January 15, 2017
The Great War produced a huge crisis of confidence in Europe (WWII only deepened it). Everyone was sure that something new had to be done. That something was the Treaty of Versailles. This same conviction that business could not go on as usual crept into the Church as well. Thinkers who voiced this conviction quickly found themselves in trouble with those other thinkers who were convinced that nothing could or should change in the Church. In some ways the voices for change lost; they were silenced or ‘exiled’. In their places of exile, however, they started to ask when such a crisis had ever occurred before and what role had the Church played in causing it and remedying it. The twentieth became the century of historical study and history-based changes in the Church (we talked about this another time under the titles ressourcement and aggiornamento.
What is really interesting is that these historians can to realize that the Church of the nineteenth century (they Church they had grown up in) was only about four hundred years old. Until the sixteenth-century Council of Trent just about everything had been more fluid and flexible! The study of history taught them that the Church had changed. That left the question could it change.
The easiest way to get at this question was in the liturgy. The Church already had a surprisingly large number of ways in which Mass was said. Why this was so, how it had come to be so and whether it might not be good for even more variety to be introduced into the world of worship led them to what became, the present Third Edition of the Roman Missal. But that is only the latest (and probably not the last) change ever.
The first major and noticeable change in the liturgy of the Catholic Church – a change that most of us didn’t notice and cannot imagine life without – was the revision, under the authority of Pope Pius XII, of the ceremonies of Holy Week. Before then, the major liturgical celebrations of Holy Week had taken place in the wee hours of the a.m. (after all, one had to fast from midnight to receive Communion). This meant that most of the observances of Holy Week that ‘real’ people experienced were para-liturgical in nature; the services of the ‘seven last words’, the fast that lasted till noon on Holy Saturday, the reception of already-blessed palm on Palm Sunday, the fantastic pageants in Hispanic and Latin countries, etc. The architects of ressourcement
convinced Pius that he should ‘restore’ Holy Week services in such a way that everyone could take part in them in the same way they had done before the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
For the first time in anyone’s memory Mass was celebrated in the evening of Holy Thursday, everyone was encouraged to receive Communion at the service of Good Friday and – this is the one we need to pay attention to – the Vigil Service of Easter, with its focus on the blessing of the Baptismal font moved from the early a.m. of Saturday to the late night of Saturday or the early hours of Sunday.
Really and truly and historically (and hysterically) yours,