Benedictus Deus

Benedictum Nomen Sanctum eius

Forwards Not Backwards

Filed under: Liturgy — March 10, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

Occasionally trads will get into a discussion about the merits of pre-1962 missals, compared to the 1962 itself.  I usually see two common positions taken.  On the one hand, some trads don’t want to have anything to do with a missal that Archbishop Bugnini ever got his mitts on so they reject everything from 1955 on.  And on the other hand, some people think if you start to question the ’62 missal in any way then you are on your way back to Greek liturgy in the catacombs.

Personally, I don’t think every change made between ’55 and ’62 was bad, but on the whole I am sympathetic to the pre-55 crowd.  I would even go so far as to say that those who do use it (mostly Sedes) have the best missal in use today.  However, I don’t believe that we can just plod along with our eyes cast back on the 50s.  We have to move forward, and we are not going to do that by trying to rollback this or that liturgical directive from Rome.  Directives from the top are what got us into this mess in the first place.

In ancient times changes in the liturgy where much more bottom up.  A pious practice in one small town or diocese grew in popularity until it became the custom in a broader area, then passed from custom into liturgical law.  For example, The Minor Rogations started in Vienne, spread in popularity, and eventually (over 300 years later) became a universal practice.

So In terms of pre-1962 liturgical practices, restoration will come from observing those practices as private devotions.  As the practice spreads, perhaps it will one day be reincorporated into the formal liturgy of the Church.  There is not much that can be done about rubrics in the order of the Mass.  However, to my mind, the biggest difference between the 1962 missal and the pre-55 missals are not related to the order of Mass itself (except for the Holy Week rites), but rather the changes to the liturgical calendar.  Most notably the suppression of almost all the octaves and vigils.  These are what I would most like to see restored.  Now, even I can admit that maybe there were too many octaves before the purge.  I can see the suppression of a few of them.  But what was done in ’55 threw a lot of babies out with the bathwater.  The same goes for Vigils.  Anyway, I have written on that before, so I won’t go into again here.

The pitfall is that it is easy to desire these restorations simply out of sense of rubrical purity.  We can look back on the changes and say, “that was hack job, and shouldn’t have been done!”  And that becomes our sole reason for trying to go back.  But our forbearers in the faith didn’t observe these practices out of love for rubrics and a desire to cram more stuff into the liturgy.  They did it because they loved our Lord and his saints.  The customs that got absorbed into the liturgy were simply the concrete expression of that devotion.  That has to be our motivation too.  So if you want to observe a vigil of St. Matthias don’t do it just because that’s what was done before Bugnini got his grubby paws on the Missal.  Do it because you love St. Matthias and think he is a great saint, and your are totally psyched for his feast day.  If you want to observe the Octave of All Saints, do so because it’s a great feast day, and there is just too much to meditate on for merely one day.

I’m no expert, but the more I learn about the development of the liturgy from the 16th century on, the more it seems to me that the decline basically stems from a growing disconnect between the various liturgical practices/observances and the devotion from which they sprang.  The excessive humanism of the Renaissance directed man’s attention away from God and towards himself.  With one of many consequences being a decline in the devotion that fostered so many of our liturgical traditions.  Thus there was a gradual shift to doing things simply because, “thems the rules.”  And at that point, who would really care if the rules change?

So, if you are not happy with any of the modern changes, don’t just throw your hands up and say, “gee that’s a shame we don’t do that anymore.”  Find a place for the traditional way in your own devotional practices.  That, I believe, is the way forward.

And if you want some assistance with those older liturgical practices, you could try this.


  1. John R:

    Here Here!!

    I would add that since the liturgical laws in place in 1955 were already an established custom that there could be a possibility of petitioning Rome to officially concede the usage of that Missal & Breviary (while updating the Calendar for newer saints). There were some rumors that the ICK had received permission to use the old Holy Week, for example, but this has not been confirmed definitvely (to me at least).

    As to the larger point about the disconnect between liturgical laws and the customs/devotions which gave rise to them, this is spot on. Sadly, many who vociferously adhere to the 1955 Missal/Breviary do so without truly trying to restore a liturgical sense of life. Rather, these groups (the SSPV et al.), are simply content to perpetuate the stereotypical 1950’s Low Mass mentality and do not even try to foster a restoration of liturgical spirituality. No congregational singing of chants at Mass as St. Pius X called for, no Divine Offices wherein lay participation is encouraged, etc. They, unfortunately, have also thrown out too many proverbial babies (i.e. the noble liturgical movement of the early 20th. century) with the bathwater (i.e. the Bugnini-hijacking of that noble liturgical movement).

    Having reincorporated most of the older elements of the Breviary has given me a sense of completeness compared to simply praying the 1962 Breviary. The Ferial Preces, in particular, at all offices during the Lenten weekdays are so especially fitting with their abject petitions. One almost feels compelled to pray them in a prostrate position on cold dirt.

  2. benedictus:

    “One almost feels compelled to pray them in a prostrate position on cold dirt.”

    Nice. I would like to see the Preces in the Roman office. In the Monastic office they are very simple and always the same. Unless I am just missing something, which is possible.

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