Cardinal Danielou On The New Liturgy… A Reform Compromised By Deviant Teachings


Cardinal Danielou On The New Liturgy … A Reform Compromised By Deviant Teachings


April 18, 1974

Writing in the January-February issue of the prestigious, European theological journal Communio, Jean Cardinal Danielou has called in effect for a counter-revolution in the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, which has long been dominated by a titular archbishop named Bugnini. Endorsing Pope Paul VI’s call for return to the use of Latin, at least in certain parts of the Mass, the French Jesuit Cardinal denounces the “radical” tendencies of the Vatican Congregation under Bugnini’s leadership — tendencies which Danielou says have led to “impoverishment” and “cultural debasement.”

There is a Sophoclean irony about the appearance of this attack at the very moment when Archbishop Bugnini was completing his chef d’oeuvre, the arrangement of Vatican approval for the complete corpus of ICEL translations. These are the translations which have “impoverished” and “culturally debased” the Roman Catholic liturgy throughout the vast, English-speaking world, according to most educated observers (including the late W. H. Auden, whose remarks on the “English” Mass were unprintable, and a long list of other literary and artistic celebrities of all faiths). Bugnini never paid any attention to the criticisms of such people but relied instead on the opinions of Frederick R. McManus, John Rotelle, and other unknowns,

In the early days of March, 1974, Archbishop Bugnini sent a smugly joyful letter to the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Krol, informing him that the Holy See (i.e., Bugnini) had “confirmed” the ICEL translations. “On the occasion of the confirmation of approval of the translation of the Roman Missal, as prepared by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy,” Bugnini wrote, “I take the opportunity to express the congratulations of this Congregation to all who have labored to produce a translation of use to the whole of the English-speaking world. I am sure that it will be of enormous benefit in making the riches of the Missal available to great numbers of people in many parts of the world.”

A month earlier, Bugnini had written equally smugly in L’Osservatore Romano that “the centers that started this work (of translations) years ago are now reaping the fruits with the first definitive editions of the Missal, the sacramental rites, and the Liturgy of the Hours. This is the case with the fine publications of the English-speaking conferences, linked together by ICEL.”


Well, if Cardinal Danielou has anything to say about it, these “fine publications” may not be with us very long. For the ICEL translations are based on the same approach to the translator’s art that Danielou (evidently looking at French and perhaps German vernacular liturgies) accuses of “dropping difficult expressions” and thus “thinning down the content, if not wholly falsifying it.” The fact that this charge has surfaced at the highest levels, not only of the Church’s government but also of the European theological community, must be seen as a striking vindication of the work carried on in this country by the Laymen’s Committee for English in the Liturgy and especially by the Australian-born Benedictine Fr. Jerome Docherty.

At this point, it would be well to provide readers of The Wanderer with some substantial excerpts from Card. Danielou’s article, so that his arguments may be seen in context. These excerpts have been translated from the German by the present writer.


Danielou’s title is Die liturgische Bewegung seit dem Konzil, that is, “The Liturgical Movement Since the Council.” He begins with a very generous appraisal of recent liturgical reforms as the Council intended them, including such things as the Novus Ordo Missae, the revised breviary, the expanded lectionary, and the new rites for baptism, annointing of the sick etc. The Cardinal even has a good word for Communion-in-the-hand, insofar as this was the early Christian practice. “All of this was at bottom self-explanatory,” Danielou says, “and in no way implied a revolution; on the contrary, it was a return to authentic tradition and disengaged this tradition from certain accretions which obscured its main lineaments and hindered a proper understanding.”

Danielou then goes on to praise the revisions in the rites of the Sacraments which had as their purpose the better manifestation of the “continuity between the Bible and the Sacraments,” especially in the sense of showing the Sacraments as the prolongation in the Church of the great redemptive acts of God in the Old Testament. Cardinal Danielou declares:

“In this way, one completely escapes the criticism leveled against the symbolism of the Sacraments which holds that this symbolism is based on a long out-dated, archaic agrarian culture. For this symbolism is not based upon nature but upon history. It emphasizes the interconnections of God’s acts in the various periods of salvation history. Thus it deals with an analogy of existential situations — situations which are both independent of a shifting cultural context and bear a universal, definitive character. The great realities of the Covenant, of creation, of exodus, of settlement in the Promised Land — these are the things that are interpreted by the sacramental symbolism and bear witness to the realities of the divine economy. Thus the symbolism of the Sacraments and of the liturgy has not been renewed by an act of cultural adaptation but by a deep re-creation out of the sources.”

At this point Danielou turns to the subject of liturgical language.

“The pre-conciliar liturgical movement proposed the use of the vernacular only for certain parts of the Mass, especially the readings. The post-conciliar development in this regard went much farther, perhaps. On this point, unlike the other reforms, the Council made a break with the liturgical movement. Concern about the understanding of the liturgical realities in the light of the Scriptures and the Fathers was replaced by the pastoral problem of liturgical language. And, to be sure, there was a real problem here. Modes of expression that were tied to outdated cultural forms built a wall hindering the access of people today.


“A first question was that of language itself. One of the most striking steps taken by liturgical reform was replacing Latin with the vernaculars. This is a most spectacular innovation, which has provoked and still provokes vigorous reactions. The efforts of resistance has crystallized around the Una Voce group. It is important to be precise on this point. In itself, the option of using living languages in the liturgy is something thoroughly positive. For a society to which Latin was increasingly unknown, the liturgy had grown ‘hermetic.’ But the post-conciliar Commission interpreted the directives of the Council very radically — so radically, in fact, that in the end it was no longer a question of using the vernaculars alongside the Latin but completely displacing the Latin. For this reason, Paul VI reacted against this extravagant interpretation by calling to mind the fact that using Latin is still recommended, at least in certain sung parts of the Mass.

“It is not the least bit obvious, for example, that the entire Mass should be celebrated in the vernacular. Many people were astounded that the whole Canon was handled in this way. To be sure: the Council permitted the use of vernaculars; but Latin remained the liturgical language of the Catholic Church. But now Latin has been put under some sort of cloud, as if it were the tongue of the ‘traditionalists.’ Finally, some of the most beautiful parts of the liturgy, such as the whole body of hymns, remain untranslatable. Hence, a considerable impoverishment. Concern for adaptation, in this case, seems to have turned into a lever for cultural debasement.


“Meanwhile, the problems of translation are still far from solved. The same concern for adaptation and thus to thinning down the content, if not wholly falsifying it. One is supposed to take the thought-processes of modern man into account and to avoid everything that could cause him to stumble. But thereby the texts have been made to sacrifice a great deal of their power. And as far as the attempts to replace old formulas with new ones is concerned, as in the rites of baptism, marriage, and burial, for example, the results are often vacuously sentimentalized and lacking in theological substance.

“Language consists not only of words but also (and no less) of images and pitches. Hence arise complex questions for Church music. Gregorian chant presents a richness which has lost nothing of its value. Especially native to this music is an eminently contemplative quality. It is desirable that the chant continue to be preserved in monasteries and also retain a place in the parochial liturgies. But there have always been new creations in church music, corresponding to the aesthetics of the times. Thus it would be desirable that the same should happen today and that prayer should be expressed in contemporary forms. However: when one looks at what has actually been done, many a question mark must be raised. Of course, the poverty of today’s church music is of a piece with the crisis of all contemporary music. In its overly refined forms, contemporary music no longer has any connection with a popularly-based music and in its elemental forms, like jazz or rock’n roll, is scarcely adaptable for Church purposes.


“The situation is the same in the plastic arts. Not that the non-representational tendencies should be excluded! In church windows, especially, there have been some notable successes. But it is undeniable that these tendencies have led to a certain iconoclasm. Architecture is the field in which modern art has developed its best possibilities. This holds for church architecture, too. But in all these fields the concrete results have met with a certain disinterest on the part of Christians, and that for several reasons: a false interpretation of poverty, according to which the efforts of religious art are renounced as being too expensive; a false concept of humility, which devalues any visible expression of the faith as ‘triumphalist’; an ignorance of the value of beauty as bearer and mediatrix of truth.

“In this area, the peril of the liturgical movement is two-fold. On the one hand, as in other ecclesiastical fields, people have fallen for the slogan of cultural change. People think the values of the past have to be given up. But it is false to suppose that if there are changes in fields dealing with the quantitative — the exact sciences and technology — the same must hold in those fields that deal with the qualitative and the creative, such as art and literature. This does not mean that even here there cannot be new forms but that the primary question is not newness but quality. And since nothing gets old quicker than the up-to-date, people settle on the idea that musical, architectural and literary creations quickly fall out of fashion. The publishers can no longer keep up with the pace of these changes. The old missals have been succeeded by mimeographed sheets for ringbinders, a fitting symbol for the transience of fashions.

“On the other hand, there is the danger that people give too much weight to subjective experiences. They forget that liturgy is logos before it is pathos. They forget that liturgy sets norms for their experiences: lex credendi et orandi. Liturgy has an objective character, and this lies in the very structures of the prayers patterned upon the mystery of the Trinity and in the structures of the sacramental actions in their sacred content. Everyone must react personally to this objective given, obviously, but without interpolating his own personal interpretation. The genius of the liturgy is to draw me into the Mysterium Christi and not to make me a sharer in somebody else’s experience. Here an excessive freedom (left to the celebrant) for personal improvisation poses an eminent danger above all in the eucharistic prayer. …”

In the final portion of the Communio article, Card. Danielou discusses the efforts to involve lay people in various liturgical functions, such as lectors and extraordinary ministers of communion. Although he is generally sympathetic to these developments, Danielou again is forced to recognize dangers:


“But once again the conciliar reforms were disfigured in some cases by questionable ideological tendencies. The accent placed on the Eucharist as an expression of community life overshadowed, in many cases, its character as a holy sacrifice directed to God. The common meal was pushed into central prominence. Encounter with one’s fellow men was made more important than encounter with God. The communion threatened to become a mere agape, and this in connection with the horizontalist tendency to emphasize love of neighbor more than love of God. No doubt, something had to be done, so that the reality of brotherly communion in the Church could stand out more vividly. But the bond of unity between Christians depends upon their unity with Christ, their reconciliation with one another upon their reconciliation with God.

“The above mentioned tendency went hand in hand with that of desacralization. People tried to strip the Eucharistic Banquet of its mysterious character, in order to reduce it to a purely profane occurrence. This corresponded to the thesis that in our present, secularized world, relatedness to God does not amount to a special, distinct dependence, but ought to be merely an inner dimension of a fully profane world. The extreme forms of this tendency are well known. The Christian congregation is no longer supposed to assemble in a space reserved for worship but in some profane location, a private home or public building. Many priests reject sacerdotal vestments and celebrate in street clothes. It is unnecessary to say how deeply these tendencies run counter to the desires of the Christian people. This is one of those cases in which a particular ideology seeks to do violence to the religion of the people under subterfuge of following the Council.


“Yet another line of thought should be noted in which the laity’s sharing in liturgical actions leads to abuses today. I refer to the idea that a layman in the community may exercise all the sacramental functions, including the celebration of Eucharist. This tendency comes from placing the priestly office in doubt and occurs in diverse movements. Some appeal to a Marxist social analysis, which sees the distinction of clergy from laity as an expression of the class struggle within the Church. Others proceed from what, in their opinion, was the state of affairs in the primitive Christian communities, and thus they arrive at the viewpoint of the Protestant Reformers. One must concede that such deviations are promoted by the uncertainty that many priests themselves have about their identity, as well as their tendency to secularize themselves.

“One of the most important tasks of theology today consists in establishing absolutely sure foundations for the specific uniqueness of the priestly office. For this purpose, it is necessary to show that the Christian community, whose heart and core is the Eucharist, in no way constitutes itself from the bottom up, on the basis of a group of Christians who gather together. Rather, it is built up through the creative action of a Grace-and-Faith-Reality, in which it can take form. But only the priest, insofar as he is the instrument through which the Holy Spirit erects the Church, can guarantee this order of grace. People mistake appearances for the real crisis and push for a cheap secularization, if they think this appeal to the laity can compensate for the shortage of priests. The renewal of the priestly vocation is a matter of life and death for the future of the Church.”


“The situation of the liturgy, then, is as follows. The Council accomplished a remarkable reform in this area, in continuity with the pre-conciliar liturgical movement. But the upshot is now compromised by deviant teachings, the symptoms of which are traceable in every field of ecclesial life. In the field of the liturgy, these symptoms give rise to special anxiety, because the liturgy is the aspect of the Church with which the Christian people come into most contact. This explains why the dissensions in this field are the most violent. The unintelligent ‘advances’ of some priests provoke as a counter- motion in many people a mistrust of the conciliar reforms themselves. The result is that a great many Christians are unsettled. In such a vital field, the restoration of the authentic line of the Council is imperative.”

With this sharp call for action, Card. Danielou’s article comes to an end. One cannot overemphasize the importance of the fact that this article, replete with views often expressed by the much-despised “conservative” Catholics in the United States, has appeared in a journal edited by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and other theologians of global reputation, a journal to which even Henri de Lubac has contributed. The respect in which Pope Paul holds these theologians is well known, and it is by no means improbable that he will act firmly on the basis of Cardinal Danielou’s advice.

Click here for PDF