19 November 2021

Slippery slopes

A kind benefactor once sent me a 1957 ORDO - beautifully bound - of the Province of San Antonio (my guess is that that is in America Septentrionalis). That ORDO has a number of Roman documents printed at the beginning of it revealing that 1957 is a most significant year. It comes just after the first major footmarks were printed upon the Roman Rite by that towering Punic figure, Hannibal 'Non-sum-delendus' Bugnini. The new Holy Week Order had emerged not long before and was to be observed in accordance with a decree of the SCR of 15 March 1956. 

This 'reform' was in fact more radical than the reforms that followed Vatican II; however, the producers of that Holy Week book got away with it because the vast bulk of God's People had for centuries not attended the liturgical Rites of Holy Week; in many places only a lay and clerical elite had done so. And what happens only once a year may anyway not be quite as deeply inscribed within you as what marks your Christian life weekly or daily. 

Less well known is the Decree Cum nostra of the SCR (March 23 1955) simplifying the rubrics of the Missal and Breviary. Tucked away in the Decree is a bit of methodology that was to prove the weapon of first choice among the radical liturgists of the mid-twentieth century: these changes were imposed by, but not confected by, the mandarins of the SCR; they were actually devised by a special (peculiaris) Commissio of experts (periti) - which included Annibale nostro

This was when a scythe cut through all but seven vigils and all but three octaves. Commemorations were not to exceed three. First Vespers were abolished except in the case of first and second class feasts and Sundays. What we now call an 'optional memoria' was invented. Variable Last Gospels were, except at Christmas, abolished. 

Of course my list does not include a myriad of details which, so much has our liturgical culture changed, would now require a great deal of exegesis for many readers. The Bugninis of this world are always best at the broad brush. Because periti had devised these 'reforms' (and not the hands-on pedants of SCR whose entire lives had been spent spotting in advance how a minute twitch upon the Calendar here would have a consequence there), there were innumerable unforeseen knock-on effects. Dubia streamed into the offices of the SCR and Responsa had to be issued less than three months later. 

There are signs that the mandarins had rightly become suspicious of the slipshod workmanship of the Commissio; this time they asked the views of the Commissio but then carefully themselves went through the matters that had been raised. But that did not prevent a new crop of dubia being thrown up when the attempt was made to put the Decree into effect for a complete liturgical year (Advent 1956-Advent 1957). Perhaps by now the SCR was getting embarrassed at having to cart admissions of shoddy drafting down to the editorial offices of Acta Apostolicae Sedis; the next crop of Responsa was published only in Ephemerides Liturgicae, and the Cardinal Prefect of the SCR apparently didn't bother to sign it or have it sealed. 

The period from 1955 until 1967 is a single, coherent, period of slashing and ripping which became ever wilder and ever less respectful of the liturgical inheritance of the Latin Church. People say that it is the first act of embezzlement or adultery that can be difficult; then one soon gets comfortably into the culture of it. Something very similar is true of liturgical 'reform'. The 1955 Decree already includes those sinister words generalis instauratio liturgica. That Decree, and the Missal of 1962, and the Conciliar document Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the Novus Ordo, are all simply episodes in a roller-coaster ride that very quickly got completely out of control and clearly would have done so if no Council had ever been summoned. Even Mgr Lefebvre failed to recognise this until he was already almost in the water at the bottom of the big slope. 

Pius XII was the (albeit unconscious) begetter of the Novus Ordo.


Prayerful said...

The then Fr Bugnini CM was an efficient secretary to Commissio Piana, supporting this Commission for the Reform of the Liturgy with research notes and whatever was needed. Although this cunning Vincentian gave the impression the 'restored' Holy Week was substantially his work, Yves Chiron suggests this was period when Bugnini listened and learned, that he provided no notable input. There were many even more learned liturgical radicals like the then Fr Bea SJ of the infamous psalter or the Franciscan friar Fr Antonelli who considered parts of the traditional Holy Week to be superstitious. The sad thing is that if had Annibale Bugnini decided to hike off, there were plenty of liturgical experimenters who had all sorts of paraliturgical schemes. One perplexing thing is how the Sacramentary of the Benedictine Bl Idelfonso Schuster was an early inspiration to the Vincentian, but this book did perhaps unwitting set Bugnini to thinking how the Mass could be done better for Modern Man.

Rubricarius said...

The provisions of Cum nostra allowed two occasions, not one, when a proper last Gospel would occur namely the third Mass of Christmas and on Palm Sunday in private Masses when the blessing of Palms (for what it was worth then) took place. (Tit. V, 9)

It was the 1960/2 stage of the reform that reduced that to just the Second Sunday of the Passion (olim Palm Sunday).

I rather doubt Pius XII was anything but very conscious of the reforms he undertook and fostered.

Fr Scott Bailey, C.Ss.R. said...

Restore the Fifty-Four.

Carol said...

Dear Father Hunwicke,
Thank you for posting this interesting piece today. I agree that most Catholics, even among traditionalists, have no conception of the true nature and extent of Pius XII’s Holy Week reforms. That is why I produced my recent book on those early reforms:
"Born of Revolution: A Misconceived Liturgical Movement. Volume 1: Active Participaiton", Holyrood Press, 2020, which I hope will be of use and interest to your readers.

It gives an in-depth and comprehensive analysis, based on documentary evidence, of the destructive changes to the Holy Week ceremonies and to the Calendar. All the evidence adduced in this study indicates that Pius XII helped strengthen the radical aims of the Liturgical Movement which resulted in the creation of the Novus Ordo liturgy. It was evident even in those pre-Vatican II years that respect for Tradition was already declining because it was becoming less and less supported by papal authority.

I agree with your assessment of the spinelessness of the SCR. It eventually gave up its authority to control the situation, and degenerated from being the Church’s front line of defence against attempts by reformers to undermine the liturgy into a fifth column to facilitate the desires of the same reformers.

Here we are reminded of the ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, who commented disapprovingly on the conflict between Athens and the inhabitants of Melos (Melians) that “the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak suffer what they must”. How ironic that we can find a parallel with these words, written in the 5th century B.C., in the 20th century liturgical reforms.

Thucydides was describing a situation in which both reason and justice were left out of account in the formulation of policy decisions and their practical application; where no attempt was made to be fair and impartial; where customary law was violated and ethical standards disregarded; where the rights of the weaker party were trampled underfoot. It was in vain that the Melians (like the 20th-century Catholic traditionalists) appealed to a sense of honour and decency in support of their cause. Having trusted in the presumed loyalty of Sparta, they were deserted by those who should have protected them. And yet his description, transported 2,500 years into the future, shows some points of similarity with the way in which Pius XII’s Liturgical Commission conducted its tyrannical campaign against the traditional Holy Week liturgy.

Carol said...

Sorry, I forgot to sign my name: Dr Carol Byrne

Joshua said...

Imagine a "Franciscan friar... who considered parts of the traditional Holy Week to be superstitious" - talk about pots and kettles!

It would be but honesty to admit that the multitudes of varieties of followers of the good Francis have never been reputed to be wholly free from deplorable ignorance and fanatical superstition.

Stephen said...

"Pius XII was the (albeit unconscious) begetter of the Novus Ordo." As they say down in Nawlins, "Tru dat." But Pius XII was endowed by Roman Catholic ecclesiology with the power to do what he and his minions did, just as was Paul VI, was he not? What checks to this unique power exist within Roman Catholicism? Can a Roman Catholic accept the legitimacy of the power to make such changes, yet withhold acceptance of any exercise of that power, without becoming a Protestant? That is a real slippery slope.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Magister Johannes,

You are right about ++ Lefebvre, and along these lines, I must admit that one thing that really irked me, as one of his seminarians, was, "Monseigneur says X, therefore X is right". Ipse dixit nonsense all over again.

In fact, at Econe, there seems to have been a saying reserved for criticism of those who suggested that the Archbishop, correct as he was on most matters, may have been occasionally mistaken:

"Vous etes contre Monseigneur!"


P.S.: Doctor Byrne,

You'd be surprised how often, as a relatively powerless traditionalist seminarian, I experienced the reality of the Melian Dialogue at work with not only the SSPX, but the trad movement generally. Its leaders really do need to engage in an examination of conscience - not as to principles, but as to the way they administer their charges. As a result of this, I've seen decent men not surviving until holy orders, and the worst scum ordained.


Matthew F Kluk said...

Dr. Byrne, I've ordered your book, I hope to learn much more!

Carol said...

Matthew, I trust that you will not be disappointed in your search for authentic information on the 1956 reform of the Holy Week rites. I have consulted the Memorandum of Pius XII's Commission which was published by one of its members, Fr Carlo Braga, in 2003. It sheds light on the thinking of the reformers and what motivated them to destroy the traditional rites - contempt and hatred for our liturgical heritage.

The book can also be read from beginning to end as an in-depth study of the progressive decline of the traditional liturgy well before Vatican II. But its main utility is that it can be dipped into at any point as a well-documented source of reference for any particular change in the Roman Rite orchestrated by the Liturgical Revolution.

It comes complete with an Index and a full Bibliography.

Happy reading!

Stephen said...

Dr. Byrne, why did they have such contempt and hatred? Whence the origin of such a destructive motives, and why were their reforms met with so much enthusiasm, and so very, very, very little resistance?

Carol said...

Stephen, uou take me out of my depth here into the dark, murky waters of the human psyche. One can only speculate that certain forces were at work such as the "anima delendi", the revolutionary mindset, the thirst for power and the ever-present effects of Original Sin that we see in all subversive movements. They all have contempt for the "little people" in whose name the revolution is carried out.

Your assumption that there was a lot of enthusiasm for the reforms is not borne out by the facts. The faithful had not asked for the changes and were bewildered by them. They trusted their parish priests who, in turn, had to obey their bishops. It was unthinkable in an age of ultramontanism for anyone to oppose the Holy Father. And so the revolution was imposed in the name of "obedience".

I have supplied evidence in my book that numerous complaints poured into the Vatican by bishops around the world who objected to the Pius XII Holy Week reforms. But their concerns were simply ignored!

Rubricarius said...

The interesting thing - to me at least - was that there was resistance, albeit limited, to Pius XII's reform of Holy Week. Looking at the question seven decades after the event make the collection of forensic evidence nigh on impossible but there are traces of resistance nonetheless.

When rector of the English College Gerald Tickel, later bishop to HM Forces, celebrated the ancient rite, in Rome, in 1956 and 1957. My late friend Mgr Gilbey knew of some priests who quietly ignored the decree. Another friend met a priest in the 1990s, the priest then in his ninth decade, who said as a curate his PP had carried on with the traditional rite as had a number of his colleagues. I have a friend, who is a Jesuit, ordained Holy Saturday 1955 (before ordinations were prohibited by amendments to Maxima redemptionis). He celebrated his first sung Mass the following day at a parish church in Oxfordshire. When he arrived he found the parish sister bemoaning what 'Father had done with his triple candle' as she scraped wax from the floor.

I would be most interested in knowing if Dr Byrne has come across similar evidence.

Stephen said...

Dr. Byrne, how then, if the centralizing trajectory of the modern Papacy (what I believe you mean in part with "the age of ultramontanism") is both origination and delivery (or a part of each) of the destruction, how does a faithful Catholic walk that back, as they say? It's difficult for me to separate the fruit of the "liturgical reform" from the tree it so clearly fell from.

Carol said...

I am not as well connected as you with the great and the good, and have no personal knowledge of any priests who evaded the 1956 legislation and got away with it. But apart from your valuable anecdotal evidence, there are historic documents in the Vatican archives which record some spirited verbal resistance to Pius XII’s reforms.

For instance, as soon as the reform of Holy Thursday was published, Cardinal Spellman of New York, in a letter to Pius XII, stated:

“It is my certain knowledge that those who applauded the Decree are in the very definite minority, while the bishops and priests of my own region are appalled at the confusion that will be caused by the application of such a revolutionary edict”.

This was mentioned in Alcuin Reid, Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives. Reid also mentions in The Organic Development of the Liturgy a number of bishops who objected strongly to the 1956 Reforms, including Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. I mention him because he was Archbishop of Dublin, my native town, and also did his utmost to resist the Vatican II reforms while remaining within the letter of the law.

Rubricarius said...

Mea culpa - in my post above please read Holy Saturday 1956, not 1955.

I understood that Cardinal Spellman and Dr McQuaid had actually tried to stop the promulgation of Maxima redemptionis. If true a very brave attempt but one bound to fail considering the curial politics of the time. Trying to get the new rites optional, as the 'Easter Vigil' had been from 1951 might, perhaps, have had a better chance of bearing fruit.

It is interesting to read the responses of the 1956 consultation of the episcopate on reform of the breviary. Dr McQuaid's response (No. 16) basically says no reform is required and the breviary homilies are edifying to the clergy. It is the most conservative published response. I understand he was always approachable and accessible by his clergy. O that we had the likes of him today!

Carol said...


In order to answer your concerns, I think we must separate out the human element in the Church from the institution that Our Lord founded. Neither popes nor curial officials are infallible and impeccable in their ordinary day-to-day running of the Church. Nor can anyone convincingly argue that they are immune to human weakness, imprudence or the allure of groupthink.

There is plenty of evidence to show that from Pius XI onwards, Church leaders began to be influenced by the narrative of the reformers and gradually to take their side against the interest of the faithful. That is why no one could successfully appeal to the Holy See to defend the Church against such subversive reforms.

Certainly, from 1956, it was becoming clear that Pope Pius XII was yielding ground to a "managerial" caucus of liturgical experts who saw themselves as indispensable organizers of a new liturgy for the Church. So it is not to be wondered at that the Holy Week reforms encouraged contempt for Tradition because the Pope was seen to acquiesce with those who had been acting against liturgical law for years before 1956.

I know of many people who react with shock and outrage that anyone should consider Pius XII – the "last traditional Pope" in their estimation – to have been in any way responsible for contributing to the eventual destruction of the liturgy. He could not have done so, they argue, because he was the "last traditional pope". But that is a circular argument, and it betrays their lack of knowledge of the facts associated with his pontificate. It was this attitude that propelled me to write my book.