ITHOUT A DOUBT, one of the most influential cardinals at the time of the liturgical reform was GIACOMO CARDINAL LERCARO (1891-1976), Archbishop of Bologna. As was the case with so many other protagonists of the post-conciliar “liturgical wars”—such as Bugnini, Paolo VI himself, Lefebvre—Lercaro was the recipient of an immense amount of gossip for decades, stemming from intentions both good and bad. In January of 1968, Lercaro was dismissed from the Diocese of Bologna. Some people believe his dismissal resulted from American pressure following a very polemical homily by Cardinal Lercaro against the war in Vietnam. However, recent research by the historian Eliana Versace has dismissed this interpretation. 1
Most of my readers already realize that Cardinal Lercaro was one of the most influential actors in the post-conciliar liturgical reform, leading the commission that applied conciliar directives for a reformed liturgy. This makes him revered by one faction (identified as “liturgical progressives”) and deeply despised by another (“liturgical conservatives,” not to mention the traditionalists). In 1967, a Tuscan writer named Tito Casini addressed to Cardinal Lercaro a booklet: La Tunica Stracciata (“The Trashed Tunic”), with a preface by Cardinal Antonio Bacci. This booklet, along with the works of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, constituted the most critical voices against the liturgy’s “new directions.” It was nothing short of a vehement denunciation of Cardinal Lercaro’s labors to implement this new liturgy: efforts which Casini perceived to be a work of destruction.
This booklet made a big noise. Even Paul VI was forced to publicly defend Cardinal Lercaro and condemn the thesis contained therein. Five decades later, perhaps the reasons behind Casini’s booklet can be better understood, just as we can (perhaps) understand more clearly the reasons for Lercaro’s decisions.
IT’S NOT EASY TO SUMMARIZE HERE these polemics and judge the intentions of Cardinal Lercaro in carrying out the liturgical reforms in one direction instead of another. If we apply here the regressive method of history (represented mainly by Marc Bloch, founder of Annales), we may notice that the present situation of the liturgy could say to us something about how the reforms were conceived, initiated, and carried out.
I am not sure Cardinal Lercaro would be happy with the present situation, were he alive today. As for me, I would be very happy to understand the reasons behind certain decisions made by important church leaders during the 1960s and 1970s and if—assuming we may to talk with these church leaders now in heaven (as we all hope) and ask these questions—they would still repeat those same decisions with the benefit of hindsight.
To see more images of Cardinal Lercaro, please click here.
Video excerpts of Cardinal Lercaro are here:
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 An interesting article by the Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister, Montini, Siri, Lercaro. L’enigma del Cardinale Destituito (2011), mentions this episode and several possible interpretations.