Book Review: ANNIBALE BUGNINI (1912 – 1982) Reformer of the Liturgy

April 22, 2019
Source: District of Asia
Annibale Bugnini - The Reformer of the Liturgy

Book Review: ANNIBALE BUGNINI (1912 – 1982) Reformer of the Liturgy, by Yves Chiron (foreword by Alcuin Reid). Angelico Press, Brooklyn Ny, 2018, Pp 200. Price ₹1,744 ($18 USD)

The Original French edition of this biography was published in 2016 and was warmly welcomed by the traditional world.  Yves Chiron has already established a solid reputation as a historian of our times.  Though two of his books were published by the Angelus Press (the biographies of Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius IX), his latest book “Dom Gérard, tourne vers le seigneur” has some serious defects (cf. a critique by Abbé Jean-Michel Gleize SSPX in Courrier de Rome #609 (April 2018).  At any rate, this book on Annibale Bugnini merits some praise.  The 50thanniversary of Novus Ordo Missae has not unnaturally aroused interest in the history of it.  The book under review may meet the desire for information.  The author succeeds to a remarkable degree in condensing the biography of a man who is known for the creation of Novus Ordo Missae (and the subsequent disintegration of the Mass of all times).

Archbishop Bugnini is among the most controversial characters in contemporary church history.  For some he is the architect of the boldest and most successful reform ever accomplished in the history of the Church.  For others, he is ransacker of the liturgy, the man responsible for its desecration and his very name Annibale (Hannibal), seems like a portent of this devastation.  (preface).  Who is right?  Who is this man? Unfortunately there was simply no biography of this man in English.  And in Italian, we are told there are two official histories – a festschrift in honour of him (1982) and his own autobiography (Memoriale published in 2012).  Yves Chiron’s book successfully fills the gap to a greater extent in presenting the biography in a more objective stand point.

Born on June 14, 1912 to a pious family, he was fifth of seven children.  Three of them embraced religious life.  He loved liturgical ceremonies from early on. At the age of 12, he entered the Vincentians’ Apostolic School in Rome ( the equivalent of a minor seminary).  He received the cassock at the age of 14! (p. 19)  The same seminary housed the famous ‘Ephemerides liturgicae’ (a review founded in 1887).  “It was beginning of my liturgical vocation” he would later recount (Memoriale 36).  In 1945, his superiors assigned him to a Roman Suburb called Borgata Prenestiua, where he started to innovate different kinds of ‘participation’ in the mass (p. 24). In 1945 he became the director of the Ephemerides Liturgicae, which title he kept till 1963. 

In 1946, he attended a colloque organized by ‘Centre de Pastorale Liturgique (CPL)’.  After the meeting, he praised Père Duployé saying “I admire what you are doing, but the greatest favour I can do you is never to say a word in Rome of what I have just been hearing!”  This is crucial in understanding spirit of ‘liturgical movement’ at that time.

The role of Archbishop Bugnini in the reforms of Pius XII is rather minimal as opposed to what we usually hear (chapter 3).  His famous innovation ‘paraphrased Mass’ is definitely an interesting read. Also of note is his famous organization of liturgical weeks in and outside of Italy.  He played a key role in the preparations for the council, especially as a secretary for the Commission de Sacra Liturgia. The discussion that went on there is truly shocking and scandalous.  With the opening of the council to his exile to Tehran, he never faltered.  He ascended rapidly among the ecclesiastical ranks (and heavily backed by Paul VI at every step).

What is also interesting in his take on the ‘Lefebvre case’.  He seems to have suggested to Pope Paul VI ‘to avoid at all costs a break from which it would be far more difficult to return’ (p. 179).  He sent a second letter to Cardinal Villot proposing four commitments Archbishop must accomplish, if he wants to have ‘the authorization to celebrate the traditional Mass.’ The first one reads thus:  ‘a declaration that the “new” Mass is not heretical or Protestant and that those who composed and approved it are not heretics or Protestants’ (4 October 1976). 

We may be grateful to the author for giving us a clear and readable account of this ‘chief architect!’  The book is interesting and as such is recommended. 

On a critical note, the chapter on the ‘New Mass’ (chap. 8) is rather disappointing. Here the author seems to be distracted.  He presents at length the history of the New Mass rather than Bugnini’s role in it.  It is unfortunate as this should have been more useful for the readers. 

The burning question as to whether Msgr. Bugnini was a freemason is answered convincingly.

In spite of some other points on which one may disagree with the author, there is no doubt that the book as a whole is a solid contribution towards a better understanding of the brain behind the chaos! The author (and the translator) ought to be congratulated especially for presenting this volume in a readable fashion.  It does read like a thriller.  It definitely does open a new avenue on unmasking the authors responsible for Novus Ordo Missae.

Fr. Therasian Xavier