By MICHAEL OTTO
An Auckland priest who waged a largely lone battle for years over the liturgy has had an account written of his working life.
“Fr. Pierre Denzil Meuli — An Extraordinary Priest” by Diane Taylor was launched on March 19 at a function at St Joseph’s Home in Ponsonby — where Fr Meuli, 90, lives.
Many of those at the launch were people who had known Fr Meuli during his ministry at Mt St Mary’s in Titirangi — a ministry noted for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the Latin Mass) and perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Mrs Taylor said the book is not a biography, which would require much more in-depth research. It focuses on the work Fr Meuli has done, starting with where he is now and going backwards in time. (Mention is made of the time Fr Meuli was editor of Zealandia (1969-71).)
The author said the book came about out of her love for the priest and for the Latin Mass. It is timely to publish now, she said, because of the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum and the fact that Fr Meuli is at the end of his career, having been a priest for 60 years.
He suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is unable to engage in much conversation. In the foreword of the book, Mrs Taylor wrote that the book is objective, but not impartial. “It is partial because I have known Fr Meuli for decades and have come to admire him, both as a parish priest and as a guide to my theological/philosophical studies.”
Mrs Taylor was asked to help with organising material and books belonging to the priest underneath Mt St Mary’s church. So, in preparing the book, she was able to have access to some of his correspondence.
Three priests spoke at the launch — Frs Anthony Sumich, FSSP, Martin Bugler and Anthony Brown. Fr Sumich described Fr Meuli as a “faithful servant over a very long time”, and also paid tribute to his intellectual gifts. Fr Bugler said he had an affinity with Fr Meuli in “that I have had the privilege of reconnecting with the Latin Mass, and I have had the privilege of serving the Mt St Mary’s community and others as well . . . “. “But I have to say publicly,” Fr Bugler continued, “that I’m not on the same page as it were as other people who are passionate about the Latin Mass. I’m passionate about it, but possibly for different reasons, because I’m very passionate [also] about the Novus Ordo, and very grateful to God about it.”
Fr Bugler also referred to a “brotherhood in the priesthood” and described Fr Meuli as “a very honourable brother”. One of the points Mrs Taylor made several times in her book was a certain lack of support from fellow clergy for Fr Meuli as he expressed his concerns over the liturgy. She admitted at one point that she used “strong words” about this and described what he went through as a “shunning”.
A particular focus of Fr Meuli’s concern was the translation of the Latin phrase “pro multis” in the words of consecration in Eucharistic Prayers. Mrs Taylor wrote of the rendering of this as “for many” in the current English translation as something of a vindication for Fr Meuli.
In 2000, he expressed his concerns over the Novus Ordo Mass in a document called “Res Sacramenti”, which the book states he sent to all Catholic priests in New Zealand, to all the world’s Catholic bishops and to the Pope, among others. In the foreword to the document, he stated that if his argument about the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass was correct, “That means that there are not a few priests, maybe the occasional bishop, trafficking around, who have not yet made their First Communion”. The book notes how Bishop Patrick Dunn wrote to Fr Meuli in November 2000, to acknowledge his dissertation and to express the bishop’s appreciation for the priest’s care for his people and his love for the liturgy. “The bishop offered specific criticisms,” Mrs Taylor noted.
At the launch, Mrs Taylor said she sent the contents page for the book to Bishop Dunn and he replied “good, go ahead”. She also got a green light from Fr Meuli’s family members to proceed with the book.
Also at the launch, Fr Brown, a former vicar for Maori in Auckland diocese, noted that one of his aunties, Cathy Tuinman, was one of the housekeepers for Fr Meuli and was his friend for many years. Fr Brown said he heard many stories from his aunt about her love and devotion for this “pirihi”.
In the book, Mrs Taylor noted that “questions have been raised about the possible canonisation of Fr Meuli in the future” — but added that “the very suggestion would make him recoil”. The book also notes that plans have already been put in place for his Latin requiem Mass.