An Important Article on the 1951–1956 Holy Week Reform Appears

THE Rorate Caeli blog recently posted a translation of The Reform of Holy Week in the Years 1951-1956, an excellent and detailed study of the Pius XII Holy Week rites, written by Fr. Stefano Carusi.

As we noted in Chapter 3 of Work of Human Hands, these rites constituted the third stage in a process of liturgical change that eventually culminated in the New Mass.

Fr. Carusi makes extensive use of a commentary by Fr. Carlo Braga, who assisted Fr. Annibale Bugnini in formulating both the new 1951–1956 Holy Week reform and the 1969 Novus Ordo Missae. The following is from Fr. Carusi’s concluding comments:

The entire raison d’être of the reform seems to be permeated with the whiff of rationalism and archeologism, with at times dollops of pure imagination…

According to Father Carlo Braga, this reform was the “head of the battering-ram” which broke into the Roman liturgy for the holiest days of the year. Something so revolutionary was bound to have repercussions on the entire subsequent spirit of the liturgy.

The whole article is worth careful reading and study. It brought to light a number of details in the new rite that had been missed even by long-time critics of the rites like me.

Everyone owes a debt of gratitude to Fr. Carusi and Mr. Palad of Rorate for making this work available.

It is worth noting that Fr. Carusi is a member of the IBP (Institute of the Good Shepherd), a Vatican-approved  society for priests (mostly former SSPX-ers) who offer the traditional Latin Mass under the banner of Benedict XVI’s 2007 Motu Proprio — which, in theory at least, prescribes the use of the John XXIII Missal that contains the very rites Fr. Carusi criticizes.

It is significant that even in these circles many are now examining the pre-Vatican II liturgical changes with a critical eye, an undertaking previously regarded as exclusively “sedevacantist” territory.

Inevitably another issue came up during the discussion of Fr. Carusi’s article. Various members of the anti-sedevacantist camp maintain that it is inconsistent to reject the Holy Week rites promulgated by Pius XII, whom sedevacantists regard as a true pope, while maintaining that the New Mass promulgated by Paul VI is part of the proof that he was a false pope.

It will be useful here for me to restate my position on this matter.

Taken individually, none of the changes introduced in 1951–1956 Holy Week rites (I offer a summary in Work of Human Hands, 68–69) was evil in itself.

But fifty years later, we recognize that these precedents and the principles behind them were the foot in the door to the eventual destruction of the Mass. Bugnini, after all, told us that the changes were just one stage in the process of a wholesale liturgical reform — a “bridge,” he said, to “a new city.” (See WHH, 61)

In the very document promulgating the Novus Ordo, moreover, Paul VI himself points to the Pius XII legislation as the starting point for the creation of the New Mass. (See WHH, 49)

If the rites were not evil in themselves, on what basis could one now criticize them or refuse to follow them?

The answer is to be found in the general principles of canon law. Canonists and moral theologians (e.g., Cocchi, Michels, Noldin, Wernz-Vidal, Vermeersch, Regatillo, Zalba) commonly teach that a human ecclesiastical law can become harmful (nociva, noxia) due to changed circumstances after the passage of time. In such a case it automatically ceases to bind.

This, I contend, is exactly the case with the 1951–1956 Holy Week rites.

One cannot therefore maintain that the application of this principle (cessation of law) to the Holy Week changes contradicts the teaching of dogmatic theology that the Church is infallible when she promulgates universal disciplinary laws.

On this point, therefore, there is no inconsistency whatsoever in the sedevacantist position.

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  1. Carl Winsløw
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I took a look at the on-line pages of your book and rapidly found a sad mistake in one of the first pages, where you write:

    “Though later, in connection with his efforts to “regularize” the status of the Society of St. Pius X, the archbishop would ask the Vatican to permit an “experiment in tradition” (la expérience de la tradition) for those Catholics who preferred it, his earliest pronouncements on the liturgical reform concentrated almost exclusively on condemning its doctrinal errors.”

    In French, “l’expérience de la tradition” (never “la” in front of a wovel) means “the experience of tradition”, which is something entirely different and makes your use of the quotation a mistake. I am afraid this suggests a serious difficulty with most sources in French, in particular the words of his Excellency Mgr Lefebvre, a difficulty which might seriously affect your assessment of this great man’s work for Tradition in other places as well.

  2. Posted July 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    First, if you check any common French/English dictionary, you will discover that the word expérience conveys, in addition to “experience,” the idea of a scientific experiment.

    Second, in the 1970s I was present at many conferences of Abp. Lefebvre at Ecône, during which the meaning he gave to this word was absolutely clear. The idea was that just as many experimental liturgies are now permitted, so too should Rome permit an experiment with tradition.

    Bishop Sanborn and I (who were both seminarians then) remember this clearly. In fact, Bishop Sanborn even asked the French seminarians about the meaning of that very word, and they told him what it meant.

    Third, that is the only meaning that makes sense. Would Lefebvre have been asking Cardinal Gut, for example, to “experience” tradition, when the archbishop himself was born in the early 1900’s, and had said the traditional Mass for most of his priestly life? It would make no sense.

    There is no doubt about what Lefebvre meant.

    French is a minefield of false cognates, and I fear you have inadvertently stepped on one. But bravo for spotting the the typo!

    I hope that you will find the book helpful in arriving at an understanding of the difficulties the New Mass presents for Catholic doctrine and Catholic piety.

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