What If the Liturgical Movement Had Stayed On Track?

What might have been? It's a question that comes up in almost every sphere of life and certainly this is no less the case with regard to the liturgical life of the Latin rite Church. In analyzing the Liturgical Movement I've often noted that there were some very good beginnings and initiatives to be found within it, especially those driven early by the Benedictines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Names such as Gueranger and Beauduin are staples in relation to that movement.  

However, it is well enough known by now that other elements crept into this movement and arguably co-opted it (or at least took it in a very different sort of direction).

Without suggesting nefarious motivations on their part, suffice it to say their particular aims were not always terribly rooted in sound liturgical scholarship, nor by a respect for the immemorial tradition as it had grown and developed. One might say that these were elements of the movement that were driven by the best of intentions, questionable principles and, in the end, a rupturist liturgiology at its furthest extremes.

But what if the original Liturgical Movement had stayed true to its founding principles and anchored to the liturgical patrimony of the Latin rite? What if, in addition, those in turn informed the attempted implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium following the Second Vatican Council? (Please note that this is an important distinction. The Council and its text itself are one thing. The later post-conciliar changes done in its name can be quite another and frequently in direct contradiction to the Council and its texts.) What might that have looked like?

In the first instance we should have witnessed an approach which venerated the immemorial rites, not cast aspersions upon them. The approach would have been one which certainly looked to the sources ("ressourcement") but which at the same time did not fall prey to selective (and sometimes mistaken) archeologisms, instead respecting the rites as they had organically grown and developed over the course of the centuries. With such principles in place, the concept of a "Novus Ordo Missae" would not only be foreign, it would be entirely unthinkable. Instead of a revolution, we would have seen an evolution; but first and foremost it would be an evolution of our knowledge and understanding of this patrimony. In short, the 'reformation' would have been especially with ourselves and our own lack-lustre approach to and understanding of the sacred liturgy, not rather 'reforming' the liturgy to better fit in with our own unreformed selves. This isn't to say that there might not have been any development within the liturgy of course, but it would be moderate, mild and organic. 

We might have seen:

• The sacred liturgy promoted and treated as the central pillar of Catholic life in both the parish and home (with other devotions not being discouraged, but being understood as they should be: as condiments);

• The Divine Office taking a greater role, especially in urban parish life, but also coming to have greater reach even in private devotional life, thus joining homes and families to the pulse of the liturgical calendar, its seasons and feasts;

• Continued promotion of "praying the Mass" and corresponding instruction on the riches of the liturgical patrimony of the Church as seen through its rites and ceremonies; in short, actuosa participatio not shallowly understood as mere liturgical "works" and activities but, first and foremost, as meaningful engagement of the heart and soul through the engagement of the intellect and beauty;

• A revival in qualitative liturgical art that moved away from "l'Art de Sainte-Suplice" and sought to ensure the use of the sorts of qualitative liturgical art that was moreso characterized by the pre-Industrial Revolution periods;

• Noble beauty and simplicity would have been promoted, not by a misunderstanding of that as sterile minimalism, but rather in the way in which the originators of this concept understood it: as a rich, controlled form of beauty. 

And so forth.

Dom Lambert Beauduin, OSB, is considered one of the fathers of the Liturgical Movement and in 1914 he laid out a programme which he proposed for the Liturgical Movement. His programme read as follows:

The central idea to be realized by the Liturgical Movement is the following: "To have the Christian people all live the same spiritual life, to have them all nourished by the official worship of holy Mother Church."

The means to be employed towards this end are of two kinds. The first have reference to the acts of worship itself; the others to the liturgical activity exercised outside these acts.

Acts of Worship. In this field, the members of the Liturgical Movement desire to contribute with all their strength to attain the following aims:

1. The active participation of the Christian people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by means of understanding and following the liturgical rites and texts.

2. Emphasis of the importance of High Mass and of the Sunday parish services, and assistance at the restoration of the collective liturgical singing [i.e. chant] in the official gatherings of the faithful.

3. Seconding of all efforts to preserve or to re-establish the Vespers and the Compline of the Sunday, and to give these services a place second only to that of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

4. Acquaintance, and active association, with the rites and the sacraments received or assisted at, and the spread of this knowledge among others.

5. Fostering a great respect for, and confidence in, the blessings of our Mother Church.

6. Restoration of the Liturgy of the Dead to a place of honour, observance of the custom of Vigils and Lauds, giving greater solemnity to the funeral services, and getting the faithful to assist thereat, thus efficaciously combating the de-christianizing of the rite of the dead.

Liturgical Activity outside of acts of worship. In this field there are four ways in which the members can assist at the furtherance of the Liturgical Movement:

A. Piety

1. Restoration to a place of honour among Christians of the traditional liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas Time, Lent, Easter Time, octaves of feasts, feasts of the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles, and the great missionary saints of our religion. 

2. The basing of our daily private devotions, meditation, reading, etc., on the daily instructions of the Liturgy, the Psalms, the other liturgical books, and the fundamental dogmas of Catholic worship.

3. Reanimation and sublimation of the devotions dear to the people by nourishing them at the source of the liturgy.

B. Study

1. Promotion of the scientific study of the Catholic Liturgy.

2. Popularization of the scientific knowledge in special reviews and publications.

3. Promotion of the study and, above all, the practice of liturgical prayers in educational institutions.

4. Aiming to give regular liturgical education to circles, associations, etc., and to employ all the customary methods of popularization to this end.

C. Arts

1. Promoting the application of all the instructions of Pius X in his motu proprio on Church music.

2. Aiming to have artists that are called to exercise a sacred art, architecture, painting, sculpture, etc., receive an education that will give them an understanding of the spirit and the rules of the Church's liturgy.

3. Making known to artists and writers the fruitful inspiration to art that the Church offers in her Liturgy.

D. Propoganda

1. Using all means to spread popular liturgical publications that show the import of the principal part of the Liturgy: Sunday Mass, Vespers, Sacraments, Liturgy of the Dead, etc.

2. Reawakening the old liturgical traditions in the home, that link domestic joys with the calendar of the Church, and using for this end especially the musical works composed for such purposes.

Had this sort of programme been steadfastly followed and taken to heart, guided by the foundational principles of respect for and attachment to the liturgical patrimony of the Church; and had the focus been on adapting, informing and reforming ourselves (rather than the notion of adapting and in some cases abandoning our liturgical patrimony to the idea of "modern man") how very different things might have been.

Fortunately, it is never too late. 

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