The three layers of the old Antiphonale Romanum (i.e. the ancient core material, the primary additions, and the medieval additions) were more or less separated liturgically, and each liturgical section (the Psalter, de tempore, commune, old saints of the sanctorale, medieval Offices of saints) was provided with a set of antiphons rather homogeneous in style. Now the elements are different in style, age and origin and mixed throughout each section.

The new antiphons are texts singled out from the Bible by liturgical experts. And this observation leads to the most critical remark:

The Roman Office was the product of a service, celebrated in choir, shaped and polished by living practice. Its antiphons were chants, joint productions of theological reflection, liturgical tradition and musical inspiration. The typological character of ancient antiphons reflects a vivid and realistic singing practice.

In contrast, the Liturgia Horarum is a book to be read, constructed at an office desk. The “chants” are not chants in reality, they have been construed in the same way. The Liturgia Horarum is the first Office Book in the life of the Church without melodies. Consequently, the Liturgia Horarum is not a proper tool for the restoration of liturgical life, rather it furthers the decadence of recent centuries and fosters the process by which the Office, earlier sung in common, is turned into a private spiritual reading for priests.

Thirty years went by since its promulgation and the promised notated Roman Antiphonary has still not been produced. The music experts had to realize that the melodies cannot be adapted to the texts of the Liturgia Horarum, and only two possibilities exist: to compose new melodies for hundreds of new texts or to select antiphons from the old Antiphonary with the consequence that the “libretto” of the Office (Liturgia Horarum) and the sung variants will be totally different. This is something quite new and bizarre in the two-thousand-year old history of the liturgy. Now anyone may ask the question: which one is the Office of the Roman Church, the book to be read or the stuff we sing?

In the process of practical implementation most have simply neglected this crucial question and decided to rest satisfied with deplorable “solutions” such as: the people use the Liber Usualis for the sung Office, or local composers fabricate compositions to vernacular texts, or – in most cases – the Office is not sung at all.

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)

The blurring of the Hour’s character is the consequence of the diminution of daily psalmody and of the new distribution of psalms. The reform at the beginning of the 20th century gave up in great part the 1500-year-old system, as well as the basic principles of distribution. Two generations of priests had grown up without any personal experience of the Roman psalmic order, and, their majority simply did not know about its existence. The Liturgia Horarum – with a more radical resolution – went much further down the path opened 70 years before.

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

I summarize the most important innovations and add some remarks. The solution of the problems will be discussed in the third chapter.

1. The character of the Hours

The Vigil Office (or: “Matins”) was transformed into an “Hour of Reading” with three psalms and two long lectios. This Hour can be read at any time of the day.

The structure of Lauds and Vespers has been changed: the hymn was placed at the beginning, the number of psalms was reduced to three, the last psalm of Vespers was replaced by a NT canticle. At the close of these Hours the oratio (collecta) is preceded by invocations modeled after the “oratio fidelium.”

Prime has been abolished. The other Little Hours were replaced by one single Hour (Hora Media), which can be said at any time of the day. In the time of the two other Little Hours some psalms are proposed for prayer ad libitum.

Compline starts with the hymn and has only one psalm.

The Invitatory was moved over from the Vigil to the Hour prayed first on the calendar day.

There is no difference between the structure of the Office on Sundays, feasts or weekdays.

The daily portion of psalms (respectively psalm divisions) is reduced from 40 to 11.

The difference between the Hours became blurred. Each Hour consists of three psalms. The former lengthier, contemplative psalmody of the Vigil, the solemn psalms of Lauds and Vespers, the short psalms of the Little Hours (well suited to the rhythm of daily activity) has been equalized in accordance with new rule of prayer: more or less the same portion each day and for each Hour.

The disposition of the Hours became uniform: they all start with the hymn; only the inclusion of the canticle (and of two long readings in the “Hour of Reading”) sets the Minor and Major Hours apart.

This dull uniformity derives not from the inherent structure of the Office but from the mentality of the producers who composed a book of private readings and prayers rather than a vivid and dramatic choir-Office. Perhaps they did not even have any personal experience of the characteristic differences between the Hours made evident by their proper effect and construction. The organic and characteristic differences of the old Office gave a well-shaped arch to the single Hours as well as to the whole day, while the new order simply multiplied the Hours.

The Vigil has been transformed into an “Hour of Reading” which can be read in any time of the day. The aim was purely practical: this way the priest can read this Hour whenever he finds place in his daily schedule for it. Thus an essential element of liturgical spirituality has been ousted. The theology and mystical meaning of the Vigil had frequently been the subject of contemplation and exposition for the spiritual Masters. No doubt, its observance demanded some self-denial from the participants but they were fairly compensated by the special spiritual blessings of this particular time of the day. The length of the Vigil — the lengthier psalmody with its contemplative atmosphere and the quiet reading in the silence of evening or night – corresponded well to this spirit. The “Hour of Reading” is based not on the tradition of Christian prayer, but on the modern techniques of time-saving.

The Invitatory likewise became the victim of misunderstanding. The genuine motive of this responsorial psalm is not the commencement of our daytime, but rather it is a solemn overture to the liturgical day, even if it is prayed the evening before or at night.7

For the construction of the “Hora Media” the starting point was the Breviary of St. Pius X and not the original structure of the Roman Office. This Breviary transformed the Little Hours into lengthier services and thus effaced the very function of the Little Hours by the use of changing psalms. While it was easy to pray the authentic “Little” Hours in the course of the day, and they were in complete harmony with the spiritual intention of these Hours (they regularly interrupted the day’s profane activity with prayers and consecrated these “holy times”), it was precisely the “modern” Breviary that made them “burdensome.” The Liturgia Horarum should have returned to the original idea, the practice of horae minores instead of reducing the three Hours to one. In actual fact, it created another hora major (or to use a more suitable name: hora of medium size), and annihilated the spirituality of the horae minores.

Another misunderstanding stands behind the abolition of Prime. It was falsely stated that the Roman Office duplicates the morning prayer (Lauds – Prime). The character, function, content of these two Hours is totally different. Lauds greets the day of the history of salvation, a new day of the Cosmos, of Creation and the rise of Easter anew every day. Prime on the other hand (concluded by the praxis-oriented “officium capituli”) sanctified the working day of the laboring man. Or we can say, the importance of Lauds lies in its dogmatic and communal nature, while Prime affects the moral and private sphere.

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

The reforms of St. Pius X considerably diminished the “burden of the day.” But for the clergy this was not enough. They found the one or one-and-a-half hour that the daily Office demanded too long. The main point of the further reforms requested from Vatican II was again a radical shortening of the Office. Another aim was a kind of “rationalization” in the spirit of Quignonez and the Neo-Gallican reform breviaries. A lot of other (sometimes right, otherwise wanton) changes completed the package of new reforms. Having the Liturgia Horarum in hand, one is frequently inclined to ask what is the “true spiritual benefit” of a particular modification, given the fact that the Constitution on the Liturgy defined this benefit as the main criterion of any legitimate change.

The Council dealt with the Office mainly from a theological, spiritual and disciplinary point of view, but some principles for its reorganization were also laid down. A new Latin version of the psalms was wanted (practically, a return from the Pianum to the Vulgate), and similarly a restoration of the hymns (return from the “modernized” version of the 17th century to the original medieval texts). The Constitution abolished Prime, conceded to make only one of the daytime Little Hours obligatory; stipulated that the Psalter be distributed within a longer (undefined) period instead of its weekly recitation. The realization was left to a Committee to be set up.

The Committee under the leadership of Msg. Bugnini (practically following his will, or, if the reports are true, a will from outside the Church) did not reform the Roman Office, but created a new breviary. It was sent to the bishops’ conferences to solicit their opinion. This was, in fact, no more than a formality. No time was left for a thorough analysis; the clergy was unprepared for a well-founded response; and, the Committee was resolute to carry the changes through whatever reply would come from “outside.”

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)

The failures of the Tridentine movement…

8. Pars pro toto, this example also serves to demonstrate another problem. Taking for granted that the Introit is meant to be chanted and only in extraordinary cases be read, the first question is: given today’s conditions what are the obstacles to the regular chanting of the Roman (or “Tridentine”) Introit? The answer is twofold: the first obstacle is the fact that except for the priest, the Mass is celebrated with the assistance of volunteers. In most places this is also true of the singers, and even more true if the liturgical chant is based only upon the actual diminishing memory and knowledge of the congregation. The remedy, of an organizational rather than liturgical nature, would be to establish a system to recruit liturgical assistants from amongst the layfolk, not as haphazard volunteers, but for a regular and obligatory service. The ancient traditional organization of chapters (capitula) could be revived and adapted to the contemporary situation, in a more modest form, even at the smallest parish church. This would be very much a “reform” achievement.

The second obstacle is that as far as the singers are concerned, only professionals are able to learn the Introit and other items of the Proper for every week, or every day. Congregations are surely unable to do that. The last Council tried to provide a more limited collection of liturgical chants for the smaller churches (Graduate Simplex). But how can the full set of Introits of the Roman liturgy then survive? The combination of a seasonal and a daily Introit is a musical task, just as it is a musical task to place easier liturgical tunes alongside the Gregorian ones. If we examine the musical questions, it is clear that we need variant solutions for one and the same liturgy, possibilities which can be selected according to the conditions. ‘”Variant,” I say, but not “anything appropriate”! The fixed order of the “Tridentine” liturgy has great value as a powerful stabilizing factor. But how can this advantage be combined with a kind of flexibility that preserves rather than renounces the liturgical heritage? The question is discussed in Chapter 4; for now, it suffices to stress that a Roman liturgy reformed in the good sense of the word, should offer solutions for choice within its sphere, and not ‘in general’ (“anything appropriate”).

9. At this point it will be useful to return to the example of the Office. The last (“Pastoral”) Council regarded the praying of the Roman Office – even after the reduction of St. Pius X — as too burdensome. Therefore the post-conciliar Commission constructed a new Office, adapted to the lowest standard. Quite the contrary, the Eastern Church preserves her traditional Office unchanged in its entirety, though it is, celebrated in this fullness only by some monasteries, while the parish churches pray parts of the Office, arranged according to customary practice. The principal Hours are retained, but there are also obligatory and optional parts within an Hour; “We omit this or that part,” reports one of the faithful. A similar distinction can also be observed in the West. The Roman liturgy is the liturgy of the Church, and yet in its full traditional form, contained in the editio typica, it is celebrated in certain cathedrals, in many monasteries, and in some assigned churches. These celebrations should be carried out according to certain well-regulated concessions or reductions according to the circumstances. In one place the full Office is prayed, in another only some Hours, or they sing the Vigils (Matins) on fixed solemnities of the year, or Lauds are celebrated with three psalms instead of five, or a priest with pastoral commitments prays only one Sunday Nocturn of the three, or seasonal items are sung instead of those from the day’s liturgy, etc. If all this occurs not out of arbitrariness or because of laziness, but according to general rules adapted by the individual churches or persons with ecclesiastical approval, then the integrity of the Roman liturgy can be preserved. Participation in its entirety demands effort, but it should be a realistic obligation even under varying conditions. The rite of the universal Church lives in a regulated way in the customs of this Church.

10. This kind of genuine reform of the Ordo Antiquus is justified by the survival of the Roman tradition. But it is justified also by recalling that this is the only chance for long-term survival today alongside the Novus Ordo. 

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