Annibale Bugnini

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Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, C.M. ( 14 June 1912– 3 July 1982) was a main architect of the liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic Church in the second half of the Twentieth century. He was a controversial figure due to what were seen as two sudden departures from high office. It was rumoured that he was a Freemason, and that this influenced both the departures from office and the "modernising" directions of the liturgical reforms.

He also became the Papal ambassador to Iran and wrote a history of Christianity in Iran.

Early life

Annibale Bugnini was born in Civitella del Lago in Umbria. In 1928 he began his theological studies with the Congregation of the Mission,. He was ordained priest on 26 July 1936 and spent ten years in parish work in a Roman suburb. From 1947 became involved in the production of the missionary publications of his order and at the same time became the first editor of Ephemerides Liturgicæ.From 1949 he taught Liturgical Studies at the Pontifical Urban College (now the Pontifical Urban University), later becoming a professor at the Pontifical Lateran University.

Serving Pius XII

On May 28, 1948, Pope Pius XII appointed him Secretary to the Commission for Liturgical Reform. This body was responsible for the reform of the rites for the Easter Vigil (1951) and then for the whole of Holy Week (1955). It went on to reform the Code of Rubrics (1960) which affected both the Mass and the Divine Office before producing new editions of the Roman Breviary and Roman Missal in 1962.

Vatican II and the Consilium

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council and on June 6, 1960, Fr. Bugnini was appointed the Secretary of the Pontifical Preparatory Commission on the Liturgy. This body drafted the document that would become Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council's Constitution on the Liturgy. There was considerable shock when John XXIII did not in 1962 appoint Fr Bugnini as Secretary to the Conciliar Commission on the Liturgy - which would guide the document through the debates of the Council - for the Secretaries of all the other Preparatory Commissions had been so appointed. At the same time Fr Bugnini was discharged from his teaching post at the Lateran University. He complained of this (his "first exile") in his memoirs:

The basis for the dismissals was the charge of being a "progressivist", "pushy", and an "iconoclast" (innuendos whispered half-aloud), accusations then echoed in turn by the Congregation of Rites, the Congregation of Seminaries, and the Holy Office. But no proof was offered, no clear justification for such serious measures.

Fr Alfons Stickler S.D.B. (later Cardinal) was appointed as a peritus to the Conciliar Commission. In an article first published in 1997 he gave an alternative version of events.

Now, Fr. Bugnini had been secretary of the Council's Preparatory Commission for the Liturgy. Because his work had not been satisfactory-it had taken place under the direction of Cardinal Gaetano Cicognani-he was not promoted to secretary of the Conciliar Commission...An organized group of liturgists represented this neglect to Paul VI as an injustice against Fr. Bugnini, and they managed to see that the new Pope, who was very sensitive to such procedures, righted that "injustice" by naming Fr. Bugnini as secretary of the new Consilium responsible for the implementation of the reform.

For all his laments, the Council - for which Fr Bugnini was appointed as a peritus (albeit not directly to the Liturgical Commission) - did vote Sacrosanctum Concilium through and in pretty much the form it had been drafted by the Preparatory Commission. On January 3, 1964, the new Pope Paul VI appointed him as Secretary of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy ("the Consilium" for short). This was the body which completely transformed the shape of the Roman Rite. It drafted the decrees that had the effect of making the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy nearly universal, displacing the near universality of Latin.

After Consilium

Rumours started to appear in the Italian press that Bugnini was a Freemason — a serious accusation when made against a senior Catholic churchman. Some Catholics — Traditionalists in particular — have seen in Bugnini's alleged Masonic connections an explanation for what they regard as the excessively liberal or Modernistic course of the liturgical reform. Bugnini, however, was certainly not the only member of Consilium (or the only Catholic liturgist) with liberal ideas. Bugnini acknowledged the existence of the accusations in his memoirs and denied them vehemently.

The Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship, Bugnini's Curial department, was abruptlymerged with the Congregation for the Sacraments, and his position ceased to exist. The Vatican made no denial of the rumours concerning the grounds for his dismissal.

The English Traditionalist Catholic writer, Michael Davies, investigated the subject for his series of books on Catholic liturgical reform. In an article published in the Australian Catholic monthly AD2000, Davies claimed that Paul VI dismissed Bugnini because of evidence purporting to prove that Bugnini was a Freemason. Davies also claims that after contacting the priest who had the evidence given to the Pope that the Vatican kept the denunciation secret but that the dismissal from his post was evidence enough. In a later issue the Australian seminary professor Father Brian Harrison claimed that Bugnini left a briefcase in a conference room with the evidence.

Bugnini himself while acknowledging the accusations in his memoir, strongly denied them. In October 1976, following the circulation of a separate list of alleged Freemasons in curial posts which included Bugnini, the Vatican issued a general denial that senior churchmen were involved in Freemasonry.

On 4 January 1976, Bugnini's transfer to Iran was announced. He was obliged to leave his memoirs of the reform temporarily incomplete although he later finished them. Not only did he deal with the ordinary business of any papal delegation, but he also studied and acquired knowledge of the country, its history, and its cultural, religious, and social traditions. The result was his book La Chiesa in Iran ("The Church in Iran").


Archbishop Annibale Bugnini died in Rome at the Pius XI Clinic on July 3, 1982, the Feast of St Irenaeus (formerly that of St Leo II) in the calendar he helped to abolish and the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle in the calendar he introduced. He was 70 years old.


The reforms following the Second Vatican Council provoked a storm of protest, and although Pope Paul VI was responsible for approving them, Bugnini endured the brunt of the attacks. In 1975, he was removed from his post as a senior Vatican liturgist, by the simple expedient of abolishing the Curial Congregation to which he belonged. It was reported that Paul VI had been presented with evidence that he was a Freemason. Bugnini acknowledged the existence of this allegation, but always denied that he had Masonic connections, and the alleged evidence was never made public. In 1976 he was sent as Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Iran, a post for which none of his previous career had apparently prepared him.

Since the course of Bugnini's career was determined by the shifting arrangements of the Roman Curia, it is important to lay out the progress of changes. In 1969 the Sacred Congregation of Rites (SCR) was dissolved and its liturgical functions were assigned to the new Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (SCDW). Fr Bugnini was appointed Secretary. However six years later in 1975 the SCDW was itself dissolved at the same time as the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments (SCDS) in order to form the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship (SCSDW).

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