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Dialogue Mass - LVI

The German-French Mafia behind
the Liturgical Reform

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
The 1948 Papal Commission was primed by key members of the Liturgical Movement to reform the Easter Vigil in response to demands by the German Bishops, among whom the last vestiges of liturgical order, discipline and loyalty to Rome had broken down. As we have seen, they had set up an autonomous Episcopal Conference for liturgical matters in 1940 independently of Rome, the aim of which was to wrest control of the liturgy from the Holy See.

Pius XII and Cardinal Bea

Progressivist Card. Bea, confessor to Pius XII, exerted great influence over him

While promoting the dissident activities of avant-garde liturgists in their own dioceses, the German Bishops were strongly supported by their compatriot and front man in the Vatican, Fr. Augustin Bea, who was a permanent member of the Papal Commission.

Armed with this knowledge, we can easily read between the lines of their request to Pius XII concerning the Easter Vigil. It would not be simply a question of changing its timing, but incorporating all the revolutionary changes that Fr. Bea and the other members of the Papal Commission had been planning, as recorded in their 1948 “Memo.”

An exercise in sabre-rattling

In 1950, the German Bishops, Mafia-style, made Pius XII “an offer he couldn’t refuse”: Accept the desires of the Liturgical Movement or face an out-and-out mutiny of the combined French and German Episcopates. (1) To this we may add the implicit threat made by Padrino Antonelli, who wrote in the Introduction to the “Memo” for the Pope’s attention:

“It is recognized by all that there exists today throughout the whole Catholic world, and especially in the ranks of the clergy, the desire or rather the conviction of the necessity for a reform of the liturgy.” [emphasis added]

This was, of course, a complete fabrication. There was not the slightest evidence of a world-wide consensus of priests supposedly massing on the horizon and calling for revolutionary changes in the liturgy. But, liturgical revolution was precisely what the Commission had the potential to bring about. It could and did put pressure on Pius XII to abolish or alter liturgical legislation or pass innovatory laws at a stroke of a pen.

Taking liberties with Tradition

As we work our way through the 1951-1956 Easter Vigil reform, we should note that the principle of fidelity to Tradition was starting to be replaced by the principle of destruction and innovation. The way was, thus, opened for progressivist, tendentious and prejudiced views fresh from the Committee Room to become the official policy of the Holy See and be set in juridical stone.

It would also be useful to keep in mind that only 50 years before Pius XII’s Commission applied the new revolutionary principles to the Easter Vigil reform, the Catholic Bishops of Westminster had written:

“In adhering rigidly to the rite handed down to us we can always feel secure: whereas, if we omit or change anything, we may perhaps be abandoning just that element which is essential. … to subtract prayers and ceremonies in previous use, and even to remodel the existing rites in a most drastic manner, is a proposition for which we know of no historical foundation and which appears to us absolutely incredible.” (2)

But, the incredible did happen, first in 1951 with the experimental Easter Vigil, then with the publication of Pius XII’s new Ordo of 1956 containing the full-blown reforms.

The blessing of the new fire was compromised

The reformed Easter Vigil begins, as in the ancient rite, with the lighting of the Paschal fire; so far, so traditional. But, any concordance between the two ceremonies ends there. What happens next is the stuff of all revolutions. The reformed rite immediately starts, in true Procrustean fashion, on its path of racking, hammering and amputation of living, viable elements of tradition to make them fit new ways of thinking.

trash can fire

Novus Ordo monks light the Easter fire in what looks like a trash bin; below, a bonfire to excite the congregation

The first step in this process occurred when the reformers cut out two of the three prayers for the blessing of the new fire. Both of the eliminated prayers were rooted in Scripture and asked God to enlighten the faithful on the path of salvation as He had enlightened Moses coming out of Egypt, and to protect them from the “fiery darts of the enemy” i.e. the Evil One. (Ephesians 6:16)

It is now well established that when the Novus Ordo was created, prayers were removed, which had expressed the Church’s teaching on concupiscence (the “fiery darts”) and the necessary spiritual warfare a Catholic must engage in against the assaults of the Devil. But, the basic and indisputable fact, unknown to most, is that Fr. Bugnini started this process with the 1956 reform of the Easter Vigil by expunging this prayer from the blessing of the new fire.

With it he also expunged a vital element of Catholic doctrine expressed in the liturgy: that the items blessed by the Church’s prayers are imbued with the power of God to protect the faithful from the influence of the Devil.

This is only one example among many to illustrate how the ancient traditions possess valuable points of wisdom whose loss impoverishes the spiritual life of Catholics. If the aim of the reform was to “make the liturgy become the source of an authentically Christian life,” as its leaders have constantly proclaimed, this cannot be achieved by destroying traditions and squandering inherited resources.

For, it is axiomatic that the lex orandi shapes the lex credendi, which in turn influences how we live. When these prayers were removed from the liturgy, the faithful were deprived of the spiritual aid that the Church had lavished on them for centuries.

Also missing from the 1956 prayer of blessing the fire is the former reference to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, an omission whose significance will become clearer later in the rite.

Why minimalized blessings?

A parallel can be drawn with the excision of all but one of the prayers for the blessing of palms in the 1956 Palm Sunday reform.

The question arises as to why the progressivist reformers dismantled the elaborate structure of blessings, whether in the Palm Sunday or the Easter Vigil ceremonies, that the Church had built up to emphasize the very essence of Holy Week as a celebration of Christ’s work of redemption from which all blessings draw their source.

The full significance of these truncated blessings only emerged after Vatican II. They were the prelude to the phasing out of the blessing of objects (3) in the post-Conciliar period when, generally speaking, priests no longer believed that they possessed, through the Sacrament of Ordination, the power to bless material things or that there is any difference between the sacred and the profane.

Bugnini’s not too invisible hand

All the evidence indicates that, from the outset, this was the outcome desired by the members of the Papal Commission.
  • Chapter 3 of their 1948 “Memo” mentions their plans for the radical reform of the Rituale Romanum;

  • Many blessings of sacramentals were eliminated in the 1956 Holy Week rites;

  • The Liturgy Constitution introduced a theological shift in the liturgical ministry of blessings by rooting it in the laity rather than the ordained priesthood;

  • The 1964 Consilium (of which Bugnini was Secretary) stated that “the area in which the most radical revision and new adaptation will be needed is the sacramentals.” (4)
That is exactly what the “Memo” had set out to achieve in 1948. And the 1956 reform was only one stop along the road to the terminus ad quem [the final goal].


  1. On November 2, 1950, the Bishops of Germany and Austria, in conjunction with France, formally petitioned Pope Pius XII to move the celebration of Holy Saturday to the night time. This request had been proposed by Romano Guardini at the First German National Liturgical Congress, organized by the Liturgical Institute of Trier in Frankfurt in June 1950. Guardini could hardly be described as a “courageous” reformer.
    In a 1940 letter to Bishop Stohr of Mainz, published as Ein Wort zur liturgischen Frage (A Word on the Liturgical Question), he petulantly demanded that the German Bishops should protect the members of the Liturgical Movement from attacks against their convictions and work. But as long as he was hiding behind the skirts of the German Bishops, his agenda can be seen as both craven and partisan. So great was Guardini’s popularity in the liturgical Establishment that even Pius XII protected him and made him a Prelate of the Papal Household in 1952.
  2. The Cardinal Archbishop and Bishops of the Province of Westminster, A Vindication of the Bull Apostolicae curae, London, 1898, p. 42.
  3. The new Book of Blessings that replaced the Rituale Romanum has largely dispensed with blessing items for use by the faithful. The designated prayers mention blessing the people when they use the item, blessing those who made it or look at it, but not the actual item itself.
  4. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy (1948-75), Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 580

Posted August 14, 2017

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