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Holy Week: Palm Sunday: Old vs. 1955 Rite

INTRODUCTORY NOTE: The modifications in the Holy Week rites introduced in 1955 were part of a series of incremental liturgical changes beginning in 1951 that eventually led to the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae in 1969.

The creation of the ’55 Holy Week rites, like the creation of the Novus Ordo, was orchestrated by Annibale Bugnini, the man regarded as the evil genius who destroyed the Mass.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can look back at the 1955 Holy Week changes and see a series of incremental changes put into place that will be permanently incorporated in the Novus Ordo.


In the traditional rite, the priest blesses the palms at the altar in a “dry Mass” (a ceremony that follows the structure of a Mass). The procession follows, and then the Mass proper at which the Passion is chanted. The dry Mass is a survival of the practice in Rome where the pope blessed the palms at Mass in one church, went in procession to another, and offered a second Mass there.

In the 1955 rite, the dry Mass (Introit, Collect, Epistle, Responsory, Gospel, Preface and Sanctus) is gone. The priest blesses the palms not at the altar, but at a table, behind which he stands “facing the people” — the first time such a direction occurs in the Roman liturgy. Instead of violet vestments, red vestments are used, as in the Novus Ordo. Only one blessing prayer is used; in the old rite there were five.

For the procession, the reformers abolished the mystical ceremony at the church door — the alternating choirs inside and outside the church, and the knocking on the door, symbolizing Christ seeking entrance into the Holy City. After the procession in the new rite, the priest chants the final collect facing the people, with his back to the tabernacle.

In the ’55 rite, the Prayers at the Foot of the altar disappear entirely from the Mass, and the priest ascends the altar to incense it. If there are other ministers to assist, the celebrant does not read the Scripture readings himself, but sits at the bench to listen to them. The anointing at Bethany is omitted from the beginning of the Passion, and the setting of the guard at the tomb is omitted from the end. The Last Gospel of the Mass is suppressed.