28 October 2014


There's never any harm in reviewing a book that came out some time ago: so, today, you will have my views on Piero Marini's book A Challenging Reform (2007), in which the former papal Master of Ceremonies justifies the 'reforms' introduced after Vatican II (largely by the drive and enthusiasm of his hero, Annibale Bugnini, whom B Paul VI inherited from his predecessor).

Marini's theme, from which he never diverges by a millimetre (there are no shades of grey to spoil the grandeur of his blacks and whites), is how goodies pushed through 'reforms' in the face of resistance from baddies who did their best to prevent the implementation of 'what the Council wanted'. Quite where all these baddies came from, he never makes clear. The Council's document on the Liturgy was finally approved by 2,147 votes in favour and 4 against. (Yes: only four votes against. Among the multitudes who were happy to vote in favour were Archbishop Lefebvre and other 'reactionaries' who clearly never dreamed that they were voting for radical innovations).

The secret of Marini's sleight of hand is to confuse two fundamentally distinct things: what the Council Fathers did mandate; and what Marini's associates subsequently forced through without sanction from the Council. We must indeed acknowledge examples of changes made by the 'reform' which can claim a basis in the Council's instructions. The Council did mandate that a wider diet of Scripture should be put before the faithful in the Mass. So the Three Year Lectionary can at least claim Conciliar sanction. Or take the Breviary hymns. The Council did say that other hymns from the Church's lyric treasury should be added. So the hymns in the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours can claim Conciliar mandate. And these reforms, whether you or I like them or not, were done in the consciousness that they were the Council's wish ... otherwise, one wonders if even the Readings and Hymns would have been tampered with.

But, at the heart of the Roman Rite, there is something which is far more ancient and infinitely more central than the Readings and Hymns. The unchangeable Canon of the Mass. The Eucharistic Prayer.

Yet, in the period after the Council, alternative Eucharistic Prayers (originally three; later something like a dozen) were added to the Roman Canon. And this addition is completely absent from the Conciliar shopping list. Only a few years before the Council, an Anglo-Catholic writer, Dudley Symon, had written of the Canon Romanus, the immemorially ancient Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Church, "This was the Prayer that S Augustine brought with him to England in AD 597 and which for a thousand years was familiar to and loved by the English people. It is almost incredible that by a stroke of the pen it was made illegal [in 1549] by State action, though not so strange that revolts were widespread against this piece of tyranny, revolts that could only be stamped out by German mercenaries ... it is most unlikely that [the Roman Rite's] chief glory, the Canon, will be touched or cease to be said in Latin even if elsewhere much more of the vernacular is permitted."

So this move was intensely revolutionary. I am aware that some Fathers from non-European cultures had not felt that the Roman Canon was universally suitable (although my recollection is that they called for the resurrection of other ancient liturgies, not for the composition of new Eucharistic Prayers by committee). And I certainly know that 'Progressive' liturgists took a very dim view of the Canon. But the suggestion of offering a broader provision, which was accepted (with very little dissent) by the Fathers with regard to the Readings and the Hymns, was not extended by their Decree to cover the Canon. The suspicion has to be that those most enthusiastic about devaluing the Canon had the prudence not to be too noisy about their wishes, out of a fear that such a campaign would have alerted many of the Fathers to their real game. You disagree? Come, come! Do you really expect us to believe that Ottaviani and Lefebvre, and their Conciliar associates, would have voted for Sacrosanctum concilium like lemmings charging for their favourite cliff-top if they had been told that the down-grading of the Canon was what they were giving a mandate for? 

Now look at how Marini slithers round these facts: "The fact that four Eucharistic Prayers were approved was consistent with the early Roman liturgy, which actually had used several anaphoras". One sentence; and a sentence culpably crafted grossly to deceive. Is there any truth in it? It is indeed likely that in Rome, as elsewhere, in the very earliest days of the Church, the Eucharistic Prayer was extemporised (just as there was perhaps a period before the Lord's deeds and words were written down and regarded as 'Scripture'). There is evidence that the text of the Canon evolved through various stages (just as the texts of what became the Gospels may have done). After all, classical liturgy did not flutter down from heaven ready made and with every i dotted (and neither did the text or canon of Scripture).

But to give the impression that the Roman Rite, as soon as we have Latin texts to bear witness to it, was a rite in which alternative anaphoras were on offer each morning to every celebrant, so that introducing after Vatican II alternative Eucharistic Prayers is 'consistent with the early Roman liturgy', is either very ignorant or very dishonest.

In neither case can Piero Marini be regarded as a liturgist whom it is safe to trust. He is a determined ideologue with a narrow agenda.
Footnotes: the Prayer which used to be called 'Hippolytus' has long been known to be neither as ancient as was thought, nor to have any connection withe Roman Church.
Piero Marini should not be confused with Guido Marini.

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