Rorate Caeli

"Got a revolution, got to revolution!"
40 years of Pontificalis Romani and the new Roman Rite

Forty years ago, on June 18, 1968, Pope Paul VI signed the Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani, which put into effect the first part of the first completely new liturgical book in the history of the Church, the new Rite of Ordination of Deacons, Priests, and Bishops of the new Roman Pontifical.

It was not a mere liturgical reform, but a brand new product, a fruit of the frenetic work of the Consilium ad Exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, under the presidency of Cardinals Lercaro and Gut and with the unifying influence of Monsignor Annibale Bugnini. After the profound reforms of some liturgical texts and rubrics in the post-Conciliar years, the New Rite of Ordination was something else entirely: a radically new text for a new People of God.

Dom Bernard Botte, chairman of the subcommittee for the New Pontifical inside the Consilium, recalled with his characteristic modesty the events which led to the new text of the rite of Episcopal Consecration (or, rather, Ordination):

The reform of these rites imposed a delicate problem: was it necessary to return purely and simply to the primitive tradition and to suppress all the subsequent additions, or should these alterations, which were justified by a largely millennial tradition, be preserved? ... To suppress with one stroke all which had been added throughout the centuries would be against the very laws of life. On the other hand, the Roman Pontifical could not anymore be considered an untouchable monument elevated to its perfection by a master of ceremonies of the 13th century. The study of the early tradition, on the other hand, made clear that, in many of its points, a deviation of the true tradition had taken place. A superficial revision of the text, therefore, could not be enough

The commission charged with the reform chose an intermediate way: to preserve, in the Roman tradition, whatever could be kept or adapted without compromising the essence. I say keep or adapt for certain rites, while themselves legitimate, could appear falsified by the formula which accompanied them .

Formula of Ordination:

What bolstered the formula of Hippolytus was, in first place, its doctrinal wealth and its clarity.

After the reading of the text [of the new formula of episcopal ordination], many Fathers [members of the Consilium] were delighted, yet others remained in doubt, and some were certainly hostile to the idea. What prevailed in the decision [favorable to the new text] was the ecumenical value of the text.
["L'ordination de l'évêque". Published in La Maison-Dieu, 98, 1969/2, p. 113-126]

In his short memoir (published in English as "From Silence to Participation: An Insider's View of Liturgical Renewal"), Dom Bernard Botte would recall the almost feverish mood of the Consilium which needed the temporary approval of the new text by the appropriate Roman authorities as soon as possible so that the first "New Episcopal Ordination" might take place - it was the ordination of the famous Swiss liturgist Anton Hänggi as Bishop of Basel, which took place on February 11, 1968.

The text of the new Rite, "De Ordinatione Diaconi, Presbyteri et Episcopi", was then approved by Pope Paul along with his Apostolic Constitution on June 18. Other new texts for rites included in the Roman Pontifical would be published in the following years.

What was then considered "solid scholarship" regarding the reliability of the liturgical formulas of "The Apostolic Tradition", by the Pseudo-Hippolytus, is very much disputed today (an introduction to contemporary criticism of the Pseudo-Hippolytus is available here).

Such formulas were, nevertheless, the basis for the Consilium's decision on the new rites of ordination in the Latin Church. The validity of such formulas is not in question*. Yet the lack of prudence and foresight of the scholars and prelates who approved, abetted, and promoted this upheaval is not immune to criticism.

This bold destruction of centuries of Catholic liturgy, of the gentle accumulation of layers of contributions added by men of all ages, by a committee of scholarly bureaucrats of the 20th century, who believed they were somehow "outside" History, that they could sit in judgment of their forefathers in the Faith and pick and choose what was "historical" and what was not, what was the "true tradition" and what was a distortion of it - this still strikes any observer as the epitome of arrogance and carelessness, of hatred for the magnificent edifice of Western liturgy.

It is curious to observe that those ecclesiastical bureaucrats, in their respectful meetings and silent work had the same attitude - if not the same mindset - of the barbarous youth protesting throughout Western Europe and North America in that year of 1968: they mistrusted all that was established, they needed to build something new, whatever it might be, to reflect modern thought, to attract "the man of today"... even if, in the case of the liturgists, their brilliant novelties were presented as refurbished antiquities, especially if they had a "trustworthy" Eastern appearance.

The New Roman Rite was born, 40 years ago.

*cf. "Why the New Rite of Consecration is Valid", by Fr. Pierre-Marie, O.P., first published in Le Sel de la terre; translated and printed by The Angelus; more convincing arguments were penned by Brother Ansgar Santogrossi, O.S.B., and published by this weblog in 2007