Sunday, April 10, 2016

Holy Saturday: Two Last Thoughts

Does the ICRSS cleric reminisce to his seminary days before 2004?
I am sure I am as tired of writing about the old Holy Week as readers are tired of seeing it appear on their blogger subscription block, so I will finish with two last thoughts, partially inspired by this fellow's thoughts.

First, the proper time of the Vesperal liturgy on Holy Saturday. There is not one. Yes, Egeria recounts three Eucharistic liturgies celebrated in Jerusalem between Holy Saturday and the morning of Pascha, which does not bode well for the midnight-Massers. Moreover, the ordines and Sacramentaries of the 8th century that recount the Mass portion's nocturnal celebration are limited to the original context of the Mass itself, which pre-dates the development of the so-called Paschal Vigil service itself. Properly understood a vigil is an all-night prayer service that culminates with the celebration of the feast itself. The Office of Mattins was once called the "vigils" and in some monasteries it still is. Given the primitive Roman Church's propensity to celebrate multiple Masses for a feast (Christmas, Circumcision, Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and Palm Sunday among them) one cannot pinpoint a proper time for any one of them. I would like to modify my earlier thesis that the Roman Church integrated a Mass into its all-night vigil service by asserting that, in imitation of Jerusalem, the Romans likely had a Mass between the reception of converts and Vespers. The Mass bifurcated between the traditional lucernarium that began Vespers; in this case, the Roman praxis would be older than the Byzantine. And yet the original context of that service (the reception of adult converts in a Christian city during an all-night watch) ceased to exist by the 9th century and so the service itself changed.

The dichotomy of the Vesperal liturgy is that it places the Exsultet ("o vere beata nox") at the beginning of the service and ends with Vespers, traditionally sung at sunset. From this point, there can be no "right time". The only general rule would be that the service has to conclude by the time Vespers are usually sung. The service could logically begin as early as 10AM or as late as 4:30PM. The earlier celebration in parishes and cathedral permits the celebration of Paschal Mattins, in the middle ages the most important Office of the year, as evidenced by the various Resurrection ceremonies observed then (not during the Saturday Mass), while the later time would be more easily accommodated in monasteries. The variance in time reflected local needs and allowed communities with different resources to celebrate the liturgy as fully as possible.

This brings up the second point, which is that the old Holy Saturday was more "progressive" than either the 1955 or 1970 reforms. Pope Pius warned against "antiquarianism" and then proceeded to fabricate rites that purported to "restore" what we vaguely think was done in the first millennium, in turn implying that what had been done for the preceding century was a corruption. The context of the Holy Saturday rites changed when adult converts were replaced by infant baptisms, which could be done on any day. The ceremony became an independent rite in recognition that it now functioned as a proper vigil in the vernacular sense of the word, a day of watch before the greatest feast. This is how Latin Catholics understood this day for a thousand years. A college friend once derided my interest in restoring the pre-Pacellian Holy Week: "Why don't you just use whatever Mass Peter and Paul practiced, if you can find it? I'm sure that will go over well." The opposite is true. The old rite represents nineteen centuries of liturgical development while the 1955 and 1970 rites are poorly informed historical re-enactments of what some people believe was done in the "early Church," that fleeting epoch of Christian mythology.

Now, no more talk of Holy Week until next year!


  1. From the Modern Medievalists blog post referred above. Ἰουστινιανός cited from Dom Beaudouin's book: "the deacon never blessed any object, especially before his superiors". This deserves attention. Indeed, in the traditional Roman rite, it is the highest ranking cleric that imparts blessings in any situation. I remember reading that when a priest celebrates in the presence of a bishop he does not give any blessings, but the bishop does instead. Is this so?


    This is the prayer from the Gelasian sacramentary.

    1. Taken from here, I suppose:

      But on the other hand, the St. Gall recension (which seems to be a few decades later) contains the Exsultet:

      It seems that in those (still) early days there were more than one blessing formula. The fact remains, that the blessing is always performed by the deacon. On don Beauduin's statement, I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that this apparent incongruence stems from the fact that in the beginning it was the bishop who sung the blessing, later the deacon acting just on behalf on him in every church- just as, for instance, in the Aquileian rite the deacon carries the Host back to the bishop sitting on the throne in the pontifical Good Friday liturgy; an action which has probably nothing to do with the deacon's role in the Pacellian Good Friday communion service.

    2. Yes, there were more than few "exultets" in existence which were composed by deacons. That's why the actual text in use is very personal in the beginning (quapropter...).

      The rubric says that the benediction is completed by the archdeacon.
      Roman prayer seems to me very different in character than Exultet. Exultet is a prayer + a consecratory preface, and is in fact sung in tone of preface after the pre-prefacial dialogue.

      But "Deus mundi conditor" is a long prayer which accounts for history of salvation, and then, "Veniat ergo" is a continuation of that prayer and the actual blessing of the candle. In my entry on the Holy Saturday post i said that "Veniat" might be a blessing of incense used at that Mass since no grains of incense were poked into the candle in those times, but when you see the structure of the prayer and the meaning of the word incensum (which is not strictly incense but incinerated candle too, or even fire, and specifically fire of that same candle), you see that "Deus mundi" has no real conclusion and that "Veniat ergo" is a continuation of the same prayer and the blessing portion of the same.

  3. I will talk about Holy Week as much and as often as I want, thank you!

    That said, the Pentecost Vigil is coming up!

  4. Another interpretation of the pre-1955 usage: the deacon blesses the candle indirectly, i.e., through mediation of the incense and fire already blessed by the priest.

    1. That would seem pretty reasonable and would also be an explanation of the "archidiaconus complet benedictionem" rubric from the Gelasian sacramentary.

  5. Hello, Rad Trad. I didn't see this post until now, but thanks for the feedback. For whatever reason, that article generated more comment box action than any other in the history of my blog.

    Pulex: regarding blessings in the presence of superiors, that's true as a general rule, but the Exsultet had come to be seen as proper to the deacon's office. Consider also that Dominus vobiscum is a very rudimentary kind of blessing. A deacon wouldn't normally use it in a priest's presence, but he always does before proclaiming the Gospel because, at that moment, it's proper to his ministry.