Saturday, 14 August 2010


On 1st November 1950 Pius XII published the bull Munificentissimus Deus, solemnly proclaiming the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God to be a dogma of faith. Whatever you might think of the dogmatisation of mysteries of the faith not necessarily involved in the doctrine of the Incarnation is not important here. Newman's theory that all the doctrines of Catholic faith resonate one from the other, being co-dependant, and that if one falls, the rest fall with it, is a fond fancy, and theoretically attractive, but I think it's slightly more complicated than that. Who knows every reflection, every possibility, of every mystery of our faith? I just marvel that the Church would proclaim a dogma of faith so late as 1950 - effectively anathematising those who, in the past, did not hold to the Assumption as so great a matter as Munificentissimus Deus makes it out to be. The same thing happened almost a hundred years previous, in 1854, when Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception a dogma of faith (an ex cathedra infallible teaching, but only with the consent of the Church curiously), which had been disputed by even the most distinguished among the Catholic theologians of the past - most notably St Thomas Aquinas, and the greater part of the Dominican Order. I think that the Assumption is a good and holy doctrine, with ancient liturgical witness, but that it is incidental to the Incarnation rather than intimately connected with it (by the way, I do not hold to so-called ''hierarchy of truths'' envisaged by the Second Vatican Council - I consider this concept to be philosophical codswallop - something is either true or false).

Munificentissimus Deus reads just like any other Papal document, rather pompous, boring and long-winded (I have actually read few Papal documents in their entirety before - I get bored with them, the style is generally atrocious, even in Latin, and one often looses one's train of thought whilst searching for a point), but it's certainly very interesting from a liturgical perspective. It had been three years since Mediator Dei, but already its pernicious fruits can be discerned. For the most part what Munificentissimus Deus says is true, but the conclusions are right where the premises are quite wrong. For example, the bull says:

However, since the liturgy of the Church does not engender the Catholic faith, but rather springs from it, in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the faith as the fruit comes from the tree, it follows that the holy Fathers and the great Doctors, in the homilies and sermons they gave the people on this feast day, did not draw their teaching from the feast itself as from a primary source, but rather they spoke of this doctrine as something already known and accepted by Christ's faithful.

I'm sorry but this is downright false, and can indicate one of two things: either Pacelli was entirely ignorant of the mind of the Fathers, or he was trying to destroy the Patristic tradition and remould it according to his own fancy. I have often wondered what Pius XII was trying to do when he reversed the ancient liturgical maxim lex orandi lex credendi, but by doing so he proudly proclaimed his liturgical heresy in the eyes of the Catholic world of the time, and of posterity. By reversing the ancient maxim, as Aidan Kavanagh OSB wisely said, he made a shambles of the dialectic of revelation, and established a precedent that would render Liturgy superfluous and altogether unimportant. Nowadays doctrinal orthodoxy seems to matter more than liturgical orthodoxy - orthodoxy itself has been torn asunder, and rendered alien to the Liturgy (I don't by any means suggest that doctrinal orthodoxy is unimportant, but I do think that doctrinally orthodox people have no business subordinating the Sacred Liturgy to grave abuses such as versus turbam celebrations, and Joe the Worker). When I wrote my last essay on Church history at University, I chose to dedicate it to the history of the Immaculate Conception, and my strongest argument in favour of the ancientry of this feast was its liturgical witness at Rome and elsewhere (it was after all a contribution of the English church to the Liturgy). One looks in vain for justification of a mystery of the Faith to the teaching of the Fathers alone; it is the Sacred Liturgy that forms the Christian man.

Following Munificentissimus Deus Pius XII authorised new Propers for the feast of the Assumption. Whether this is a residue of the reversal of that ancient maxim or just indicative of the ''who caresies'' approach to Liturgy, or just a misguided way of appraising the dogmatisation of the mystery, the new Propers are crap. The Introit, Signum Magnum (that famous verse from the Apocalypse) is entirely irrelevant to the Feast, and was probably introduced for the sake of having a Scripture quote for the sake of Scripture (a very Protestant attitude I must say), and while Introits are the descendant of a once complete Psalm, I find no evidence in the history of the Church that Introits had to be direct quotes from the Bible - the older, far more worthy, Introit was common to other Marian feasts such as Our Lady of the Rosary, and reads:

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino diem festum celebrantes sub honore beatae Mariae Virginis de cuius Assumptione gaudent Angeli, et collaudant Filium Dei. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum; dico ego opera mea Regi. Gloria Patri. (Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a feast day in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary, of whose Assumption the angels rejoice and together give praise to the Son of God. My heart hath noised a good word; I speak my works to the King. Glory to the Father).

Ironically my own '62 Missal has this Introit as a compliment to the rather crude illustration adjacent to the Propers, ''first class, white vestments,'' etc. The new Collect is arguably worse than the irrelevant Introit (which in all fairness is a verse from the Scriptures), and is too much to do with the doctrine (the erudite Fr Hunwicke over at Liturgical Notes has picked up upon this too) - it seems a rather enforced doctrinal domination of the Collect; doctrine dictating what the Collect says rather than vice versa. It says:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui Immaculatam Virginem Mariam, Filii tui Genetricem, corpore et anima ad caelestem gloriam assumpsisti; concede quaesumus ut ad superna semper intenti, ipsius gloriae mereamur esse consortes. Per Dominum. (Almighty everlasting God, who hast taken body and soul into heaven the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Bearer of thy Son, grant, we beseech thee, that by steadfastly keeping heaven as our goal we may be counted worthy to join her in glory. Through the Lord).

It's not even great Latin. The old Collect was a simple supplication to the mercy of God, that we can by no means gain merit of our own accord but rely upon the constant intercession of the Mother of God. It reads:

Famulorum tuorum, quaesumus, Domine delictis ignosce, ut qui tibi placere de actibus nostris non valeamus; Genetricis Filii tui Domini nostri intercessione salvemur. Qui tecum vivit. (Indulge, we beseech O Lord, the delicts of thy servants, that we who may not please thee by our actions may be saved by the intercession of the Bearer of thy Son, our Lord. Who lives with thee etc).

Much better. There is no overt preaching here, it is self-evident and simple. The Liturgy does not exist to preach, but to seduce people into particpating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught (as said Kavanagh, thanks to my friend Rubricarius for alerting me to this timeless quote). The same can be said of the Gradual, Secret and Postcommunion prayers in the Old Rite - all of these suffered under the acid pens of Pacelli's team of beurocrats.

The Lessons for the feast have been changed, once again without warrant. The Epistle is now taken from the Book of Judith, and to my knowledge Judith was never a type of Mary. The Fathers had encyclopedic knowledge of the Scriptures, which you can glean from the fact that the Propers for many ancient feasts have texts from the remotest corners of the Bible. For example the older Epistle for the Assumption, taken from Ecclesiasticus, makes explicit reference to repose in the Lord. It seems here that the pen-pushers who put together the new unimaginative Propers got bored (I can just imagine one of them saying: ''what shall we have for lunch today?'' as they're all sat around a table playing God) and settled upon a text remotely reminiscent of St Mary. The Gospel has been changed from the highly significant Luke 10:38-42 (if not readily so significant - Gueranger says that even he doesn't know why the Church in ancient days settled upon this Gospel, but made recourse to the wise words of St Bruno of Asti, that Mary is symbolised in both these women, since she was both an active and a passive agent in the ministry of Salvation) to Luke 1:41-50, which is a once again overly obvious text about the blessedness of St Mary.

I need say no more, you get the general gist of it. What I find most sad, indeed I almost cried over it last night, was that the Old Rite will be celebrated in so few churches around the world, a handful I would guess, and that use of the modern inferior Propers is justified by obedience to the will and whim of the Pope in his office as teacher of all Christians. I do not doubt that the Pope has the authority to teach, but his teaching must conform to the Sacred Liturgy and be informed and guided by it. Munificentissimus Deus was a triumph of Papal supremecy over the Liturgy, not a triumph of Tradition over novelty, or Truth over heresy. I do not see that use of the Old Rite compromises the ''dogma'' of the Assumption - I would say just the opposite, that it is the best possible expression of belief in this dogma. Use of the inferior Propers degrades this most ancient and blessed of feasts, in honour of the Mother of God, and is indicative of that most tragic reversal of Tradition by Pius XII in Mediator Dei, supplanting the Liturgy of the Church with the will of the Pope.

To paraphrase George Orwell - if you want a picture of the Catholic Church, imagine a Papal slipper stamping on Tradition forever...

The above painting by Sassoferrato depicts Our Lady in Sorrow, as she must surely be year after year since that most grievous pontificate.


  1. I just sang the "Signum magnum" Mass. It's pretty, but I am not crazy about it. I really don't understand why they had to change the liturgy either. ("Gaudeamus" is a really pretty Introit.) The way I see it, as long as the Pope and bishops had temporal power and enough flunkies around them, doctrine and the liturgy were safe. Not that everyone obsessed over them, but they were always there if you wanted to have recourse to them. Once you make the Pope "the prisoner of the Vatican", he keeps crawling up the walls and trying to change the drapes. First it was the liturgy, then it was religious liberty, ecumenism, NFP, limbo, and so on. Maybe if we hooked up our bishops, Popes, and lower clergy with land and concubines again, then they would leave our religion alone. I am not obsessed with liturgy, but when they start changing the mysteries of the rosary, then I know they have too much time on their hands and have gone too far.

    You have admitted not having that good of a theological formation, but I have to say, from the mouth of babes... The critique of Pius XII's inversion of the lex orandi and the hierarchy of doctrine are spot on. Sometimes I think that over-education in historical theology leads people to no longer be able to see the basic law of contradiction. You are right, of course, that changing the Assumption liturgy had far more problematic foundations and repercussions that most theologians care to admit.

  2. Patricius,

    Do consider the old Roman Vesper collect, and the one that migrated to be the Mass collect in many of the Old Roman Rite variants like Hereford and Sarum:

    Veneranda nobis Domine hujus diei festivitas opem conferat sempiternam in qua sancta Dei genitrix mortem subiit temporalem, nec tamen mortis nexibus deprimi potuit, quae Filium tuum Dominum nostrum de se genuit incarnatum. Qui tecum..

    (taken from the HBS edition of the Missal of Robert of Jumieges).

  3. Arturo, the chant for Gaudeamus is much nicer in the Gradual than that given for Signum Magnum. Even if Tradition meant nothing to me I would argue in favour of Gaudeamus for aesthetic reasons. As I sat in the pub at lunch time ''chewing the cud'' over Pius XII (honestly, so great is my contempt of that man that it keeps me up at night) and imagining that in some remote time long long ago I could have been at Pontifical Liturgy, Mass IX, Credo V etc for this great feast, I was flooded with the grim realisation that only in one or two small fringe churches will Gaudeamus have been sung...I don't think I've felt so depressed in my life. It is my honest opinion that Pius XII was the worst thing to happen to the Catholic Church in 2000 years, awful, awful man. Naturally by boycotting Signum Magnum I refute that man's heresy.

    Rubricarius, thanks for your comment, and for reminding me of the other Collect. I meant to say something of it but got bogged down with the other stuff, which is surely depressing enough. I keep meaning to purchase a Missal of Robert of Jumieges but having so little money coming in, and so much going out, I have little left for pleasures of that sort.

  4. I would find it quite amusing, were it not such a travesty, that those popes who were the biggest tyrants called themselves "Pius", mainly Pius IX, X, XII and maybe Pius V?

  5. Paul Knight, ''saint'' Pius V famously said of Elizabeth I: ''Whoever sends her out of this world not only does not sin, but gains merit in the eyes of God.'' But not even the Borgias, or the most corrupt 10th century popes, come close to Pius XII in my opinion - either he was a despot heretic, or something much much worse...

  6. On the other hand, perhaps he was a devout and consciencious man, led into terrible blunders by very bad doctrine, of which he was certainly not the originator, but which he held unshakeably.

    Play the ball, not the man.

  7. Moretben, the Catholic Church went into official liturgical heresy in 1947, thanks to Pius XII. Although I agree that Pius XII was not a beginner of heresy, but merely an instrument or emissary - like Sauron.

  8. Well... I am happy to confirm that at least one "fringe" Church did offer a Missa Cantata of the Missa Gaudeamus. Come December we will (as usual) offer the Missa "Salve" with Oratio "Famulis Tuis" and Evangelium "Liber generationis" for the Feast of the Conception.

  9. Canon Jerome,

    May the Lord and His most Holy Mother both bless you for that orthopraxis and hasten reform what you did for May 1st.

  10. Canon Jerome, my sentiments are with Rubricarius and I am glad that at least somewhere Gaudeamus was sung, to the glory of Mary. I'm afraid that Signum Magnum is to the glory of Papal arrogance and to the dishonour of St Mary...

    God bless you.

  11. Patricius, do you protest as much the transferral of St Joachim's feast to the 16th, or it being raised to the rank of double of second class in 1879? Or the Dedication of St Michael? Or the propers of the Immaculate Conception?