The General Decree for the Revised Order of Holy Week
as Promulgated by Pope Pius XII
Published by the Sacred Congregation of Rites
November 16, 1955, AAS 47 (1955) 838-847
To Restore the Liturgical Order of Holy Week
From Apostolic times Holy Mother Church has been zealous to celebrate annually the greatest mysteries of our Redemption, namely, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a completely unique commemoration. First of all the highest moments of these mysteries were recalled in a special triduum, the mysteries, that is, of “Christ crucified, buried, risen”; next the solemn commemoration of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist was added; later, on the Sunday immediately preceding the Passion, there was established the liturgical celebration of the triumphant entrance of our Lord, King and Messiah, into the Holy City; after that a special liturgical week took its rise which, because of the excellence of the mysteries celebrated, was called “Holy” and was enriched by very splendid and sacred rites.
In the beginning these rites were celebrated on the same days of the week and at the same hours of the day at which the sacred mysteries took place. Thus the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist was recalled on Thursday, in the evening, at the solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper. On Friday a special liturgical service of the Lord’s Passion and Death was celebrated in the afternoon hours. Finally, on the evening of Holy Saturday the solemn vigil was begun, to be concluded the following morning in the joy of the Resurrection.
But in the Middle Ages, for various concomitant reasons, the time for observing the liturgy of these days began to be anticipated to such a degree that—toward the end of the Middle Ages—all these liturgical solemnities were pushed back to the morning hours; certainly with detriment to the liturgy’s meaning and with confusion between the Gospel accounts and the liturgical representations referring to them. The solemn liturgy of the Easter Vigil especially, having been torn from its own place in the night hours, lost its innate clarity and the sense of its words and symbols. Furthermore, the day of Holy Saturday, invaded by a premature Easter joy, lost its proper sorrowful character as the commemoration of the Lord’s burial.
In more recent times, moreover, another change took place and this most serious from a pastoral point of view. For many centuries the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week were numbered among the festive days, with the manifest purpose that the whole Christian people, freed from servile works, might be present at the sacred ceremonies of these days. But in the course of the Seventeenth century the Roman Pontiffs themselves were compelled—on account of the completely changed conditions of society—to reduce the number of festive days. Urban VIII, therefore, in the Apostolic Constitution, Universa per orbem, of September 24, 1642, was constrained to list the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week also among the ferial days, and no longer among the festive days.
From that time the attendance of the faithful at these sacred rites necessarily decreased, especially because their celebration had long since been put back into the morning hours when, on weekdays, schools, businesses, and public affairs of all kinds were and are conducted everywhere. In fact, common and almost universal experience teaches that these liturgical services of the Sacred Triduum are often performed by the clergy with the body of the church nearly deserted.
This is certainly much to be regretted. For the liturgical rites of the Sacred Week possess not only a singular dignity but also a particular sacramental power and efficacy for nourishing the Christian life; nor can these rites be sufficiently compensated for by those exercises of devotion which are usually called extra-liturgical and which are performed during the Sacred Triduum in the hours after noon.
For these reasons, outstanding experts in liturgical matters, priests who have the care of souls, and principally the Most Excellent Bishops themselves have presented strong petitions to the Holy See in more recent years, asking that the liturgical services of the Sacred Triduum be returned to the hours after noon, as was once the custom, to the end that all the faithful might more easily assist at these rites.
The matter having been maturely considered, the Supreme Pontiff Pius XII, in the year 1951, restored the liturgy of the sacred Easter Vigil, to be celebrated temporarily according to the desire of Ordinaries and as an experiment.
Now, since this experiment had the greatest success everywhere, as very many Ordinaries have reported to the Holy See; and since the same Ordinaries did not fail to renew their petitions, asking that, just as for the Easter Vigil, a similar liturgical restoration be made for the other days of Holy Week as well, with the sacred functions restored to the evening hours; and finally with the knowledge that evening Masses—provided by the Apostolic Constitution, Christus Dominus, of January 6, 1953—are being celebrated everywhere in the presence of increasing numbers of the people, our Most Holy Lord, Pope Pius XII, with all these considerations before him, commanded that the Commission for the restoration of the liturgy, established by His Holiness should examine this question of restoring the Order of Holy Week and propose its conclusions. When these had been received, His Holiness decreed that, in view of the gravity of the matter, the entire question should be submitted to the particular examination of the Most Eminent Fathers of the Sacred Congregation of Rites.
The Most Eminent Fathers, assembled in extraordinary congregation at the Vatican Palace on July 19, 1955, after mature deliberation, recommended by unanimous vote that the restored Order of Holy Week should be approved and prescribed, if it should please His Holiness.
When all these matters had been individually reported to the Holy Father by the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, His Holiness deigned to approve the recommendations of the Most Eminent Cardinals.
Wherefore, by special mandate of our Most Holy Lord, Pius XII, by divine Providence Pope, the Sacred Congregation of Rites has decreed the following:
I. The restored Order of Holy Week is prescribed
1. Those who follow the Roman rite are bound to observe in the future the restored Order of Holy Week, as described in the typical Vatican edition. Those who follow other Latin rites are bound to observe only the time set in the new Order for the liturgical functions.
2. This new Order must be observed from March 25, 1956, the Second Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday.
3. No commemoration is allowed during the entire Holy Week, and collects commanded under any title are prohibited at Mass.
II. The proper hour for the celebration of the sacred Liturgy in Holy Week
4. On the Second Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday, and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, the Divine Office takes place at the usual hours.
5. During the Sacred Triduum, that is, Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord, and Holy Saturday, if the Office is performed in choir, or in common, the following things are to be observed:
Matins and Lauds are not anticipated in the evening, but are said in the morning, at the proper hour. In cathedral churches, however, since the Mass of the Chrism is celebrated in the morning of Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, Matins and Lauds of the same Thursday can be anticipated in the evening.
The lesser hours are said at the proper hour.
Vespers of Thursday and Friday are omitted, since the principal liturgical functions of these days take their place. But on Holy Saturday Vespers are said after noon, at the usual hour.
Compline of Thursday and Friday is said after the evening liturgical functions; it is omitted on Holy Saturday.
In the private recitation, all the canonical hours must be said, according to the rubrics, on these three days.
MASS OR THE PRINCIPAL LITURGICAL SERVICE
6. On the Second Passion Sunday, the solemn blessing and procession of palms are held in the morning, at the usual hour; in choir, after Terce.
7. On Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Chrism is celebrated after Terce, but the Mass of the Lord’s Supper must be celebrated in the evening, at the most suitable hour; not, however, before 5 nor after 8 p.m.
8. On Good Friday, the Solemn Liturgical Service is celebrated in the afternoon, and indeed about 3 p.m.; but if a pastoral reason urges this, a later hour may be chosen—not, however, beyond 6 p.m.
9. The solemn Easter Vigil is to be celebrated at the proper hour, namely, a time which will permit that the solemn Mass of the Vigil begin at about the midnight which falls between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
Nevertheless, where in the judgment of the local Ordinary, the conditions of the faithful and of the place having been considered, it is advantageous to anticipate the hour for the celebration of the Vigil, this may be done, but the Vigil may not begin before twilight, or certainly not before sunset.
III. Lenten abstinence and fast extended to midnight of Holy Saturday
10. The abstinence and fast prescribed for Lent, which hitherto has ceased on Holy Saturday after noon, according to canon 1252, § 4, will cease in the future at midnight of the same Holy Saturday.
All things to the contrary notwithstanding.
November 16, 1955.
G. CARD. CICOGNANI,
Prefect of S.R.C.
A. CARINCI, Archbishop of Seleucia,
Secretary of S.R.C.
1 St. Augustine, Ep. 55, 14; Corp. Script. Eccl. Lat. 34, 2, p. 195.
Instruction For the Proper Celebration of the Restored Order of Holy Week
Since the purpose of the restored Order of Holy Week is this, that the venerable liturgy of these days, restored to hours that are suitable and at the same time convenient, may be attended by the faithful more easily, more devoutly, and more fruitfully, it is of the greatest importance that this salutary purpose should be brought to the desired conclusion.
Therefore it has seemed advisable to this Sacred Congregation of Rites to add an Instruction to the general decree on the restored Order of Holy Week, by which the transition to the new order may be made easier and the faithful led more safely to the richer fruits that may be received from a living participation in the sacred ceremonies.
The knowledge and observance of this Instruction is therefore imposed upon all concerned.
I. Pastoral and ritual preparation
1. Local Ordinaries are to provide carefully that priests, especially those who have the care of souls, are well instructed, not only concerning the ritual celebration of the restored Order of Holy Week, but also concerning its liturgical meaning and pastoral purpose.
Let them, therefore, see to it that the faithful also are more suitably instructed during Lent in the proper understanding of the restored Order of Holy Week, so that they may take part in this celebration with intelligence and devotion.
2. The principal headings for the instruction to be given to the Christian people are these:
a) For the Second Passion Sunday, Called Palm Sunday
The faithful are to be invited to come together in greater numbers for the solemn procession of palms, to render a public testimony of love and gratitude to Christ the King.
Next, the faithful are to be warned that they should come to the Sacrament of Penance at a suitable time in the course of Holy Week. This warning must be urged particularly wherever there exists the custom that the faithful come to the sacred tribunal in throngs on the evening of Holy Saturday and the morning of Easter Sunday. Those who have the care of souls, therefore, should see that throughout Holy Week, but especially during the Sacred Triduum, every occasion is offered to the faithful of going to the Sacrament of Penance.
b) For Holy Thursday, the Lord’s Supper
The faithful are to be instructed concerning the love with which Christ the Lord “on the day before He suffered” instituted the sacred Eucharist, Sacrifice and Sacrament, the perpetual memorial of His Passion, to be celebrated at the hands of priests year after year.
The faithful are also to be invited to pay due adoration to the most august Sacrament after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, wherever the washing of feet is performed in church according to the rubrics of the restored Order, to manifest the Lord’s commandment of brotherly love, the faithful are to be taught the profound significance of this sacred rite and the opportunity to be generous in the works of Christian charity on this day.
c) For Good Friday, the Lord’s Passion and Death
The faithful are to be disposed for a correct understanding of the unique liturgical service of this day, in which, after sacred lessons and prayers, the Passion of our Lord is solemnly chanted; prayers are offered for the needs of the whole Church and of the human race; then the Holy Cross, trophy of our redemption, is most devoutly adored by the family of Christ, clergy and people; and lastly, according to the rubrics of the restored Order, as was the custom for many centuries, all who desire and who are properly prepared, may also come to Holy Communion, with this intention above all: that, devoutly receiving the Body of the Lord, delivered up for all on this day, they may obtain more abundantly the fruits of Redemption.
Let priests urge, moreover, that the faithful on this most sacred day observe a pious recollection of mind, and not forget the law of abstinence and fast.
d) For Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil
First of all it is necessary that the faithful be diligently instructed concerning the special liturgical nature of Holy Saturday. It is a day of the greatest sorrow when the Church lingers at the Lord’s tomb, meditating upon His Passion and Death and abstaining from the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the sacred table left bare; until, after the solemn Vigil or nocturnal expectation of the Resurrection, it gives way to paschal joys whose abundance flows over into the following days.
But the purpose and end of this Vigil consists in this, that by a liturgical act there is shown forth and recalled how our life and grace have proceeded from the Lord’s Death. And so under the symbol of the Easter candle the Lord Himself, “the light of the world” (John 8, 12), is brought forward, He who overcame the darkness of our sins by the grace of His light; the Easter hymn is sung, in which the splendor of the holy night of Resurrection is chanted; the great deeds accomplished by God in the Old Covenant are commemorated, pale images of the wonders of the New Testament; the baptismal water is blessed, in which “buried with Christ” unto the death of sin, we rise again with the same Christ, that “we may walk in newness of life” (Romans 6, 4); then we promise, in the presence of all, to bear witness by life and deeds to the grace which Christ merited for us and conferred on us in Baptism, through the renewal of the promises of that Baptism; last of all, after we have called for the intervention of the Church Triumphant, the sacred Vigil is concluded with the solemn Mass of the Resurrection.
3. No less necessary is the ritual preparation of the sacred ceremonies of Holy Week.
Therefore all those things which are needed for the devout and fitting liturgical celebration of this most holy week are to be prepared and arranged carefully; besides this, the sacred ministers and the other servers, whether clerics or lay persons, and especially if they are young boys, are to be diligently instructed in their duties.
II. Annotations to certain rubrics of the Ordo of Holy Week
a) For all of Holy Week
4. Where there are enough sacred ministers, the sacred functions of Holy Week are to be celebrated with all the splendor of holy rites. But where sacred ministers are lacking, the simple rite is to be used, by observing the particular rubrics, as noted in the proper places.
5. Whenever the restored Order of Holy Week says, “as in the Roman Breviary,” everything is to be taken from that liturgical book, but according to the norms established by the general decree of the S. Congregation of Rites, De rubricis ad simpliciorem formam redigendis, of March 23, 1955.
6. Throughout Holy Week, that is, from the Second Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday, to the Mass of the Easter Vigil, inclusive, when Mass (and, on Friday, the Solemn Liturgical Service) is celebrated solemnly, namely, with sacred ministers, the celebrant omits all those things which the deacon, subdeacon, or lector chant or read by reason of their own office.
b) For the Second Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday
7. In the blessing and procession, branches of palms or olive or other trees are to be used. These branches, according to the various customs of different places, are either prepared by the faithful themselves and brought to church, or distributed to the faithful after the blessing has been completed.
c) For Thursday, the Lord’s Supper
8. For the solemn reposition of the Blessed Sacrament a suitable place is to be prepared in another chapel or altar of the church, as prescribed in the Roman Missal, and as far as possible this is to be decently adorned with hangings and lights.
9. The decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites having been observed concerning the abuses to be avoided or removed in the preparation of this place, a severity which is proper to the liturgy of these days is clearly recommended.
10. Pastors and rectors of churches are to remind the faithful in due season of the public adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist, to be begun at the completion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and to be continued at least until midnight, the time when the memorial of the Passion and Death of the Lord succeeds to the liturgical remembrance of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist.
d) For the Easter Vigil
11. Nothing prevents the preparation beforehand, in colors or in another way, of the signs which are to be cut in the Easter candle by the celebrant with a stylus.
12. It is proper that the candles which the clergy and people carry, should remain lighted while the Easter hymn [the Paschal Praeconium, also known as the Exsultet—Ed.] is chanted, and while the renewal of the baptismal promises is made.
13. It is proper that the vessel containing the water to be blessed should be suitably ornamented.
14. If there are persons to be baptized, and especially if there are many, it is permissible to anticipate, at a suitable time on the same morning, the ceremonies of the Roman Ritual which precede the conferral of Baptism itself; that is, in the Baptism of infants as far as the word “Credis?” (Rituale Romanum, tit. II, cap. II, n. 17), and in the Baptism of adults as far as the words “Quis vocaris?” (Rituale Romanum, tit. II, cap. IV, n. 38).
15. If it happens that sacred ordinations are conferred in this solemn Vigil, the bishop is to make the final admonition (with the imposition of the so-called “penance”), which according to the Roman Pontifical takes place after the pontifical blessing and before the Last Gospel, before that pontifical blessing on this night.
16. On the vigil of Pentecost, the lessons or prophecies, blessing of baptismal water, and litanies are omitted. Mass, even if conventual, solemn, or chanted, begins in the customary manner with the Introit Cum sanctificatus fuero, as noted in the Roman Missal at the same place for private Masses, the confession having been made at the altar steps.
III. Mass, Holy Communion, and the Eucharistic fast in the Sacred Triduum
17. On the Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, the most ancient tradition of the Roman Church is to be observed, by which, the celebration of private Masses having been forbidden, all the priests and all the clergy assist at the Missa in Cena Domini and approach the holy table (cf. canon 862).
Where a pastoral reason requires it, however, the local Ordinary may permit one or two low Masses in individual churches or public oratories; but only one low Mass in semi-public oratories; and this for the reason that all the faithful may assist at the Sacrifice of the Mass and receive the Body of Christ upon this sacred day. These Masses are permitted between the same hours of the day which are assigned for the solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Decree, n. II, 7).
18. On the same Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion may be distributed to the faithful only during the evening Masses or immediately after and continuously with the Masses; on Holy Saturday likewise, Holy Communion may be given only during Mass or immediately after and continuously with the Mass, except in the case of the sick who are in danger of death.
19. On Friday of the Lord’s Passion and Death, Holy Communion may be distributed only during the Solemn Liturgical Service of the afternoon, likewise with the exception applying to the sick who are in danger of death.
20. Priests who celebrate the solemn Mass of the Easter Vigil at the proper hour, that is, after the midnight which falls between Saturday and Sunday, may celebrate the festive Mass on the Sunday of the Resurrection itself—may even celebrate two or three times, if an indult is had.
21. Local Ordinaries who celebrate the Mass of the Chrism on the morning of Holy Thursday may offer the solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the evening; on Holy Saturday, if they wish to celebrate the solemn Easter Vigil, they may, but they are not bound to, offer the solemn Mass on the Sunday of the Resurrection itself.
22. With regard to the Eucharistic fast, the norms of the Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus and the annexed Instruction of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, issued January 6, 1953, are to be observed.
IV. Solutions to certain difficulties
23. Since by reason of the diversity of places and peoples there are many popular customs connected with the celebration of Holy Week, local Ordinaries and priests having the care of souls are to see to it that customs of this kind which appear to foster solid piety, are prudently accommodated to the restored Order of Holy Week. Moreover, the faithful are to be instructed on the supreme value of the sacred liturgy, which always, and especially on these days, far surpasses by its very nature other kinds of devotion and customs, even the very best.
24. Where the custom has existed hitherto of blessing homes on Holy Saturday, local Ordinaries are to issue suitable regulations that this blessing may be performed at a more opportune time, either before or after Easter, by pastors or by other priests having the care of souls and delegated by them. They are to take this occasion to make a paternal visit to the faithful committed to them and to inform themselves concerning the spiritual welfare of these faithful (canon 462, n. 6).
25. The ringing of bells, prescribed at the Mass of the Vigil on Holy Saturday at the beginning of the hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo, is to be done in this way:
a) In places where there is only one church, the bells are to be rung at the time when the chanting of the above hymn begins.
b) But in places where there are several churches, whether the sacred ceremonies are celebrated in all of them at the same time or at different times, the bells of all the churches are to be rung together with the bells of the cathedral church, or the mother or principal church. In doubt as to which church in a place is the mother or principal church, the local Ordinary is to be consulted.
November 16, 1955
G. CARD. CICOGNANI,
Prefect of S.R.C.
A. CARINCI, Archbishop of Seleucia,
Secretary of S.R.C.