Novæ Mutationes: St Pius X’s New Office of All Souls

In previous posts, we have examined the origins of the Office of the Dead and All Souls, and the reforms All Souls underwent in the Neo-Gallican liturgies. These latter reforms influenced the new Office of All Souls that emerged from the liturgical reforms carried out under the reign of the Lord Pope St Pius X.

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Saint Gregory delivers the Soul of a Monk, Giovanni Battista Crespi, S. Vittore, Parese

Fr Pasquale Brugnani, one of the members of Pius X’s Commission to revise the liturgy, attests that it was the Lord Pope’s wish that All Souls become a full liturgical day1, as in the Neo-Gallican offices, and this was formally announced by the Apostolic Constitution Divino afflatu of 1 November 1911.

In the original Rubricæ project discussed by the Commission on 18 September 1911, Vespers of the Dead would continue to follow Second Vespers of All Saints. On 2 November, the Office of the second day within the Octave of All Saints would be omitted, and Mattins and Lauds of the Dead would be said in the morning.

In later discussions it was agreed that the lessons of Mattins of the Dead would be altered to make them more similar to the usual model for Mattins of feasts. Only the first Nocturn would retain the readings from Job; the same pericopes were picked as in the Neo-Gallican Parisian breviary. The second Nocturn would feature extracts from St Augustine’s De cura pro mortuis gerenda, like in the Dominican and Carmelite uses. The lessons of the third Nocturn, finally, were extracts from chapter 15 of St Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, identical to the selections of the Neo-Gallican Cluniac and Parisian breviaries. To bring Lauds into line with the new psalter, psalms 66, 148, and 149 were duly excised therefrom.

The Little Hours were originally to be supplied by saying the ferial psalms of the dead (from the reformed psalter) without antiphon, then the Lord’s Prayer, preces, and collect. As Brugnani explained, the intention was to imitate the Little Hours of the Holy Triduum to “underline the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and the fate of the deceased”. Comparisons between the Mass and Office of the Dead and those of the Triduum go back, in any case, at least as far as Amalarius2.

The commissioners soon realized, however, that if the ferial psalms were sung at the Little Hours, some psalms from Mattins might end up being repeated. Brugnani suggested following the Neo-Gallican rites and using the Sunday psalms, but another commissioner, Mgr Pierre La Fontaine, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, proposed that the Friday psalms be used. He noted that none of them were present in the other Hours of the Dead and, moreover, he explained that they expressed sentiments particularly appropriate for All Souls:

  • Psalm 21, “David’s anguished soul”,
  • Psalm 79, “a sad note”,
  • Psalm 81, “God’s justice”,
  • Psalm 83, “the soul’s impassioned cry to heaven”,
  • Psalm 86, “a good tie with the previous”,
  • Psalm 88, “a reminder of mercy”3

La Fontaine recalls that his counter-proposal kindled Brugnani’s wrath: “Yesterday evening when I returned to San Giovanni I mentioned the question of the Office of the Dead to Pasquale [Brugnani], who suddenly, furor sicut serpentis, protested that he had always been under the impression that the psalms ought to be of Sunday, and called everyone else dishonest beasts”4.

The Commission’s ominously-named document Novæ mutationes of 25 September 1913, however, adopted neither La Fontaine’s nor Brugnani’s plan. Instead, it assigned psalms 27 and 37 split in half to Prime; 31, 55, and 69 to Tierce; 84, 85, and 87 to Sext; and 101 split into three to None. Yet the dispute over the psalms must have continued to rage, for the motu proprio Abhinc duos annos of 28 October 1913 ultimately assigned psalms 87, 27, and 31 to Prime; 37 split in two and 55 to Tierce; 69, 84, and 85 to Sext; and 101 split into three to None. Unfortunately, Honoré Vinck writes in his history of these reforms that he was not able to find any further documentation about the surely tempestuous discussions behind the ever-changing selection of psalms.

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The bizarre decision was also made to have Compline of All Souls on 1 November instead of Compline of All Saints. This had no precedent in the Neo-Gallican or mediæval rites. The idea was first suggested to the Commission by Fr Brugnani, who adduced three reasons:

  1. That since All Souls had become a full liturgical day, it ought to have its own Compline;
  2. That it would be inappropriate to sing the alleluia after Vespers of the Dead, as would happen in Compline of All Saints;
  3. It was a divine law that a liturgical day should have a full Office. A vespera ad vesperam celebrabitis solemnitates vestras, Brugnani wrote (cf. Leviticus 23:32).

His foremost argument, however, was that the poor souls would benefit from further prayers. “Above all else, O holy souls” he prayed, “inspire the Holy Father with what will be to your greatest benefit, and to the greater glory of God, the Church, and the Holy Father. Fiat, fiat5. His fervor ended up persuading the rest of the commissioners. Mgr Pietro Piacenza, who was initially opposed to the idea, claimed he was won over by the thought that, with this Compline, 120,000 priests would say an additional prayer for the souls in purgatory. He also agreed that singing the alleluia would be inappropriate after Vespers of All Souls, writing that, “In the Church’s solemnities, sad and doleful prayers are never mingled together with festal songs of exultation”6. The “sadness” of All Souls was also given as an explanation as to why this day, although of double rank, would end at None, unlike any other double feast but like fasting days.

The commissioners then forwarded the proposal to the Lord Pope, who wrote tersely on the margin, Vi sia la compieta. In imitation of Compline during the Triduum, this office would begin immediately with the Confiteor, followed by three psalms said without antiphon, originally from the feria, but then in the end 122, 141, and 142, and then the Nunc dimittis. As with the other hours, Compline would conclude with the Lord’s prayer, preces, and collect.

Thus the novel Office of All Souls was created, with little precedent in the Roman liturgical tradition. Piancenza reflected complacently on his commission’s handiwork, saying, “It is certain that parish priests and preachers will find in the Office of 2 November, thus well modified and enriched, new argument to confirm the people in the belief in purgatory”7. The conviction that the liturgy should be modified at will for didactic and pædagogical purposes would continue to heavily influence liturgical reform for the rest of the century, and was enshrined by the Lord Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei.

The new Office did not find immediate welcome in the Benedictine use, which only definitely adopted it in 1963. Even then, it was decided to say the ferial psalms in the Little Hours and Compline, rather than those picked by the commission. The other religious orders eventually adopted the Piodecimal Office as well.

When First Vespers of all but first class feasts were unaccountably abolished by the Lord John XXIII, the venerable custom of having Second Vespers of All Saints followed by Vespers of the Dead on 1 November, which even the Neo-Gallican liturgies had generally preserved, was discarded, and it was decreed All Souls would begin with Mattins and end with Compline on 2 November. It was, however, permitted to continue saying Vespers of the Dead on 1 November as a pious devotion in those places where its removal might unduly vex the faithful8.

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Notes

1. Annuente Sanctissimo Domino Nostro Pio Papa X […] in posteros annos sit Officium eorundem Defunctorum pro quotidiano etiam Divini Officii penso recitare (cited in Honoré Vinck, Pie X et les réformes liturgiques de 1911-1914, p. 256).

2. Cf. Liber officialis III, 44.

3. Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260

4. Ieri sera nel ritonare a S. Giovanni accenai l’affare dell’Officio dei morti a Pasquale, cui subito furor sicut serpentis protestando che gli fu sempre d’avviso che i Salmi delle ore dev’essere della Domenica, e dando della bestia e del disonesto a tutti gli altri (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260).

5. E più di ogni altra cosa, Anime sante, ispirate al Santo Padre quello che sia al maggior vostro vantaggio e alla gloria maggiore di Dio e della Chiesa e del S. Padre. Fiat, fiat (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 259).

6. Nelle sollenità della Chiesa, non si confondono mai insieme preci flebili e meste con canti festosi di esultanza (ibid.)

7. E certo che i parroci ed i predicatori, troveranno nell’Officio del 2 Novembre, cosè ben modificato e arricchito, nuovi argomenti per confermare il popolo nella credenza del purgatorio. (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260)

8. Celebratio tamen Vesperarum defunctorum post II Vesperas diei 1 novembris, quae pro pietate fidelium peragi consuevit, continuari potest, una cum aliis piis exercitiis forsitan consuetudine traditis, tamquam peculiare pietatis obsequium (Variationes in Breviario et Missali Romano, 1960).

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