Tuesday, November 22, 2022

“For a General Liturgical Reform” by Annibale Bugnini (Part 4)

We continue our publication of the first-ever English translation of Bugnini’s programmatic 1949 article in Ephemerides Liturgicae outlining part of the plan for a total overhaul of the Church’s liturgical worship. (See Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.) 

Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), Priest (1921)


Another point of paramount importance for all proposers was the reading. A qualitative and quantitative increase was unanimously called for. This is undoubtedly a good sign. However, when it comes to the concrete formulation of the proposals, the opinions are no longer convergent.

Let us note this at once: on the one hand, it is asked that the reading be increased; on the other hand, there is a desire to shorten Matins by reducing them to a single Nocturne and to three lessons that are not too long and one taken from the O.T., the next historical, the third from the N.T. (this is, after all, the old scheme of the “Breviarium S. Crucis”).

But three lessons alone reduce the reading to a minimum, assuming of course that the lessons should not be longer than the current average length. As for the biblical lesson, there are many calls for it to be “continuous,” even during Lent and the Ember Days. It is desired that the most practical books be chosen and read in full, especially the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. When, then, occasionally the readers were impeded, they should certainly be omitted. It is also suggested that the distribution of the books of Kings be reviewed, as the first takes up too much space at the expense of the others, and more room be given to Jeremiah, the Minor Prophets, and Job.

A widespread request would want the lessons of the 1st Nocturne (biblical) be longer, as Holy Scripture should have a more important place in the new Breviary.

Some would realise this as follows: an obligation to read the Bible for ten minutes, but at the priest’s free discretion. This way he would be able to read what is most beneficial and attractive to him. Others would like to see a reduction in the O.T. readings and more emphasis on the N.T.

The lessons of the 2nd nocturne, on the other hand, should be shortened, both to eliminate pomposities of little or no spiritual value, as well as to bring about a certain balance between the offices in terms of length.

The hagiographic lessons, it is further observed, should be seriously revised, eliminating legends, which discredit the piety of the Church, and accounts of miracles, even authentic ones, in order to give more prominence to the proper character of each saint’s work and holiness, “not omitting to properly frame” in two or three sentences, the historical, geographical, social and spiritual environment in which the saint lived. This is of great importance for a correct evaluation and appreciation of their virtues. If the saint has left writings, it would be desirable to have some of them read, instead of the often ordinary or schematic life. As for the patristic lessons, they should first of all be given in the critical text, citing the source from which they are taken; then, as far as possible and according to the findings of the most recent studies, make sure of their genuine authorship. It is also requested that a more “eclectic” choice of texts be made (from the Greek Church, from recent Doctors, and even if they have written in modern languages). Possibly on the feast day of a Doctor, a text by him should be given.

The discourses and sermons de tempore should also be thoroughly revised, and the sermons of the Commons be more varied.

Indeed, were it possible, the homilies should be read in full, and not just the beginning, on a number of days or feasts (as is the case with the Office of the Octave of the Dedication of the Church), so that over several occasions they could be read in full. Furthermore, it would be necessary to decisively remove those passages, such as certain interpretations and allegories (e.g. the 38 years of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida), which reflect the fashion and taste of a bygone era, and replace them with texts of true spiritual nourishment.

Finally, a practical issue that affects the entire reading (biblical, patristic, historical, homiletic) is that it be done in “the vernacular” in a pure and simple style, or at least alternating one month in Latin and the other in the vernacular (a proposal that extends to the entire Breviary).


Related to the question of the reading is that of chapters. It is wished to extend to all Sundays of the year the distribution, in chapters, of the occurring epistle to remedy the monotony of the chapters at Vespers, the only hour celebrated in parishes.[1]

As for the responsories, their fresh introduction under Pius X was certainly an improvement for the Breviary and to deprive it of them now would be an impoverishment. The responsory has no small spiritual function insofar as after the reading it is like a meditation, a recollection of what has been read, an elevation of the soul to God in meditated praise. It is not, therefore, a simple piece of singing and so good only for the office sung in choir.


The proposals for hymns can be summarised as follows:

1) to go back to the ancient texts and be inspired by them for the new compositions;

2) to increase the number of hymns by taking them from classical hymnody (Prudentius, Fortunatus, Sedulius, etc.) and from the very rich medieval hymnody;

3) to more widely diversify the hymns on the feasts of the Blessed Virgin (also taking them from the eastern hymnody) and of the saints so as not to have to repeat quite so often the same hymns as in the Common (“Iste confessor,” “Ave maris stella,” “Deus tuorum militum” etc.);

4) of the modern hymns, several are incomprehensible and should be replaced or modified;

5) so as to increase the variety and appeal of the hymns, could one not, someone asks, assign proper hymns to Compline according to times and certain major feasts?

And here are some particular remarks for a revision of the existing hymns:

1. In the hymn of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, we find the word pabulum, (also found in the Comm. Mart.: “et blanda fraudum pabula”), which in good Latin, even classical and patristic Latin, means fodder, a term that is truly unbecoming to indicate the nourishment of men. The frequent elisions, as in the verse Hocostium arcaein latere est (feast of the Sacred Heart) make for an unpronounceable and unsingable hymn, and slightly less so does the hymn for Christ the King: Tutusstat ordo civicus, and the word “imagine” of the same hymn, instead of “specie” in the verse “Vini dapisque imagine,” is improper.

2. The doxology of the hymn “Ave, maris stella”:

         Sit laus Deo Patri, - Summo Christo decus,
         Spiritui Sancto, - Tribus honor unus.

should be changed to:

         Sit laus Deo Patri, - Summo Christo decus,
         Spiritui Sancto - honor, tribus unus.

since the current formulation is found in later codices (cf. Clemens BLUME, S. I., Unsere liturgischen Lieder, Regensburg 1932, p. 205), and according to the current doxology, to the Father befits the laus, to Christ the decus, while the corresponding attribute for the Holy Spirit is missing.

3. “Iesu corona celsior” (Lauds of the Commune Conf. non Pont.) should undergo a general recast. The 3rd stanza, recalling the saint’s dying day, stands in contrast to the 1st stanza of the Iste confessor, which changes the 3rd verse when it refers to the dies natalis.[2] It is also pointed out that the threefold victory over the world, the devil, and the flesh in the 4th verse is utterly elusive.[3] According to the same proponent, the first three stanzas should be completely suppressed and the remaining ones be arranged as follows: Te Christe, Hic vana, Virtute, etc.

4. In the hymn of Lauds for St Martina (30 Jan.) in the first stanza one would like to change “Thracios” (too reminiscent of the Horatian hater of enemies) to “Tartaros.”[4]

5. On the feast of the martyrs Saints Perpetua and Felicita (6 March) the hymns, unless new ones are made, should be taken from the “Commune plurium non Virginum pro aliquibus locis”: “Nobiles Christi famulas” and “Si lege prisca,” as those in the singular form of the “Commune unius non Virginis” are not fitting.


It is called for either their suppression, or a decisive reduction in the wording of the text, or a limitation in their use. Some would want to retain only the ferial preces, others would reserve the preces dominicales for the ferias “per annum” and the Sundays of Septuagesima and Lent, and the ferial preces for the ferias of Lent and the Ember Days.—In the ℟. for the Supreme Pontiff, who is also referred to as the “Most Holy,” it is pointed out that the word “blessed” the ℟. is incongruous, whereas the ℣. already used the word “most blessed.”[5]


There is a general request for the abolition of the Pater, Ave and Credo with certain prayers immediately preceding and following (such as the Confiteor, which would be reserved for Compline only), of the Iube, domne, benedicere, at the lessons, of the Benedicite, Deus, at Prime. Some would go even further, up to the suppression of the major antiphons of Our Lady, keeping them at most for the end of Compline. For the minor Hours some propose the dropping of the short responsories. Be that as it may, a simplification in this area is certainly needed.[6] There are currently some formulas that suppose the starting of the Hour and not the continuation of prayer,[7] which is usually the case now. A whole encrustation has developed around the original canonical prayer under the impulse of private and individual piety. Most pious and holy things, no doubt, but which no one, we believe, would regret to see judiciously and wisely eliminated, so that the liturgical prayer would then shine in its native beauty, in the simplicity of its lines and the spontaneity of its expression.

Two “desiderata” will meet with general approval:

1) placing the Lord’s Prayer (Pater) not as an appendix after the Hours, but at the climax, as in the monastic rite (and in the Mass): Kyrie... Pater... oration;

2) revision of the orations: return to classical sobriety, eliminating some that are very long, with a heap of disparate ideas, containing the whole life of the saint, etc.

This series will conclude with Part 5: Observations on Certain Parts of the Office; the Octaves; Commemorations; the Rubrics; Conclusion.


[1] The phrase in Italian—”la distribuzione in capitoli dell’epistola occorrente per rimediare alla monotonia”—can be translated two ways. It could mean either that the proposed change in chapter would be “[needed] in order to remedy,” or it could be the Latinism “occurring,” i.e. the Epistle falling on that Sunday would be used for the chapter at Vespers.

[2] Since the revisions of Urban VIII, the first stanza of the hymn Iste Confessor had had an alternative when it came to the 3rd and 4th verses, so that when the saint’s feast coincided with the confessor’s death day, it would sound as: Iste confessor Domini colentes / Quem pie laudant populi per orbem: / Hac die lætus meruit beatas / Scandere sedes; otherwise, the last two verses were replaced with: Hac die lætus meruit supremos / Laudis honores. In the 1955 pian revisions, this solution was dropped in favour of the latter alternative for all cases.

[3]Hic vana terræ gáudia, / Et luculénta prǽdia, / Pollúta sorde députans, / Ovans tenet cæléstia”—Considering the vain joys and lavish goods of the world as defiled with filth, he now in triumph possesses those that are heavenly.

[4] “Tu natále solum prótege, tu bonæ / Da pacis réquiem Christíadum plagis; / Armórum strépitus, et fera prǽlia / In fines age Thrácios,” where the proposed amendment would have “In fines age Tartaros”; thus, we might add, the emphasis would be shifted from the saint’s protection from human foes to spiritual ones.

[5] ℣. Orémus pro beatíssimo Papa nostro […] ℟. Dóminus […] beátum fáciat eum […]

[6] And it was realised, with the adoption of many of the aforementioned proposals, in the 1955 and 1960 revisions.

[7] That is, the continuous recitation of multiple Hours, as by a cleric reading by himself.

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