Wednesday, November 23, 2022

“For a General Liturgical Reform” by Annibale Bugnini (Part 5: Conclusion)

With this final installment we complete our publication of the first-ever English translation of Bugnini’s programmatic 1949 article in Ephemerides Liturgicae outlining the plan for a total overhaul of the Church’s liturgical worship. (See Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4. The entire document may be downloaded as a single PDF.)


We have made a few remarks on the different parts of the Divine Office, discussing the matter systematically. Let us now complete this with a few specific annotations.

Some would like to give each Hour an explanatory title: a “theme,” an “idea” as a guide, and also assign for each day and for the individual Hours an official “prayer intention” of the Church. Furthermore, according to the same proponents, each feria could have its own, more explicit particular meaning. For example: Sunday: the Trinity; Monday: thanksgiving; Tuesday: high praise to God; Wednesday: universal prayer; Thursday: glorification of the God-Man; Friday: general Satisfaction to Christ who is sacrificed for us; Saturday: Mary and the saints.

Some would ask for the faculty to say ad libitum, in Lent, the Office de tempore, instead of that of the day’s saint, as is already done for the Mass.

Let us just mention the proposal that “parish priests be authorised to anticipate at noon, at least on Sundays and Feasts, the Matins of the following day.” The proposal denotes the good spirit and the piety of those who advanced it, but betrays an erroneous conception of the Divine Office, which by its very nature is an “hourly” prayer, to be distributed in the various proper times to sanctify all the hours of the day.

To compensate for the loss of the hagiographic lessons, it is asked for the introduction at Prime of the reading of the Martyrology (either in full, or reduced to some eulogies more important to the universal and local Church). This would also resolve, according to the contributors, the issue of commemorations, which would be abolished per se, as the memory done at Prime with the Martyrology should suffice.

As for the Minor Hours, a pastoral suggestion is that at least on Sundays and feast days, parish priests and others with care of souls should be dispensed from them.

Some would like greater protection of the standing of First and Second Vespers on Sunday, particularly during Lent and Advent, even when First and Second Class feasts clash against it.

For Compline there are those who would want every day, except Sunday, Psalm 50 (“Miserere”). Others would prefer to return to the old invariable arrangement, that is, the current Sunday scheme, as it was before Pius X. Some think that for Compline too, parish priests and clergy who sing Vespers with the people could be exempted.

For a fair solution it is necessary to bear in mind the proper character of each Hour and particularly of Compline, to which Psalms 90 and 133 are really well suited, and therefore a return to the status quo ante would please anyone. All the more so since the ever more frequent use, among certain groups of faithful, of Prime and Compline as morning and evening prayers, compels the clergy to say these Hours with them, and a simplification of the arrangements for practical use would be desirable.


These have taken on enormous development, “exaggerated,” says one of the contributors. And for the octaves too, the “unanimous consensus” is that they should be simplified. Some would like them all to be abolished, with the exception of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension and Corpus Christi, raising the office infra octavam to the rank of duplex. Others argue as follows: “The octaves of Easter and Pentecost should undoubtedly be retained because of their antiquity, and also that of Christmas because of its entirely special character: it is in fact an integral part of Christmastide, and endows the week from 25th to 31st December with singularly attractive features.

The octave of the Ascension, of recent institution, could certainly disappear, and the same goes for that of the Sacred Heart and all the non-privileged octaves. Besides, they could all be reduced to the rank of simple octaves, with a proper office only on the eighth day and with a special privilege enabling this to be preferred to feasts of double or inferior rite. One could also give the Sundays “infra octavam” an office inspired by the feast: this would seem almost indispensable for the majority of countries where these feasts are no longer celebrated by the people on the assigned day, but postponed to the following Sunday.

For Epiphany and Corpus Christi, the octave might be retained, but reducing all the days infra octavam to the simple rite, with ferial psalter. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to go a step further and rearrange all the festive offices, if not by reducing them to the simple rite, at least by referring them to the principle of a three-lesson office? In that case, the responsories that were suppressed could be used at Vespers, Lauds, and the Minor Hours after the chapter, so as not to deplete the liturgical prayer of these items, which are often magnificent.”

To recap, the octave system, in the opinion of a contributor, could be modified as follows:

1. Easter, Pentecost, Christmas: no change.

2. Octaves of the Temporal:
  • Epiphany: on the days infra octavam, 3-lessons office with ferial psalter, commemoration only on the feasts of St Joseph and the Holy Family; on the eighth day, double office as on the feast day, but with proper texts, referring to the Baptism of Jesus.
  • Ascension: octave suppressed, but maintaining the “Ascensiontide.”
  • Corpus Christi: on the days infra octavam, 3-lessons office, yielding only before a double with simple commemoration; on the eighth day, feast of Christ the High Priest.
  • Sacred Heart: simple octave, to be merged with the feast of the Precious Blood of Our Lord.
3. Octaves of the Sanctoral:
  • Immaculate Conception, simple octave.
  • Joseph (to be celebrated at Christmastide), simple octave.
  • John the Baptist, simple octave.
  • Ss. Peter and Paul, simple octave (on 4th July, feast of all the Holy Popes).
  • Lawrence, simple octave.
  • Assumption, simple octave, to be merged with the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, simple octave, to be merged with the feast of the Name of Mary, which would take the office of the Nativity with proper parts from the current office.
  • All Saints’ Day, simple octave, to be merged with the feast of the Holy Relics.
  • Patron and Titular Saint, Dedication of a church, simple octave.
4. Office of the Sundays infra octavam:

Preserve intact the current offices for the Sundays within the octaves of Christmas, Ascension, Corpus Christi and Sacred Heart. Restore the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany and set the Feast of the Holy Family on another day infra octavam.

For Sundays infra octavam of the feasts of the Assumption and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, Saints Peter and Paul, All Saints, the Dedication, the Feast of the Patron and of the Titular, the office could be composed as follows: Psalms and antiphons, chapter and hymn, short responsories and verses, from the Feast; Matins lessons and oration, from the occurring Sunday. At Mass, commemoration (the first one) and preface of the octave.


It is said that by inserting the Martyrology at Prime, all the commemorations may as well be suppressed. This is, frankly, a somewhat simplistic way of solving the problem. Others call for its suppression at Matins, Lauds and Vespers, but not at Mass. All the commemorations should be reduced to two and all the rest be omitted, some propose. And again: the saints of the simple or double rite, when occurring on a Sunday, should only be commemorated at Lauds. We will not linger over other proposals as the simplified system for the octaves would also bring about this simplification, which ultimately is a logical consequence of the foregoing.


Among the various proposals, here are the main ones:

1. Brief notes, both historical and exegetical, should be provided before the various rites and their parts, or else be merged with the general rubrics of both the Breviary and the Missal. Naturally the current “Rubricae generales” should be combined with the “Additiones et Variationes.” These should be numbered progressively, emulating in brevity and clarity the canons of the C.I.C. The new prolegomena of the liturgical books should also serve as the school text (or as a substantial part of the text) of practical liturgy in seminaries.

2. The rubric or rubrics referring to the canonical Hours in relation to the Conventual Mass should be revised or deleted. Thus the rule prescribing the recitation of Vespers before midday (i.e. before lunch) in Lent is a patent error of interpretation, which should be corrected.

3. A few specific notes: in order to dispel any doubt as to whether one should genuflect with one or both knees, the rubric at the Invitatory: “In sequenti Psalmi versu, ad verba: venite, adoremus, et procidamus, genuflectitur,” should be changed to: “In sequenti Psalmi versu verba: venite, adoremus, et procidamus dicuntur flexis genibus.”

On the feast of the Holy Angels, at each Hour and at the end of First Vespers on 24 March, 8 May, 29 September, 2 October, 24 October, the following rubric should be added: “Conclusio hymnorum ad omnes Horas”:

         Deo Patri sit gloria, - Qui, quos redemit Filius
         Et Sanctus unxit Spiritus, - Per Angelos custodiat. Amen.

The first stanza of the Iste Confessor should always say: “Hac die laetus meruit supremos - Laudis honores.” Thus many particular rubrics on the feasts of the saints would drop by themselves.

4. “There is urgent need,” says a collaborator, “for a methodical compilation, for the use of the whole Church, not of a detailed guide to the slightest gestures of choir or officiants, but of a collection of the general principles, a true Codex iuris liturgici, enunciating in clear and systematic terms what individuals and the different categories are to do, according to the times, places and circumstances of the celebration of liturgical feasts and ceremonies.

The order should be parallel to that of the Code of Canon Law, and the subject matter should be provided by the methodical sifting of the rubrics -- those that have not fallen into disuse or become obsolete -- of the Missal, the Breviary, the Pontificale and the Ceremoniale, together with the appendix for minor churches, and the Rituale. The selection should be made not on the basis of the uses that are legally in force, but on that of the abundant and serious studies that have shed light on the origin, meaning and historical evolution of each rite or ceremony.

Such work should later serve as a starting point for synodal and diocesan commissions for liturgy to adjust, according to the spiritual needs of the different places, the celebrations required of each priest in his parish and to put an end to the arbitrary practices that are occurring more and more every day.”


We have sifted here and there through an abundant harvest. Proposals and projects, in their manifold variety, reflect one identical light: the intimate desire for renewal and adaptation of the “laus perennis” to the current spiritual needs of the clergy and the “plebs Dei.” We have wanted to report with absolute fidelity, often in their own words, the thoughts of our collaborators, so that their voice may reach our readers without distortion or misrepresentation, but in its genuine integrity. While we warmly thank all those who have joined us in this common endeavour, which we hope will bear fruit “tempore opportuno,” we also confirm that the pages of the Review will remain open to any other collaboration that, both in intention and in formulation, adheres to a wise balance between “nova et vetera.”

Rome, March 1949.

Msgr. Bugnini 18 years later, celebrating the Missa Normativa at the 1967 Synod of Bishops

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