In 1568, a great Pontiff, S Pius V, imposed upon the Universal Church a new Roman Breviary. Except that he didn't.
The document Quod a nobis, which precedes the 'Tridentine Breviary', repays careful reading. The Divine Office put in place by Gelasius and Gregory and reformed by Gregory VII had, S Pius tells us, diverged ab antiqua constitutione. So the pope wishes it to be recalled ad pristinam orandi regulam. Some people had deformed this praeclara constitutio by mutilations and changes; plurimi had been seduced (allecti) by the brevity of a Breviary produced by the Spanish Cardinal Quignon. Even worse, in provincias paulatim irrepserat prava illa consuetudo, that bishops in churches which, from the beginning, had used the Roman Office, were producing privatum sibi quisquam Breviarium.
What S Pius V is dealing with here is the chaotic liturgical result of a century of printing. Only in the age of this new technology could trendy clergy buy and use in vast numbers the new slick and fast Quignon Breviary; only now could meddling bishops, full of Good Ideas, thrust their latest clever novelties with ease upon their helpless dioceses. The words of S Pius seem almost to describe the chaos which was to follow Vatican II: "Hence the total disruption of divine worship in so many places; hence a complete ignorance among the clergy of ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies; so that numberless ministers of the churches carry out their duty unbecomingly, not without enormous offence to the devout".
S Pius was reacting to to this technology-driven chaos by a reinstatement of Tradition; by the elimination of novelty and a return to what had been received. Hence, he provided a form of the Roman Breviary carefully emended by the best available scholarship. And, of course, his imposition of his new restoration of the Breviary, in place of the intruded novelties, was itself done, paradoxically, by the use of the same technology which had created the problem which it was to solve.
S Pius V's reform was thus an act of deliberate and profound conservatism. This is shown by his treatment of local usages which dated from before the invention of printing. As for uses which were of more than two centuries standing: "that ancient right of saying and singing their office, we do not take away". Recognising, however, that many who possessed such ancient usages might nevertheless themselves prefer the revision which he is now promulgating, he permits them to adopt it, but only if the Bishop and the entire chapter agree. Come-lately diocesans were thereby restrained from abolishing the ancient uses of their churches; apparently, it needed only one curmudgeonly traditionalist on the Chapter to preserve the local customs. This seems to me a fairly rigorous affirmation of the the traditional diversities with which a process of organically evolving liturgy had endowed local churches, combined with a determination to eliminate novel fancies which had corrupted liturgy since printing was invented.
S Pius V's reforms are often seen as symptoms of counter-reformation centralisation and as an attempt rigorously to standardise the worship of the Latin Church. I think this profoundly and anachronistically misreads both the liturgical situation which he is addressing; and the legal framework which he carefully puts in place. Previous popes had flirted with the idea of radical revisions of the Breviary meant to bring it into line with the (Humanist) fashions of their age. But in S Pius V, a truly great pontiff, we see at its very best the ancient function of the Roman Church as a remora against innovation; as well as the principle that the Tradition is not ours to destroy, but to hand on carefully with - as Vatican II actually says - only such changes as grow organically out of what is already there and are truly necessary.
To be continued.