On the old Opus Publicum I staged several defenses of the liturgical books approved for use with the vetus ordo (“1962 books”) against those critics, some more good-natured and well-intentioned than others, who find them wanting. Some in fact argue that the 1962 books represent a transition from the classic Roman Rite to the New Rite of Pope Paul VI, though as a genealogical matter that is a hard argument to maintain. While the modern liturgical reformers had been busy at their dark craft since the first-half of the 20th Century, the revolutionary changes to the Holy Week Rite in the 1950s coupled with a reduction of the Breviarium Romanum and the Roman Calendar did not inevitably point to the Novus Ordo Missae and the Liturgia Horarum. Besides, it is anachronistic to assess the value of the 1962 books based on what happened later in the decade, as if the slight and subtle simplifications introduced into the Missale Romanum of John XXIII eviscerated the Offertory in the New Mass and gave us Eucharistic Prayer II. The integrity of the 1962 books must be judged, if not exclusively then substantially, in the light of what preceded them.

And therein lies a serious complication. For while a good number of liturgical critics focus in on the differences between the books of 1962 and the books of 1954 (the last year before Pius XII’s reforms came into play), some note, no doubt rightly, that the first major liturgical renovation of the last century came from the hands of the ultra-conservative St. Pius X whose breviary reforms, promulgated in 1911, broke heavily with the traditional ordering of the Psalter and included many revised antiphons, hymns, and readings. If, as some contend, the destruction, or at least the degradation, of the Roman Rite began in 1911, then neither the books of 1954 nor 1962 can appear as anything but inadequate; the debate shifts simply to the degree of their inadequacy. If, however, the reforms of St. Pius X were in large part justified by resolving, perhaps imperfectly, legitimate liturgical problems (e.g., the displacement of Sundays for Saints’ days and excessive repetition in the Psalter), then 1911 becomes, for better or worse, the standard of judgment. Others, however, want to take a broader approach to the matter by nodding favorably toward the reforms of St. Pius X while not losing sight of what was lost or obscured in the centuries following the Council of Trent. In all likelihood this debate, whatever its value, will never be put to rest.

That doesn’t mean we can’t say something about the 1962 liturgical books and that this “something” can’t be critical. For those Catholics attached to the classic Roman Rite, there is little disagreement that Pius XII’s Holy Week reforms were a mistake (more here and here), but little consensus on what, if anything, ought to be done about it. Similarly, it is widely acknowledged that the reduction of readings at Matins was carried out in a clumsy manner and that the suppression of many octaves was uncalled for, but again little consensus on what, if anything, ought to be done about it. With the exception of Holy Week, which is experienced directly by a bulk of the faithful laity, the differences between the 1954 and 1962 books are, at most, marginal. That is to say, most traditional Catholics have never prayed the Breviarium Romanum regularly and the loss of a commemoration or two at Mass, which amounts to less than two minutes being shaved off the liturgy, is unnoticeable. Even if it would be better to have some of these prayers restored, there is no reasonable argument available that the effect of their absence is deleterious to the faith of the man in the pew, especially not in the sense that certain absences and ambiguities in the New Mass have been, presumably, deleterious to the faith of many Catholics over the past four decades. “More” does not necessarily mean “more holy.” If that were true we might be forced to judge the service of Tenebrae and the Officium Defuntorum as “less holy” than the rest of the breviary on account of their content and form hearkening back to a more ancient, and thus simpler and shorter, iteration of the Divine Office.

The real question that needs to be answered first when examining the 1962 books is if they preserve the heart and the inner logic of the Roman Rite. Though that case is difficult to make with respect to the 1955 Holy Week ritual, it is easy to make with respect to the Missale Romanum, the substance of which remained unchanged between 1570 and 1962. It is this substance that so clearly centralizes, communicates, and commemorates the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary which continues to nourish faithful Catholics to this day. And while some, if not all, of the aforementioned marginal difficulties with the 1962 books ought to be rectified, that rectification will only occur after a wider reception of the traditional liturgy in the Roman Church. For most Catholics coming to tradition, the 1962 books are their gateway into a much larger patrimony. Contrary to the contentions of some hyper-traditionalists and liturgical fetishists, assisting at Mass or reciting Vespers according to the presently authorized liturgical texts does not rot the soul.

Personally speaking, I am fully supportive of any and all efforts to move the classic Roman Rite back towards where it was in 1954. I think it is exceedingly silly, for instance, to see people fret over whether a priest says Mass out of a 1962 missal rather than a 1954 one (which is soon to be reprinted). I know several priests who simply use whatever old missal happened to be collecting dust in a box in their parish basement when they started offering the Tridentine Mass. Moreover, several orders of traditional priests freely incorporate pre-1962 elements on a regular basis. The point here is that the 1962 books can be enhanced through a sincere dedication to liturgical heritage of the Roman Rite without recourse to distracting polemics and baseless accusations. While there are, unfortunately, many issues that divide traditional Catholics, the choice of liturgical books should most definitely not be one of them.

Note: This post contains several parts drawn out of numerous entries from the old Opus Publicum blog. In other words, some of you have “heard this all before.”



  1. Evagrius
    June 21, 2014

    ” St. Pius X whose breviary reforms, promulgated in 1911, broke heavily with the traditional ordering of the Psalter and included many revised antiphons, hymns, and readings.”

    But even this is not the start of the programme. Didn’t Clement VIII revise the breviary, and rewrite all the hymns in a rather dangerously classicising manner? i.e., replacing “Virgina” with “Dea”, “caelum” with “Olympus”, etc…. ?

    I note that in Dom Alcuin Reid’s book “The Organic Development of the Liturgy”, he notes that Pius V’s breviary was broadly the same as Innocent III’s, and that Pope Innocent’s was in chief an abridgement of the Office used in the Roman basilicas of the time. (p.71)

    So the breviary was only unreformed for – what – a century, after Trent? To where do we roll back the revisions, before this descends into the nonsense and making it up as we go along?

    If the liturgy is the memory of the Church, then I fear it is a hazy, and often somewhat poor memory.

    “Contrary to the contentions of some hyper-traditionalists and liturgical fetishists, assisting at Mass or reciting Vespers according to the presently authorized liturgical texts does not rot the soul.”

    Indeed not, though one can often receive very little nourishment from it, either, depending on the preferences of the priest.

    1. modestinus
      June 21, 2014

      I believe you are thinking of the 1629 revision to the hymns instituted by Pope Urban VIII. These revisions affected the Breviarium Romanum alone if I recall correctly. The Breviarium Monasticum and other particular uses of the Roman Rite for various congregations remained untouched. When St. Pius X revised the breviary in 1911, he allowed for the use of the older hymns, though I am not sure how widespread the adoption was. When Nova et Vetera reprinted their edition of the 1962 breviary, they also printed a book that carries all of the pre-Urban VIII hymns. Some might see this as an artificial “throwback” to an earlier time, but given that other breviaries in use in the Roman Church consistently omitted the Urban VIII hymnal, I think it’s fair to say that it never developed the auctoritas of something like, say, the Roman Canon (at least until 1970).

      The history of liturgy, East and West, is the history of brilliance and beauty mixed with absurdity and error. Though I once held fast to the “golden age” thesis when I was an Orthodox Christian, I do so no longer. Now that I have been removed from the high liturgical atmosphere of the Russian Orthodox Church, I can better appreciate how inane certain parts of the All-Night Vigil are (though I am too much of a conservative and lover of that service to actually want it changed). Roman liturgy is easier to dissect than the Byzantine Rite; there are far less moving parts and, arguably, a more consistent development built around the Psalter. (In the Byzantine Rite the Psalter is still present, but it has been consumed by the gross expansion of stichera at Vespers and, more strongly, the canon at Matins.) In fact, the Roman Rite’s development around the Psalter is so clear that altering the order and number of the Psalms substantially reorders the office whereas in the Byzantine tradition, the Psalter readings of Vespers and Matins are often heavily abbreviated, if not omitted, often with no clear detriment to the perceived integrity of the office itself. There would be far greater upheaval among those following the Byzantine Rite if the canon at Matins were omitted rather than the kathisma readings from the Psalter.

      With that said, I don’t think we can go back and time to restore the breviary to some pristine form. When St. Pius X confronted the issue, he did so in the hope of restoring what, arguably, should be the central principle of the breviary: The full recitation of the Psalter each week by clergy and religious. How he achieved that goal is open to criticism, but that he achieved it all should still be praised and, in my view, taken as the normative starting point for examining the breviary today.

      As for your point on nourishment, I don’t follow. While I can certainly point out and nitpick the liturgical praxis of various priests who serve the vetus ordo, I have never seen any instance where a priest has gone off reservation by freely omitting certain parts or introducing his own (Latin!) compositions into the mix. If anything, some of the clergy are ill-trained and prone to make (minor) mistakes, but I would rather have a priest up there trying his best to serve the traditional liturgy than simply throw in the towel and say, “Oh it’s too difficult…I don’t have time for this…”

  2. Danielius
    June 21, 2014

    “I know several priests who simply use whatever old missal happened to be collecting dust in a box in their parish basement when they started offering the Tridentine Mass.”
    Just to add – I think the same goes for plenty of the laity. I found a 1952 hand missal when going through the stuff after my grandfather few months ago. I’ve been wondering how he got it, because he lived all his life in a small village in my little central/east European country. And apparently, one of his sisters was an Ursuline nun and she brought it as a gift one time. It’s been serving me well for these past few months and it’s a family treasure to me.

    1. modestinus
      June 21, 2014

      Agreed. Since most Catholics, unfortunately, only have access to the Tridentine Mass on Sundays and, if they’re lucky, holy days of obligation, older, pre-1962 missals more than suffice for following the Mass. Where some confusion arises is on weekdays where there are divergences in the calendar due to the removal or certain feasts and octaves. With respect to the common of the Mass, the only noticeable divergence between the 1962 and 1954 books is the omission of the third Confiteor before Communion. However, I know for a fact that not only the Society of St. Pius X, but also the Fraternity of St. Peter, Institute of Christ the King, and Canons Regular of St. John Cantius use the third Confiteor. Since I have seen some diocesan priests use it as well, I Imagine that practice is fairly widespread, though obviously not adopted universally.

      1. Conchúr
        June 22, 2014

        I believe the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest use elements of the pre-’55 books quite freely too. In fact I’m sure I’ve heard that at least one of the Institute’s apostolates uses the 1954 books in toto including the pre-’55 Holy Week rites.

        1. modestinus
          June 23, 2014

          I have heard that as well. The Shrine of Christ the King in Chicago, if I recall correctly, keeps to the 1962 calendar, but incorporates a number of earlier elements such as additional commemorations at Mass. They have also, from time to time, served votive masses for feasts that were kicked off or reduced on the 1962 calendar.

  3. […] I wrote “1962” a week ago, Fr. John Hunwicke has offered a few posts — peppered with his trademark […]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *