Monday, April 6, 2009


I came across this passage the other day, and thought it might be of interest to many of you as we enter the solemn celebrations of Holy Week. It is from The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great by Josef Jungman, S. J., University of Notre Dame Press, 1959, p. 262. I edited the excerpt slightly, using my own paragraphing and adding the emphasis.

"When we consider the worship of Holy Week as we celebrate it today in the Office and according to the missal, we are struck by a series of peculiar customs which appear to give it the character of severity and mourning. In reality these practices were not introduced to give the services the character of mourning; they are very ancient practices preserved from a time when the liturgy was still very simple. The law: "Primitive conditions are maintained with greater tenacity in the more sacred seasons of the Liturgical Year" was operative here. For this reason:

-- there are on these days no private Masses, but only a service at which all the clergy are present, concelebrating and communicating, as formerly they did on all Sundays and feast days.

-- When the clergy approach the altar, they first prostrate themselves for silent prayer, as formerly they did at the beginning of every Mass.

-- The altar is bare and not covered except for the service, as formerly also at other times.

-- No bells are used, only clappers, as formerly when there were as yet no bells.

-- In the Liturgy of the Hours, there is no introduction with "O God come to my assistance", no "Glory be to the Father" after the psalms, no prayer for the blessing before the lessons, no hymn -- all this in conformity with ancient usage throughout the year.

So the ancient practices in the services have been piously preserved through the centuries, and, therefore, it is on these days that we stand in a specially close relationship with the faithful of Christian antiquity".

"Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1)

So, as I celebrate the beautiful rites of Holy Week this year I'm going to be very mindful of the unseen presence of that "cloud of witnesses" from the ancient church who are gathered around the altar, and I'll be pleased to know that they feel at home with our simple ceremonies because they recognize so many of these rituals as their own.

1 comment:

  1. This ancient rites form was not known to me.
    Thanks for including the explanation.
    The early martyrs endured so much for the faith.
    Your image of them around the altar was very