Validity of new rite of episcopal consecrations: 3

Objections encountered

Dom Botte and Fr. Bugnini hardly speak of the objections that were made to their work. Even if they were not numerous, they merit being made known.

The prayer of Hippolytus was presented by Dom Botte at the sixth plenary session of the Consilium (from November 21-23, 1965); here are the reactions to this reading as they are conserved in the private protocol of Group 20 (we translate from the Latin text):

Bishop Hervas[40]: We have no right to change the form [of the sacrament].

Dom Botte: That’s true, but we do have a right to propose changes to the Holy See.

Fr. Antonelli[41]: We must pursue the investigation. It would be preferable to indicate the essential words in the new preface.

Cardinal Confalonieri: In the prayer of Hippolytus the essential idea is well indicated (“Nunc effunde...”). But the allegory taken from the Old Testament in the current preface is beautiful. In the second part [of Hippolytus’ prayer] there are ideas to retain.

All are agreed that the investigation is to be continued."[42]

After the reading of this protocol, Dom Botte wrote to Fr. Kleinheyer on December 11, 1965:

As regards the formula of episcopal consecration, I do not think that it will be difficult to get the text of Hippolytus passed. The objections are only coming from Cardinal Confalonieri, because the Roman formula seems so beautiful to him. The others have been struck by the richness of the text. The Cardinal’s idea was to keep the Roman formula and enrich it with the second half of Hippolytus. It will be sufficient for us to show that this would result in something rather lame."[43]

Several personages outside the Consilium were consulted. On April 14, 1966, Fr. Louis Bouyer [1913-2004] wrote to the secretariat of Group 20:

Taken as a whole, this revision is a happy simplification and a return to a more ancient tradition and more meaningful by its sobriety. Nevertheless, I am afraid that it also undeniably savors in some measure of antiquarianism.

He leveled two criticisms: on the one hand, the abandonment of the consecratory prayer in its 'Eucharistic' form (in the form of a preface). He recognized that this form was of Gallican origin, but he found it very much in keeping with Biblical tradition and he wondered if the ancient Gallican tradition might not be closer to the origins than the Roman tradition. And on the other hand, he did not like Hippolytus:

Hippolytus was certainly an antiquarian, but, like most antiquarians, while he understood well enough the antiquity he wished to preserve as such, he did not realize that undoubtedly he shared to a lesser degree the spirit of the popes who were his contemporaries and to whom he was opposed (very likely in liturgical matters as well as in everything else). He was just an 'integrist' before it was called that, and you accord far too much honor to this particularly narrow-minded and fanatical anti-pope by substituting his lucubrations for texts that have behind them centuries of usage."[44]

Dom Botte replied June 2nd with a handwritten letter five pages long. Here are some excerpts:

The questions you ask are the very questions I have asked myself, and I think it is a good idea to explain to you why I resolved them in the way I did, which you know.

1. On the subject of prayer in the form of a preface, two remarks:

a) I do not believe that the introduction 'Vere dignum...' ['It is truly meet...' is the beginning of every preface in the missal—Ed.] is due to a Gallican influence, which would represent a more ancient tradition. If one follows the development of texts, it can be seen that it involves an interpretation of a rubric: in tono praefationis ['in the tone of the preface'—Ed.]. Besides, we have the Gallican consecration prayers conserved in the Gelasian [sacramentary] (and given a secondary importance in the Pontifical), and they do not have the Vere dignum.

b) It is incontestable that there are forms of blessing in the form of a thanksgiving... But it must be remarked that essentially these involve blessings of things and not consecrations of persons.... Notice that in no Eastern rite, not even in the Gallican or the old Roman, are the ordination prayers in the form of a thanksgiving. By setting aside the form of thanksgiving, we are conforming ourselves to a universal tradition from which the Roman Rite departed because of an erroneous interpretation of a rubric.

2. As for the obsession with reducing everything to Hippolytus, I believe that it exists only in your own mind.... There is only one case where we have preferred him, that of the prayer of the episcopal consecration.... Contrary to what you think, I was not guided by a doctrinaire desire to go back to the rites and usages of antiquity.

a) The Roman formula (contrary to what happens for the priesthood and the diaconate) is of a poverty of thought that contrasts with the sumptuousness of the form. Everything is reduced to the symbolism of Aaron, which, moreover, ends by being materialized in the rites. Everyone is in agreement in finding that it only gives a very imperfect idea of the theology of the episcopacy.[45]

b) Consequently, the question arose, can we rework it, add to it, or replace it with another formula. I could hardly see anyway of reworking it. It has its unity. Introducing foreign developments would only result in making of it a monster of the genre of Homer’s chimera. Have a new formula composed by theologians? May God preserve us! I refuse to do it, and I do not believe anyone is capable of doing it. Therefore but one solution remained: look [for a replacement] in the Eastern tradition.

c) One fact impressed me: For the consecration of the patriarch in the patriarchates of both Antioch and Alexandria, we find two related formulas which are revisions of the prayer of Hippolytus. Whoever the author may be, this is a fact of tradition. For centuries, these prayers have been in usage in these two patriarchates and give the episcopacy an infinitely richer version than the Roman prayers. Would this not be an opportunity, since it is necessary to change, to get closer to the Eastern tradition? As you see, it is not a concern for antiquarianism that has guided me, but a concern for ecumenism.... After these considerations, if Hippolytus had a bad character, that is another question. The work has an existence independent of its author. We have no intention of getting caught up in controversies about his person, nor the authenticity of his work. Our guarantee is that this prayer inspired two great Eastern patriarchates."[46]

His disparagement of the Roman liturgy aside, the soundness of Dom Botte’s argumentation must be recognized: the fact that the prayer of Hippolytus was adopted by two Eastern patriarchates[47] assures its worth, prescinding entirely from the person of its author[48] or his character,

Another objection came from Archbishop Lallier of Marseille, or rather from his secretary Fr. Colin (for Archbishop Lallier was about to leave Marseille for Besancon). In a letter dated September 28, 1966, at his bishop’s behest, Fr. Colin wrote his remarks to Fr. Bugnini.[49] He does not address the principle of the reform, but he asks:

But one might wonder if a revision as profound as the one envisaged does not risk being premature at the present time. A reform excellent in itself can, in fact, not be opportune and miss its goal if the psychological conditions in which it is introduced are not favorable. Now, the consequences of the reform of ordinations are great, as much for the priests as for the seminarians and even the Christian people."

His criticisms bear upon the suppression of the minor orders.[50]

As regards our subject, only this sentence applies:

Moreover, allow me to express my sorrow at seeing the disappearance of certain very rich formulas from the present Pontifical, especially among the texts of Gallican origin."

We were only able to find one reply to Fr. Colin in the archives of the secretariat of Group 20. But we did find a letter from Fr. Vogel to Fr. Kleinheyer, dated November 15, 1966,[51] where he says:

I was quite disagreeably surprised when I read the letter from Marseille (Fr. Colin). Apparently there is some resistance from that quarter. But I could not have imagined it would be manifested so strongly. How good it is that, in our little working group, we have been clear and of the same opinion on the essentials of the subject from the beginning!"

Incidentally, we know that Dom Botte energetically opposed Archbishop Lallier’s participation in the committee tasked with the final revision of the schema.[52]

A final objection: We saw that Bishop Jean Hervas y Benet, a Spanish bishop, had expressed an objection during the first presentation of the new rite before the Consilium. He returned to the attack in a three-page typewritten note dated October 14, 1966, written in Latin.[53]

All the while praising the erudition and work of the experts, he shared his several qualms of conscience. He observes that the new consecratory formula would completely eliminate the consecratory preface presently in use, of which the essential part had just been declared by Pope Pius XII in the constitution Sacramentum Ordinis. Now, he says, to justify such a step, it would be necessary:

a) That it be able to be shown, for grave reasons, that it is not possible to improve upon the existing consecratory form, by removing or adding some part, according to the Council’s norm: 'in such a way that new forms organically proceed from the old.'...

b) It would be necessary to establish undeniably that the new form better and more perfectly signifies the sacramental action and its effect. That is to say, that it should be established in no uncertain terms that it contains no ambiguity, and that it omits nothing from among the principal charges which are proper to the episcopal order."

He proposed comparing the old formula and the new by placing them in parallel columns, which he began to do for the essential words and for the passage that indicates the power of governing (“ut pascat gregem sanctum tuum” [“may shepherd thy holy flock”—Ed.] in the new rite). Then he posed the question:

A doubt occurs to me concerning the words 'Spiritus principalis': do these words adequately signify the sacrament? And can not the words “pascere gregem tuum” be interpreted uniquely of the power to teach and to sanctify, excluding the power to govern?"

And he concluded by saying that sufficient elements had not been given to the Consilium to enable them to judge such an important matter.

The critique was grave, and called for a serious response. We do not know if such a response was forthcoming, for we have found nothing in the archives of the Group 20 secretariat. On the other hand, we did find a letter dated October 21, 1966, from Dom Botte to Fr. Kleinheyer, the Group secretary, displaying an unpardonable levity, of which we present a few excerpts:

My Dear Professor:

Attached is a comment on our schema by a Spanish bishop. Theologians are rather obtuse people who have no notion about literary genres. There is a difference between a treatise of theology or a Conciliar decree and a sermon.

What preacher would ever dream of using so ugly a word as 'sacramentaliter' ['sacramentally'—Ed.][54] or its translation. Moreover, it would be incomprehensible to the people. The Conciliar decrees are not models of eloquence, and I see no point in composing allocutions in Scholastic jargon, neither in Latin nor in any other language. Durand of Mende[55] had more good sense, and he was more inspired by the Fathers than by St. Thomas’s Summa...."[56]

In fact, Dom Botte does not take up the questions raised by Bishop Hervas about the new rite of episcopal consecration. Even if the objections do not call into question the validity of the new rite, they clearly pose the question of the lawfulness and the opportuneness of such a change. The offhand and even contemptuous way Dom Botte treats the problem (“theologians are rather obtuse people”) in itself suffices to condemn this reform.

The prayer of ordination of a bishop (presented in Schema 180) was discussed at the seventh session of the Consilium on October 6, 1966. The only opposition came from Cardinal Felici[57] and Bishop Hervas. Fr. Lecuyer successfully defended the new prayer. It was approved on October 7, 1966, by 30 votes for, 3 against, and 2 “juxta modum” [an affirmative vote but with reservations—Ed.]. The Consilium approved, by a vote of 34 for and 1 abstention, that the entire schema (including the ordinations of deacons and priests) be submitted to the Sovereign Pontiff for approval.[58]

The new rite was approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 11, 1967. The only remarks concerned the examination of the candidate and the ordination prayer, about which it was noted: “The text of Hippolytus, duly adapted, is acceptable.”[59]

The Congregation of Sacraments requested that the new rite be preceded by an introduction affirming the sacramental nature of ordination to the episcopacy, in conformity with Lumen Gentium. As for the text, comments were only made about details, as, for instance, that they found the allocution to be too long.[60]

Finally, the Congregation of Rites (of which Fr. Bugnini was the under-secretary) only made comments about details.[61] Before receiving the pope’s definitive approbation, the reformed rite was submitted to a joint commission of the Congregations for the Faith, of Sacraments, and of Rites, which met February 1-2, 1968.[62] The pope approved the reform of the rite on June 10, 1968.[63]

Part 4>


40 The Most Reverend Jean Hervas y Benet, Bishop of Mallorca in Spain (1905-82).

41 Ferdinando Giuseppe Antonelli, O.F.M., secretary of the Congregation of the Sacraments, who became a bishop in 1966 and cardinal in 1973 (1896-1993).

42 Archives of the German Liturgical Institute (Trier).

43 Ibid., Kleinheyer file, B 116.

44 Ibid., B 117.

45 This is undoubtedly the most contestable passage in this letter of Dom Botte. The purpose of the traditional rite was not to give a complete theology of the episcopacy, but it highlighted very well its essential aspect: the bishop is the high priest of the New Testament, he possesses the supreme degree of the priesthood. That is much less clear in the new rite. In reality, it was a lack of love for the Roman liturgy that led him to seek something else.—Ed.

46 Archives of the German Liturgical Institute (Trier), Kleinheyer file, B 117.

47 At the Church’s beginning, there were only three patriarchates: Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria, all three tied to the person of St. Peter. He it was who founded the Church of Antioch before going to Rome, and he sent his “secretary,” St. Mark, to found the Church of Alexandria in his name, as it were. The presence of the same prayer in the two patriarchates of Alexandria and of Antioch is obviously a very strong argument.

48 From this we see how futile are the discussions of Rore Sanctifica to determine whether Hippolytus is really the author of the Apostolic Tradition. The problem does not lie there.

49 Archives of the German Liturgical Institute (Trier), Kleinheyer file, B 117.

50 He expressed himself in these terms:

Certainly, the minor Orders often did not correspond with the exercise of a real ‘function.’ But they had an indisputable spiritual advantage: that of making the clerics become progressively more aware of the profound exigencies of the priesthood, of ‘revealing’ to them little by little the interior attitudes that the Church expects of her ministers and from which a priest cannot dispense himself in the daily exercise of his ministry: welcoming the faithful, fidelity to the Word of God, combat against the devil, the testimony of an exemplary life, etc. Would there not be a detriment to the spiritual formation of the clergy by suppressing too hastily these ‘steps’?"

51 German Liturgical Institute (Trier), Kleinheyer file, B 117.

52 On June 22, 1966, the Secretariat of State had asked that Archbishop Lallier of Marseille be assigned to the work group. Dom Botte made a little threat: it was either him or Archbishop Lallier. (Bugnini, La Riforma liturgica, pp.690-91.)

53 German Liturgical Institute (Trier), Kleinheyer file, B 117; our translation.

54 Bishop Hervas regretted the omission of this word from the rite of ordination to the priesthood.

55 William Durand, Bishop of Mende from 1286 to 1296, a liturgist of repute.

56 German Liturgical Institute (Trier), Kleinheyer file, B 117.

57 Cardinal Felici committed a blunder that Dom Botte knew how to exploit. The cardinal declared that he preferred the address actually in usage to the one that had been proposed. Dom Botte replied that there was no address in the rite currently in effect (ibid., B 131.) Six years later, in his memoirs Dom Botte savored his victory:

Hardly had I finished my explanation than I heard the peremptory remark: 'The old address was better.' The speaker wanted to develop his idea, but I grabbed the mike in front of me and cut him off by asking where this address was found in the Pontifical. He wanted to go off on a tangent, but I brought him back to the question. He gazed at me with a stunned look. I added: 'Don’t look, it’s not worth your time—there never was an address for the ordination of a bishop in the Pontifical.' A little discreet laughter was heard, followed by silence. Our address was approved without difficulty." (Botte, op. cit., p.128.)

58 German Liturgical Institute (Trier), Kleinheyer file, B 131.

59 This document of the CDF is cited more fully above under “Arguments on the Contrary.”

60 The pages that we consulted in the Trier German Liturgical Institute archives on the Pontificale Romanum shelf are undated and unsigned.

61 The comments were handed by the congregation’s secretary, Archbishop Ferdinando Antonelli, to the under-secretary, Fr. Bugnini, on December 16, 1967. (Trier German Liturgical Institute, Pontificale Romanum shelf.)

62 Bugnini, La Riforma liturgica, p.692.

63 To give an idea of the liberty that the reformers took with the pope’s directives, we point out this fact: The pope had explicitly asked that the chant of the Veni Creator—which Fr. Bugnini and Dom Botte wanted to suppress—be kept in the rite of ordination of bishops. In the 1968 edition, the rubric prescribes that it be sung after the homily, “or another hymn that corresponds to it, according to local custom,” and the 1990 edition rubric merely directs that “it may be sung, or another hymn....”