Rorate Caeli

On the Reform of Holy Week under Pope Pius XII

John XXIII venerating the cross, according to the pre-1955 rubrics.

The blog Disputationes Theologicae has published a long (and disturbing) essay on the reform of Holy Week accomplished between 1951 and 1956 by Bugnini et al.

Among other things the essay informs us that, in 1959, Pope John XXIII made a point of observing Good Friday according to the pre-1955 rite.

The essay is in Italian. A Google translation into English can be found here. A more formal translation into English should be available soon.

Incidentally, the Italian blog post has a picture of the rite of un-nailing of the Corpus, a Holy Week devotional practice that has largely disappeared in the last 50 years.


  1. Pope John XXIII had Bugnini removed from office, therefore it is hardly surprising he continued with the traditional Holy Week ceremonials. "Buan" was able to recommence under Paul VI (RIP) and finish what he had set out to do: produce an ecumenical service in the name of antiquarianism, post-war rationalism & popular participation which protestants could attend.

  2. Anonymous12:16 PM

    There is nothing "disturbing" in this study because there is nothing ... NEW.

    Attacks against the Pacellian reform of the Holy Weeks appeared in the 1950's and early 1960's for example by the English writer Evelyn Waugh who bitterly complained after this reform.

    The study is also undoubtedly correct when the author stated : "The whole rationale for this reform is permeated by a mixture of rationalism and archaeological contours sometimes imaginative" (Stefano Carusi).

    But the author is forgetting several important points in focusing only on the text and not looking around, not taking into account the historical contexts of 1950's and 1960's-1970's which are entirely different.

    1) Antonelli and Loew are both the authors of this reform and NOT Annibale Bugnini. Interestingly both were at odd with ... Bugnini in 1962, wanted to revise his scheme for the Council with the full support of cardinal Larraona ; unfortunately Fr. Loew died unexpectedly. So it is distorting the perception to put them all in the same basket. Antonelli has been rather severe with the Bugnini revolution of 1964-1969 : there is no consistent proof he would have done the same, on the contrary !

    2) The Pacellian reform was achieved in a context where liturgy was under control : it was a limited intervention, a controlled evolution, whether excellent or not is beyond the point at that stage. The Bugnini neo-liturgy was imposed in a context of chaos where creativity was encouraged. We cannot draw the conclusion that 1951-1955 could lead to 1969 and the present chaos. It is simply preposterous.
    TLM communities are proving year after year, celebrating the Pius XII Holy Week, that it is not true ! We have a living proof that the revised Holy Week has been nurturing the faithful for 50 years, in spite all the technical, erudite questions raised by Stefano Carusi.

    3) May I have a dream : that the so "horrible" Pius XII Holy Week could become the "ordinary" Holy Week for ALL Catholics. Would it be a DRAMATIC progress or a regression as Mr. Carusi would imply ? Obviously it would be a tremendous progress that all trads are not daring to dream of ...
    May one day Benedict XVI be able to be the pope to do this : it would be such a grace for millions of Catholics. (wishful thinking I confess)

    4) We need also to be aware that sedevacantists are the permanent supporters of the anti Pius XII Holy Week rhetoric. I do not say Mr Carusi is one of them in no way : I don't know him or his stance in this matter.

    Finally, apart from academic evaluation of this 1951-1955 reform which is per se interesting, we need to look at priorities. Coming back in 1950 is certainly not the most urgent need of the faithful : aside from some sedes, a handful of trads are attached to the 1950 Holy Week. If they want to have it in some remote chapels for the very few who truly stick to it, why not ?

    But we must keep our eyes on the REAL liturgical questions : 1) extending access to 1962 liturgical books 2) revising the ordinary Form if possible 3) restoring a genuine Catholic understanding - and training - of liturgy among the clergy and the faithful.
    A Chinese proverb reads : when the Wise Man is pointing at the moon, the fool is looking at his finger. Clearly a focus on the 1951-1955 reform today is being obsessed with ... the finger.


  3. Joe B2:24 PM

    I suspect you are right about this being academic now, but wouldn't it be prudent to choose the "best" liturgical form to revert to, not just the last to "stick"? It may well be one that preceeds 1965 or 1962. We have the value of hindsight now, and there may be more than one or two reasons to go farther back, seeing as how we now know there was a period of dubious flirtation with liturgical modernism even before VCII. If we look at the development of liturgy through the eyes of, say, a Pope Saint Pius X, or some other modernism-weary eyes, where would the optimal liturgical form be?
    And I think this type of subject is within the original purpose of this excellent blog, even if somewhat on the fringe.

  4. Is there any chance that Anglicanorum Coetibus will bring back the pre-1955 rite? Some Anglican groups use it.

  5. Seeing His Holiness celebrate the pre-Bugnini liturgy makes me less scrupulous about preferring the 1955 rites.

  6. Peter Haddad3:16 PM

    A Criticism of the Pius XII Holy Week Ceremonies

    When I was in seminary, our master of ceremonies gave us photocopies of a conference given in 1960 by Monsignor Léon Gromier (1879-1965). Monsignor Gromier, a Frenchman, had been master of ceremonies for Pope Pius XII. He had always been an outspoken critic of the reforms of the Holy Week ceremonies from the Congregation of Rites from 1950 to the edition of the Roman Missal of 1956....

  7. I belive the late Michael Davis said that John XXIII could never get used to the 1945 Psalter changes and always used the older one. It is hardly surprising too that Msgr. Bartolucci admitted over a year ago, that John XXIII insisted on the traditional 'Vexilla Regis' being sung on Good Friday.

    Oh the irony of the "Missal of Blessed John XXIII"- a missal, which the aforesaid pope would have disapproved off highly if he were here today!

  8. While liturgical reform was being carried out with the involvement of many others, Bugnini’s role in liturgical developments were the consequence of his various positions concerned with the liturgy & sacred music that he held throughout the late 40s & 1950s. In 1948 he became Secretary to Pope Pius XII’s Commission for Liturgical Reform; in 1955 he received an appointment at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music; he was appointed Professor of Sacred Liturgy at the Lateran University in 1958 & there was his appointment as Secretary to the Preparatory Commission on the Liturgy for the Second Vatican Council in 1960. He certainly was known as a progressive and he was already exerting his influence on proceedings. Changes in the 1950s suited his long-term purposes. These opened the door to more changes. Cardinal Larraona was influential in having him removed by Pope John XXIII. He also lost his other positions but he had already done much of his admirable progressivist work. Briefly, he was the driving force behind the preparatory schemata for the liturgy of which his particular contribution survived his dismissal being accepted in January 1962. Pope Paul VI facilitated his own particular liturgical achievements.

  9. Personally, I would like to see all Bugnini's work abolished. Holy Week is another story altogether.

  10. Anonymous4:29 PM

    Is there any rumor or discussions in any high level areas about allowing the Pre-55 Holy Week celebrations just as the 1962 was freed for use? Or is anything currently under review or is this set in stone? Do any communities have permission to use the former rites?

  11. "There is nothing "disturbing" in this study because there is nothing ... NEW."

    Mr. "Alsaticus":

    Nothing new, yes, but there are few essays on the reforms of Holy Week that have brought together as many devastating criticisms of the "62" Holy Week as this one.

    I am aware of some large and well-established Trad communities (not sedes) that quietly use the pre-55 rites, or at least incorporate into their "'62 Holy Week" a significant number of elements from the unreformed Holy Week. While I have been asked to keep quiet about them, I can assure you that they do not, by any means, represent a "handful" of faithful who can be easily crammed into remote chapels. The demand for access to the pre-1955 rites is much more extensive than you would like to think.

    Raising questions about the intentions that lay behind the 1951-1956 reform does not and should not be seen as a useless distraction fit only for fools, as you so arrogantly imply. It is perfectly possible for Trad priests and faithful to focus on providing more people access to the 1962 Missal, without being blind to some less desirable elements in it, and in the hope that -- eventually -- the unreformed rites will once more be unambiguously allowed by the Vatican. This is what I myself do.

    You make the point that the 1962 Holy Week has been nurturing the faithful for decades. I agree. The same can be said for the 1970 Holy Week. Does that mean that we should not, therefore, raise questions about the 1970 Holy Week as well?

  12. \\Incidentally, the Italian blog post has a picture of the rite of un-nailing of the Corpus, a Holy Week devotional practice that has largely disappeared in the last 50 years.\\

    Speak for yourselves.

    The Vespers of the Unnailing, where the priest removes the Corpus from the Golgotha set up in the Nave the previous evening (anticipated Matins) is a standard part of the Holy Friday services in the Greek and Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite use. (The Slavs do not do this, however.)

  13. Anonymous7:10 PM


    Your reference to Pope St.Pius X is timely, given the growing understanding that he, however unwittingly perhaps, contributed to the Liturgical Reforms of Paul VI. See this link.

    If I understand this author's thesis, it is that the Canon Law Reforms of the Code of 1918 (begun under St. Pius X, written in part by a rising young Pacelli and promulgated by Benedict XIV) cleared the way for the imposition by a future Pope of the Novus Ordo.

    What St. Pius X must have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, was an old lesson. To paraphrase SunTsu, "Be careful about obtaining power, as it may be used against you should your enemy obtain your position."

  14. Anonymous7:29 PM

    This could easily be resolved as can the Novus Disordo mess. First return to the Missal before Bugnini ever put his heretical hands on it meaning the Old Holy Week. As for the Novus Ordo dump it and replace it with all options with the ExtraOrdinary (Gregorian) Rite in the vernacular (English, Spanish, French, German etc etc etc....) This way you bring back all the liturgy and with mass in the vernacular the people in the pews wont be able to complain about the language. Of course in addition keep growing the Latin Gregorian Rite !!!

  15. Anonymous9:51 PM

    Blessed Pope John XXIII's apparent attachment to the pre-1955 rites is interesting. However when we say that he would have had misgivings over the 1962 missal, then this is quite another matter -however I don't believe this for a second. He was in favour of liturgical reform, though I would hesitate to say that he would have been in favour of the liturgy produced after Vatican II. I regret a number of changes made to the 1955 Holy Week rites which were unnecessary, but overall it was a conservative reform, and those of us who are lucky enough to attend such rites should do so with great love and devotion, remembering in their prayes Our Holy Father Pope Benedict. Changing the time of the Easter Vigil to the evening - again under the Venerable Pope Pius XII, was also a good thing,and it was done with a large 'respect' and sensitivity for the traditional (organic) liturgy.
    May I wish all of you a very happy and a holy Easter.

    Fr. A.

  16. Anonymous11:49 PM

    dear Mr Palad,

    I cannot speak for the Philippines but as far as I know in Europe and in Northern America, only a ridicule number of faithful is demanding the pre-1955 Holy Week compared to the general population of trads. Sorry to contradict your statement. I know one French pre-1955 fan, I've heard that a couple of ICR priests are fans too and certainly a handful of other priests.

    Academic criticisms of the Pius XII reform are interesting but as I said, they are out of time. When TLM is widespread, when NOM is drastically reformed, yes - say in 50 years or more - the question raised by Stefano Carusi will become relevant. For the moment, the academic studies are for our common curiosity.

    Trads sometimes need to come down to earth and realize they are a drop in an ocean. You are not addressing, except by a mockery, the fact that over 95% trad communities are using the revised Holy Week of 1951-1955 and unlike the NO version of 1970 have not suffered any decline, far from it !
    SSPX and Abp Lefebvre are/were using the 1962 missal and I still have to be convinced they were dangerous modernists ...

    Why would you want to promote division now in a field where trads are nearly united ? That's the only "disturbing" point I see.

    Tolerance is already granted to the micro-minority of pre-1955 fans so where is the problem ? Do you and Mr Carusi seriously expect that the pope will erase the Pius XII and John XXIII reforms ? When cardinal Vingt-Trois - FrenChurch president - is asking for the suppression of ... Summorum Pontificum ?

    If you feel that being realistic and dealing with 2010 (serious) problems rather than dreaming with 2060 possible reforms is "arrogant" so be it.

    Happy Easter anyway, just typing coming from a great 1955 Vigil after 1955 Triduum providing grace in abundance to our local community.

    May more and more Catholics be blessed as we are to have access to this 1955 Holy Week rather than the litnik "ordinary" version.


  17. A very happy Easter to you and yours, too, Alsaticus! Very glad to see you back here once again!

    New Catholic

  18. "I cannot speak for the Philippines but as far as I know in Europe and in Northern America, only a ridicule number of faithful is demanding the pre-1955 Holy Week compared to the general population of trads. Sorry to contradict your statement."

    I'm not talking about the Philippines. Rather condescending of you to think that Philippine matters are all I know.

  19. "I regret a number of changes made to the 1955 Holy Week rites which were unnecessary, but overall it was a conservative reform, and those of us who are lucky enough to attend such rites should do so with great love and devotion, remembering in their prayers Our Holy Father Pope Benedict."

    True enough. Talking about the reforms and preferring the pre-1955 Holy Week should not be taken as an invitation to be ungrateful where the post-1955 Holy Week is available.

  20. Alsaticus:

    Just my last response to your comment.

    As is evident, you did not read the comment of mine to which you are supposedly replying.

    Nowhere did I advocate ingratitude for the 1962 Holy Week. My track record on this blog should prove it, and I clearly stated that I work for the greater availability of the 1962 Missal as well. Nor is there any insinuation that those who use the 1962 Holy Week are modernists. Please have the honesty to NOT distort the thoughts of those to whom you are replying.

    Asking serious questions about the implications of using the 1962 Missal can only be "divisive" and "threatening" for those who think that intelligent and reasoned debate, even when firmly anchored in Catholic Tradition, is dangerous.