The Office of Matins and Lauds, for the last three days of Holy Week, differs, in many things, from that of the rest of the year. All is sad and mournful, as though it were a funeral-service: nothing could more emphatically express the grief that now weighs down the heart of our holy mother the Church. Throughout all the Office of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, she forbids herself the use of those formulas of joy and hope, wherewith, on all other days, she begins her praise of God. The Domine, labia mea aperies (O Lord, thou shalt open my lips): the Deus, in adjutorium meum intende (Incline unto mine aid, O God): the Gloria Patri, at the end of the psalms, canticles, and responsories — all are taken away. So likewise are those soul-stirring additions, which have been gradually made in the different ages; and nothing is left but what is essential to the form of the Divine Office: psalms, lessons, and chants expressive of grief. Each Canonical Hour ends with the psalm Miserere, and with a commemoration of the death and cross of our Redeemer.

The name of Tenebrae has been given to the Matins and Lauds of the last three days of Holy Week, because this Office used formerly to be celebrated during the night; and even when the hour was anticipated, the name of Tenebrae was kept up for another reason, namely, that it began with day-light, but ended after the sun had set. There is an impressive ceremony, peculiar to this Office, which tends to perpetuate its name. There is placed in the sanctuary, near the altar, a large triangular candlestick, holding fifteen candles. These candles, and the six that are on the altar, are of yellow wax, as in the Office for the dead. At the end of each psalm or canticle, one of these fifteen candles is extinguished; but the one which is placed at the top of the triangle is left lighted. During the singing of the Benedictus, at Lauds, the six candles on the altar are also put out. Then the master of ceremonies takes the lighted candle from the triangle, and holds it upon the altar, on the epistle side, while the choir repeats the antiphon after the canticle: after which he hides it behind the altar during the recitation of the Miserere and the prayer which follows the psalm. As soon as this prayer is finished, a noise is made with the seats of the stalls in the choir, which continues until the candle is brought from behind the altar, and shows, by its light, that the Office of Tenebrae is over.

Let us now study the meaning of these ceremonies. The glory of the Son of God was obscured, and, so to say, eclipsed, by the ignominies He endured during His passion. He, the Light of the world, powerful in word and work, who, but a few days ago, was proclaimed King by the citizens of Jerusalem, is now robbed of all His honours; He is, says Isaias, the Man of sorrows, a leper; He is, says the royal prophet, a worm of the earth, and no man; He is, as He says of Himself, an object of shame even to His own disciples, for they are all scandalized in Him, and abandon Him; yea, even Peter protests that he never knew Him. This desertion on the part of His apostles and disciples is expressed by the candles being extinguished, one after the other, not only on the triangle, but on the altar itself. But Jesus, our light, though despised and hidden, is not extinguished. This is signified by the candle which is momentarily placed on the altar; it figures our Redeemer suffering and dying on Calvary. In order to express His burial, the candle is hidden behind the altar; its light disappears. A confused noise is heard in the house of God, where all is now darkness. This noise and gloom express the convulsions of nature, when Jesus expired on the cross: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the dead came forth from their tombs. But the candle suddenly reappears; its light is as fair as ever; the noise is hushed, and homage is paid to the Conqueror of death.

Dom Prosper Gueranger, The Liturgical Year (1911)



As we were coming out of Lent in misery and distress, things got much worse after Easter. On the Friday of Easter Week all the priests were summoned to the city hall and forbidden to celebrate the Latin mass…All lay priests and the priests in the monasteries with the exception of those in the parishes were forbidden to hear confession and to dispense the sacraments. […]

And so we were in great fear and distress and every day we expected even more misfortune. We crouched down and bent down so much that we could hardly hold divine services or ring the bells in the choir. Whenever they heard anything from us, cursing, shouting and abuse would start up in the church. They threw stones into our choir and smashed the windows in the church and sang slanderous songs in the churchyard. They frequently threatened that if we rang for Matins one more night they would do something terrible to us.

But we risked it, trusting in the Grace of God, and not for one night did we stop ringing the bells or holding Matins.

Caritas Pirckheimer: A Journal of the Reformation Years 1524-1528, transl. by Paul MacKenzie (2006)

Finally, it behooves us to recall that the Proper chants of the Mass are linked to the liturgical seasons and times, not just in a general fashion, but quite specifically, by virtue of their content. The oldest choir-books of the Roman liturgy eloquently testify that the overwhelming majority of these chants belonged to fixed days, and these assignments remained untouched up until 1968. The same texts were written in the Missals, and if they were not sung, then the priest prayed them. In doing so, the Church clearly expressed her desire that each chant stand in a fixed position, which simply means that on this day, at this liturgical position, this is the chant, and not any other.

Exactly when and how this “properization” of the Mass chants was achieved is an altogether different question. At this point, we are not interested in this question, nor in deciding whether or not the numerous speculations are true concerning the justification of the given position of a chant and its interrelationships with other parts of the daily liturgy through historical facts or spiritual reflections. We simply accept the fact that in the minds, hearts and memories of faithful Catholics there gradually emerged, over a period of 1200 years or more, a network of associations between the experience of a particular liturgical day and the chants “proper” to that day. Such associations were truly “catholic,” in other words universal within the Latin liturgy. All felt a part of it, anyone at will referred to it: the Sundays were named after their Introits (e.g. Laetare, Gaudete, Quasimodo); people dated their private letters by referring to the same chant; composers created music not to texts, but to the Offertory or the Introit of a given day. For a Christian who lived in and with the liturgy of the praying Church, this order of chants coalesced with the full liturgy of the day, and it contributed to the high degree of constancy in the Mass Propers (as opposed to the frequent variations in the Divine Office). So it is by no means an accident that certain chant forms were excluded from this uniformity. In spite of the unchanging stability of Introits, Graduals, Offertories and Communions, the Alleluja and the Sequence presented a wide field of opportunity for the creative forces of various geographic regions (tropes, sacred polyphony).

This universality and continuity in space and time bore rich fruit, and brought great blessings. Over and above the psychological associations, such universality nurtured a feeling of stability and promoted the reverence of which a long tradition is worthy. It radiated, and thus taught, discipline; it made palpable a kind of “impersonal anonymity” which cannot be achieved simply by concealing the authors’ names. My university students were always shocked to open Dom Hesbert’s Antiphonarium Missarum Sextuplex or the 11th-century Gradual of the Roman basilica of St. Cecilia, only to find there, on the same days, the same Proper chants than the ones printed in the Liber Usualis of 1950. And without any coaching from me, their first question after the initial surprise was, “Then why should we sing different ones instead of these?”

Why, indeed…?

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The reforms of St. Pius X considerably diminished the “burden of the day.” But for the clergy this was not enough. They found the one or one-and-a-half hour that the daily Office demanded too long. The main point of the further reforms requested from Vatican II was again a radical shortening of the Office. Another aim was a kind of “rationalization” in the spirit of Quignonez and the Neo-Gallican reform breviaries. A lot of other (sometimes right, otherwise wanton) changes completed the package of new reforms. Having the Liturgia Horarum in hand, one is frequently inclined to ask what is the “true spiritual benefit” of a particular modification, given the fact that the Constitution on the Liturgy defined this benefit as the main criterion of any legitimate change.

The Council dealt with the Office mainly from a theological, spiritual and disciplinary point of view, but some principles for its reorganization were also laid down. A new Latin version of the psalms was wanted (practically, a return from the Pianum to the Vulgate), and similarly a restoration of the hymns (return from the “modernized” version of the 17th century to the original medieval texts). The Constitution abolished Prime, conceded to make only one of the daytime Little Hours obligatory; stipulated that the Psalter be distributed within a longer (undefined) period instead of its weekly recitation. The realization was left to a Committee to be set up.

The Committee under the leadership of Msg. Bugnini (practically following his will, or, if the reports are true, a will from outside the Church) did not reform the Roman Office, but created a new breviary. It was sent to the bishops’ conferences to solicit their opinion. This was, in fact, no more than a formality. No time was left for a thorough analysis; the clergy was unprepared for a well-founded response; and, the Committee was resolute to carry the changes through whatever reply would come from “outside.”

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Some wished to modernize it opening free entrance to “reasonable” proposals and ideas inspired by the spirit of “Humanism.” This tendency represented an overt departure from the Roman tradition. One of the experiments gained wide acceptance: a new breviary published under the name of cardinal Quignonez made the Office more “rational.” It ousted a great part of the traditional repertory, made the Hours quite uniform (with three psalms in each), and removed the chanted genres. The result was a short, “geometrically” arranged breviary, destined for reading. Since this breviary shortened the portion of the priests’ daily prayer considerably, it gained rapid and wide acceptance.

The other proposal was to “purify” the Office from the “ballasts” and restore it in the spirit of tradition. This trend found a good argument partly in the results of the “humanistic” reforms, partly in the liturgical innovations of Protestantism, which made clear (in a negative way) how closely the cult is connected with the depositum fidei (the preservation of the purity of faith).

The Tridentine Council rejected the reform Offices (the Quignonez breviary included). Those who were obliged to pray the Office could either return to their traditional local (-Roman) rite, or take over the new Roman-Tridentine liturgical books planned to be prepare subsequently. The new breviary published with the authority of St. Pius V was a slightly modified version of the Officium Romanae Curiae which was the supposed “authentic” form of the Roman tradition. The medieval additions and the legacy of the Carolingian or Post-Carolingian times (accepted earlier in great parts of Europe) were to a great extent omitted, and the Tridentine Breviary (like its predecessor, the Curial one) also ousted the “pastoral” elements taken over from the tradition of ancient Roman basilicas.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The structure of the Roman Office remained untouched in every important aspect from the 4th or 5th until the beginning of the 20th century. The repertory grew, the number of antiphons and responsories became multiplied during the centuries: If we count with an old repertory that contained the per annum antiphons and the responsories taken from the Psalter, the psalmic pieces of some great solemnities and the common of saints, then the size can be estimated to be no more than 4—5 hundred antiphons and 2-3 hundred responsories in St Benedict’s time. In contrast, the content of an average medieval antiphonary includes two thousand antiphons and one thousand responsories or more. New and new items, later whole cycles (“historiae”) were composed to embellish the new feasts, to solemnize the cult of saints celebrated only by a common Office earlier. The more ancient a piece is, the more it figures as part of the common Roman heritage of Europe. The younger items appear as local additions to the basic antiphonary, always inspired of course by the age old tradition. Both layers have their own value, though their prestige is of different rank.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Any attempt to summarize this matter in a balanced way would include points such as these:

1. History testifies to the existence of a sacred language, just as it attests to changes in the liturgical language. The Eastern churches, for example, were able to preserve their Liturgy in great vigor while using vernacular tongues. Since it is plain that today’s intellectual and religious environment is not propitious to the precondition of ‘fidelity’ in the process of translation, we must think long and hard about the postulata, the munimina and the subsidia of authentic and congenial translations, following the lead of the Holy See’s Instructio Quinta De Usu Linguarum Popularium in Libris Liturgiae Romanae Edendis” (March 28, 2001).

2. If in the minds of believers and of churchmen there is once established the equation “Latin = Ordo Antiquus, Vernacular = Ordo Novus,” then there is no chance at all for the traditional rite to be widely accepted, and it will remain the private hobby of some few groups. Good translations of the content of the Roman rite are much more important than any eventual reproach for insensitivity — but only on condition that the use of Latin is simultaneously safeguarded, in the sense of Vatican II and the wise provisions of e.g., SC 36 and 54, which should be followed in preference to what occurred after the Council.

3. Analysis of the various elements of the Liturgy allows us to differentiate the varying degrees of difficulties in linguistic accuracy, a) Most difficult (or impossible?) is an equivalent translation of the Sacramentary (Eucharistic Prayer, Prefaces, Orations). If these are kept in Latin, and good translations are made available for the congregation, then the essence of this dogmatically most sensitive part of the Liturgy will be safeguarded. b) A much easier task is the translation of the Bible based upon sensible principles, meaning that the chants and lections can be translated when and where necessary, without harm to the liturgical content. One need not think in terms of the chants and readings being delivered in the mother tongue at all Masses. A correct and balanced proportion can be found, c) The Mass Ordinary presents a twofold aspect. On the one hand, it is easy to translate and to provide appropriate melodies. On the other hand, since these texts remain unchanged, they are easy to learn also in Latin. The best solution in the case of the Ordinary may perhaps be a regular alternation of Latin and the vernacular.

4. Since the Divine Office consists almost exclusively of biblical texts, it could be translated without difficulty, provided that this be done with intellectual honesty. But here, another factor must be taken into account, namely, that the clergy will come to feel at home with the Latin chiefly by regularly praying the Office in that language. 

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The greatest change has taken place in an area which has not been specified by any provision of the Constitution, namely in the position of the hymn within the Hour. The rule which was followed without exception by hundreds of liturgies of dioceses and religious orders, and by the most varied branches of the Office of the Roman liturgy, had already been reflected in the Rule of St. Benedict, which provides the earliest existing detailed account of the Roman Office, namely that the hymn is to be sung before the canticle (though separated from it by a versicle) in the three Hours (Lauds, Vespers, Compline) which conclude with a canticle from the Gospel (Magnificat, Benedictus, Nunc dimittis); otherwise it is sung at the beginning of the Hour.

The Bugnini breviary has now “made order” in that it placed the hymn at the beginning of each Hour. He who has never experienced the ancient system, and in particular he who does not take the sung choral Office as his basic experience or norm, may easily claim that it is only a minor difference, not worthy of mention. But anyone who has had sufficient opportunity to experience Lauds or Vespers in actual liturgical celebration will know how immensely the traditional structure contributed to the effectiveness of the Hour, which was guided by liturgical sensitivity to the exigencies of real life, and not by a mechanical system. This order, which was animated by the spirit of prayer and can only be understood and judged in its life-functions, came into existence through the concatenation of logical, theological, psychological and artistic forces.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

First, however, we have to make an essential distinction. The Bible and the Gospels are holy to the very last letter. The very last “and” uttered by the Savior has meaning and conveys grace, simply because it was He who said it. Nobody has the right to select or omit the words of the Bible according to their perspective or taste. The Bible demands reverence and pious devotion, and it is only in its entirety that it has consecrating power. But another question is whether all parts of the Bible are equally suitable for becoming a pericope (in the sense defined above) — able to pervade, organize and characterize the liturgical day. When we discuss the choice of pericopes, it is not the biblical text that is criticized, and no distinction is made between the status of the various holy texts as part of Divine Revelation and doctrine. All we say is that one text is not as suitable to be a pericope as another. One section might be too abstract; another can only be properly understood in its full context (together with a following paragraph to be read the following Sunday). There can be commands or recommendations worthy of the deepest consideration, yet they can lack the striking effect needed for a pericope. Different descriptions of the same events may express the liturgical meaning on different levels of perfection.

Let us not forget that the holy Mass is not the only – not even the best – occasion to broaden our knowledge of the Bible. For example, the Divine Office is more suitable to reading texts for their own sake and meditating on them. Moreover, the best place to learn the Bible is not the temple – figuratively speaking — but the synagogue, “the House of Doctrine.” Readings of the Mass are no substitute for sermons explaining the Bible, catechisms, and private reading of Holy Scripture (and, similarly, these activities are not a replacement for bible reading in a liturgico-sacramental context). It is not right to reinterpret the liturgical reading of the Gospel in such a way as to sacrifice its highly significant function as part of a liturgy.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The Latin liturgical language also has a pedagogical effect. The Latin word symbolizes and inspires the presence of objective validity. The substance of the liturgy exists above and independently of ourselves; it has a canonic power — we serve and assimilate, but we do not command it. The introduction of the vulgar tongue transformed first of all the mentality of the clergy: from this point onward, priests began to regard liturgy as an article of consumption, as a means. If the Latin had remained, the clergy would not have succumbed to temptation and would have been incapable of “dominating” the liturgy, of sitting in judgment upon it and submitting it to their whimsical improvising during the liturgy. This psychological effect is true not only for the texts but also, by metastasis, for all the parts and indeed for the whole of the liturgy. The language, the vocabulary, the linguistic discipline of the Latin could also have helped maintain purity and accuracy of diction amongst preachers and theologians. It would be helpful if the obligation to learn Latin could preserve the intellectual capacities and the theological discipline of the clergy.

When the “Tridentine” movement adheres to the Latin Mass, it adheres to something that is more than the language of celebration. Latin should be present in the Church in its full strength, and that not only in cathedrals and at international gatherings, but also in each parish church, in the seminaries, in the communities of laymen, in the religious culture of all persons: priests, monks, ecclesiastical ministers and individual faithful. In an age of general literacy when learning languages has become universal, it is false to say (more so than any time before) that one cannot learn and keep in everyday use a modicum of ecclesiastical Latin. The use of Latin could conjoin both individuals and communities, by links visible and unseen, with orthodox Catholicism. Let us recall the example of the traditional Jewish communities: Hebrew is the symbol and the means of adherence to religion, to the Torah, and to the nation. Jewish children learn to read and cantillate the Scripture in Hebrew from an early age, and thus are introduced into the religious life of the community. 

But on the other hand, it cannot be denied that for very many today, to say or sing the entire material of the liturgy “exclusively in Latin, has become very problematic. In the last century it became even for many a priest rather a symbol of obedience and devotion, than a real source of liturgical spirituality.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)