HEN historian Hubert Jedin critically examined the effects of the vernacular liturgy in a 1969 article printed by L’Osservatore Romano, Annibale Bugnini became “unhinged,” writing a polemical response that includes the following statement:
As a good historian who knows how to weigh both sides and reach a balanced judgment, why did you not mention the millions and hundreds of millions of the faithful who have at last achieved worship in spirit and in truth? Who can at last pray to God in their own languages and not in meaningless sounds, and are happy that henceforth they know what they are saying? Are they not “the Church?”
His argument is absurd for two reasons. First, it is incorrect to assert that Catholics cannot understand words in a different language. For example, just think of the word “Alleluia.” Or, think of “Kyrie Eleison” and “Amen.” The same for “Hosanna in excelsis” and “Et incarnatus est.” Until the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, the Mass was (for the most part) unchanging. To say that Catholics cannot put forth a little effort and learn the basics of the Mass in Latin is untenable, especially for those who understand the great importance of the Mass. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, even if one cannot give a “dictionary definition” for the word alleluia, praying it in Church is still pleasing to God if one has the love of God in one’s heart.
The second problem with Bugnini’s assertion is treated by Fr. John Parsons in his thoughtful article:
It is simply incorrect for Bugnini to say that a “black hole” existed from the 6th century until 1965 (when the vernacular was introduced) during which Catholics were not truly adoring God at Mass. Please carefully notice I am not saying the fathers of the the Second Vatican Council went beyond their rights when they allowed for greater use of the vernacular, declaring “it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used” (Sacrosanctum Concilium §36c).
I WOULD ENCOURAGE to read that article by Fr. Parsons. At the end, I also included some interesting comments by Kurt Poterack, who cites a 1995 article by Fr. Brian Harrison (The Reform of the Reform) which everyone ought to read. If anyone has access to an online version, please email me.
Fr. Parsons makes many good points, especially in the section mentioning the Eastern Rites. This is a subject I will be writing more about in the context of “Bugnini logic” (see below). The words of Pope Francis about the Eastern Rites are also worthy of consideration:
They have conserved that pristine liturgy, no? So beautiful. We [i.e. those of us who celebrate the liturgy reformed by Bugnini] have lost a bit the sense of adoration, they conserve it, they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not count. The center is God and that is a richness that I would like to emphasize on this occasion as you ask me this question.
[Original Italian: Hanno conservato quella pristina liturgia, no?, tanto bella. Noi abbiamo perso un po’ il senso dell’adorazione, loro lo conservano, loro lodano Dio, loro adorano Dio, cantano, il tempo non conta. Il centro è Dio e quella è una ricchezza che vorrei dire in questa occasione in cui Lei mi fa questa domanda.]
As time goes on, we’ll talk more about “Bugnini logic” … a type of pseudo-logic (accepted in the 1960s) which did great harm to the Church and is now undergoing evaluation by cooler heads. In particular, statements made by Bugnini in his book on liturgy are remarkable for their brashness, and often reveal an appalling lack of understanding for basic Catholic theology. It is very difficult for me to understand how those in authority could have been taken in. They fell for it “hook, line, and sinker” as my mother would say.