One of the things he is not remembered perhaps so well for is his role as a reformer. Perhaps nowadays reformer has a decidedly negative connotation for some. I think in some ways he was a bit of a purist. He initiated the original reform which, in addition to touching on various aspects such as sacred music, the purity of liturgical art (no more depictions of the Blessed Virgin dressed in priestly garments), also touched on the liturgical year and the breviary and the missal. I've always been interested in that, particularly since so little information seems to be available about the work of his commission.
In any case, truthfully or no, every pope from Pius XII to John Paul II, have attributed their reforms as a continuation of his work particularly as espoused in his letter Abhinc Duos Annos. The encyclical was written months before his heavenly birthday (23 Octobris 1913): AAS 5 (1913), 449-450.
ABHINC DUOS ANNOS, cum Constitutionem Apostolicam ederemus Divino afflatu, qua id proprie spectavimus, ut, quoad fieri posset, et recitatio Psalterii absolveretur intra hebdomadam, et vetera Dominicarum Officia restituerentur, Nobis qui dem alia multa versabantur in animo, partim meditata, partim etiam inchoata consilia quae ad Breviarii Romani, susceptam a Nobis, emendationem pertinerent; sed ea tamen, cum ob multiplices difficultates tune exsequi non liceret, differre in tempus magis commodum compulsi sumus.
Etenim ad compositionem Breviarii sic corrigendam ut talis exsistat, qualem volumus, id est numeris omnibus absoluta, ilia opus sunt:
-Kalendarium Ecclesiae universalis ad pristinam revocare descriptionem et formam, salvis tamen pulcris accessionibus, quas ei mira semper Ecclesiae, Sanctorum matris, fecunditas attulerit;
-Scripturarum et Patrum Doctorumque idoneos locos, ad genuinam lectionem redactos, adhibere;
-sobrie Sanctorum vitas ex monumentis retractare;
Liturgiae plures tractus, supervacaneis rebus expedites, aptius disponere lam vero haec omnia, doctorum ac prudentum iudicio, labores desiderant cum magnos, turn diuturnos; ob eamque causam longa annorum series intercedat necesse est, antequam hoc quasiaedificium liturgicum, quod mystica Christi Sponsa, ad suam declarandam pietatem et fidem, intelligenti studio conformavit, rursus, dignitate splendidum et concinnitate, tamquam deterso squalore vetustatis, appareat.
Interea ex litteris et sermone multorum Venerabilium Fratrum cognovimus ipsis et permultis sacerdotibus esse optatissimum, ut in Breviario una cum Psalterio nova ratione disposito suisque rubricis adsint mutationes omnes, quae ipsum novum Psalterium vel iam secutae sunt vel sequi possunt. Quod cum instanter a Nobis peterent, simul significarunt se vehementer cupere, ut et Psalterium novum usurpetur frequentius, et Officia Dominicarum serventur ea studiosius, et incommodis Officiorum translationibus occurratur, et alia quaedam quae bonum videatur mutari, mutentur. Huiusmodi Nos vota, utpote rerum veritati innixa Nostraeque admodum consentanea voluntati, grate equidem accepimus: iis autem obsecundandi nunc esse tempus arbitramur. Certiores enim facti sumus officina Aores libraries, qui sacrorum Rituum Congregation! inserviunt, exspectantes dum Breviarium Romanum decretorio modo ac definitive corrigatur, in eo esse ut novam interim ipsius Breviarii editionem adornent. Hac uti occasione visum
(he goes on to list several reforms later incorporated into the breviary, such as Sundays, psalms during Octaves and other stuff)
TWO YEARS AGO, in publishing Our Apostolic Constitution, Divino Afflatu, We had especially in sight the recitation, as far as possible in its entirety, of the Psalter on weekdays, and the restoration of the ancient Sunday offices. But Our mind was occupied by many other projects – some mere plans, others already on the way to realization – relating to reform in the Roman breviary.
However, because of the numerous difficulties preventing Us from executing them, We has to postpone them for a more favourable moment. To change the composition of the Breviary to make it in accordance with Our desires, that is, to give it a finished perfection in every part would involve:
-restoring the calendar of the Universal Church to its original arrangement and style, retaining meanwhile the splendid richness, which the marvelous fruitfulness of the Church, the Mother of Saints, has brought to bear upon it.
-utilising appropriate passages of Scripture, of the Father and doctors, after having reestablished the authentic text;
-prudently correcting the lives of the Saints according to documentary evidence
Perfecting the arrangement of numerous point of the liturgy, eliminating superfluous elements. But in the judgment of wise and learned persons, all this would require considerable work and time. For this reason, many years will have to pass before this type of liturgical edifice, composed with intelligent care for the spouse of Christ to express her piety and faith, can appear purified of the squalidness brought by time, newly resplendent with dignity and fitting order.
In the meantime, through correspondence and conversations with a number of bishops, We have learnt of their urgent desire – shared by many priests – to find in the Breviary, together with the new arrangement of the Psalter and its rubrics, all the changes which have already come or which might come with this new Psalter. They have repeatedly asked Us, indeed they have repeatedly manifested their earnest desire that the new psalter be used more often, that the Sundays be observed more conscientiously, that provision be made for the inconvenience of transferred offices, and that certain other changes be affected which seem to be justified. Because they are grounded in objectivity and completely conform to Our desire, We have agreed to these requests and We believe the moment has come to grant them.
Most of the reforms envisioned in this Apostolic Constitution were not carried out. But it is not difficult to see the rationale in this letter for the reforms of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, even to an extent of the Liturgia Horarum though I’m pretty sure he would have balked at the extent of the latter. Calendar correction, “superfluous elements”, emphasis on the documented vita of the saints for the II Nocturn. Most shocking, perhaps, (at least, for me it was) his description of the Office as “squalore”, squalid (keep in mind this is the breviary used until John XXIII). It is quite a strong word, perhaps one that might occasion a lot of criticism today.I had thought of a super ending to this post, but I can't remember it now. Drat. In any case, contemplating our liturgy today (as a whole and not just the breviary), can we say that the reforms of the 60's have brought us "dignity and fitting order"? Lord God, you filled Pope St. Pius with wisdom and gave him the strength of an apostle to defend the Catholic faith and to renew all things in Christ. Grant that we may follow his example and teaching and so come to our reward in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.
Lex Orendi, lex credendi. Holy Pius, pray for the defense of the Catholic faith especially through an authentic renewal of the liturgy.
Published in August, 2007