2015.07.07 00:07

Balance instead of Harmony: Conditioning and Ideas of the Liturgical Movement on the eve of the Second Vatican Council

One hundred years have passed since the “Liturgical Movement” appeared in the Church: within some milieus – not very numerous, but fairly active – the desire arose to make the piety of the faithful as a whole more grounded within the communal prayer of the Church. This movement has always shown a certain longing for the Middle Ages, the period when liturgy was indeed a model for all prayer, and the liturgical year constituted the main calendar for Catholics. But the real motive behind the creation of this movement was not nostalgia, but an anxiety based on a rather sobering diagnosis: the divorce between the inherited liturgical forms and the piety of the masses of the faithful, a process characteristic of the late modern period, had caused this piety first to break away from its objective model within the Church, and then to break up into numerous particular services, and sometimes simply to degenerate or burn out.

The fact that personal piety was in practice narrowed down to private prayers and spiritual exercises made it easy to regard the social dimension of life as in a way neutral, no longer under the influence of religion, opening it to increasing “colonization” by secular ideologies of both the left and right.
Striving towards “liturgical participation”
Therefore, since the days of Dom Guéranger, the aim of the whole Liturgical Movement was to shape piety with the liturgy, the communal prayer of the Church, in order to make the traditional lex orandi, (rather than services secondary to it) a permanent source of and model for Catholic spirituality. At the beginning of the 20th century, this idea was explained as the desire to help the masses of the faithful actually take part in the liturgy, both the crowds that still attended church services, and those that had ceased to do so. This intention was expressed in the notion of participatio actuosa, which soon became the watchwords of the whole renewal. The idea was sanctioned and promoted in the documents by the three popes: St. Pius X , Pius XI and Pius XII. (cf. the motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini, 22 Nov. 1903; the Apostolic Constitution Divini cultus,20 Dec. 1928; and the motu proprio Mediator Dei, 20 Nov. 1947)

The aim was not to create yet another elite with a specific spirituality, comparable to social activists, zealots for particular services, or clubs of people interested in theology. Promoters of the Liturgical Movement strongly felt themselves to be acting for the common good. One of its chief representatives, the Belgian monk Dom Lambert Beauduin, wrote in 1924:

„Let’s be practical. Millions of Belgians (to mention only this small country) gather each Sunday only to attend a liturgical assembly headed by the priest, who can celebrate the liturgy due to the authority given to him by God and the people; the faithful gather in spacious buildings – located in the centers of human settlements, designed and consecrated for worship – willing to fulfill the work that according to Pius X... is the first and irreplaceable source of Christian life... May this fact – which we still take too little advantage of – become a life-giving act... Everything is in place, now all we need is to enrich the life of this organism. Can we even for a moment question the practical nature of such an undertaking?” (Liturgy; the Life of the Church; transl. Virgil Michel, Farnborough, 2002)

In this statement – taken from a booklet that expands upon the theses of his famous paper given at the Malines Congress in 1909 – there is of course a tension between the announcement that “substantially nothing will change” and the call to “enrich the life of this organism.” This tension was the starting point for various proposals that oscillate between the desire to transform the liturgy fundamentally (in its human aspects), and a determination to transform the pastoral care of the faithful, so that it could adjust itself to liturgical tradition.
Tridentine order of the liturgy
The real context of the modern liturgical movement’s formation was of course the Church’s liturgical life, which for centuries had been determined by the Tridentine order of the liturgy.

However, when we speak of the Tridentine order of the liturgy, we are using a mental shortcut. The resolutions accepted at the Council of Trent did not lead to the creation of a new order of worship within the Catholic Church. The Popes who implemented the post-Tridentine liturgical reform, first among them St. Pius V, simply brought into general use an already-existing standard of Roman liturgy, with fairly small modifications. The Tridentine order of the liturgy is almost identical with the pre-Tridentine Roman liturgy, and preserved an incontestable and clearly visible continuity with its medieval and Gregorian form, and through them, with the very beginnings of the Roman Rite.

Among the elements of the Tridentine reform, one must note the far-reaching Romanization – or rather papalization – of the Latin liturgy, which permitting the whole Church of the Roman rite to use the Roman books, with exceptions in respect for acknowledged particular traditions; the centralization of power, which made the management of liturgical issues an exclusive prerogative of the Papal administration (1); and the precise legal codification of liturgical texts in typical editions.

We must also note the proclamation that this codified form of the Roman liturgy represents its “pristine” shape (2); an inaccuracy which, deriving from the Renaissance’s fascination with the “sources” of all things, can now be seen as the time-bomb that would explode into “archaeologism”, as the rationalistic cult of “the sources” intensified. Furthermore, alongside the inclination to “regulate” the development of liturgy exclusively through rubrics, propers and calendar, we see the growth of paraliturgical devotions that were supposed to make up for this “stiffening” of the liturgy.
Papal absolutism
As mentioned above, an important aspect of this Tridentine reform of the much older liturgical tradition was exclusive Papal authority in the field of liturgy. (3) This factor – introduced at the request of the Ecumenical Council – successfully protected the Roman rite from deformations that could have resulted from its adaptation to new and various “modern” trends.

However, has this protective factor itself not been subjected to some deformations, precisely under the influence of modern ideologies? Already at the time of St. Pius X, the Popes’ sovereign authority started to show a tendency towards liturgical absolutism, a tendency in contrast with the principle that authority consists in guardianship of what has been entrusted to it. This absolutist tendency prevailed in some cases of primary importance, such as the major reorganization of the Breviary by St. Pius X, or, to an even greater extent, the reforms of Pius XII to the text of the Psalter and the Holy Week services.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Card. Ratzinger states: “After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the Pope really could do anything in liturgical matters.” However, this idea is clearly much older than Vatican II, rooted in an absolutist interpretation of both the Popes’ supreme authority in liturgical matters, as articulated after Trent, and in the understanding of Papal supremacy in general. “In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the Pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The Pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not ‘manufactured’ by the authorities. Even the Pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity. . . . The authority of the Pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition.” (transl. John Saward, pp. 165-66)

The principle of the Popes’ liturgical sovereignty was openly expressed in Pius XII’s 1947 encyclical on the liturgy Mediator Dei. This principle constitutes a “strong refrain” (4) of the encyclical, as the author repeatedly speaks of the absolute authority of the Holy See, and explicitly states that the Pope has the right to “recognize and establish”, “to introduce and approve new rites”, which can be modified by him if “he judges... [that they] require modification.” (5)

The paucity of references to liturgical tradition as such in Mediator Dei underlines the emphasis on the prerogatives of “authority” even more strongly, granting it the status of the first principle of the liturgical order. Of course, we must also bear in mind that this emphasis derived from a desire to tame some of the unrestrained experimentation of the liturgical movement.

Still, if we describe this as a kind of absolutism, we must also note that it strove to be an enlightened absolutism, exercised in consideration of the researchers’ achievements and the experts’ opinions; provided, of course, that the latter respect the Popes’ supreme authority.

A perfect illustration of these concepts is found in the speech by Card. Gaetano Cicognani, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, given at the famous liturgical congress of Assisi:

„The essential end of this congress is to pass in review the admirable initiatives of Pope Pius XII in the field of pastoral Liturgy, and to pass them in review with the spirit of loyalty and reverence which every one of the faithful ought to nourish toward the Supreme Shepherd who guides us. The Liturgy demands precisely the direction of the Supreme Shepherd... We have come together not to study problems or to propose reforms, but to put into relief ... the laws and ordinances emanating from Pope Pius XII in his untiring activity as father and master...
Looking over the documents which integrate this liturgical period, we have been able to notice that His Holiness welcomes with delicate courtesy what the students of the Liturgy present or indicate; but in virtue of the supreme power which belong only to him, it is the Pope who fixes the principles; giving secure and firm orientations to minds and spirits, he puts them on guard against opinions not in conformity with the aim of the spiritual life.” (The Assisi Papers: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Pastoral Liturgy, p. 6-7, as cited in Alcuin Reid’s The Organic Development of the Liturgy, pp. 248-49)

Long before the Second Vatican Council, the promise of a general reform of the liturgy began to blossom in the encounter between the highest authority that “fixes the principles”, and the researchers who “present or indicate” the issues. To some extent, this was happening without regard for the context of Tradition, or the principles of the organic development of liturgy.
In search of a new balance
A document of special importance for the analysis of the reformers’ intentions is the Memoria sulla riforma liturgica, a text drawn up in 1948 by the Historical Section of the Congregation of Rites, then reviewed by the consultors, and further discussed by a special commission appointed by Pius XII to prepare a general reform of the liturgy (the so called Pian Commission). (6) The document was confidential, and indeed became a point of departure for the reforms undertaken by Pius XII. Later on, the members of the commission on the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council had access to it.

Giving a reason for the reform of the liturgy, the Memoria begins with a statement that the liturgy suffers from a number of problems, such as an overcrowded calendar, too many octaves, the complexity of the rubrics; and all this is said to diminish the love of the priests for the Liturgy. Hence there arises “a desire for a reform that would bring about a sensible simplification and a greater stabilization of the liturgy”. Fortunately, the development of liturgical studies allows “a solid revision of the Liturgy on a broad and secure basis in [liturgical] science”. Therefore, it is possible to fulfill the desire, reinforced by the Liturgical Movement, to free the liturgy “from certain accretions that obscure its beauty and diminish in a certain sense its efficacy”.

After briefly summarizing earlier projects to modify the liturgy, fundamental principles of future reform are presented in no. 15 of the Memoria. The first of these says, “The opposed claims of the conservative tendency and the innovative tendency must be balanced.” This first principle is later developed in no. 16, where so called archaelogism, (7) on the one hand, and innovativeness, (8) on the other, are indicated as two unacceptable extremes.

Then the document states:

„Now, a wise reform of the Liturgy must balance the two tendencies: that is, conserve good and healthy traditions, verified on historico-critical bases, and take account of new elements, already opportunely introduced and needing to be introduced. Since the Liturgy is a living organism ... so the Liturgy, which is a continuous manifestation of ... religious vitality [of the Church], cannot be something set in stone; rather, it must develop, as in fact it has developed, in parallel line with all the other vital manifestations of the Church.
Hence, it is the task ... of the liturgical reform to balance ... the just demands of the opposed tendencies, in such a way as not to change through sheer itching for novelty and not to mummify through exaggerated archeological valuation. To renew therefore, courageously what is truly necessary and indispensable to renew and to conserve jealously what one can and must conserve.”

It is easy to sense the appeal for some restraint and prudence behind these words – but it is the balance that seems to be a central notion here. And balance is always about allowing the opposing forces to act, in order to sustain some object, which would otherwise literally loose its balance. The authors of theMemoria are aware of the fact that there exist “opposing tendencies,” and their counsel is to balance them through a “wise reform”. Interestingly, the things to be balanced are the notions of change and of preservation – while pastoral care for “liturgical participation”, so significant within the Liturgical Movement, is not even mentioned here. The balance of “forces” seems to prevail over the harmony of the whole entity.

Four personages, four contradictory ideas.
There were plenty of opposing tendencies in what we call the Liturgical Movement in its full bloom, some of them very positive, some which merely seemed so at the time, because their extremism had not as yet had any chance to be exposed.

To examine the existence of those contradictions (which sometimes remain concealed), it is sufficient to compare two leading personages of the Movement: Dom Bernard Capelle on the one hand, and Fr. Josef Jungmann on the other. They can be seen as the symbols of two different guiding ideas, together with two different atmospheres of reform that result from them.

Dom Bernard Capelle (1884-1961), a Benedictine abbot of Mont-César, “an exquisite scholar and monk”, can be rightly considered a patron of the principle of the organic development of the liturgy. He presented it – in an outstandingly clear manner – in 1949 in his annotations to the project of the reform, prepared for the Pian Commission. The whole of this excerpt is worth citing, especially because the text, due to its original confidentiality, is not very well known today. As Dom Capelle stated:
... nothing is to be changed unless it is a case of indispensable necessity. This rule is most wise: for the Liturgy is truly a sacred testament and monument – not so much written but living – of Tradition, which is to be reckoned with as a locus of theology and is a most pure font of piety and of the Christian spirit. Therefore:
1. That which serves [well] at the present time is sufficient unless it is gravely deficient.
2. Only new things that are necessary are to be introduced, and in a way that is consonant with Tradition.
3. Nothing is to be changed unless there is comparatively great gain to be had.
4. Practices that have fallen into disuse are to be restored if their reintroduction would truly render the rites more pure and more intelligible to the minds of the faithful. (Memoria sulla reforma liturgica: Supplemento II – Annotazioni alla “Memoria”, no. 76, Vatican 1950, p. 9 – as cited in Reid, pp. 162ff.)
The reservations emphasized by Dom Capelle should not be regarded as a conservative obstacle set up against any possibility of reform. The Belgian monk was able to see clearly the connection between the Tradition – hence also the liturgy – and the life, hence also the change. His care was to avoid both “a dead rigidity and an evolutionism which is nothing but another name for decomposition”.

In the same period, Fr. Josef A. Jungmann (1889-1975), a Jesuit and a professor of pastoral theology from Innsbruck, had just published his monumental, two-volume work Missarum Sollemnia (1948), which almost immediately made him an authority on liturgical matters and allowed him to have an increasing influence over liturgical reforms later in the 1950s. Erudite in historical issues, Fr. Jungmann expressed in his publication the conviction that the greatness of the Roman rite consists in that which is ancient in it. However, this assessment may also have its negative and disquieting aspect; it is easy to conclude that which more recent necessarily diminished the Roman Rite. Fr. Jungmann did indeed accept this as a logic conclusion, as he distinguished the noble core of the primitive rite from the “secondary” additions, especially those of the medieval period or later. In one of his main works, first published in 1958, Fr. Jungmann was gentle, but at the same time explicit on the matter:
The Liturgy of the Catholic Church is an edifice in which we are still living today, and in essentials it is the same building in which Christians were already living ten or fifteen or even eighteen and more centuries ago. In the course of all these centuries, the structure has become more and more complicated, with constant remodellings and additions, and so the plan of the building has been obscured – so much so that we may no longer feel quite at home in it because we no longer understand it. (The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great, London 1960, p. 1, as cited in Reid, pp. 167ff.)
Fr. Jungmann added, that “if we should have the opportunity to make changes in the structure or to adapt it to the needs of our own people, we will then do so in such a way that, where possible, nothing of the precious heritage of the past is lost...” . We should not be deceived by the promise to act with delicacy, given in this latter sentence: a few years earlier, in 1951, the very same author stated, at a closed conference held in Maria Laach, that those prayers from the Missal which are no older than the Carolingian era “would really all have to vanish”, unless utterly convincing “justifying reasons” for preserving some of them would be given . What Jungmann-as-historian first gave as a simple examination of the “Tridentine” liturgy, distinguishing “the golden age” from later layers of corruption, now becomes a recommendation by Jungmann-the-expert for a ruthless archaelogism, extirpating anything deemed “too recent”. At the same time, he is quite ready to succumb to arguments relating to “the needs of the modern man”.

Fr. Jungmann was certainly too a competent historian not to see and not to admire the phenomenon we called the organic development of the liturgy. The difference between him and Dom Capelle was that he did not consider this natural law of development to be also a principle of the reform – on the contrary, one could say that he regarded the reform as a remedy for this too unconstrained mechanism of growth. Hence on the eve of the Council he openly stated that what we need instead of an “imperceptible growth” is “a jerk – more than a jerk”.

Both Capelle and Jungmann desired the reform of the liturgy, but – as we can see – their opinions even on its principles were simply contradictory. Their concepts of refrom differed not in terms of radicalism, but on a much deeper level, in their very essence. Once we realize this, we are able to foresee real tensions – or even hidden contradictions – which later emerge in the Second Vatican Council’s later constitution on the liturgy of the, since both of them had significant impact on its content.

From personages who were above all the spokesmen for particular ideas, we must now move to those who also held some “political” authority while working on the reform’s documents, as members of ecclesiastical bodies appointed to prepare the liturgical reform, both in times of Pius XII and during the Second Vatican Council. Without any hesitation I would indicate two such personages: Fr. Ferdinando Antonelli O.F.M. and Fr. Annibale Bugnini C.M.

Fr. Ferdinando Antonelli (1896-1993) was a historian and an expert in Christian archeology, as well as a trusted member of the Historical Section of the Congregation of Rites. It was he who – together with Fr. Josef Löwe – edited the above-mentioned Memoria sulla Riforma Liturgica. Fr. Antonelli brings before us as a guiding idea of the reform a firm option for the liturgical reeducation of the faithful. As someone deeply involved in such modifications of the rite as the reform of the Holy Week services, he of course appreciated such retouchings of the liturgy, and considered them necessary. His main care, however, was to make deep changes within the mentality of the faithful, rather than to transform the structures of the rites. At the Assisi Congress in 1956, he clearly stated, while referring to the recent reform of the Holy Week services:
The liturgical reform does not consist only, or even principally, in a revision of texts and rubrics, the search for worthier and more expressive aesthetic forms. Nor does the reform end with simplifications, abbreviations or emendations. The true aim of the liturgical reform looks much farther, beyond any outward expression, and wants to reach the soul, in order to work in its depths and incite a spiritual renewal in Christ, the High Priest, from whom every liturgical action acquires its value and efficacy. (The Liturgical Reform of the Holy Week: Importance, Realisations, Perspectives, in The Assisi Papers: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Pastoral Liturgy; Assisi-Rome, September 18-22 1956, p. 162; as cited in Reid, p. 246)
The emphasis on the necessity of such reeducation presupposed also critical evaluation of the preceding centuries, but Antonelli’s critque – unlike that of Jungmann – concerned not the liturgy’s line of development, but the separation of devotion from liturgy, and the loss of “liturgical compass” within Christian piety. In the very same speech he stated:
The people have been separated, unfortunately, from the true liturgical life. A patient work of re-education, spiritual and technical, is needed to bring them back to an active, enlightened, personal, communitarian participation. This is a work that is not done in a year. It may require generations. But it must begin. (ibid.)
The pastoral dimension of the reform was a matter of huge importance also for Fr. Annibale Bugnini C.M. (1912-1982), the first editor-in-chief of the acclaimed “Ephemerides Liturgicae”. But unlike Antonelli, Bugnini was much more deeply convinced that far-reaching changes in the structure of the rite were needed – a conviction he discreetly signaled already from 1948, when in the “Ephemerides”, he called for further revision of the liturgical books, which had been started in 1911 by St. Pius X, but was later interrupted in 1914 due to the lack of necessary critical studies.

As far as the direction of those revisions is concerned, Bugnini was clear in his support for the rule of so-called pastoral expediencies. In his statements from the 1950s we can easily trace a pragmatic admiration for successful “adaptations to life” – even if some of those movements had the fault of breaking with Tradition, he regarded them as an “indication” that showed some “necessity”. Hence, it is crucial to grasp the idea of adaptation to life in order to understand Bugnini’s attitude. Moreover, according to him there is no need to prove that such a necessity exists; “mere pastoral benefit” is enough to justify brave creations, cuts, and shifts within the ritual.

The reform as acrobatics
Even this brief account clearly shows that under the umbrella of “the movement for fruitful liturgical participation of the faithful” we can find ideas which are in fact contradictory. It was possible for them to coexist within a multifaceted movement – but using them as inspirations for a particular reform required either a balance between those various forces, or a false compromise, imposed by some absolute authority.

The course of the liturgical reform – both during the Second Vatican Council and, especially, after its closure – shows that it was shaped in practice rather more by Bugnini’s energy and Jungmann’s ideas. Meanwhile, the deep sense of tradition –represented by Capelle – remained rather quiet, warning against possible abuses; Antonelli’s sober enthusiasm found expression in polishing the outcomes of the others’ efforts.

The testimonies found in the texts and confirmed by the behaviour of the reformers seem to suggest that on the eve of Vatican II, it was more or less consciously agreed that the liturgical reform required balance between various opposing forces to keep the liturgy in the right position. At that time, various pairs of counteracting forces could seen: not only the ideological opposition of the “archaelogists” and the “innovators”, but also the tensions between papal absolutism and the increasing power of the experts, the advocates of worship and the advocates of “pastoral reasons”; the supporters of Roman centralism and the supporters the collegiality; and finally, between the conservatives and the progressives. The balance between them was possible as long as each of these forces played its assigned role, inevitably one-sided and therefore exaggerated. But as soon as one of these major forces ceased to be unambiguously “conservative” or “innovative”, the balance of the whole entity was inescapably threatened, if not destroyed.

However, it is worth mentioning that the concept of balance – usually fragile, changeable, negotiable, reminiscent of constant tug-of-war – may have an alternative, namely the concept of harmony. And harmony is an convergence of factors that may differ in their significance, but together constitute an entity in its whole. Of course, the search for harmony – also in liturgical matters and ministry – does not in itself remove the existence of opposing tendencies and does not exempt us from facing them in debate and in “politics”. But it does offer a different and more reliable measure the naive conviction that the truth is always “somewhere in the middle”. “The ultimate human values (beauty, goodness, love etc.) depend on harmony, rather than on balance”. (Gustave Thibon, L’équilibre et l’harmonie, p. 88.)


Paweł Milcarek


1) This principle derives from authorization delegated by the Council of Trent in the Decree on the Index of Books, on the Catechism, Breviary, and Missal, 4th December 1563.
2) In the bull Quo primum issued on 14th July 1570, which promulgated the Roman Missal and was part of each edition of this Missal until the reform of 1969, St. Pius V spoke of restoring the Missal “to the pristine form and rite of the Holy Fathers” (ad pristinam sanctorum Patrum normam ac ritum)
3) The principle itself was briefly and clearly described in the 1917 Code of the Canon Law, can. 1257. “Unius Apostolicae Sedis est tum sacram ordinare liturgiam, tum liturgicos approbare libros.”
4) Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, p. 140
5) “It follows from this that the Sovereign Pontiff alone enjoys the right to recognize and establish any practice touching the worship of God, to introduce and approve new rites, and also to modify those he judges to require modification. Bishops, for their part, have the right and duty carefully to watch over the exact observance of the prescriptions of the sacred canons respecting divine worship.” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei 58, emphases added).
6) Cf. Congregatio Sacrorum Rituum, Sectio Historica, Memoria sulla riforma liturgica, no. 71, Vatican 1948. Parts of theMemoria analyzed here are cited and commented in Reid, pp. 150-161
7) “There are some liturgists and promoters of the Liturgical Movement who sin by archaelogism; for them the most archaic forms are always and of themselves the best; those later ones, even if of the High Middle Ages, are always to be set after those more ancient. They would like to take the entire Liturgy back to a state closest to its origins, excluding all successive developments, regarded as deteriorations and degenerations. In short, listening to them, the Liturgy would be reduced to a species of a precious mummy, to preserve jealously as in a museum.” (Memoria no. 16. s 15)
8) “There are others, instead, of precisely the opposite tendency, who would actually like to create a new and modern Liturgy; we no longer understand, they say, the forms, gestures, chants, created in now distant ages; the Liturgy must be a manifestation of current religious life; hence, the language, pictorial and sculptured art, music, dramatic action, and so on, ought to be completely new, in conformity with modern culture and sentiments.” (ibid.)


Paweł Milcarek