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Theological Notebook: New Book From Retired Archbishop Shows Battle Over Liturgy

Archbishop's book tells of battles over control of liturgical reform

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a new book, a Vatican archbishop has chronicled the birth pangs of the liturgical reform generated by the Second Vatican Council and warned of a Roman Curia tendency to return to a "preconciliar mindset."

The book, "A Challenging Reform," was written by Archbishop Piero Marini, who recently ended a 20-year tenure as papal liturgist. His Vatican career began in 1965 in the office charged with implementing liturgical renewal.

Archbishop Marini recounted the rise of a decentralized and dynamic reform movement in the 1960s and its "curialization" in the 1970s by Vatican officials afraid of losing control.

Many of the hard-won liturgical changes were accompanied by tensions and disagreements inside the Vatican's central bureaucracy, he said.

The archbishop's book, published by Liturgical Press, was scheduled for presentation Dec. 14 in London, where the author was being honored at a reception hosted by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

The book offered an unusual look behind the scenes at the Vatican, beginning with the Second Vatican Council's approval in 1963 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which launched an extensive revision of Catholic worship.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI established the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, an international body that operated with considerable independence from existing Roman Curia offices.

From the beginning, Archbishop Marini wrote, the consilium's efforts met with resistance from traditionalist Curia members, who tried to curb the reform by "opposing real liturgical change and maintaining the status quo."

In 1969, the consilium was transformed into the Congregation for Divine Worship. Just six years later, the worship congregation was disbanded under growing criticism from other Vatican offices.

"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," Archbishop Marini said in the book's conclusion.

"As more and more time passes since the Second Vatican Council, an event charged with such hope and desire for renewal, its distinctive contributions seem to be increasingly questioned," he said.

The book focuses in large part on Italian Father Annibale Bugnini, secretary of the consilium and its driving force. As a young priest, Archbishop Marini worked closely with Father Bugnini and at one point was his personal secretary.

Under Father Bugnini, the consilium reflected the liturgical ideas and enthusiasm of local churches, rather than the more cautious approach of Rome, the book said.

Thanks in part to Pope Paul's strategic support, the consilium managed to introduce a succession of significant changes in the liturgy, despite initial efforts by the Vatican's Congregation for Rites to block or delay the reforms, Archbishop Marini said.

He said the Roman Curia's opposition took many forms: official and open disagreement, scathing articles published under pseudonyms, newsletters or pamphlets circulated among the hierarchy, and private meetings.

Hostility sometimes was based on hearsay. When the consilium conducted closed-door liturgical experiments in a chapel near the Vatican, rumors flew around Rome that "unimaginable heresies" were in preparation, the archbishop said.

Father Bugnini remained the central figure of the reform movement, and when Pope Paul made him secretary of the newly established Congregation for Divine Worship in 1969 -- the year the new Mass was promulgated -- it seemed like a moment of triumph. The new congregation's primary task was to promote and safeguard the Vatican II reforms.

But with the higher profile of the reformers, the Curia attacks became even stronger, the book said. One pamphlet circulated at the Vatican contended that in the new Mass "the existence of division and schism is officially recognized." Two Curia cardinals wrote to the pope and said the reforms showed an "alarming divergence" from Catholic theology.

Although the reforms continued and Father Bugnini was made an archbishop, his position gradually weakened -- partly because his own "single-mindedness, even stubbornness" had alienated others in the Roman Curia, Archbishop Marini said.

While Archbishop Bugnini was on vacation in 1975, the book said, several private meetings sealed his fate. Shortly afterward, the Congregation for Divine Worship was disbanded and Archbishop Bugnini was sent to Iran as apostolic pro-nuncio.

With these changes, Archbishop Marini said, "the distinctive style of the consilium was gradually absorbed into the more traditional style proper to the Roman Curia."

The archbishop said the difficult history of liturgical reform reflects "the prophetic vision" of Pope Paul as well as the limitations of his pontificate.

Archbishop Marini, 65, was the master of papal liturgical ceremonies from 1987 until last October, when Pope Benedict XVI named him president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.
Tags: ecclesiology, hierarchy, liturgical, second vatican council, theological notebook, vatican

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