Paul VI and the Liturgical Reform. He Approved It, But Didn’t Like It Much

Pope Paul VI has received much criticism for permitting the Novus Ordo Mass to “replace” the Traditional Latin Mass in the Liturgical changes effected following the Second Vatican Council. Yet to what extent was he genuinely in agreement with these reforms? The truth could be surprising to many.

Written by Sandro Magister on Settimo Cielo, 19th April 2018

The pope wants it.” This is how Monsignor Annibale Bugnini (1912-1982), the author of the liturgical reform that followed Vatican Council II, silenced the experts every time they contested one or another of his most reckless innovations.

The pope was Paul VI, who in effect had entrusted to none other than Bugnini the role of secretary and factotum of the council for the reform of the liturgy, headed by Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro.

Bugnini had a terrible reputation among some of the members of the council. “Sinister and smarmy,” “schemer,” “as devoid of education as of honesty”: this is how he is described in the “Memoirs” of the great theologian and liturgist Louis Bouyer (1913-2004), highly esteemed by Paul VI.

Which pope, in the end, was on the point of making Bouyer a cardinal and punished Bugnini by exiling him as nuncio in Tehran, having realized the damage that he had done and the duplicity of that “The pope wants it” with which the reprobate shielded himself.

Over the subsequent decades, nevertheless, the heirs of Bugnini dominated the field. His personal secretary, Piero Marini, was from 1983 to 2007 the master of pontifical ceremonies. And recently books have been published on Bugnini, glorifying his role.

But getting back to Paul VI, how did he experience the unfolding of the liturgical reform? The defenders of the preconciliar liturgy point to him as the one ultimately responsible for all the innovations.

In reality, between Paul VI and the reform that was taking shape little by little there was not that affinity for which the critics rebuke him.

On the contrary, it was not unusual for Paul VI to suffer on account of what he saw taking place, which was the opposite of his liturgical culture, his sensibility, the spirit in which he himself celebrated.

There is a brief book published in recent days that sheds new light precisely on this personal suffering of pope Giovanni Battista Montini over of a liturgical reform that in many ways he did not condone:

Paolo VI. Una storia minima,” edited by Leonardo Sapienza, Edizioni VivereIn, Monopoli, 2018.…

In this book Monsignor Sapienza – who has been regent of the prefecture of the papal household since 2012 – collects various pages of the “Diaries” compiled by the master of pontifical celebrations under Paul VI, Virgilio Noè (1922-2011), who became a cardinal in 1991.

With these “Diaries,” Noè carried on a tradition that dates back to the “Liber Notarum” of the German Johannes Burckardt, master of ceremonies for Alexander VI. In his account of every celebration, Noè also recorded everything that Paul VI said to him before and after the ceremony, including his comments on some of the innovations of the liturgical reform that he had experienced for the first time on that occasion.

For example, on June 3, 1971, after the Mass for the commemoration of the death of John XXIII, Paul VI commented:

“How on earth in the liturgy for the dead should there be no more mention of sin and expiation? There is a complete absence of imploring the Lord’s mercy. This morning too, for the Mass celebrated in the [Vatican] tombs, although the texts were beautiful they were still lacking in the sense of sin and the sense of mercy. But we need this! And when my final hour comes, ask for mercy for me from the Lord, because I have such need of it!”

And again in 1975, after another Mass in memory of John XXIII:

“Of course, in this liturgy are absent the great themes of death, of judgment….”

The reference is not explicit, but Paul VI was here lamenting, among other things, the removal from the liturgy for the deceased of the grandiose sequence “Dies irae,” which in effect is no longer recited or sung in the Mass today, but survives only in concerts, as composed by Mozart, Verdi, and other musicians.

Another time, on April 10, 1971, at the end of the reformed Easter Vigil, Paul VI commented:

“Of course, the new liturgy has greatly streamlined the symbology. But the exaggerated simplification has removed elements that used to have quite a hold on the mindset of the faithful.”

And he asked his master of ceremonies: “Is this Easter Vigil liturgy definitive?”

To which Noè replied: “Yes, Holy Father, the liturgical books have already been printed.”

“But could a few things still be changed?” the pope insisted, evidently not satisfied.

Another time, on September 24, 1972, Paul VI replied to his personal secretary, Pasquale Macchi, who was complaining about how long it took to sing the “Credo”:

“But there must be some island on which everyone can be together: for example, the ‘Credo,’ the ‘Pater noster’ in Gregorian….”

On May 18, 1975, after noting more than once that during the distribution of communion, in the basilica or in Saint Peter’s Square, there were some who passed the consecrated host from hand to hand, Paul VI commented:

“The Eucharistic bread cannot be treated with such liberty! The faithful, in these cases, are behaving like.. infidels!”

Before every Mass, while he was putting on the sacred vestments, Paul VI continued to recite the prayers stipulated in the ancient missal “cum sacerdos induitur sacerdotalibus paramentis,” even after they had been abolished. And one day, September 24, 1972, he smiled and asked Noè: “Is it forbidden to recite these prayers while one puts on the vestments?”

“No, Holy Father, they may be recited, if desired,” the master of ceremonies replied.

And the pope: “But these prayers can no longer be found in any book: even in the sacristy the cards are no longer there… So they will be lost!”

They are brief remarks, but they express the liturgical sensibility of pope Montini and his discomfort with a reform that he saw growing out of proportion, as Noè himself noted in his “Diaries”:

“One gets the impression that the pope is not completely satisfied with what has been carried out in the liturgical reform. […] He does not always know all that has been done for the liturgical reform. Perhaps sometimes a few matters have escaped him, at the moment of preparation and approval.”

This too must be remembered about him, when next autumn Paul VI is proclaimed a saint.


See Magister’s post for the prayers that the priests used to recite while they were putting on the sacred vestments and that Paul VI continued to recite even after their removal from the current liturgical books.

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5 Responses to Paul VI and the Liturgical Reform. He Approved It, But Didn’t Like It Much

  1. David O'Neill says:

    Surely following these remarks by Paul VI either Benedict XVI or Francis could reassert the EF Mass as the Missa Normativa. I won’t hold my breath for Francis to do it but, perhaps, we shall be blessed with a more Catholic pope in the future. It is quite frightening when we see how Bugnini could bring Holy Mother Church to the present parlous state which is reflected by the few still attending Mass & even (we hear) of priests & faithful doubting the Real Presence.


  2. Mary Salmond says:

    So sad that it has taken this long to hear of the lamentations of Paul VI. The confiscation of the prayers of the past is shameful and criminal for the faithful at large who were clandestinely railroaded into submission.


  3. alohalady14 says:

    I hope that they’ll print this book (Paolo VI. Una storia minima ) in English. It seems to only be in Italian.


  4. Shadon says:

    Maybe the apparent confusion and misconceptions with Pope Paul VI are due to the claims around him being substituted by an imposter Pope being true! I know it is an extremely controversial topic, but if anyone is interested in reading further, please see this link:
    or google “warnings from beyond (hell)”


  5. Crow says:

    I sympathise with his sadness, but he was the pope and it was in his watch that the vandalism occurred. I do not understand the power Bugnini had. Mr Magister does not mention the rumour that Pope Paul VI sent him to Tehran because it was established on reliable evidence, that Bugnini was a Mason. Even after he was sent to Tehran, the TLM was still suppressed. Did people have stuff on Paul VI? The whole thing does not make sense to me – if something is beautiful and sacred, why would you trash it? If he was sad about it, why didn’t he change it?


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