Jun 15, 2008

Challenging … Challenges

Online Edition: June 2008

Vol. XIV, No. 4

Review Essay

Challenging … Challenges

by The Rev. Neil J. Roy

A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal, 1963-1979. By Archbishop Piero Marini, ed. Mark R. Francis, CSV, John R. Page, and Keith F. Pecklers, SJ. Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2007. Pp. xxi, 205.


Archbishop Piero Marini, author of A Challenging Reform, has for years been one of the most highly visible prelates in the Church, even if his name is not well known. For 20 years he appeared next to the popes at virtually every papal Mass in his role as Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations — until his appointment as President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses in October 2007.

His team of editors, who wrote the book’s Foreword and Epilogue and “reworked the manuscript in size and style”, constitutes a fair representation of the “inculturationist” liturgical agenda, and have been sharply critical of the Holy See’s revised procedures for translating liturgical texts into English, and other related matters. John R. Page was the executive secretary of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) from 1980 to 2002. Father Mark R. Francis, a Clerk of St. Viator, is associate professor of liturgy at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Father Keith F. Pecklers, SJ, teaches liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Athenaeum of Sant’ Anselmo on the Aventine Hill, Rome. Both Fathers Francis and Pecklers have written widely on the liturgy.

In the Foreword, the editors present A Challenging Reform as a pendant to the narrative of the liturgical reform published in 1985 by Piero Marini’s mentor, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, La riforma liturgica (1948-1975).1 Archbishop Bugnini was the controversial Vincentian liturgist who was a major architect of the liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II, and whom Marini served as secretary in 1975.

What follows is an exhaustive, play-by-play account of the formation of the Consilium for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Consilium’s transformation, in 1969, into the Congregation for Divine Worship, and finally, in 1975, its deflation and incorporation into the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, where it remained a subsection of the newly created Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Spanning a total of seven chapters, the account dedicates its first five to: the inception of the notion of a Consilium (October-December 1963); its gestation and birth (January-March 1964); its earliest activity along with its aspirations and challenges (March-June 1964); its emergence as the principal office responsible for the liturgical reform mandated by Vatican II (July-October 1964); and its engagement of that reform from the publication to the promulgation of the instruction Inter oecumenici (October 1964-March 1965).

The sixth chapter charts the activity of the study groups (coetus) charged with reforming the calendar and the Divine Office (groups I-IX), the Mass (groups X-XVIII), the Pontifical (groups XX-XXI), the Ritual (XXII-XXIII), and the Martyrology (group XXIV), plus the incorporation of elements from other liturgical rites into the Roman Rite (group XXVII), the inauguration of a code of liturgical law (group XXVII), and the liturgy of the papal chapel (group XXIX). A specific group of consultors and experts (periti) on sacred music would prepare a draft that eventually became the Instruction on Sacred Music in the Liturgy, Musicam Sacram. Other particular groups (not assigned numbers) included one on concelebration and another on Eucharistic Communion under both species.

In contrast to the first five chapters, each of which covers a period of three to six months, the seventh chapter condenses the fifteen years from 1965 to 1980 into twenty-seven pages (133-160). This final chapter follows the progress of the Consilium from 1965 to 1968, its role as a new Vatican dicastery from 1969 to 1974, then, upon the departure in 1975 of Archbishop Bugnini for Tehran as nuncio to Iran, the absorption of the Congregation for Divine Worship into the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, with a new title combining both names.

To Marini’s seven chapters, the editors add their own brief epilogue. Six documents occupy the ample Appendix. Two indices, one of subjects, the other of names, conclude the book.

Why this book?

Readers may ask, Why this book? After all, at 974 pages, Bugnini’s own account seems comprehensive. What need has it of a “complement and supplement” (p. ix)? Indeed the best parts of Marini’s book include the identification of consultors and experts who comprised the various study groups, and the handy list of the drafts submitted by the study groups. Yet this information is available in Bugnini’s far weightier tome.

Clearly the author and his editors consider it important to leave a record of their dissatisfaction with recent developments in liturgical renewal that have led to the current status of the liturgy in the life of the Church. The author bemoans the structural absorption of the Congregation for Divine Worship into the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments:

This was probably one of the first signs of a tendency to return to a preconciliar mindset that has for years now characterized the Curia’s approach. (157)

Displeasure at the current state of the liturgy emerges as a leitmotif at the turn of nearly every page, and reaches a crescendo in the question posed by the editors in the epilogue: “Would the bishops of the Second Vatican Council recognize the faithful implementation of their decisions in the present contentious liturgical climate?” (160).

(Readers eager to know precisely what the surviving Fathers of Vatican II have said about the revised rite of Mass would do well to consult “The Fathers of Vatican II and the Revised Mass: Results of a Survey”, by Alcuin Reid in Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal 10.2 (2006), pp. 170-190.)

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the book serves more as a “J’accuse” than a simple memoir. Bitterness and even rancor bleed through the text on many a page. Compared elsewhere to a spaghetti western with heroes wearing white hats and villains wearing black, the account is reminiscent likewise of a medieval chronicle, in which history, hagiography, and moralizing all conspire to tell a plangent, nay at times even maudlin, tale.

Marini portrays Bugnini in glowing terms as the tireless visionary and dauntless reformer who, advancing an agenda of inculturation and purportedly vindicating the cause of national episcopal conferences the world over, battles the prejudices of the Roman Curia enthralled by the ultimate foe, the Council of Trent. Time and again throughout the chronicle Trent rears its hydra-heads to threaten authentic liturgical reform. Its tinpot army is the Roman Curia, in the vanguard of which march and fight the Congregation of Rites, founded by Sixtus V in 1588 and dissolved by Paul VI in 1969.

Note Marini’s characterization of Bugnini’s attitude toward liturgical reform in contrast to that of the Congregation of Rites:

This new approach to liturgical renewal was entirely foreign to the spirit of the Council of Trent. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Congregation that had been instituted four hundred years earlier by the Council of Trent to safeguard a uniformity of practice in the celebration of the Roman Rite should argue against the right of the bishops’ conferences to make such determinations. (77)

Opponents of Bugnini’s aims or methods (particularly Cardinals Alfredo Ottaviani and Antonio Bacci) emerge as myopic, jealous, petty, and hopelessly démodé. The tale takes an abrupt turn, however, when Paul VI, heretofore Bugnini’s papal patron and mainstay, exiles Bugnini to Iran and reduces the Congregation of Divine Worship (formerly the Consilium entrusted with the execution of the reforms mandated by Sacrosanctum Concilium), merging it into the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments:

Instituted and then suppressed by Pope Paul VI, they [the Consilium and the Congregation for Divine Worship] stand as witnesses to the prophetic vision as well as the limitations of his pontificate. (157)

As long as Paul VI gave Bugnini full sway in matters of liturgical worship, the pope ranked as an enlightened ruler; once, however, he manifested his displeasure and reorganized the offices of worship and sacraments, he falls from favor:

The decision reached in 1975 can only be seen as a negative event in the history of the church’s liturgy. The Congregation for Rites, instituted in 1588 to safeguard the Tridentine liturgy, existed for almost four centuries. However, the Congregation for Divine Worship, instituted to implement the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, lasted for a mere six years. Even the most optimistic historian would be forced to suspect that the institutional suppression was hardly wise and that in the heat of that month of July, personal resentment seems to have prevailed. (156-157)

Despite his admiration for Bugnini, though, even Marini has to admit that Bugnini’s “style of working” provoked the resentment of others in the Curia. It was this very modus operandi that likely lay at the root of Bugnini’s ultimate demise and the termination of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Accustomed since 1964 to orchestrating single-handedly the entire liturgical reform, Bugnini easily managed his pliant supervisors Cardinals Giacomo Lercaro and Benno Gut. He ran seriously and irretrievably afoul of the Curia when he locked horns with the second prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Arturo Tabera. This turn of events is not without a certain irony, given that it was Bugnini himself who suggested Tabera as prefect. According to Marini,

It is likely that certain requests made by Cardinal Tabera to the Apostolic See when he was still bishop of Albacete and later archbishop of Pamplona were indications to the secretary of the Congregation [Bugnini] of a broad-minded vision in the pastoral-liturgical field. As bishop of Albacete, Tabera had requested permission from the Consilium to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word separately with children and then have them join the rest of the congregation for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Later, as archbishop of Pamplona, he had asked the Congregation for Divine Worship for the faculty to allow specially trained lay people to distribute Holy Communion or to allow the faithful to take the consecrated Host directly from the ciborium. The Apostolic See’s answers to both requests were negative, but this pastorally sensitive approach, together with an increasing “internationalization” of the Roman Curia, may have influenced Tabera’s appointment as prefect. (144-145)

By contrast with Cardinals Lercaro and Gut, who rarely interfered with the decisions and movements of the secretary, Bugnini, Tabera assumed a more active role in leading the Congregation (153). The conflict between prefect and secretary resulted in the transfer of the higher official to another dicastery. If Bugnini really was responsible for having Tabera appointed prefect on the death of Gut in 1971, and then, in 1973, having him transferred to the Congregation for Religious, then he became the unwitting architect both of his own downfall and of the dismantling of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Marini concedes:

It is quite probable that Bugnini’s difficult relations with Tabera constituted one of the most decisive elements leading up to the suppression of the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1975. (155)

Marini admits that Bugnini’s “single-mindedness, even stubbornness” (157) played a role in what the author describes as “an overreaction among the other Congregations of the Roman Curia” (157) and the admission to the newly constituted Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of “more traditional personnel who were more representative of the Roman Curia” (157).

Piero Marini was ordained a priest in 1965, served as the personal secretary of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini in 1975, and headed the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff from 1987 to 2007. Made a bishop in 1998 and an archbishop in 2003, he became the president of the Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses in 2007.

(His successor in the office for pontifical liturgical ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, bears the same surname, but is not related. Monsignor Guido Marini, the former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Genoa and spiritual director of the archdiocesan seminary in Genoa, has taken papal ceremonies in an altogether new direction, one much more sympathetic to the greater tradition of the Roman church and of the papal chapel, and one more obviously in keeping with Pope Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity”.)

The book would have benefited from a more disciplined effort to maintain an objective, balanced, and neutral perspective. Throughout the text readers cannot avoid the “hermeneutic of rupture” deplored by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.2 This is especially marked in the contrast underscored between Trent and Vatican II, and between pre-conciliar and post-conciliar mentalities. The remark cited earlier about the “preconciliar mindset” of the Roman Curia is merely one instance of this contrast. The emphasis on the “hermeneutic of rupture” is particularly disturbing not only in light of Pope Benedict’s unmistakable stress on the “hermeneutic of continuity”, but especially given that the book underwent the scrutiny of no fewer than three editors. On the other hand, the editors themselves, like the author, have identified strongly with the inculturationist agenda that has emerged since Vatican II. This agenda derives its justification and vigor from a particular reading of articles 37 to 40 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium.3

In future editions, the author and his team of editors might consider supporting hitherto unsubstantiated claims. The following remark, for instance, occurs without the benefit of a footnote for corroboration or merely for further study:

The fact that four Eucharistic Prayers were approved [for inclusion in the Roman Missal] was consistent with the early Roman liturgy, which actually had used several anaphoras. (141)

This may be an oblique reference to the anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) found in the early Church order titled The Apostolic Tradition. The precise status of this Church order in Rome and the actual liturgical use of its anaphora by Roman clergy are not at all clear, especially in view of the most recent scholarly research on this document.4 It would be useful, though, were subsequent editions of the book to specify this and any other of the “several” anaphorae covered by this claim.

History, so the adage goes, is written by the conquerors. Whether this account will rank as history, hagiography, or simply a bit of wistful longing for a Church that never existed and that is not likely to materialize in the foreseeable future, time alone will tell. If the red biretta should descend upon the head of Piero Marini in an upcoming papal consistory, then readers may surmise that his report contains an element of the prophetic, and has been received favorably in high circles.

The American book-signing tour for A Challenging Reform was originally scheduled for February 2008, but was postponed. Various unconfirmed reports indicated that Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone requested the postponement, and there was speculation at the time that the Holy See wanted to avoid controversy generated by the book tour before Pope Benedict’s April visit to Washington and New York. Last December 14, the publishers launched Archbishop Marini’s book in England in the presence of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor at a reception in the throne room of the Archbishop’s Palace.

The covers and flyleaves of A Challenging Reform bear glowing recommendations by Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles; Archbishop John R. Quinn, emeritus of San Francisco; and Father Timothy Radcliffe, former master general of the Order of Preachers and currently at Blackfriars, Oxford. Ecumenical promoters of the book include David Stancliffe, bishop of Salisbury and former chairman of the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England, and Geoffrey Wainwright of Duke University. The recommendations might have inspired more confidence had they appeared over such names as Cardinal Francis Arinze and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, president of Vox Clara, the international episcopal committee entrusted with the supervision of ICEL and the forthcoming new English translation of the Roman Missal; or Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Vatican-watchers and those who relish political intrigue may be entertained and possibly even amused by A Challenging Reform. For the serious reader, however, key works in understanding the liturgical reform, such as Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, or God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (2000, 2003 Ignatius Press), or other works on the organic development of the Sacred Liturgy5 may afford more nourishment and, in the end, more satisfaction.


1 Translation: The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1990).

2 See Joseph Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, trans. Salvator Attanasio and Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), pp. 34-37, esp. 35; Benedict XVI, Discourse to the Roman Curia (22 December 2005).

3 In Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 2 (Trent-Vatican II), ed. Giuseppe Alberigo et al., English ed. Norman P. Tanner (London UK: Sheed & Ward and Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), pp. 828-829.

4 See for example Paul F. Bradshaw with Maxwell E. Johnson and L. Edward Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition: A Commentary, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).

5 See for instance Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy (Farnborough, UK: St. Michael’s Abbey Press, 2004).


Father Neil J. Roy, STL, PhD, is a priest of the diocese of Peterborough, Canada and teaches liturgy and sacramental theology at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. He is editor of Antiphon: A Journal of Liturgical Renewal, and will address the liturgical conference in Cork, Ireland in July (See News and Views).



The Rev. Neil J. Roy