Pope Benedict v. Bugnini liturgy in Italy

The other day I posted about Pope Benedict’s message to Italian bishops meeting in Assisi in  plenary session.   His Holiness spoke of liturgy in terms that I thought were rather strong.

Sandro Magister takes the Holy Father’s words as a rebuke to the Italian bishops.

Here is some of Magister’s take:

The Pope Rattles the Bishops: “Learn from Saint Francis”

He really knew what true liturgical reform is, writes Benedict XVI in a message that is a severe rebuke to the Italian Catholic hierarchy. Where, in the liturgical field, Ratzinger’s opponents continue to prevail

by Sandro Magister

ROME, November 12, 2010 – The last two popes, on numerous occasions, have pointed to the Italian Church and its episcopate as a “model” for other nations.

There is one field, however, in which the Italian Church does not shine. It is that of the liturgy.  [I can attest to that!]

This was made clear by the severe lesson that Benedict XVI gave to the Italian bishops gathered in Assisi for their general assembly from November 8-11, an assembly centered on an examination of the new translation of the Roman missal.

In the message that he addressed to the bishops on the eve of the assembly, pope Joseph Ratzinger did not limit himself to greetings and good wishes. He was the one to dictate the criteria of a “true” liturgical reform. [The Bishops of Rome has a special role in the Italian Bishops Conference.  He is one of them, but he isn’t at all one of them, so to speak.  He appoints the President.  At the same time, when the Pope reveals his mind to this group of bishops, other groups of bishops would do well to pay attention, even though they don’t share the same sort of position.]

“Every true reformer,” he wrote, “is obedient to the faith: he does not act in an arbitrary manner, he does not appropriate any discretion over the rite; he is not the owner, but the custodian of the treasury instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us. The whole Church is present in every liturgy: adhering to its form is a condition of authenticity for what is celebrated.” [Italian bishops cannot simply ignore the universal laws of the Church when it comes to liturgy.  That includes Summorum Pontificum, by the way.]

The pope gave as an example of genuine liturgical reform the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which put into the hands of the priests the “Breviary” with the liturgy of the hours, and reinforced the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic bread and wine.

Those were the times of Saint Francis of Assisi. And Benedict XVI dedicated a good part of his message to illustrating for the Italian bishops the spirit with which that great saint obeyed that liturgical reform, and made his friars obey it.

Saint Francis, as is known, is one of the most popular and universally admired saints. He is a model also for those Catholics who want a Church that is more spiritual and “prophetic,” instead of institutional and ritual. In the liturgical field, they are pushing for more creativity and freedom.

But Benedict XVI showed, in the message, that [NB] the real Saint Francis was of a completely different bent. He was profoundly convinced that Christian worship should correspond to the “rule of faith” that has been received, and in this way give form to the Church. The priests, first of all, must base their holiness of life on the “holy things” of the liturgy. [I often say that Benedict has a kind of “Marshall Plan” to revitalize Catholic identity devastated for the last 40 years or so.  In this major project of his pontificate, liturgical worship plays a special role.  It is the tip of the spear, so to speak.  Moreover, you will often see that liberals who oppose Pope Benedict’s vision (and indeed a genuine Catholic spirit in general) will sneer at priests and bishops interested in solemn and high liturgical worship.  If you ever needed a convincing argument that we need more solemn, careful, traditional transcendent liturgical worship, it should be enough to know that liberals detest it and ridicule those who want it.]


Curiously, the Italian bishops to whom the pope addressed this lesson had gathered this time in none other than Assisi, the city of Francis.

And the bishop of Assisi is Domenico Sorrentino, an expert on the liturgy, but not of an approach like that of Ratzinger[Ahhhh, yes.  Sorrentino.   When he was sent to Assisi as ordinary, I was reminded of the old phrase in the Stations of the Cross by St. Alphonsus: “And they closed the tomb, and all withdrew.”]

In 2003, Archbishop Sorrentino was appointed secretary of the Vatican congregation for divine worship. But he lasted only two years. Shortly after he became pope, Ratzinger transferred him to Assisi, and replaced him with someone extremely faithful to him in liturgical matters, Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka, today archbishop of Colombo and soon to be named a cardinal.

Before 2003, for five years, the secretary of the congregation for divine worship had been another Italian expert on the liturgy, Francesco Pio Tamburrino, [Ahhh yes, Tamburrino…] a Benedictine monk. But his stance was also contrary to that of the cardinal prefect of the congregation at the time, the “Ratzingerian” Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez. And in fact, he was also removed and transferred to a diocese, that of Foggia. [And that big stone rooooollllls into place.]

Sorrentino and Tamburrino are two prominent figures of the commission for the liturgy of the Italian episcopal conference. But also on this commission, until a short time ago, was Luca Brandolini, bishop of Sora, who distinguished himself by proclaiming a sort of protest “bereavement” when in 2007 Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum,” which liberalized the use of the ancient rite of the Mass.

In electing the members of the commission for the liturgy, the Italian bishops have always given preference to their colleagues of this tendency, whose inspiration comes from the architects of the liturgical reform following Vatican Council II, in particular Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro and the main conceptualizer and executor of that reform, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini. [In other words, diametrically opposed to Papa Ratzinger’s vision.]

The negative results of that reform are what Benedict XVI is working against. [As I was saying.] But Paul VI had already seen its abuses, and was so pained by them that in 1975 he removed Bugnini and sent him into exile in Iran as the apostolic nuncio there.

[NB] But the sentiment of the majority of the Italian bishops and clergy continues to be influenced by the “Bugnini line.” The excesses seen in other European Churches are rare in Italy, but the predominant style of celebration is more “assembly-focused” than “turned toward the Lord,” as pope Ratzinger wants it to be[With a heavy dose of just plain lazy punctuated by syrupy faux-pastoral warmth.]

The Italian episcopal conference is a special case, compared with all the others. It has a direct connection to the bishop of Rome. And in fact, its president is not elected, but appointed by the pope.

Introducing the work of the episcopal conference in Assisi on November 8, the current president, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, cited a comment by Ratzinger on the fact that Vatican Council II dedicated its first session precisely to the liturgy:

“By starting with the subject of the liturgy, it unequivocally put in the spotlight the primacy of God, the absolute priority of the topic ‘God’. Before everything, God: this is what starting with the liturgy says. Wherever attention to God is not the deciding factor, everything else loses its orientation.”

But in order to understand more deeply the meaning of the “reform of the reform” desired by pope Ratzinger, the following is what he wrote to the Italian bishops about the liturgy.


The documentation of the assembly of the Italian bishops in Assisi, with the complete text of Benedict XVI’s message.

If there is going to be any meat and bone and blood in this New Evangelization project, and not just the usual jar of runny goo, our liturgical worship must be redirected.

We must rid ourselves of immanentizing tendencies in our worship and reorient ourselves to the transcendent.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. danphunter1 says:

    “We must rid ourselves of immanentizing tendencies in our worship and reorient ourselves to the transcendent.”
    Truer words are hard to find these days, Father,

    Beginning with a Papal mandate to only offer the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue and Ad Orientem worship.

  2. Flambeaux says:

    How do we do that, Father, when the clergy are an obstacle to restoration? How does one purge episcopal conferences, chanceries, seminaries, and parishes of the disciples of this Humanist cult?

  3. sawdustmick says:

    You know when you’ve been Tango’d !!!!!

  4. Flambeaux says:

    And that’s before you get to the uncooperative laity who’ll actively refuse to be led even if the shepherds do what they ought.

  5. Hieronymus says:

    If we are ready to collectively admit that the “Bugnini school” of liturgy is diametrically opposed to the spirit of Catholic liturgy (and thus the widespread, open juxtaposition of the “Benedictine” approach to that of Bugnini), why do we still have to act like the NOM is unquestionably orthodox?

    This same man whose liturgical ideas are now nearly universally condemned by orthodox Catholics IS THE ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE COMPILATION OF AN ENTIRELY NEW SET OF LITURGICAL BOOKS!!! He was also largely responsible for the drafting of the document Sacrosanctum Concilium. Why are we acting like these texts — that of the document and that of the missal — are sacrosanct? Why pretend like these documents have been a great blessing for the Church, if only those ever-anonymous “liturgical abusers” would not have used them as an excuse to break with the past.

    Until we identify the root of the problem we cannot be rid of it. If Bugnini meant for Sacrosantum Concilium and the NOM to be perfectly in line with the Church’s liturgical praxis, then he had a severe case of multiple personality disorder — traditional Catholic while writing documents, revolutionary while expounding on his beliefs to others . If he did not mean for them to be in line, then we need to stop deluding ourselves and making these documents what they clearly are not.

    We need to pick a horn and deal with the difficulties of that choice. For my part, miltipersonality-Bugninism seems to me nonsensical.

  6. Flambeaux says:

    He was also wielding the scissors responsible for the reforms in the decade before the Council. I think the answer to “why ought the NOM be considered unquestionably orthodox given the hand that wrought it?” is to be found in the mystery of the indefectibility of the Church.

    I agree, from a human perspective, squaring that circle is difficult, if not impossible. I’m glad such reconciliations are well above my pay grade, so to speak. But is it any more “impossible” a thing to accept than the facts of Transsubstantiation or the Hypostatic Union — facts which we take for granted?

  7. TJerome says:

    I am not familiar with liturgical practice in Italy either before or after the Council. Does anyone have any recollection of what it was like before the Council and why it fell on hard times? I cannot imagine all of the Italian bishops were Bugnini adherents. I am thinking of Pope John I when I say this.

  8. chironomo says:

    Aristotle posted a very good link on my Facebook page the other day on a related topic “10 Reasons Why Modernist Christianity Will Die”. For me, it brought a lot of ideas into focus and gave some substance to my gut feeling that here are major changes underway and the progs can do little to stop it. They are imploding! Obviously the Holy Father wishes to save them before they are too far gone…

    The Link to the article mentioned above:


  9. LorrieRob says:

    Although I have never experienced the Mass in Latin, I can appreciate that it would provide a rich and special historical connection to the origins of our faith. Pope Benedict’s decision to allow that expression of the liturgy seems very sound. But, the attachment to certain aspects, such as receiving the host on the tongue versus in the hand or the orientation of the Priest are puzzling to me except as a practice a person was accustomed to, found meaningful and like most of us with such things, prefers not to change. Can anyone readily share the history of when and how these practices began in the liturgy of the church since a plain reading of scripture certainly supports receiving the host in the hand as well as receiving “both kind?”

  10. Martial Artist says:

    Fr. Z,

    We must rid ourselves of immanentizing tendencies in our worship and reorient ourselves to the transcendent.

    Amen! Amen! A thousand times Amen! From your and our lips to the ear of God.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith T&oum;pfer

  11. Hidden One says:

    There is a certain saying worth recalling: “When the feminists become saints, I’ll become a feminist.”

    When we traditionalists become saints…

    It is easy for us to criticize others and attack others and call others to reform; it is difficult for us to become holy. Too often it seems to me that we appraise each other thus: “X supported Bishops A, B, and C, on subject Z while justly criticizing Cardinal D’s conference on Topic E. Even though he sympathized with Fathers P and Q, he’s still a good guy, just a bit mixed up about homily length.” We must consider that Satan accuses us to God saying, “X supported Bishops A, B, and C, (scandalizing F who knew about Bishop A’s grave personal defect) all the while ignoring his own bishops directive to do Y. Then he slandered Cardinal D and procrastinated by writing supportive essays about Fathers P and Q. On top of that, he spends more time timing homilies than paying attention to them.”

    The personal appeal of Pope Benedict’s words is that they are predicated on his sanctity. Cor sanctus bene loquitur.

    [Not only. The appeal of Benedict’s words is that they are right. Truth and beauty and holiness all being reflections of the same thing.]

  12. Hieronymus, my thoughts exactly.

  13. quovadis7 says:

    Hieronymus, I also agree with you to a large extent….

    Perhaps, giving the orthodoxy of the Novus Ordo every benefit of the doubt, Flambeaux is right about the indefectibility of the Church – i.e. that there in no inherent heresy in the reformed Liturgy – but it has LOADS of ambiguities or silence on a whole host of traditional Catholic beliefs. Is that a good thing???

    However, one can readily see also an inherent contradiction between what then Card. Ratzinger said:

    “By starting with the subject of the liturgy, it unequivocally put in the spotlight the primacy of God, the absolute priority of the topic ‘God’. Before everything, God: this is what starting with the liturgy says. Wherever attention to God is not the deciding factor, everything else loses its orientation.”

    and what the Council Fathers themselves said in Sancrosanctum Concilum, paragraph 14:

    “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else…”

    @ Hidden One:

    The issue isn’t and shouldn’t be one of pointing fingers at the faults/sins of the “liberals” – instead, it should be pointing out the merits/demerits of how the Liturgy gives proper and preferential worship and glory to God vs. “glorification of the community.” In my book, the EF Liturgy’s merits wrt giving God His proper and due worship and glory are unquestionable. Even the mere use of Latin in the EF Liturgy makes a clarion call to the fact that “Before everything, God.”

    The problem, IMHO, is that our Bishops haven’t made liturgical catechesis of the faithful a priority for 50+ years, even though Sancrosanctum Concilium itself ( see paragraphs 18 & 19) called for them and their Priests to do so. Uh, hello Bishops! When are you finally going to make that a priority???

    Jeffry Pinyan’s book series “Praying the Mass” (his new book in the series will be coming out very soon – see http://www.prayingthemass.com) is an excellent resource for the faithful to get themselves liturgically catechized. My words cannot give it enough accolades for the service it can do in & for the Church – keep up the GREAT work Jeff!

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B
    Plano, TX

  14. pewpew says:

    @Flambeaux: Brick. By. Brick.

  15. Geremia says:

    @quovadis7 and Flambeaux:

    Sancrosanctum Concilum is not infallible like a dogmatic pronouncement. And technically a Catholic mass with the correct matter and form and where the priest only says the words of consecration would still be a mass, provided the bishop approved it, no? The EF is extrinsically superior to the OF, though, because it is indeed closest to the mass Pope Pius V said must remain unchanged until the end of time (Quo Primum: “…will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it under the penalty of Our displeasure.” Boy, he must be displeased… St. Pius V, pray for us!).

    The majority of Catholics did not want the Novus Ordo, and even Pope Paul VI realized this. He said:

    Pope Paul VI to a general audience,November 26, 1969:

    Our Dear Sons and Daughters:

    1. We ask you to turn your minds once more to the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass. This new rite will be introduced into our celebration of the holy Sacrifice starting from Sunday next which is the first of Advent, November 30 [in Italy].

    2. A new rite of the Mass: a change in a venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries. This is something that affects our hereditary religious patrimony, which seemed to enjoy the privilege of being untouchable and settled. It seemed to bring the prayer of our forefathers and our saints to our lips and to give us the comfort of feeling faithful to our spiritual past, which we kept alive to pass it on to the generations ahead.

    3. …This change will affect the ceremonies of the Mass. We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed …

    4. We must prepare for this many-sided inconvenience. It is the kind of upset caused by every novelty that breaks in on our habits. We shall notice that pious persons are disturbed most, because they have their own respectable way of hearing Mass, and they will feel shaken out of their usual thoughts and obliged to follow those of others. Even priests may feel some annoyance in this respect.

    5. So what is to be done on this special and historical occasion? First of all, we must prepare ourselves. This novelty is no small thing. We should not let ourselves be surprised by the nature, or even the nuisance, of its exterior forms….

    6. … A prophetic moment is occurring in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church. This moment is shaking the Church…

    8. It is here that the greatest newness is going to be noticed, the newness of language. No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. [NOTE: Vatican II specifically stated that Canon of the Mass was to remain in Latin] The introduction of the vernacular will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power and the expressive sacrality of Latin. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant. [NOTE: Vatican II specifically stated that Gregorian chant was to remain].

    9. We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? …

    Also, if the bishops educated their flocks better—such as mandating all Catholics in their dioceses to read Fr. Gihr’s excellent book on the mass, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, especially the section on language in the liturgy—all the faithful would be more emboldened to trash the OF, speak the truth (e.g., of the evils of contraception and the necessity of praying for aborted peoples’ souls), and jar ourselves—especially our bishops—out of the Masonic lala-land of relativism, religious syncretism, and “dialogue” with false religions, as though we have need of them. All this would follow from seeking justice first, a justice that renders to God a Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that He deserves, according to how He wants it. (The Novus Ordo is the golden calf of our times; we honestly think it is good worship—and it might be according to mostly human standards—but it is not exactly what God Himself prescribed through tradition and revelation.) Some of us are very afraid of realizing that the Catholic Church is HOLY and SACRED, the only 100% true, God-founded religion; this scares both us and non-Catholics alike—especially those Freemasons (possibly including Bugnini: judge from his fruits!) who plot to destroy her once and for all. But it is true.

    Lex orandi, lex credendi!

  16. Hidden One says:

    @Fr.Z. “[Not only. The appeal of Benedict’s words is that they are right. Truth and beauty and holiness all being reflections of the same thing.]”

    I agree that there is more to their appeal than the Holy Father’s evident holiness. Truth has its qualities, of itself. I contend rather that his sanctity is the cause of his words’ personal appeal, which is why I immediately referenced Bl. Newman’s motto. Someone like me simply paraphrasing or quoting the Holy Father (without attribution) is nowhere near so effective as the Holy Father delivering those words. Further, it seems to me that when the Holy Father is properly know qua himself to their recipient (direct or indirect) they are much more effective than otherwise. Of course, were the Holy Father wrong, his words would not strike that bit of us that recognizes truth even against our will, but it seems to me that, for many people, it is the nature of the human writing and speaking that makes them pay enough interior attention for the words to pierce to that depth. Fr. Z, I am not sure that we disagree on the basics of this matter.


    Seeing your reply, I was first tempted to merely point out that after denying the veracity of my comments, you promptly criticized the worldwide episcopate and thereby seemingly proved at least part of my point. In the interest of doing something worthwhile, I decided to write something more than that.

    There isn’t a traditionalist who can’t criticize opponents of his positions, especially bishops, until he cows come home. Such commentaries can be of great literary and rhetorical (and theological) merit, too, don’t get me wrong. However, I do think that it is unfortunate that there almost isn’t a traditionalist who doesn’t extensively criticize those who disagree with him, especially bishops. I call it unfortunate because I don’t believe that it is the business of most traditionalists to do so. I admit the possibility and even probability of exceptions to this – I am not one of them, though I too often act like it – but the legitimate exceptions are certainly rarer the practical ones.

    Don’t get me wrong – it’s not wrong to have traditionalist opinions, strongly held or not, and to do research about the liturgy and such things etc. I study the liturgy and its history and other favourite traditionalist topics and hold quite strongly a great number of ‘strongly traditionalist’ positions that I think eminently defensible – and which I do defend, with vigour, when necessary. But it is one thing to think, for example, that X has done something wrong, and quite another to say as much. Sometimes it undoubtedly needs to be said by somebody, even a (great) number of them. But again, I think it is typically said by a great number of somebodies whose duties in life do not require such. On most occasions that I have done it – a great number of times – I do not think that I have been in the right. About the remainder, I am unsure.

    Speaking about others is, as the Saints often remind us, inherently dangerous. St. Teresa calls comparisons “odious”. St. Josemaria Escriva, as I recall, noted that he had never regretted being silent, only speaking had he regretted. St. John of the Cross goes so far as to say that dwelling on memories is a major cause of sins. Many Saints are known for having condemned unnecessary talk, and I do not need to write about the spiritual lethality of detraction, never mind calumny, however unintentional.

    This sort of thing is why, every now and again, having reminded myself, I pull out a good quotation from St. Peter of Alcantara, and put it to use: “The trouble is that everyone talks about reforming others and no one thinks about reforming himself.”

    Please forgive me if I have strayed from writing what I ought to have written. I have tried the best I can to do something good. I hope that it is of use to you.

  17. Hidden One says:

    Postscript: I apologize for the broken html code in my last post. The italics should have closed immediately after the word “personal” and opened only for the word “doesn’t”.

  18. robtbrown says:

    Hieronymus says:

    If we are ready to collectively admit that the “Bugnini school” of liturgy is diametrically opposed to the spirit of Catholic liturgy (and thus the widespread, open juxtaposition of the “Benedictine” approach to that of Bugnini), why do we still have to act like the NOM is unquestionably orthodox?

    It depends. I don’t think mass celebrated in Latin ad orientem using the 1970 Missal is opposed to the “Benedictine” approach or orthodoxy. Although there are flaws to the Novus Ordo (e.g., the Offertory), I would not question its orthdoxy. The problems occur with vernacular versus populum celebration.

  19. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Can we start all over again?
    You know what happens when new wine is put into old wineskins…

  20. HighMass says:

    To bad the present Holy Father wasn’t Pope when Bugnini pushed everything through, Card. Ottavani & Bacci Warned Paul VI………fell on deaf ears…….WEll all we can Say is Praise GOD for Pope Benedict and may GOD grant him more Years!

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