A History of the Holy Week Liturgy in the Roman Rite
by Philip J Goddard
(Freedom Books, 2012, 352pp, $40.00, ISBN: 978-0-85244-764-2. Available from Freedom Publishing)
The most significant celebration in the Christian liturgical year is Easter and because of the prominence of this solemnity, there is a gradual preparation for this feast through the observances of Lent, Palm Sunday, and the Triduum. Philip Goddard, a regular contributor to the magazine Mass of Ages and author of The Plain Man's Guide to the Traditional Roman Rite of Holy Mass examines the historical development of the Holy Week liturgies.
Goddard commences by surveying the development of the celebration of Holy Week in the early centuries. Some scholars, on the basis of passages in the New Testament, assert that the Resurrection was celebrated in the first century. Stronger evidence for a first century celebration is the fact that the date of Easter is fixed by the Lunar calendar – as the Jewish Passover is fixed – rather than the Roman calendar, reflective of the brief predominance of Jewish Christians over Gentile Christians in the first century.
A second century document, the Epistula Apostolorum, indicates that the Pascal celebration consisted of an all night vigil preceded by a fast. Tertullian, writing in the first part of the third century, clearly links baptism with the vigil and Goddard suggests that the Lenten fast originated in the preparation of candidates for baptism, clearly established at Alexandria by the time of Athanasius in the early fourth century.
Goddard then examines in detail Egeria's account of Holy Week in Jerusalem, written at the end of the fourth century as well as references to the Jerusalem ceremonies in the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem.
The central section of the work, the examination of each liturgical celebration, commences with a survey of the key source documents, particularly a number of early sacamentaries and missals. While it could be argued that this survey interrupts the flow of the analysis, it is useful in situating key sources to which the author makes extensive reference in the following chapters.
One significant observation he makes is that the Roman rite emerged from fusion of Roman and Gallic elements. In the extensive survey of the development of the Holy Week liturgies, it is evident that the key elements of each liturgy – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil – were present by the High Middle Ages.
Some elements were of great antiquity, such as the solemn prayers on Good Friday. Goddard argues that their contents suggest these were of fourth century origin and remained essentially unchanged until 1970, the most significant change in the 1955 revision being the modification of the prayer for the emperor to that for rulers and governments of states.
Goddard makes some interesting observations about the development of what were elaborate ceremonies and rituals. At various points there were numerous blessings, for example of the palms for Palm Sunday, and fire on Easter Saturday. Goddard suggests that these were originally alternative forms from which the celebrant could choose.
Another interesting feature is that some of the practices which originally were adopted for practical reasons, such as the triple candle in the Easter Vigil, later acquired a symbolic aspect. In this instance, the practice of lighting three candles appears to have originated as a 'backup measure' should the flame on one or two of them become extinguished. However, ultimately, it came to be seen as symbolic of the Trinity.
The last two chapters examine the 1955 and post-Vatican 1970 reforms. Goddard makes the point that the 1955 changes were in response to the situation that because of their length and the fact that all of them were by that stage celebrated in the morning – including the anomaly of celebrating the Easter Vigil on Saturday morning – they were largely unattended by the laity.
For this reason, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday had all been reduced to ferias. Goddard notes that there were some significant modifications to the ceremonies however, they succeeded in making Holy Week more accessible to parish communities.
Goddard is critical of the 1970 ceremonies. Throughout the central part of his work, he makes reference to the fact that many elements of the pre-1955 rite that had been in use for centuries either disappeared or were virtually re-written in the 1970 edition, for example the solemn prayers for Good Friday, which had been in use for some 1600 years!
Festa Paschalia is an interesting survey and study of the Holy Week ceremonies. The author has an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, with careful attention to detail. However, one minor inaccuracy was noted by the reviewer. Goddard states that in the pre-1955 Good Friday liturgy, the deacon and subdeacon entered the sanctuary robed in dalmatic and tunicle. However, Fortescue, in his The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described (1918), notes that they are to wear folded chasubles. And this text is not cited by the author in his bibliography.
Taken as a whole, the study raises questions about the current Holy Week liturgies, particularly any claims that they are a return to early practices of the Church.