Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
Incidentally, Fr. Paul Robinson recommends the "dialogue Mass" and thinks it was a great development, and he's positive about the whole "liturgical movement" in general. There's an early episode of the "podcast" in the days when it was audio only, with "Andrew" (whoever he is) interviewing Fr. Robinson, in the days when the latter was still a seminary professor in Australia. The question was about the Pius XII holy week, if I recall.


There is of course a lot more that could be said about Pius XI and what a bad Pope he was in many ways. 

Dr. Byrne is quite right, but it goes far beyond just the liturgical movement. 

Pius XI had a fixation on the idea of "democracy" which seems to have completely warped his thinking, to the point where we find him supporting the League of Nations in the 1920s, sending a personal note of congratulations to the Second Spanish Republic at the start of the 1930s (he wasn't quite so fast in recognising Franco once the Spanish Civil War had started and it was clear that the Republic's days were numbered); the betrayal of the Cristeros in Mexico; the scandalous condemnation of Charles Maurras and the French movement Action Franciase... and more. And related to all of which, his general promotion of what he called "Christian Democracy" at the expense of monarchist movements, and the undermining of Catholic Action with his confused (and basically false teaching) that Catholic Action was the work of the clergy in which the laity participate, instead of it being the work of the laity in which the clergy participate - which in effect neutered the political clout of Catholics and turned Catholic Action from being about laws, politics, shaping the society in which we live... to being a matter of helping to clean the parish church every second Saturday of the month, or helping to do the flowers for the altar, or learning to serve Mass. All great things, but not Catholic Action. 

Pius XI has a lot to answer for - Vatican II didn't just spring out of nowhere!
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
How Bugnini Grew Up under Pius XII
Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

Fr. Annibale Bugnini, CM, was a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, an institution founded by St. Vincent de Paul (hence the epithet Vincentian) to preach the Gospel to the poor, as its motto, “evangelizare pauperibus” indicates. In 1947, a scandal arose in the residence where Bugnini and his co-worker, Fr. Francesco Bossarelli, CM, lived in Rome at the Church of San Silvestro al Quirinale, which belonged to the Congregation of the Mission.

Inside the murky world of San Silvestro: the ‘Bossarelli Case’

Bugnini and Bossarelli had been close collaborators, running the Congregation’s affairs at San Silvestro and editing its missionary publications, Edizioni Liturgiche e Missionarie.

Records from the Vincentian archives show that in 1947 Bugnini, as Secretary (see here) of the Congregation’s Provincial Council, (1) was in charge of its administrative affairs when millions of dollars of Vatican funds went missing.

A special Commission set up by Pius XII found that Fr. Francesco Bossarelli “and his associates” were guilty of embezzling $2,000,000 belonging to the Vatican in “black market financial dealings.” (2) (see here, pp. 49-50 and here, p. 2 - Shades of Sindona and the P2 Masonic Lodge).

The Provincial Superior at San Silvestro was dismissed by the Holy See for covering up the affair. Bugnini must also have had confidential knowledge of these criminal activities, a situation from which he could not have emerged with clean hands.

Hiding Behind a Shield of secrecy

Unknown to Pius XII, Fr. Bugnini had been making clandestine visits to the Centre de Pastorale Liturgique (CPL), a progressivist conference centre for liturgical reform which organized national weeks for priests.

Inaugurated in Paris in 1943 on the private initiative of two Dominican priests (3) under the presidency of Fr. Lambert Beauduin, it was a magnet for all who considered themselves in the vanguard of the Liturgical Movement. It would play host to some of the most famous names who influenced the direction of Vatican II: Frs. Beauduin, Guardini, Congar, Chenu, Daniélou, Gy, von Balthasar, de Lubac, Boyer, Gelineau etc.

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Archbishop Bugnini greeted by Pope Montini, who since he was a Monsignor cleared the way for Fr. Bugnini's work of destruction

It could, therefore, be considered as the confluence of all the forces of Progressivism, which saved and re-established Modernism condemned by Pope Pius X in Pascendi.

According to its co-founder and director, Fr. Pie Duployé, OP, Bugnini had requested a “discreet” invitation to attend a CPL study week held near Chartres in September 1946:

Quote:“I had a visit from an Italian Lazarist, (4) Fr. Bugnini, who had asked me to obtain an invitation for him… During our return journey to Paris, as the train was passing along the Swiss Lake at Versailles, he said to me: 'I admire what you are doing, but the greatest service I can render you is never to say a word in Rome about all that I have just heard.'” (5)

Much more was involved here than the issue of secrecy. The person whose heart beat as one with the interests of the reformers would return to Rome to be placed by an unsuspecting Pope in charge of his Commission for the General Reform of the Liturgy.

The Plot Thickens

But someone in the Roman Curia did know about the CPL – Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, the acting Secretary of State (6) and future Paul VI – who sent a telegram (see here, p. 3) to the CPL dated January 3, 1947. It purported to come from the Pope with an apostolic blessing. If, in Bugnini’s estimation, the Roman authorities were to be kept in the dark about the CPL so as not to compromise its activities, a mystery remains. Was the telegram issued under false pretences, or did Pius XII really know and approve of the CPL?

What is certain is that Fr. Bugnini could not have been appointed as Secretary of the 1948 Commission without Msgr. Montini’s intervention with Pius XII, as it was the Secretary of State who, in the normal course of Vatican affairs, had the biggest say in forwarding names for papal appointments.

Sow Bugnini, Reap Corruption

As history has shown, appointing Bugnini as Secretary of the Liturgical Commission was the equivalent of placing Dracula in charge of the blood bank. This monstrous figure was allowed to assume complete control of the Commission and to work against a centralized control of the liturgy vested in the Curia.

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Card. Bea, confessor of Pius XII, won the Pope to the cause of the reforms

His ultimate foe was the Congregation of Rites, which had been founded by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 to safeguard the uniformity of the Roman Rite. He complained that “for centuries the Church willed that all worship in the Roman Rite should everywhere show perfect uniformity.” (7)

His objective was to smash “the hegemony of the Congregation of Rites.” (8) Soon it would be reduced to a tin pot army incapable of defending the realm of the Church’s worship against his policy of “inculturation.” Then, it would be abolished by Paul VI in 1969.

Fr. Bugnini informs us in his posthumous memoirs that the Commission met in “absolute secrecy.” The result was that not even the Pope could be certain of its deliberations. The only updates he received were relayed through biased intermediaries: Msgr. Montini whose own credibility was bound up with the reforms and Fr. Augustin Bea, a member of the Commission, who had already been permitted by Pius XII to dabble in liturgical matters and break with Tradition. (9)

Bugnini stated:
Quote: “The Commission enjoyed the full confidence of the Pope, who was kept informed by Msgr. Montini, and even more so, weekly, by Fr. Bea, the confessor of Pius XII. Thanks to this intermediary, we could arrive at remarkable results, even during the periods when the Pope's illness prevented anyone else getting near him.” (10)

The reason for the secrecy was not hard to find: Fr. Bugnini’s agenda included liturgical deviations condemned by Pius XII in Mediator Dei, even though he could not introduce them all immediately. In the light of this collusion, the Novus Ordo of 1969 was simply the end game of a decades-long strategy masterminded by Fr. Bugnini with Msgr. Montini acting as his personal consigliere and “Grand Vizier” to Pius XII.

The Hermeneutic of ‘Bugninuity’

One of the most objectionable characteristics of Bugnini was his capacity for deception. He crossed his heart and swore repeatedly that he was carrying out the wishes of Pope Pius X and following the tradition of the Council of Trent in overhauling the liturgy. (11) His self-declared aim was to return the liturgy of the Roman Rite from a “dark age” of unintelligibility to “worship in spirit and truth” in which all could actively participate. (12)

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A reform already in practice in the '50s in Portland, above, and Kansas City, below

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This agenda was set out as early as 1949 in the Ephemerides Liturgicae, a leading Roman review on liturgical studies of which Fr. Bugnini was Editor from 1944 to 1965.

First, he denigrated the traditional liturgy as a dilapidated building (“un vecchio edificio”), which should be condemned because it was in danger of falling to pieces (“sgretolarsi”) and, therefore, beyond repair.

Then, he criticized it for its alleged “deficiencies, incongruities and difficulties,” which rendered it spiritually “sterile” and would prevent it appealing to modern sensibilities. (13)

It is difficult to understand how, in the same year that he published this anti-Catholic diatribe, he was made a Professor of Liturgy in Rome’s Propaganda Fide (Propagation of the Faith) University. (14)

His solution was to return to the simplicity of early Christian liturgies and jettison all subsequent developments, especially traditional devotions. (15)

These ideas expressed in 1949 would form the foundational principles of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium. For all practical purposes, the Roman Rite was dead in the water many years before it was officially buried by Paul VI.


1. Catalogue des Maisons et du Personnel de la Congrégation de la Mission 1947, “V1947” (1947), Personnel Catalogues, Paper 86, p. 73. Francesco Bossarelli, CM is also mentioned on page 73 as a “consultor.”
2. The special Commission insisted that the burden of repayment to the Holy See should fall on the entire Vincentian community around the world. To satisfy the Pontifical Commission, the Congregation’s Motherhouse in Paris asked the American Provinces to arrange for loans of the essential money because no other Provinces could raise the required funds in the aftermath of the war. It was not until 1966 that the debt was fully paid.
3. Frs. P. Duployé and A-M. Roguet. Its mission was to promote the Liturgical Movement by organizing conferences, encouraging research and publishing liturgical studies in its magazine, La Maison-Dieu, which was produced by the Dominican publishing house, Editions du Cerf.
4. In addition to the term Vincentians, priests of the Congregation of the Mission were sometimes called Lazarists after the Maison St. Lazare in Paris where St. Vincent de Paul had lived and worked.
5. P. Duployé, Les origines du CPL, Mulhouse, Salvator, 1968, p. 308. Forty religious superiors and seminary rectors were assembled there under the chairmanship of Mgr. Harscouёt, Bishop of Chartres, a supporter of Beauduin since 1909. Among the speakers were Fr. Daniel Perrot, Rector of the Seminary of the Mission de France for worker-priests, Fr. Pie Régamey, OP, editor of the review L'Art Sacré who advocated a minimalist style of church decoration, Fr. Yves Congar, OP, a progressivist theologian and pioneer of ecumenism, Fr. A-G Martimort, a convenor of CPL events and future drafter of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the above-mentioned Fr. Duployé, OP, and the ubiquitous Fr. Beauduin.
6. After the death of the last Secretary of State in 1944, Pius XII did not appoint a successor, but gave Mgr. Montini the role of “Substitute” and later “Pro-Secretary of State.” This does not mean that Montini was a minor functionary; he was responsible for both the Church’s external relations with other countries and the internal relations among the various other offices of the Church. In his capacity, he had discretion as to who should see the Pope, what information reached him and which persons should be considered for appointment to Vatican posts.
7. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-75, Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 42.
8. Apud Denis Crouan, The History and the Future of the Roman Liturgy, Ignatius Press, 2005, p. 136.
9. In 1945, Pope Pius XII approved for use in the Divine Office a new Latin version of the Psalms, the work of a committee of experts at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome under the direction of Fr. Bea, SJ.
10. The committee made a complete break with tradition by discarding the biblical and liturgical Latin that had been used in the Church since early Christian times. In its place they used a form of Classical Latin borrowed from the humanistic tradition of the ancient Romans, which had a different connotation. Even its rhythm was unfit for Catholic purposes as it could not be easily sung to Gregorian Chant. This innovation introduced by Pius XII could not be regarded as an example of the “hermeneutic of continuity.” Rather we should call it the “Beatification” of the Psalter.
11. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-75, p. 9
12. Interestingly, Pope Paul VI perpetuated the same myth when he stated in his Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum of April 3, 1969 that the Novus Ordo and the liturgical reform resulting from Vatican II were a continuation of the developments of previous centuries, including the Council of Trent.
13. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-75, p.283
14. A. Bugnini, “Per una Riforma Liturgica Generale,” in Ephemerides Liturgicae, March 1949. The “difficulties” he envisaged were references to “negative” aspects of reality such as punishment for sin, divine anger, damnation, eternal punishment, etc. He stated that a general reform would save the Church’s liturgy from the “sterilità” (sterility) and the “archeologismo” (outdatedness) of Tradition. See here
15. Also in the reign of Pius XII, he was appointed Professor in the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in 1955, Consultor to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1956, and Professor of Sacred Liturgy in the Lateran University in 1957.
[font=Georgia, Times, "Times New Roman", serif]Bugnini stated: “La riforma dev'essere concepita come un ritorno alla tradizione primitiva della celebrazione del mistero cristiano piuttosto che come un compromesso tra questa celebrazione in sottordine e le superfetazioni de-vozionali che l'hanno disarticolata nel corso dei secoli.” [The reform must be conceived as a return to the primitive tradition of the Christian mystery, rather than a compromise between a second class celebration and devotional additions that have disjointed it over the centuries.][/font]

✠ ✠ ✠

From the above article: "His [Bugnini's] solution was to return to the simplicity of early Christian liturgies and jettison all subsequent developments, especially traditional devotions." See also footnotes #12 & 15.

Almost every article that addresses Bugnini's role in the liturgical massacre that occurred in the 1950's-1960's mentions this defense of his - that his 'solutions' were a return to early Christian liturgies. But this 'return' has been condemned by at least two popes and any changes at all - no matter the rationale - have been condemned by the Council of Trent! 

Pope Pius VI, Auctorem fidei, Aug. 28. 1794, # 33:
Quote:“The proposition of the synod by which it shows itself eager to remove the cause through which, in part, there has been induced a forgetfulness of the principles relating to the order of the liturgy, by recalling it (the liturgy) to a greater simplicity of rites, by expressing it in the vernacular language, by uttering it in a loud voice…’” – Condemned as rash, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favorable to the charges of heretics against it.

Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, Nov. 20, 1947 #63-64:
Quote:Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.

This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the "deposit of faith" committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn. For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to paralyze and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father of their souls' salvation.

Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Session 7, Can. 13, ex cathedra
Quote:“If anyone shall say that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church accustomed to be used in the solemn administration of the sacraments may be disdained or omitted by the minister without sin and at pleasure, or may be changed by any pastor of the churches to other new ones: let him be anathema.”
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
The German Bishops Attack, Pius XII Capitulates

Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

Soon after he became Pope, Pius XII had to face a United Front of German Bishops that was adamant about promoting “active participation” in the liturgy in defiance of ecclesiastical law.

Numerous liturgical abuses were already flourishing unchecked in their dioceses, fueled by the subversive efforts of progressivist liturgists and theologians from the German-speaking lands: notably Abbot Herwegen and Dom Odo Casel of the Benedictine Abbey Maria Laach, Frs. Augustin Bea, Romano Guardini, Karl Rahner, Joseph Jungmann and Pius Parsch. In spite of the reigning liturgical anarchy, the German Episcopal Conference, headed by Card. Bertram, took the Liturgical Movement under its wing in 1940 and created its own Liturgical Commission, which operated independently from the Holy See.

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Archbishop Gröber strongly denounced the progressivist innovations, but lost the battle...

To form an idea of how far the mutinous German Bishops had plunged their dioceses into liturgical chaos, we can consult the 1943 Memorandum (1) written by Archbishop Conrad Gröber of Freiburg addressed to the German and Austrian Bishops and also to the Roman Curia.

Archbishop Gröber had broken ranks with his confreres in the Episcopal Conference and vehemently denounced the radical innovations in doctrine and liturgy practised by the reformers. He was voicing the complaints of many German Catholics who objected to liturgical changes in their parishes.

In his Memorandum he showed how the Liturgical Movement was a showcase for liturgical corruption directly related to the adoption of Protestant principles, (2) thus creating a lethally divisive culture of schism within the clergy. (3) It is noteworthy, though not surprising, that all the doctrinal deviations Archbishop Gröber mentioned as prevalent in 1943 were an exact replica of those that influenced the creation of the Novus Ordo of 1969. After all, many of the key figures of the Liturgical Movement would be promoted as periti (experts) at Vatican II.

As for the liturgical abuses, we can consider one of the most egregious – the singing of hymns in the vernacular during Mass, which was a long-standing custom in Germany. According to Archbishop Gröber, the German Bishops insisted on vocal participation of the congregation – even to the point of making it obligatory – and the use of German in the Mass.

The fact that this had been expressly prohibited by Popes Leo XIII and Pius X and confirmed in the Code of Canon Law (4) was completely ignored. Even though the Holy See, since the Council of Trent, reserved to itself the right of legislation in the domain of the liturgy, orders from Rome were regarded by the German Bishops as an intolerable intrusion of papal legislation and a threat to their supposed autonomy.

Pius XII Hoisted the White Flag

In 1943, the following demands were made to the Holy See by Card. Adolf Bertram on behalf of the German Bishops:
  • Approval for the Mass to be sung by the congregation in the vernacular;
  • A new and simpler Latin Psalter for the Breviary;
  • Extensive use of the vernacular in the Ritual (for use in the Sacraments, Blessings, Exorcisms etc.);
  • Celebration of the Easter Vigil ceremonies in the evening.

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Card. Bertram, second left, an adept of Hitler, and also of progressivist changes in the liturgy

Pius XII must have been aware that these abuses were already in vogue in Germany, as in addition to Archbishop Gröber’s analysis, strong objections had been published by conservative priests representing the concerns of the laity. (5) Nevertheless, Card. Bertram hoped to put pressure on Pius XII to authorize these reforms, and, as events have shown, his hopes were fulfilled.

He received an immediate reply from the Vatican permitting the High Mass (Deutsches Hochamt) to be sung in German by the congregation. So what had been illicitly done in defiance of Canon Law up to 1943 suddenly became an approved practice.

It was the same principle under which Paul VI would capitulate to pressure for Communion in the hand, Mass facing the people, laicization of priests etc. Regulations were being widely flouted, so why bother trying to maintain the rules?

A ‘Roll Your Own’ Liturgy

As for the other demands, the following concessions were readily made:
  • The Holy See approved the Dialogue Mass (Gemeinschaftsmesse) and left the vernacularized “Community Mass” (Betsingmesse) to the discretion of the German Bishops;
  • A German-language Ritual was approved;
  • Fr. Augustin Bea was appointed to oversee the production of a new, non-traditional Psalter, which Pius XII personally approved in 1945; (6)
  • The reform of the Easter Vigil would soon be granted. The traditional ceremonies were drastically curtailed and an opportunity for “active participation” was provided by a complete innovation, the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises” recited in the vernacular.
1943 will go down in history as the year in which the Church at last gave in to the Zeitgeist or spirit of Progressivism that had been threatening to engulf her since the time of Pius X. The German Bishops were demanding the freedom to “do their own thing.” And so the authority of the Roman Pontiff and the sacredness of the traditional liturgy had to be set aside to accommodate a changing and worldly liturgy said in the vernacular, which would enshrine the Cult of Man.

Let us not forget about the impact of these papal concessions on the traditionally-minded Catholics of Germany: The rug was pulled from under their feet as they found themselves disavowed by their Holy Father.

Fishing in Dangerous Waters

The whole enterprise was an ecclesiastical disaster in the making. The Pope tried to control the German Episcopal Conference by reprimanding liturgical abuses, imposing shambolic restrictions and experimental periods. But the German Bishops tossed them all aside to indulge in unlimited freedom to regulate their own liturgies.

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An apparent conservative Pius XII capitulated to the German Bishops

It is obvious that these papal actions against dissident reformers, while tolerating their abuses, were totally illogical: The message was fatally mixed. If infringing Canon Law and disobeying papal commands could be so easily tolerated in Germany, why should progressivists elsewhere be targeted for papal criticism? And if using the vernacular in the German-speaking lands was widely permitted, why should the inhabitants of other countries be prevented from using their own languages in the liturgy?

Even though Latin remained “officially” the language of the liturgy, the situation quickly descended into farcical chaos. There followed a concerted effort in the 1940s to storm the Vatican. Overwhelmed with requests from many countries, Pius XII increasingly permitted the use of the vernacular in the liturgy. (7) For those who decided to short-circuit the system and not bother to ask permission, no action would be taken against them for breaking the law.

The same scenario would be repeated after Vatican II with permission for altar girls, Communion under both species etc. when Popes rewarded disobedience and encouraged contempt of ecclesiastical law.

A French and German Pincer Movement

The 1940s were also a time when national hierarchies – particularly the French and German – were rallying their combined forces to mount an all-out assault on Roman control of liturgy. It may seem to some people surprising or a trifle hyperbolic that the language of battle should be employed to characterize the situation, but it cannot be denied that the pre-Vatican II reformers saw their mission in these terms.

One of Dom Beauduin’s companions in arms, Fr. Pie Duployé, stated in 1951 after attending the First International Liturgical Week at the German Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach: “If they knew in Rome that Paris and Trier [the centres of the French and German reformist movements] were marching together, that would be the end of the hegemony of the Congregation of Rites.” (8)

These are certainly fighting words, revealing the intention of the Liturgical Movement to wrest control of the liturgy from the Holy See, yet they were not matched by any joint action or correspondingly militant spirit of opposition from the Vatican. There was no one there to fight the battles that needed to be fought.

Faced with mounting pressure from the leaders of various liturgical cabals, Pius XII would blow an “uncertain trumpet” (9) in Mediator Dei and follow a policy of appeasement.


1. Hubert Jedin, History of the Church, London: Burns and Oates, 1981, vol. 10, p. 303.

2. These included presenting the essence of the Mass as a Meal; exaggerating the priesthood of the laity and promoting the notion that “it is the community that celebrates;” disparaging the ministerial priesthood and reducing the role of the priest to one delegated by the parish to preside at Mass; rejecting private Masses and devotional prayers (the Rosary, Stations, etc); extending the limits of the Church to include Protestants, considering heretical sects part of the Church; redefining the faith as no longer belief in revealed truths, but an experience, an emotion.

3. Feelings rose high on both sides of the divide. Following the instructions of Card. Innitzer of Austria, Karl Rahner, then in Vienna, wrote a 53-page letter of protest to Archbishop Gröber, a copy of which was sent to all the German and Austrian Bishops. (See William Dych, Karl Rahner, Continnuum 3 PL, New York, 2000, p. 9) Romano Guardini also attempted to counter Archbishop Gröber’s criticism of the Liturgical Movement in a letter to Bishop Stohr of Mainz. (See La Maison-Dieu, Paris: Editions du Cerf , 1945, vol. 3, pp. 7-25) Bishop Stohr was head of the German Liturgical Commission, an organization that had been set up in 1940 independently of the Holy See. It provided a vehicle for communication among the leading members of the German Liturgical Movement and a common front against attacks on the Movement.

4. The singing of hymns in the vernacular during Mass had been expressly forbidden by Leo XIII in the General Decree of the Congregation of Rites, 22 May 1894.  St. Pius X stated: “The language proper to the Roman Church is Latin. Hence it is forbidden to sing anything whatever in the vernacular in solemn liturgical functions.” (Motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, 1903, § 7)

5. The prescriptions of the Motu proprio of St. Pius X have been confirmed also by the 1917 Codex Juris Canonici. Canon 2 prescribes: “All liturgical laws are still in force.” (Omnes liturgicae leges vim suam retinent); Canon 1264, n.1: “Liturgical laws pertaining to the sacred music must be observed,” (Leges liturgicae circa musicam sacram serventur);
See Fr. Max Kassiepe OMI, Irrwege und Umwege im Frömmigkeitsleben der Gegenwart, (Wrong Turns and Detours in Contemporary Spiritual Life), Kevelaer, vol. 1 (1939), vol. 2 (1940). Fr. Kassiepe specifically mentioned changes to the Confiteor and Agnus Dei, the Easter Vigil held on Saturday night, priests who used German in the liturgy for the Missa Cantata and the Missa Recitata and unjust criticism of the faithful who recited the Rosary or made the Stations of the Cross.

6. See also Fr. August Dörner, Sentire cum Ecclesia . Ein dringender Aufruf und Weckruf an Priester (An Urgent Wake-up Call to Priests), Kühlen, Mönchengladbach, 1941);
This did not satisfy the German Bishops. At the request of the German Episcopal Conference, Fr. Romano Guardini produced a new Psalter (Deutscher Psalter) in 1950 in the vernacular.

7.Vernacular versions of the Ritual were permitted by the Vatican in Germany (1943 and 1950), France (1946 and 1947), and the USA (1954), Liège (1948). In 1949, permission was granted to China for the Mass in Chinese. In 1950, India received permission to use Hindu for the celebration of the Sacraments.

8. Apud Denis Crouan, The History and the Future of the Roman Liturgy, Ignatius Press, 2005, p. 136. The 1959 Congress was jointly sponsored by the Centre de Pastorale Liturgique in Paris and the Liturgical Institute of Trier, Germany. The main theme of discussion at the Congress was “The Problem of the Roman Missal.” Many ideas discussed at the International Liturgical Weeks found their way into Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy and Gaudium et spes.

9. 1 Corinthians 14:8: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
The Appeasement Process: Feeding the German Crocodile (1)

Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

In the previous article, we have seen how papal authority was in ignominious retreat before the aggression of the German liturgists whose goals lay far beyond the limits of any reasonable accommodation. The seriousness of the German Bishops’ 1943 challenge can be seen as the first of a series of challenges, each one of which carried with it an extra nail in the coffin of Catholic Tradition, culminating in the reforms of Vatican II.

For what they were contemplating were changes in the millennial rites, starting with the Easter Vigil, to adapt them to the spirit of modern times. The loss of Latin and the destruction of the treasury of sacred music were also part and parcel of the whole plan. (Bugnini would certainly see to that.)

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Fr. Pius Parsch was a pioneer of liturgical reforms and ecumenical contacts

Confronted with an increasingly menacing international situation of anti-Roman hostility and wishing to avoid open conflict, Pope Pius XII adopted a conciliatory approach to the demands of liturgical reformers. His message to the German Episcopal Conference in 1943 was tantamount to saying: Continue breaking liturgical law and the Holy See will reward you with its prize of papal approval.

It must be admitted that an overwhelming preponderance of evidence pointed to the futility of appeasement well before this date. With the rise of the Liturgical Movement in the Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach in Germany in 1914 and the pioneering work of Fr. Pius Parsch in Austria in 1918, liturgical anarchy and ecumenical contacts were flourishing with impunity in the German-speaking lands.

No amount of concessionary favors from the Holy See could have assuaged the hunger of the beast of reform: The German crocodile (1) was not content with a few scraps thrown in its direction. As everyone knows, crocodilians are predators with insatiable appetites.

Mediator Dei: A Compromise Document

A careful reading shows that Mediator Dei (1947) is a “political” document which takes both sides of the debate, so that reformers and traditionalists can find support for their point of view and argue endlessly over which side best represents the thinking of the Pope.

It is true that Pius XII reprimanded various liturgical abuses, but in the same document he also gave the reformers room to move, to make progress on their agenda of “active participation.” Most dismayingly of all for traditionalists, he praised the party of reform and demonstrated his commitment to the Liturgical Movement with these words:

“The movement owed its rise to commendable private initiative and more particularly to the zealous and persistent labor of several monasteries within the distinguished Order of Saint Benedict.” (2) And, “We derive no little satisfaction from the wholesome results of the movement just described.” (3)

Misplaced Praise for a Misbegotten Movement

But was the outcome really so splendid? And were the liturgical leaders so admirable? To answer yes would be historically inaccurate and intellectually incoherent.

By 1947, the new breed of Biblical scholars, theologians and liturgists had been engaged in liturgical experimentation on their own initiative for decades.(4) They had also succeeded, largely unmolested by ecclesiastical hierarchy, in propagating their revolutionary agenda in books, reviews, lectures, liturgical centers, study weeks and conferences.

And it was from the Benedictine monasteries that these “new ideas” first spread to country after country around the world, with the towering figure of Dom Lambert Beauduin presiding over the movement like a brooding colossus. (5)

Pius XII seemed to be suggesting that the Liturgical Movement, purged of its abuses, was praiseworthy. That is the same argument used today in relation to the Novus Ordo. But, there could be no good outcomes, no “wholesome results” from reforms that were not rooted in the faith and tradition of the Church. (6)

Besides, it is only the merest fancy that there existed a liturgical “movement” before Beauduin appeared on the scene to claim that he was fulfilling the aims of Pope Pius X. Wherever the Catholic faith flourished, this was due to sound catechesis and the correct spirit and practice of the liturgy as taught by Pius X, who never considered himself part of anyone’s “movement.”

If We Join the Dots, the Full Picture Emerges

There is a general reluctance among traditionalists to acknowledge that the liturgical reforms of Pius XII are part of a continuum from the inception of the Liturgical Movement in 1909 at the Benedictine Abbey of Mont-César to the creation of the Novus Ordo 60 years later. Yet these were the words of Paul VI when he promulgated the New Mass on April 3, 1969:

“It was felt necessary to revise and enrich the formulae of the Roman Missal. The first stage of such a reform was the work of Our Predecessor Pius XII with the reform of the Easter Vigil and the rites of Holy Week, which constituted the first step in the adaptation of the Roman Missal to the contemporary way of thinking.” (7)

It is not without significance that a future Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order, Dom Rembert Weakland, who inherited the avant-garde ideas of Beauduin’s Liturgical Movement, would be one of Paul VI’s personal consultors with regard to the Novus Ordo. (8) This demonstrates that the official reforms of Pius XII, no less than those of Paul VI, were tarred with the same brush, tainted from their Benedictine sources.

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In the U.S. the liturgical reforms were also applied in the 1940s: above, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Portland, OR, and Little Flower Shrine in Royal Oak, MI;
below, St. Paul's Priory Chapel in Keyport, NJ, and St. Mark's Church in Burlington, VT

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It follows that Pacelli and Montini must bear the ultimate responsibility – each in his own way – for the unprecedented changes to the Roman Rite that they signed into law.

Liturgical Anarchy

In the early part of the 20th century, unauthorized liturgical experimentation was conducted in secret, among a select few, in the crypt of Maria Laach Abbey, at monastic retreats, in university chaplaincies and societies of youth groups, among soldiers on active duty during World War I, on seafaring missions or among radical groups such as The Catholic Worker.

Subversive ideas were spread in samizdat publications distributed from hand to hand or by word of mouth in small-scale conferences held behind closed doors.

But by 1940, the movement gradually spread around the world into parishes with the open or tacit approval of Bishops, who were won over in increasing numbers to the “new ideas.”

Let us not forget that this was Beauduin’s original stratagem. He had a clear, long-term goal in mind as cynical as it was malicious – to win support from Bishops and Prelates so that his revolutionary agenda would be imposed by “legitimate” authority, (9) (see here, p. 21) while the practice of traditional Catholicism would one day be turned into a prohibited activity by the same authorities. Prophetic, demonic or what?

But what about Pius XII’s criticisms in Mediator Dei of liturgical abuses and the faulty theology that inspired them? As these mildly expressed rebukes did not reveal a resolve to deal appropriately with the offenders (who either ignored or denied them), they were taken to be a display of weakness – as if to say the Church did not take too seriously her own liturgical laws.

Mediator Dei thus sent a clear signal of supine capitulation and, further, an invitation to side-step the system. (Bugnini would later boast that the incredible success of the reformers vindicated the adage that “Fortune favors the brave.”) (10)

The ease with which the reformers could get away with breaking the law was a huge incentive behind the Liturgical Movement. In the absence of tough-minded measures against the dissidents, it became clear to them that the possibility of a far more drastic reform of the liturgy was being opened up under Pius XII than had hitherto been dreamed of.

In fact, as we shall see in the next article, the 10 years following Mediator Dei saw the Pope steadily succumbing to their demands and entrenching some of their reforms in the Church’s liturgy. They would soon gain everything they had been fighting for, and much more besides, after Vatican II.

It was Pius XII’s profound ambivalence that made effective control of the Liturgical Movement impossible. Whose side was he really on? Opposing factions claimed victory.

But the claim for the traditionalist party rang hollow when they found themselves abandoned to the tender mercies of Bugnini who was given the executive role on the 1948 Commission for the General Reform of the Liturgy by none other than Pius XII himself.


1. The British statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, once famously remarked with reference to Hitler that appeasement is tantamount to feeding a crocodile in the hope that it will eat you last;
2. Mediator Dei § 4;
3. Ibid., § 7;
4. This included the unauthorized use of “Dialogue Masses,” the vernacular, Mass facing the people, Offertory processions, Communion in the hand and ecumenical services;
5. The reference is to the massive 16th-century Italian sculpture known as the Colosso dell'Appennino or the Appennine Colossus created by the artist Giambologna. The giant statue sits brooding over a pool, staring into its murky depths like a malevolent spirit. Its body contains a number of interconnecting chambers while inside its head there is a sort of fireplace which, when lighted, emits billows of smoke from its nose. Beauduin fuming against Catholic Tradition?
6. Ironically, this applies to Pius XII’s own reform of the Psalter which he mentioned in Mediator Dei § 6: “Only a short while previously, with the design of rendering the prayers of the liturgy more correctly understood and their truth and unction more easy to perceive, We arranged to have the Book of Psalms, which forms such an important part of these prayers in the Catholic Church, translated again into Latin from their original text.”
7. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum, April 3, 1969;
8. In his Memoirs, Weakland explained how he was a protégé of Bugnini who assured him of Pope Paul’s high regard for him. See Rembert G. Weakland, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: 9. Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009, pp, 127-128;
9. Beauduin outlined this stratagem in the Editorial of the first issue of La Maison-Dieu, January 1945, p. 21;
10. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975, The Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 11.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass

1951-1955: The Vatican Started the Liturgical Reform
Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

Before dealing with the actual changes to the Holy Week liturgy in 1955 under Pius XII, which were many and significant, we will take a look at the guiding principles of the 1948 Commission for the General Reform of the Liturgy and the manner in which its Secretary, Fr. Annibale Bugnini, went about his task of overhauling the Church’s most ancient and venerable ceremonies.

Secrecy Paramount, Ethics Thrown to the Winds

Bugnini’s penchant for secrecy informed all his actions. We have seen how he had been making clandestine visits to the Centre de Pastorale Liturgique (1) since 1946, the year in which Pius XII requested Card. Carlo Salotti, the Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, to begin forming a project for the general reform of the liturgy.

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Bugnini: 'I am the liturgical reform'

Bugnini himself admitted that his Commission met “in absolute secrecy.” He transmitted selective information via Fr. Augustin Bea and Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini “up the back stairs,” so to speak, to the Pope, kept the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the dark and sprang the first of the Holy Week reforms on the unsuspecting faithful in 1951.

In fact, so secret was the work of the Commission on this project that Bugnini (allegedly known as Brother Buan in Freemasonry) admitted that “the publication of the Renewed Order for Holy Saturday at the beginning of March 1951 caught even the officials of the Congregation of Rites by surprise.” (2) If even the Congregation knew nothing of the projected Easter Vigil reform until it was formally proclaimed, one wonders at the integrity of Card. Clemente Micara who was simultaneously President of Bugnini’s Commission and Pro-Prefect of the Congregation of Rites. In fact, it was Micara who signed the Decree publishing the new Order of Holy Saturday. (3) (See here)

This raises the question of collusion with Bugnini, and whether the Easter Vigil reform had been, as it were, stitched up between them.

‘I am the Liturgical Reform!’

These words of inflated self-esteem – “I am the liturgical reform” – were attributed to Bugnini by a close colleague. (4) Whether or not Bugnini actually said them, he had no difficulty in fulfilling the absolutist role.

It is also an example of the corrupting power handed to him by Pius XII. Without such papal backing, the work of the Commission would have ground to a halt.

But with the power of the Pope behind it, Bugnini’s Commission became an end in itself, unchallengeable and unquestionable, the ultimate bureaucratic weapon against all objectors. It would grow into a global, powerful and unaccountable industry forcing the world’s Bishops, willy-nilly, to toe the Bugnini line.

Divisive Reforms

It is not generally appreciated just how controversial the 1951-1955 Holy Week reforms were in their day. Historical records exist to show that they were vehemently criticized by many Bishops, priests and lay people on account of the radical nature of the changes then initiated.

Among the most outspoken critics was Msgr. Léon Gromier, a distinguished Prelate of the Papal Household and a Canon of St. Peter’s Basilica. As a consulter to the Congregation of Rites since the time of Pope Pius X, he was in a position to speak with authority on the Holy Week ceremonies. His knowledge was legendary on all liturgical subjects from bugia to buskins and falbalas to faldstools, which made him the strongest of advocates for arguing the case for the traditional rites.

Msgr. Gromier, who had been publicly criticizing the Liturgical Movement since 1936, gave a conference in Paris in 1960. (5) (See here) In it he excoriated the 1955 Holy Week reforms, exposing the false liturgical science and the false reasoning behind them.

He did not hesitate to describe them as an “act of vandalism,” “an immense loss and an outrage to history,” “the negation of reasoned principles” and the product of a “pastoral mentality impregnated with a populist attitude, unfavorable to the clergy.” With reference to the liturgists who produced the reforms, he lamented that their “discretionary powers are vast, as are the abuses.”

Objections from Bishops (6) to the interim Holy Week changes of 1951 poured into the Vatican with requests to leave the traditional rites intact. The final and obligatory reform of 1955 was vigorously opposed by more Bishops, for instance Card. Francis Spellman of New York and Arch. John Charles McQuaid of Dublin (on the grounds that it might destabilize the faith of the Irish people). (7)

Among the laity, the Catholic newspapers of 1955-1956 were rife with objections. (8) The novelist, Evelyn Waugh, who had converted to Catholicism, considered the changes ruinous to his spiritual life and a danger to the faith itself, particularly among simple folk. (9)

No Leeway for Traditional Rites

But, disregarding warnings about the consequences of changing long-established patterns of worship –  the new rites would endanger the habitual, ingrained attitudes to the faith of devout Catholics – Pius XII issued his new liturgical laws and instructions in Maxima Redemptionis in 1955, and made the traditional rites illegal:

“Those who follow the Roman rite are bound in the future to follow the Restored Ordo for Holy Week… This new Ordo must be followed…” (10)

A Tragedy for Traditionally-Minded Bishops

Pius XII used legislation to introduce arbitrary and unnecessary changes devised by revolutionaries. This put the law-abiding Bishops (who placed obedience to the Pope as their foremost duty) into an untenable position: They were thus maneuvered into implementing the reforms that they objected to on grounds of the Faith. In other words, giving them no choice but to comply forced them to act against their principles and their conscience.

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Pius XII mandated the changes in the Holy Week ceremonies in 1955

And because Maxima Redemptionis legitimated the actions of progressivist clergy who had been implementing the reforms without the Pope’s authority for decades, it was a document fundamentally biased against the traditional rites.

Naturally, no mention was made in the Decree of the many Bishops who considered the reforms to be pastorally unsound. The claim that the Holy Week reforms were attended by “the greatest success everywhere” is highly tendentious. (11)

This reveals a quite considerable degree of contempt not only for traditionally-minded Bishops but also for those Catholics who were attached to their traditions and had never requested or welcomed such changes. Whether such a document against all the past of the Church had the power to bind the faithful is a question open to discussion.

In short, the 1955 Holy Week reform, whatever the degree of Pius XII’s complicity in it, was a papally-backed mechanism for re-ordering the liturgy to incorporate the basic wishes of the progressivists and to begin implementing their ideas for future changes. That is how the will of Bugnini’s Commission triumphed – and thus inescapably stifled opposition.


1. The CPL was a liturgical think tank characterized by ideological commitment to the most avant garde reforms.
2. Annibale Bugnini, La Riforma Liturgica: 1948–1975, Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 25. The reason for his astonishing candor was that he regarded his scheming not as something to be ashamed of, but to boast about.
3. “De solemni vigilia paschali instauranda,” Acta Apostolicae Sedis, February 9, 1951, pp. 129. Bugnini was mistaken when he said that the publication date was the beginning of March 1951.
4. Anscar Chapungco OSB, What, Then, Is Liturgy? Musings and Memoir, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010, p. 4. Fr. Chapungco, former President of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome and avid defender of the reforms, recalled that Bugnini spoke these words during one of his visits to the Institute.
5. L. Gromier, ‘La Semaine Sainte Restaurée’, in Opus Dei, 1962, n. 2, pp. 76-90. Opus Dei was a monthly journal edited by a French priest, Fr. Ferdinand Portier, who was known for his arrangement and promotion of Gregorian Chant.
6. These included Msgr. Felice Bonomini, Bishop of Como, Card. Giuseppe Siri, Archbishop of Genoa, and Msgr. Cornelio Cuccarollo, Archbishop of Otranto. Apud Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, 2005, p. 222, note 270.
7. Alcuin Reid, ibid., p. 231.
8. See, for example, The Catholic Herald and The Tablet.
9. Writing in The Spectator in 1962, Waugh stated: “During the last few years we have experienced the triumph of the ‘liturgists’ in the new arrangement of the services for the end of Holy Week and for Easter. For centuries these had been enriched by devotions that were dear to the laity – the anticipation of the morning office of Tenebrae, the vigil at the Altar of Repose, the Mass of the Presanctified. It was not how the Christians of the second century observed the season. It was the organic growth of the needs of the people,” apud Scott Reid, A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the liturgical changes, London: St Austin Press, 1996, pp. 24-25.
10. Sacred Congregation of Rites, General Decree and Instruction, Maxima Redemptionis, November 16, 1955, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. 47, p. 840.
11. This claim was made by the Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, Cardinal Gaetano Cicognani.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
A Self-Contradictory Liturgical Reform
Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

With Mediator Dei of 1947, Pius XII had set the stage for “active participation” of the laity. Not only did he strongly encourage the “Dialogue Mass” and congregational singing in this encyclical, but he also exhorted the Bishops to set up diocesan committees to ensure that these revolutionary measures “in which the people take part in the liturgy” would be everywhere promoted as a “liturgical apostolate” for the laity. (1)

Here we see the first intimation of the “theology of lay liturgical ministry” that would be ordered by Vatican II, whereby the whole assembly shares the responsibility for celebrating Mass. Thus, Pius XII effectively undermined his own teaching on the Catholic priesthood found elsewhere in the same document. With such confusion between the ordained and the non-ordained, is there any wonder that there developed a crisis of priestly identity?

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Today's lay eucharistic ministers act as participants of the priesthood - Diocese of Austin, Texas

Almost immediately following the encyclical, Pius XII placed Fr. Annibale Bugnini in charge of a Commission for the General Reform of the Liturgy staffed by a few hand-picked “progressivist” satraps. (2)

The first result of the Commission’s work was the restructuring of the Easter Vigil rite (1951) with a view to promoting “active participation” leading to an entire revision of the Holy Week liturgy in 1955. This in turn would spawn all subsequent liturgical reforms up to and after Vatican II, with the same rationale in mind.

There was no doubt in the minds of the two most influential members of the Commission, Fr. Bugnini and Fr. Ferdinando Antonelli, that the reforms they devised in the 1950s were based on the same principles as the post-conciliar reforms.

Bugnini made several statements to the effect that the 1955 reforms were a transitional stage of a more general liturgical reform, “the first step toward measures of a wider scope,” “an arrow” pointing forward. (3) Fr. Antonelli, future Secretary of the Liturgical Commission of Vatican II and Secretary of the Congregation of Rites, stated that his revision of the Roman rite under Pius XII was simply a “kind of novitiate” for the official reforms of Vatican II and later. (4)

When Bugnini’s Chickens Came Home to Roost

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A first reformer, Fr. Antonelli was granted a cardinal's hat and prestige from the Popes

How ironic that Fr. Antonelli (later Cardinal), who had been given chief responsibility on Pius XII’s Commission for the reform of Holy Week, later deplored the outcome of what he had initiated in the 1950s. In his memoirs, he noted:

“Many of those who have influenced the reform ... and others, have no love and no veneration for that which has been handed down to us. They begin by despising everything that is actually there. This negative mentality is unjust and pernicious … with this mentality they have only been able to demolish and not to restore.” (5)

Precisely. Yet at that critical point in history when papal support for the protection of the traditional rites was essential, Pius XII was on the wrong side, aligning himself with those who aimed to demolish Tradition.

The Hermeneutic of Rupture

Continuity with Tradition was exactly what Pius XII’s Commission did not want, as was made abundantly clear in the 1951 Decree (6) introducing an experimental Easter Vigil service and also in the 1955 Decree (7) making it (and the whole of the Holy Week reforms) obligatory for the Roman rite. Both of these Decrees, as we shall see below, contain unjustified criticisms of the traditional rites; they are also accompanied by Instructions for new rites in which the emphasis was placed on the “active participation” of the laity.

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The ‘horizontal’ church reflected in an egalitarian architecture & liturgy

Here we see the first glimmerings of a new approach to liturgy – known later as “horizontalism.” The ordering and meaning of Catholic worship was now in the hands of the reformers who began systematically to replace rituals that transmitted a sense of reverence and awe in the presence of God with “simplified” man-centred constructs promoting “active participation.”

By 1955, with the Decree Maxima Redemptionis, the shape of this most ancient of Vigils (which St. Augustine called the “Mother of all Vigils”) was reformulated and some texts were massively curtailed. And new arrangements were invented for the priest to face the people, involving “dialogue” with them in the vernacular. One could say that the decline of the sense of the sacred began in embryonic form with the 1951-1955 changes.

False Dawn of the Easter Vigil Reform

Under pressure from the French and German Bishops, Pius XII made a new rule that the Church should no longer hold the Easter Vigil in daylight hours, as had been the case since the 7th or 8th centuries, but should revert to the practice of the first Christians who held it after dark.

No convincing reason was given by the Congregation of Rites as to why the night time should be deemed the “proper hour” for the Vigil service. In fact, there is no “proper” hour for a vigil.The mystery of the Church's liturgy is, in its essence, not bound by the clock. In liturgical terms, a vigil refers to the eve of a feast day and can be celebrated with propriety at any time of the day.

However, Maxima Redemptionis arbitrarily insisted that the ceremonies “may not begin before twilight, or certainly not before sunset.” But the timing of the Easter Vigil had never been set by astronomical calculation, as if everything depended on how many degrees the sun is above or below the horizon.

The Self-Contradictory Nature of the Easter Vigil Reform

The Church was ordered to return to the catacombs. It is perplexing that the same Pope who had condemned such a retrograde step in the strongest terms as “antiquarianism” only four years earlier, could have countenanced this reversal of his own teaching:

“The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.” (8)

But the point about his 1955 Decree Maxima Redemptionis was that it did state that the early Christian Easter Vigil was “more suitable and proper” than what had developed over the intervening centuries; and it did reject the principle that “the more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect.” There is no mistaking the language used in the Decree to denigrate the liturgical tradition as it had developed up to the 1950s. Maxima Redemptionis carried a note of reprobation of what had been approved and maintained as Catholic practice for centuries, with the scarcely veiled implication that for most of her history the Church had conducted her worship on wrong lines.

In it, the accusation was made that the Easter Vigil had lost its original clarity and the meaning of its words and symbols when it was “torn” from its “proper” nocturnal setting and was no longer in line with the Gospel accounts. According to the reformers, it had even become “harmful” to the symbolic meaning of the Vigil. (9) Anyone would think they were referring to a monstrous iniquity that must be removed from the Church.

In other words, the Holy See (echoing the reformers) was claiming that the public prayers of the Church celebrated continually for many centuries, sanctified by long usage and codified by the Council of Trent were theologically defective and liturgically “improper.”

Is it conceivable that the traditional manner of celebrating the Easter Vigil in the daytime was a disastrous mistake and that the Church had to wait 14 centuries for Bugnini and his henchmen to put the matter right?

Of course not, and in the next instalment we will be examining the spurious reasons for the Easter Vigil changes, which were published in the 1951 and 1955 Decrees.


1. “Wherefore We exhort you, Venerable Brethren, that each in his diocese or ecclesiastical jurisdiction supervise and regulate the manner and method in which the people take part in the liturgy, according to the rubrics of the Missal and in keeping with the injunctions which the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the Code of Canon Law have published. … It is also Our wish that in each diocese an advisory committee to promote the liturgical apostolate should be established.” (Mediator Dei, n. 109)
2. The members of the Commission in 1948 were: Card. Clemente Micara, Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (President); Fr. Annibale Bugnini CM (Secretary); Msgr. Alfonso Carinci, Secretary of the Congregation of Rites; Fr. Agostino Bea SJ; Fr. Ferdinando Antonelli OFM; Fr. Joseph Löw CSSR; Dom Anselmo Albareda OSB, Prefect of the Vatican Library.
3. A. Bugnini, The Simplification of the Rubrics: Spirit and Practical Consequences of the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites March 23, 1955, with a Preface by Ferdinando Antonelli, Collegeville, MN: Doyle & Finegan, , 1955.
4. Cf. Nicola Giampietro, The Development of the Liturgical Reform: As Seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli from 1948-1970, Fort Collins CO: Roman Catholic Books, 2009, p. 69. Giampietro gleaned his information from research into Antonelli’s personal writings as well as archival material from the minutes of the Commissions on which the Cardinal had served.
5. Ibid., p. 192. This is not to suggest that Card. Antonelli wanted to preserve intact the Church’s liturgical tradition. He was Secretary for the Liturgical Commission of the Second Vatican Council, a member of the post-conciliar Concilium and became Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Rites in 1965.
6. De solemni vigilia paschali instauranda, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1951, pp. 128-37. There exists no English translation.
7. Maxima Redemptionis, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, pp. 838-847.
8. Mediator Dei, 1947 n. 61.
9. Maxima Redemptionis: “profecto non sine detrimento liturgici sensus, nec sine confusione inter evangélicas narrationes et ad eas pertinentes liturgicas repraesentationes. Solemnis praesertim paschalis vigiliae liturgia, a propria nocturna sede avulsa, nativam perspicuitatem ac verborum et symbolorum sensum amisit.” (certainly not without detriment to the liturgical meaning, creating confusion among the Gospels accounts and related liturgical ceremonies. Principally the solemn liturgy of the Easter Vigil, snatched away from its proper nightly time, lost its innate clarity as well as the meaning of words and symbols) The expression avulsa (“snatched away”) is offensive and unwarranted, as it has a particularly violent connotation in Latin, descriptive of robbery, abduction etc.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
An Incoherent Reform
Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

What was the rationale of the Holy Week reforms when, in the opinion of everyone else outside the Liturgical Movement, there was no obvious or compelling need for any change whatever? Bugnini later “explained” in his memoirs:

“The Liturgical Movement was an effort to unite rites and content, for its aim was to restore as fully as possible the expressiveness and sanctifying power of the liturgy and to bring the faithful back to full participation and understanding.” (1)

A Circular Argument

But this explains nothing except that the assumptions he started with determined the conclusion he came to. In other words, he already believed, like the Protestants, that the Catholic liturgy, as it had been handed down through the centuries, was essentially falsified and also dysfunctional.

According to him, there was a mismatch between the ceremonies of the Roman Rite and the content that they were meant to represent, leading the faithful astray. (We should note here that any Catholic who expressed this attitude was considered excommunicated by the Council of Trent). (2)

His “solution” – to adapt the liturgy in the direction of “active participation” so that people could understand it better – simply reinforced his preconceived ideas about a supposed “ignorance and dark night of worship… out in the nave.” (3)

With this “explanation,” the cat was well and truly out of the bag. It was exactly the same argument put forward by the Commission that had produced the Decree Maxima Redemptionis back in 1955. The main point of similarity between them was the undercurrent of hostility to Tradition discernible in both accounts, which is hardly surprising given that they were masterminded by the same person – Bugnini.

A Strange Anomaly

It is noteworthy that those who happily condemn such an “explanation” coming directly from Bugnini are prepared to brush it aside or overlook it when it emanates from a decree promulgated by Pius XII. That is because they have conferred on Pius XII the iconic status of the “last traditional Pope,” believing that he ensured the continuity of Tradition.

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An extravagant fire receptacle for the modern Easter Vigil ceremony

But the proof of continuity is fidelity to Tradition, and Pius XII authorized substantial changes including innovations in the Holy Week rites – all in the name of “active participation.” How could he have ensured continuity when he failed to make a full commitment to the liturgical tradition that is its only guarantee?

Whatever the degree of Pius XII’s personal complicity in the reforms, it is unarguable that an arbitrary restructuring of the Church’s liturgy has always been alien to orthodox Catholic sense and practice.

What possible justification could there be for changing the face of the Holy Week rites?

When we examine the Decree Maxima Redemptionis we will see that its purpose was not to provide well reasoned arguments for reform, but to convey an attitude. It positively bristled with loaded polemics that served to prejudice the faithful against their own traditions and to lock the Liturgical Movement into a negative attitude to the Church’s spiritual patrimony. Let us look at the reasons that were considered by Pius XII’s Commission to be worthy of special consideration and emphasis.

A Benighted Reform

The most popular argument put forward by the reformers in favor of changing the Easter Vigil was the alleged illogical character of lighting the Easter fire and candle in daylight hours. How absurd, they scoffed, to be singing about the darkness of “this night” in broad daylight – as if the Church had committed a liturgical gaffe that had gone unnoticed for 13 centuries.

And so the reformers sneered and sniggered at the age-old Easter Vigil, led on by the instigator of the Liturgical Movement, Dom Beauduin, who stated scathingly in 1951:
Quote:“How is it that we have endured and accepted uncritically for centuries the practice of singing the Exsultet and the Vere beata Nox (“O truly blessed night”) in broad daylight? And how many other equally serious anomalies we now accept without batting an eyelid! Surely this must lead us to conclude that our liturgical consciousness is not sufficiently enlightened?” (4) (See here)

It was an astoundingly arrogant view that assumed that all his predecessors in the priesthood were either oppressed by tyrannical Church leaders or were too dim-witted to think for themselves and, furthermore, that there was only one way to think – his way. It was also a view that came to dominate and distort the thinking of theologians and liturgists up to our times. (5)

But it was Beauduin and his fellow-reformers, not the followers of Tradition, who were the benighted ones. The central fallacy in Beauduin’s argument, which was enshrined in Maxima Redemptionis, was that midnight, or at least sundown, was the “proper” time to hold the Easter Vigil. (6)

Having claimed to be following the superior path of enlightenment over the Church’s lex orandi, Beauduin failed to see what was glaringly obvious to well instructed Catholics: that the references to the “night” in the traditional Easter Vigil had a mystical rather than a naturalistic significance.

Let us listen to the following explanation of this point given by a Prelate who had never been indoctrinated in the Liturgical Movement’s ideology. With reference to the Easter Vigil, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman (1802-1865), the first Archbishop of Westminster, stated: “The service speaks of the ‘night;’ it is the night in which Israel escaped from Egypt, and which preceded the resurrection of Christ.” (7)

In other words, “night” was used in the Vigil texts in a pre-figurative sense, (8) as a metaphor for the darkness of the world in the bondage of sin before the Redemption. It has no intrinsic connection with the time when the sun sinks below the horizon.

An Incoherent Reform

So, the time of day when the Vigil takes place is irrelevant: as far as the celebration of the mysteries of salvation is concerned; it matters not a jot if the sky is dark or light. The point is not a trivial one. It follows that holding the Easter Vigil in daylight hours could not, as Maxima Redemptionis contended, be “detrimental to the liturgy’s meaning” or contribute to any loss of its “innate clarity.”

The irrationality of this claim becomes even more obvious when it is made the basis of legislation, as if the 1955 reforms were founded on solid and irrefutable arguments for the good of the Church.

With Maxima Redemptionis the Bishops of the world were told that they would be breaking the law if they continued the traditions of their predecessors. Even today, to celebrate the Easter Vigil in daylight is regarded as “reprehensible.” (9) And although there is no rational reason to insist on a nocturnal celebration of the Vigil, those who favor the traditional practice are themselves relegated to outer darkness.


1. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, Collegeville, Minnesota:, Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 6.
2. Council of Trent, 22nd Session, Canon 7: “If any one says that the ceremonies, vestments and outward signs, which the Catholic Church makes use of in the celebration of Masses, are incentives to impiety, rather than offices of piety; let him be anathema.”
3. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy, ibid.
4. L. Beauduin, ‘Le Décret du 9 Février 1951 et les Espoirs qu’il suscitent,’ (‘The Decree of 9 February 1951 and the Hopes It Has Raised’), La Maison-Dieu, n. 26, April 1951, p. 103. 5. Translation from the French: “Comment…pendant des siècles s’est-on résigné…a-t-on accepté presque inconsciemment de chanter l’Exsultet de la Vere beata Nox en plein jour? Et que d’autres anomalies aussi énormes se maintiennent, sans provoquer en nous aucun étonnement! Ne doit-on pas en conclure que notre conscience liturgique n’est pas suffisamment éclairée?”
5. The radical theologian, Fr. Herbert McCabe OP, echoed both Beauduin and Maxima Redemptionis when he opined: “Before the [1956] restoration … ‘the Vigil’ was a very ramshackle affair and its meaning was badly obscured by the preposterous practice of celebrating it on Holy Saturday morning instead of at night” [emphasis added] . Herbert McCabe., ‘The Easter Vigil: the mystery of new life’ in God Matters, Continuum, 2005, p. 103.
6. But there is no rational sense to be found in the notion that the Church should imitate the example of the early Christians who held the Easter Vigil at midnight. Strong evidence exists to show that their worship meetings generally took place during the hours of darkness, i.e. between dusk and dawn, only because they were living in an era of persecution.
7. Nicholas Wiseman, Four lectures on the offices and ceremonies of Holy Week, as performed in the Papal chapels delivered in Rome in the Lent of MDCCCXXXVII, London: C. Dolman, 1839, p. 102.
8. This also applies to expressions such as “this night” and “this blessed night” which are reiterated in the text.
9. Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts, Protocol n. 120/88, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship 20 February 1988.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
Bias, Manipulation & Suppression of Adverse Data
Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

The essence of the problem with the Easter Vigil reform is that it was built on a series of fantasies, the first one being the inappropriateness of lighting the Easter fire and candle because the sun is shining. Alas, this was no joke: the framers of Maxima Redemptionis were perfectly serious in stipulating that the Vigil must be held in the dark on pain of losing its “innate clarity” and even its sanctifying power.

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Fr. Parsch 1884-1954 - a pioneer of the Liturgical Movement & the Easter Vigil changes

This idea was the brainchild of the Liturgical Movement. We will examine what the maverick liturgist Fr. Pius Parsch had to say on the subject. Let us keep in mind that he had been celebrating the Easter Vigil at midnight since 1936, contrary to the universal practice of the Roman Rite, and was overjoyed that Pius XII had put the official seal of approval on his dissident behavior:

“It is a restoration that is in part due to our efforts. … It is one of the great objectives of the Liturgical Movement to restore to the Catholic world the Easter Vigil service. … The unliturgical spirit and mentality of the last centuries has deprived us of the holiest of all nights; the liturgical spirit of our day will correct this error.” (1)

There could hardly have been a clearer description of two positions developing alongside each other in the Church: On the one hand the bi-millennial liturgy of the Catholic Church inspired by the Holy Ghost, and on the other hand a rapidly increasing parallel universe, of very recent origin, populated by the members of the Liturgical Movement in self-declared opposition.

The Aggressive Implementation of the Reforms

It is obvious that by 1955 the Liturgical Movement had overreached itself in trying to upstage the Holy Ghost and, as a result of its hubris, had turned itself into a coercive ideology. It would not be long before efforts would be redoubled against Bishops who were trying to hold the traditional line: They would feel the “iron fist” of Msgr. Montini shorn of Pius XII’s velvet glove.

Maxima Redemptionis thus resulted in enforced surrender and a victory for Bugnini and his Liturgical Commission. The injustice lies in the fact that here was a Commission with a highly radical and ideological concept of its role in the Church, pressuring Pius XII to make rulings which would be harmful to the interests and values of Catholic Tradition.

In fact, the whole issue of the night time celebration of the Easter Vigil can now be seen as a giant red herring that was forced down the throats of the world’s Bishops by Pius XII at the behest of the reformers who had other, more revolutionary cards up their sleeves.

Creative Pretexts for Change

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Paul VI in a special altar concelebrating in May 1969

The other justifications for the Easter Vigil reform were hardly any more credible and deserved an equal amount of scepticism. Maxima Redemptionis told us that attendance at all the Holy Week rites had been decreasing since the Middle Ages “especially because their celebration had long since been put back into the morning hours when, on weekdays, schools, businesses and public affairs of all kinds were and are conducted everywhere.”

It went on to assert: “In fact, common and almost universal experience teaches that these liturgical services of the sacred Triduum are often performed by the clergy with the body of the church nearly deserted.”

These claims were specious in the extreme and did not stand up to scrutiny. We will deal with each of them in turn. They were based on reports sent to the Holy See by the world’s Bishops and heads of religious congregations in response to an international survey, the purpose of which was to garner opinion on the 1951 experimental Easter Vigil reforms.

Selectivity Bias in the Interpretation of the Results

The first step in approaching the survey is to understand how that game had been rigged. According to Maxima Redemptionis, enthusiasm was reflected world wide: “This experiment had the greatest success everywhere, as very many Ordinaries have reported to the Holy See.”

But by then, the Liturgical Movement had succeeded in spreading its influence throughout most of the Catholic world, with the result that there were some Bishops in almost every country who welcomed a break with tradition. This was very different from having a worldwide consensus. By ignoring this distinction, those who wrote Maxima Redemptionis were led to read too much into the data by interpreting random variation as representative of the general opinion among the Bishops.

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Gradual changes at St. Peter's Church in Maryland: from a table before the altar in 1970 to the radical 2001 reform

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The pro-reform Bishops were reported to have “generously praised the restored rite, told of the spiritual fruits derived from it, and asked that the permission to celebrate it be further extended.” (2) Well, they would, of course, considering that they had been putting pressure on Pius XII for precisely those reforms. (3) We can infer that the predicted outcome of the survey was a certainty for the reformers who had the Pope’s ear.

If further confirmation of this self-fulfilling prophecy is needed, the archives of the Diocese of Brentwood in the UK for 1951 record the responses of those priests who had elected to celebrate the new Vigil. All were in favor of the changes and some were wildly enthusiastic in their praise. But the fact that they had voluntarily taken this step suggests that they had progressivist tendencies from the start and were predisposed in favor of the new Vigil. Their comments reveal that they had hobby-horses of their own: They were already committed to the simplified rites in the vernacular and facing the people. (4) (See here)

Thus the international survey gave liturgical cranks, dissidents and radicals everywhere the opportunity to indulge their favorite pastime with permission from the Holy See. But even more unethical was the cynical use of the unsuspecting faithful: They were the guinea pigs for the full-blown Holy Week changes that would be foisted on them a few years down the line.

But what about those Bishops who sent in negative reports or who protested vehemently? Or those who declined to comment? No indication was given as to their number, which we know must have been considerable from the available evidence.

In some countries, the experimental Vigil was not adopted by the majority, for example in the United States where it was very much the exception. (5) However, the tradition-minded Bishops were accorded no recognition or consideration: Their views were trivialized and dismissed with a wave of the hand (6) and certainly were not allowed to make any impact on Maxima Redemptionis. They had become the equivalent of Orwell’s “unpersons,” (7) found guilty of the “thought-crime” of opposing the Bugnini project.

As far as Maxima Redemptionis was concerned, it was as if they did not exist. And ever since then, they have been denied a voice in the Church, their marginalization being used to create a false consensus.

Pius XII Sided with Bugnini Against the Traditional Bishops

Pius XII ordered that the same Commission of liturgists that had prepared the rite of the 1951 Vigil should analyze the reports. (8) As there was no independent review of their work, the outcome was predetermined in favor of the Commission members who performed their task in the predictably biased manner we have seen above.

Bugnini declared the new rite an instant success and described its reception as “an explosion of joy throughout the Church.” (9)

The general principle of the survey seemed to be that the conclusion came first and the data were cherry picked to support and “explain” the desired result, i.e., the world’s Bishops were in favor of the renewed Easter Vigil. This process, more commonly known as “spin” or skewing the facts to fit a prejudice, raises the gravest possible doubts about the integrity of the Commission’s work.

It was obvious from the moment of Bugnini’s appointment as head of the Commission – if not before – that nothing or no-one, not even the Pope, must get in the way of the projected reforms. That is why Bugnini relied on bias, official manipulation of the statistics and suppression of inconvenient facts.


1. Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, vol.2: Septuagesima to Holy Saturday, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1962, pp. 337-338
2. De Facultativa Celebratione Instauratatae Vigiliae Paschalis, Sacred Congregation of Rites, 11 January 1952 Acta Apotolicae Sedis, p. 49.
3. At the First German National Liturgical Congress (June 1950), organized by the Trier Liturgical Institute, Romano Guardini’s talk on the Easter Vigil sparked the resolution: “That the bishops be asked to petition Rome for the transfer of the Holy Saturday celebration to the evening or night.”
On 2 November 1950, the Bishops of Germany, France and Austria formally petitioned Pius XII to move the celebration of Holy Saturday to the evening. Their request was accepted and an experimental Vigil was inaugurated on 9 February 1951. With this concession from the Holy See, the Liturgical Movement was officially engaged in liturgical reform.
4. Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005, p. 181
5. “Liturgical Briefs,” Worship, 26, n. 7, 1951-1952, p. 374. This progressivist magazine, successor to Orate Fratres and organ of the Liturgical Movement in the USA, registered its disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm for the experimental Vigil among most Bishops.
6. De Facultativa Celebratione Instauratatae Vigiliae Paschalis, Sacred Congregation of Rites,AAS, p. 49. This simply states that several Bishops reported “difficulties and doubts” from parish priests which could be easily cleared up by the Holy See. “Nonnulli tamen locorum Ordinarii, auditis parochorum relationibus, de quibusdam quoque difficultatibus aut dubiis, in celebratione instaurati ritus occurrentibus, referre non omiserunt ; ea quidem mente, ut ab Apostolica Sede opportunis ordinationibus difficultates componantur et dubia solvantur.” (Some local Ordinaries, however, on the reports received from parish priests, also mentioned certain doubts and difficulties which occur in the celebration of the restored rite; having in view, of course, that the Holy See would, by appropriate ordinances, settle the difficulties and solve the doubts.)
7. In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, an “unperson” is someone who has been “vaporized.” It commonly refers to a public figure, especially in a totalitarian country, who, for political or ideological reasons, is not recognized or mentioned in government publications or records or in the news media.
8. De Facultativa Celebratione Instauratatae Vigiliae Paschalis, AAS, p. 49: “Sanctissimus autem Dominus Noster Pius Papa XII mandavit, ut peculiaris illa virorum peritorum Commissio, quae vigiliae paschalis ritum paraverat, praefatas relationes accurato examini subiceret.” (Our most holy Lord Pope Pius XII ordered that the same special Commission of experts who had prepared the rite of the Pascal Vigil should carefully examine the aforementioned reports.) Pius XII would, as always, follow their recommendations.
9. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 10
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
Maxima Redemptionis, a ‘Potemkin Façade’
Taken from here. All emphasis in the original.

In the previous article we saw how Pope Pius XII’s Liturgical Commission conducted the Easter Vigil survey among the members of the Church’s Hierarchy in 1951. By counting the hits and ignoring the misses, so to speak, Bugnini and his henchmen arrived at conclusions that were not fully supported by the data.

The result was a partial, over-simplistic and highly fanciful picture of the general opinion among the world’s Bishops on the Easter Vigil ceremonies. Yet it was this self-serving interpretation, which acted as the starting gun for the Holy Week reforms, that would be imposed on the Church in 1955.

A ‘Potemkin façade’

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A kind of Potemkin-façade intended to deceive passersby

But why was there no external or independent evaluation to ensure an objective scrutiny of the results? Why was Mgr. Léon Gromier, for instance, not consulted?

Pius XII could hardly have expected the Commission to act as a dispassionate evaluator of the evidence when he knew that the people running the survey had an obvious interest in a favorable outcome for the Liturgical Movement. This institutionalized conflict of interest should be called by its proper name: fraud.

The evidence available so far indicates that this was a survey forged in a crucible of secrecy and deception. Like all “Potemkin façades,” (1) it was designed solely to deceive others with an elaborate and impressive result and thus impress the credulous.

Spinning a False Narrative

Maxima Redemptionis told us that attendance at all the Holy Week rites had been decreasing since the Middle Ages to the point where, by the 20th century, “common and almost universal experience teaches that these liturgical services of the sacred Triduum are often performed by the clergy with the body of the church nearly deserted.”

It placed the blame for this alleged state of affairs on the Church’s scheduling of these services to the morning hours “when, on weekdays, schools, businesses and public affairs of all kinds were and are conducted everywhere.”

It is difficult to know where to start to evaluate the accuracy of these broad and sweeping generalizations encompassing not just centuries but the dizzying complexity of the myriad parishes all over the world.

The salient feature of the Liturgical Commission’s survey was its intentional lack of perspective. No allusion was made to the many historical variables that may have affected the levels of attendance at the Holy Week services since the Middle Ages, such as the Pseudo-Reformation, the French and Russian Revolutions, the two World Wars and the persecution of Catholics in various countries around the world.

While there were bound to be churches where the Easter Vigil was not well attended, this may have been due to any number of causes – for instance difficulty of access in remote areas, shortage of clergy, absence of apostolic zeal or even the effects of the Liturgical Movement itself.

We are entitled, therefore, to ask: What percentage of the alleged diminution in attendance was due to the morning celebration of the Easter Vigil? The fact that other contributory factors were intentionally ignored means that the argument rests on shaky grounds.

An Invented Scenario Too Implausible to be True

If the opinion expressed in Maxima Redemptionis were true, we would have been constantly hearing from our pastors or reading in the Catholic papers about a momentous dearth of support for the Holy Week services. But, of course, there was no such situation. Good Friday has long been a widely-held national holiday in most countries, and Maundy Thursday in many, (2) and most Catholics were free – or could arrange to be free – to attend Church services then as well as on Holy Saturday morning. (3)

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An Easter Vigil at Westminster Cathedral in the 1930s attended by a crowd of faithful

But Bugnini did not need arguments that could be proven, only those that could not easily be disproven by his opponents. His tactic was to present incomplete, out of context and misleading information to unsuspecting faithful who were in no position to judge its accuracy on a world-wide scale; they would have no means of identifying the mismatch between the assumption and the facts.
Even if the claim happened to be true – although its veracity is far from established – it by no means followed that changing the Holy Week liturgy would increase attendance.

Up until 1955, there is ample reason to believe that the Holy Week services were well attended. Although few people are alive today to provide memories of the pre-1955 ceremonies, there is an alternative source of information: contemporary newspaper coverage.

Maxima Redemptionis Disregarded the Reality on the Ground

All we have to do is search the archives of various Catholic newspapers dating from the late 19th to the mid-20th century or the Pathe newsreels to provide a reality check. These attest to the fact that Catholics flocked to the Holy Week services, including the Easter Vigil, in great numbers.

Here are a few representative examples from the London area which could be multiplied around the world:

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Above, a 1950s Irish parish in the U.S. - filled with people for Holy Week services;
below, whole villages in Spain taking part in Holy Week ceremonies in 1911

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• 1898: “The services at Farm Street (4) and at the Oratory (5) were also followed by dense throngs. Never does there seem to have been greater fervour in the churches during Holy Week in London.” (6) [see here]

• 1917: “The churches were crowded at all the Holy Week services until the dawn of the new Easter Day.” [see here - emphasis added] (7)

• 1920: “Mass of the Presanctified was celebrated on Good Friday in the presence of a congregation which filled the Cathedral.” (8) [see here]

• 1920: “A commentary upon the sterling Catholicity of the working classes of South London is the fact that they attended in large numbers the services of Holy Week and Easter.” (9)

• 1920: “At the Church of the English Martyrs [Streatham] on Good Friday, Dr. Terry's setting of the music was finely rendered by the voluntary choir, the conductor being Mr. Collis, the organist, formerly of Westminster Cathedral. There was a crowded congregation throughout the day.” (10)

None of these accounts comes anywhere near the description of almost deserted churches found in Maxima Redemptionis. Indeed, by one of those delicious ironies of which history is replete, Romano Guardini himself inadvertently revealed the non-sense in this claim.

Having visited the Basilica of Monreale, Sicily, during Holy Week of 1929, he recorded how impressed he was that on Holy Thursday “the ample space was crowded.” and attendance at the Easter Vigil service filled “almost every part of that great church.” (11)

Irony Heaped Upon Irony, Ruin Upon Ruin

It was only in 1956 when Maxima Redemptionis came into force that disaffection with the new Holy Week rites set in among many of the faithful, especially those who were most attached to the traditional ceremonies.

The result was that as soon as the novelty wore off, attendance began to fall (12) and the Holy Week services are still playing to rapidly diminishing audiences. Even worse, the administration of Baptism which was meant to be a high feature of the progressivist rites has plummeted to a level unprecedented in the history of the Church.

What more ironic indictment could there be of a key objective of the Holy Week reform which was to increase attendance? Fr. Ferdinando Antonelli, later Cardinal, who had been given chief responsibility for its implementation, had confidently explained in 1955 that the motives for the changes were “of a pastoral nature; that is, to bring the masses of the faithful back to the commemoration of the holiest mysteries of Christ’s Passion and Death.” (13)

What neither he nor the other Bugnini-bots on the Commission realized was that the Holy Week reform, not being built on the solid rock of Tradition, had all the stability of a house of cards. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that it was subject to imminent collapse.


1. The pejorative expression “Potemkin façades” comes from the 18th-century Russian Minister, Gregory Potemkin, a favorite of Empress Catherine II. When Catherine decided to visit the Crimea in 1787 to inspect that part of her Empire, Potemkin allegedly erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River so that she would think the poverty-stricken area was a prosperous and thriving place. He is also said to have provided crowds of waving and cheering peasants to impress the Empress as she cruised down the river.
It is tempting to draw a real life parallel with Bugnini and his attempts to beguile the reigning Pontiff, Pius XII into believing that all the Bishops were cheering the start of the liturgical reform.
The expression is now used, especially in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built to hide an adverse fact or situation.
2. Countries where Maundy Thursday is a public holiday include Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Guatemala, Iceland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Spain and Uruguay.
3. Catholic families often took time off work during the long Easter weekend. It is a longstanding custom that government offices and many businesses do not operate on Saturday, leaving many Catholics free to attend the morning Easter Vigil. In countries where it was customary for children to attend school on Saturday mornings – even in the unlikely event that this applied to Holy Saturday – it was within the remit of teachers in Catholic schools to accompany their charges to Church services.
4. The Church of the Immaculate Conception at Farm Street, Mayfair, in London has been run by the Jesuits since its establishment in the 1840s. In pre-Vatican II times, it was famous for its phenomenal success in making many thousands of converts to the Church.
5. Established in the mid 19th century, the London Oratory was the largest church in London before the building of Westminster Cathedral.
6. The Tablet, 16 April 1898
7. Ibid., 14 April 1917
8. ‘Easter in the Churches,’ The Tablet, 10th April 1920
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Translated from ‘Reise nach Sizilien’ (Voyage in Sicily) in Romano Guardini, Spiegel und Gleichnis. Bilder und Gedanken (Mirror and Parable: Images and Thoughts), Mainz-Paderbon: Grünewald-Schöningh, 1990, pp. 158-161.
12. “Now that the novelty is wearing off, parishes in many areas report dwindling congregations.” Fr John Coyne, ‘The Traditional Position’, in Charles Cunliffe (ed.), English in the Liturgy: A Symposium, Templegate, 1956, p. 97.
13. Fr. Ferdinando Antonelli, L'Osservatore Romano, November 1955
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
A Reformed Liturgy Turned against Traditional Devotions
Taken from here.

When Bugnini described the reaction of the Bishops to the reformed Easter Vigil as an “explosion of joy throughout the Church,” his jubilation was premature – the boast immediately backfired. From 1951 onwards, the reform ran up against an intractable problem: a sense of Catholic Tradition among the majority of the faithful that could not be steamrollered out of existence. That would take some time longer to achieve.

By 1959, the American Augustinian writer, Fr. Dennis Geaney, commented glumly that “the restored Easter Vigil meets with quiet but stubborn resistance.” (1) The people, in other words, were loath to give up their Holy Week traditions that had been an integral part of Catholic life for centuries.

Intolerance towards traditional devotions

It has always been a key aim of the Liturgical Movement to eliminate most of the expressions of legitimate popular piety, whether they take place during the liturgy or outside it. Dom Lambert Beauduin was the first to urge that Catholic devotions should undergo a process of “sublimation” so as “to have the Christian people all live the same spiritual life, to have them all nourished by the official worship of Holy Mother Church.”(2)

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English villagers process around the parish church in the Holy Thursday ceremonies in the 1950s

In his opinion, only strictly liturgical rites were of any real value and dignity. That is why liturgical reformers did everything in their power to accelerate the collapse of pious customs and traditions that were dear to the Catholic faithful.

There is no doubt that the reformers viewed their efforts in terms of a zero-sum game in which the winnings on their side must necessarily equal the losses on the side of traditional Catholics. Suddenly, devotions found themselves in competition with the liturgy, whereas traditionally they had always been regarded as a means of supplementing the benefits of the liturgy by increasing the religious fervour of the faithful.

One liturgist summed up the general feeling of reformers: “We must deplore the success of devotions because they invade the whole of Catholic consciousness at the expense of the liturgy.” (3)

The way of the triffids

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The menacing overgrown plant made famous in John Whyndham's novel The Day of the Triffids

On the theme of invasion, Fr. Joseph Jungmann, one of the consultants to Pius XII’s Liturgical Commission, stated that the “entire wild growth of very peripheral forms of devotion” was as welcome in the Church as weeds in a well-tended garden. (4)

Devotions were thus depicted as a feral population of sinister weeds – the word “triffids” comes to mind – advancing on the liturgy with malevolent intent. This was one example of the sort of irrational prejudice on which the Liturgical Movement thrived.

As calumnies against traditional piety flew thick and fast, (5) popular devotions came to be viewed as pestilential – as if they were a swarm of locusts or some sort of disease to be controlled or eradicated. And so they were persecuted almost to vanishing point. (6)

The history of the Liturgical Movement has shown that any attempt to systematically root out popular devotions destroys not only those forms of piety but piety itself. Wherever deeply ingrained Catholic traditions – whether liturgical or not – have been rooted out, the void is invariably filled by activities of a secular nature, from which a sense of holy reverence is necessarily absent.

The downplaying of pious devotions during Holy Week (7)

In Mediator Dei Pius XII robustly encouraged and defended traditional devotions. (8) That was before he appointed the members of his Liturgical Commission. But by 1955 there was a distinct change in papal policy towards the popular devotions traditionally associated with Holy Week. They were mentioned only once in Maxima Redemptionis where they were treated with aloofness and disdain, as if they were unworthy interlopers on hallowed ground.

The Decree states: “Nor can these [Holy Week ] rites be sufficiently compensated for by those exercises of devotion which are usually called extra-liturgical.”

This was a classic example of a straw man argument – no one had proposed replacing the Church’s liturgy with “extra-liturgical” services. In fact, both had been coexisting peacefully and happily for centuries. Contrary to what was asserted in Maxima Redemptionis, both had been popular among the faithful in most European countries, especially those with a long Catholic tradition. To say that they were attended by crowds would be something of an understatement; in many Catholic countries, whole villages and towns turned out to attend them. (See Holy Thursday in Perpignan 1952)

There is eye-witness evidence that during Holy Week in Rome in the early 20th century all churches large and small were packed for liturgical as well as “extra-liturgical” services:

“On the afternoons of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the great basilicas of St. Peter, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major were thronged with thousands of worshippers … while devout Romans preferred to attend the services in the less-known churches. Never, perhaps, before were the Altars of Repose visited by such immense numbers – outside San Silvestro or the Gesu one had sometimes to wait a quarter of an hour before being able to enter the church, while at the Scala Santa throughout the entire week there was an unending pilgrimage of the devout who ascended the sacred stairs on their knees. For the time being it is hard to remember that Rome of 1911 is honeycombed with Freemasonry, Socialism, Anarchy, and Anticlericalism in all its forms.” (9)

A similar scenario was found in 18th-century Venice at the Basilica of St. Mark where we learn that “At the Holy Week ceremonies in St. Mark's the Doge was present as a matter of course; and with him the Signory, (10) the Senate, the great officers of State, the Papal Nuncio and the other ambassadors.” (11)

[Image: F098_Sancta.jpg]
Climbing the Scala Santa on one's knees was a popular Holy Week devotion in Rome

By playing liturgical and “extra-liturgical” ceremonies against each other, Maxima Redemptionis thus stirred up a spirit of contention in the Church with the Sacred Triduum at the center of the storm.

In the accompanying Instruction that followed the Decree, Bishops were no longer requested to actively promote devotions, but to treat with caution (“prudenter”) the various popular customs (“populares consuetudines”) associated with Holy Week. (see document here).

In the same document the traditional devotions were referred to as problems to be solved (“De quibusdam difficultatibus componendis”) – in other words spokes in the wheel of the Liturgical Movement – rather than as cherished traditions and efficacious means of spiritual renewal for the faithful.

Furthermore, the Bishops were asked to instruct the faithful that the “restored” Holy Week rites were vastly superior to any of their devotions. (12) The message, rammed home with heavy force, about the superiority of the Church’s official liturgy over popular devotions, was another straw man argument. What traditional Catholic would deny that the liturgy is the very acme of Catholic worship?

A dog-whistle strategy (13)

The progressivist Bishops in the Liturgical Movement understood the radical revisionist implications of the Decree far more clearly than many of the conservatives outside the Movement. The underlying Bugnini-inspired message was that they should be on the alert to defend the boundaries of the reformed rites against any competition from traditionalists.

It was also clear to the progressivists that the millions of Catholics who found spiritual refreshment in the Holy Week devotions were given no encouragement to continue doing so, and that without such encouragement from the pastors the traditional devotions would wither and die.

So, the good of souls was not the point at all: it was rather the reformers’ desire to use the Church’s liturgy as a means to a self-serving end – to indulge their animosity to the devotions that were popular with the faithful.

Maxima Redemptionis and its accompanying Instruction, thus, helped to give a negative connotation to the traditional Holy Week devotions, implying that these were in some way usurping the role of the Church’s official liturgy. It was only a matter of time before these anti-devotion sentiments would become entrenched in the mainstream Church to the point where they would routinely produce a “knee-jerk” reaction in most of the clergy against the very concept of Catholic piety.

With the initial impetus given by Maxima Redemptionis, those pious practices connected with Holy Week, which the Liturgical Movement has been doing everything possible to suppress, were officially consigned to oblivion.


1. Dennis Geaney “Guarded Enthusiasm,” Worship, vol. 33, n. 7, 1959, p. 419
2. L. Beauduin, La Piété de l'Eglise, Louvain, Abbey of Mont-César, 1914 (published in English translation by Virgil Michel under the title of Liturgy the Life of the Church, Collegeville, 1926)
3. Marcel Metzger, History of the Liturgy: The Major Stages, Liturgical Press, 1997, p. 135. The same author states: “Vatican II has restored the teaching of the liturgy in the formation of the clergy. We must recognize that this teaching was not given in a satisfactory way prior to the Council.” (Ibid., p. 136)
4. Joseph Jungmann, “The Constitution on the Liturgy” in Herbert Vorgrimler (Ed.), Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 1, New York: Herder & Herder/London: Burns & Oates, 1967, p 17.
5. The reformers charged that the faithful only resorted to devotions because they were alienated from the true worship of the Church through lack of “active participation.” They denigrated traditional devotions as a primitive hangover from supposedly superstitious pre-modern times and rejected them as being “saccharine,” “sentimental” and “individualistic.”
6. The only places where popular devotions may be tolerated are in the home, at meetings, in schools and in some religious societies – but certainly not in church.
7. The most popular Holy Week devotions were visiting seven Altars of Repose, the Stations of the Cross, the Tre Ore – a Good Friday service consisting of sermons on the Seven Last Words, meditations and hymns commemorating the Three Hours’ Agony of Christ on the Cross – religious processions in the streets, and the blessing of homes on Holy Saturday evening. The latter was specifically eliminated in the Instruction accompanying Maxima Redemptionis to make way for the “restored” Easter Vigil.
8. Mediator Dei, 1947 nn.173-185.
9. ‘Holy Week in Rome,’ The Tablet, April 22, 1911
10. The governing body of the Republic of Venice.
11. “Holy Week and Easter in St. Mark's, Venice, in The Eighteenth Century,” The Tablet, April 8, 1911
12. AAS, 1955, “Instructio De Ordine Hebdomadae Sanctae Instaurato Rite Peragendo,” p. 847.
13. Based on the fact that dog whistles are of such high frequency that they can be inaudible to the human ear, a “dog-whistle strategy” is a form of political messaging employing coded language whose meaning is lost on a general audience, but has a specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The relevance here is that the members of the Liturgical Movement who were “in the know” would take away the secret, intended message.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

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