Holy Week

Holy Week is upon us once again, and we get ready for long services in my little chapel. This morning for Palm Sunday I was on my own. I set up a lectern in the middle of the chapel for the Passion and some of the antiphons I sung for the procession. But, being on one’s tod is a little limiting.

The rubrics refer to the different parts of Salisbury Cathedral and there are two Gospels before the Mass. I blessed the palms, English style palm crosses, and carried one about with me as I walked to the ante-chapel and the lectern between the choir stalls. It had to be a little do-it-yourself, as I omitted many of the antiphons designed for accompanying the kind of procession one would imagine in the 1520’s at Salisbury. The four palms ended up in two small brass vases on the altar. I took off my red cope and donned my black chasuble with red orphreys (I really need a bull’s blood red chasuble with black orphreys – another year with my sewing machine). I read the Passion of St Matthew at the lectern, and returned to the altar for the “Gospel” part.

Maundy Thursday will be quite simple. I make the concession of using bright red vestments. The spirit of the Sarum Maundy Thursday Mass is totally different from the Roman in which the theme is the priesthood of Christ being transmitted to the Apostles and the institution of the Eucharist. It is a Passiontide Mass with a secondary Eucharistic theme. There is no procession at the end of Mass, nor is there an altar of repose. The second and third hosts simply go into the hanging pyx. The Easter Sepulchre is reserved for after the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. The “deconsecrated” and empty church is not a feature of the Sarum Holy Week. The Easter Sepulchre remains in place throughout the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday and is only taken down shortly before the Mass of Easter Sunday.

My experience with using Sarum, albeit reduced to being alone with at most a passive lay person in attendance, gives me a different perspective on the modern Roman Holy Week services. I do find it sad that many ceremonies had to be invented rather than being taken from medieval sources. We use red rather than violet and black vestments (my passion chasuble is a stopgap substitute), and there are only four Prophecies on Holy Saturday, like in the Dominican and French diocesan rites. Pius XII adopted the four Prophecies and Paul VI added a fifth. These are all very variable elements. There was good and not so good in all those reforms of the 1050’s and 60’s. One of the most eloquent criticisms of the 1950’s Holy Week services (Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday in particular) was The “Restored” Holy Week by Msgr Léon Gromier, Papal Master of Ceremonies during the Pontificate of Pius XII. He gave this talk in 1960. Since I published my own translation on the internet, others have appeared. I find Dr Geoffrey Hull’ work fascinating. The best known is his book The Banished Heart, which I believe is still available. When he visited my seminary in the early 1990’s, he gave out a few copies of The Proto-History of the Roman Liturgical Reform, which I have reproduced (and no one has objected). There is also the Notes on the reforms of 1964 and 1967 by a French Benedictine monk of the Abbey of Randol. The text was given to me by Fr Frank Quoëx at seminary, and I did a translation which you can read here.

Holy Week often goes too fast, and it is often a stressing time, either because the ceremonies need careful preparation, or because it is the full moon and people become irrational and moody. Of course, everyone knows that a full moon always occurs during Holy Week, since this spring moon determines the date of Easter. I anticipate having a lot of work to do and little time for prayer. The weather in northern France looks like turning bad for Holy Saturday and the entire Easter weekend. High winds and rain may preclude the New Fire outdoors. Plan B is a bunch of candles in my usual cast iron pot on a stand, and that gives a big flame with little smoke when it has to be indoors. The last time that solution was necessary was in 2008. Perhaps the outlook might change over the week.

Liturgical enthusiasts will be happy to know that I will be doing the Vigil on Holy Saturday morning. The reason is partly the annual general meeting of my sailing club at Veules les Roses. I do wish we could do this on a day other than Holy Saturday each year! So, O beata nox will be sung in the daylight. At least the weather will probably be gloomy and overcast!

I wish all my readers a blessed Holy Week, regardless of the rites they use, and may we all live the Transitus Domini that brings us from death to life as on the day of our Baptism.

* * *

One final note, thinking of death to life and the centenary of the worst year of World War I, let us add this piece by Sir Hubert Parry, composed in 1914, to our meditation. It is the Symphonic Poem From Death to Life. Try not to weep too much as you hear this piece in memory of the fallen and our faith in the Resurrection!

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2 Responses to Holy Week

  1. Could you name some of the good reforms of 50’s and 60’s?

    I am not provoking nor anything. I’m genuinely interested in what you think.

    • Just one or two things that coincided with medieval use such as dull red vestments instead of violet, the reduction of the number of Prophecies, more particularly the times of services. All these things can be discussed and researched. As you suggested, I don’t want conflict, though discussion is always a good thing. Myself, I don’t use the Roman rite but the Use of Sarum.

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