Volume 117, Number 3, Fall 1990
ARCHBISHOP ANNIBALE BUGNINI
With the publication of the English translation of Archbishop Bugnini's
"The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975," the wounds and rancor of the council
years are revived. The book recounts the battles and misunderstandings
between the reforming liturgists and the church musicians. Bugnini himself
said that the first ten years following the close of the council were no
more than continual fighting with the musicians.
It is never right to impute motives or to attribute ill will, but
occasionally such things surface in the records. Surely Bugnini's
opposition to the classical heritage of sacred music and the Latin language
shows in this work. True, it is disguised under the need for participation
of the faithful, understanding of the texts, and simplification of the
rites, truly noble objectives of the council fathers. But after devastating
the traditions and heritage of a thousand years of musical and liturgical
development, there cannot be much remaining on which to encourage any kind
of true participation, and understanding and simplification have little
left to build on or work with.
An anti-Roman spirit, manifest especially in attacks on Latin as the
language of the universal Church, constantly raises its head. One always
wonders why Latin was considered to be competitive with the vernacular.
Surely the creation of a repertory of vernacular choral music demands that
it be constructed on the foundation of the treasury of Latin compositions.
The mere simplification of church music results in the abandoning of music
as an art especially in its polyphonic developments, eliminating the
masterpieces that have adorned the liturgy for a millenium. A rationalism
that demands understanding of every word as essential to active
participation, forgetting the moving of man's spirit by the mystery and
beauty of music, drives the text into an unreasonably prominent position in
liturgical celebration, almost to the total elimination of the art of
sacred music, which must be united to the text to form the artistic whole
that liturgical music must be. The impoverished translations of the Latin
texts into English added an enormous burden to the effort to promote
participation of the people as well as understanding of the vernacular
Basic to the conflict between the liturgists and the musicians is a
failure to understand clearly the meaning of "actuosa participatio populi"
that the council called for. If indeed singing of pieces by everyone
constitutes the epitome of participation, then the art of music in the
service of the liturgy is destined for extinction. In 1965, the Fifth
International Church Music Congress, meeting in Chicago and Milwaukee,
considered the meaning of that concept. A paper by Father Colman E.
O'Neill, O.P., ("Sacred Music and Liturgy Reform after Vatican II," Rome,
1969 p. 89-108) clearly distinguishes between internal and external
participation, and indicates that singing is only one of many means of
external participation, not to mention listening.
Just as basic to the struggle between the liturgists and the musicians was
a false sense of ecumenism, a problem that surfaced not only in the
liturgical discussions but in many other areas considered by the council
fathers. Efforts made to restructure the Catholic liturgy into Protestant-
like services grew out of this error and met with opposition from many
Even Bugnini takes up this criticism with reference to the activity of the
Protestant monks of Taize whose influence in preparing the reforms remains
The conflicts that began in the council commissions and continued in the
years following are not dead. Church music lies in a shambles not only in
this country but throughout the world, largely as a result of the work of
Bugnini. The church musicians have withdrawn from the fray; as a result
hardly anything of any value has been forthcoming in the last twenty-five
years in composition or performance. The liturgists for their part have
produced nothing but an on-going series of vaudeville acts, experiments and
novelties; liturgy has become associated with entertainment (dancing,
combos, even costuming), so each week must be different, a new act.
When one considers the great hope that the Second Vatican Council
initiated and how we looked forward to the promise of new music for the
vernacular languages, the integral part that music would have in the
liturgy ("pars integrans"), the freedom to use all styles that were truly
art and truly sacred, the call for new music for both Latin and vernacular
liturgical texts, the demand that music be written both for congregations
and for choirs, the extension of the permission to employ all serious
instruments, the encouragement of musicological studies and particularly
the advancement of Gregorian chant with the publication of new chant books-
-all this is what the council fathers ordered and the church musicians
hoped to implement. The preservation of tradition along with a natural
development of means for active participation and the use of the vernacular
were the contribution of the church musicians to the council documents,
especially "Sacrosanctum concilium." They fought against Bugnini and his
allies to keep the art of music in its centuries old role in the liturgy.
They fought to maintain it in the writings of the post-conciliar period,
especially in "Musicam sacram" of 1967, and the fight continues as
liturgists continue to insert themselves into the field of sacred music.
Cooperation between liturgists and musicians is still a state to be fondly
hoped for, but it was not the spirit of Annibale Bugnini as his book shows