Friday, December 21, 2018

Book Review: Yves Chiron, Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy

Yves Chiron, Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the LiturgyBrooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2018. $26.00/£21.00 cloth (ISBN 978-1-62138-412-0), $17.95/£14.50 paper (ISBN 978-1-62138-411-3). 214 pp. (Amazon USA, UK)

For readers of New Liturgical Movement who, like me, had previously heard that an English translation of this very important book was in the works, the wait is finally over. What are you waiting for? Go get a copy and read it!

For everyone else, I hope that the following review spurs you to obtain a copy of Yves Chiron’s Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy. It is a vital contribution to liturgical studies, and one of the best introductions to the history of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms I have read.

It may surprise some people to learn that, aside from his own autobiographical works, at the time of writing, this is the only full-length biography of Annibale Bugnini to have ever been published. [1] This timely work of Yves Chiron, which extensively utilises many sources not well-known by most people, therefore fills a large gap in the history of the Church in the 20th century. 

In Chapter 1, Chiron gives a brief insight into Bugnini’s childhood, then his life as a young priest who was gradually drawn into the liturgical movement of the 1940s. Chiron notes the beginnings of Bugnini’s liturgical experimentation, quite radical for the time, and quotes Bugnini’s own recollections of assisting the priests in charge of a Roman suburban neighbourhood around the year 1943:
I suddenly wondered: how could I have this people, with their elementary religious instruction, participate in the Mass? Above all, how could I make the children participate? I started out by painting big signboards with the easier responses for the people to say in Latin… Then I did the same with signposts in Italian… I knew that I had found the formula: the people willingly followed the Mass. The “inert and mute” assembly had been transformed into a living and prayerful assembly. (p. 25)
Chapters 2 and 3 detail encounters that Bugnini had with some of those who he would later collaborate with in the work of liturgical reform, such as Dom Bernard Capelle, O.S.B., Dom Bernard Botte, O.S.B., and Fr Aimé-Georges Martimort, as well as his meetings with organisations such as the French CPL (Centre de pastorale liturgique) and the Italian CAL (Centro di Azione Liturgica). His role in the liturgical reforms of Pope Pius XII, as secretary of the Commissio Piana, is also briefly examined. Chiron proceeds to demonstrate that:
whereas he [Bugnini] played a decisive role in the preparatory commission and in the Consilium, he did not have a leading role on the Commissio Piana. He was an invaluable worker and rarely intervened in the discussions. He learned and observed much, probably became aware of certain problems, but never exerted a decisive influence. (p. 41)
In chapters 4, 5 and 6, Chiron looks at some of Bugnini’s initiatives as editor of the journal Ephemerides Liturgicae, his involvement in the various liturgical congresses of the 1950s, and his work as secretary of the Preparatory Liturgical Commission for Vatican II. All of this practical and administrative experience crystallises in the preparation for the Council, in what Chiron terms “the Bugnini method”:
On the one hand, it [the method] consists in having groups of experts work separately on restricted subjects and having the members vote during very few plenary meetings (the Committee had only three…) On the other hand, it also consists in refraining at the outset from excessively bold proposals [for liturgical reform] that might be rejected at the Council and putting certain questions and reforms off until later… Remittatur quaestio post Concilium (“Let the question be postponed until after the Council”) is a recurring note during the preparation of the preconciliar commission. (p. 81)
Bugnini’s “first exile” during the Council itself, where, contrary to his own expectations, he was not made secretary of the Conciliar Commission on the Liturgy, and also withdrawn from his position teaching ‘pastoral liturgy’ at the Pontifical Lateran University, is covered as well.

In chapter 7, Chiron goes into some detail about Bugnini’s “rehabilitation” by Pope Paul VI, and his role as secretary of the Consilium. The chapter covers the period from 1964 to 1967 in some detail, making clear that, along with his almost daily access to the Pope, Bugnini “embodied a perfect mix of know-how and communication skills” (p. 109), which was the driving force behind the breakneck speed the Consilium worked at.

Chapters 8 and 9 are given over to the reform of the Mass (chapter 8) and some of the other liturgical reforms such as the Divine Office and liturgical music (chapter 9), ending with Bugnini being consecrated titular Archbishop of Diocletiana, and at the height of his influence. 

In chapters 10 and 11, Chiron briefly details Archbishop Bugnini’s “fall from grace” and his assignment as Apostolic Nuncio in Iran. Chiron does deal with the rumours of Bugnini’s involvement in Freemasonry, but comes to the conclusion that this accusation
was not the determining factor in Archbishop Bugnini’s dismissal… there was opposition from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from the International Theological Commission, and from the Secretariat of State… There is also the fact that Paul VI progressively withdrew his trust from Archbishop Bugnini, as Fr [Pierre-Marie] Gy, who knew both men quite well, pointed out no less than thirty years ago. (p. 174)
Chiron also relates a very interesting detail from Bugnini’s time in Iran, regarding the Society of Saint Pius X and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In 1976, Bugnini personally suggested that, under certain conditions, the celebration of the traditional Mass might once more be authorised by the Pope (pp. 178-180). In our times, the issue of whether or not the traditional Mass had ever been abrogated has, of course, been definitively settled. Still, it is worth taking note of this surprising intervention from a man whose own, clearly complex motivations regarding the liturgical reform he organised have often been over-simplified by both his critics and his supporters.

Finally, both a bibliography and index, always very handy things in any book, are provided. 

Weighing in at around 200 pages, this biography is a veritable tour de force of one of the most controversial figures in the 20th century Catholic Church. As Archbishop Bugnini’s personal papers are evidently still being kept under lock and key by Fr Gottardo Pasqualetti [2], Chiron’s book is not a complete history, but it makes for an excellent starting point for those who are after an objective and fair treatment of one of the key figures in the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. I should also point out that, as Bugnini’s own memoirs remain only in Italian, and the English translation of his La riforma liturgica remains out of print [3], Chiron’s book is one of the very few English-language works devoted to Bugnini. Many thanks are due to the translator, Dr John Pepino, and Angelico Press for their sterling work in making this wonderful book much more accessible to the English-speaking world.

In conclusion, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy to not only liturgists and historians, but everyone who is even remotely interested in the Catholic liturgy. Yves Chiron's important contribution to liturgical studies would certainly make a suitable Christmas or Epiphany gift for your parish Priest, or your friends and family—or if you just wanted to treat yourself!


[1] Though in 2012, on the 30th anniversary of his death, Bugnini's autobiographical memoirs were published as “Liturgiae Cultor et Amator, Servì la Chiesa.” Memorie Autobiografiche (Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 2012). As Chiron points out in his preface (p. 10), however, this manuscript, completed in 1977, was clearly written in self-defence, and cannot be relied upon in isolation.

[2] As noted in Dom Alcuin Reid’s Foreword to Chiron’s book (p. 5). Fr Pasqualetti became one of Bugnini’s closest collaborators, along with Fr Carlo Braga, during the early phases of the Consilium ad exsequendam.

[3] Namely The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), a book that commands pretty high prices on the secondhand book market. I live in hope (but not expectation!) that Liturgical Press will eventually bring this book back into print, with the additions made in the Italian 2nd edition.

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