Prohibitions and Disappointments: the Stations along a Road to Calvary

The translation committee had hardly been formed and news of its activities begun to spread, when, based on an initiative of cardinal Lajos Haynald, Archbishop of Kalocsa (1867-1891), a decree forbidding the use of the Hungarian language in the Liturgy arrived from Rome. The Holy See compelled the Bishop of Munkács immediately to restore the use of Old Church Slavonic. Bishop Pásztelyi informed the clergy through a circular letter that the Hungarian language could not be used but this did not change much in the established practices. On the other hand, the Standing Executive Committee, which met on 23 January 1881 in Hajdúdorog, was impelled to action. As a result of their consultations, the members of the committee sent petitions to the King, the Parliament and to the Minister of Religion and Public Education Ágoston Tréfort. In their petitions they drew attention to the fact that the forane vicariate had not solved the problems of the Hungarian Greek Catholics, and therefore they were again requesting the establishment of an independent eparchy. In their petition to the Parliament they pointed out that the new eparchy would promote the spread of the official Hungarian language in the communities of the nationalities as well. Although this argument served primarily to win over the representatives, who were particularly sensitive to political messages, from the perspective of domestic and international public opinion on the Hajdúdorog movement it proved to be fatal. From that point on, the undertakings that basically concerned spiritual needs were presented by public opinion and above all by the press as a nationalist movement, designed to Hungarianize the nationalities. The opponents of the Hungarian Liturgy and the eparchy for Hungarian Greek Catholics imposed this seemingly indelible judgment on the movement.

The petitions of 1881 were favorably received by both the King and the Parliament. The ruler directed Minister Trefort to start the necessary negotiations with the ecclesiastical authorities for the establishment of a new eparchy for Greek Catholics. At this point, however, the Hungarian Greek Catholics received a huge rebuke. The minister requested the opinions of  the members of the Conference of bishops and the Theological faculty of the University of Budapest, which, with the exceptions of Pásztelyi, bishop of Munkács and Miklós Tóth (1876-1882), bishop of Eperjes, all stood opposed to the formation of a new eparchy. The words that councilor Lipovnicky had formulated a decade earlier on the implementation of Hungarian as a liturgical language remained in force. Recognizing the opposition of the bishops, the government removed the question of establishing the eparchy from the agenda, and from that point on for many years they assumed the position that no Greek Catholic eparchy can be founded until the Holy See granted permission for the use of the Hungarian language.


The unexpected and humiliating refusal set back the activities of the Standing Executive Committee for years. Another meeting was held in September 1893, when the election of new members took place. In the president’s chair Pál Farkas replaced Lajos Farkas, who had achieved unique distinction. Unfortunately Lajos Farkas ended the struggles of his worldly career one year later. In 1895, Protosyncellus Danilovics died as well, and his successor Endre Lengyel was only appointed seven years later. The renewed Standing Executive Committee declared its intention to continue the struggle it had begun for the establishment of an eparchy. The political atmosphere of the millennium celebrations of 1896 provided opportunities for new concrete steps. In May, József Kovács, the representative of Hajdúdorog in Parliament, addressed an interpellation to the Minister of Religion and Public Education Gyula Wlassics, requesting whether or not the government finally intended to take steps for the establishment of an eparchy for Hungarian Greek Catholics. In June, the Standing Executive Committee notified the communities of Hungarian Greek Catholics that the year of the millennium appeared to be suitable for the realization of their long desired goals. The Committee prepared new petitions, which were delivered on 27 June to Prime Minister Dezső Bánffy, to Minister of Religion and Public Education Gyula Wlassics, and to the President of the parliament Dezső Szilágyi. A part of the delegation travelled to Balatonfüred to meet Kolos Vaszary, the Archbishop of Esztergom (1891-1912). In addition to the petitions they also presented examples of the liturgical books that had been completed. They were received everywhere with what could by now be called the customary courtesy.


The initiative led to an unfortunate defeat once again. The members of the Committee wanted to emphasize for the general public their presence in Budapest and the objective of their delegation through the celebration of a service in Hungarian in the University Chapel on 27 June. The event received huge publicity in the press. Both the events under preparation and the celebration of the Saint Liturgy were described in numerous press accounts. The Saint Liturgy was celebrated by Andor Újhelyi with his assistant priest, and the songs were led by György Lelesz, cantor of Hajdúdorog, and Elek Lipeczky, cantor of Szatmárnémeti. The article in the Pester Lloyd soon reached Rome, where on 20 August the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Matters discussed this issue in view of the reports of Kolos Vaszary, Archbishop of Esztergom and János Vályi, Bishop of Eperjes(1882-1911). The investigation by the Holy See led to a decision on 2 September: namely, that both the use of the Hungarian language and the publication of the liturgical books constitute serious abuses that needed to be ended. On 20 September Cardinal Mieczysław-Halka Ledochówski informed the prince primate, the Bishop of Munkács, and the Bishop of Eperjes about the decision. The bishops in question were compelled by the Holy See to do whatever was necessary to put an end to the abuses, to bring under careful scrutiny those church communities that were most conspicuous in their use of the Hungarian language, and to remove from their positions those priests who were most in sympathy with the Hajdúdorog movement.


The Hungarian government orally received word on the prohibition through the Nuncio in Vienna, and based on this, Prime Minister Bánffy replied to the May interpellation of Representative István Kovács and declared that there would be no possibility for the establishment of a Hungarian Greek Catholic Eparchy until the Holy See granted permission for the use of the Hungarian language. This, however, did not mean that the government did not want to do anything. By March 1898, three Hungarian memoranda had arrived at the Holy See, each of which urged that the prohibition be lifted. In addition to the spiritual needs and the historical precedents, the memoranda most often directed attention to the language use of the Greek Catholics and complained that the Holy See denied to the Hungarians what it permitted to the Romanians. On behalf of the Church both Prince Primate Vaszary and Gyula Firczák, Bishop of Munkács (1881-1912), asked for an amelioration in the severity of the prohibition, while János Vályi, Bishop of Eperjes, immediately published the prohibiting directive. The opponents of the Hungarian Liturgy also notified the Holy See of their views. Among the ecclesiastics, Gyula Drohobeczky, Bishop of Körös (1891-1920), in several letters made clear his severely condemnatory attitude to the movement of the Hungarian Greek Catholics and of bishop Gyula Firczák, who sympathized with them. Among the Romanians, the Greek Catholic priest Vasile Lucaciu, who as a politician participated in the Romanian National Party, and the later Vasile Hossu, Bishop of Lugos and Szamosújvár, tried to present the movement of the Hungarian Greek Catholics as a movement with purely political goals and to discredit it before the Holy See. Pope Leo XIII asked, as expert, the Jesuit scholar Nikolaus Nilles, who was highly knowledgeable on the history and rites of the Eastern Churches, to study the matter. He rejected the reasoning of the Hungarian government but did not consider the prohibition on the use of the Hungarian language to be justified. He advised, unfortunately without success, that the Holy See take advantage of the enthusiasm of the Hungarian government and obtain state funding for the publication of theologically unobjectionable liturgical books.