ANY AUTHORS point to the revised Holy Week (made mandatory in 1955) as the beginning of the Vatican II liturgical reforms. For example, Vincentian Father Carlo Braga, who assisted Archbishop Hannibal Bugnini (d. 1982) in the creation of the 1955 Holy Week, called it “the head of the battering ram which pierced the fortress of our hitherto static liturgy.” But Father Braga gave himself too much credit; the real “battering ram” was the Psalter of Pope Pius XII, a project begun toward the beginning of World War II, and released for optional use in 1945, two months before Hitler surrendered. The psalter was eventually abandoned; for example, Father Valentine Young (†2020) said his Franciscan province adopted it for a while but eventually went back to using the Vulgate. To give a quick comparison: The revised Holy Week of 1955 left all sacred music virtually intact, whereas the adoption of the Pius XII Psalter would have meant every chant book ever created would have to be thrown in the garbage, and not one of the psalm settings by Palestrina, Victoria, Guerrero, Lassus, or Morales could be used.
Just How Different Was It?
I possess a 2,000 page book printed by the Abbey of Solesmes which uses the Pius XII Psalter. (You’ll be hearing more about this soon.) This book contains an English translation of the Pius XII Psalter. Did you catch that? The book contains an English translation of the Pius XII Psalter—it’s not the traditional Douay-Rheims, because that wouldn’t work.
See if you agree that the Pius XII Psalter is quite different. Here’s Psalm 110:
* PDF Download • COMPARISON — Psalm 110
Incidentally, many readers know that Monsignor Ronald Knox is featured in the Brébeuf Hymnal. In the 1930s, the Catholic hierarchies of England and Wales asked Monsignor Knox to translate the entire Bible into English, and his edition was published in the 1940s. The Hebrew version of Psalm 110 is an Alphabetical Acrostic, and look how Knox brilliantly reflected this:
All my heart goes out to the Lord in praise,
Before the assembly where the just are gathered.
Chant we the Lord’s wondrous doings,
Delight and study of all who love him.
Ever his deeds are high and glorious,
Faithful he abides to all eternity.
Great deeds, that he keeps still in remembrance!
He, the Lord, is kind and merciful.
In abundance he fed the men who feared him,
Keeping his covenant for ever.
Lordly the power he shewed his people,
Making the lands of the heathen their possession.
No act but shews him just and faithful;
Of his decrees there is no relenting.
Perpetual time shall leave them changeless;
Right and truth are their foundation.
So he has brought our race deliverance;
To all eternity stands his covenant.
Unutterable is his name and worshipful;
Vain without his fear is learning.
Wise evermore are you who follow it;
Yours the prize that lasts for ever.
Canticle of Zachary
Perhaps one of our readers could explain why the Canticle of Zachary (“Benedictus”) was altered under Pius XII. It comes from the Gospel of Saint Luke, not the Psalter—unless I am gravely mistaken. Pope Pius XII did not alter the Magnificat, but he altered the Canticle of Zachary, as you can see:
* PDF Download • COMPARISON — Canticle of Zachary
You can verify my accuracy:
The Nóva órgani harmónia was revised to accommodate the 1955 Holy Week, and you can see they adopted the Pius XII Psalter: