Thursday 10 October 2013

The Reform of the Liturgy 1948 - 1975

I have just finished reading the first section of Bugnini's apologia, and gave my initial, general impression in my previous post.

Here I will add a few more thoughts, and I imagine I will continue to do so as I continue my reading.

So what struck me?

One thing was the naivety, I suppose, of the whole undertaking.  For example, Bugnini writes that whilst we need to respect what is unchanging in the Liturgy, we must also review the way in which it is expressed so as to be able to proclaim it in ways that meet the needs of our time.  That sounds sensible, but it isn't.  The absurdity is even more obvious now than it would have been in the 1960s (and of course the book was written much more recently than that, published in 1983).  Given the pace of societal, and even linguistic, change, that would mean that we are necessarily going to have to re-write the Liturgy every few years; and given how long it takes to do the job, that means permanently.  That is clearly both undesirable and ludicrous.

Bugnini is very good at describing the liturgy as received with great respect in one sentence, and then proposing it is completely problematic in the next.  I don't think this is duplicitous, so much as lacking in self-awareness.

Which brings me to the second major feature: the confidence, arrogance even, of this man and the people who thought like him.  He is clear that the liturgy 'may contain priceless elements that have been sanctified by age-old tradition and are therefore to some extent untouchable, and are to be approached only with respect love and veneration.' Yet never once does he express any sense of humility or awe with regard to the task he is undertaking; on the contrary, he is confident that his committees of experts are just the people to do the job, and do it thoroughly.

Which leads me to another point: he is boring.  That may seem unkind, but what I mean is that he approaches the task as a bureaucrat: it is a job to be done, and he will organise things so that it gets done. There are frequent pious expressions: 'the only legitimate attitude is uncompromising defense of what is truly an untouchable patrimony because it is in some way inherent in the nature of the rites, and a diligent and scrupulously careful evaluation - based on thorough study, meditation, and prayer - of the other elements of the liturgy, in order to adapt them to the teaching, mission, and mystery of the Church, which today, as in every age, must bring the message of salvation to souls by appropriate means.' Yet from the word go, it is clear that nothing is untouchable. Committees are set up to develop new schema for every part of the liturgy. A machinery is constructed and put in motion that, by its very nature, is likely to have only one outcome: radical change.  And it seems that it is in the organisation of the tasks that his heart lies...

Another striking thing is how dated it all is: particularly the sociology.  The assumption, for example, that there is only one correct way to do things: 'Profound participation in such a celebration is inconceivable apart from its joyous expression in song.' That strikes me as very typical of the 1960s - a brash belief in a new enlightenment: now we know how to do everything!  Likewise, the extraordinary belief that experimental liturgies can be validated by trying them out in a couple of parishes in Germany or Holland for a while.  These people really thought they could predict the pastoral impact of their changes on this basis, accompanied by the views of a small number of experts.  The naivety and ignorance are almost touchingly innocent, were the consequences not so grave.

I have to say that I have not enjoyed reading the first part: as I say he is boring on this stuff.  However, I have been dipping ahead, and it looks as though it gets much more interesting, at least in subject matter: the next chapter is on the introduction of the vernacular, a subject in which I am particularly interested.  Further reports will follow. You have been warned.


Matthew Hazell said...

Coincidentally, I am also working my way through Bugnini's memoirs at the moment, having managed to borrow the book. (It's very expensive! Were you fortunate to find a cheap(ish) copy from somewhere?) Perhaps we could compare notes?

I have just finished ch. 26, so I think I'm a little ahead of where you are, but I am in almost complete agreement with your assessments so far. The naivety and arrogance are astonishing in parts, and my wife and I have been utterly gobsmacked at some of the things contained in the book. For instance, even before the Council, there was an apparently widespread practice in Germany of lectors reading out different biblical passages in the vernacular while the priest read the prescribed Epistle and Gospel in Latin from the Missal (Bugnini, p. 401)? Utterly crazy! How could otherwise intelligent people think such things were a good idea? (I would love to know more about it from a historical viewpoint, though.)

My only disagreement with you is of your assessment of the the first part of Bugnini's book as "boring". I actually found it quite interesting - but, left to my own devices, I am that sort of person, i.e. quite boring! :-)

I look forward to your thoughts on the rest of the book!

Ttony said...

Perhaps we ought to form an "I've read Bugnini" group and offer each other counselling and after-care! Or maybe a one-off Catholic Book Club forum. (I have to fight off feelings of "We few, we happy few", however.)

I was lucky: I bought my copy via abebooks from an American company which was clearing stock from a wholesaler: it came wrapped in the original cellophane and only (only?) cost £30 inc p&p.

I still think of Bugnini as an archetypal bureaucrat (probably because I'm one) capabl;e of delivering whatever changes were demanded of him: if Pius XII has decided to undo all of the post-1570 reforms, Bugnini would have done it for him as easily as he did what he did.

Ben Trovato said...

Matthew: you are well ahead of me. Glad you don't think my interpretation is too far off!

Ben Trovato said...

I hope to graduate to that: at the moment I need the 'I am reading Bugnini' support group.

Fr Michael Brown said...

I can`t believe the prices people are charging for this book. I remember when the cathedral bookshop was selling it for a tenner. The chapter on the opposition is my favourite and I found it invaluable for researching my canon law tesina back in 92. The inconsistencies of the then CDW were very entertaining.

Ben Trovato said...

Father Brown,

Yes, it is very over-priced. I had thought my wife was getting me a copy for my birthday, but it came and went and all I got was socks or something.

So I am working from a library copy: very frustrating, as I can't scribble in the margins. Sometime when she's not looking I'll buy myself one - but as you say, the prices are extortionate.