Origins of the Liturgical Movement


The Catholic Church responded to the breaking away of European Protestants by engaging in its own reform, the so-called Counter Reformation. Following the Council of Trent, (1545–1563), which adopted the Tridentine Mass as the standard for Roman Catholic worship, the Latin Mass remained substantially unchanged for four hundred years.

Meanwhile, the churches of the Reformation (Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, and others) altered their liturgies more or less radically: the language of the people was used at mass. Deliberately distancing themselves from “Roman” practices, these churches became “Churches of the Word” – of Scripture and preaching – breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church’s focus on sacraments. The practice of the remembrance of the Last Supper and Christ’s Crucifixion on Calvary became more infrequent and was supplemented in many churches by the service of Morning and Evening Prayer. In some Lutheran traditions, the Mass was stripped of some of its character, such as replacing the Canon of the Mass with the Words of Institution (“This is my Body… this is my Blood”). Common practice was to make the service of the day (the ante-communion) into a preaching service.

The first stirrings of interest in liturgical scholarship (and thence liturgical change) within the Roman Catholic Church arose in 1832, when the French Benedictine abbey at Solesmes was refounded under Dom Prosper Guéranger. For a long time, Benedictines were the pioneers in restoring Roman liturgy to its medieval form. At first Guéranger and his contemporaries focused on studying and recovering authentic Gregorian Chant and the liturgical forms of the Middle Ages, which were held to be the ideals. Other scholars such as Cabrol and Batiffol also contributed to the investigation of the origins and history of the liturgy, but practical application of this learning was lacking.

The 19th century saw the increased availability of patristic texts and the discovery of new ones. Jacques Paul Migne published editions of various early theological texts in two massive compilations: Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca. In addition, the Didache, one of the earliest manuals of Christian morals and practice, was found in 1875 in a library in Constantinople, and the Apostolic Tradition, attributed to the 3rd-century Roman theologian Hippolytus, was published in 1900. This latter was a Church Orders containing the full text of a Eucharistic liturgy; it was to prove highly influential.

Pope Pius X, elected in 1903, encouraged such reforms. In the same year he issued a motu proprio on church music, inviting the faithful to participate actively in the liturgy, which he saw as a source for the renewal of Christian spirituality. He called for more frequent communion of the faithful, the young in particular. Subsequently he was concerned with the revision of the Breviary. Pius’s engagement would prove to be the necessary spark.

The movement had a number of elements: Liturgical Scholarship, Pastoral Theology, and Liturgical Renewal. As to the first of these, in his influential book Mysterium Fidei (1921), Maurice de la Taille argued that Christ’s sacrifice, beginning from his self-offering at the Last Supper, completed in the Passion and continued in the Mass, were all one act. There was only one immolation – that of Christ at Calvary, to which the Supper looks forward and on which the Mass looks back. Although Taille was not a liturgist, his work created a huge controversy which raised interest in the form and character of the Mass. His argument, whilst not yet congenial to Protestants, removed the objection that each mass was a separate and new ‘immolation’ of Christ, a repeated and thus efficacious act.

Pastoral considerations played a major part. Such motives lay behind the tone of the papacy of Pius X. In 1909 he called a conference, the Congrès National des Oeuvres Catholiques in Mechelen in Belgium, which is held to have inaugurated the Liturgical Movement proper in the Catholic Church. Liturgy was to be the means of instructing the people in Christian faith and life; the mass would be translated into the vernacular to promote active participation of the faithful. One of the leading participants in the conference, Dom Lambert Beauduin of Louvain, argued that worship was the common action of the people of God and not solely performed by the priest. Many of the movement’s principles were based in Beauduin’s book, La Pieté de l’Eglise.

At almost the same time, in Germany Abbot Ildefons Herwegen of Maria Laach convened a liturgical conference in Holy Week 1914 for lay people. Herwegen thereafter promoted research which resulted in a series of publications for clergy and lay people during and after World War I. One of the foremost German scholars was Odo Casel. Having begun by studying the Middle Ages, Casel looked at the origins of Christian liturgy in pagan cultic acts, understanding liturgy as a profound universal human act as well as a religious one. In his Ecclesia Orans (The Praying Church) (1918), Casel studied and interpreted the pagan mysteries of ancient Greece and Rome, discussing similarities and differences between them and the Christian mysteries. The conclusions of Casel were studied in various places, notably at Klosterneuburg in Austria, where the Augustinian canon Pius Parsch applied the principles in his church of St. Gertrude, which he took over in 1919. With laymen he worked out the relevance of the Bible to liturgy. Similar experiments were to take place in Leipzig during the Second World War.[1]

In France, in spite of the publication of the Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne de de liturgie, it was only through contact with German and Austrian movements that practical experiments were begun. Most changes occurred after the Second World War. In 1943 the Centre National de Pastorale Liturgique was founded and the magazine La Maison-Dieu began publication.

The idea of liturgy as an inclusive activity, subversive of individualism, while exciting to some, also raised anxieties in Rome. In 1947 Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Mediator Dei which warned of false innovations, radical changes and protestantizing influences in the liturgical movement. At the same time he encouraged the “authentic” liturgical movement, which promoted active participation of the congregation in chant and gestures.
The Second Vatican Council

The Latin Tridentine Mass remained the standard eucharistic liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church in the West until the Second Vatican Council. In 1963, the Council adopted, by an overwhelming majority, the Constitution On Sacred Liturgy “Sacrosantum Concilium”. For the first time the vernacular liturgy was permitted, even if to a possibly minor extent to the one actually reached afterwards by national churches. The influence of Hippolytus was evident in the form of Eucharistic Prayers. Accompanying this was the encouragement for liturgies to express local culture (subject to approval by the Holy See).

Source – Wikipedia


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