Some reflections on HH Pope Paul VI and the liturgical reform


By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

Letter from a Reader about the Liturgy

 I just received this letter from a reader:
Dear Dr. Moynihan,

These newsflashes are really informative and important for many of us to help us understand what is going on in Roma.

Given some of the past (and somewhat unfinished) newsflashes, I was wondering if you had seen this, from Fr. Anthony Chadwick (TAC priest in France) on his Civitas Dei web site, translating from a French traditionalist email group:

(Note: here follows the text from the web site; the incident occurred in about 1974.)


Father Louis Bouyer

Father Louis Bouyer

October 3rd — Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus (Roman calendar and a local Saint here in Normandy)…

Father Louis Bouyer (photo): I wrote to the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, to tender my resignation as member of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform. The Holy Father sent for me at once (and the following conversation ensued):


Paul VI: Father, you are an unquestionable and unquestioned authority by your deep knowledge of the Church’s liturgy and Tradition, and a specialist in this field. I do not understand why you have sent me your resignation, whilst your presence, is more than precious, it is indispensable!

Father Bouyer: Most Holy Father, if I am a specialist in this field, I tell you very simply that I resign because I do not agree with the reforms you are imposing! Why do you take no notice of the remarks we send you, and why do you do the opposite?

Paul VI: But I don’t understand: I’m not imposing anything. I have never imposed anything in this field. I have complete trust in your competence and your propositions. It is you who are sending me proposals. When Fr. Bugnini comes to see me, he says: “Here is what the experts are asking for.” And as you are an expert in this matter, I accept your judgement.

Father Bouyer: And meanwhile, when we have studied a question, and have chosen what we can propose to you, in conscience, Father Bugnini took our text, and, then said to us that, having consulted you: “The Holy Father wants you to introduce these changes into the liturgy.” And since I don’t agree with your propositions, because they break with the Tradition of the Church, then I tender my resignation.

Paul VI: But not at all, Father, believe me, Father Bugnini tells me exactly the contrary: I have never refused a single one of your proposals. Father Bugnini came to find me and said: “The experts of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform asked for this and that”. And since I am not a liturgical specialist, I tell you again, I have always accepted your judgement. I never said that to Monsignor Bugnini. I was deceived. Father Bugnini deceived me and deceived you.

Father Bouyer: That is, my dear friends, how the liturgical reform was done!


(The letter to me then continues):

Of course, this plays into the I think unfinished story you were recounting about Cardinal Gagnon’s investigation, and the aftermath. I must add that I saw on another traditionalist list group a few years back the comment from Prof. Luc Perrin (Strasbourg) that he himself had a typescript copy of Fr. Bouyer’s memoirs, which could not then be published due to family opposition or something of the sort, but that they contained bombshells…

Keep up the good work and all the best,

Woody Jones

Here is the original French version of this early 1970s conversation between Father Bouyer and Pope Paul VI, which the English translator, Father Anthony Chadwick, says he found here:

« J’ai écrit au Saint-Père, le Pape Paul VI, pour lui présenter ma démission de membre de la Commission chargée de la Réforme Liturgique. Le Saint-Père m’a convoqué immédiatement » :

Paul VI : – « Mon Père, vous êtes une autorité incontestable et incontestée par votre connaissance profonde de la liturgie et de la Tradition de l’Eglise, et un spécialiste en ce domaine. Je ne comprends pas pourquoi vous me présentez votre démission, alors que votre présence, est plus que précieuse, indispensable ! »

Père Bouyer : – « Très Saint-Père, si je suis un spécialiste en ce domaine je vous dirai très simplement que je démissionne parce que je ne suis pas d’accord avec les réformes que vous nous imposez ! Pourquoi ne tenez-vous pas compte des remarques que nous présentons, et pourquoi faites-vous le contraire ? ».

Paul VI : – « Mais je ne comprends pas : je n’impose rien, je n’ai jamais rien imposé dans ce domaine, je m’en remets entièrement à vos compétences et à vos propositions. C’est vous qui me présentez des propositions. Quand le Père Bugnini vient chez moi, il me déclare : Voici ce que demandent les experts. Et comme vous êtes des experts en cette matière, je m’en remets à vos jugements ».

Père Bouyer : – « Et pourtant, quand nous avons étudié une question, et avons choisi ce que nous pouvions vous proposer, en conscience, le Père Bugnini prenait notre texte, et, nous disait ensuite que, après Vous avoir consulté : Le Saint-Père désire que vous introduisiez ces changements dans la liturgie. Et comme je ne suis pas d’accord avec vos propositions, parce qu’elles sont en rupture avec la Tradition de l’Eglise, alors j’ai donné ma démission ».

Paul VI : – « Mais pas du tout, mon Père, croyez-moi , le Père Bugnini me dit exactement le contraire: jamais je n’ai refusé une seule de vos propositions. Le Père Bugnini venait me trouver et me disait : “Les experts de la Commission chargée de la Réforme Liturgique ont demandé cela et cela”. Et comme je ne suis pas spécialiste en Liturgie, je vous le répète, je m’en suis toujours remis à vous. Jamais je n’ai dit cela à Monseigneur Bugnini. J’ai été trompé, Le Père Bugnini m’a trompé et vous a trompés ».

Père Bouyer : – « Voilà mes chers amis, comment s’est faite la réforme liturgique ! »

However, the original source seems to be the following:

 Monsignor Jacques Masson

Monsignor Jacques Masson

This is a web site and article authored by Monsignor Jacques Masson (photo), a traditional Catholic French priest.
Monsignor Masson writes that Father Louiss Bouyer, a priest of the Oratory, was a consultor at the Second Vatican Council, and a prominent figure in the litrugical movement prior to the Council.
After the Council, however, Masson says, Bouyer “denounced violently” the “deviations” in the implementation of the Church’s liturgical reform.
Masson then says the seminarians of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of St. Pius X, studying at Econe in Switzerland, once had a long conversation with Father Bouyer.
During that conversation, Bouyer recounted how he gave Pope Paul VI his resignation from the commission charged with implementing the liturgical reform, Masson tells us.
That is the source of the account he has given here, he says.
Here are Masson’s words in the original French:
Le Père Louis Bouyer, de l’Oratoire

               Il a participé au concile Vatican II comme consulteur. Personnalité marquante du Mouvement liturgique (Le Mystère pascal, 1945) et promoteur de la réforme, il en dénonce violemment les déviations et les malfaçons dans les dérives postconciliaires (La Décomposition du catholicisme, 1968 ; Religieux et clercs contre Dieu, 1975) : « Ils ont alors en pratique substitué à la liturgie de l’Église et à la tradition vivante avec laquelle ils voulaient renouer une pseudo-liturgie quasiment fabriquée de toutes pièces (…) ». II fustige la perte du sens des origines, du sens du sacré, et le mépris des clercs pour les fidèles : « Même ce qu’il y avait de bon dans la réforme liturgique a été appliqué d’une manière qui ne l’était nullement. ». «  Jamais on n’a imposé aux laïcs d’une manière aussi impertinente la religion des prêtres ou leur absence de religion… ».
              Les séminaristes sortis d’Ecône, et les séminaristes qui ne sont pas entrés dans les séminaires en France, et moi-même, avons eu l’occasion de rencontrer le Père Bouyer, qui nous témoignait son affection, et son approbation pour la maintien de la liturgie tridentine.
              Lors d’une longue conversation, il nous raconta comment et pourquoi il avait donné sa démission de membre de la Commission chargée de la réforme liturgique…

Evidence and Truth

Is this interesting conversation between Father Bouyer and Paul VI, which Father Bouyer related to the seminarians, really authentic?
Are Father Bouyer’s words accurately reported by Monsignor Masson?
In other words, did Paul VI actually say these words about Monsignor Annibale Bugnini, the principle author of the new Mass, to Father Bouyer?
Monsignor Masson says yes, that this is precisely what Father Bouyer told him and the other Econe seminarians.
But, of course, this is still second-hand evidence.
Still, it does at least suggest that it might be important to seek out Father Bouyer’s notes and diaries, if he left any.
Today, 40 and more years after the fact, it is not easy to know the truth about the events during the Council and shortly after, whether in regard to the liturgy, or in regard to other matters, and as time goes on, it seems likely to become ever more difficult.
But before more time passes, we will make an effort to speak to those who lived through those times, and record their testimony for posterity.


“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.”Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, (1623-1662)


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