23 April 2020

A pre-1955 Triduum

"(Monasteries) became, accordingly, especial targets. Satan, issuing orders at nightfall to his foul precurrers, was rumoured to dispatch to capital cities only one junior fiend. This solitary demon, the legend continues, sleeps at his post. There is no work for him; the battle was long ago won. But monasteries, those scattered danger points, become the chief objectives of nocturnal flight; the sky fills with the beat of sable wings as phalanx after phalanx streams to the attack, and the darkness crepitates with the splintering of a myriad lances against the masonry of asceticism. Piety has always been singled out for the hardest onslaught of hellish aggression."

Patrick Leigh Fermor A Time to Keep Gifts

I think, sometimes, that the same junior fiend who is responsible for capital cities has had the Catholic traditionalist twittersphere added to his responsibilities, it being as easy for him to foment rancour and strong language between supporters and opponents of the SSPX to the detriment of all concerned as it is to corrupt the denizens of cities. And in the same way as cities can become hellish places, the lack of charity displayed at times by traditionalist Catholics on Twitter is scarcely an invitation to calm consideration.

I am reminded of this at the moment as, during a #twitterdueltodeath between supporters and opponents of the SSPX, I digest having been able to participate in a pre-1955 Triduum courtesy of the FSSP streaming from Fribourg. I'm not old enough to remember it, though I can remember serving the 1962 Missal's Triduum, and, of course the modern version.

I have studied the differences between what I never knew and what I remembered, but up to this year it has always been an intellectual exercise.  This year I could witness the difference, and I felt, in a way I have never felt before, just how monumentally disastrous the twentieth century has been for Catholic worship and just how acceptance of the 1955 Triduum changes would lead inexorably to everything that followed.

 A couple of examples: the 1955 reform cuts the number of prophecies from twelve to four, because that there were only four prophecies in the Gregorian Missal. But if that's important, why not make the four prophecies used from 1955 onward the same four as used at the end of the sixth century? And why does Pope St Gregory's four trump the earlier twelve in use in Jerusalem in the fifth century?

As it happens, the chanting of the twelve prophecies took just under an hour: I could read them and meditate on them as they were chanted. And as the celebration began at 5.00 pm (they weren't quite brave enough to restore celebration to the morning) the service wasn't extended indefinitely, nor was there the slightly shoddy liturgical pretence that "after dusk" is better than "before dusk" when part of the point of the 1955 Reform was "midnight".

And why would you want to get rid of the triple candlestick, and upset the old rhythm of fire and water, and make the Paschal Candle the centre of the first part of the ceremony only to suddenly mix in a completely new "rite": the renewal of baptismal promises?

The answer of course is, first, because they could; second, because a bunch of very clever people persuaded the Pope that he could do anything he liked to the Liturgy because he was Pope; third, because they then persuaded him that the Reform was, in some way, "needed"; and fourth, because they were looking much further ahead to a complete transformation of the Roman Rite. I mentioned some months ago here that Mediator Dei in 1948 had stood on its head the idea of Lex orandi lex credendi in order explicitly to say that rites should be changed to change people's beliefs.

If you want to see how out of tune the 1962 Missal is with what preceded it look not to the Triduum but to the Vigil of Pentecost. Pentecost until 1962 the second most important feast of the Church's year, had a vigil that in large parts mirrored the Easter Vigil: only six Prophecies; blessing of the font as on Holy Saturday though no new fire. This was all dispensed with. Every time I hear somebody bemoaning the loss of the Pentecost Octave, or telling the story of Pope Paul not realising what he had signed up to, I am reminded of all the times people don't bemoan the loss of the old Vigil. By the time of the 1970 Missal, Christmas has become the second feast in the Church's year: what was the problem the reformers had with the Holy Spirit?

I never expected that I would ever see a pre-1955 Triduum licitly celebrated - I never expect I will live anywhere where even a 1962 celebration will be available to me. I'm no longer worried about the second of these two facts, though. 1962 won't cut it.