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Athleta Patriae - A Tribute to Professor Laszlo Dobszay (1935-2011)

Athleta Patriae - A Tribute to Professor Laszlo Dobszay (1935-2011)

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: New Liturgical Movement on Sep 18, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A Tribute to Professor László Dobszay (1935-2011)
by Zoltán Rihmer, Chancellor of the CLSMA, February 5, 2010
(Originally published in Hungarian and translated into English for  www.newliturgicalmovement.org  ,September 13, 2011)
Tuesday night, while one group of the
Capitulum Laicorum Sancti Michaelis Archangeli
(CLSMA) was celebrating Candlemas in the church of St. Michael, the other participated in asmall birthday party organised at the old Music Academy. Although these two different eventsmay not be compared in terms of spiritual significance, they are closely linked by the personof the “birthday man” to whom the Lay Chapter, the church inHungary, and the liturgical life of the Roman Church owes agreat debt of gratitude.Professor szDobszay turned 75 years old on the 2ndFebruary 2010, and his long, fruitful scientific and musicalcareer is truly remarkable. The musical traits of his scholarlyand artistic career was traced by Fidelio.hu [the leadingHungarian website on classical music], while the other traits of his oeuvre are treated in earlier tributes, both by secular andecclesiastical hands, from 2000 and 2005. Professor Dobszay — as attested to by his bibliographyanddiscography— always studied and cultivated ecclesiastical music within its naturalcontext, the public worship and sacramental life of the Church,which made him an internationally known and respectedscholar of the liturgy (at least in the eyes of those who do notconsider professional competence as something entirely dependent upon a piece of wax sealed parchment or membership in an exclusive club of scholarly gentlemen). His profoundscientific insights imbibed in the spirit of the liturgy lend to his writings a certain kind of vigour and authenticity which made themselves felt in all of his communications: whether inhis famous series of short articles entitled “Notes on the Liturgy” [published for years in theHungarian Catholic weekly
Új Ember 
] or in a friendly conversation on the essence of Gregorian chant and sacred music [an interview given in 1997]. We would like now tocommemorate this mentality, and the liturgical activity resulting thereof.This side of László Dobszay’s rich oeuvre is not so well known because in today’s secularisedsociety it concerns only a few people, evenless are actually interested, and among thesehardly any are pleased by it — especiallygiven the entrenched disagreements amongthe so-called liturgical experts. Someintellectuals are annoyed by any personal andexistential involvement whatsoever, since inthe reigning atmosphere of sterile scientificnon-commitment it is treated with deep-seated suspicion. In all probability this is thereason why our doctor of musicology was notinvited to be a member of the HungarianAcademy of Sciences, instead he wasadmitted by the Széchenyi Literary and Art
Academy. The liturgy is in fact not a natural science, not even a social science, as it relates primarily to God as the object of man’s faith and due public worship. Consequently, Professor Dobszay’s liturgical thought is not the result of scientific observations and theories, a kind of  positivistic product, because it is rooted in an intimate spiritual experience: the childhoodmemory of being touched by the mystery that is at once
.His commitment was further amplified by the influence of learned clerics and laymen whomhe had been fortunate enough to know personally. The first among these men was FrancisXavier Szunyogh OSB, the apostle of the Hungarian liturgical renewal, who — guided by theexample of Romano Guardini — began as early as the 1920s to implement the useful pastoralinsights of the liturgical movement (bilingual, well-commented missalettes, scientific and popular literature, etc.). As Father Szunyogh’s altar server, László Dobszay was able to seeand learn in practice how these earlier figures of the liturgical movement understood andimagined the true renewal of the Roman rite. Later he became a collaborator of BenjaminRajeczky OCist at the Hungarian Institute of Musicology, thus — besides working withHungarian folk music — he also had the opportunity to delve into the study and research of church music. As early as 1965, in the last year of the Second Vatican Council, he became amember of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Esztergom, as well as of thecommittee in charge of editing a new collection of ecclesiastical folk hymns, where — inaddition to Father Rajeczky — he could work alongside László Mezey, the excellent scholar of palaeography, medieval Latin and the liturgy.The fruits of these four decades of study and work grew steadily during the time of thesocialist regime, but they became really evident after the fall of communism. Finally, thestudy of church music — and concurrently of the liturgy — stepped out of its intellectual“ghetto” and began to seek contact with creditable academic circles and society at large. As aresult, the Hungarian Church Music Society was formed in 1992 with its scientificmouthpiece, the periodical
Magyar Egyházzene
(Hungarian Church Music), whoseinstitutional hinterland was the Faculty of Church Music (established in 1990) at the LisztFerenc Academy of Music. In this more propitious atmosphere Professor Dobszay’s experttreatment of the liturgy transcended its historical and theoretical aspects, and his vastknowledge and experience could at last be utilised for the greater benefit of the practical
realm of public worship. In the meantime, a whole new generation had grown up sinceVatican II and the time was ripe for a retrospective evaluation of the post-conciliar liturgicalreforms (which Pope John Paul II himself called for in 1988). The fact that this analysis did not result in an enthusiastic, self-satisfied report, rather typicalfor the official reactions of the church hierarchy, is not László Dobszay’s fault. His was avoice of reason, and as such stood out even from the strident choir of critics insofar as he went beyond easy criticism and all-out dismissal. Instead he made sincere efforts to shed light onthe origin of the turmoil, as well as to propose, insofar as the circumstances allowed,authentic, workable solutions to the problems. This aspect of his scholarly endeavour is wellsummarised in three of his major publications.The first book was published in 2003 by the Church Music Association of America and itstitle
had a provocative edge to it by design.The author dedicated this work to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger who, just like Father Szunyogh,was greatly influenced by Romano Guardini. Dobszay’s understanding of the liturgy is veryclose to that of Ratzinger, which is clear from both the title and the even more explicitforeword (the expression “reform of the reform” was coined by Ratzinger who was right awayvehemently attacked by the so-called liturgical establishment, accusing him of meddling withaffairs in which he cannot claim expertise as a dogmatician). In this study Dobszay wanted toestablish his diagnosis, namely, that the new liturgy did not accomplish successfully therenewal based on organic development as it was envisaged by the council fathers. In thisanalysis, the author took the traditional Roman rite, in accordance with the best and most up-to-date knowledge available today, as his basic point of reference.Such an analysis can only be expeditious if there is a general consensus about the mostimportant questions concerning the recent developments in the Roman rite. It is essential thatscholars have a solid understanding of the liturgy’s historical background and see clearly as towhence and how the present situation came to be. In terms of the “whence”, liturgical studieshave recently brought forward some rather significant new discoveries. Certain views,generally held and almost “canonical” in the mid-20th century (e.g. celebrating Mass facingthe congregation, reception of Communion in hand), which in the post-conciliar era led toliturgical reforms of far-reaching consequences, have since been proven historicallyinaccurate, oversimplified or biased. Thus it became necessary to recalibrate ouunderstanding of liturgical history not only to bring it up to date, but also to divest it of certainideological preconceptions. This was the purpose of Professor Dobszay’s book about theStrigonian (medieval Hungarian) ritual use, published in Hungarian in 2004 [under the title
 Az esztergomi rítus
, now translated into English and scheduled for publication]. This shortwork, written with the everyday reader in mind, but not at all lacking in scholarly qualities,was dedicated to another cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Péter Erdő, archbishop of 

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Danica Petrovic added this note
Thank you for the important text about great men and dear friend Laszlo Dobszay

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