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The Deacon's Bench

That was when American Catholics first stepped into church and experienced the “New Mass.” And Catholic traditionalist Kenneth J. Wolfe notes the event — and its aftermath — in today’s New York Times, citing as his villain Annibale Bugnini, who ended up writing the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy:

Many of Bugnini’s reforms were aimed at appeasing non-Catholics, and changes emulating Protestant services were made, including placing altars to face the people instead of a sacrifice toward the liturgical east. As he put it, “We must strip from our … Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is, for the Protestants.” (Paradoxically, the Anglicans who will join the Catholic Church as a result of the current pope’s outreach will use a liturgy that often features the priest facing in the same direction as the congregation.)

Bugnini.jpgHow was Bugnini able to make such sweeping changes? In part because none of the popes he served were liturgists. Bugnini changed so many things that John’s successor, Paul VI, sometimes did not know the latest directives. The pope once questioned the vestments set out for him by his staff, saying they were the wrong color, only to be told he had eliminated the week-long celebration of Pentecost and could not wear the corresponding red garments for Mass. The pope’s master of ceremonies then witnessed Paul VI break down in tears.

Bugnini fell from grace in the 1970s. Rumors spread in the Italian press that he was a Freemason, which if true would have merited excommunication. The Vatican never denied the claims, and in 1976 Bugnini, by then an archbishop, was exiled to a ceremonial post in Iran. He died, largely forgotten, in 1982.

But his legacy lived on. Pope John Paul II continued the liberalizations of Mass, allowing females to serve in place of altar boys and to permit unordained men and women to distribute communion in the hands of standing recipients. Even conservative organizations like Opus Dei adopted the liberal liturgical reforms.

But Bugnini may have finally met his match in Benedict XVI, a noted liturgist himself who is no fan of the past 40 years of change. Chanting Latin, wearing antique vestments and distributing communion only on the tongues (rather than into the hands) of kneeling Catholics, Benedict has slowly reversed the innovations of his predecessors. And the Latin Mass is back, at least on a limited basis, in places like Arlington, Va., where one in five parishes offer the old liturgy.

Benedict understands that his younger priests and seminarians — most born after Vatican II — are helping lead a counterrevolution. They value the beauty of the solemn high Mass and its accompanying chant, incense and ceremony. Priests in cassocks and sisters in habits are again common; traditionalist societies like the Institute of Christ the King are expanding.

Check out the link for the rest.

UPDATE: There’s an interesting discussion on all this raging over at Commonweal, where the author responds to some of his critics.  Check it out. 
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