Wednesday 3 January 2018

On Liturgical "Experts" and Selective Citations

The introduction that Benedict XVI has written for the recently-published festschrift on the occasion of Cardinal Müller's 70th birthday has drawn a few comments, specifically on what the Pope Emeritus has to say about the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. An English translation of the full text can be found at Rorate Caeli, but here is the relevant extract:
In the confused times in which we are living, the whole scientific theological competence and wisdom of he who must make the final decisions seem to me of vital importance. For example, I think that things might have gone differently in the Liturgical Reform if the words of the experts had not been the last ones, but if, apart from them, a wisdom capable of recognising the limits of a "simple" scholar's approach had passed judgement.
Fr Anthony Ruff over at PrayTell has picked up Fr Matias Augé's blog post critical of these brief remarks of Benedict XVI, with Fr Ruff writing that it is "not quite accurate to claim that experts were the final authority on the reform of the liturgy". A citation from p. 383 of Annibale Bugnini's memoirs The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Liturgical Press, 1990), detailing a handwritten note from Paul VI to Benno Cardinal Gut (at the time, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites), is given as evidence that Paul VI was intimately involved in the reforms at every stage.

However, Fr Augé and Fr Ruff are rather selective in their citations from Bugnini's memoirs. One of the other handwritten notes from Paul VI to Cardinal Gut detailed by Bugnini, regarding the lectionary, reads as follows (Reform, p. 420, my emphasis):
In the very limited time allowed me, I have not been able to get a complete and detailed grasp of this new and extensive Ordo lectionum Missae.
But because of the confidence I have in the skilled and devout individuals who spent a long time compiling it, and because of the trust I owe to the Congregation for Divine Worship, which has examined and corrected it with such expert care, I gladly approve it in the name of the Lord.
The feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 1969.
Paul VI, Pope
What else is this but an admission from Paul VI himself that he left the complete overhaul of the Roman Mass lectionary to the experts, merely rubber-stamping it at the end of the process? And why was he only "allowed" around one month to examine the OLM (he received the proofs in May 1969)?

From Bugnini's account, it is apparent that Paul VI involved himself more in the reform of, for example, the Order of Mass than some other aspects. But even here, the Pope had to fight against the experts in order to make sure that the new offertory formulas actually had the word "offer" in them (p. 371)! Moreover, even after his decision in 1966 that the Roman Canon was to remain unchanged in the reform (p. 450), the experts tinkered with the words of institution and made parts of the Canon optional. Again, in 1967, the Pope insisted that the words of consecration in the Canon not be changed, and the experts basically ignored him (p. 462).

With regards to vernacular translations of the Roman Canon, Bugnini also lets slip that in 1967:
The Holy Father had asked that the translations be ''faithful and literal,'' but in fact practically no liturgical commission was observing this criterion. (p. 168)
Yes, ultimately Paul VI was the final authority, insofar as he was required to approve and promulgate the reformed liturgical books. However, when one reads the whole of Bugnini's memoirs, in many respects Paul VI arguably comes across as negligent, naive, and often a prisoner of the liturgical establishment "experts".

In short, the "experts" may not have been the final de jure authority, but for large parts of the post-conciliar reform, they very much seem to have been the de facto one.

1 comment:

  1. Father Louis Bouyer's autobiography is also illuminating in this matter.


All comments go into the moderation queue, to help eliminate spam.