Monday, March 18, 2019

Bugnini's Reforms (The Book)

Few figures have seemed so influential in the post-conciliar liturgical transformation of the Roman Rite than Annibale Bugnini (1912-1982), the Italian Vincentian priest (and later Titular Archbishop) who participated in Pius XII's and John XXIII's pre-conciliar liturgical commissions and then played a leading role in implementing the post-conciliar liturgical reforms. He was personally closely associated with Pope Paul VI until his sudden dismissal and eventual assignment as Nuncio to Iran.  As such he has been both much admired by some and reviled by others as "a ransacker of the liturgy, the man responsible for its devastation."

From its inception the goals and outcomes of the liturgical reform have been debated and argued over - unfortunately not always with appropriate prudence and charity. Not satisfied with evaluating the wisdom and prudence of what the Church has experienced, some have gone farther and sought to question the legitimacy of any real reforms at all (at least any reforms after 1570).

Into this fray, Yves Chiron's short but thorough biography attempts to clarify the actual facts of the nature and extent of Bugnini's impact. Chiron presents a basic account of Bugnini's life from his childhood and religious formation in a pious Umbrian household and his education in Sienna, where "he loved liturgical ceremonies early on and would visit several churches to serve Mass or sing in the choir." Bugnini joined the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), where he "came into closer contact with liturgical studies" and discovered the work of the great Idelfonso Schuster, who also influenced the future Pope Paul VI. As a young priest, Bugnini "experimented with a kind of dialogue Mass." In 1945, he joined the directorship of the review Ephemerides Liturgicae. He was one of the founders of post-war Italy's Centro di Azione Liturgica. Then, in 1948, he was appointed Secretary to Pius XII's Pontifical Commission for the Reform of the liturgy, from which he graduated to the more prominent role he played in the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar liturgical reforms.

It is the kind of life story that one would expect for someone who was so personally  and professionally devoted to the liturgy and became involved early on in the 20th-century liturgical movement. The controversy about Bugnini really revolves around the more fundamental controversy about the liturgical movement - about how and why it changed so dramatically in the immediate aftermath of the Council and embraced an apparently more radical transformation of the liturgy than most people (including most supporters of the liturgical movement and probably most of the Council Fathers) had ever expected. 

As Alcuin Reed notes in his Foreword to Chiron's book, the fact that there was a liturgical reform is not what is controversial, since there have been reforms in the past and will probably be again in the future. "Rather the controversy lies in the assertion made by many that Bugnini orchestrated and directed the liturgical reform beyond the mandate" of the Council and its liturgical constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. There exists, of course, a more extreme critique concerning the Council itself, but the issue here concerns the more mainstream argument about whether the final reform exceeded the Council's mandate (and the extent of Bugnini's role in it). 

As someone who lived through that period and who can remember the modest expectations that preceded the Council (from the very modest hope that the Council would insert Saint Joseph's name into the Canon of the Mass to the hopes of some that the Council would extend the use of the vernacular and would adopt a multi-year lectionary), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the final reform far exceeded the explicit expectations of the Council Fathers, who would probably not have voted so overwhelmingly for the liturgical constitution had they known what would soon be done in its name. (In the late 1970s, I asked a prominent American Archbishop, a "liberal" and a supporter of the liturgical changes, whether the Council Fathers would ever have voted for the liturgical constitution if they had known how much more radical the future reform would be, and he answered that they certainly would not have done so.) 

On the other hand, Chiron reminds us that Sacrosanctum Concilium article 50 did say: The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved. That same  section also called for rites to be simplified, certain duplications to be discarded, and certain older elements to be restored. Even if this broadly stated mandate did not intend to authorize anything as radical as what actually occurred, it at least leaves lots of room for legitimate argument.

The more extreme version of that argument clearly faults Bugnini personally. Thus, for example, Louis Bouyer in his memoir famously called Bugnini "a mealy mouthed scoundrel" and "a man as bereft of culture as he was of basic honesty."  To his credit, Chiron tries to avoid all such personal characterizations and attacks on his subject's personal character.

Whatever one's view of the merits of what Bugnini accomplished, it seems to me impossible not to conclude that it went well beyond what the Council had envisaged, whether for better or for worse. Even so, the fact remains that the changes all received the Pope's approbation,  however conflicted he may have been and however much (as some stories suggest) he may have really regretted some of the changes. And so the ultimate question may really be whether and to what extent Bugnini may have manipulated the Pope in some way (as Bouyer seems to  suggest) and whether and to what extent the Pope himself failed to control the process. Thus, according to Nicola Giampietro's account, Cardinal Antonelli recalled that on April 19, 1967, "Paul VI, speaking of the course taken by the implementation of the liturgical reform declared that he had been hurt by certain arbitrary liturgical experiments and pained by a certain tendency to desacralize the liturgy." Antonelli added .that the Pope "reconfirmed his confidence in the Consilium" and "did not seem to realize that all the difficulties had been created by the manner in which the reform was interpreted by the Consilium."

In the end, as we know, Paul VI did seem to have lost confidence in Bugnini, who as a result ended up as Nuncio in Iran. By then, however, the new Missal was a done deal. 

Other than as an historical question, does this debate really matter much now? The Council met in the early 1960s. By the time the liturgical reforms were being seriously implemented,  society was already changing radically from what the Council Fathers had been familiar with and from the kind of future they had seemed to envisage in their documents. Should anyone have been surprised that so many things (not just the liturgical reforms) turned out so different from what had been hoped and expected just a few years earlier?

What one can say, however, is that the post-conciliar period of seemingly complete and constant change (not just in the liturgy, but especially in the liturgy, the centerpiece of the Church's life and the area that touched ordinary people's lives so directly) seemed to destabilize and weaken the Church at a time of massive and extreme societal change, in other words, at a time when perhaps a stronger and more self-confident Church might possibly have served society better. The question then becomes: given the division and polarization the reforms produced, were they worth it? How to answer that remains as yet unresolved.

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