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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 a small birthday party organised at the old Music Academy. Although these two different events may not be compared in terms of spiritual significance, they are closely linked by the person of the “birthday man” to whom the Lay Chapter, the church in Hungary, and the liturgical life of the Roman Church owes a great debt of gratitude. Professor László Dobszay turned 75 years old on the 2nd February 2010, and his long, fruitful scientific and musical career is truly remarkable. The musical traits of his scholarly and artistic career was traced by Fidelio.hu [the leading Hungarian website on classical music], while the other traits of his oeuvre are treated in earlier tributes, both by secular and ecclesiastical hands, from 2000 and 2005. Professor Dobszay — as attested to by his bibliography and discography — always studied and cultivated ecclesiastical music within its natural context, the public worship and sacramental life of the Church, which made him an internationally known and respected scholar of the liturgy (at least in the eyes of those who do not consider professional competence as something entirely dependent upon a piece of wax sealed parchment or membership in an exclusive club of scholarly gentlemen). His profound scientific 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 in his famous series of short articles entitled “Notes on the Liturgy” [published for years in the Hungarian 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 to commemorate 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 secularised society it concerns only a few people, even less are actually interested, and among these hardly any are pleased by it — especially given the entrenched disagreements among the so-called liturgical experts. Some intellectuals are annoyed by any personal and existential involvement whatsoever, since in the reigning atmosphere of sterile scientific non-commitment it is treated with deepseated suspicion. In all probability this is the reason why our doctor of musicology was not invited to be a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, instead he was admitted 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 childhood memory of being touched by the mystery that is at once tremendum and fascinans. His commitment was further amplified by the influence of learned clerics and laymen whom he had been fortunate enough to know personally. The first among these men was Francis Xavier Szunyogh OSB, the apostle of the Hungarian liturgical renewal, who — guided by the example of Romano Guardini — began as early as the 1920s to implement the useful pastoral insights of the liturgical movement (bilingual, well-commented missalettes, scientific and popular literature, etc.). As Father Szunyogh’s altar server, László Dobszay was able to see and learn in practice how these earlier figures of the liturgical movement understood and imagined the true renewal of the Roman rite. Later he became a collaborator of Benjamin Rajeczky OCist at the Hungarian Institute of Musicology, thus — besides working with Hungarian 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 a member of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Esztergom, as well as of the committee in charge of editing a new collection of ecclesiastical folk hymns, where — in addition 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 the socialist regime, but they became really evident after the fall of communism. Finally, the study 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 a result, the Hungarian Church Music Society was formed in 1992 with its scientific mouthpiece, the periodical Magyar Egyházzene (Hungarian Church Music), whose institutional hinterland was the Faculty of Church Music (established in 1990) at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. In this more propitious atmosphere Professor Dobszay’s expert treatment of the liturgy transcended its historical and theoretical aspects, and his vast knowledge 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 since Vatican II and the time was ripe for a retrospective evaluation of the post-conciliar liturgical reforms (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 typical for the official reactions of the church hierarchy, is not László Dobszay’s fault. His was a voice 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 on the 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 well summarised in three of his major publications. The first book was published in 2003 by the Church Music Association of America and its title The Bugnini-liturgy and the Reform of the Reform 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 very close to that of Ratzinger, which is clear from both the title and the even more explicit foreword (the expression “reform of the reform” was coined by Ratzinger who was right away vehemently attacked by the so-called liturgical establishment, accusing him of meddling with affairs in which he cannot claim expertise as a dogmatician). In this study Dobszay wanted to establish his diagnosis, namely, that the new liturgy did not accomplish successfully the renewal based on organic development as it was envisaged by the council fathers. In this analysis, the author took the traditional Roman rite, in accordance with the best and most upto-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 most important questions concerning the recent developments in the Roman rite. It is essential that scholars have a solid understanding of the liturgy’s historical background and see clearly as to whence and how the present situation came to be. In terms of the “whence”, liturgical studies have recently brought forward some rather significant new discoveries. Certain views, generally held and almost “canonical” in the mid-20th century (e.g. celebrating Mass facing the congregation, reception of Communion in hand), which in the post-conciliar era led to liturgical reforms of far-reaching consequences, have since been proven historically inaccurate, oversimplified or biased. Thus it became necessary to recalibrate our understanding of liturgical history not only to bring it up to date, but also to divest it of certain ideological preconceptions. This was the purpose of Professor Dobszay’s book about the Strigonian (medieval Hungarian) ritual use, published in Hungarian in 2004 [under the title Az esztergomi rítus, now translated into English and scheduled for publication]. This short work, 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
Esztergom-Budapest, addressed as “the present-day guardian of the precious heritage of our forefathers”. In terms of the “how”, the answer is considerably more difficult, because it provides us not only with the hermeneutical key to our liturgical past, but it also determines our understanding of the present and shapes the future of the rite. After long years of reflection Professor Dobszay managed to come up with a feasible answer to this question as well in his recently published monograph The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman rite. In this book the author, picking up where he left off back in 2003, analyses the major developments of the 7-year period since his first English study, with special attention to the liturgical thought and legislation of Pope Benedict XVI. He also delineates a possible course of action which, if followed, could result in a truly organic development of the Roman rite. Professor Dobszay’s proposals incorporate the moderate and desirable elements of the liturgical reform, such as the use of a “sacral vernacular” and simplified Gregorian type-melodies which find their proper place in a multilayered model, closely resembling the practicable system of medieval ritual usages. The Holy Father seems to have something very similar in mind, and that is why it is not surprising that Dobszay’s book was coldly received both by the “progressive” defenders of the 1970-reforms and the supporters of the rigid status quo based on the 1962 liturgical editions (the latter accuse both the Holy Father and Dobszay of steering an opportunistic middle course). This theoretical contribution in and of itself would suffice to justify our tribute to Professor Dobszay, but his thoughts in fact became crystallised during the long decades of his tireless practical work as a choir master and teacher. Together with Professor Janka Szendrei, Dobszay provided a solid liturgical and musical formation for several generations of students, and he made his vast experience, acquired within the context of the renewed rite, available to the entire church in Hungary. He had a lion share in the preparation and edition of the chant book Éneklő Egyház [The Church at Song], which is much more than a new edition of church hymns compiled in accordance with the guidelines of Vatican II: it is also a prayer book and offers a reliable liturgical catechesis. Following the publication of the Éneklő Egyház, came the edition of proper liturgical texts in Hungarian, but with traditional melodies. This endeavour was supported by an association of Catholic intellectuals, called the Liturgical Renewal Movement of St Augustine. The Énekes Zsolozsmák [Sung Offices] gave a representative and practical selection from the medieval Breviary of Esztergom, with the intention of providing a vernacular and well-adapted version of the Roman rite’s local usage to lay people. Since the recitation of the Liturgia Horarum (officially published in Hungarian only in 1991) is only obligatory for clerics, even before 2007 lay people could sing the liturgical texts of the traditional Office according to the form and in the language of their choice (fulfilling thereby the wish of Sacrosanctum Concilium). Thanks to Professor Dobszay’s work, the Hungarian faithful — more than a decade prior to Benedict XVI’s pontificate — were able to enjoy the fruits of the hermeneutic of continuity.
With regard to the celebration of Holy Mass the situation is much more complicated, because — in accordance with the instructions of the Holy See — only one vernacular translation was allowed for a particular language, which had to be prepared under the strict supervision, and with the permission of, the competent national hierarchy, and it is not legitimate to prescind from the ecclesiastically approved authoritative texts. In respect of the Mass propers the new (Pauline) Missal gave permission to use the Graduale Romanum, whose renewed version contains the same traditional texts and melodies virtually unchanged. Given that the Graduale Romanum still has no official Hungarian translation, the Liturgical Renewal Movement of St Augustine, under Professor Dobszay’s direction, published several booklets containing Mass propers (Introits, Offertories, Communions) with Hungarian texts and set to simple Gregorian type-melodies. These books may be used instead of, or together with, the available collections of folk hymns. In 2007 these three books, richly supplemented with the necessary material, were published in a single volume under the title Graduale Hungaricum, with the conspicuous intent of application to both forms, ordinary and extraordinary, of the Roman rite. Its value and usefulness have been proved over the years in the liturgical practice of communities celebrating either or both forms. In addition to engrafting the traditional rite into the language and culture of Hungarians, Professor Dobszay also did pioneering work in the study and propagation of the original Roman liturgy (i.e. not its Strigonian variant). As the head of the Church Music Department he included a separate course on the subject in the curriculum of the Musical Academy, taught by Professor József Török from the Theological Faculty of Budapest, while the usus antiquior itself, in its living form, came to be present in Hungary due to his contacts with such priests and scholars as Professor Robert A. Skeris or Father Uwe Michael Lang CO. His influence on other young Hungarian intellectuals, and especially on now Father Ervin J. Alácsi, proved to be instrumental in launching a new liturgical movement and restoring the regular and public celebration of the traditional rite in Hungary. It is at this point that we arrive to the third, and innermost, layer of our relations with Professor Dobszay. For we can boast, as has been set out above, to share his liturgical insights and follow the principles he distilled — of course, in a slightly different form and with different accents, as befits the members of a new generation. We can also be grateful to be able to praise God in our Masses with the Gregorian chant originating from his intellectual
workshop as well as to enjoy the fruits of his work as a music historian and choir director, whenever we pray the office in the Gregorian chant of the Use of Esztergom. It is, however, much more that we have received from him, while he has hardly given anything directly to our community. The Capitulum Laicorum Sancti Michaelis Archangeli — as stated in its short presentation — was formed partly from among the students of his church music department. These members of ours, past and present, were all the disciples of Professor Dobszay, and consider him a kind of mentor, owing much to this personal contact in their lifelong development as scholars, artists, and even human beings. Other members came to know him from his reputation, and have gone other ways — though, as seen above, ways not quite independent of his influence — to discover the traditional Roman liturgy. Others still were students of his disciples, or became later his students, or colleagues, themselves. In this variety of origins, one thing stands out: the CLSMA as a community and institution was not founded by László Dobszay, nor did he want to give such an impression by becoming a regular participant of our liturgies. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that we are nevertheless his intellectual children, under whose guarding gaze we made our very first steps, and whose discreet standing on the sidelines helped us shaping our own identity. He could be present among us spiritually only by not being present physically. The only commonly organised event was a liturgical conference held in Budapest in August of 2008, which served for the wider (international) introduction of not only some young scholars of the Dobszay School, but also of a peculiar Hungarian movement, highly regarded by foreign observers for stemming from an authentic communal spirit rather than being based on the cult of a renowned scholar.
Over the past years, this communal spirit seems to have been slowly extending all over the country. The phenomenon has been noted from within the Church too, and attempts are usually made to describe it by the category of a “new (or, as in Hungarian, spiritual) movement”. Such an approach is fundamentally mistaken, yet can hardly be blamed in the present circumstances. It has, however, become hopefully apparent from the present tribute why we cannot speak of a “new community” being formed around László Dobszay, as a sort of some Hungarian Kiko or Chiara. And it is precisely for this that we should be grateful to him, for in the cavalcade of more or less catholic traditions, making up the rainbow chasuble of the Church of our days, instead of building on a particular and exclusive charisma, he tried to hold up and pass on the original Tradition, just as he too was allowed to receive it, and to become more familiar with it by his own efforts. László Dobszay is a prominent and highly influential figure of the new liturgical movement unfolding in our very midst under the auspices of Pope Benedict XVI. We, the members of the Capitulum Laicorum Sancti Michaelis Archangeli have all come out of his cloak, even if many of us could not be his disciples or coworkers in person. His intellectual legacy is as rich as it is thought-provoking, and we can be sure that it will stand the test of both time and reason. It is therefore with the sense of honour and love, of joy and gratitude that we join those present at the celebration of 2 February, who wanted to adorn their birthday cake with the introit of the feast of Candlemas:
To the physically transformed melody we respond with a textual paraphrase of a well-known medieval hymn, originally dedicated to King St Ladislas [László in Hugarian]: Cantus sacri doctor, ave, ritus cultor, Ladislae, Dei studens gloriae: lustra quindecim aggressus es defensor indefessus et athleta patriae!
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