Monday 29 March 2010

Palm Sunday in the pre-Pian rite

With no disrepect intended to the Venerable Pius XII, the Holy Week reforms that became effective during his pontificate truly make a dog's breakfast of the most important week in the liturgical year. I didn't quite realise how true that was until yesterday, when I assisted at a pre-Pian Palm Sunday for the first time, and realised why so many choose to cleave to this excellent tradition of liturgy. Not everyone will be familiar with the old-Old Rite rites, so I will try to describe the photos I have shared.

The blessing of the palms takes place within a ceremony that has the form of a little Mass, with its own Liturgy of the Word, Collects, Preface, Sanctus, and "Canon" of Blessing. This imitation-Mass clearly links the entrance to Jerusalem with the Passion that follows (in the Mass of the day). The vestments worn are folded chasubles for the Deacon and Subdeacon, and a cope for the Celebrant. The blessing and Mass both use purple, unlike the reformed rite instituted by Pius XII, and God only knows what happens in the Modern Roman Rite! In this picture the ministers arrive at the altar and move to the Epistle side.

Hosannah, Son of David is the Antiphon that corresponds to the Introit of a Mass, and at Oremus of the Collect, the Subdeacon goes to his place and removes his folded chasuble, before going to sing the Lesson from Exodus at the appointed place.

There is also a Gospel proper to the blessing, which recounts the entrance of Christ to the city. For this, the Deacon wears his broad stole as he would at Mass. The Celebrant is listening from the Epistle side, because the Missal has not been moved from the place of the Palms.

The Celebrant kisses the book and is censed as at Mass.

A preface follows, then a "canon" of five blessing prayers is said over branches of Olive and Palm.

The branches are lustrated and censed.

An assistant priest hands a palm to the Celebrant, and the ministers receive theirs kneeling.

Palms are then distributed to the faithful

The procession forms and leaves the church

The Subdeacon carries the veiled cross

When the procession arrives back at the church, two cantors remain inside and shut the doors. From inside they sing "all honour, laud and glory" which is repeated by those outside. After this dialogue, the Subdeacon strikes the door of the church thrice with the foot of the cross....

And the procession enters the church to the chanting of another Antiphon Ingredientem. As a side-bar, the piety of the women who chose to wear a Mantilla or a hat on this day is to be praised.

Mass proceeds as normal with the rules for Passiontide, except for the Chanting of the Passion, after which the end of the Passion is chanted as a normal Gospel, with incense (and acolytes but no lights) thereafter. Unfortunately I couldn't load the picture of the Celebrant, chanting the Passion as Christus at the Gospel side, while the narrator Chanted from the lectern.
This liturgy affected me in ways I didn't know it would. The sense of event which followed the first collect and reading, so familiar yet so different really caught my imagination. The silent, pregnant pause between the end of the Passion sung but the narrator, and the bit sung as the Gospel was truly dramatic and affecting. I have read that this climatic moment represents the desolation of the Church at the events described in the Passion. Even the slight pause that I made to genuflect while singing "and at the name of Christ...every knee shall bend" in the Epistle seemed appropriate, all leading up to the Great Event of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. I have rarely felt so free to engage with the Sacrifice as I did yesterday having heard the Passion sung. Hopefully I'll have time to post photos from the Triduum later this week. Stand by for a preview of our Good Friday vestments.


  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing these photos and providing explanations. My knowledge of these distinctions among the rites is quite sketchy, but I find it fascinating.

  2. Well it looks like all went well. Well done! I shall share this with my PP and mayube it's something we can look at for next year.
    A blessed Holy Week

  3. Whilst I have not personally assisted at the older form of the Holy Week rites, it is clear from comparing different editions of the English Missal and Fortescue that much was lost.

    I'm sure that changes were needed, by all accounts the ceremonies were largely ignored and I've yet to encounter somebody who suggests celebrating the Easter Vigil at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning (though the shift from Vespers to Lauds at the end does present a challenge); but the overall effect certainly does foreshadow the various changes of the later '60s.

    In addition to the points noted here, I would be particularly interested to see the restoration of the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified to Good Friday, as well as the blessing of the Pascal Candle during the Exultet (as implied by the text itself) - and blessing of a bowl of water then carrying to the font is plainly bonkers within the architecture of most churches.

  4. Your photos are very good. I'm glad to see that other countries still recognize and celebrate the importance of Palm Sunday. I'm afraid that the solemnity and importance of the event may be overshadowed by bunnies and easter eggs. But good job!

  5. Of course if you wanted to be really pre-Pian (as in the V!) you could go even farther back and opt for crimson!