Thursday, April 19, 2018

Paul VI’s Dislike of the Liturgical Reform

The story has been told many times and in many quarters how Mons. Annibale Bugnini, the secretary of the committee for implementing Sacrosanctum Concilium, would “sell” the items in his program for radical changes to the liturgy, changes that were neither asked for, nor even distantly imagined by the Fathers of Vatican II. He would tell Pope Paul VI that the proposed changes were strongly recommended by the expert (or supposedly so) liturgical scholars, while telling the scholars (or at least the more sober among them, those who needed reassurance) that the Pope himself insisted on such changes. Fr Louis Bouyer, a personal friend of the Pope, attests this explicitly in his memoires, in which he describes Bugnini, with the rhetorical restraint so typical of the French, as a “criminal and unctuous” man, “as devoid of learning as he was of honesty.” (Bugnini was later made an archbishop, but never a cardinal, and “promoted” to nuncio in Iran as the regime of the last Shah was collapsing.) As summed up by Sandro Magister in an article published in 2014:

“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 (Bouyer) 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 …’ ” (My translation of the full article can be read here: “Fr Louis Bouyer on the Liturgical Reform and Its Architects.”)

Today, Magister gives a fascinating follow-up to this topic, a series of stories from the diaries of Virgilio Cardinal Noè, who served as Papal Master of Ceremonies during the earliest and wildest years of the reform, from 1970-82. These stories are cited from a new book published in Italian by Mons. Leonardo Sapienza, “Paolo VI: Una Storia Minima.” (On the website linked by Magister, it is described as a book of “fioretti - little flowers”, the name of a very famous collection of anecdotes about the life of St Francis of Assisi and some of the early Franciscan Saints.) No one will be surprised to read that Paul VI himself expressed grave reservations and disappointment about some of these changes, although he himself had approved them, and, heroically exercising the virtues of Prudence and Fortitude, did nothing to correct them. Here are just a couple of examples; there are more in the original article linked above.

“on June 3, 1971, after the Mass for the commemoration of the death of John XXIII, Paul VI commented: ‘How on earth in the liturgy for the dead should there be no more mention of sin and expiation? There is a complete absence of imploring the Lord’s mercy. This morning too, for the Mass celebrated in the [Vatican] tombs, although the texts were beautiful they were still lacking in the sense of sin and the sense of mercy. But we need this! And when my final hour comes, ask for mercy for me from the Lord, because I have such need of it!’ And again in 1975, after another Mass in memory of John XXIII: ‘Of course, in this liturgy are absent the great themes of death, of judgment…’ ”

“Before every Mass, while he was putting on the sacred vestments, Paul VI continued to recite the prayers stipulated in the ancient missal ‘cum sacerdos induitur sacerdotalibus paramentis,’ (when the priest puts on his priestly vestments) even after they had been abolished. And one day, September 24, 1972, he smiled and asked Noè: ‘Is it forbidden to recite these prayers while one puts on the vestments?’ ‘No, Holy Father, they may be recited, if desired,’ the master of ceremonies replied. And the pope: ‘But these prayers can no longer be found in any book: even in the sacristy the cards are no longer there… So they will be lost!’ ”

Paul VI during a pastoral visit to Venice, with Patriarch Albino Cardinal Luciani, who would succeed him as Pope with the name John Paul I for 33 days in August and September of 1978. Virgilio Noè, a curial Monsignor at the time this photo was taken, is seen on the right. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)

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