Traditional Catholicism Rising:
The Latin Mass Movement in Hungary
I am writing this article shortly before Pentecost and thinking of the dozens of Americans who are en route to Paris for the Chartres pilgrimage. I remember well my first pilgrimage to France and subsequent trip to Austria in 2002 with Remnant Tours. At 19 I had never been to Europe before, but was always fascinated by its history, knowing that Europe’s history was mine also, and interested and encouraged by books such as Michael Davies' For Altar and Throne and Jamie Bogle's A Heart for Europe. At that time, I didn't know if I would ever go back to Europe. If I could have seen the future, I don't think I would have believed it: not only was I able to go on a second pilgrimage to Chartres, but I am now preparing for my seventh trip across the Atlantic.....
On December 30, 2006, I had the honor of being able to attend the Mass celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the coronation of Blessed Charles and his wife Zita, in the “Matthias Church” in Budapest where Emperor and Empress had been crowned on December 30, 1916. Their son, the Archduke Otto von Hapsburg, was present for the Mass.
A few days later I was able to attend one of the first public traditional Latin Masses offered in Hungary since Vatican II. Little did I know then, but the Hungarian priest who gave the sermon that day, Fr. Gellért Kovács, would celebrate my wedding Mass a year and a half later – the first traditional Latin Mass in the cathedral of Pécs since Vatican II. Fr. Kovács has been greatly influential in the spread of the traditional Mass movement in Hungary, and it is about his work that the present article is being written.
The following account would not be possible without the help of Fr. Kovács and Miklós Földváry for their telephone interview, and my husband Iván for translating.
It must be remembered that Hungary has had a very sad history in the twentieth century. Behind the Iron Curtain, the history of the Catholic Church was much different from much of that of the western world. The chaos during and after World War I destroyed the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy and reduced Hungary to one-third of its previous size. (It is now roughly the size of Indiana.)
1948 brought Hungary the 40-year disaster of Communist rule. One example of the destruction wrought upon the country was with its Catholic school system: in 1948 Hungary had 3,269 Catholic schools. During the Communist era, all but six high schools were nationalized, and out of many religious orders, only the four teaching orders were allowed to remain. Many priests and bishops were jailed, killed, or sent to work camps. Leadership in the Hungarian Catholic Church was a disaster: vacancies were left by the bishops who had vanished, and some of the remaining clergy became “peace priests”. This of course left Hungarian liturgical life in a very poor condition long before the Western countries saw any real liturgical disintegration.
Auxiliary Bishop of Vac Celebrates Traditional Mass in 2009
Vatican II was therefore greatly anticipated in Hungary. The liturgical reforms of Pope Pius X had been well accepted and produced positive results, and there was hope for the same outcome again. However, and despite the disappointment with the new Mass, Hungary would have virtually no public presence of the traditional Latin Mass that the U.S. and Western Europe had to some extent retained after Vatican II. The old Mass continued here and there underground in these countries, but in Hungary the fight for survival destroyed any thoughts of other liturgical options, good or bad. As the Communists wanted to keep back any “progress” of the Catholic Church, the Mass itself was not subjected to the liturgical creativity that it was in the U.S. It did become much harder to attend Mass, and so while people in the West were asking “what kind of Mass can we have?” Hungarians were asking, “Can we have Mass?”
Even before Vatican II, the Hungarians had been permitted to use vernacular hymns and chants during a High Mass, and they continued to use this music in the new Mass. One must admit that musical style greatly influences the listener’s attitude towards what he or she is witnessing, and for this reason also, the average Hungarian was not as negatively influenced by the new Mass. By keeping their traditional music in their churches not only could they find spiritual strength in it, but they were spared the musical experimentation that could be seen in the U.S. after Vatican II. It is of note that the Communists permitted the performance of liturgical music because they saw it as culturally significant.
Throughout the Communist era, a number of brave Hungarians were able to resist the ideological persecution and keep not only their lives, but also their intellectual traditions. These brave men and women formed a new movement in Hungary. On March 8, 2003, in fact, a group of Dr. László Dobszay’s church music students at the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in Budapest gathered to sing Matins and Lauds using the traditional Catholic chants of the medieval Hungarian Esztergom rituale.[i] The group grew in numbers, and today the Capitulum Laicorum S. Michael Archangeli (CLSMA) has 50 members. CLSMA is a member of Juventutem and a candidate for membership in Una Voce. The main goals of the chapter are “the singing of the Divine Office as a public act of worship, the reinvigoration – as far as possible – of the local variants of the Roman rite and of the religious orders, the maintenance and cultivation of authentic vernacular liturgy, and the continuous education, both spiritually and intellectually, of its members.”[ii]
It was to this new lay chapter that Cardinal Erdő gave permission in the fall of 2006 for a monthly traditional Latin Mass, which was celebrated by a Polish priest of the Fraternity of St. Peter. After the motu proprio this Mass was taken over by Fr. Gellért Kovács (O. Praem.), who was stationed in Vienna with the FSSP. He drove to Budapest every week beginning in November 2007.
Fr. Kovács recently joined the Norbertines, a move that has allowed him to live in Hungary and continue to celebrate a regular traditional Mass in Budapest for a community of over 100. This is with the permission of his order, the parish priest where the Mass is offered, and the “knowledge” of Cardinal Erdő.[iii] With the help of CLSMA, Father has said the traditional Mass all over Hungary and in the neighboring countries of the former monarchy, which have sizable Hungarian minorities. Hungary now has two regular Traditional Latin Masses, in Budapest and Szeged, and there is also a monthly Mass in Vác.
Fr. Kovács has taught the traditional Mass to the auxiliary bishop of Vác, and his support enables the community to have confirmations in the traditional form.
Miklós Földváry, the dean and founding member of CLSMA, points out that the places in which the TLM is the strongest are those in which the civic organization is better and where there is a greater influence of liberalism. While this has been very true in the West, these qualities are found to a lesser extent in former Communist countries like Hungary. Central Europe is very...well…centralized. It can be extremely difficult to start something “new”. Under these circumstances, another approach was taken. Fr. Kovács wants to educate the people and expose them to the traditional Mass. He says that the Hungarians did not get to the point where they were irritated by the new Mass as has happened in so many other countries. This is an important point when we think about how many U.S. Catholics have discovered or re-discovered the traditional Mass because they were fed up with abuses in the new Mass.
In Hungary, the typical abuses of the new Mass have started to creep in only after 1990, when Hungarian clergy were able to look to the West for “inspiration.” Currently, while it is possible to find a Mass with liturgical aberrations such as women on the altar, communion in the hand, and guitars, it is equally possible to find a Novus Ordo in Latin, complete with incense and a Palestrina setting of the Ordinary.
Consequently, the work of the traditional movement in Hungary is not without its own struggles. Besides the current state of the liturgy, some of the other obstacles to a faster growth are similar to those in Western countries, including hostile bishops and the difficulty of traveling long distances. Like all of Europe, gasoline is very expensive, and this problem is compounded by the fact that most Hungarians earn a fraction of the income that those in Western countries do, while their basic expenses are about the same. An average job pays $5,000-8,000 per year, which means that many families need more than one income to survive. While we may think nothing of driving 40 miles to church, work, or shopping, at $6-8 per gallon of gasoline, it's a big deal there. Many people simply do not own cars. This leaves the priest to travel to the people, which can be expensive. It can be disastrous as well, because Fr. Kovács’ car needed massive repairs earlier this year.
Communication can be difficult also, as many people do not have internet access at home. Advertising in a newspaper is prohibitively expensive and the main Hungarian Catholic paper won't accept advertising from the traditionalists. However, one way of reaching a larger audience has come in a very interesting way: one of the musicians in the Budapest TLM community asked a colleague if he would be interested in bringing his orchestra and performing Haydn Masses in their original liturgical context. Budapest now has monthly Haydn Masses, advertised and funded by the Hungarian Department of Education. Needless to say, the Masses are always full.
In addition, there is also a need for liturgical supplies including vestments, the means for training servers and priests and for printing a new Latin-Hungarian traditional missal, last done in 1945. Although several Hungarians have studied at one of the FSSP seminaries, most have left. The Hungarians are legendary for their loyalty to their country and their heritage, so, as priests, they would want to be able to work in their homeland, and currently there is not a possibility for this with the Fraternity. These men are faced with the dilemma: to be a traditional priest, or to live and work in their home country. Fr. Kovács, in addition to the tremendous and amazing work he is already doing, is also training other priests, creating possibilities for more locations for the traditional Mass.
Despite many obstacles, the work that has been done in just a few years is so encouraging. The traditional movement in Hungary is young, but is progressing steadily, and there will be many good fruits from their work. Many of the supporters of the TLM in Hungary are young; some are starting to get married. In such a musically inclined country, the Mass will always have beautiful music.
As can be concluded from the above paragraphs, the traditional Latin Mass movement in Hungary would also be very grateful for our support, spiritually and financially. For us here in the United States, the fortitude of the Hungarians is an encouragement to us in our own fight for the growth of the traditional Mass.
[i] Readers may recognize Dr. Dobszay from his writings on liturgy and music, or from the New Liturgical Movement blog.
[ii] This quote was taken from the Hungarian CLSMA blog located at www.capitulumlaicorum.blogspot.com It was translated into English by Rev. Ervin J. Alácsi of CLSMA.
[iii] Of course since the motu proprio the Cardinal's explicit permission is no longer needed