03 June 2018


Rereading, as one does, Thurston's Lent And Holy Week (1904), I was particularly taken by something he writes about Tenebrae, about the strepitus and the final candle, both of which were abolished during the 1955 "Reform".

"With regard to the noise made at the end before the candle is brought from behind the altar, I am afraid that the explanation usually found in the Holy Week books cannot be historically justified. It is made, they remark, to represent the confusion of nature at the death of its Author, or, as the old Liber Festivalis, which I quoted not long since, tells us, 'The strokes that the priest giveth on the book betokeneth the claps of thunder, when Christ brake hell gates, and despoiled them, and set out Adam and Eve and all that He had bought with His bitter Passion'. I fear, however, that historically speaking a much more prosaic account must be given of this noise. When the public recitation of office was concluded, the abbot or presiding prelate always gave the signal for the monks to move out of the choir by knocking the bench, or by one of those wooden clappers which may still be seen abroad used for this purpose. There is little doubt that the noise at the end of  Tenebrae has no other origin than this. The pious imaginations of the medieval liturgists sought for mystical meanings everywhere and found them, but let me repeat that there is no disrespect to our sacred ceremonies involved in attributing to them in many cases a quite matter-of-fact origin. The symbolism of any rite depends not upon the fact that it was designed with a mystical intention by its first inventors, but only upon this, that under the providence of God and with the tacit approval of Holy Church, a certain meaning has become attached to it in the minds of the faithful. The word clock, it has been said in an earlier chapter, was originally used to designate a clacking thing which made a noise - and so a bell; but it would he the height of absurdity for any one to insist that it must mean a bell now and not a timepiece. Thus many of our most beautiful pieces of symbolism are certainly after-thoughts which never entered into the mind of the framers of the ceremony (we shall see an admirable instance later in the incense grains for the paschal candle); but some even of the most fanciful interpretations can plead a venerable antiquity, and the symbolism is true and deserves respect the moment it is generally accepted by the faithful at large."

This is why 1962 and 1955 won't do.  You can't simply change things on an archaeological whim. And if you do, you have to accept responsibility: you gave the reformers an inch, and they took a mile.