Sunday 19 May 2013

Bugnini on Lectionary (2)

For anyone who has not been assiduously following  my series of posts on the revision of the Lectionary (shame on you), the journey started here, and may be followed by clicking on the tag Lectionary.

Over the last week, I have been reading (thanks to Thirsty Gargoyle and Ttony) the chapter on The Lectionary from Bugnini’s triumphant apologia.  

I had intended to summarise what he said, than compare what he said with what he did, and see what conclusions one might draw.

That is still the plan, but I realise now that it will take longer than one afternoon, and longer than one post.  So this is part one (somewhat confusingly, it is labelled (2) as I have already posted on this topic a while back: link later in this post).

Despite his book being rather like (as Ttony eloquently put it) a guide to the Cathedral of Hell, a few things struck me as interesting.

One is that the new Lectionary did not spring from Vatican 2.  Experiments were underway before the Council: in Germany, for example, ‘it had become the custom at Mass that while the celebrant was reading the appointed pericopes in Latin, a lector read in German other pericopes on which the homily was then preached.‘  (pp 406 - 407)  These were based on multi-year cycles. Similar practices were in place in Switzerland and Holland. It is clear from Bugnini that these experiments, pre-dating the Council’s deliberations, were foundational in the preparation of the New Lectionary.

So when the text for Sacrosanctum Concilium (hereafter SC) was prepared, some bishops had a much better insight than others into what was really intended.  I suspect (though I have more research to do here) that the same was true of a lot of the texts of the Council.  Hence, I think, what Michael Davies referred to as Liturgical Time Bombs were only surprising to some, but by no means all, of the Council Fathers, when they were later detonated.

Moving on to what Bugnini said about reforming the Lectionary, he starts by stating the goal of the Consilium (the committee established to revise the Liturgy in the wake of SC)

He quotes  SC: ‘more reading from holy Scripture... more varied and more apposite’ (SC 35.1) ‘a more representative portion’ (SC 51)   From this, he concludes that the goal is: ‘A new system of readings had therefore to be designed that would take into account the existing cycle, the findings of comparative liturgy, and the needs of today’s faithful.’ (p410)  

Where those three criteria came from, he does not say. But the second and third were very much of their time.

He then goes onto list the Principles which the Consilium would adopt. The basic principle is that:

the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation’ must be presented in the readings.  Therefore the new system of readings must contain the whole nucleus of the apostolic preaching about Jesus as ‘Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36) who fulfilled the scriptures by his life, his preaching and above all his paschal mystery and who gives life to the Church until his glorious return.

The new Lectionary must make clear:

- that the Church is today living out the mystery of salvation in its entirety, the mystery that found its complete form in Christ and that must also be completed in us;
- the mysteries of faith and the principles governing Christian life, which are then to be explained in the homily;
- that the entire Old Testament is presupposed in the Lord’s preaching, his actions and his passion;
- that attention to the central theme, the Lord’s Pasch, must not lead to forgetfulness of other themes, for example the coming of God’s reign;
- finally that the liturgical year provides the ideal setting for proclaiming the message of salvation to the faithful in an organized way.’ (pp410 - 411)

Again, how they arrived at these principles is not explained. They are, I suppose, fairly unexceptionable in a bland kind of way: how they could be used to inform any decisions is not clear to me, though that was presumably their purpose.  I am mildly surprised to see no reference to the other Persons of the Trinity.

To undertake this project, they seem to have done four things:

1 make ‘a systematic collection of the biblical passages used in the various liturgies, ancient and modern, Western and Eastern, both in the Catholic Church and in the non-Catholic ecclesial communities’... ‘to show how the Bible had been used in the Eucharistic celebration over the course of eighteen centuries... to identify constants and variants,  and thus point(ed) out a sure path that the new organization of readings might follow.’

2 Thirty-one Bible scholars were given the tasks of selecting from all the books of the Old and new Testaments the passages that they regarded as best suited for liturgical use.’ But the footnote makes clear that in fact, either one or two people were asked to look at each book of the Bible. The list they produced was sent to 100 other experts for comment.

3 Individual members of the Commissio  were asked to lead studies and draw up plans for different parts of the Lectionary, or notes on (eg) the Byzantine, Anglican Lectionaries etc.

4 Finally four members were asked to draw up schemas for seven sub-divisions of the Lectionary (eg Sundays of Advent etc).

This seems to me a process devised by a bureaucrat. The first step is interesting: the effect, of course, is to dilute consideration of the existing liturgical practice by making it one of very many practices studied, some of them Protestant (!)  Looking to Protestanism to inform Catholic Liturgy was certainly a novelty, to say the least. But the sixties were heady days. 

Steps two to four then bow to the cult of the expert: and their results will of course depend on which experts are chosen. But again, that was typical of the time: the Holy Father, cardinals and bishops were devolving responsibilities in a rather drastic fashion.  And the experts seem to have been those who had an interest in reforming the liturgy, so...  It is also odd how few experts were consulted and involved.

Of particular interest (to me at any rate) in the subsequent discussions is Bugnini’s account of the question: should the present (ie the traditional) cycle be kept or abandoned?  He writes: ‘Some members suggested that the Lectionary presently in use be kept intact and serve as one of the cycles, out of respect for tradition and for ecumenical reasons, since most of the Churches (sic) issuing from the Reformation use the traditional Lectionary.’  Referring to the Protestant denominations as ‘Churches’ is indicative, too... 

He continues: ‘the ecumenical argument was given great weight in the discussion,’ and relates something of that discussion in depth. He then deals with the argument for tradition (which, I infer, was not ‘given great weight’). He writes:  ‘The members of the group and the relators are of the opinion that the Consilium must not without good reason consider itself bound to the old Lectionary.’  Clearly, centuries of use and the weight of tradition do not constitute ‘good reason.’

He continues: ‘(a) this is the first time in the history of the Church that the opportunity has arisen of revising it, and this in hitherto unparalleled favourable circumstances and with hitherto unavailable tools.’  That is an extraordinary statement. It acknowledges the fact that they are doing something never before attempted, but instead of that reflection causing them to approach the task with some humility, it is followed by an enormously confident, one might say brash, statement of their readines for the task.

He goes on: ‘(b) if the old Lectionary, whose defects everyone knows, is retained as one of the annual cycles, there will be major differences between that cycle and the others;’  I find this very revealing of Bugnini’s attitude and presumably that of his colleagues.  We can do this job, because we are wiser than our forefathers who left us this legacy: a legacy whose defects we don’t need to articulate, but can merely assert to be agreed by everyone...

This mixture of (as I see it) arrogance and disdain for tradition is evident again in his concluding paragraph of this section : ‘The result was that the faithful could recover an understanding and taste for the word of God, after centuries of neglect and abandonment had caused the fresh and authentic stream of that word to be lost in rivulets and ravines.’ (p 417)

I find it hard to reconcile my knowledge of the saints of yore with that amazing metaphor; and I think it betrays an extraordinary prejudice, or even, one might say, ideology.

There was then a report to the Holy Father, which I have already quoted in full here, along with the Holy Father’s astonishing note authorising the changes.

In the next post in this series, I will try to look at how what Bugnini’s team actually did relates to what he wrote. But this feels quite long enough for one post!

1 comment:

Ttony said...

"Just because it's like this now doesn't necessarily mean that it always has to be exactly like this."

"Gosh! So we can change everything!"

When your copy of the book arrives you will see how what was done to the Lectionary was done to every aspect of the worship of the Church: from the administration of the Sacraments all the way down to the Book of Blessings; and all with the same hatred of the past - I was going to say Tradition, but I think, the more I reflect, that Bugnini's problem was with anything that was not new.

Looking forward to Part 2 (or 3, as you'll probably call it).