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Dialogue Mass - LXXI

A Smashing Progressivist Victory

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
We have seen how the Vigil of Pentecost was twinned with the Easter Vigil, thus forming part of the balance and harmony that is characteristic of the Roman Rite. As such, it had long stood proudly aloft in the Calendar as a monument to the Faith, but it was brought crashing down in 1956, its shattered remains quickly swept under the carpet lest any trace should be left for posterity.

Fr. Leon Gromier

Fr. Gromier: The Vigil of Pentecost was ‘massacred’

If a monument of sorts still remains in the 1962 Missal in the form of the Mass which survived unscathed, it is not so much as a reminder of Tradition as of the revolution that brought the Vigil down.

Mgr. Leon Gromier’s knowledge of the Roman Rite was legendary, (1) and his love and respect for the ancient traditions were unsurpassed. So, his assessment of the reform of the Pentecost Vigil (which he described as having been “massacred”) is eminently worthy of credibility:

“The [reformed] Vigil of Pentecost is stripped of its baptismal character, and has become a day like any other and makes the Missal undermine the truth in the Canon.” (2)

Let us look into each of these points in order.

The liturgy impoverished

To celebrate the Pentecost Vigil without preparing for it with full Baptism-related rites – except in churches without a font (3) – was just unthinkable to our forefathers in the Faith. Historically, these preliminary ceremonies constituted a joint service with the Mass, the latter being the culmination of the whole Vigil. The two were regarded as inseparable, which explains why the Church ordered that both functions should be discharged by the same celebrant. (4)

Even though Baptism itself was not administered on every occasion, the associated ceremonies – Prophecies, procession, blessing of font and water, and litany – were, in fact, considered to be theologically more appropriate to Pentecost than to Easter. That is because they evoke the relationship between Baptism– “the re-birth” – and the Coming of the Holy Ghost, “the giver of life” (Nicene Creed).

So, cutting dead the baptismal rites of Pentecost deprived the Vigil at a stroke of a vital element of the Faith that had been given liturgical expression from the early years of Christianity.

Pentecost Vigil slighted

Even though the Vigil kept its title as a liturgical day of the first class, it nevertheless suffered a demotion in its dignity when it lost its baptismal ceremonies, as these had entitled it to a rank in the Calendar equal to the Easter Vigil.

Medieval illustration of Christ giving a baptism

A manuscript illustrating the baptismal character of Pentecost

With the loss of its distinctive shape and rich theological content, the Pentecost Vigil suddenly became, as Mgr. Gromier remarked, “a day like any other.” What a comedown for a liturgical solemnity that had long enjoyed the highest honor of twinship with the Vigil of Easter, the “Queen of Feasts”!

Let us not forget that this only came about because of the Liturgical Commission’s prejudice against Vigils in general, understood in the traditional sense of a full liturgical day, penitential in nature, usually observed by fasting in preparation for a great Feast. As such, they no longer exist in the Novus Ordo. (5)

What happened to the 1962 Vigil of Pentecost was but the first step in this process of eliminating traditional Vigils from the Calendar. It was replaced in 1969 by an optional evening Mass with newly composed texts.

The importance of Vigils in Church History

As a very ancient institution, the penitential Vigils were considered sacrosanct by the early Church Fathers, e.g., St. Jerome and St. Augustine, and were protected from arbitrary suppression by the juridical codes of canon law operative in the first millennium.

It was to the authority of these canons that St. Peter Damian appealed in the 11th century against those who objected to the penitential nature of Vigils. He called these carnally-minded contemporaries the “enemies of holy Vigils, these destroyers of time-honored fasts.” (6)

Significantly, it was only in the 20th century that the carnally-minded were allowed to prevail and to obliterate virtually all of the Church’s holy Vigils and “time-honored fasts”.

Another Bugnini botch

When Pius XII’s Commission of “experts” interfered in the liturgy of the Pentecost Vigil, the result was a typical bureaucratic bungle.

Mgr. Gromier’s remark about the Canon of the Mass reveals the level of the Commission’s incompetence. He was referring to the prayer Hanc igitur, which has its own Proper in the Pentecost Vigil and is used, moreover, throughout the Octave. Existing evidence from the 8th century Gregorian Sacramentary shows that the words of this Hanc igitur were directly linked to the Vigil’s baptismal rites. (7)

francis holding his hands up at a pentecost vigil

Francis and a charismatic leader pray at a novus ordo ‘Pentecost vigil’ at the Circus Maximus in Rome

But the focus and meaning of the prayer was lost when its referent (the baptismal rites preceding the Vigil Mass) was expunged from the Roman Missal. The result, horribile dictu, was that the words of the celebrant no longer corresponded with the Church’s own lex orandi as it had been practised since the 5th century.

The result was a jarring disconnect with Tradition that compromised the Church’s public witness to the Faith in her liturgy – that there is but one Baptism for the remission of sins, and that those wishing to be saved must be re-born “from water and the Holy Ghost.”

The reformers scoffed that the Hanc igitur had already become a meaningless vestige because, since the early Middle Ages, the number of catechumens baptized at the Pentecost Vigil declined. They did not seem to realize that its true meaning was not strictly limited to either time or place.

For, in this part of the Canon, the priest mentions all who have been baptized in the ceremonies of that day throughout the universal Church, irrespective of whether the Sacrament itself had been administered before that particular Mass. It was also an act of solidarity with the catechumens of the early Church, who were baptized on the Vigil of Pentecost by means of the same rites. Thus, these rites affirmed the Catholicity of the Church throughout the world and down the ages.

These points, however, were not addressed by the Commission, whose members were already sharpening their knives for the next round of cuts to the traditional liturgy. But what are the chances of anyone in authority today addressing these issues with a view to rectifying the injustices suffered by Catholics deprived of their rightful heritage?


  1. As the author of the Commentary on the Ceremonial of Bishops (1959), Mgr. Leon Gromier was recognized – and feared – in the Vatican and beyond as the 20th century’s pre-eminent expert on the Roman Rite.
  2. La Vigile de la Pentecôte n’a plus rien de baptismal, devenue un jour comme un autre, et faisant mentir le Missel dans le Canon.
  3. This was the case, for example, for the Dominicans with the rare exception of those who ran parishes. Nevertheless, minus the blessing of water, the Dominican Rite retained, with minor variations, all the other features of the Pentecost Vigil observed by the traditional Roman Rite.
  4. This is explained by Fr. Nicholas Gihr, a traditional historian of the Mass, in The Holy Sacrifice Dogmatically, Liturgically and Ascetically Explained, Freiburg: Herder, 1902, p. 382.
  5. With the exception of Christmas and Easter, Vigils were either deleted from the 1969 Calendar or reduced to an optional evening Mass.
    We must also distinguish between the “Mass of the Vigil” in the traditional Calendar and the so-called “Vigil Mass” of the Novus Ordo, which is an “anticipated” Mass of the following day. Canon 1248 §1 permits Catholics to miss the Mass of Sundays and Feasts by attending it on the previous evening. So much confusion has been generated over this issue – especially as new Vigil Masses have been written and various “options” have been introduced – that the whole concept of a Vigil of preparation eludes most Catholics today.
  6. Peter Damian, Letter 118, apud The Fathers of the Church: Medieval Continuation, vol. 5, The Letters of Peter Damian 91-120, CUA Press, 1989, p. 342.
  7. The Gregorian Sacramentary under Charles the Great, p. 77. Here, the Hanc igitur is specifically included among the Propers of the Vigil Mass celebrated “post ascensum fontis” (after the administration of Baptism).


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Posted June 8, 2018

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