If you are familiar with the old story about the Dutch boy who help his finger in the hole in the dike to prevent the larger flood that would devastate his country, you could be sympathetic to the creation of this hole in the dike related to the ancient Easter ritual which has resulted in such a flood of devastation, from the important Tradition in Action series.
When it comes to appreciating the traditional Holy Saturday rite, we could think of it as a grand orchestra, transposed onto the spiritual plane, in which the prayers, hymns and ceremonies, formulated centuries ago by saints and consecrated souls, are performed in a manner worthy of their composers’ intentions. Clearly, any appreciation of so ancient a rite cannot be based on abstract academic theories or the private hunches and personal preferences of a group of liturgical “experts.”
One cannot, like the modernizing reformers, overlook the accumulated wisdom, piety and sanctifying properties of the old rite with its many centuries of hallowed use. Nor can one fail to take into account that, just as in an orchestra, all its constituent parts had a definite and logical relationship not only to every other part, but also to the main structure. So, disturbing even one element is bound to disturb the internal balance and harmony of the whole.
We must also consider the wider impact of such changes on the Church itself which, before the 1956 reforms, had always appeared as a cohesive organization with an exact correspondence between the lex orandi and lex credendi. No Pope before Pius XII had ever removed parts of the liturgy pertaining to Catholic Faith and Morals, as he allowed Fr. Bugnini to do (see Part 56), so that the disbeliever would not feel “uncomfortable” – as if truth and virtue were understood to be relative to time, place or culture.
As we shall see, the progressivist reformers under Bugnini’s directorship radically re-orchestrated the Easter Vigil in 1956. However, the only similarity between Bugnini and a conductor was that both could make things happen with the wave of a hand. Judging by the results he produced, which are set out below, we will be justified in concluding that he and his Commission, to put it charitably, must not have had an ear for music.
Soon, the orchestra would be playing discordant notes out of harmony with Tradition, under the baton of a leader who was, to all intents and purposes, tone deaf.
The blessing of the five grains of incense downgraded
The centennial custom in the Roman Rite was to bless five grains of incense – to be later inserted into the Paschal Candle – with the ancient prayer Veniat quaesumus and the antiphon Asperges me, Domine said by the priest. The Church had given this ceremony greater prominence in the Middle Ages when the art of allegorical exegesis was at its height.
As the five grains of incense represent symbolically the five wounds of Christ, they were considered worthy of a solemn blessing before being inserted into the Paschal Candle whose pure, white wax was also a symbol of Christ’s virginal Body.
However, the 1948 Commission whipped up a spurious controversy over this issue, charging that during all those centuries the Church was wrong to use the prayer Veniat for that purpose because in the early Church it was used to bless the Candle. (1)
Some detractors of medieval symbolism even suggested that the use of the Veniat in the pre-1956 rite originated from a linguistic muddle due to a misinterpretation of the Latin word incensum. This theory, implying that the Church Fathers were not proficient in Latin, strains credibility and can be easily debunked. (2)
What actually happened to the solemn blessing of the five grains incense at the Easter Vigil as a result of this pseudo-controversy constitutes another sad chapter in the 1956 reform. The accompanying prayer Veniat was not axed. But, as we shall see, the reformers used that other Procrustean operation of stretching and skewing to make it fit a different context. This left the incense grains without any ceremonial prayer for their blessing, also making the Asperges antiphon redundant.
Furthermore, according to the 1962 rubrics, even the blessing itself could be dispensed with in the rite, (3) thus providing a further opportunity to reduce the solemnity of what St. Augustine called the “Vigil of all vigils”.