Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fr Louis Bouyer on the Liturgical Reform and Its Architects

Sandro Magister has just published on the website of L’Espresso an interesting account of the Mémoirs of Fr Louis Bouyer, the French convert and Oratorian priest who played so prominent a role in the post-Conciliar reforms, not the least because of his personal friendship with Pope Paul VI. Fr Bouyer was one of the first people to openly and honestly denounce what he (and of course many others) considered to be the failure of these reforms, in his book The Decomposition of Catholicism. Magister’s summary of the newly published Mémoirs, (yet to be published in English, to the best of my knowledge), will be of particular interest to our readers for its account of certain aspects of the liturgical reform. For the benefit of those who do not read Italian, I here give my translation of the complete article. Let it be understood that the criticism of other people given here in the quotations are Fr Bouyer’s words, not Magister’s or my own.

Paul VI seriously thought about making him a Cardinal, but was held back by the ferocious reaction against this which the nomination would surely have provoked among the French bishops, chief among them the then-Archbishop of Paris, and president of the (French) bishops’ conference Cardinal François Marty, a person of “crass ignorance” and “devoid of even the most basic capacity for discernment”.

The man who missed the red robes, and branded his archenemy thus, was the great theologian and liturgist Louis Bouyer (1913-2004), as we learn from his fiery posthumous Memoirs, published this summer by Éditions du Cerf, ten years after his death.

Raised as a Lutheran, after becoming a Protestant minister in Paris, Bouyer converted to Catholicism in 1939, drawn to it above all by its liturgy, of which he quickly distinguished himself as a gifted enthusiast with his masterful study on the rites of Holy Week, “The Paschal Mystery”.

Being called to serve on one of the preparatory commissions for Vatican II, Bouyer immediately realized from his own experience its greatness and its wretchedness, and soon pulled back from it. He found the cheap ecumenism of that crazy era unbearable, like “something from Alice in Wonderland.” Among the few theologians of the council saved by him were the young Joseph Ratzinger, who in the book is the subject of nothing but praise. On the other hand, among the few important churchmen who appreciated at once the talent and merits of this theologian and liturgist who was so untypical, the most outstanding was Giovanni Battista Montini, while he was still archbishop of Milan.

After becoming Pope with the name of Paul VI, Montini wanted Bouyer on the committee for the reform of the liturgy, presided over “in theory” by Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, “a generous man” but “incapable of resisting the maneuvers of the criminal and unctuous” Annibale Bugnini, secretary and factotum of that same body, a man “as devoid of learning as he was of honesty”.

It was Bouyer who had to fix in extremis a horrible formula of the new Second Eucharistic Prayer, from which Bugnini wished to expunge even the “Sanctus”. And one evening, on the table of a trattoria in Trastevere, he had to rewrite the text of the new canon which is read today at Mass, together with the Benedictine liturgist Bernard Botte, with the added worry of having to deliver the whole thing by the following morning.

But the worst part is when Bouyer recalls the peremptory “The Pope wants it so” by which Bugnini would silence the members of the commission every time they opposed him; for example, in the dismantling of the liturgy for the dead, or in purging from the Divine Office the Psalms with “imprecatory” (i.e. cursing) verses.

Paul VI, conversing afterwards with Bouyer about one of these reforms “which the Pope had found himself approving without being in any way more content with it than I was” asked him: “But why did you all get entangled in this (particular) reform?” And Bouyer replied: “Because Bugnini assured us that you absolutely wanted it so.” To which Paul VI answered: “But is it possible? He told me that you were unanimous in approving it …”.

Paul VI sent the “contemptible” Bugnini into exile in Teheran as nuncio, Bouyer recalls in his “Memoires”, but at a point when the damage was already done. Bugnini’s personal secretary, Piero Marini, would later become the director of Papal ceremonies from 1987 to 2007, and is now even spoken of as a possible prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

In the last year of his life, Paul VI invited Bouyer to share with him “a few weeks of vacation at Castel Gandolfo”. But he was unable to accept this extraordinary sign of friendship and esteem, taken as he was with so many other responsibilities. And he lived to regret this, since the Pope died on August 6th of that year, 1978.

The following year, Cardinal Jean Villot revealed to Bouyer that Paul VI wanted to make him a cardinal, were it not for the harshness of the reaction against this foreseen within the Church.

At the news of this failed nomination, Bouyer recalls that he “felt relieved”, his thoughts going immediately to the unhappy lot of another great theologian and liturgist, who was raised to the dignity of the cardinalate, the Jesuit Jean Daniélou, “made the subject of ignoble calumnies by his own confreres,” both before and after his death in 1974.

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