Rorate Caeli

Vatican II at 50:
Archbishop Peruzzo, the Prophet - and the anti-liturgical revolution that was to come

Giovanni Battista Peruzzo, the Passionist* Archbishop of Agrigento (Sicily), had been a bishop since 1924, and was admired deeply by the poor people of his diocese as the "vescovo dei contadini", the "peasants's bishop". Abp. Peruzzo, who had been the victim of a serious attempt on his life in 1945, shortly after the end of the War in Europe, would die before the second session of the Second Vatican Council, but, when faced with the concepts proposed in the schema of the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy and on the wild liturgical ideas being openly discussed in the aula during the first session (1962), he could not remain silent. 

The words of his short address to the Council Fathers, as reported by Prof. Roberto di Mattei, based on Dom Guéranger's principles of the Anti-Liturgical heresy (first translated by us in 2006), are nothing short of impressive in their prophetic depth, and on what aspects are really necessary for the sanctification of souls - anti-liturgical revolution not being one of them.

[…] On October 29, [1962,] the Bishop of Agrigento, Abp. Giovanni Battista Peruzzo, recalled the initial stages of the anti-liturgical movement in the historical setting of pagan humanism [260], between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th.   Abp. Peruzzo’s speech, which was ridiculed by the progressives, deserves to be reported in its entirety because of the wisdom and foresight it displays.

In his speech, resound the admonitions of Dom Guéranger, who, in the 14th chapter of his Institutions Liturgiques, vigorously denounced the principles that were behind the anti-liturgical heresy, in which the first characteristic: “is the hatred for tradition, of formulas, of divine worship.” [261]

“I am the last one [to speak] but I am old, the oldest among you, and perhaps I have understood little; therefore, forgive me if some of my statements should be displeasing to you. I have listened to many comments and proposals against Holy Tradition, which has to be maintained regarding the use of the Latin language in the Sacred Liturgy, and many words have been a cause of fear and anxiety to me, so now I will explain these to you briefly, not from a theological perspective but from a historical one. I do not like the anti-liturgical movement because of its origins. It is always of great importance to pay attention to the origins of families, of institutions, of realities, of doctrines, to determine who the father is, who the mother is, who the guide is. If the original source was sound at the beginning, it will easily remain sound throughout the course of time. If the source is  contaminated, it will hardly become pure. Based on these principles, I have before me the origins of the anti-liturgical movement – and exactly who the fathers and guides were. 

“This movement began at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. The first anti-liturgists were the Humanists, [who were] true and authentic pagans in Italy and were only a little better in France and the northern lands under the guidance of Erasmus, but all of them wavering in the Faith.     Many of our brothers followed them in their path, and consequently  separated from the Catholic Church. From there the Jansenists came into being, in Italy the followers of the Synod of Pistoia, and finally the Modernists: this is the company to which many have conformed their speech.

“Instead, I cannot find a single holy bishop promoting this movement. From the likes of Charles Borromeo to St. Anthony Mary Claret, from St. Francis de Sales to St. Alphonsus, ancient and modern, all of them have adhered to the Latin Tradition. This fact must make us cautious about proposing novelties. The 'old ways' which are sure are easily abandoned; but who knows what bottomless pits the new paths might prepare and cause for us!

“Erasmus wrote thus in his preface to the Gospel of St. Mathew: 'It seems so indecorous and ridiculous, that the common people and silly women, repeat, mumbling like parrots, the Psalms and Sunday prayers, while they themselves do not understand a thing as to what they mean.' The University of Paris condemned this view, which seems straightforward and right, as: impious, erroneous, and the promoter of new errors; read Duplessy.

“This judgment appears to be excessive to us, but it  proved prophetic. All of those who have asked at least for a reduction of Latin in the Liturgy, in the past, as in the present, always express the same reasons; to instruct the people better and urge them onto greater faith and love of God.

“In the Augustana [Augsburg Confession], nothing other than a request for singing in the vernacular by the people during the celebration of the Mass was made – but what happened? The replacement of the language in the Mass by the vernacular, was in general, the first act of separation from Holy Mother Church. This strong affirmation is not mine, but from Dom Guéranger, who is the true father of the liturgical renewal.  Here are his words: 'the separation of the liturgical language for unexplainable reasons, that we do not know of, almost always, even if the dispensation was obtained from the Supreme Pontiff, has led to schism and  full separation from the Catholic Church.’ He proves this affirmation, as you will be able to read in the third volume of his Institutions Liturgiques. These words, these facts must make us extremely cautious in a matter of such importance.

“I will briefly explain a third reason: the loyalty that bishops, more than any others, must always have towards the Supreme Pontiff, obviously.  For almost five centuries the Supreme Pontiffs have strongly resisted pleadings, solicitations, and threats, in defense of the Latin language in the Sacred Liturgy. In recent times, from Pope Leo XIII until the reigning pontiff,  they have unanimously recommended the necessity of the Latin language in the Sacred Liturgy through various Apostolic Letters. 

“Dear Brothers, are these instructions mere guidance or do they give an order? Discussions to the contrary are open; but to me it seems right that they be made in low voice in humble submission and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff. Everyone asks the Christians of today to become better. Let all of us commit ourselves to this goal; history, in fact teaches us that the sanctification of souls can be bound to the Liturgy, but it demands, above all, our holiness, the strength of our faith, heroism in the  apostolate, the spirit of prayer, of penitence, and also that great outward devotion that leads the people to God. Forgive my boldness and also pray for me.” [262]

[NOTES:][260] Acta Synodalia sacrosancti Concili Oecumenici Vaticani II 1970-1980, (Typis Vaticanis, Citta del Vaticano 1970-199) I/3, pp.594-595
[261] P. Guéranger, De L’héresie antilurgique et de la reforme protestante du XVI siècle, considérée dans ses rapports avec la liturgie, tr. It. The Liturgical Heresy and the Protestant Reform. (Amicizia cristiana, Chieti 2008, p.27)
[262] AS, I/3, pp.594-595
[Roberto de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta (The Second Vatican Council – a never before written history) Chapter III - 1962 THE FIRST SESSION - No. 8 – The debate on the liturgy (the Latin question), pages 246-248.]


*Passionist Participation at Vatican II 

Passionist bishops taking part in the 1st Session of the Second Vatican Council: first row left to right: Bishops Legaristi, O'Gara, Peruzzo, Battistelli, Hagendorens, Fernández;  second row left to right: Bishops Muruaga, Pesce, Deane, Pellanda, Olwell, Sillekens. 

Giovanni Battista Peruzzo, C.P. Born in Molare, Italy on July 14, 1878. Ordained a Passionist priest on January 13, 1901. After his ordination, he preached in northern Italy. From 1901 until 1924, he conducted over three hundred apostolic missions. On January 18, 1924, appointed as an Auxiliary Bishop of Mantua, Italy and ordained on February 10, 1924. Appointed on October 19, 1928 as Bishop of Oppido Mametina, Italy. January 15, 1932 appointed as Bishop of Agrigento, Italy.  Elevated to Archbishop (personal title) in 1952. During his tenure information states that he created one hundred and thirty-seven new parishes and was pastorally active in service to his people. He was involved also with the reorganization of the catechism for children and adults. He paid attention to issues in the seminary and social issues as well. Of utmost concern was his care of refugees during World War II. He died on July 20, 1963 as Archbishop of Agrigento, Italy and therefore did not live to attend the entire Council which ended in 1965. He was, however, from the start of the Council, known to be a strong orthodox voice in his capacity as a member of the Theological Commission. One source quotes him as a man who "stood up in the fight for orthodoxy." Source of photo and biography: Passionist Historical Archives 

[Translation and research: Contributor Francesca Romana]