Is Pope Francis thinking of appointing as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship a disciple of Annibale Bugnini deeply hostile to Benedict XVI’s reforms?

Archbishop Piero Marini adjusts Benedict XVI's skullcap in 2007 (AP)

There have, it seems, for the last four or five months been persistent rumours from the eternal city that a dedicated opponent of Benedict XVI’s liturgical reorientation of the Church (certainly including Summorum Pontificum) is to be appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship by Pope Francis. I have to say that these rumours had passed me by (a little fiddling round on the net reveals that Damian Thompson spotted them back in June) and I have only just caught up with them thanks to Fr Finigan, who in his indispensable blog The Hermeneutic of Continuity has this: “There is a rumour (and I understand from various sources that it is not a wild one) that Archbishop Piero Marini may be appointed as the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Archbishop Marini (not to be confused with the papal MC Mgr Guido Marini) was removed as papal MC by Pope Benedict. He is a disciple of the late Archbishop Bugnini and published a book A Challenging Reform: Realising the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal.”

The foreword of this book says, I find, that it “is intended as a complement and supplement to the account of the liturgical reform published in 1985 by Annibale Bugnini, La riforma liturgica (1948 – 1975)”. Archbishop Bugnini, of course, was the chief architect of the “reformed” liturgy which actually emerged, and the great bugbear of liturgical traditionalists, a “Spirit of Vatican II” type if ever there was one. Piero Marini was his personal secretary, was himself deeply involved in the “reforms” and is still a fervent disciple. Fr Z has a killing story about Bugnini. When the Ayatollah Khomeini took control in Iran, he summoned the diplomatic corps into his presence and made them kneel down to him. Bugnini, then the papal nuncio to Iran, did it. He knelt. When news of this reached Rome, some wag in the Curia quipped that Bugnini was doing in Iran all the genuflections he had removed from the Mass.

The publishers of the English edition of Marini’s book, are an obviously highly ideological outfit, called the Liturgical Press, who also published the English edition of Bugnini’s book (of themselves, they say that “The Liturgical Press is a trusted publisher of liturgy, scripture, theology, and spirituality evolving to serve the changing needs of the Church”). About Marini’s book, they say this: “In these pages Archbishop Piero Marini reveals the vision, courage, and faith of the pastors and scholars who struggled to implement the Second Vatican Council’s teachings on the liturgy. While in some circles it is fashionable to propose ‘a reform of the liturgical reform’, any such revision needs to take into account the history of the consilium — the organism established by the Holy See to carry out the initial liturgical changes. This story of the work of the consilium offers a fascinating glimpse into the struggles and tensions that accompanied the realisation of the council’s dream to promote the ‘full, conscious and active participation’ of the faithful in Roman Catholic worship.”

Well, we have been warned: there would be no more reform of the reform if these rumours are true: if Marini really does become prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship it will be back to square one with a vengeance. And a real message would be being sent out: that all those who have been issuing Jeremiads to the effect that Pope Francis’s pontificate is taking a radically different path from that of Pope Benedict will be proved right, and I among many others, who have been saying that there is a real continuity between the two popes, will have got it badly wrong. Back to Marini’s book. I haven’t yet read it (nor, unless he is appointed, do I intend to): but here’s part of its review in Adoremus (which I tend to trust) by Fr Neil J Roy:

The book would have benefited from a more disciplined effort to maintain an objective, balanced, and neutral perspective. Throughout the text readers cannot avoid the “hermeneutic of rupture” deplored by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. This is especially marked in the contrast underscored between Trent and Vatican II, and between pre-conciliar and post-conciliar mentalities. The remark cited earlier about the “preconciliar mindset” of the Roman Curia is merely one instance of this contrast. The emphasis on the “hermeneutic of rupture” is particularly disturbing not only in light of Pope Benedict’s unmistakable stress on the “hermeneutic of continuity”, but especially given that the book underwent the scrutiny of no fewer than three editors. On the other hand, the editors themselves, like the author, have identified strongly with the inculturationist agenda that has emerged since Vatican II. This agenda derives its justification and vigor from a particular reading of articles 37 to 40 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Fr Roy goes on to comment that “Whether this account will rank as history, hagiography, or simply a bit of wistful longing for a Church that never existed and that is not likely to materialise in the foreseeable future [Fr Roy was writing at a time when it looked as though Benedict XVI’s pontificate was set to last for another decade or so], time alone will tell. If the red biretta should descend upon the head of Piero Marini in an upcoming papal consistory, then readers may surmise that his report contains an element of the prophetic, and has been received favourably in high circles”.

Well, has it? And what will actually happen now? The trouble is that Pope Francis is nothing if not unpredictable. What will he do next? It’s a question we have all found ourselves asking over the last six months. I have constantly found myself at first puzzled, but then, on reflection, either lost in admiration over, or at least prepared to defend, some new thing that he has done. As I said in my last blog: “The fact is, that Francis’s incumbency has sometimes seemed confusing; and it’s sometimes been a bumpy ride. But it turns out, after all, that Pope Francis actually does know what he is doing: it simply has now to be said that this pontificate is proving to be a class act.”

That was after his recent heartfelt attack on abortion and euthanasia. But this time, I am really nervous. For if he really does appoint Archbishop Marini as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, it can mean only one thing: a radical rejection by Pope Francis of the pontificate of his predecessor, of one of the truly great popes of the last hundred years. It will mean a definitive return to the hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity. That’s why I don’t believe it’s going to happen. But if it does…. Dear Heavens, what then?