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The Bugnini Construction Company Builds Liturgical Fairy Tales

Editor’s note: see our Erasmus disclaimer.

As we approach fifty days after the motu proprio, it is crucial to repeat this fundamental point: the document is founded on a falsehood so glaring and intellectually unsustainable that it inspires admiration for its audacity and flagrant disregard of reality.

“The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II … are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”

Article I of Pope Francis’ 16 July declaration enervates and undermines the entirety of what follows. Yet this is not a house built on sand. It is a house of the Annibale Bugnini Construction Company, one whose edifices offer such amenities as pseudo-Hippolytan sunrooms and centonized Gelasian jacuzzis.

“Unique” is one of the most abused of adjectives in the rich English lexicon of descriptors. But whatever the precise connotations one wishes to appreciate in Francis’ use of the term (at least in its English translation, since of course in Bergoglian Rome there is, as yet, no Latin version of the text), a striking anomaly resulted in the days since the afternoon of 16 July.

Priests using the 1962 Missal—even with episcopal permission in accord with the dictates of Articles 2-8 of Traditionis Custodes—were not using the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.

It is unclear what exactly they were using. What is clear from Article I is what they were not using.

One of the more honest decisions of the Bugnini Construction Company in 1970 was to avoid prefixing Pius V’s Quo Primum to its missal. There is a good reason why Paul VI christened the ordinary of his missal as a Novus Ordo: it is indeed new, and profoundly so. Paul intended his new missal to replace the old, and yet in 1974 he also rejected the appeal of Bugnini formally to abrogate what it replaced.[1]

No need for legal scrupulosity now: Traditionis Custodes abrogates everything before it. A strict reading of this document yields a clear conclusion: now for the Roman Rite there are the Paul VI-John Paul II books (which really means the Paul VI books, since the John Paul changes to the Pauline Missal are relatively minor), and there is nothing else.

If Traditionis Custodes had ended there, at least there would be a certain logic to the document. It would be a logic rooted in a perverse abuse of history and reality, but it would be logical.

Instead, after making its assertions about the “uniqueness” of the Pauline liturgy, Traditionis Custodes then proceeds to legislate about a liturgy that had been implicitly abolished by its own first article, and explicitly by its last. It seems that there are occasions when the 1962 Missale Romanum may still be used. Again, it is unclear what exactly this missal expresses now, since we have been told solemnly that whatever it is, it is not an expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.

Whatever it is, bishops have permission to allow its use under certain conditions. Bishops do not have authority to allow a man whom they ordained today to use it. For that they must seek approval from Rome…rather like what Archbishop Roche is reported to have said about giving back power to the bishops, but not to the conservative ones.[2]

The clear import of Traditionis Custodes is that there will be no more use of the 1962 Missale once the last incorrigible brat has breathed his last Introibo. The intellectual giants who crafted the motu proprio saw no reason to define exactly what the 1962 missal is, since for them it no longer really exists.

One may say what one will about the Benedictine scheme of ordinary versus extraordinary forms of one rite. At least it offered a definition, even if one that could be labeled unsatisfactory. Traditionis Custodes does not. Rather, Traditionis Custodes answers the 1974 Bugnini request for abrogation of the past. Eight poorly written anglo-italic articles are supposed to bury history and to enshrine fairy tales.

Strangely, the very same people determined to assert that the past is dead and that the older liturgy has been stripped of its identity as an expression of the Roman lex orandi are equally determined to declare that the buildings erected by the Bugnini Construction Company are to last forever.

For every devotee of the old missal who is tempted to invoke Quo Primum, there are two spokesmen for the Bugnini Construction Company who blithely assert that the Consilium liturgy is “irreversible.” Make no mistake: les maniaques du jour—“the maniacs of the day” (with appreciation to Bouyer—no traditionalist he—for the appellation) are the most rigid of the rigid when it comes to liturgy. For them there is the eternal today of 1975.

The Trattoria Canon, in other words, is the Hannibalian dew that never fails to fall morning after morning, as the milieu of 1975 is recalled in an undying act of daily nostalgia.

Bugnini was fired before his grand program of revolution could reach its zenith with “inculturation.” Fear not, Hannibalian footmen: the Amazon and the rites of Pachamama might just satisfy the dreams that seemed dashed in that summer of ’75.

I conclude with two curious observations.

A priest who on 16 July, 2021 decided to be strictly obedient to the dictates of Traditionis Custodes might be hampered by a practical problem. It is … at least as of the day of the composition of this article … impossible actually to find the typical texts of the “unique expression of the Roman Rite” from the Vatican publishing house. While Italian liturgical books are available, Latin ones are not. This is of course in line with recent decrees of Roman authorities about the use of Italian and not Latin in liturgies such as those celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica. The “unique expression of the Roman Rite” is apparently not unique enough to merit the production and sale of the books expressing that unique uniqueness.

Lastly, many commentators have observed various significant aspects of the date 16 July. I believe that one coincidence…or deliberate choice…has not been noted: the anniversary of the aforementioned firing of Hannibal the Liturgical Architect.

16 July, 1975 was the day that Paul VI ended the Bugnini reign over the liturgy. It was the day that he was dismissed from his service in the Roman Curia.

Traditionis Custodes is the revenge of those for whom there has been no greater construction chief in the realm of the liturgy than Hannibal. Traditionis Custodes is the revenge of those for whom everything is negotiable except the Pauline liturgy, the one eternal and forever tradition that has been immune from question since it was first scribbled on a Roman napkin to meet Hannibal’s deadline. Traditionis Custodes is the revenge of those for whom the Bugnini Construction Company must remain forever open, its one house model the unique dwelling place for all those who would call themselves Roman.

[1] The entire story can be found in impressive detail in Bugnini’s own memoirs of the liturgical reform (The Reform of the Liturgy, The Liturgical Press, 1990). The Bugnini position (which, amusingly, is shared even by such non-progressives as the late Anthony Cekada) is that Paul was quite clear in his intended abrogation of what preceded his liturgical innovations. Bugnini requested even more explicit language, concluding later that for those who were willing to be disobedient to the product of his Consilium, no language would ever satisfy. Nevertheless, at the end of his life Bugnini was willing to let the Old Rite not be abrogated, according to Chiron’s documentation (Yves Chiron, Annibale Bugnini, trans. Pepino, 178-180). Certainly Benedict XVI did not think that Paul VI had abrogated the classical Roman Rite; his analysis would seem to be that no pope could abrogate a liturgical rite.

[2] So reported by the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli. Certainly there is evidence in the motu proprio to support the contention: the document allows bishops a certain latitude, but permission for a newly ordained priest to celebrate the 1962 liturgy is reserved to the Holy See, and no new communities devoted to this liturgy may be established.

Photo credit: Gui Avelar via

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