daughters of Sion...." The Gospel is from St. Luke, not that of the visitation, but that of the Marian votive Masses. For whatever reason St. Pius V more or less abolished this text in favor of the familiar formulary Mass Salve Sancta Parens which we often hear on Saturdays. Indeed it seems to be, more or less, the same Mass as on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, September 8th, with a few words altered for the difference. Perhaps the saintly pontiff was overcome with a little Dominican prejudice against the Scotistic argument in favor of the Immaculate Conception? Having no manuscript scans of the Roman Breviary I cannot comment on its contents for December 8th.
St. Pius V's decision to employ a formulary Mass rather than a proper one demonstrates a unique feature of the Roman rite, the "Common" Masses for various types of feasts (Virgin martyrs, abbots, confessor bishops etc) when the local rites would have a unique Mass. Gregory DiPippo of New Liturgical Movement is in the midst of an interesting series on weekday lectionaries in the Latin rite which covers this topic more than I will today. Indeed one must ask if the actual parishes of Rome, before the Franciscans persuaded Pope Nicholas to impose the Curia's books on everybody in the City, had their own readings for certain days such as December 8th. Again, as has been said elsewhere on this blog, the Curial books are far less elaborate than most diocesan rites and seem to be abbreviated rites for use by people who have limited prayer time throughout the day. It seems possible that having so many Commons and formulary Masses may well have been one uniquely Curial trait that became a general Roman trait.
This Salve Sancta Parens Mass lasted until Pius IX defined the Immaculate Conception, necessitating, it seems, a more unique Mass for the occasion. The result, the Gaudens gaudebo Mass of today, is on the whole an improvement and development. The introit is a little odd to me, I guess one may say that Our Lady was filled with joy of Our Lord's making. The collect is a recovery from the pre-Tridentine Roman books, discarded in 1570: "O God, Who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, prepared a worthy dwelling for Your Son, and Who, by Your Son’s death, foreseen by You, preserved her from all taint, grant, we beseech You, through her intercession, that we too may come to You unstained by sin." The Gospel is very on message, opting for the Annunciation recounted by Luke, during which Our Lady is called "full of grace," precisely what the Immaculate Conception means. The Angel's greeting is repeated in variation throughout the Mass to drive home the point.
The two downfalls I can see are that 1) the Mass began a process present in the reforms of Pius XII and Paul VI whereby every feast of Our Lady seems to use the Annunciation Gospel reading. This is particularly apparent in the new Assumption feast of the same Pius XII, which suggests Our Lady was assumed into heaven after her death not because her womb was holy and had born the Son of God (older Assumption Mass), but because She was "full of grace" (newer text), which is not wrong, but it is off message. 2) The other issue is that the new Immaculate Conception Mass came with an octave, which in turn supersedes the ferial days of Advent. This second issue was "fixed" when Pius XII axed practically all the octaves in the Roman rite, swinging this week from one extreme (during which the ferial Mass would not be said once) to another (no octave at all). Given that prior to St. Pius X all octaves were treated a bit differently perhaps there simply could have been a rule that the Sunday Mass had to be repeated on the first ferial or simple day, after which the octave could be observed.
The Immaculate Conception was a positive development in the post-Tridentine Roman liturgy, codifying the Church's belief, giving a feast some uniqueness, preserving ancient texts, and having some didactic qualities to its own.


  1. Linking with your previous post: as far as I know, it is actually Immaculate Conception one of the innovations the Byzantines say we have introduced in the Faith.

    It was just an observation... but it drives me to think about the relationship between lex orandi and lex credendi. And sorry for this odd dissertation.

    Kyrie eleison

  2. "Given that prior to St. Pius X all octaves were treated a bit differently perhaps there simply could have been a rule that the Sunday Mass had to be repeated on the first ferial or simple day, after which the octave could be observed."

    A point we didn't consider with the CTO. I was just thinking a few days back that the Second Sunday of Advent and its week will be but reduced to a commemoration all week because of the Octave, the orations and Bened/Magnif antiphons and the Proper Last Gospel of the Sunday being the only propers to get exposure. The Epistle and proper antiphons at Lauds/Vespers and the Hours will be completely ignored this year. This is a real dilemma - how do you celebrate a Ferial Office (always of Simple rank/rite) and observe an Octave (always of Semidouble rite) simutaneously? Not even Pius X's Octave system solved the problem we have before us.

    I see only two solutions:
    1. Pull a Pius XII and eliminate the Octave of the IC - voila, four (or three if in the US and Mexico) Ferial Days for the week ahead.
    2. Compose a new rubric with no historical basis creating a privileged Feria (similar to Ash Wednesday) during the second week of Advent (probably the Monday) to allow both the Mass of the Sunday and the Ferial Office to have a place. No historical basis because no Octaves are allowed on any of the days/times which are already privileged Feriae. The closest justification for this would be based on the anticipated Sunday on Saturday Office so that no Sunday's propers would be skipped in a given year.

  3. 3. A more legitimate option based on historical precedent - just allow the Mass of the Sunday to be offered (ad libitum after None) on Dec. 9 while the Office remains that of the Octave. Still, the five Lauds/Hours antiphons get no exposure, and this is bumming me!

  4. The new mass for the Immaculate Conception did not appear for several years after 1854. Looking at a missal in my collection from 1858 it has, on December 8th, the title 'Immaculate Conception' yet the texts are Salve Sancta parens.

    1. It is true, the new texts did not appear until 1863 (SRC 3119), yet it seems that the new Mass was composed precisely because of the Pian definition. At least they took the time to compose something decent, unlike what Pius XII did with the Assumption of Our Lady (*shivers*).