N A STAGGERING turn of events, Rome gave permission this year for certain parishes to use the ancient rites of Holy Week—the so-called “Pre-1955 version.” If everything goes well for three years, the permission might be broadened. Until last week, I had only experienced the 1962 version, which is done according to Pius XII reforms that became mandatory in 1955.
When permission from Rome was first announced, I smiled—but deep down was worried. My most precious memories were from the 1962 Holy Week. Moreover, several priests who remembered the ancient version always spoke bad things about it: e.g. how the priest had to quietly read all twelve Prophecies while they were proclaimed by another minister. I simply couldn’t imagine how all this stuff worked, and my biggest concern was the timing of the ceremonies. Traditionally, they took place in the morning; whereas Pius XII changed them to evening. But I loved Holy Thursday happening in the evening, when our Savior was betrayed by Judas…and now this was being taken away?
It turns out I was dead wrong.
The ancient rites blew me away! To examine all the differences—leaving aside their vast history and theological connotations—would require years, but allow me a few reflections:
(1) I was wrong about the “Morning/Evening” controversy. The times are immaterial to the substance of the ancient rites. Indeed, Rome has stipulated they are to be done in the evening. (At least, that is my understanding.) The precise time they take place, I have come to understand, is insignificant. Moreover, it is a simpleminded and anti-liturgical person who is incapable of calling to mind the Exsultet’s “blessed night” unless it’s dark outside.
(2) Whoever created the 1955 version (Annibale Bugnini seems to have been prime mover) was often sloppy and arbitrary. These faults are highlighted when one experiences the ancient version. Fr. John Parsons and others have already pointed out, for example, sloppy typos which ended up wreaking havoc. Something I’ve not seen mentioned is the “short form” of the 1955 Palm distribution, which is horrific in terms of antiphon placement, and I’m convinced the rubric in question was a typo nobody caught. The three antiphons in the 1955 Good Friday Communion service—all in different modes, with no psalms—are bizarre from a musical standpoint. And so forth and so on.
But the ancient rites “flow.” For example, the music assigned for the Veneration of the Cross doesn’t have to be crammed and condensed because it was designed for the ancient manner of veneration. (Pope Saint John XXIII famously chose the ancient version, though it was against the rubrics in force at the time.) Even as a boy, I sensed something inadequate about placing the Footwashing in the middle of Holy Thursday Mass, and this innovation happened in 1955. And likewise for the other ceremonies. The biggest difference, in other words, is how the ancient rites “flow” naturally and logically.
(3) I had previously believed certain items to be “aesthetic” (unimportant), such as the weird vestments—Broad Stole and Folded Chasubles—but I was wrong. I now understand the vestments to be incredibly powerful reminders of the antiquity of the sacred rites, because they go back so many centuries.
(4) I was worried the congregation would hate having twelve (12) long Prophecies at the Easter Vigil; but again I was wrong. It is a sacred time to sit quietly in Church and ponder one’s relationship with Almighty God. It is a sacred time to examine one’s conscience and contemplate eternity.
(5) The “weeping tone” after our Lord dies is haunting and breathtaking. I had only heard it on recordings before last week. And there were so many other awesome moments…such as the priests lying prostrate for the Litany, the “Missa Sicca” on Palm Sunday, and so forth and so on.
HE CURRENT SITUATION could never have been imagined by those of us who began attending the Traditional Mass in the 1990s. These days, I see countless newly-ordained priests choosing the Extraordinary Form: with beautiful vestments, young families, and traditional sacred music. This is something that drives progressive liturgists bonkers, because they hate the Traditional Mass. Indeed, their golden age was the 1980s, followed closely by the primitive Church (which they misunderstand and distort). They abhor anything Medieval, and especially anything admired by saints from the Middle Ages. Such people increasingly struggle to hide their rage at what is happening.
And let’s be honest: who could have anticipated what’s happening? Young priests are voluntarily choosing the ancient rites of Holy Week, even though it requires tons more work. Leave aside all the preparations: booklets, special vestments, tridents, and so on. To offer the ancient rites requires them to stand on their feet and quietly pray boatloads of Sacred Scripture eliminated in 1955. I cannot help but recall an excerpt from the life of St. Jean de Brébeuf:
In addition to the spiritual exercises prescribed by the Society, Brébeuf performed many other devotions and penances, and was careful to do so in as great privacy as possible. “To the continual sufferings,” wrote his spiritual director, “which are inseparable from the duties which he had in the missions, on the journeys, in whatever place he was; and to those which charity caused him to embrace, often above his strength—although below his courage—he added many voluntary mortifications… And after all these, his heart could not be satiated with sufferings, and he believed that he had never endured aught.”
I would never compare the ancient Holy Week to what St. Brébeuf endured.
But did you notice that sentence?
“…his heart could not be satiated with sufferings…”
These holy priests put forth that extra effort because they want to do more for Jesus Christ. My family is so blessed to be exposed to such men.