Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Dormition of Mary, the Papacy, and Unity

A quick read from the Pray Tell blog on the Dormition-Assumption in both the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

The changes in the Roman Mass of the Assumption are of a magnitude scarcely noticed in typical Western liturgical circles, including those of a more academic bent. If there is any objectivity in the matter, Pius XII's liturgical changes will come under more scrutiny, at least at a scholarly level. Indeed, it is the inability to critically examine the liturgical changes of Pius XII that discredits much of the Traditionalist movement (in my eyes).

Back to our point, the significance of Pius XII's changes to the Assumption liturgy are hardly considered when discussing 20th century liturgical reforms. Whereas the encyclical promulgating the dogma of the Assumption showed some restrained in dogmatizing the particular Western tradition of the Assumption, in which Mary escapes bodily death and enters into heaven, the alteration of Mass texts pivots firmly to the West.

Assumption, however, has never meant exclusively the escape from bodily death. The Orthodox Church knows the feast as both Dormition and Assumption, depending upon how close a church was to Western Europe. In both cases, the falling asleep of Mary is commemorated. In the West, the Assumption was interpreted as both the falling asleep and preservation from bodily death. This said, three points ought to be noted,

1) The oldest tradition of the Assumption in the West commemorates the falling asleep of Mary, in continuity with the East.

2) The most reliable historical research confirms that the tradition of Mary's preservation from bodily death likely began in Gnostic circles in the West and was later appropriated by the mainline Church for pastoral reasons. (see Shoemaker's The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption, 1st ed.)

3) The oldest texts describe Mary's death and then bodily assumption into paradise.

Pius XII's reform of the Mass of the Assumption broke with a genuinely universal tradition between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, in favor of a peculiarly Western interpretation of dubious theological merit and historical precedence.

In all of the movement to institute a comprehensive liturgical reform culminating in the Missale Romanum of Paul VI, restoring something more akin to the original Mass and its original prayers was never considered. This leads us to consider two interesting paradoxes.

For Traditionalists, the reform of the Assumption Mass immediately challenges their interests in preserving Tradition, in so far as it reveals their stated aims are subject to the papacy. This raises a host of ecclesiological questions the Traditionalist movement in the Roman Church has been unwilling or unable to answer.

For Progressives who see the Pauline liturgy as being more ecumenical, they are left  having to reconcile how many of the final liturgical changes eliminated universal Traditions and express a peculiarly Western, and specifically Roman, understanding. The Assumption Mass is a case in point. For ecumenical as the Novus Ordo is made out to be, it is, in many respects, anti-ecumenism in so far as much of the ancient liturgical expression was jettisoned in favor of aligning liturgical prayer with later defined doctrine.

My sincere plea is that anyone genuinely concerned with liturgy, liturgical reform, and ecumenism begin asking some of these difficult questions.


  1. Do not be so quick to speak of Traditionalist Roman Catholics as a single mass uncritical of the pre-conciliar church! I certainly loathe the liturgical innovations of Pius XII in the Eucharistic liturgy as well as those of Pius X in the Divine Office. The western liturgy has been suffering a period of decadence for half a millennium.f

    1. Very true. I give you a lot of credit - you are well aware of the history and have the courage to hold the minority opinion. Bot an easy task when the debate has been so narrowly and poorly defined.

  2. Some of us have been saying this for years - not that the majority of Traddieland is remotely interested in listening of course (pace Mr.Hoag - you are clearly an exception but in a minority of kindred spirits I would suggest).

    If something is truly ancient and venerable, as most of the received texts for the feast of the Dormition were, then common sense would suggest they should be preserved, honoured and passed on as sacred treasures to the next generation. But no: along comes Pacelli and by the stroke of the papal pen the ancient texts were swept aside to 'honour' a dogmatic definition that actually muddied the waters rather than making anything clearer. Ultimately the whole thing was about the glorification of the Ultramontane papacy and the arrogance of a pernicious and narcissitic old man who was far more interested in himself than the Mother of God. The Traddies love it as with a papal definition they can shew how much more separate they are from other Christians who refuse the dogma.

    I have many fond memories of going to Cambridge for the day for many years to visit an old friend and wonderful priest the late Fr. Ronald de Poe Silk. Although only a said Mass it was rather exquisite (the few people who formed his regular congregation fled to London to get the 'latest decree' version so I was alone. After Mass I would take Fr. Ronald to lunch and, in reciprocation, he would give me tours of the Cambridge sights. Happy memories.

    1. Just as a matter of interest, I once knew Fr Ronald, as an SSPX seminarian. I seem to have this recollection that he had been associated at an earlier time with an Anglo-Catholic parish in Sydney, Christ Church St Laurence, and had been ordained an Anglican priest but I may be mistaken about both details. I remember him positively, as a polite and modest person. I remember he showed me how to endure a wild and windy Channel crossing from Ostend to Dover - by spending the trip in the ferry's restaurant! Requiescat in pace.

    2. Stephen K, Yes, he had been ordained in the Anglican Church and had a curacy - I regret memory fails me as to where. He had studied at Lichfield and there are some photographs of him in gown and soft cap in the 1960s. As a young man he had been in contact with what is now ROCOR in Australia and so had a rounded view of liturgical matters. He was a charming man, very shy, but full of anecdotes and sound advice. At one time he had a printing press and a harpischord but got rid of the former in favour of AppleMac and loved producing various pamphlets and a wonderful Kalendar. The harpsichord kept going out of tune so he exchanged that for an electric spinet and was an excellent player. He also had a fascination with scented-leaved pelargoniums. A wonderful man, much missed. I am very glad to learn you had the pleasure of knowing him too.

  3. The Traddies, with the exception of Mr. Hoag, won't ask these questions because to do so would be tantamount to hitting an iceberg which would ultimately sink their "Ship of Fools", as they frantically run around the deck rearranging the pews.

    1. It is not so much an issue of Tradituonalists. No one wants to ask these questions. The Patristic scholara who should know better. The Pauline liturgy folks who should be so concerned that the Roman Church's law of prayer is moving further away from ties with the Orthodox. The Traditionalists who should be so concerned that the law of prayer was repeatedly abbrogated with little regard. Liturgists who should have the body of liturgical texts amd traditions at their fingertips.No one is asking these questions.