The chief argument in favor of the use of Latin was its universal character. This argumentation is substantial, although taken in itself it does not necessitate the exclusive use of Latin. It cannot be denied that the religious history of mankind clearly testifies to the use of sacral languages, which are often not understandable to all participants, which include and contain while to a certain extent also conceal the mystery of the cult, and which therefore rely upon mystagogy to open up its meaning for the initiated, the mystes. In my opinion the strongest argument in favor of Latin derives from the demand for the accurate and integral preservation of the liturgical content. During the countless translations into the vernacular one can hardly avoid distortion, or at least a change of meaning and style.

The Latin is a witness to, and a reservoir of, the full meaning, the total liturgical theology which is neither the opposite of, nor identical with, doctrinal theology. We can return again and again to this treasury of original meaning, terminology and manner of thinking, and we may use it also as a corrective of the distortions made during the course of time.

I wish to add two points to these considerations. First, the point here is not only logical accuracy, but also the use of language in a sacred atmosphere evoking a system, of associations, a cultic style, a “sacred” language. Second, it is not enough if this perfect form can be found in the liturgical books. Each historical period, each place and community, each person has to encounter it, and so the full Latin liturgy must be kept alive in its proper function, as the language of liturgical celebration

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)


The “theme” of the liturgy on MAUNDAY THURSDAY is not the institution of the Eucharist but the whole Paschal Mystery, similarly to Good Friday or Easter Sunday. The classics of liturgical doctrine explained repeatedly that during these holy days our Passover celebration always recalled the memory of Christ’s Paschal mystery in its integrity. On a given day some aspects may gain prevalence above the others but always as part of the whole, in close connection with it. Even when viewed separately, the specific content of Maundy Thursday can be regarded as multi-layered combining various elements of the Last Supper, the Lord’s Last Sermon, his apprehension and interrogation (chronologically the first events of his Passion). The feelings vibrating in the soul of the Church correspond to the two sayings of the Lord: “With desire I have desired…” – and “Father, if you will…”

The reason why in the Middle Ages the Church felt the need to create the Feast of Corpus Domini is because she realized that Maundy Thursday was not the feast of the institution of the Eucharist. Maundy Thursday is a day of the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, a day of the celebration of the Passion, a day of presenting the Redemption through mysteries — and in this context and among other motives only — the remembrance of the institution of the Eucharist.

This complexity manifests itself within the Mass, too. The Introit (Nos autem gloriari), the Gradual (Christus factus est) and the Offertory (Dextera Domini) refer to the fundamental element of the celebration, i.e. the whole Paschal Mystery. The Gospel recalls the washing of the disciples’ feet, the original oration puts the motive of Judas’s betrayal into the context of the Holy Week as a whole. This statement will prove to be even more valid in view of the fact that the liturgy of Maundy Thursday was not confined to the celebration of the Mass. In the animate medieval liturgy the Mass was followed by a tremendous complexity of rites designated Mandatum (see: “Maundy” Thursday). In this rite the washing of feet, the cultic reading of the Last Sermon, the ritual meal (agape), the pious veneration of the altars were all combined to a homogenous sequence of events of dramatic nature. The whole was accompanied by a completely matching set of texts and chants. Besides, we have to mention the ceremony of the “Reconciliation of Penitents” taking place in the morning of this day It had survived in some religious orders as a rite of purification up to the recent past closing down the Lenten period and preparing the souls directly for Easter.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Anyone who wishes to speak about the Tridentine rite must first clarify what meaning he exactly attributes to this term. Essentially the Trident rite is not an original and independent liturgy but a variant of the centuries-old Roman liturgy. Compared with this centuries-old tradition the first points that strike the eye are where the Tridentinum seems to be independent and different from everything else. In this case it will be declared to be a new branch of the Roman liturgy created 400 years ago. On the other hand, if you compare the Trident rite with liturgies other than the Roman one (e.g. with 17th—18th century “reformed” liturgies or with their spiritual offspring, the Bugnini liturgy) you will find that there are no important differences between the Tridentine usage and the main stream of the at least 1500-year-old Roman liturgy. In this respect the Tridentine rite represents the ancient Roman liturgy itself and not a 400-year-old custom.

Evidence on the liturgy of the first Christian centuries is sparse, and certainly not enough to justify any practical arrangement of the liturgy. Authentic sources survive sporadically from the 6th century onwards and in complete form from the 8th-9th centuries on. The liturgical arrangement as it is recorded in the 8th- to 10th-century sources could be traced back with careful consideration to the end of the 5th century at the latest. (Just think of the structural identity of the Office in the 9th—10th-century liturgical books on the one hand and in the Rule of St. Benedict on the other.) The main features of this liturgical usage were the same as those of the Roman church as followed — with slight differences — by the dioceses, provinces, religious orders up to 1970. There was no universal Roman liturgy that showed deviations depending on the location and the times of its use, in fact, these variants represented in their integrity the common essence of the Roman liturgy. The differences of the individual liturgies are historically extremely interesting and the details very clear if we examine them closely. However, the moment we look at them from the perspective of our time, they appear to constitute a uniform, characteristic liturgical family separated not only from the rite of the Eastern churches but from the liturgy of the other Latin rites (e.g. Mozarabic, Ambrosian, etc.), too. Unity and difference within this “Roman” liturgy (or liturgies) is not accidental, and the number and importance of the common features are greater than that of differences.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Finally, it behooves us to recall that the Proper chants of the Mass are linked to the liturgical seasons and times, not just in a general fashion, but quite specifically, by virtue of their content. The oldest choir-books of the Roman liturgy eloquently testify that the overwhelming majority of these chants belonged to fixed days, and these assignments remained untouched up until 1968. The same texts were written in the Missals, and if they were not sung, then the priest prayed them. In doing so, the Church clearly expressed her desire that each chant stand in a fixed position, which simply means that on this day, at this liturgical position, this is the chant, and not any other.

Exactly when and how this “properization” of the Mass chants was achieved is an altogether different question. At this point, we are not interested in this question, nor in deciding whether or not the numerous speculations are true concerning the justification of the given position of a chant and its interrelationships with other parts of the daily liturgy through historical facts or spiritual reflections. We simply accept the fact that in the minds, hearts and memories of faithful Catholics there gradually emerged, over a period of 1200 years or more, a network of associations between the experience of a particular liturgical day and the chants “proper” to that day. Such associations were truly “catholic,” in other words universal within the Latin liturgy. All felt a part of it, anyone at will referred to it: the Sundays were named after their Introits (e.g. Laetare, Gaudete, Quasimodo); people dated their private letters by referring to the same chant; composers created music not to texts, but to the Offertory or the Introit of a given day. For a Christian who lived in and with the liturgy of the praying Church, this order of chants coalesced with the full liturgy of the day, and it contributed to the high degree of constancy in the Mass Propers (as opposed to the frequent variations in the Divine Office). So it is by no means an accident that certain chant forms were excluded from this uniformity. In spite of the unchanging stability of Introits, Graduals, Offertories and Communions, the Alleluja and the Sequence presented a wide field of opportunity for the creative forces of various geographic regions (tropes, sacred polyphony).

This universality and continuity in space and time bore rich fruit, and brought great blessings. Over and above the psychological associations, such universality nurtured a feeling of stability and promoted the reverence of which a long tradition is worthy. It radiated, and thus taught, discipline; it made palpable a kind of “impersonal anonymity” which cannot be achieved simply by concealing the authors’ names. My university students were always shocked to open Dom Hesbert’s Antiphonarium Missarum Sextuplex or the 11th-century Gradual of the Roman basilica of St. Cecilia, only to find there, on the same days, the same Proper chants than the ones printed in the Liber Usualis of 1950. And without any coaching from me, their first question after the initial surprise was, “Then why should we sing different ones instead of these?”

Why, indeed…?

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Any attempt to summarize this matter in a balanced way would include points such as these:

1. History testifies to the existence of a sacred language, just as it attests to changes in the liturgical language. The Eastern churches, for example, were able to preserve their Liturgy in great vigor while using vernacular tongues. Since it is plain that today’s intellectual and religious environment is not propitious to the precondition of ‘fidelity’ in the process of translation, we must think long and hard about the postulata, the munimina and the subsidia of authentic and congenial translations, following the lead of the Holy See’s Instructio Quinta De Usu Linguarum Popularium in Libris Liturgiae Romanae Edendis” (March 28, 2001).

2. If in the minds of believers and of churchmen there is once established the equation “Latin = Ordo Antiquus, Vernacular = Ordo Novus,” then there is no chance at all for the traditional rite to be widely accepted, and it will remain the private hobby of some few groups. Good translations of the content of the Roman rite are much more important than any eventual reproach for insensitivity — but only on condition that the use of Latin is simultaneously safeguarded, in the sense of Vatican II and the wise provisions of e.g., SC 36 and 54, which should be followed in preference to what occurred after the Council.

3. Analysis of the various elements of the Liturgy allows us to differentiate the varying degrees of difficulties in linguistic accuracy, a) Most difficult (or impossible?) is an equivalent translation of the Sacramentary (Eucharistic Prayer, Prefaces, Orations). If these are kept in Latin, and good translations are made available for the congregation, then the essence of this dogmatically most sensitive part of the Liturgy will be safeguarded. b) A much easier task is the translation of the Bible based upon sensible principles, meaning that the chants and lections can be translated when and where necessary, without harm to the liturgical content. One need not think in terms of the chants and readings being delivered in the mother tongue at all Masses. A correct and balanced proportion can be found, c) The Mass Ordinary presents a twofold aspect. On the one hand, it is easy to translate and to provide appropriate melodies. On the other hand, since these texts remain unchanged, they are easy to learn also in Latin. The best solution in the case of the Ordinary may perhaps be a regular alternation of Latin and the vernacular.

4. Since the Divine Office consists almost exclusively of biblical texts, it could be translated without difficulty, provided that this be done with intellectual honesty. But here, another factor must be taken into account, namely, that the clergy will come to feel at home with the Latin chiefly by regularly praying the Office in that language. 

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Though it is the most difficult to formulate, the fifth point is the most vital factor, and this is the LITURGICAL TRUTH of the liturgy. The liturgy is a special form of sign language, an individual manifestation of the faith having its own laws, proportion, style, logic and structure. This sui generis system links on one level all authentic liturgical manifestations of mankind; on another level all the Christian rites. Every individual rite has its own inner laws, preserved even during the changes. If the rite lacks these laws it becomes a fiction. If a house is not constructed firmly, it will eventually collapse. But if the liturgical truth is diminished or attenuated, no visible trouble will result right away, since the liturgy is falsely assumed to be the sum of human conventions. It is commonplace, however, that in a society serious disorder will follow if the commonly accepted norms of behavior become regarded as mere conventions that can be changed at will. The spiritual unity of such a society disintegrates when its former principle of order changes to fiction. Similarly, the violation of liturgical truth will sooner or later grievously harm the common sense and spirituality of the Church, as well as the religious behavior of her priests and faithful. Sad to say, this thesis has been proven right by the events that followed Vatican II. As Cardinal Ratzinger put it: “The cause of the Church’s inner crisis is the disintegration of her liturgy.”

Just what is this “liturgical truth”? The matter resembles St. Augustine’s relationship to time: “If you do not ask me about it, I know it clearly, but when you ask me, I suddenly do not know.” I offer an absurd example of this. Let us imagine that someone comes up with the following idea: the Gospel is the Word of the Living Christ Who is present among the congregation. Hence it is more logical if first of all Christ appears among us (through the Transubstantiation), and then afterwards speaks to us (in the Gospel). We all sense the falsity of this conclusion, and the absurdity of the idea. But on the level of speculation it is difficult to offer a rebuttal. If the Gospel were transferred to a position following the words of the Last Supper, no dogmatic truth would be offended. But the whole liturgical truth of the Mass would have collapsed.

Since this “liturgical truth” is the aggregate of a great number of components, effects, proportions, which can hardly be described in most cases, the human mind is unable to construct it. This truth is something more vibrantly alive than the dogmatic, juridical or pastoral truth. As the human mind and body cannot be produced by construction, since they are the marvelous result of conception, birth and growth, so too the liturgical truth can only be inherited, nursed and transmitted. We may change it in approximately the same measure as we can change our own bodies. This is the TRADITIONAL TRUTH of the liturgy. We can know how, why and when certain individual elements of the liturgy were introduced. Its totality, however, comes (or should come) to us from a world of anonymity, from the immemorial ancient traditions of the Church.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The return to chant based on biblical and liturgical texts will be fruitful only if the liturgical meaning of the words is fully understood by both the singers and congregation. Moreover, it is not enough to understand them: they must penetrate the spiritual and mystical sphere of the individual souls, as well as catechesis, preaching, and church life outside the liturgy. The sung words and tunes built into the memory of communities and individuals will deeply influence their way of thinking. Such church music will be able to contribute to the re-sacralization of our view of the Church. In other words, church music will not be able to fulfill its task, if its position is separated from the other activities of the Church. The ideal relationship is that the life of the praying Church governs church music. But the direction is sometimes reversed: church music may influence the Church’s life. Remember that the renewal of the liturgy in the 19th century began with the Gregorian reform of Solesmes!

In order to carry out the program I have discussed here, church musicians will have need of the four “cardinal virtues.”

  • They need stability in principles rejecting any compromise on the most important points.
  • They need continued learning and workshop activity in order to be able to realize the great principles in the smallest of details.
  • They need collaboration, for today there is no chance of surmounting the crisis except by a unanimous stance and common strategy concerning the main points.
  • And finally they need a great deal of individual and common prayer, because they themselves may plant and water, but God alone gives the growth.

Quod Deus bene vertat!

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

When church music lost its norms, one single principle took over their place: whether it appeals to the people (or rather: whether the leaders suppose it will appeal to them). The new principle could not but lead to the invasion of more and more inferior fashions into the Church, finding justification in each case in “taste.” Moreover, the sort of human being who is now considered the measure of music is not a man destined for greatness and called to spiritual qualities; no, he is the marketable man, homo oeconomicus, subjected to any manipulation. I think that nobody gave serious thought to the shortsighted nature of this principle with respect to pastoral tasks, either.

How can the Church ask to be accented in her teaching if she makes her liturgical action relativistic? How can she avoid creating the impression that if the liturgy and church music can be adapted to different tastes, then also matters of faith and morals could now be submitted to the opinion of individuals or to the different social and psychological requirements of our age? This appeal to “different tastes” forgets how people (especially children and youth) entering the church are open and thirsty for all the good they will learn there. “When the [Church] offers her own genuine goods with motherly tenderness, people naturally accept them because they come from the Church they love and respect. Eventually the goods thus absorbed and appropriated become highly formative of their opinions, tastes, preferences, customs, and in fact, their entire life.” As we read in St. Augustine’s Office: “Cibus sum grandium, cresce et manducabis me, nec tu me mutabis in te, sicut cibum carnis tuae, sed tu mutaberis in me“: I am the food of adults; grow up and eat me; it is not you who will change me into yourself, as is true of bodily food, but you will be changed into me. This is valid for liturgy and church music, as well as for teachings of faith and morals. When we say: “The people like this” we regard them as unable to develop, as animals rather than human beings, and we simply neglect our duties in helping them towards a true human existence, — indeed, in this case, to truly Christian existence.

The response of church musicians to this kind of apostasy in the Church was first of all protest. However, as soon as they found it hopelessly impossible to change matters, they shifted their tactics and chose what I consider a bad course. And here lies the responsibility of church musicians in the crisis. What they ought to have undertaken, by way of accepting the challenge, was hard intellectual work and almost superhuman courage. Church musicians ought to have learned again the theology (the theologia perennis and not the nouvelle theologie) of worship and its music, and the liturgy, along with the history of church music, so as to be able to diagnose the deepest causes of the malady and to find the means of alleviation. They ought to have formed a firm league in the defense of values, and I mean “defense” not in a rigidly conservative way, but rather a creative way. It might be that even this struggle would have ended in defeat, but a future generation could perhaps have built on this spiritual foundation.

Instead, the church musicians withdrew themselves into the narrow, restricted area left to them. One or two Masses were left to them to enjoy, to conduct a choir or orchestra, to perform the favored Palestrina or Mozart pieces (or their own compositions…). They can organize festivals, church concerts, conferences, Gregorian workshops and Masses. This gives the illusion of rescuing the “treasure of immeasurable value” bequeathed to the universal Church, even if only within the confined limits of this ghetto existence.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The second problem is the consequence of an anthropocentric view of the liturgy. The liturgy was traditionally understood as the permanent priestly activity of holy Church: she conducts the highest matters of salvation before God’s throne and at the same time, it is her intimate communication with her divine Bridegroom. The greatest honor for the faithful is to join this divine work (opus Dei) as a member of the Mystical Body, and while the believer strives to live his life hidden in Christ and the Church, while he thus “loses” his life, he in fact finds it, The liturgy is not something we create but an objective reality we share in, a precious patrimony we inherit. What happens in the Mass is relatively true for all parts of the liturgy: it is not we but God Who is doing His work in it, and we ourselves become divine when we receive Holy Communion. So the reality we celebrate becomes our own. With respect to the prayers and chants, this truth is expressed by St. Benedict’s classic saying: “mens concordet voci‘: the mind should be concordant with the voice. It is not the soul who speaks in the voice, but it is the Church and the Holy Spirit. The harmony between soul and voice comes not from expressing the soul by the voice but from adapting the soul to the sounds that the Church and the Holy Spirit put upon our lips.

The Liturgical Constitution of the Council says nothing contradictory to this traditional view. And yet, according to the post-conciliar approach it was precisely the modern man, man hic et nunc, who became the focus of interest and the norm of the liturgy. Consequently the liturgy and its chant are supposed to express the religious experience of the individuals and communities. The result is: “vox concordat menti” i.e. the voice is concordant to the state of the mind. The regrettable outcome of this approach is that the liturgy is unable to elevate and raise up heavenwards the individual and communities: they express themselves and so they remain where they are.

This liturgical approach also influenced the church music. A great part of the clergy can accept music only as the chant of the assembly. The demand of actuosa participatio is taken in a sense that excludes the possibility of silent and attentive listening to the chant of singers or choir. Consequently, in many places the choirs have disbanded and the musicians have fled their posts. To anyone who reads the Constitution it is clear that this fate was not intended by the Council. Par. 28 says that “each person should perform his role by doing solely and totally what the nature of things and liturgical norms require of him.” Even in the new Missal of Paul VI we find the names of items belonging to the schola. Things are even clearer if we examine the natura rei, the nature of things: the liturgy is a dramatic event and the assembly participates “actively” in the ritual by performing the parts proper to them. The Council judged it opportune to stress the actuosa participatio because the role of the assembly had been taken over by others during the course of centuries. But this does not mean that now the assembly has to take over the role of others!

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)


The root cause is the underestimation of the role of music in the liturgy and religion in general. Today the Church finds herself “at home” in the movements, activities and appearances of secular society, and values music only in the measure it can be utilized in this context. Music in this view has no value of its own, no value in building bridges between the Christian soul and God, between the Church and her Divine Head. What Guardini wrote about the liturgy as a whole, namely that it has meaning and not aim or purpose, should also be true for its music to some extent. In this life there are things whose purpose we learn, and then we work with them according to their own nature. The pianist, for instance, knows that Bach’s music contributes to the spiritual good of mankind; but the moment he sits down at the piano, he concentrates upon fingering and touch. The Council pointed to the place and role of music in the liturgy and Church life. And so the duty of church music is to fill this place by enjoying a certain independence. But it is not allowed to do that.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)