Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Celebrating a century of liturgical wreckovation: the case of Pope St Pius X

One of the greatest problems with the traditionalist movement, in my view, is its tendency to latch onto some particular practice or period, claim it for 'tradition', and defend its priority over all competing positions for reasons of sentiment rather than logic. 

Rorate Caeli's's current series defending Pope St Pius X's reform of the Roman Breviary is such a case in my view.

Pope St Pius X's liturgical revolution

Many traditionalists (and catholics more broadly) will be unaware that Pope St Pius X was a liturgical reformer on a scale unprecedented until Pope Paul VI. 

Other Popes have certainly made their mark on the liturgy: Pope St Pius V and Pope Pius XII for example, both made significant changes to rubrics and practices of the Office and Mass. Their aims at least, whatever the ultimate reality, were relatively modest, namely seeking to standardize, restore and protect the integrity of the liturgy.

Not so Pope St Pius X.  

Amongst many other reforms, he not only changed the rubrics of the Roman Office drastically, but entirely dumped the ancient ordering of the psalter in favour of an entirely new one. 

He reversed the traditional order of reception of the sacraments and lowered the age of first communion. 

He made significant reforms to Church music.

And he reversed the long tradition of the Church when it came to the frequency of reception of communion.

I'm not saying that all of the changes he made were bad: the rubrical changes to the Office of 1911 in particular had a lot of merit, and the other measures he took were pastoral responses to the pressures of the time.  Others, such as the ordering of reception of the sacraments, are now being reversed.  Others still have had unforeseen consequences - in particular, encouraging frequent communion to counter Jansenism may have made sense when the sacrament of confession was still practised, now it just leads to mass sacrilege.

Regardless of their individual merits or otherwise though, his programme surely constituted a liturgical revolution, and, as many such as the late Professor Dobszay (Note: PDF) have eloquently argued, they set a precedent for the post-Vatican II wholesale junking of the existing form of the Mass and Divine Office and their replacement by something altogether new.

If it had been any other Pope...

In this light, there is a certain irony in the traditionalist Society adopting him as their patron saint. 

But of course, Pope St Pius X is also a hero of the anti-modernist fight, and as a result, some find it necessary all of his legacy, not just those components of it that have stood the test of time.

Take Rorate's defense of his breviary reforms.  There clearly was a problem with the rubrics of the Roman Office before 1911 and the accretion of prayers, feasts and other elements that made it a real burden on priests.  But there were other ways these problems could have been addressed than a wholesale reordering of the psalter.

Indeed, so hard is it to find fans of Pope St Pius X's reforms that Rorate has had to resort to giving space to a sedevacentist priest for the task!

The problem with the 1911 psalter

In the end the proof is in the fruits of the Reform, and the bad fruits therein have been drawn out at length by a number of recent studies. 

Far from making priests comfortable with a shorter Office, it led to pressure to shorten it even further, hence the modern Liturgy of the Hours. 

Far from providing a coherent framework for the passage of the day, most priests I know who say the 'traditional' Office (in reality the 1911 Office updated by the 1962 rubrical changes) treat it as something to be gotten through as quickly as possible.

The original form of the Roman Office offered priests a combination of solid meat, particularly in the relatively long hour of Matins; and familiarity, with day hours that could be memorized in the form of that extended meditation on the law, in Psalm 118 said each day.  It had a Lauds that reminded of the reality of sin and the necessity both of repentance, in the form of the daily recitation of Psalm 50, and of the importance of hope and joy, in the Laudate psalms (Psalm 148-150).  And it followed the monastic Office in keeping Compline fixed each day, a quiet wind down to sleep.  It had a clear internal logic.

Changing all of things has had, in my view, serious spiritual and psychological effects, as I've suggested in my own series comparing various Office psalm schemas.

Pope Pius X's reforms made the Office shorter. 

But most find few other virtues in it.

Time for some reform of the reforms?

I'm not one of those who advocate reform of the 1962 Mass, despite some of the obvious problems with it, any time soon.

But I do think there is a good case for tossing out both the 1962 and 1970 Roman breviaries right now and doing a thorough reboot. 

And in the meantime, the Benedictine Office, which retains the psalm ordering set by the saint some 1600 years or so ago (and was itself a reform of the original Roman Office), with rubrics of 1962, provides, in my view, a far superior, and certainly genuinely traditional, alternative to the Roman...

The positive side of the Rorate series, I suppose, is that it shows that even the hardest of hardline traditionalists apparently accept that some liturgical reform is possible, even desirable, at times...


Joshua said...

I must say, I disagree with your thesis that the new arrangement of the Psalms by command of St Pius X was in and of itself bad.

For a start, did not St Benedict state in his Rule that the psalms could be rearranged - provided only that all 150 be said each week?

Secondly, Matins of 12 Psalms is no joke (I find 9 hard enough).

Thirdly, when I manage to read the Office daily, I look forward, say, to Friday Terce, for after a while one has a feeling for each individual Hour and the psalms that return that hour, on that day, each passing week.

Fourthly, the pre-1912 Roman Breviary took even longer to say (let alone sing) than the Monastic, so what St Benedict allowed for his monks applies even more strongly.

I will certainly agree with you, however, that it is a pity that Lauds was so mucked with (at least retaining the Laudate psalms, if not more, would have been preferable), and I detest any other than the traditional Compline Psalms (4, 90, 133, and, as traditionally in the Roman Office, 30:1-6 as well).

Kate said...

Rather too much has been made, in my view, of St Benedict's line about rearranging the psalter - it was very much in the flavour of a throwaway line, coming as it does after he devoted nearly a third of his Rule to setting out exactly how what order the psalms should be said in. He also puts it in the context of the ancient fathers saying all the psalms in a day! It is notable that no one made use of this now often quoted opt out provision until the nineteenth century...

That said, I'm not suggesting the Roman Office couldn't have been shortened and some changes made.

But a lot of the length of the pre-1911 Office wasn't due to the psalms themselves but the other accretions and rubrics.

And as you note, St Benedict came up with a rather shorter Office while still maintaining the repetition of key psalms. Perhaps his ordering would have been a good starting point to look at in any revamp!

Still, I agree on Matins, particularly since, unlike the Benedictine Office, the old Roman didn't even split the longer psalms!

But there were ways of shortening the Office it seem to me, that would have been much less drastic.

Psalm 118 could have been retained for Monday to Friday for example, but some suitable psalms moved into the little hours on the weekend. Or, the simplest solution of all would be a two week rotation of psalms at Matins (the Ambrosian Office for example has a two week psalter).

Still, glad someone likes the Roman Breviary...

R. J. Stove said...

One thing which never seems to be realised adequately, at least among most traditionalist Catholics (whether SSPX or not) in Australia and the States, is this. For much of the period between 1903and 1962, the dictates of Tra le sollicitudine were - for better or for worse - widely ignored.

Cardinal Moran, as we know from recent researches by John De Luca in Sydney, wanted his Donizetti-style liturgical music kept intact at St Mary's Cathedral after 1903; and since he was a cardinal, he got it. Any examination of Justine Ward's famous post-1903 textbooks on plainchant will reveal photographs depicting female chant-singers (a no-no according to the 1903 rubrics: Aunt Kate's famous outburst in James Joyce's "The Dead", deploring the expulsion of lady choristers, will not readily be forgotten by those who have read it).

Similarly, there arose a widespread belief - especially prevalent in France, and voiced by no less a figure than Saint-Saëns -that the 1903 rulings' texts forbade, in every single circumstance, all instruments save the organ, and were a mandate to throw even organists onto the scrap-heap of joblessness. (They unambiguously didn't and don't.)

Most French parishes acted upon this misapprehension by the authentically Gallican device of simply pretending that the 1903 pronouncements had never happened; treating them as a dead letter; and using the same alternatim practices with Mass music that had prevailed among Louis XIV's countrymen ever since Louis XIV's own time. (The Cambridge Companion to the Organ spelled out these truths years ago, but I have scarcely met a single Australian or American trad Catholic aware of them.) So if this was what things were like in France, imagine how liturgically anarchic they must have been in, say, agrarian Portugal.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the joys of post-reformation liturgical reform!

The only solution is to reverse the disciplinary reforms of Trent.

+ Wolsey

R. J. Stove said...

Well, + Wolsey, I can't speak either for this site's owner or for other combox contributors; but I myself was by no means condemning the 1903 sacred music reforms (and I can't imagine any circumstances where I'd be tempted to do so). Rather, I merely observed how often they were disobeyed - for whatever motives, good or bad or mixed - in practice. Ditto a good many 16th-century rulings on the subject.

If we traditional Catholics can't admit to ourselves the justice of Thomas Sowell's epigram "History is what happened, not what we wish had happened, nor what a theory or an ideology says should have happened", then we shall have precious little luck in persuading liberals to abandon their own (admittedly very different) forms of self-serving mythomania.

Kate said...

Thanks for raising the gap between law and reality and the musical reforms Mr Stove, I steered clear of the latert in my post because their prescriptions to attact a lot of angst from certain people and the arguments have been run many times before, whereas there has been relatively little discussion of the 1911 breviary reforms.

But just to stir the pot a little, personally, I do in fact have problems with some of those reforms - not least the (since reversed) booting of women from choirs! It was one thing to have all male choirs when choir members were clerics, in my view, but quite another to insist on calling it a proper schola when they are merely laymen filling in. Indeed, in my view, the obsession of certain laymen in dressing up in cassocks etc in order to pretend to be a schola smacks of the extraordinary minister phenomenon in novus ordo land, and is probably the origin of it...

Nonetheless, I think the Cardinal missed my essential point, which was that we shouldn't latch on to some magic date or period, whether Trent or later, and claim that all was perfect before then!

In reality, we are bound to obey pastoral decisions of the Church but we don't have to like them and in some circumstances it is permissible to debate them (there will be times when it isn't of course, normally immediately after they have been taken, and Popes and others have prohibited discussion on certain disciplinary issues from time to time for the good of the Church).

R. J. Stove said...

Thanks ma'am. I have no expertise whatsoever regarding the Breviary, so I deliberately steered clear of that topic, in favour of a topic where I do have a bit of hard-won historical knowledge and practical experience.

Your point about clerics versus laymen is a very good one, and one which I wish I had thought to cite myself. So much preconciliar Church activity did, in retrospect, operate on the unexamined (if, at the time, statistically justified) assumption that there would always be more priests, monks, nuns, and seminarians than the Church would know what to do with!

Anonymous said...

As a matter of principle, we are not bound to obey unjust, imprudent or sinful pastoral decisions.

+ Wolsey

P.S. Pius X's 1903 Moto P. was a step in the right direction. But all-male, cassocked, surpliced choirs only make sense in the pre-Tridentine (read: Gothic, rood-screens, etc) liturgical setting.

Kate said...

We are certainly not bound to observe outright sinful decisions.

But short of that?

The proper course normally will surely be to accept the decision of proper authority, even if it seems unjust or imprudent to us.

The duty of obedience requires us not to let our own judgment substitute for proper authority. There are plenty of saints who have modelled the proper response to unjust decisions, namely accepting it and praying that justice be done (and perhaps appealing to higher authority when possible!).

There are always exceptions of course, but they should be extremely rare.

Anonymous said...

In which case, Kate, the "ordinary" principle of obedience would have prohibited resistance to the Novus Ordo, regardless of any technical legal right to do so, once Paul VI made his will clear that the N.O. be universally accepted in the latin church.

But we all know that to be false ...

+ Wolsey

Kate said...

In fact, in my view (and yes I am out of line with most traditionalists on this one) the only rationale for resistance was that there was a legal right still there.

Personally, I think the Solesmes monks of Fontgambault and the Oratorians provided the correct model here, not the SSPX and others. The monks continued to say the traditional Mass right up until the point when they were threatened with canonical penalties. And resumed saying it again the instant Ecclesia Dei came out and they could get permission. Similarly, the Oratorians did the absolute best possible with the NO, working with the system.

Anonymous said...


i) canon law is different to common law, viz. statute law (the Code of Canon Law and any other legislation) is subordinate to customary law - hence the right to say the older liturgy perdured. Pope Paul's personal wishes cannot change that. He was, from the point of view of jurisprudence, a monstrous occupant of the throne of Peter - he thought he could just ride roughshod over not only legal but moral rights. His denial of natural justice to Archbishop Lefebvre was indicative of this. I only wish I had been Archbishop Lefebvre's advocate before the Apostolic Signatura!

ii) You appear to adhere to the jurisprudential error of legal positivism.

+ Wolsey

hughosb said...

Kate, you have done your homework well. To be honest it is only in the last year or two that I have realised the irony of the SSPX adopting as their patron such a radical (for his day) liturgical reformer.

As to the Benedictine Office, while St Benedict went to great lengths to arrange the Office just so, he is insistent throughout his Rule that individual abbots can change what can be changed to fit local demands and circumstances. This is one reason the Rule came to predominate and endure: that it can adapt to times and places.

So it is quite consistent for him, I believe, to allow, and graciously so, adaptation of his suggested schema. The detail with which he gives his model reflects, I suggest, the importance he places on the work of God (other priorities being, for example, the tools of good works and the steps of humility, which get extensive treatment too). It also reflects his desire to provide a proven working model for the Office, one that obviously worked in his monastery. He is too sage to set it in stone, however.

Another factor we might keep in mind is that for centuries monks did not have the distractions that are a given of much monastic life now. Phones, computers, pastoral care, visitors by the car and bus load, fill the day above and beyond the normal monastic routine, especially in the much smaller communities of today. Thus, whereas 150 psalms a week was more than do-able in our holy Father's time, it would really be burdensome to many communities today without allowing some of the brethren to be absent from Office on a regular basis (which historically led to abuses of some magnitude). Obviously fully contemplative houses suffer less from modernity's distractions.

One loss after the Council that few lament is the suppression of Prime, and I am glad no one has made a point of it here. It was rather a dislocated office. From the little I know and the less I remember, that office developed as an elaboration of the daily reading of the chapter of the Rule before the day's labours began in earnest. Its suppression was, therefore, quite sensible. In our case, we read our chapter of the Rule at night!

Thanks again Kate for yet more perspicacious commentary.


Anonymous said...


Why not be honest and admit that the jurisprudence to which you adhere is legal positivism, and that it influences your attitude towards canon law in general and liturgical reform in particular?

At least we would then know where you stand.

+ Wolsey

Kate said...

Cardinal - No, not legal positivism, just someone who rejects the idea that the ends (preserving a good form of the liturgy) justifies the means (disobedience and schism)!

Had the SSPX not existed, I'm personally convinced that God would have found another way of preserving the TLM in the Church's patrimony.

Fr Hugh - Thank you. I'm not quite as sanguine as you about the license to reorganize the Benedictine Office however.

I've certainly heard the argument put on many occasions that the space taken up just reflects the priority of the Office in Benedictine life.

But there is something inherently contradictory, it seems to me, in arguing that but then suggesting that the reason we should reduce the length of the monastic office is because of all the distractions monks now face.

Isn't the instruction to put nothing before the Work of God?!

And isn't this one of the fundamentals that should separate monks/nuns from oblates and secular priests who have to put the (other) duties of their state of life first?

Personally, I think the saint sets out the schema in detail because it was an important component of the spirituality he was attempting to foster in his monks. The repetitions, the structuring of the hours, the allocation of psalms to particular days, all, in my view, reflect a quite specific spirituality that forms the Benedictine as a Benedictine just by virtue of saying it each day.

I don't actually agree with you about Prime. In the Benedictine Office it covers psalms 1-2, 6-19, and provides a good meaty start for the day. The fixed prayer is a blessing for the day. I do agree that the 'chapter' traditionally tacked on to it (reading of martyrology, Rule, prayers for deceased etc) is could be said at any time though.

I accept that some relatively minor rearrangements and shortenings can be ok, where they protect the integrity of the basic schema - some monasteries for example only do one of the Laudate psalms each day, and similar. And one week schemas reorganized to abolish Prime work seem to work well enough in some places, though I do think it rather compromises some key elements of St Benedict's (implicit) teaching.

But beyond that there comes a pont at which one has to ask what truly constitutes a Benedictine monk/nun, and what his or her role in the Church truly is!

I'm not arguing that Benedictines should only be contemplatives as some do, I do think the Rule and Life, not to mention the history of the Order, make it clear that the charism does encompass the mixed life. But up until very recently in the Order's history, the Office was regarded as the key priority.

It is no coincidence in my view, that the loss of that centrality has been associated with a catastrophic collapse in vocations, and too many cases of abuse and other scandals.

Anonymous said...


What you have described is precisely legal positivism.

Since we had the right to the old liturgy, to deny that we lacked a collateral right of disobedience to Paul VI's liturgical directives in the face of that pope's denial of that liturgical right just doesn't make sense - it's irrational!

As to the question of schism, sorry, but the mere declaration of a pope that person/group X is in schism does not cause schism to suddenly exist.

Sorry, but you're arguing according to sentiment, not principle.

+ Wolsey

Kate said...


How can I be guilty of legal positivism when the major premise of my article is actually a critic of the laws of a particular pope!

Secondly, in the case of the liturgy I did in fact say that I thought that the only justification for the continued use of the TLM was that there was an ongoing legal right there.

But I don't think there is an absolute right to use any particular form of liturgy; the church does have a right to legislate (within certain limits) on this. And I think the appropriate approach to the NO was to protest as much as possible, push the limits of what the law, bishops and popes would permit, but then if necessary attend a Ukrainian Catholic rite instead of the NO (as many in my own town did)!

As for when schism exists and determinations by the Pope on questons of unity, you and Bishop Bill Morris have found something to agree on...

Anonymous said...


Schism is perpetrated through acts, not a declaratory judgment.

The Morris situation is radically distinguishable.

Strange as it may seem, one can never become a schismatic by adhering to catholic orthodoxy (or orthopraxis).

Morris did neither, and probably, was/is a heretic additionally. I say "probably" because I don't know enough about his case and what infallible teachings he has denied if any, but it's a safe bet that he likely has and does.

+ Wolsey

R. J. Stove said...

+ Wolsey writes: "all-male, cassocked, surpliced choirs only make sense in the pre-Tridentine (read: Gothic, rood-screens, etc) liturgical setting."

Is there actual documented evidence for that allegation? If there is, I'd be interested to see this evidence. I can't claim exhaustive knowledge of the relevant historiography - such awareness of it as I have is scarcely more than what any literate organist, Catholic or Protestant, acquires sooner or later - but I've read enough to realise that nowhere have I encountered anything like this particular assertion before (and I've seen over the years quite a few pre-1962 criticisms of the 1903 rulings).

Anonymous said...

Yes, Robert it's a deduction.

During the counter-reformation, probably under the influence of Jesuit lirturgical practices, choirs in the cahancel began being dispensed with, and choir galleries began to be introduced. The clerical liturgical role of the choir thus being dispensed with, what point was there dressing as a cleric?

Once rood-screens go, in principle everything slides ...

+ Wolsey

R. J. Stove said...

Rood-screens? Well, that's a new conjecture (especially if it was meant in all seriousness). And here was I thinking that the liturgical revolution might have had some faint relationship with Bugnini, Freemasons, shameless contraceptors, Soviet blackmailing of two successive popes, and ecumenism run mad! But of course if it was all about getting rid of the rood-screens, then presumably putting the rood-screens back, after a mere 450 years, will solve all the Church's problems ...