Some readers of NLM will already be familiar with the blog "Sancrucensis," written by Pater Edmund Waldstein, a Cistercian monk of the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, not far from Vienna. Pater Edmund often blogs about political philosophy and the arts. In a recent post he makes some fascinating observations concerning the liturgy. I have reproduced some paragraphs of the article below; be sure to visit his website for the full text.
... I don’t deny that there are some continuities between the pre-1947 Liturgical Movement and mainstream liturgical thought in the 1960s and 70s, but when I read pre-’47 liturgical theology now, I am far more struck by how different it is from what followed. I claim that this discontinuity is partly a reflection of changing political ideology, and that it is present even in apparently unchanging liturgical projects. I want to show this with the example of celebration versus populum.
Both the pre-’47 Liturgical movement (or at least many influential figures in it) and the post-conciliar liturgical establishment (obviously) were for versus populum, but for very different reasons. The pre-’47 promotion of versus populum had to do with an anti-individualist, anti-subjectivist, reactionary politics that fit with the authoritarian and totalitarian political movements of the times; the post-conciliar promotion of the same liturgical posture was on the contrary tied to an anti-authoritarian, egalitarian ideology that reflected the egalitarian/fraternalist movements of the 1960s.
Charles De Koninck's masterpiece On the Primacy of the Common Good provides a key for understanding what was going on. De Koninck shows that there are two opposite errors concerning the common good. The first is the individualist error (which he somewhat misleadingly calls “personalist”). This is the error of considering every common good as merely a useful good, a means to realizing purely private goods. The second error is the totalitarian error of considering the common good to be the good of a reified totality (“the nation,” “the classless society” etc.), to which individuals are entirely subordinated. The true position, which De Koninck unfolds with unrivaled brilliance, is that the common good is more truly the good of the person than any merely private good, so that the necessary and just subordination of the individual to the common good is not the alienation of the individual to someone else’s good. Now each of the two errors about the common good tends to produce a reaction toward the opposite error, and this is the key to understanding the Liturgical Movement.
The original Liturgical Movement was (in part) a reaction against an overly subjectivist, individualistic piety that its proponents saw as being prevalent in late 19th century bourgeois society. ... In this context versus populum celebration had the purpose of letting the congregation see the objective liturgical action so that they would not be shut up in their own private devotions, but rather absorbed into the action of the Mystical Body, considered as a kind of giant individual.
After the Second World War, however, people were understandably rather disillusioned with authoritarian and totalitarian ideas. It took a while for the reaction to set in with full force, but in by the 1960s egalitarianism was everywhere on the rise. It was in this climate that the liturgical reforms were carried out, and while liturgists continued to press for versus populum (without any mandate from Vatican II of course), the reasons had changed. Now versus populum took on an egalitarian, horizontalist, anti-hierarchical, almost anti-supernatural sense. The Wir sind Kirche [We Are Church] ideal of a happy brotherhood gathered around the table.