Pope Pius XII Liturgy Reforms

Pope Pius XII Liturgy Reforms

The Liturgical Reforms of Pope Pius XII continue a process initiated by Pope Saint Pius X, who began the process of encouraging the faithful to a meaningful participation in the liturgy. Pope Pius XII redefined liturgy in light of his previous encyclical Mystici Corporis and reformed several liturgical practices in light of this teaching. The liturgical teaching of Pius XII is contained especially in his encyclical "Mediator Dei" of 1947. Although Pius XII felt compelled to reprove the desire for novelty among certain leaders of the Liturgical Movement, the liturgical reforms undertaken later in his pontificate were in fact relatively broad in their scope.


Combining continuity and innovation, the reforms made under Pius XII to the sacred Liturgy helped to prepare the way for the more dramatic liturgical reforms that would follow the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), though it is unclear how far Pope Pacelli himself intended these reforms to go. One goal of the liturgical magisterium of Pius XII was to restore a more reverential atmosphere within Church buildings. The use of vernacular language, cautiously favoured by Pope Pius, was hotly debated at his time. He increased non-Latin services, especially in countries with expanding Catholic mission activities. Though insisting on the primacy of Latin in the liturgy of the Western Church (cf. "Mediator Dei", par. 60), the pontiff did nevertheless approve the use of the vernacular in the Ritual for sacraments and other rites outside the Mass. All such permissions, however, were to be granted by the Holy See, and Pius XII strongly condemned the efforts of individual priests and communities to introduce the vernacular on their own authority.

In 1948 the pope erected a Pontifical Commission for the Reform of the Liturgy. Monsignor Annibale Bugnini, who served until the pontificate of Paul VI, under whom he drafted the revision of the Ordinary of the Mass and the whole of the Roman Missal, was appointed secretary of this Commission.

New Liturgical Propers and other directives

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Pius XII instituted a number of new feasts and approved new Propers. After defining the Dogma of the Assumption in 1950, a new mass formula (the mass "Signum magnum") was introduced for the feast, which falls on August 15th. [AAS 1959, 795] Pius XII also instituted the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which he established as a double of the second class and fixed to August 22nd, the octave day of the Assumption. [AAS 1944, 44] Other new feasts included the feast of the Queenship of Mary (May 31st) and the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker (to coincide with the socialist holiday of May 1st), which thus displaced the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, observed hitherto as a moveable feast on the third Wednesday after Easter. Pius XII added to the missal and breviary a new Common of Holy Pontiffs, in order to highlight the special role of the Roman pontiffs in the economy of the Church. Until then, holy popes had been commemorated liturgically using the same texts as other bishops. The new mass for holy pontiffs begins with the Introit "Si diligis me".

The Sacred Congregation of Rites had jurisdiction over the Rites and ceremonies of the Latin Church, such as Holy Mass, sacred functions and divine worship. It issued the location of the blessed sacrament within the Church, to be always at the main altar in the centre of the Church. [ AAS 1957, 425] The Church should display religious objects, but not be overloaded with secondary items or even Kitsch. Modern sacred art should be reverential and still reflect the spirit of our time. [AAS 1952, 542-546] Since 1942, Priests are permitted to officiate marriages without Holy Mass. [7 16, 1942, AAS, 1942] They also may also officiate confirmations in certain instances. [AAS 1946, 349-354]

The Bea Psalter

For centuries the Divine Office had followed the venerable old translation of the psalms by Saint Jerome, known as the Gallican Psalter. This is the version found in the Latin Vulgate. Though this version of the psalter was part of the traditional landscape of the Catholic liturgy, some felt that its reliance on the Septuagint made it untrustworthy. Pope Pius ordered a revision, which was completed in 1945 by the Pontifical Biblical Institute under Augustin Bea, S.J. The new translation of the psalms of the Old Testament is called the Psalterium Pianum [AAS 1945, 65] On the basis of this translation, new texts for the Breviary and the Missale Romanum were published. [AAS 1957, 218] The translation was considered to be scientifically accurate (though based on the relatively late Hebrew version know as the Masoretic text); but it was a mixed success, as many Religious preferred the more colourful, if less pristine older version. Benedictine monks had problems with the new texts, because they did not easily adopt to the ancient Gregorian Chorals. The use of the new psalter was never obligatory and in the next pontificate John XXIII restored the traditional psalter.

The Easter Vigil

In 1951, on an "ad experimentum" basis, Pope Pius XII introduced the Easter Vigil, a new celebration of Easter night [AAS 1956, 153] by means of "De Solemni Vigilia Paschali Instauranda" [AAS 1951, 128-137] . This has been highlighted as his most important reform, as the Easter ceremonies are the centre of all Christian faith and life. In antique times Christians had baptised neophytes during a night-long Vigil preceding Easter Sunday. The celebration concluded after dawn by the offering of Mass. In time this Mass became the Mass of Easter Sunday, which was separated liturgically from the observance of the Easter Vigil, itself being anticipated on the morning of Holy Saturday. This practice of celebrating the Vigil on the morning of Holy Saturday was in place by the twelfth century, after the hour of the liturgical observance had already been moved back bit by bit over preceding centuries. Pius XII restored the older time for the observance of the ceremonies, but most importantly created a dramatically restructured form of the ceremonies. [Bradshaw, 162-163] His re-introduction of the Easter Vigil was generally popular, although it faced a cool reception from prelates like Cardinal Siri of Genoa and Cardinal Spellman of New York. Other Christian denominations adopted the popular Roman Catholic Easter ceremonies in later years, an ecumenical influence of Pius XII. [Bertoniere, 45] The new Easter Vigil reduces the number of prophecies (Old Testament passages read before the blessing of the font and the Mass) from twelve to four. The rite for blessing the Paschal Candle was also changed: formerly the deacon would process into the church with a triple-branched candlestick known as the arundo (a symbol of the Blessed Trinity), which would be used to light the Easter Candle. With Bugnini's reform to the Easter Vigil, the Paschal Candle itself is carried in procession and the arundo is suppressed. The Candle is no longer blessed during the singing of the Exsultet, though the liturgical text in question refers to the blessing of the candle. The "renewal of baptismal promises", devised for the new Easter Vigil, introduced into the liturgy of the Mass the principle of vernacularism for the first time.

Holy Mass

Until Pius XII, the Church celebrated mass always in the mornings, as a reflection of the original sacrifice of Jesus Christ. War and persecution in many countries suggested a more flexible approach. Therefore, evening masses were permitted on a provisional basis in war torn Europe. They turned out to be popular, opening the Church to new publics. He also permitted Church services to take place Saturday evening to fulfil Sunday obligation. [AAS 1941, 516,] [AAS 1949, 31-33]


To participate in the Holy Mass in the evening and other times, Pius XII decreed several changes. Catholic fasting rules allowed only one midday meal, without any meat, in twenty-four hours. Before 1953, fasting was required all of Lent, Fridays of Advent and the vigils of Christmas, Pentecost and the Assumption of Mary. To receive communion, a Catholic had to fast from midnight the preceding day. Pius changed that on January 6, 1953, with the Apostolic constitution "Christus Dominus", [AAS 1953, 15-24] when he abolished the requirement of the midnight fast and four years later, Motu Proprio "Sacram Communionem" [March 19, 1957, AAS 1957] when he further reduced fasting requirements.

Reform of the rubrics and calendar

The rubrics and calendar of the Mass and the Divine Office were reformed by the constitution "Cum hac nostra aetate" (March 23, 1955). The reform to the calendar, the most dramatic before its complete overhaul in 1969, consisted mainly in the abolition of various octaves and vigils. An octave is the week-long prolongation of a great feast, either by the celebration of a proper Mass all through the Octave or by the addition of an additional Collect when the Mass of another feast is celebrated. Of the 18 octaves existing in the Roman calendar, all but three (Easter, Pentecost, Christmas) were purged in the reform, including the octaves of the Epiphany, Corpus Christi, the Ascension and the Immaculate Conception. A vigil is a day of liturgical preparation preceding a great feast. The reform of 1955 eliminated roughly half the vigils in the Roman calendar, including the vigil of the Epiphany and the vigils of the Apostles.

The ancient custom of beginning a feast with first Vespers on the eve of the feast was abolished, with certain exceptions. Following the reform, most feasts have only one set of Vespers (what formerly was known as second Vespers), celebrated on the afternoon of the feast itself. The purpose of this derogation of the ancient custom was to simplify the process by which a feast had to be commemorated when the second Vespers of one feast coincided with the first Vespers of the subsequent feast. The reform also abolished the custom whereby Vespers was to be recited before noon during Lent. This custom was a survival of the ancient custom whereby the Lenten fast could only be broken after Vespers; the Church had long since permitted this meal to be taken at mid-day and had thus also anticipated the office of Vespers during Lent.

Proper Last Gospels were also eliminated in the reform, with the exception of the third Mass of Christmas (when the Gospel of the Mass is taken from John 1) and at Low Masses on Palm Sunday. A "Proper Last Gospel" occurs when a commemoration is made at Mass of another feast (or feria or vigil or Sunday) of a high rank, whose Gospel is read at the end of Mass in place of the habitual Last Gospel (John 1: "In principio"). Prior to the reform of Pius XII, a proper Last Gospel was always said when a feast was celebrated instead of a feria of Lent, or a vigil, or a Sunday.

The manner of ranking feasts was also changed slightly. The reform of 1955 suppressed the rank known as the semi-double, leaving only doubles and simples. All semi-double feasts became simples, and all semi-double Sundays became doubles. (In 1960 John XXIII completely replaced the traditional manner of ranking feasts by abolishing the double, with its various grades, and the simple, and classifying feasts instead as first, second, third, or fourth class.)

Finally, the supplementary prayers formerly recited in connection with the breviary were also suppressed. Thus, for example, the various seasonal Marian antiphons formerly recited at the end of the liturgical hours were retained only after Compline.

In his book "The Simplification of the Rubrics", explaining the changes, Monsignor Bugnini commented, "The present decree has a contingent character. It is essentially a bridge between the old and the new, and if you will, an arrow indicating the direction taken by the current restoration."

The New Rite of Holy Week

Probably the most significant and bold liturgical reform under Pius XII was the promulgation of a new rite of Holy Week, which significantly changed the most important ceremonies in the Roman liturgy. Promulgated by the decree "Maxima Redemptionis" (November 19, 1955), the new Holy Week imposed the new Easter Vigil, described above, and also reformed the rites for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Church music

The Pope issued an encyclical on the uses of music within the Church. Musicae Sacrae asserts that the art of music is closer to the Eucharistic mystery than any other art form. She should be a reflection of the liturgy and not a diversion. Therefore, music is not an end in itself. In this context he recommends Gregorian Chant and polyphonic music, but encourages contemporary music as well under certain circumstances. [Musicae Sacrae AAS1956, 5-25]

Theological foundations

The Spirit of Liturgy

In his encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius links liturgy with the last will of Christ, who instituted it.

** But it is His will, that the worship He instituted and practiced during His life on earth shall continue ever afterwards without intermission. For he has not left mankind an orphan. He still offers us the support of His powerful, unfailing intercession, acting as our "advocate with the Father." He aids us likewise through His Church, where He is present indefectibly as the ages run their course: through the Church which He constituted "the pillar of truth" and dispenser of grace, and which by His sacrifice on the cross, He founded, consecrated and confirmed forever. [Mediator Dei, 18]

The Church has, therefore, according to Pius XII, a common aim with Christ himself, teaching all men the truth, and, offering to God a pleasing and acceptable sacrifice. This way, the Church re-establishes the unity between the Creator and His creatures, a unity which turns strangers and foreigners into fellow citizens of Christ. [Mediator Dei, 19] The sacrifice of the altar, being Christ's very own actions, convey and dispense divine grace from Christ to the members of the Mystical Body [Mediator Dei, 31] Liturgy requires therefore inner and outward participation of the faithful.

Widespread Catholic practices of private and interior devotions by individuals during Holy Mass, such as reciting the rosary or private prayers, are not compatible with the nature of the sacrifice. They separate the faithful “from the sacrifice of the altar, and from the stream of vital energy, that flows from Head to members”. Catholic worship offers to God a communal profession of Catholic faith, and, a continuous exercise of hope and charity. The entire liturgy has the Catholic faith as its content. [Mediator Dei, 47]

Liturgy is public worship, an obligation for individuals and communities. Liturgy is outward adoration of God as well as a fountain for personal piety. It originated with the early Church:

** Liturgical practice begins with the very founding of the Church. The first Christians, in fact, "were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers." [Acts, 2:42] . Whenever their pastors can summon a little group of the faithful together, they set up an altar on which they proceed to offer the sacrifice, and around which are ranged all the other rites appropriate for the saving of souls and for the honor due to God. Among these latter rites, the first place is reserved for the sacraments, namely, the seven principal founts of salvation" [Pope Pius XII enc, Mediator Dei, 21Sacrament]

acramental aspects

Pope Pius defends a sacramental liturgy as important, essential and sacred. Liturgy is more than the sum of liturgical actions and prescriptions. It is a mistake to think of the sacred liturgy as merely the outward or visible part of divine worship or as an ornamental ceremonial. Nor does liturgy consist solely in a list of laws and prescriptions according to which the ecclesiastical hierarchy orders the sacred rites to be performed. [Pope Pius XII enc, Mediator Dei, 25] Through prayer, the members of the mystical body of Christ are harmonized and united. The liturgy is regulated by the clergy and hierarchy of the Church. [Pope Pius XII enc, Mediator Dei, 32] It has divine and human elements. Its human elements result from the teachings of the Church, Church laws, pious usages by the faithful and the development of art and music.

These pious usages or the participation in the liturgy must be real and not shallow:

** For we must always live in Christ and give ourselves to Him completely, so that in Him, with Him and through Him the heavenly Father may be duly glorified. The sacred liturgy requires, however, that both of these elements be intimately linked with each another. This recommendation the liturgy itself is careful to repeat, as often as it prescribes an exterior act of worship. Thus we are urged, when there is question of fasting, for example, "to give interior effect to our outward observance. [Roman Missal, Secret for Thursday after the Second Sunday of Lent ] Otherwise religion clearly amounts to mere formalism, without meaning and without content." [Pope Pius XII enc, Mediator Dei, 24]

The Eucharistic

The Eucharist is a renewal of the sacrifice on the cross, with Christ, the priest, sacrifice and purpose of the sacrifice. The faithful should participate but they do not have priestly authority. [Pope Pius XII enc, Mediator Dei, 63 ] They participate in the sacrifice together with the priest. They participate by cleansing the souls of arrogance, anger, guilt, lust and other sins, and thus see more clearly the picture of Christ in themselves.


* Acta Apostolicae Sedis, (AAS) Roma, Vaticano 1939-1959
* Mediator Dei, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, (AAS) Roma, Vaticano 1947, 521 ff
* Gabriel Bertoniere, The historical development of the Easter vigils in the Greek Church and Related Services, Rome 1972
* Paul Bradshaw, The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship2005


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pope Pius XII — Pius XII Papacy began 2 March 1939 Papacy ended 9 October 1958 ( 1000000000000001900000019 years, 10000000000000221000000221 days) Predecessor …   Wikipedia

  • Theology of Pope Pius XII — The theology of Pope Pius XII comprised fourtyone encyclicals, and almost 1000 messages, and speeches during his long pontificate. The encyclicals Mystici Corporis and Mediator Dei clarified membership and participation in the Church. The… …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Pius X — Infobox pope English name= Saint Pius X birth name=Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto term start=August 4, 1903 term end=August 20, 1914 predecessor=Leo XIII successor=Benedict XV birth date=birth date|1835|6|2|mf=y birthplace=Riese, Italy dead=dead|death …   Wikipedia

  • Pius XII — (Eugenio Pacelli) 1876 1958, Italian ecclesiastic: pope 1939 58. * * * orig. Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli born March 2, 1876, Rome, Italy died Oct. 9, 1958, Castel Gandolfo Pope (1939–58). Before succeeding Pius XI in 1939, he served… …   Universalium

  • Pope Paul VI — Infobox pope English name=Paul VI birth name=Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini term start=June 21, 1963 term end=August 6, 1978 predecessor=John XXIII successor=John Paul I birth date=birth date|1897|9|26|mf=y birthplace=Concesio,… …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Gregory I — Saint Gregory redirects here. For other uses, see Saint Gregory (disambiguation). Pope Gregory I Papacy began 3 September 590 Papacy ended 12 March 604 …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Benedict XVI — Benedict XVI Benedict XVI during a general audience in 2010 …   Wikipedia

  • Pope John Paul II — John Paul II John Paul II in 1993 Papacy began 16 October 1978 Papacy ended 2 April 2005 ( 1000000000000002600000026 years, 1000000 …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Benedict XIV —     Pope Benedict XIV     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Pope Benedict XIV     (PROSPERO LORENZO LAMBERTINI.)     Son of Marcello Lambertini and Lucretia Bulgarini, b. at Bologna 31 March, 1675; d. 3 May, 1758. His early education was received from… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Mass (liturgy) — A 15th century Mass …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.