Sunday, January 27, 2019

Bugnini & Pacelli

"You remember Eugenio, don't you?"
I have spent the last two weeks in a hospital room along side my ailing father, who the other day went to Confession for the first time in many decades. During my time alongside him in his convalescence I was able to start Yves Chiron's Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy, the first genuine biography of Msgr. Bugnini and a book which I hope to review this week or next. For many reasons it is an interesting book, bringing to light many aspects and details of the reform process which are lost in the propaganda narratives on both the conservative and liberal sides of the aisle. Among these details is the liturgical reforms of Pius XII.

We know about the Vatican II preparatory commissions, which included Msgr. Lefebvre and Cardinal Montini; they did not like each other well before 1975. We know about the parliamentary tactics at "the Council." We know about the Consilium and its members. We are inundated with facts about the Vatican II reforms. What we do not know as much about are the Pius XII reforms. We know what they were (common of Popes, three new Holy Saturdays, a new Holy Week, compressed feast ranks, no subdeacon if one wanted, dialogue Masses and much more). We know less about the people and process behind it, or at least we did until now.

Papa Pacelli's first reform was that of the psalter, re-translated from Greek into Latin by Augustin Bea, SJ, whose work was received with the criticism adauget latinitatem, minuit pietatem. Pope Pius held the accuracy of the psalter close to his heart and took the popular clerical disdain for the project, written off as "German pedantry", very personally. Down, but not out, he and Cardinal Salotti decided to convene a commission interested in the "general reform" of the Roman liturgy in 1946. The date is quite crucial because Mediator Dei and the "Pian Commission" followed in successive years. Other than the inversion of St. Prosper's dictum lex orandi, lex credendi, the most pivotal part of the encyclical comes in the pontiff's acknowledgement of organic development as the natural mode of liturgical maturation and then derogating all liturgical authority to the Holy See alone (MD 58). Far from restricting the more radical elements of the Liturgical Movement, the pope was taming them and culling from their number. Ferdinando Antonelli, OFM, a member both of the Consilium and Pius XII's group, would call Mediator Dei a magna carta for the healthy part of the Liturgical Movement.

Unlike the Vatican II preparatory sections and the Consilium, Bugnini spent most of his time on Pius XII's commission as a secretary and observer rather than an administrative leader and visionary. Hired directly by Pope Pius after reading his pastoral articles in his journal, Ephemerides Liturgicae, Bugnini was a conscientious worker who did little in the discussions and work groups. Bugnini, Antonelli, and the rest of the initial study group published a generally forgotten work called Memoria sulla Riforma liturgica, which highlighted a general desire to reform the Martyrology, the Office, the kalendar and festive system, liturgical music, Canon Law, and the Mass itself (over 343 pages). Pius's interest in the Mass is unclear, as the Memoria suggested the Mass itself would not change much, but vernacular would be introduced and the popular manner of participation would forcibly evolve. Organic change by committee.

In 1958, the year of Pacelli's death, the Commission drafted an instruction on the liturgy with a particular focus on sacred music. The document, issued fittingly on September 3rd, defined several levels of "active participation", giving popular singing of the Ordinary chants a nod of approval, but expressing a greater desire for the laity to join in singing the proper chants of the Mass! Aside from being ridiculous musically, the proper chants were a clerical function before the Ordo Romanus I in the year 800, when Latin and proto-Italian were still very similar languages. The document permitted hymns to substitute for the propers when such music might incite "devout feelings".

Perhaps most eye-popping among the Commission's internal reporting are the results of an international survey sent to 400 bishops concerning potential reform of the Breviary. The most popular things demanded were simpler hymns (23%), vernacular (18%), and a single nocturne at Mattins (17%), meaning the vast majority had no interest in these things at all, but were eventually given them in time.

So, what was the Vincentian priest, Annibale Bugnini, doing while Antonelli, Bea, and others were plotting to cut Patristic lessons from Sunday Offices? When Pope Pius declared a Holy Year in 1950 Bugnini saw an opportunity to repeat an experiment he concocted some years earlier in a poor Roman suburb. He attempted to publish a book geared toward pilgrims and their priests called La Nostra Messa, his first attempt at "paraphrasing" the existing Roman Mass. His Vincentian superiors took a look and point blank refused to publish the work, but Bugnini self-published the 36 page pamphlet through the printer of his journal, Ephemerides.

What was La Nostra Messa? Bugnini's "paraphrase" of the Mass, edited by his disciple, a young Carlo Braga, was effectively an instructed narration of the Mass read by a "commentator" or "reader", a role which would reappear in the transitional Mass of 1964-9. The priest would celebrate a spoken Mass quietly with his server while the reader—"a priest, member of Catholic Action, or a woman"—would verbalize descriptions of what was going on during the Mass and suggest certain pious thoughts or prayers people might consider during these moments. During the Lavabo inter innocentes the reader would tell people the priest was washing his hands so he could touch the Body of Christ shortly. This incessant noise would only stop for the consecration; otherwise, he or she would continue to blather through the Roman Canon. Bishop Charriere of Lausanne criticized this dialogue Mass as an imbalance between between the priest and the people, but the damage was done. The Holy Year meant two printings of La Nostra Messa were sold and made their way to parishes with modern-minded priests that year; by 1962, twelve editions of the pamphlet had come off the press, some 1,500,000 copies.

Even five years ago one would occasionally hear that Pius XII's pontificate provided genuine liturgical reform, in contrast to those novelties of Paul VI. Time, scholarship, and continually expanding use of the pre-Vatican II rites have effected one conclusion: it all needs to go. Give us the real Roman Liturgy, please.


  1. The commentator during Masses is commonplace in certain places where the traditional rite has never ceased to be celebrated.

    1. What do the faithful make of the practice? And where might we continue to see this?

  2. The role of commentator is earlier than the 1964 stage of the reform and makes its first, official, appearance in the 1958 Instruction, #96. The idea was to encourage active participation etc.

  3. The commentator sounds terrible and reminds me of a novus Ordo funeral I attended recently where every step was narrated by the microphoned priest. It was so distracting and antithetical to the idea of mourning in silence or through grieving song.