New Liturgical Movement: “For a General Liturgical Reform”: First-ever Translation of a Programmatic 1949 Article by Annibale Bugnini (Part 1)

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

NLM is very grateful to Carlo Schena for translating a text of crucial importance in understanding the history of the twentieth-century liturgical reforms, one that has apparently never been translated into English before. It is Annibale Bugnini’s programmatic article “Per una riforma liturgica generale,” published in the year 1949 (!) in Ephemerides Liturgicae vol. 63, pp. 166–84. The Italian text may be found transcribed (not without typographical errors) here. Mr. Schena worked from the original article, a facsimile of which may be found here. We will be publishing it in five parts. It goes without saying that this article is nothing less than a manifesto in favor of a massive overhaul of the entire liturgical life of the Church, the steps of which were to follow in due sequence from the experimental Easter Vigil of 1951 through the Holy Week and rubrical overhauls of 1955, the new code of rubrics in 1960, the 1962 editio typica missal, the postconciliar adaptations of 1965 and 1967, the Novus Ordo Missae of 1969, and so forth, through all the other liturgical books. The principles behind all of this were given here by Bugnini in 1949. – PAK

New Liturgical Movement: “For a General Liturgical Reform”: First-ever Translation of a Programmatic 1949 Article by Annibale Bugnini (Part 1)

For a General Liturgical Reform

Annibale Bugnini

For some time now, there have been frequent discussions about the possible reform of liturgical books, especially the Roman Breviary. These honest intentions are desires that appear to be favoured by the most recent studies and editions of the liturgical books. Now, in reality, rather than any particular reform (i.e., mainly of the Breviary), one must more correctly speak of a general reform [of the liturgy], at which also Pope Pius X aimed.

As far as “the defence of the ancient codices and monuments” is concerned, although there is still a long way to go, some progress has nevertheless been made, so that now it does not seem that one can charge with audacious presumption those who, in their turn, undertook the beginning of this same [general] reform.

Ephemerides Liturgicae published in 1929, with the benign approval of those to whom it pertained, R. D. Schmid’s dissertation on a rationale for reforming the Roman Breviary. The Supreme Pontiff Pius XII seemed once again to encourage liturgical scholars to make the Roman Breviary their study (cf. Ephem. lit. 60 [1946]: 2 and 61 [1947]: 99).

And so, this wish was transmitted by the moderators of Ephemerides, at the beginning of last year, to their collaborators and to friends of the liturgy, so as diligently to collect amendments, wishes, and intentions, and to put them in writing. We are now collecting these responses together, making a selection, and publishing them. [1]

*       *       *

Last year, the editors of our Review, making some remarks on recent events concerning the liturgy, hoped that the reform begun by Pius X would be resumed in order to continue and complete it in line with the programme given to it by the Holy Pontiff (cf. Ephem. lit. 62 [1948]: 3–4). Certain clues, such as the new [Bea] translation of the Psalter ordered by the Holy Father Pius XII happily reigning, and authorised for use in the public and private recitation of the Divine Office, as well as the repeatedly expressed encouragements, gave good hope for a resumption of the work, which would have to possess a more distinctly pastoral tendency (as one could gather from the several concessions and indults of recent times) in view of a lightening up of the liturgical apparatus and a more realistic adjustment to the concrete needs of clergy and faithful in the changed conditions of today. Such reasons led the editors of the journal to invite their collaborators and friends to express their thoughts on the matter.

The invitation was extended, in a wholly private and confidential manner, so that a fairly exact idea of the real aspirations of the clergy of various categories could be gained: university professors, seminary teachers, priests in care of souls, directors of [charitable] institutions, brothers of different orders and congregations, missionaries, etc. In particular, we invited people who, because of their ministry—such as preaching to the clergy, serving as lecturers, directing houses of [spiritual] exercises, etc.—are often in contact with many clerics. Consideration was also given to the individual nations, so that all, roughly speaking, would be represented.

The proposals ranged from the most traditionalist to the most advanced positions. Some simply stuck to the submitted questionnaire, while others elaborated veritable dissertations. Some tried to establish a reform on a set of principles, others focused on details while neglecting the whole. For evident and obvious reasons, as the invitation letter expressly noted, we cannot publish the answers in full. We would have to print a massive volume, with the disadvantage of seeing the same things repeated dozens of times in different terms. We will attempt to give as succinct a report as possible, trying not to leave out anything that has been proposed, even if more than one suggestion shows weak, defective, and unacceptable aspects. We will then draw some conclusions, modestly expressing our own personal thoughts.

We would also like to warn that we shall, for the time being, only give the results of the referendum on questions regarding the approach to a presumable general reform and a reform of the Breviary, leaving for a later date those concerning the other liturgical books.

First of all, a word on the title of this report: “general reform.” In the present state of affairs, indeed, can one think of an only partial reform—for instance, of the Breviary alone, to mention the most discussed point—without considering the other parts of the liturgy: the Missal, the Ritual, the Pontifical, the ecclesiastical year, etc.? We don’t think so.

Nor does an excellent liturgist, who writes:

A desirable reform of the Roman Breviary—or, more precisely, a revision of the liturgical celebration of feasts and mysteries by means of the Mass and the Divine Office, fully adapted to the spiritual needs of modern Christianity, to the day’s public and private conditions—could not be fruitfully achieved in the present state of uncertainty with regard to liturgical legislation as such. Since the nineteenth century at least, we have been living on a compromise, inappropriately called the “Roman Rite,” between the pontifical rite personally celebrated by the Pope in the Vatican or at the Lateran, the basilican rite of the great Roman churches, the episcopal rite of the Latin cathedrals of the West, the monastic conventual uses and the uses of chapters of canons, the needs of the parish ministry in urban or rural areas, and the needs of the private devotion of isolated priests or missionaries.

Thus, in its present state, the liturgy is a mosaic, or, if you like, an old building, built up little by little, at different times, with different materials and by different hands. If now one wants to remove or change (“modernize”) one or the other part, all the rest begins to crumble or no longer fits in with the restored part.

Indeed, even Pius X had the idea of gradually attaining a general reform. It must be added that certain pastoral problems, which at the time were only just beginning to be felt, have now taken on such proportions and have become so pressing that any failure to recognise them, to take them into account or to attempt a solution, would be the same as condemning the liturgy, the Church’s living prayer, to sterility or to an ineffective archaeologism. That is why we think that a liturgical reform will either be general or end up pleasing no one, as it would leave things as they are with their deficiencies, inconsistencies, and difficulties.


The purported reform, in order to be organic and unitary, and thus lasting, should start from clear and well-defined principles.

One contributor formulates them as follows:

a) thetical principle: “melior est conditio possidentis” [the better condition, the one to be favoured, is that of the possessor], i.e., of tradition, which is to be presumed good, until it is proven bad, that is to say, less useful;

b) antithetical principle: one must keep to the brevity and simplicity of the divine command: “Sic orabitis: Pater noster…” [Thus shall you pray: Our Father…];

c) synthetic principle: one must do the one and not omit the other, i.e., preserve tradition and do not fear simplification.

Others state that “the reform must be conceived as a return to the primitive tradition of the celebration of the Christian mystery rather than as a compromise between this celebration [placed] in a subordinate position and the devotional superfetations [2] that have disarticulated it over the centuries.”

Hence the following principles [are to be followed]:

1) the predominance of the Temporal cycle over the Sanctoral;
2) the typical office infra hebdomadam [is to be] the 3-lesson weekday;
3) preservation of the strictly local character of the cultus of saints;
4) avoidance of the multiplication of “idea feasts”; [3]
5) avoiding the continual repetition of “commons.”[4]

There were those who, impressed “by the body of the general rubrics, burdened by the subsequent and often contradictory commentaries of the probati auctores [approved authors], so much so as to represent a whole that is more complicated than the ancient Corpus Iuris,” felt that a general reform must necessarily be preceded by a “methodical codification.”

But one should bear in mind that, genetically speaking, the rubric follows the text and not vice versa, and that, out of the principles on which the reform is to be based, laws may be deduced that will fix for the future every movement, addition, or suppression in the already-fixed body of the liturgical prayer Ordinary. Fundamentally, it seems to me that the question should be more of [arriving at] a few clear principles, to inspire and dictate the broad lines of the reform, instead of [elaborating] particular norms regulating one or another point of the various parts of the liturgy. Once the broad outlines have been established, the new rubrics can gradually be proposed, thus becoming automatically an integral part of the “methodical codification.”

This series will continue with Part 2, on “Ranking of Feasts” and “Calendar.”


[1] This portion of the article is in Latin, while the remainder is in Italian: “Inde a brevi tempore crebrae disceptationes editae sunt super eventuali reformatione librorum liturgicorum, praesertim Breviari Romani. Iusta proposita sunt desideria, cui studia recentiora et textuum liturgicorum editiones favere videntur. Nunc vero magis quam cuiusdam reformationis, praecipue pro Breviario, rectius loqui necesse est de reformatione generali, quam etiam Pius Papa X intendebat. Ad ‘praesidium optimorum codicum et veterum monumentorum’ quod attinet, etsi adhuc longa restat via, aliquod tamen iter factum est, ita ut nunc de audaci praesumptione reprehendendi non videantur qui eiusdem reformationis incoeptus rursus aggressi fuerint. Ephemerides Liturgicae a. 1929 publici iuris fecerunt (illis, ad quos spectabat, benigne annuentibus) dissertationem R. D. Schmid de ratione reformandi Breviarium Romanum. Summus Pontifex Pius XII liturgiae cultores ad studium Breviarii Romani iterum impellere visus est (cf. Ephem. lit. 60 [1946] 2 et 61 (1947] 99). Hoc itaque optatum Ephemeridum moderatores ad suos adlaboratores et ad amicos liturgiae initio anni preteriti transmiserunt, ut emendationes, desiderata ac proposita sedulo colligerent a scriptis significarent. Quas responsiones nunc in unum seligendo colligimus, et publici juris facimus.”

[2] Superfetation (also spelled superfoetation) is the simultaneous occurrence of more than one stage of developing offspring in the same animal. Here, it seems to be a pejorative term that means the ongoing insertion of elements in the liturgy that are foreign to the original “conception.”

[3] The so-called Ideenfeste: relatively newer feasts centered on dogmas or other doctrinal and devotional themes (e.g. Corpus Christi, the Immaculate Conception, Christ the King, Sacred Heart, the Most Precious Blood, the Holy Family), as opposed to the more ancient feasts recalling the principal events of salvation history.

[4] E.g., the Common of Martyrs, the Common of Doctors, the Common of Virgins, etc.

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