Tuesday, 1 November 2011

''Pope of the Liturgy''...

Four years ago I visited Dublin. It was 21st August, the feast of Pius X in the New Kalendar. I went to Mass in a Roman church where a priest said ''a few suitable words'' (as the Shire hobbits would say) about what old Pius had done for the good of the Liturgy - nothing worth repeating, I daresay. I went on afterwards to the Cathedral church of St Patrick (in the Church of Ireland, the church of my grandmother), where they put on a respectable Evensong. When the Minor Canon got to the Collect ''O God, from whom all holy desires...'' I burst out laughing because the irony of the Roman priest's words returned to me. ''Deus, a quo sancta desideria...'' was, of course, a Collect sung at Lauds and Vespers in the Roman Office before the 1911-1913 reform. The preces too can be found in the traditional Roman Office (the Prayerbook having the liturgical books of old Sarum as the source). What's ironic about it? Well, if you want a taste of the traditional Roman Office, why not just go to the local Anglican church where they put on Prayerbook Evensong!

Actually I haven't been to Dublin for close to 10 years. This was a story told to me by a very good friend of mine - it sounds better when told in the first person. It is, as you know, the feast of All Saints (a blessed feast to you all), and the first centenary of Pius X's bull Divino Afflatu, which relegated the traditional offices of the Breviary to the stacks of Cathedral libraries and the private collection of liturgical scholars. Who controls the present controls the past, and all that. Rorate Caeli have thought it fitting to mark the centenary, though after a manner disconsonant with the very names they name unto themselves, of ''catholic'' and ''traditional.'' See here.

I must say my favourite quote from Divino Afflatu, by which old Sarto cast odium upon the tradition of the Church, is this:

This we publish, declare, sanction, decreeing that these our letters always are and shall be valid and effective, notwithstanding apostolic constitutions and ordinances, general and special, and everything else whatsoever to the contrary. Wherefore, let nobody infringe or dare to oppose this page of our abolition, revocation, permission, ordinance, precept, statue, indult, mandate and will. But if anybody shall presume to attempt this let him know that he will incur the indignation of almighty God and of his apostles the blessed Peter and Paul.

J.R.R Tolkien thought that the reform of Pius X was the greatest of his lifetime, ''surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve.'' He was writing in 1963, after the reforms of Holy Week by Pius XII. I wonder what he thought, nigh a century ago, when he went to Mass on Sunday expecting the feast of so-and-so and his priest came from the vestry in green vestments? When I do my doctorate in Tolkien I aim to investigate such questions. I think that, little though this might seem, they reflect upon his work. More on this in a later post. I am tired, it's been a long day (having been up since half past four), and I have another early start (and late night) tomorrow.


  1. I am surpised that Tolkien considered Pope Pius X's reform of the Breviary the greatest of his lifetime: in what sense ''great''? did he mean ''most far-reaching'', ''most devastating'', ''most shocking''? The reform was certainly not ''great'' in the sense of ''grand'', ''very good'', ''admirable'', ''wonderful'', and so forth. The Pope reforemd the Breviary with one intention in mind: to lessen the ''burden'' of the secular clergy. Something he could have done much more simply - and without wrecking havoc upon God's Work and thus treading upon against millenary liturgical tradition - simply by freeing the secular clergy from the duty proper to monks of praying the whole Divine Office. (which is suppsed to be sung, not merely mumbled, as secular clerics do in private recitation).

  2. Fr. Albertus,

    Indeed. Shortening and simplification were the order of the day. The problem of the predominance of the festal Office and the almost constant use of the festal psalmody could have been dealt with by a couple of simple changes to the rubrics.

  3. I think there can be no doubt that Pius X's change of the breviary psalter was the first step in the liturgical revolution that wrought so much havoc in the 20th century. Among other things I have noticed from bibliographical evidence that it put an end to lay use of and devotion centered on the office: before it there were vernacular translations of the breviary, like that of the Marquess of Bute; afterwards...practically nothing. Divino afflante spiritu completed the process by which the office ceased to be the prayer of the whole church, and became the private prayer book of the clergy. I would also note that it was based on French Jansenist breviaries which had previously been rejected by the Church — in short there was no good catholic precedence for it. Finally his forbidding of previous liturgical forms in this fashion was without precedence in the history of the Church (even Pius V allowed use of previous books until they wore out), was, if you follow the logic of Summorum Pontificum, arguably beyond the competence of the Holy See, and finally, was a gross injustice to all those clergy and religious who prayed the Roman office, as they had received it, all their lives, and whose habits of prayer, sanctioned by more than a millennium, was wrenched from them.

  4. By the way, I do not think Tolkien was talking about breviary reform. If I remember the passage correctly, he was referring to the practice of frequent communion (and possibly the work of restoring Gregorian chant and Church music in general).

  5. Thank you all for your responses.

    Eques, welcome to Liturgiae Causa; I have never seen you before. I am well aware of the passage in The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien - possibly he was referring to all reforms of that time, the codification of Canon Law, the Liturgy. Humphrey Carpenter's interpretation was of Pius X's encouragement of daily (or at least frequent) reception of Holy Communion. Somehow I doubt Tolkien had this in mind, for Pius X was not the first to promote frequent reception of the Sacrament in the history of the Church. I believe that St Bede does so in The Ecclesiastical History. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing what Tolkien had in mind, nor do I have access to unpublished material pertaining to Liturgy in the works of Tolkien.

  6. Eques,

    I agree with you in that the 1911-13 changes were the first step towards the modern debacle, indeed Pius X promised more reform but died before he could execute it. The Great War followed by a period of instability and politcal unrest, followed by World War II effected a halt to further major reform until the years after 1945.

    I further agree that the arrangement of the Psalter after 1912 is indeed a Neo-Gallican one and certainly not that of the Roman rite.

  7. I am, for the sake of economy, posting this comment in an identical form to both “‘Pope of the Liturgy’…” and, the earlier, “Lotho…”—both of which appear on this blogspot.

    The Anti-Christ Pius X was no saint. As usual, various papist contributors to this forum have tried to suggest that, somehow, it was “the authoritative declaration of the Church” that established his “sanctity”. In fact, the Church made no such statement: She would be quite unable to do so, since, as an heretic, Sarto did not belong to the Church.

    Several contributors have already commented on the unspeakable mutilation of Christian liturgy carried out by this man. I should like to quote from the work of that illustrious Roman Catholic liturgist Anton Baumstark. In the 1958 English Edition of his work “Comparative Liturgy”, we may read the following paragraph:

    “Between the variable Canticle for each day of the week and the Benedictus, the Monastic Lauds, and formerly also the Roman Lauds, inserted the last three Psalms of the Psalter, termed in the Byzantine rite the ‘Praises’ (αίνοι), which in the West gave the name of laudes to the whole Office. Down to the year 1911 there was nothing in the Christian Liturgy of such absolute universality as this practice in the Morning Office, and no doubt its universality was inherited from the worship of the Synagogue. In the middle of the second century A.D. Rabbi Joseph Bar-Chalafta, when speaking of the use of the last six Psalms, declares that this practice is no longer considered as of obligation every day. The fact is that this recitation of the last three Psalms came originally from the Morning Prayer of the Sabbath, a place which they certainly occupied already in Our Lord’s time and to which the Synagogue was to add later the three preceding ones. Hence to the reformers of the Psalterium Romanum belongs the distinction of having brought to an end the universal observance of a liturgical practice which was followed, one can say, by the Divine Redeemer Himself during His life on earth.”

    Anti-Christ Sarto was also the precursor of the tactics of Stalinism. He actively promoted the public denunciation—even by children of their own parents—of “modernists”, in spite of the fact that he was himself guilty of the most despicable “modernism”.

    Ultimately, if Sarto died in a state that he genuinely believed himself to be the Vicar of Christ, then he is, undoubtedly, now in Hell.