A Historical Analysis of the New Mass

The book Il card. Ferdinando Antonelli a gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970 [i.e., Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli and the Development of the Liturgical Reform from 1948 to 1970] by Nicola Giampietro, O.F.M. Cap. is a valuable contribution to the history of the "liturgical reform" of Pope Paul VI.

Fr. Antonelli, O.F.M., was Reporter General of the "Historical Section" of Rites. From 1948-60 he was a member of the Pontifical Commission for Liturgical Reform instituted by Pope Pius XII. From 1959 he was Promoter General of the Faith in the Sacred Congregation for Rites. He was an expert and Secretary of the Commission on the Sacred Liturgy at the Second Vatican Council and a member of the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgic. Fr. Antonelli is a direct witness of the shipwreck of the sound liturgical renewal begun under Pope Pius XII and which had already been envisaged by Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XI.

Under Pope Pius XII, Fr. Antonelli had been a cornerstone of the re-establishment of the Paschal Vigil (1951) and of the liturgical reform of Holy Week (1955). Initially he shared the illusion of those who thought that the Council would bring safely to harbor the prudent liturgical renewal which had produced its first good fruits under Pope Pius XII, a renewal which, with the Encyclical Mediator Dei [available from Angelus Press. Price: $2.50], seemed to have reset the course of the "liturgical movement" by correcting its deviations and disciplining its aberrant tendencies (cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, "Mediator Dei").

When, on December 4, 1963, Pope Paul VI promulgated the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy, Fr. Antonelli wrote in his diary, "The bones of Pope St. Pius X will be rejoicing. The Constitution on the Liturgy is nothing other than the precious fruit of a small seed originally sown by him" (op.cit. p.204).


First Doubts

However, in an address of September 8, 1964, Fr. Antonelli seems already perplexed: he wonders if the present time is propitious for realizing the liturgical reform, and says, "I do not know .... [S]ome things perhaps need more time to mature" (p.208). Meanwhile the implementation of the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy had been entrusted to the notorious Consilium. On March 3, 1964, after an interview with Cardinal Larraona, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation [of Rites], Fr. Antonelli noted down their mutual perplexity in his diary:

The implementation of the Liturgy Constitution is handed over to the "Consilium." But unless the contrary be proved it is the Congregation [of Rites] which is the organ of government: if a different organ of government is created, confusion will ensue (p.227, note 12).


The '"Working Method" of the Consilium

After the first meeting of the Consilium, Fr. Antonelli writes: "Grand ideas, but it will not be easy to put them into practice" (p.228). He still believes that it is a question of painstaking work with a prudent respect for liturgical tradition, as it had been under Pope Pius XII, but very soon he will come to see that it is not so anymore. After the second meeting of consulters he wrote:

I am not enthusiastic about the work in hand ,...we have a collection of people who are very incompetent and, what is worse, they are "advanced" in promoting novel­ties. The discussions are entirely avant-garde in tendency, based on impressions and chaotic desires. What upsets me most is that the reports of the presentations and the corresponding questions are always "advanced" in ap­proach and phrased in a biased way. Direction is weak (p.229).

This first negative impression is confirmed in the second meeting of the Consilium. Fr. Antonelli wrote,

Everything that is "advanced," is passed ...because that is Consilium's climate of thought. As a result, there is a great hurrying to get on, and people do not take time to reflect ...no sooner has the text been distributed but the examination begins, without anyone having had time to reject ,...There ought not to be such haste. But people's minds are excited and they want to press ahead (p.229).

Doubts continue to trouble Fr. Antonelli, for example, on concelebration (p.230); and, after the third meeting of Consilium, his fundamental doubt resurfaces concerning the opportuneness of liturgical reform at this particular historical moment:

I dislike the whole spirit of innovation; I dislike the tone of the discussions, which is too hasty and sometimes too excited, I dislike the way the President [Lercarol does not get the participants to speak by asking their views. After all, the issues to be decided on are important ones, and I don't know whether this is a good time (p.230).

After the fifth session, Fr. Antonelli is seriously worried by the spirit of innovation of the Consilium members:

This was a constructive session. But I am unhappy about the atmosphere. There is a spirit of criticism and intolerance towards the Holy See which cannot lead to a good conclusion. Then the whole approach to the liturgy is rationalistic; there is not concern for true piety. I am afraid that one day we shall have to say of this whole reform...: accepit liturgia recessit devotio-As the liturgy progressed devotion goes backwards (p.234).


Doctrinal Concerns

It is not, however, only a question of devotion. During the seventh session, when the Rite of Priestly Ordination is being discussed, Fr. Antonelli "notes with surprise that, in the context of the priest's functions, there is no mention of his principal work: sacrificium eucharisticum offerre" (p.236).

For the moment he is held back by an accident, due to the incompetence of the. "legal corps" and the "haste to get on." But Pope Paul VI's address of April 19, 1967 makes him think even more seriously about this Pope's responsibilities:

Paul VI said that he was saddened because some people were making capricious  experiments in the Lit­urgy, and even more distressed by certain tendencies towards desacralizing the Liturgy. On the other hand he re-affirmed his confidence in the Consilium." And the Pope does not see that all the ills come from the way in which the "Consilium" organizes everything in this reform (p.237ff).

And all the time, as Fr. Antonelli makes it clear, "it is certain that Pope Paul VI followed the work of this `Consilium' most attentively" (p.237ff). Fr. Antonelli does not cease to be amazed at the method of working of the Consilium, or rather, the absence of any method in its working. On April 23, 1967, he notes in his diary:

The schemas multiply without arriving at a form that is really thought-out. Cardinal Lercaro is not the man to direct a discussion. Fr. Bugnini is interested only in one thing: To go ahead and get it finished. The voting system is worse. Generally votes are made by raising hands, but no one counts the number of hands raised in favor and the number against; no one says "so many in favor and so many against"-It is a real scandal. Secondly, we have never been able to find out-although the question has been asked many times-what majority is necessary: a two-thirds majority or an absolute majority ....Another grave defect is the absence of minutes of the sessions, this has never been mentioned and certainly no such minutes have ever been read.


A "Continuation of the Council," or, the Permanent Council

Finally, after three years of anarchy, or rather, of dictatorship, by Fr. Bugnini, the "Consilium" wished to have its own "statutes," and a draft was presented to Pope Paul VI who, in turn, passed it on eventually to Fr. Antonelli for his comments. Antonelli, who, in addition to being a member of the "Consilium," was also Secretary of the Congregation of Rites, submitted his "observations" to Cardinal Larraona, Prefect of this Congregation, and he returned them to Pope Paul VI. In his "general observations" Fr. Antonelli emphasizes that "there is a noticeable and widespread anxiety with regard to these continual changes in a

large section of the clergy and the faithful," and that "this state of instability and uncertainty about the future is favorable to abuses, eroding more and more the holy respect for liturgical laws." Among other things he points out the anomaly of there being "two organs of the Holy See, both concerned with liturgical life, namely, the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the `Consilium."' Then, in his "particular observations," Fr. Antonelli notes that, according to the statutes, four-fifths of the members of the "Consilium," "including the Cardinals," are to be appointed by the Presidency and only one-fifth by the Pope. This is inadmissible: "this system," writes Fr. Antonelli "is absolutely new and is nothing but a continuation of the Council-which has no precedent in history. For, even after the Councils of Trent and Vatican I, once the Council had ended the Holy See entered once more into in full autonomy."

In his observations Fr. Antonelli also asked that the system of counting votes should be clearly fixed, because, he wrote,

...[Up] to now ...if a certain number of hands went up, they would press ahead without anyone counting how many were in favor and how many were against. Then, in the discussions which followed people often appealed to the fact that the vote had been in favor, and no one could prove that it had really been in favor.

After Fr. Antonelli's observations, the question of the "statutes" got bogged down. Pope Paul VI, as we shall see, opted for a different solution that would take Fr. Antonelli away from the liturgical reform and leave Bugnini's hands free. For the present, however, Antonelli had to endure Bugnini's violent reaction-which showed that he was privy to Antonelli's consultation with Pope Paul VI, whereas the latter had told Antonelli that the matter was "strictly reserved" (p.242).


Fr. Antonelli Begins to See Clearly

We are now at the end of 1967 and Fr. Antonelli writes in his diary:

No one has any longer an awareness of the sacred and binding character of liturgical law. The work of desacralization, which is now called secularization, continues on a grand scale. It is clear from this that the liturgical question ...is part of a far bigger set of problems, which are fundamentally doctrinal, so the big crisis is the crisis of traditional doctrine and the magisterium.

The blindfold starts to fall from Fr. Antonelli's eyes. It is not only a question of incompetence, of an appalling superficiality, of working at breakneck speed; it is a much more serious phenomenon. The liturgical reform is an instrument in the hands of triumphant "innovators" (in the same way that the liturgical movement had been, in part, in the hands of "rampant Modernists").

On July 23, 1968, Fr. Antonelli tells Cardinal Benelli of his ...

...anxieties concerning the liturgical reform which is going further and further astray. I mentioned in particular:

1. Liturgical law, which was something holy until the Council, no longer exists for many of them. Each one regards himself as authorized to do what he wants...

2. The Mass, above all, is the sore point...; now they are starting to pull confession apart.

3. In the "Consilium" there are few Bishops who have had a specific liturgical training, and very few who are real theologians....And this is dangerous. In the liturgy, every word, every gesture imparts an idea which is a theological idea. Since, at present, the whole of theology is up for discussion, the theories current among the "advanced" theologians bring ruin upon the formula and the rite: the very grave result is that, while the theological discussion remains at an elevated level among men of culture, once it has descended into the formula and the rite, it begins to wreak havoc among the people (p.257ff).


The Church's "Auto-Demolition"

All this, with the connivance of Pope Paul VI, signifies the death-knell of any sound liturgical renewal. The liturgy is made the instrument of doctrinal demolition. Now Fr. Antonelli is aware of this and expresses his pain:

But what is sad ...is the very basis, a mental attitude, a pre-established position, namely, that many of those who are influential in the reform...and others, have no love, no veneration for what has been transmitted to us. Right from the start they despise everything which exists at present. This is an unjust and poisonous negative mental­ity. Unfortunately even Pope Paul VI has something of this attitude. They all have the best of intentions, but, given this mentality, they are bound to demolish, not to restore (p.258).

On February 10, 1969, in connection with the Rite of Baptism, Antonelli writes:

At the end of the doctrinal chapter, I ask: how is it that in this entire chapter we have been talking about Baptism for the remission of sins, but there has been no mention of original sin?

And on February 20:

This very morning I had to observe that, even where one would expect a clear reference to original sin, such as in a little catechetical homily, it seems that they avoid speaking of it. It is this debased new theological mentality which so upsets me (p.224).

Fr. Antonelli's observations are always serious and concerned. Apropos the discussion on the Praenotanda on Confirmation, he writes:

How can people be expected to give their views on these questions-some of which are very grave-when the text is changed at the last moment and presented to us while we are actually in session? This is not a serious way of working ....Personally I ask myself, what authority and what training do we have, to be discussing such complicated questions of theology? (p.246).


The Question of the "Novus Ordo"

The "question of the Ordo Missae" erupted in 1969. Fr. Antonelli speaks of it not only in his diary, but also in his personal notes on the liturgical reform. Let us see what he says. On October 31, 1969, he writes:

A few days ago Fr. Stickler, a Salesian, told me that Cardinal Ottaviani had produced a doctrinal critique of the Ordo Missae and of the Instructio annexed to it. Then the news appeared in the newspapers. Msgr. Laboa told me that the Pope had written a two-page letter to Cardinal Seper, asking him to examine the question. Alarmed, Cardinal Seper had spoken about it to Cardinal Gut, who was deeply concerned and had mentioned it to Fr. Bugnini. Yesterday morning, the latter told me that, some days ago, Cardinal Villot had written to Fr. Bugnini instructing him to refrain from all comment regarding the Ordo Missae. Mgsr. Laboa has seen this letter. Then there was the unexpected publication of the Instructio...to kill the press campaign before it got off the ground. Then, this evening, October 31, there was the communique of the CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference), saying that the Italian version would be published on November 30, and would apply throughout Italy-when the CEI had already stated that that would not be possible. We are in the realm of confusion. And it makes me so sad, because there will be dire consequences (p.259).

Fr. Antonelli himself is of the opinion that there are no "heresies," either in the Instructio or in the Ordo Missae, "even if it is undeniable that the matters dealt with in the Instructio are confused and that even the way in which they are formulated is anything but clear and limpid" (p.260). In particular, he admits, "the insistence on the idea of the meal (coena) seems to imply the downgrading of the idea of sacrifice." The idea of sacrifice is "indirect, whereas the idea of the meal recurs frequently and in a direct manner. In addition; certain omissions have done nothing to promote clarity" (p.260)-which was also the case with the "imprudent formulation of Paragraph 7" (p.261). Once again, more than anything, Fr. Antonelli is utterly amazed at the way in which the question is handled. On October 31, he writes,

I am distressed about the matter of the Ordo Missae. I do not understand why people were so upset about Cardinal Ottaviani's critique and then, when the press started to make a fuss, they reacted with the untimely publication of the Instructio...and the communication of the CEI, directing all arrangements to be in force from 30 November-although the texts don't yet exist, but are promised for November 15. How can a change of such magnitude be prepared for in 10 days? (p.259).

Thus we come to the final scene. On May 8, 1969, with the publication of the Apostolic

Constitution Sacrum Rituum Congregatio, Pope Paul VI had already split the Sacred Congregation of Rites into two congregations: the Congregation for Saints and the Congregation for Divine Worship. Bugnini had been appointed Secretary of the new

Congregation for Divine Worship and Antonelli was made Secretary of the Congregation for Saints  (p.264). The last session of the "Consilium" (April 9, 1970) coincided with the first session of the new Congregation for Divine Worship, which, as Cardinal Gut made clear, "is a continuation of the Consilium" (p.244). So Fr. Antonelli left (or perhaps, more exactly, was excluded from) this stage of the "liturgical reform."


A judgment We Cannot Share

The author of this book, whose intention is to vindicate the quality and work of "Antonelli the liturgist," writes:

It is a pity that Antonelli had so little a part to play in the work of the reform, particularly after his Congregation of Rites was suppressed. He remains an embittered man. Perhaps this is the destiny of all pioneers: they blaze a trail but it is left to others to forge ahead, leaving the pioneers by the wayside (p.247).

No. Fr. Antonelli is not embittered. He would have good reason to be so, but he is not. His notes never give the impression of personal resentment. For example, when Pope Paul VI excluded the Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, the "conservative" Cardinal Larraona, from the liturgical reform and entrusted the latter to the "Consilium" presided over by the "progressive" Cardinal Lercaro, flanked by Bugnini, Fr. Antonelli's sole concern-and rightly-was with the inevitable conflicts which would arise between two organisms responsible for the same matters. Similarly, when Pope Paul VI excluded him from the "liturgical reform" and preferred Bugnini, Fr. Antonelli says no more than this:

I could say a lot of things about this man. I would have to add that he has always been supported by Paul VI. If I am not mistaken, the most important thing that Fr. Bugnini lacks is theological formation and sensitivity. I have the impression that large-scale concessions have been made, especially as regards the Sacraments, to the Protestant mentality. I do not say that Fr. Bugnini himself made these concessions. Not at all: he did not make them. He used many people and-I do not know why-he brought to this "work" people who were skilful, but of a "progressive" theological hue.

Generously, Fr. Antonelli adds: "So, either he did not notice, or he didn't (or couldn't) resist certain tendencies" (p.264).

Fr. Antonelli's judgment concerning the "lack of theological formation and sensitivity" of Fr. Annibale Bugnini coincides, in substance, with the following judgment-which, while humorous, is yet far more incisive-once given by Dom Alfonso Pietro Salvini, O.S.B.:

In the bulletin of the Diocese of Pisa (no. 12, Mar. 25, 1973) I read that Bishop Bugnini...would have liked to replace the homily at Mass by dancing. The kind of savage he is would like such things-and worse (Divagazioni di una lunga vita, ed. Stella del Mare, Livorno).

As regards the incredible "method of working" of the authors of the "liturgical reform," we need only re-read Professor Romano Amerio's description of the notorious examples of decadence in the Roman Curia and its organisms (Iota Unum. A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, Sarto House 1996 available from Angelus Press. Price: $24.95]):

Apart from bad Latin and a lack of precision, the Curia can be criticized for the cultural inadequacy implicit in recent papal documents, which were for centuries distinguished by an irreproachable perfection (p.164).

Finally, when we come to Fr. Antonelli's puzzlement about Pope Paul VI and his responsibilities, it is sufficient to note that Fr. Antonelli even manages to find something good in the address in which Pope Paul VI tells the members of the Consilium that the liturgy "is like a vigorous tree, rooted in the earth, its trunk putting forth new branches which are covered with new foliage every year" (p.200). Fr. Antonelli stays with the "roots" which are well fixed in the soil of Tradition, and refrains from plucking the novelties from this "trunk" with its "new foliage every year." Has the like ever happened before in the 2,000-year history of the liturgy? Cardinal Ottaviani had strongly underlined this at the Council when he said:

Are we seeking to stir up wonder, or perhaps scandal, among the Christian people, by introducing changes in so venerable a rite, that has been approved for so many centuries and is now so familiar? The rite of Holy Mass should not be treated as if it were a piece of cloth to be refashioned according to the whim of each generation (R. Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, 1967, Tan Books, 1985), p.28.

Under Pope Pius XII, Fr. Antonelli had been accustomed to serious and deliberate work, with respect for the liturgical tradition. Here we find him in some perplexity, reasonably enough, and then, little by little, he becomes more and more concerned about the change of course the "liturgical reform" is taking. No longer is it a case of "pioneers blazing a trail and others pushing further along it"; now what is happening is a real deviation, with the liturgy subordinated to neo-Modernism-in the guise of "new theology"-and, as Fr. Antonelli well understood, once it has begun to "bring ruin upon the formula and the rite, it begins to wreak havoc among the people" (p.257 cit.).

If any reproach could be made to Fr. Antonelli, it is that he is not "embittered." On the contrary, he found it hard to understand (and perhaps he has never fully understood) the gravity of what was happening. But it is precisely his initial optimism and his willingness to be of service to a sound liturgical renewal that make him a priceless witness against the "savage liturgical amputation which has been touted as a reform" (G. Ceronetti, La Stampa, July 18, 1990).


Taken from Courrier de Rome, April 2000. Translated by Graham Harrisor Republished from St. John's Bulletin #62, April-July 2000.