OUGHLY thirty years ago, Father Ronald F. Krisman served as Executive Director of the liturgical committee for the USA bishops’ conference. (Currently, this body calls itself the USCCB; prior to 1996 it had different names.) What was formerly known as the “BCL” now calls itself the “Committee on Divine Worship.” Generally speaking, the Washington D.C. staff members run everything, although a committee of bishops is technically in charge. (This is not admitted publicly, for obvious reasons.) In the past, I have had the privilege of working closely with bishops who served on that committee—although, as I already mentioned, the secretariat is de facto in charge. When Fr. Krisman finished his service as Executive Director of the secretariat, he began working for GIA publications.
The following was posted by Fr. Krisman on the Church Music Association of America website (and kindly brought to my attention by C.M.I.):
Father Krisman is dead wrong.
Let’s take each one:
(1.) Fr. Krisman: Triduum liturgies would have been celebrated “in the morning before dawn.”
The Holy Week services prior to the 1955 reforms were not celebrated “in the morning before dawn” as Fr. Krisman erroneously claims. They took place in the morning, but not “before dawn”—as you can clearly see from the posted examples of church bulletins from the 1930s and 1940s. When we consider Fr. Krisman was (for all intents and purposes) in charge of the USA liturgy committee for years, his unfamiliarity with Catholic praxis is disturbing. He once erroneously claimed that the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar were sung—but that never happened, not even once. Chesterton once said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” It would seem Fr. Krisman has never “tried” the traditional liturgy.
(2.) Fr. Krisman: “The church would have been pretty much empty, except for the priests and seminarians whose presence was commandeered.”
Fr. Krisman is incorrect. The Holy Thursday Mass was attended by the children at Catholic school, and attendance was quite high. It’s true that Holy Saturday was not very highly attended, but traditionally this had become a penitential ceremony. It had twelve (12) long readings, and—as they were being read or sung—the catechumens were being prepared for Baptism. When the ceremony was over, a reception for the converts was most likely held; because it would have been around noon, as opposed to 3:00am. At the Easter Vigil, some books say the faithful did not receive Holy Communion, but instead waited until Easter day.
We will not go into great detail regarding the ceremonies of Holy Saturday, because it’s an incredibly complex subject. (Fortescue is brilliant on this.) I would only point out that the traditional arrangement—Holy Saturday morning—makes a lot of sense, because it doesn’t distract from Easter Sunday Mass. It’s difficult to understand how certain authors attempt to claim that Holy Saturday is the “crown jewel” of the Church year, because the Mass for Holy Saturday has less music than any other Mass. Even a ferial Mass has more music. Holy Saturday has no Introit, no Credo, no Sequence, no Agnus Dei, no Offertory antiphon, no Communion antiphon, and so forth. (For the record, it does contain a dramatic moment when the Gloria, bells, and organ return.) The 1950s transfer to the evening instead of the morning seems to have caused great confusion. In the pre-1955 days, even the bishop (in many dioceses) did not attend the Holy Saturday services! Easter Sunday was the big Mass, which has tremendous music.
(3.) Fr. Krisman talks about a “historical reenactment” of Holy Week.
Pope Francis was the one who allowed the pre-1955 Holy Week, for certain parishes, a few years ago. He was right to do that, because I know of no serious person alive today who defends the 1955 reform. It was sloppy and pointless. The pre-1955 makes a lot more sense, even if folks use the post-1955 times. But using the post-1955 timings destroys Tenebrae…which is not cool.
For the record, I have seen how a “historical reënactment” looks—and the traditional holy week has nothing to do with that. (Fr. Krisman could not be more wrong.)
(4.) Fr. Krisman: “Please shut it down before it hurts people.”
The sacred rites will not hurt anyone. I beg you to read the beautiful description of them written by Fr. Adrian Fortescue in 1916:
No Passion play, no deliberately dramatic ceremonies invented now, could be so full of meaning as these old rites; no modern invention could so well represent, externally, the thoughts and memories of these days. Deliberate pageantry would rather repel us as being theatrical. Here we are in no danger of judging our rites to be that, since there is always so simple an explanation of their origin. Yet we have in them, with their age-long associations, dramatic symbols unequalled for beauty and suitability. To us, now, by long association all these rites have become a great drama, the yearly mysteries in which we express our undying remembrance of what these days mean. Our Lord told us not to forget him. We have the memory of his Passion, of course, in every Mass, yet never so vividly as in the ceremonies of Holy Week.
The Catholic who takes part in these rites will not be content merely to understand their immediate history and first explanation. He must look up beyond these outer symbols, and see the Upper Room, the Mount of Olives, the Hill without the city, the grave. The ceremonies of our churches are only the outer expression of the real religion of spirit and truth, the veil which covers without hiding the mysteries beyond. Behind the white Mass of Thursday and the procession, the altar of repose, behind the desolation of Friday, with its sudden burst of splendour, behind all the old rites of the Paschal vigil, we still see, after so many long centuries, the table of the Supper to which we owe our Lord’s last gift to us, the hours of his pain, the silent grave on which the Paschal moon shone that night. The bells, the organ, the Alleluia tell us, each year again, of the glory of that Easter sun which never set. Surrexit Christus de sepulchro, qui pro nobis pependit in ligno.
To learn more about the traditional holy week:
* PDF Download • “Holy Week According to the Missall and Roman Breviary” (1670AD)
—Sir Walter Kirkham Blount; 611 gorgeous pages!
* PDF Download • LENT AND HOLY WEEK (1904)
—487 pages; Father Herbert Thurston.
* PDF Download • THE HOLY WEEK BOOK (1913)
—346 pages; with an Introduction by Adrian Fortescue; London, Burns Oates.
* PDF Download • Introduction to the pre-1955 Holy Week
—15 pages; written by Fr. Adrian Fortescue; taken from the 1913 book above.
Addendum: For the record, I still remember almost a decade ago when Fr. Krisman publicly disparaged Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi, saying “canonists in the Diocese of Corpus Christi need a refresher course on the subject of ecclesiastical approval to publish.” Father Krisman was later proven to be incorrect, but (as far as I know) never apologized to Bishop Mulvey.