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The 1955 Pacellian Holy Week Reform

Above: the chanting of the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil. Photo by Allison Girone

Our great-grandparents would have been dumbfounded if they knew the Church would eventually allow Catholics to fulfill their Sunday obligation a day early, on Saturday afternoon. Contrariwise, most Catholics today would be shocked to learn that, since time immemorial, the Easter Vigil was celebrated on Holy Saturday morning. Although not every Catholic is a “professional liturgist,” curiosity about liturgical changes is normal and healthy. Therefore, today I will outline differences between the 1950 Holy Week and the 1962 Holy Week (which, needless to say, incorporates the reforms of Pope Pius XII). I’m basing my article on the Third Edition of the Saint Edmund Campion Missal, which features both versions of Holy Week with meticulous explanations of their differences and similarities.

An abundance of fascinating Holy Week citations can be found in this handsome hand-missal for the Latin Mass, although I have only been able to include a few below. For those wishing to delve even deeper, the Campion Missal—beginning on page 632—provides a splendid bibliography with helpful descriptions of each source.

My Promise

Discussing anything liturgical causes some people to “shut off their brains.” For them, anything liturgical is inscrutable—and they feel insecure about their knowledge. Therefore, I promise to make my explanations straightforward, simple, and easy as pie. Any errors will (I’m sure) be corrected by the liturgical experts out there. One thing to know: for many centuries, Holy Thursday Mass, the Good Friday service, and the Easter Vigil all took place early in the morning. In the 1950s, Pope Pius XII moved them later in the day (thereby destroying the ancient Tenebrae ceremonies). My article won’t make sense without knowing this.

First Things First

Let us begin with the crucial question: “Were the Holy Week changes under Pius XII earth-shattering or minor?” If one considers only the changes to Holy Week, these changes were not earth-shattering. But if one considers all the liturgical changes from 1950 to 1962, that’s a different matter. When we consider all those modifications (not just Holy Week), it becomes clear that the 1962 Missal was a “transitional” Missal. Consider, for example, the Last Gospel—which many TLM Catholics believe is invariably the beginning of Saint John’s Gospel. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t always that way. Before 23 March 1955, when a feast was overpowered by a stronger feast, the gospel of the weaker feast would become the Last Gospel. In retrospect, the radical reformers’ strategy becomes crystal clear: (1951) eliminate the Easter Eve Last Gospel; (1955) eliminate Proper Last Gospels; (1961) eliminate the Last Gospel on certain days; (1964) eliminate every Last Gospel. [According to Yves Chiron, Pope Saint Paul VI himself—on 22 January 1967—tried to save the Last Gospel; but the zeitgeist was too strong.]

Actually Not the Most Radical Pacelli Change

Notice I didn’t claim to support all of Pius XII’s reforms. Indeed, some of them seem dumb and unjustifiable (e.g. annihilating the ancient “broad stole” and folded chasubles—which, in any case, were never mandatory in small churches). Moreover, there’s truth in Father Carlo Braga’s famous statement, in which he characterized the Holy Week reforms as “the head of the battering ram which pierced the fortress of our hitherto static liturgy.” I simply said we cannot divorce the Holy Week changes from what was happening in the 1950-1962 period. Indeed, the most radical change Pius XII desired was rejected by the Church (and subsequently abandoned). I speak of when—two months before Hitler surrendered—Pope Pius XII attempted to change the entire Psalter. Such a cataclysmic change would have necessitated redoing every liturgical book in existence!

The Boring Stuff #1

What are some of these changes I keep referencing, which took place between 1950 and 1962? Major changes would include:

(1) The discipline of fasting before Communion [cf. Sacram Communionem, 1957];

(2) The permissibility of evening Masses [cf. Christus Dominus, 1953];

(3) Eliminating octaves, the “proper” Last Gospel, and more [cf. Cum Nostra Hac Ætate, 1955];

(4) Rubrical matters, such as whether incense can be used without Deacon and Subdeacon [cf. Giampietro page 314];

(5) Whether a “capable reader” may proclaim certain readings;

(6) Which prayers may be recited audibly by the congregation [cf. De Musica Sacra, 1958];

(7) The priest quietly “duplicating” the Epistle, Gospel, Reproaches, Holy Saturday prophecies, and so on;

(8) When Holy Communion should be distributed [cf. Third Edition of the Campion Missal, pages 250 and 510].

Liturgical experts could easily add more items, including a modification to the ancient Canon (13 November 1962), elimination of the pre-Communion Confiteor [cf. Giampietro page 314], and major changes to the Divine Office.

The Boring Stuff #2

For the record, Pope Pius XII reformed Holy Week on 16 November 1955 by means of Maxima Redemptionis, a decree which took effect on 25 March 1956. However, the Easter Vigil had already been modified “on an experimental basis” on 9 February 1951—just 43 days before it was to take effect!—by means of an article in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the Holy See’s journal. This announcement also included eight pages of rubrics, explaining the elements being modified: e.g. the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises” is given in Chapter VII (in Latin). About nine months later, on 11 January 1952, the Vatican published a slightly revised version—this time approximately 14 pages in length—again in the Acta. Based on these decrees, a little booklet was produced: Ordo Sabbati Sancti Quando Vigilia Paschalis Instaurata Peragitur. Its use was more convenient than dragging journal articles onto the altar. Broadly speaking, the differences between the 1951 Acta article and the 1955 official version are insignificant; e.g. in the “Véniat quǽsumus” prayer, the word accénde (1951) became inténde (1952). Journal articles from those days—as well as the testimony of priests alive then—indicate this “experimental” Vigil was virtually ignored in the United States.

Differences: Palm Sunday

Let us begin with Palm Sunday. My challenge here is to list only the major differences. I will omit the minor stuff (such as the processional cross being veiled for the 1950 version but unveiled in 1962). I already mentioned how the ancient vestments—folded chasubles and “broad stole”—were eliminated. The 1962 vestments (for half the ceremony) are red, whereas the 1950 version uses purple throughout. The “Aspérges” is omitted in the 1962 version. The 1950 version begins with a mysterious ceremony considered by some a “dry Mass.”  [The Third Edition of the Campion Missal provides opinions by notable authors regarding this ceremony’s origins.] For purposes of today’s article, let me simply state that the 1950 version has an opening antiphon (“Hosánna Fílio Dávid”), Collect, Epistle, Responsory, Gospel, Preface, and Sanctus. Then the 1950 version has six (!) prayers blessing the palm branches. [Some believe the priest formerly chose the prayer based on what kind of branch he had in front of him; whether olive bough, palm branch, willow, yew, and so forth.] Then the 1950 version has a distribution of palm branches, a procession, and a ceremony (when the procession arrives back at church) during which the subdeacon knocks on the door with the bottom of the processional cross. In the 1950 version, the Passion begins with the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. It is sung by three (3) deacons—while the priest reads it quietly at the altar—except for the very end, which is sung in the haunting “weeping tone” by the Deacon of the Mass. The 1950 version allowed the Turba sections to be “sung by the choir”—but there is debate over whether that could have included women. [In liturgical books, “choir” often denotes clerics assisting in the Sanctuary.]

In the 1962 version, the name was changed to “Second Passion Sunday”—which never caught on. The 1962 ceremony can start in another location (“some suitable place, even outside the church”), perhaps to avoid having a procession which returns to the same place it started from. Most of the “dry Mass” is suppressed in the 1962 version, but the Gospel remained. Five of the six prayers used for blessing the palms were eliminated, and several procession antiphons were changed. The 1956 Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae Instauratus says the faithful “may chant the hymn Christus vincit or other hymns in honor of Christ the King during the procession.” (Some consider such rubrics ominous.) In the 1962 version, the celebrant does not quietly “duplicate” the Epistle, Gospel, or Passion—which was truly significant when it first came into force in 1956. [By 1970, the celebrant would no longer “duplicate” anything the choir sang: Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, etc.—and some believe this has resulted in a deplorable ignorance of sacred scripture on the part of many priests.] The complete Prayers at the Foot of the Altar are omitted in the 1962 Palm Sunday, whereas the 1950 version only omits Psalm 42 (“Júdica me”). In the 1962 version, the people do not hold palm branches during the Passion. Large sections of the Passion were eliminated under Pope Pius XII. According to the Campion Missal: “This proposal to reduce the length of the text by 40 verses was advanced by Father Augustin Bea on 21 October 1955, just days before Maxima Redemptionis was issued on 16 November 1955.” While blessing the palms, the celebrant stands behind a table facing the people in the 1962 version.

Some parts are jumbled in the 1962 version. For example, in 1962 the Gospel comes after the blessing and distribution of palm branches, whereas the Gospel comes before the blessing in the 1950 version. The Third Edition of the Campion Missal provides both versions in their entirety—otherwise it would be difficult to follow the ceremonies. The 1962 version provides two options for the blessing and distribution of palm branches, but it seems the reformers were sloppy vis-à-vis “Option B.” At the risk of getting too deep in the weeds, let me say: when Option B is chosen, it’s better to sing the antiphons as the priest walks back and forth through the body of the church (incensing and sprinkling holy water) rather than have the priest do this in complete silence. This is certainly not the only instance of sloppiness when it comes to the reforms of Pius XII; e.g. on Holy Saturday, the reformers made a big deal about changing “blessing of the font” to “blessing of the water.” Yet, through oversight or laziness, they forgot to change some of the rubrics: e.g. “et celebrans, antequam intret ad benedictionem fontis.”

Differences: Holy Thursday

Broadly speaking, the Mass of Holy Thursday was hardly modified by the reforms of Pius XII. The major difference—apart from moving the Mass from the morning to the evening—concerns the Mandatum (“Washing of the Feet”). The 1962 version allows the (optional) Mandatum to take place after the homily “where pastoral reasons recommend this.” Before the reforms of Pius XII, the Mandatum was extremely rare outside of monasteries and cathedrals, and therefore—as a matter of prudence—some authors recommended caution before introducing it, lest the faithful find it a strange innovation. If the Mandatum were done at all, it took place immediately after the Stripping of the Altars or later in the day. In the traditional version, thirteen men’s feet were washed [Dale page 197; Guéranger page 396; Lallou page 69; Fortescue page 290]. In the 1962 version, it is twelve men’s feet [McManus p74]. The 1962 version understandably omits the Gospel reading at the beginning, since it duplicates the Mass Gospel (read just moments earlier). Other actions, such as the priest kissing each man’s feet, were suppressed in the 1962 version.

Additional differences between 1950 and 1962 would include:

(1) Tabernacle: For the 1962 version, the tabernacle is empty at the beginning of Mass, a practice allowed but not required in the 1950 version.

(2) Agnus Dei: The third “Agnus Dei” invocation is modified in the 1962 version.

(3) Vespers: Vespers is omitted in the 1962 version—for those who assist at Mass on Holy Thursday—whereas this was not the case in 1950, since Mass took place in the morning.

(4) Incense: Incense cannot be used in the 1950 version without Deacon and Subdeacon, but according to Pius XII’s reform—foreshadowing, one might say, the “progressive solemnity” of the Instruction coming on 5 March 1967—a special exception was made for the Mass of Holy Thursday.

(5) Suppressed: The Last Gospel and final blessing are suppressed. Instead of “Ite, missa est” the Deacon sings “Benedicámus Dómino.” The Confíteor before Communion was also suppressed for Holy Thursday, and would later (25 July 1960) be completely suppressed in all Masses.

(6) Credo: The 1962 version omits the Creed, whereas the 1950 version stipulates it (on this, see Resolution #6 of the 1951 Maria Laach Conference for Liturgical Reform).

(7) Chalice: Two large hosts are consecrated in the 1950 version—one being preserved (not consumed) for the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified”—and a second chalice is prepared with paten, pall, veil of white silk, and white silk ribbon—but in the 1962 version none of these actions are done, and the Sanctissimum is carried inside an ordinary ciborium.

(8) Cross & Candlesticks: In the 1962 version, the Cross and candlesticks are removed during the Stripping of the Altar, since the 1962 rubric for the beginning of Good Friday says: “the altar is to be entirely bare.”

(9) Congregational Candles: In the 1950 version, during the procession to the Place of Repose the faithful hold burning candles in their hands. This is also supposed to happen in the 1962 version, but I’ve never seen it done in real life (for reasons unknown to me).

Digression On Holy Communion

Before we speak of Good Friday, a few points about reception of Communion during Mass must be remembered. Pope Pius X was called “the pope of the Eucharist” because he encouraged frequent Communion. People living in the year 2023 don’t realize that until the 1950s, broadly speaking Holy Communion was not distributed during Communion time (but the celebrant did receive). The “midnight fast” meant anyone who planned to receive could not eat or drink anything starting at midnight. Frequently, Communion would be distributed early on Sunday morning and Mass would follow hours later. This was done even on Holy Thursday, which was supposed to have been the one day of the year when the faithful (not just the celebrant) received during Mass. As bizarre as it sounds, Holy Communion was often distributed after Mass ended, or by a different priest at a side altar (or the Communion rail) while Mass was going on. It is not my place to comment on whether Pope Saint Pius X was correct to do what he did. Even great saints like Jerome and Augustine expressed differing views regarding how frequently the Eucharist should be received. I do feel comfortable pointing out that the contemporary tendency for everyone to receive Communion constantly—without any preparation—and where very few believe in the Real Presence is disastrous.

Differences: Good Friday

In the 1950 version of Good Friday, the priest alone receives Communion. In the early days of the Church, it seems the entire congregation received on Good Friday. Indeed, Father Jungmann describes Good Friday as “a favorite Communion day” until near the end of the Middle Ages. In 1955, Pope Pius XII modified the Missa Praesanctificatorum (“Mass of the Pre-Sanctified”), allowing the entire congregation to receive—very much in accordance with I Corinthians 11:26: Quotiescúmque enim manducábitis panem hunc, et cálicem bibétis, mortem Domini annuntiábitis (“It is the Lord’s death you are heralding, whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup”). General Communion on Good Friday was a “universal practice that perdured for centuries” [Giampietro page 67]; and many ancient sources could be cited supporting this. But then a change took place; the priest alone received Communion on Good Friday. This change is first explicitly documented in the 13th century. According to Cardinal Antonelli, this cessation “is easily understood in the context of the general rarification of Communion which had reached such a stage by the 13th century that the Ecumenical Lateran Council of 1215 obliged all the faithful to approach the holy table at least once every year.” Nevertheless, until the time of Pope Pius V, some liturgical books still allowed the faithful to receive Communion on Good Friday; e.g. the Obsequiale Frisingense dated 1493 (folio 41r). The first document explicitly forbidding reception by the faithful is dated 1622. Considering all this information, it’s not easy to understand why Pope Saint Pius X did not restore Communion for the faithful on Good Friday.

What are some other differences between 1950 Good Friday and 1962 Good Friday?

(1) Vestments: The Celebrant’s vestments in the 1962 version are comically complicated: (a) The Celebrant begins the ceremony wearing only a black Stole; (b) before reading the Solemn Collects, the Celebrant dons a Cope; (c) when the Solemn Collects are finished, the Celebrant removes his Cope, wearing only a black Stole during the Veneration of the Cross; (d) after the Veneration of the Cross, the Celebrant puts on a purple Chasuble. The 1950 version was much simpler: the Celebrant wore a black Chasuble the entire ceremony, except for the Creeping to the Cross.

(2) Creeping to the Cross: This was done differently in 1950 and took longer.

(3) Opening Prayer: There is an “opening prayer” in the 1962 version that doesn’t exist in the 1950 version.

(4) Nomenclature: Whereas previously this ceremony was called “The Morning Office of Good Friday,” the reformers changed its name to: “Solemn Liturgical Service of the Afternoon of the Passion and Death of the Lord.”

(5) Prayer for the Jews: There are six versions of this prayer—1950, 1955, 1959, 1965, 1970, and 2008.

(6) Homily: The 1962 version of Good Friday seems to forbid a sermon, whereas the 1950 version allows it.

(7) Book Placement: In the 1950 version, the collects are read at the Epistle corner, whereas in the 1962 version the Missal is placed “at the center of the altar.”

(8) Subdeacon demoted: In the 1950 version, the Subdeacon said “Leváte,” but in the 1962 version, the Deacon does that.

(9) Lord’s Prayer: When the reformers revised the Missa Praesanctificatorum, they had the faithful recite the complete “Pater Noster” along with the priest, whereas traditionally the priest sang the first part and the faithful completed it with: “sed líbera nos a málo.”

(10) Hymn of the Cross: The 1962 suppressed the Vexilla Regis Prodeunt, which Father Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923) called “perhaps the greatest of all hymns.” This was known as “the hymn of the Cross.” The 1962 version replaces it with three antiphons—Adorámus Te, Per Lignum, and Salvátor Mundi—which (regrettably) are in three different modes.

False Literalism (A)

Would you rather receive a life sentence in prison or 60 years? People ignorant of the legal system would choose 60 years—because “it stands to reason” that a life sentence is worse. But those who understand the legal system realize the opposite is true (because life sentences are often reduced to a few years). Something similar is observed vis-à-vis the sacred liturgy. People will oppose a traditional practice because such-and-such “stands to reason.” But following such false literalism would end with celebrating Mass lying down (because in Jesus’s time, people ate reclining). In the 1950s, a movement dedicated to false literalism was reaching its zenith. Those hungry for reform said, among other things: “Holy Thursday is called In Coena Domini. That means The Lord’s Supper, not The Lord’s Breakfast. Therefore, Mass must be at nighttime—otherwise it’s not authentic.”

False Literalism (B)

Pope Pius XII, perhaps due to old age, was susceptible to such arguments, and moved the Holy Week ceremonies from morning to later in the day—with massive unintended consequences. I mentioned earlier how Tenebrae was destroyed. Archbishop Carinci noted that Tenebrae was “much beloved by the faithful, and many of them participate in it” [Giampietro page 246]. Popular customs like “Meditations on the Seven Last Words” were also destroyed by this hasty change. Other casualties included Easter Sunday Matins (completely obliterated) and Easter Sunday Lauds (severely truncated). In 1956, Father John J. Coyne lamented this “restoration,” writing as follows:

It is a strange restoration which has done away with Matins and Lauds, so that the one night in the year when not a single psalm of praise crosses the lips of those bound to the recital of the Divine Office, is that which is the central feast of Christendom.

Holy Saturday Morning (A)

Celebrating the Easter Vigil on the morning of Holy Saturday—what are we to make of this? First of all, whence came this tradition? Some authors believe the Easter Vigil was celebrated very early on Easter Sunday morning in the primitive Church. But when exactly the early Christians celebrated Easter Mass(es)—and what precisely that Mass looked like—is impossible to prove one way or the other. Nevertheless, the Easter morning premise became an idée fixe during the 1940s, almost a mania. And it is true that the Easter Eve Canon says: nóctem sacratíssimum celebrántes (“observing that holy night, on which our Lord Jesus Christ, in his human flesh, rose again from the dead…”). The Exsultet also seems to have been originally sung in the evening. But the great error of the reformers was their failure to understand that the Easter Vigil was in a category all by itself. Throughout the centuries, it accumulated various elements (penitential elements, Baptismal overtones, “flashes” of Paschal joy, etc.) which had been emphasized in different ways.

Holy Saturday Morning (B)

Regardless of what the ‘primitive’ practice may have been, irrefutable documents prove that by the 9th century, the Easter Vigil was being anticipated. Generally speaking, with the passage of time, religious offices tend to move further and further back—perhaps from a desire to finish one’s obligation as soon as possible. In the year 2023, we observe this each weekend, when many elderly people ‘anticipate’ Mass on Saturday afternoon to “get their obligation out of the way.” This is human nature.

Holy Saturday Morning (C)

An effort to restore the Easter Vigil to the evening was undertaken by Saint John Gualbert (d. 1073), with limited success. Broadly speaking, during the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, the preference was to start the Easter Vigil around 3:00pm on Holy Saturday. There is no need to dwell endlessly on this; different customs existed for different orders, throughout different centuries, in different localities. On 29 March 1566, Pope Saint Pius V withdrew permission for celebrating Mass in the evening (but Christmas Midnight Mass was always an exception) and not much changed until the 1950s. Consider a parish church in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis—which was not atypical—which in the year 1943 had their Palm Sunday High Mass at 6:30am (!), Holy Thursday distribution of Communion at 6:15am (!), Holy Thursday High Mass at 8:30am (!), Good Friday Missa Praesanctificatorum at 8:00am, Holy Saturday services at 7:00am (!), and Easter Sunday High Mass at 5:30am!

They Were Trapped

When reformers ‘resurrect’ primitive practices, chaos is often the result. I personally believe the decision to move the Easter Vigil from Saturday morning to Sunday morning will go down in history as shamefully reckless. The reformers—bound by the zeitgeist’s false literalism—decided that all the Catholics saints for 1,200 years were wrong to celebrate the Easter Vigil when they did. But the reformers were trapped, because in 1951 no evening Masses were permitted… except Christmas Midnight Mass. Therefore, they decided to place the Easter Eve Mass, not late on Saturday afternoon, but at Midnight! This was done even though no documentation supports such a late time, with the possible exception of a single sermon by Saint Augustine circa 410 A.D.

At the risk of insulting the intelligence of my readers, I would point out that ‘resurrecting’ a single item—but nothing else—from 1,600 years ago and mindlessly plopping it into the life of the Church is reprehensible conduct.

In practical terms, it meant that priests had to celebrate what Dom Guéranger calls “the longest and most trying Service of the Latin Liturgy” and then, just a few hours later, wake up and celebrate all the offices and Masses of Easter Sunday. (Because the Midnight fast was still in effect, the poor celebrant was given permission to have a single cup of tea, to help him get through all his Easter Sunday Masses!) When Monsignor Giovanni Montini (the future Paul VI) requested on 17 January 1956 “that participation at the celebration of Mass at the Solemn Easter Vigil—even if it be held before midnight—should also satisfy the obligation to attend Mass on Easter Sunday,” the reformers rejected his proposal unanimously [Giampietro page 290]. That’s now a moot point—since ‘anticipated’ Masses are allowed on Saturday afternoon—but until those changes took place, the Easter Vigil came with this warning: If, with permission of the local Ordinary, the Vigil service is anticipated so that the Mass takes place before midnight of Holy Saturday, those who are present do not fulfill their obligation of assisting at Mass on Easter Sunday.

Too Much To Discuss

If I spoke for ninety straight hours, I still would not scratch the surface when it comes the Easter Vigil. As I’ve already said, it’s in a category all its own. It has many different elements—which may appear contradictory—and was celebrated in different ways throughout the centuries. Some customs survive to this day in surprising ways; e.g. a Polish custom has sweet cakes on Holy Saturday afternoon, because the Lenten fasting traditionally ended at noon on Holy Saturday (after the Easter Vigil concluded). Traditionally, those converting to the Catholic Faith would be received at the Easter Vigil. The catechumens were given their final instruction in the vestibule of the church while the twelve lengthy prophecies were read or chanted.

Easter Sunday Should Be The Pinnacle

Because of the Easter Vigil ‘reform,’ Easter Sunday Mass is often neglected—or not celebrated properly—and this seems regrettable and contrary to tradition. After all, when the emphasis is placed on attending the Easter Vigil, do we really expect a family with small children to wake up a few hours later and attend Easter Sunday Mass, participating with the mental and emotional awareness demanded by that great ceremony? Did not the former arrangement—which lasted at least 1,200 years—make more sense? One who examines the record books will notice that traditionally the bishop of the diocese did not even attend (!) the Easter Vigil. Indeed, the Easter Vigil has less music than any other Mass of the year. Even a fourth class feast has more music than the Easter Vigil.

For the Easter Vigil:

(1) There is no Vidi Aquam;

(2) There is no Introit;

(3) The short Alleluia is followed by a Tract (!);

(4) There is no Gradual or Greater Alleluia;

(5) There is no Sequence;

(6) There is no Creed;

(7) There is no Offertory Antiphon;

(8) There is no Agnus Dei and the Kiss of Peace is omitted;

(9) There is no Communion Antiphon.

We must emphasize that none of these omissions are the fault of Pius XII. On page 163 of The Nature of the Liturgical Movement (King’s College, London: 2002), Dom Alcuin Reid says that Pope Pius XII eliminated the Agnus Dei and Credo from the Mass of Easter Eve in the 1951 reform. He is incorrect; they never were part of the Easter Vigil Mass.

Differences: Easter Vigil

I promised to list the differences between the 1950 Easter Vigil and the 1962 Easter Vigil:

(1) Duplication: For the 1950 Easter Vigil, the celebrant “duplicates” everything—including the prophecies, Epistle, Gospel, and “truncated Vespers”—whereas in the 1962 version he only duplicates certain items, such as the Introit, Gloria, Offertory antiphon, Creed, and so forth. This was a huge victory for the reformers, which began in 1951 with the “experimental” Vigil: Celebrans et ministri, clerus et populus, sedentes auscultant.

(2) Lights in Church: In the 1950 version, the church is dark until near the conclusion of the Exsultet, when the Deacon speaks of “a flame divided but undimmed”—at which point the church lamps are lit from the New Fire. In the 1962 version, the church lamps are lit after the final “Lumen Christi.”

(3) Candles held by the people: The 1962 version has the faithful hold burning candles at slightly different times than the 1950 version.

(4) Blessing the New Fire Prayers: In the 1950 version, three prayers bless the New Fire. The reformers eliminated two of these.

(5) Exsultet Modified: A prayer for the Emperor in the Exsultet had fallen into disuse, but the reformers restored it—adjusting the text slightly. The replacement clause was first published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis on 9 February 1951.

(6) Displacement of Actions with Paschal Candle: In the 1950 version, the Deacon places incense grains into the Paschal candle in the middle of the Exsultet. In the 1962, these grains of incense were placed by the celebrant towards the beginning of the ceremony, with some special prayers (e.g. Chrístus héri et hódie) and the tracing of Greek letters Álpha and Ómega. In the traditional version, the Deacon lights the Paschal candle itself while singing the Exsultet—after the words rútilans ignis ascéndit—but in the 1962 version, the Paschal candle was lit at the very beginning of the ceremony.

(6) Trident or Triple-Candle: Perhaps because of how enormous the Paschal candle was in some churches, over the centuries a custom developed of using a “trident” to carry the flame outside the church to the Paschal candle. The Campion Missal provides numerous citations from ancient authors who say this device historically had three (or sometimes two) candles as a “backup,” to prevent it from being extinguished. The reformers eliminated this custom, so the 1962 version has no trident. I would like to know what happened to all those obsolete tridents during the 1950s! Were they thrown in the garbage?

(7) Exsultet Name: Traditionally, the Exsultet was a blessing of the Paschal candle. The reformers didn’t like that, so they changed its name. The Campion Missal lists many of the (somewhat silly) names invented by the reformers, including: “The Official Easter Song.”

(8) Slight Textual Changes: The reformers made slight changes to some of the prayers—in addition to a “comma issue” in vogue at the time—but those would be too complicated to describe here.

(9) Paschal Candle Placement: The Paschal candle is placed on the Gospel side in the 1950 version, but the 1962 version has it in the center of the Sanctuary.

(10) Incensing the Paschal Candle: In the 1962 version, immediately before singing the Exsultet, the Deacon incenses the Paschal candle, walking around it. This does not occur in the traditional version.

(11) Tinkering: Slight changes were made the famous “flectámus génua” sections.

(12) Litany Not Doubled: In the traditional version, the Litany of the Saints is sung “under the double rite; that is to say, that from the commencement to the end, the clergy repeat the same invocations as the Cantors.” The reformers eliminated that doubling, but introduced a new type of “doubling” by instructing the singers to repeat the first part of the litany over and over again to fill up space.

(13) Addition of New Prayers: The reformers created something completely new: “The Renewal of Baptismal Promises.” New items like this contradict Archbishop Bugnini, who—on page 314 of his Reform of the Liturgy (1990)—declared that the 1951 reform “restored the Easter Vigil to its original splendor.” Additionally, although they claimed to be enemies of duplication, they added the Lord’s Prayer, even though it would occur a few minutes later as part of Mass.

(14) The Vernacular: Significantly, the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises” was allowed to be done in the vernacular.

(15) Omission of the Communion Prayer: In the traditional version, “the Celebrant says the three usual prayers before his Communion.” In the 1962 version, the prayer Dómine Jesu Christi, qui dixísti is omitted, but the other prayers are said.

(16) Prayers at the Foot + Last Gospel: The 1962 version eliminates Júdica Me and the Confíteor at the beginning, whereas the traditional version contains the normal Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. In the 1962 version, the Last Gospel is suppressed, but not in the 1950 version.

(17) Before Postcommunion: In the 1950 version, a very brief Vespers ceremony with Magnificat is sung, and the “Spíritum nóbis, Dómine” serves as the Postcommunion. In the 1962 version, there is a very brief Lauds ceremony with the Canticle of Zachary, and the “Spíritum nóbis, Dómine” likewise serves as the Postcommunion.

(18) Elimination of Prophecies: The 1950 Holy Saturday had twelve prophecies. Throughout history, different customs prevailed in different localities. Some places had only four prophecies—others had as many as twenty-four. Bishop Durandus (d. 1296 A. D.) said the number of prophecies in the Holy Saturday services varied in different places (cf. Rationale, VI, 81). The 1962 version eliminated eight prophecies, leaving just four. One of the prophecies they eliminated was identical to the 2nd reading on Good Friday.

(19) Font Blessing & Baptismal Rites: The reformers made significant changes to the Font Blessing and Baptismal rites, which would be difficult to describe here. However, starting on page 620 of the Third Edition of the Campion Missal, this matter is explained fully with helpful charts. The “temporary vessel” invented by the reformers always struck me as quite unworthy, but the 1962 rubrics do allow the traditional baptistery to be used instead.

(20) Splittany: The so-called “split litany” is discussed below.

My Personal Beliefs

Since 1997, I have been blessed to participate many times in both versions of Holy Week. I actually love both versions. On the one hand, it’s difficult to see anything “deficient” or “lacking” in the 1950 version (with the possible exception of Palm Sunday, which is quite lengthy for families with small children). In other words, it’s difficult to see what was gained by Pius XII’s reforms.

On the other hand, I have difficulty sympathizing with folks who become unhinged whenever these reforms are mentioned. One man I knew became hysterical whenever he remembered how Pius XII turned the celebrant versus populum while blessing the palms. Yet, he had no complaint about the celebrant facing the people while blessing various items during the traditional Nuptial Mass. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the rubrics of the traditional Missal allow celebration entirely versus populum (cf. Ritus servandus V, 3). One thing not open to debate is how the reformers—in particular, Father Josef Löw—frequently contradicted themselves vis-à-vis the principles guiding their reforms.


I have observed that when some commentators discuss the Holy Week reform, they struggle mightily to enumerate any specific items. But surely we should know what the reforms are before opining! Wide circulation has been given to Father Stefano Carusi’s polemic (La Riforma Della Settimana Santa, 28 March 2010), which attempts to excoriate the reforms of Pius XII. The problem is that Father Carusi frequently misunderstands the rubrics (e.g. in his attempt to defend the trident) or makes factually incorrect statements. For example, during the 1950 Easter Vigil the Litaniæ Sanctorum is sung straight through, but the 1962 version divides it in two. Father Stefano Carusi declares that splitting the Litany demonstrates “no liturgical sense whatsoever” and says “this innovation is incoherent and incomprehensible.” To make things worse, Father Carusi says: “Never was it known that an impetratory prayer was split into two parts. The introduction of the baptismal rites in the middle is of an even greater incoherence.” But he’s dead wrong. This was not an innovation by the reformers. The Third Edition of the Campion Missal provides a whole series of manuscripts from various centuries, reaching back about 1,000 years, which all split the litany exactly as the reformers did.

If we must criticize, let us make sure we understand the reforms before doing so. Furthermore, let us not begin with the assumption that everything the reformers did was indefensible, terrible, and novel. †


For copious citations about the Holy Week reforms, a full bibliography, and much more, please see:

Saint Edmund Campion Missal, Third Edition

(Sophia Press Institute, 2022)

Campion Missal


Chiron, Yves. Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2018.

Dale, Hilarius. Ceremonial according to the Roman Rite; Translated from the Italian of Joseph Baldeschi, Master of Ceremonies of the Basilica of Saint Peter at Rome. London: Charles Dolman, 1853.

Fortescue, Adrian. The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. London: Burns & Oates, 1918.

Giampietro, Nicola. The Development of the Liturgical Reform as seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli. Colorado: Roman Catholic Books, 2009.

Guéranger, Prosper Louis Pascal. The Liturgical Year (Passiontide and Holy Week); Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd.  Worcestershire: Stanbrook Abbey, 1886.

Lallou, William. “Should We Revive The Mandatum?” The American Ecclesiastical Review, vol. CXV, (1946), pp. 69-68.

McManus, Frederick. The Rites of Holy Week. Paterson, New Jersey: Saint Anthony Guild Press, 1956.

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