Monday, July 06, 2015

Louis Bouyer on the liturgical reform

Fr Louis Bouyer
Louis Bouyer was one of the key thinkers of the Liturgical Movement, and was invited to contribute to the preparations of Vatican II (the draft schema on Universities, whose subsequent rejection by the Council gave him some satisfaction, since he didn't like it), and was a member of the 'Consilium', the commission given the extraordinary task of creating a new liturgy for the Catholic Church, between 1962 and 1969.

A certain amount has already been made of his posthumous memoirs, which have been published in French. They'll be available in English soon, I hear. Here is a taster, translated as part of an article (in the journal Antiphon, Vol 18.3 2014) by the redoubtable Dr John Pepino, the Patrologist at the FSSP seminary in the USA, Our Lady of Guadaloupe. It is from pp197-8.

I should not like to be too harsh on this commission's labours. It numbered a certain number of genuine scholars and more than one experienced and judicious pastor. Under different circumstances they might have accomplished excellent work. Unfortunately, on the one hand a deadly error in judgment placed the official leadership of the committee in the hands of a man who, though generous and brave, was not very knowledgeable: Cardinal Lercaro. He was utterly incapable of resiting the manoeuvres of the mealy-mouthed scoundrel that the Neapoltan Vincentian, Bugnini, a man as bereft of culture as he was of basic honesty, soon revealed himself to be.

Even besides this, there was no hope of producing anything of greater value than what would actually come out of it, what with this claim of recasting from top to bottom and in a few months an entire liturgy it had taken twenty centuries to develop.

Bouyer's description of personally bodging together Eucharistic Prayer II with Dom Botte in a cafe in Trastavere, before rushing to the meeting at which it would be discussed, has already passed into legend. He was, in fact, revising it by the time he got to the cafe, but the scorn he had for the haste and the amateurishness of the whole process is searing.

From p199:
The worst of it was an impossible Offertory, in a Catholic Action, sentimental / workerist style, the handiwork of Fr Cellier, who with tailor-made arguments manipulated the despicable Bugnini in such a way that his production went through despite nearly unanimous opposition.

From p199-200:
I prefer to say nothing, or so little of the new calendar, the handiwork of a trio of maniacs who suppressed, with no good reason, Septuagesima and the Octave of Pentecost and who scattered three quarters of the Saints higgledy-piddledy, all based on notions of their own!

Because these three hotheads obstinantly refused to change anything to their work and because the Pope wanted to finish up quickly to avoid letting the chaos out of hand, their project, however insane, was accepted!

From p200:
After all of this, it is not much surprise if, because of its unbelievable weaknesses, the pathetic creature we produced was to provoke laughter or indignation ... so much so that it makes one forget any number of excellent elements it nevertheless contains [he liked the lectionary and the Common Preface, for example, though the former was was too hastily composed], and that it would be a shame not to salvage as so many scattered pearls, in the revision which will inevitably be called for.

I look forward to reading the whole memoir.

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  1. Excellent to hear that Father Bouyer's memoirs will be available in English soon - long-awaited! Thanks for the taster and please do let us know, if you can, when it eventually appears.

  2. Thank you for this. Just one small query: Cardinal Lercaro is described here as 'generous and brace'. Is there a typo here, or should I know the word 'brace'?

    1. Oops, should be 'brave'! Corrected.

  3. A very revealing comment: "the Pope wanted to finish up quickly to avoid letting the chaos [get] out of hand."

    Of course, for Paul VI it wasn't just the Consilium and its output that were chaotic -- the liturgy was in meltdown across the Western world in the late 1960s and the Pope needed to do something. Rushing in the Novus Ordo was a case of "something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it." (With apologies to "Yes Minister").