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Some Trad Notes on John Paul I

Pope John Paul I, whose original name was Albino Luciani, is beatified. That is, according to Benedict XIV, he can “be venerated in certain province, diocese, city or religious institute with a limited and typical of the Blesseds worship, until the solemn canonization is achieved.”[1] We leave aside the modern controversy regarding canonizations, and direct the reader to the work of Dr. John Joy and Peter Kwasniewski for more on this.

Albino was born on October 17, 1912, in Forno di Canale (now Canale d’Agordo), northeastern Italy, in the “rugged land of Belluno,” as the title of a school book published in that city in the 1950s states, into a modest family. Reviewing his biography, we see a man of God and a pastor of souls: he was wisely raised first by his mother Bortola, then by his parish priest, Rev. Filippo Carli; he studied with rigor and joy; he repeatedly renounced the desire to become a Jesuit; he was ordained a priest in 1935; he taught and performed many tasks in the diocesan seminary.

After his doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1947, he took up delicate tasks in the diocese; he was Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, northeastern Italy, in 1958; a Council Father at Vatican II (1962-1965); by Paul VI he was appointed Patriarch of Venice at the end of 1969 and created cardinal in March 1973; on August 26, 1978 he was elected Pope, but he died thirty-three days later, on September 28.

A humble man, with an unforgettable smile, and a pastor dedicated to his people, he took care of the little ones and the needy, in catechesis and preaching. If we take him at his word, he seems to have wanted to preserve something of Tradition after Vatican II. As he said in his Urbi et Orbi, he intended

to preserve the integrity of the great discipline of the Church in the life of priests and of the faithful. It is a rich treasure in history. Throughout the ages, it has presented an example of holiness and heroism, both in the exercise of the evangelical virtues and in service of the poor, the humble, the defenseless.[2]

Nevertheless, he himself was taken up in Vatican II optimism as we will show in a moment.

We note in passing however that, to his credit (according to Fr. Charles Murr), Pope John Paul I alone among the “three popes” of 1978 – with Paul VI and John Paul II – gave not only credence to the dossier on Vatican corruption by Cardinal Gagnon, but also action. In fact, Murr himself writes that with the solid Cardinal Benelli as John Paul I’s chosen secretary of state, “I was certain that this new pontificate was off to a great start” (p. 108). See Murr’s text Murder in the Thirty-Third Degree for more on this.

Liturgical Music and Vatican II Optimism

Like his predecessor in Venice and Rome, Giuseppe Sarto (†1914) who became Pope St. Pius X, our Blessed was well disposed towards music. In Vittorio Veneto he was “always attentive to sacred music and always present at the restoration concerts of the ancient organ of the diocese.”[3]

At the Council — he tells his seminarians — he happened to be numbered among the

iudices musicæ, as well as iudices fidei. At the inauguration of the Council’s second session, on September 29, [1963], the Archbishop of Poles living abroad, [Jozef] Gawlina [†1964], asked me while they were performing a modern Tu es Petrus:

‘Placetne tibi ista melodia?’ [Do you like this melody?]. ‘Parce mihi — I replied — quia profanus sum et musicam non calleo’ [Have mercy on me, because I am a layperson and I do not understand music]. Would you believe it? He almost flew off the handle and told me, all in one go: ‘Noli dicere: Profanus sum! Es episcopus! Et homo! Et homo cultus! Nefas tibi est musicam non callere! Quod ad me, candide tibi fateor: musica ista nova minime placet, dimensione videtur carere’ [Don’t say: I’m a layperson! You’re a bishop! And a man! And a cultured man! You can’t be ignorant of music! Then, I honestly confess you: I don’t like this new music at all, it seems dimensionless!]. Understood? Study singing well too! Otherwise it might happen that you may be made bishop and have to suffer the reproach of not knowing enough music![4]

In Vittorio Veneto Luciani embraced the naïve optimism of Vatican II and wrote disparagingly of traditionalist priests who critiqued the liturgical reform. He says that some priests are against the Council and they “resist and fight” and according to Luciani, these Trads say:

The Council wants liturgical and biblical preaching? Sacred Scripture presented in the literal sense, taking into account literary genres? Sacraments administered in such a way that they also arouse the faith of those present? All stories introduced by some ‘Modernists,’ who ‘Lutheranize,’ who murder the liturgy and litter those priceless treasures, which are called­ Latin, the scholæ cantorum, Gregorian chant, the venerable tradition![5]

And in Venice we still find his Council optimism:

The council declared: the pipe organ ‘adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things’ [Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 120]. I signed these words with both hands. However, I cannot forget that the Church invites the faithful to participate with something of their own at Mass. Now, if the Mass is that for the young people and young people feel the guitar and modern music as their own, I accept that sometimes the organ is silent. I only ask that the music and text of young people are not unworthy of the temple and that they are in tune with the liturgy.[6]

Yet, the Patriarch of Venice, with words full of simplicity and wonder, doesn’t fail to hold “in high esteem” the king of musical instruments:

In Canale I was a child from a poor family. But when, upon entering the church, I heard the organ playing in full pipes, I forgot my poor clothes, I had the impression that the organ greeted particularly me and my little companions as so many princes. Hence the first, vague intuition, which later became a convinced certainty, that the Catholic Church is not only something great, but that she also makes the little ones and the poor great, honoring and elevating them.[7]

In September 1973, Cardinal Luciani wrote to Casella (13th cent.), “musician and friend of Dante,” protagonist of the 2nd canto of the Purgatorio (vv. 76-117), The Music of Reconciliation, one of his very interesting fictitious letters addressed to the greats of the past or of fiction. Commenting the motto of the Jubilee of 1975, “Reconciliation,” he says: “This is a wholly musical theme which you, Casella, if you were here, would sing sweetly as you sang to Dante, who retained a nostalgic memory of your song: ‘Still its sweetness thrills me as of old’, he wrote.” The future Pope, born popularizer, continues to make the reader think seriously, without the latter noticing:

Reconciliation with God, and the abandonment of the broad, winding road that leads to perdition: this is true music. […] To throw oneself seriously into God’s arms, what music, my Casella! Music is also the reconciliation of us with the brethren. […] Truly the renewed reconciliation among men would be the most desirable, the most necessary music.[8]


[1] Benedict XIV, De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione, I, XXXIX 5, our translation.

[2] John Paul I, “Urbi et Orbi” Radio Message, August 27, 1978.

[3] G. N. Vessia & M. Rossi, Le firme dell’organo: compositori e repertorio organistico del ‘900 italiano (Edizioni Carrara, Bergamo 2003), 399, our translation.

[4] A. Luciani, Lettere dal Concilio: ai seminaristi, in Opera Omnia, (EMP, Padua 1988), vol. 3, 114-115, our translation.

[5] Il sacerdote diocesano alla luce del Vaticano II, Vittorio Veneto 1966.

[6] In A. Cattabiani, Il magistero di Albino Luciani: scritti e discorsi (EMP, Padua 1979), 115, our translation.

[7] A. Luciani, On the occasion of the restoration of the organ of the church of Canale d’Agordo, in Opera Omnia (EMP, Padua 1989) vol. 9, 457, our translation.

[8] John Paul I, Illustrissimi, (Quigly, Gracewing Publishing, 2001), 184-186.

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