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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