Dec 15, 2005

News & Views

Online Edition: December 2005-January 2006
Vol. XI, No. 9

News & Views

Monsignor Frederick McManus – 1923-2005

Monsignor Frederick R. McManus, professor of canon law at Catholic University of America (1957-93), and a key figure in the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council, died in Boston, November 27, following a severe fall in October. He was 82. His funeral was held December 2, at St. Joseph Church in Lynn, his family parish.

Monsignor McManus’s active involvement with the liturgy began soon after his ordination in 1947, and continued for more than half a century.

In 1958, the US bishops formed the “Committee on the Liturgical Apostolate”, and McManus was made a consultor to the bishops. That same year he became a columnist for the influential liturgical journal, Worship, writing columns interpreting liturgical law. He later became associate editor of Worship, from 1968 to 1976.

He served as president of the Liturgical Conference in the US (1959-62 and 1964-65), and was a peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council. He was appointed to the Council’s Liturgy Commission and drafted portions of the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

After the Council, Monsignor McManus played an unprecedented role in transforming the liturgy in the United States and in the English-speaking world.

He was a member of the Consilium, a group of liturgical experts appointed by Pope Paul VI to implement the liturgical reform following the Council, including revising all the liturgical books.

He was a founding member of ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), the “mixed commission” established in 1964 to provide English translations of all the liturgical texts, and was its executive secretary and treasurer for decades. He was also instrumental in organizing the ecumenical International Consultation on English Texts (ICET), which provided texts still used for Catholic liturgy. (ICET was dissolved in 1975, and its successor is the English Language Liturgical Consultation).

In 1963, Cardinal John Deardon, chairman of the newly formed Liturgy Committee of the US bishops’ conference, appointed Monsignor McManus executive director of the secretariat, an office he held until he resigned in 1975, though he remained a lifetime consultant to the Committee. In 1968-70 he organized the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC).

Monsignor McManus helped draft principles for liturgical translation into the vernacular languages, which were later incorporated into the 1969 translation guidelines known as Comme le prévoit, which would prevail until the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam appeared in 2001.

Also in 1969, Monsignor McManus was appointed a member of the commission that compiled the 1983 Code of Canon Law. He was editor of the influential canon law journal, The Jurist, from 1959 until his retirement from Catholic University of America in 1993.

Monsignor McManus’s influence continued even after his retirement. His ideas exerted strong influence in Catholic Church architecture, and he was a member of the American Guild of Architects. In 1987, he published Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal, his interpretative commentary on post-conciliar documents on the liturgy.

In 1995, the FDLC established the “Frederick R. McManus Award” in his honor, and he was its first recipient.

In 2004, he received the Jubilate Deo Award from the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), an organization he also helped found, and on whose board he had served. Although he was unable to attend the 2004 meeting, his address commented on the current state of the liturgy. (The address was published in Pastoral Music, October-November 2004.) He wrote, “Today there exists, in high and low places within the Catholic community, a body of ‘restorationists’ and ‘traditionalists’. It is a body that I suspect remains a small minority, however misguided and certainly noisy. Hundreds of examples of their disaffection could be mentioned”.

“The complaints”, he wrote, “may be easily dismissed as attacks on the Second Vatican Council and its two bishop presidents — John XXIII and Paul VI….”

He continued:

We may regret the weaknesses of recent “official” developments, such as current attempts to diminish the roles of laity, to mechanize the language of liturgy, to canonize as Roman a liturgy that is Franco-Germanic as much as Roman, and to legalize narrowly the openness of the great Council to adaptation and inculturation. In its totality, however, the positive far surpasses all else, and no door has been closed. If we have reached a plateau of liturgical reform, we should now move forward and upward.

In the same address to the NPM, he deplored the recent Vatican documents on the liturgy, which he believed impede progress:

Bold liturgical inculturation — including the breadth of pastoral music — has not been embraced with much official enthusiasm in recent years, certainly not in the stalemate and worse of Liturgiam authenticam and Varietates legitimae. But inculturation and progress cannot be denied. And, as we develop the present strengths of a reformed liturgy, we can look to a bright future for the Association.

Although his name never became a household word, the influence of Monsignor Frederick McManus on the worship of Catholics throughout the United States and the English-speaking world was unparalleled.

That his death occurred only days before fortieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council seems a fitting coincidence. For many Catholics, the most obvious effect of the Council was a profound change in the celebration of Catholic liturgy.

After forty years, the liturgical landscape has changed markedly. A new generation of Catholics — bishops, priests, religious and laity — now seek to recover their Catholic heritage, and authentic liturgy. They will look to other leaders as they work to bring about a new era of liturgical reform.



The Editors