ERE IN SOUTH TEXAS, Ash Wednesday is an incredibly popular day. The Churches are literally packed from early morning to late evening. Many more people come to Church on Ash Wednesday than any other day, including Christmas and Easter.
Believe it or not, Annibale Bugnini and his crew tried to get rid of Ash Wednesday so Lent could begin on a Sunday (justified partially by an alleged statement of Leo the Great, later proven to be fictitious). However, in an uncharacteristic move, Pope Paul VI put his foot down, refusing to scrap Ash Wednesday. By the way, I used to hate hearing people attribute bad things to Bugnini. I thought it unfair. After all, the new liturgy was elaborated by commissions (not a single person) and introduced under the authority of the Pope and appropriate Curial Office, right? While that’s all true, I’ve come to understand (by reading a lot) that Bugnini truly was pulling the strings and had great influence over the Pope, and he even brags about this in his (massive & polemical) book. Many of the postconciliar reforms have born terrible fruit, but this is hardly the first time the Church has “reformed” something in a bad way — just look at Pope Urban’s “reform” of the ancient breviary hymns!
Anyhow, you can read all about the “Ash Wednesday elimination saga” in Collects of the Roman Missals, an impressive scholarly work by Dr. Lauren Pristas, Professor of Theology at Caldwell College. Dr. Pristas (who had access to certain important documents from the Council) also treats several other interesting topics, e.g. the rearrangement of the Christmas Season.
What I found most interesting (depressing?) was the unbelievably haphazard way these changes came about. No wonder people often get confused about whether the Baptism of the Lord is still Christmastide! Even the USCCB website accidentally labeled it as “First Sunday of Ordinary Time” … which is false, of course: it replaces the First Sunday in Ordinary Time (sometimes).
The reformers themselves were quite confused about these things, and kept voting on different options without finding a satisfactory solution. They failed to realize that one cannot simply “sit down over tea and crumpets” and VOTE INTO BEING the Church calendar. It’s supposed to develop organically. Incidentally, one of the reformers (in the minority, because he wanted to keep Ash Wednesday) pointed out to his comrades what the Council Fathers decreed: “There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them.” Unfortunately, the reformers frequently ignored this and many other clear directives. László Dobszay called many of the liturgical reforms “change for the sake of change,” e.g. altering the venerable chants of Holy Week — even using a Tract followed by a Gradual on Palm Sunday! — and other bizarre innovations.
AS TROUBLING AS THE CALENDAR REVISION IS, something worse is what Msgr. Richard J. Schuler referred to as the “vulgarity” in the approved Scripture translations for Mass. To me, this is particularly scandalous in the Lectionary translation for the Passion of our Lord. (By the way, I looked at the 1970s version of the Lectionary and found that it was even worse!)
Yes, Msgr. Schuler uses that precise word (“vulgarity”) several times in his writings. If you don’t believe me, you can read Msgr. Schuler’s own words:
Just like the Mass Propers, respect for Sacred Scripture seems to have “gone by the wayside” following the Council (in spite of its clear directives to the contrary). Why couldn’t a reverent, traditional version of Scripture be allowed for the Ordinary Form, as an option? What possible harm could there be in that? Yet, as we’ve mentioned many times, the same bishops who pontificate about “pastoral sensitivity” and “avoidance of rigid uniformity” often fight tooth and nail to prevent such an option being given to the faithful. Can anyone explain this supremely puzzling dichotomy?