Saint Joseph the Worker: Propers in chant

Previous part 1: Chant-hunt in the books
Previous part 2: Timeline of the institution

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It is often said that history is written by the victors. Our previous post detailing the minutes of the meetings of the Commission for the General Reform of the Liturgy discussing what to be done with 1 May leaves no room for what the attenders felt about what they were discussing. One must note that the authors and personalities quoted were sympathetic to the liturgical reform. Father Carlo Braga is a known collaborator of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini. Cardinal Ferdinando Giuseppe Antonelli, O. F. M., on the other hand, whose point of view Father Nicola Giampietro, O. F. M. Cap. explored in his book, was relator general of the Sacred Congregation of Rites at the time of the meetings on Saint Joseph, later secretary to the committee entrusted with the implementation of the reforms of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Contemporary authors obviating bias oftentimes come across sounding like an accommodating triage nurse summoning the next patient through the hospital intercom. For that, we may remain in the dark about what many of them actually felt before, during, and after the changes.

If the feast was established in 1955, and the new propers were released in 1956, why then does the 1957 liturgical book for the choir not contain the melodies? The simple answer would be this: The Sacred Congregation of Rites did not like the new feast. The Pope himself needed to intervene in order to force the Congregation to publish the Office and Mass of the new feast in 1956. It would take four more years for the Congregation to finally set the new propers to chant. The diary of Cardinal Antonelli simply presents the facts chronologically, meticulously cataloguing each and every item tackled and treated, every problem discussed and resolved, every solution proposed and approved, every reflection contemplated and considered, even presenting everyone as cooperating to achieve the goal of the task placed in their charge, enough for us to somehow conclude that nothing but the sheer bulk of the work caused the delay. From the clinical emotion-agnostic realm of meeting minutes, let us shift to that more sensational and thought-provoking province of popular reaction. We will let Fr. Jean Crété’s testimony [1] speak for itself for précising his account might reduce its power:

Fr. [Didier] Bonneterre recognises that this decree signaled the beginning of the subversion of the liturgy, and yet seeks to excuse Pius XII on the grounds that most people, except those who were party to the subversion, are thought of today as having been ignorant as to what was going on. I can, on the contrary, give a categorical testimony on this point. I realized very well that Pius XII’s decrees were just the beginning of a total subversion of the liturgy, and I was not the only one. All the true liturgists, all the priests who were attached to tradition, were dismayed. The Sacred Congregation of Rites was not favorable toward the proposed innovations, which were the special work of a modernising commission. When, five weeks later, Pius XII announced the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, which caused the ancient feast of SS. Philip and James to be transferred, and which replaced the Solemnity of S. Joseph, Patron of the Church, there was open opposition to it. For more than a year the Sacred Congregation of Rites refused to compose the Office and Mass for the new feast. Many interventions of agents purporting to represent the pope were necessary before the Congregation of Rites agreed, against their will, to publish the Office in 1956—an Office so badly composed that one might suspect it had been deliberately sabotaged. And it was only in 1960 that the melodies of the Mass and office were composed—melodies based on models of the worst taste. I relate this little-known episode to give an idea of the violence of the reaction to the first liturgical reforms of Pius XII.

L’abbé Bonneterre reconnaît que ce décret marque le début de la subversion de la liturgie, mais cherche à excuser Pie XII en disant qu’à l’époque personne, en dehors des hommes du parti de la subversion, ne pouvait s’en rendre compte. Je puis au contraire lui apporter sur ce point un témoignage catégorique. Je me rendais très bien compte que ce décret n’était que le début d’une subversion totale de la liturgie ; et je n’étais pas le seul. Tous les vrais liturgistes, tous les prêtres attachés à la tradition étaient consternés. La congrégation des rites n’était pas du tout favorable à ce décret, œuvre d’une commission spéciale. Lorsque, cinq semaines plus tard, Pie XII annonça l’introduction de la fête de saint Joseph artisan, l’opposition se manifesta ouvertement : pendant plus d’un an, la congrégation des rites refusa de composer l’office et la messe de la nouvelle fête. Il fallut plusieurs interventions du Pape pour que la congrégation des rites se résigne, de mauvaise grâce, à publier à la fin de 1956 un office si mal composé qu’on peut se demander s’il n’a pas été saboté volontairement. Et c’est seulement en 1960 que furent composées les mélodies (qui sont des modèles de mauvais goût) de l’office et de la messe. Nous racontons cet épisode peu connu pour donner une idée de la violence des réactions suscitées par les premières réformes liturgiques de Pie XII.

Hopefully, at this point, the reason is now clear.


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Left to right, up: (1) Start of the entry of the feasts of May in the 1957 Liber usualis, two years after the feast was established, and one year after the new propers were approved, showing omission of the new feast of Saint Joseph the Worker; (2) entry for 1 May in the 2015 Ordo Divini Officii published by the PCED, indicating that for the Mass of Saint Joseph the Work, the Mass Adiutor of the suppressed Solemnity of Saint Joseph may be used; (3) photocopy of the appendix to the 1964 Liber usualis containing the propers of Saint Joseph the Worker set to chant, with imprimatur dated 1 April 1961.

There appears to have been a blueprint materialising in the innovative minds of the reformers of that time, and to its consequences we are now heirs. If we leave out the feminist undertone, appropriating Mrs. Lintott’s take on the meaning of history for ourselves becomes too irresistible: “History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men” [2]. In our case, it’s “men of the cloth”. Nothing is perhaps more damning to a once-in-vogue worldview than when the judgment of history reaffirms the wisdom of tradition: From the highest of the three liturgical ranks (first class) in the 1962 Missal, the new feast descended to the lowest of four (optional memorial) in the 1970 Missal. Let us ask Saint Joseph in these trying times, to guide all of us who look upon him as our champion and the protector of Holy Mother Church, that we may offer our travails, our labours, our sorrows, for the preservation of the Holy Catholic Faith.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


[1] Jean Crété, Le mouvement liturgique: Itinéraire (January 1981) p. 133.
[2] Mrs Dorothy Lintott (Frances de la Tour) in The history boys, dir. Nicholas Hytner (Fox Searchlight Pictures: 2006).

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