Friday, July 25, 2014

The Church and World War I - “Echoes of the Great War” by Catholic News Service


As I watched this excellent documentary from Catholic News Service, I was reminded particularly by the second half (from 9:00, discussing the aftermath of “The War to End All Wars”, and its impact on culture and society) of a very interesting paper given by Dr Alcuin Reid at the CIEL Conference in Rome several years ago. Dom Reid’s topic was the change that took place in the Liturgical Movement in the period between the World Wars. Before World War I, the major figures in the Liturgical Movement believed that instilling true devotion to the liturgy, and curing the neglect thereof, was principally a matter of education. The liturgy was seen as an inexhaustible treasure-trove for the spiritual life, and the goal of men such as Dom Guéranger and Fr Romano Guardini was to raise both the clergy and the laity up to a greater appreciation of it. In the period between the wars, the attitude shifted towards the idea that if the run of the clergy and faithful were disinterested in the liturgy, the problem lay not with them, but with the liturgy. The cure for this neglect would then become, not to educate the faithful up to the level of the liturgy, but to alter the liturgy to suit the needs of “modern” man. (This paper has not been published, so I am citing it from notes and memory, trusting to Dom Alcuin’s indulgence if I have misstated anything.)

It is a question for Church historians and social historians whether this shift in attitude was actually created by what the persons here interviewed describe as the aftermath of World War I, “a sense of brooding nihilism, (the belief that) nothing was effective”, (Dr. David Berlinski), a “shak(ing of) the faith that many Europeans had in their own elites ... (including) religious elites.” (Dr. Margaret MacMillan) The emergence of Modernism in the Church well before World War I suggests perhaps that it was already present, but strongly reinforced by the great catastrophe which Pope Benedict XV called “the suicide of Europe.” The shift itself, however, is unmistakable. It may best be seen, I think, in the difference between the writings of Dom Guéranger in the 19th century, and those of the Bl. Cardinal Schuster in the 20th. Every page of the former’s The Liturgical Year breathes a profound reverence for the texts and rites of the liturgy, be they those of great feast day, or an obscure sequence not used since the 14th century. Describing the liturgy of Palm Sunday, Dom Guéranger writes this of the Epistle which is sung before the blessing of palms in the Missal of St Pius V, Exodus 15, 27 - 16, 7.
After this prayer, the subdeacon chants a passage from the Book of Exodus, which relates how the people of God, after they had gone forth from Egypt, pitched their tents at Elim, beneath the shade of seventy palm-trees, where also were twelve fountains. While here, they were told by Moses that God was about to send them manna from heaven, and that, on the very next morning, their hunger would be appeased. These were figures of what is now given to the Christian people. The faithful, by a sincere conversion, have separated themselves from the Egypt of a sinful world. They are offering the palms of their loyalty and love to Jesus, their King. The fountains typify the Baptism, which, a few days hence, is to be administered to our catechumens. These fountains are twelve in number; the twelve articles of the symbol of our faith were preached to the world by the twelve apostles. And finally, on the morning of Easter day, Jesus, the Bread of life, the heavenly Manna, will arise from the tomb, and manifest His glory to us. (The Liturgical Year, vol. 6)
Writing of the same Epistle in 1919 in “The Sacramentary”, Cardinal Schuster says:
The lesson from Exodus… does not appear to be in keeping with today’s mystery. It was introduced by the Gallican liturgists of the Middle Ages, on account of the reference to the fountains of water and the seventy palm-trees… The two alternative Graduals which follow have no bearing whatever on the ceremony of the blessing of the palms, and have been inserted here merely to fill in the gaps and to separate the two Scriptural lessons. It is easy to see that the whole arrangement of today’s function, in spite of its apparent antiquity, is somewhat artificial; consisting, as it does, of various parts differing great both in inspiration and in origin, which have been joined together anyhow, without any real unity of design. (The Sacramentary, vol. 2) 
I write this not as an attack on Schuster, whose devotion to the liturgy was noted even by communist newspapers, and whose holiness has been officially recognized by the Church Herself. Nevertheless, there is a notable difference in his approach from that of Dom Guéranger; an air of judgment and skepticism has crept into what he himself describes in his preface as “whatever sentiments of faith and reverence Our Lord may have deigned to grant me, his unworthy servant, in the course of my daily meditation on the Roman Missal.” Does this perhaps result from a real sense permeating his era that the ancient ways of life, ancient customs and traditions, are losing or have indeed permanently lost their value, as Dr de Mattei notes in the CNS piece? And since all of the architects of the post-Conciliar reforms were formed as churchmen in the aftermath of the two World Wars, the question should also be asked: how much of their era’s way of looking at the world, how many of their attitudes and ideas, are as perennially valuable as those of, say, Ss Augustine, Benedict, and Gregory the Great? If they could ask the question “how much longer must we live according to the ideas of the preceding centuries?”, and answer “no longer, starting from today”; can we not also ask “how much longer must we live according to the ideas of the preceding century?” (These questions are pertinent not only to the liturgy, of course, but to all of the aspects in which the Church struggles through the aftermath of the post-Conciliar reforms.)

I would highly recommend to those who find the CNS piece of interest that they also watch this interview with Dr David Berlinski. Personally, I find everything that he says fascinating; after watching an earlier interview on the same program, I read his previous book, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, and enjoyed it immensely. Starting at 26:14, he discusses with Peter Robinson the 19th-century’s highly optimistic notions of the inevitable improvement and perfection of society, and the dashing of that optimism in the 20th.


Monday, July 28th, marks the 100th anniversary of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia, the official beginning of the First World War. Let us all take some time on that day to pray for peace in the world, and to remember the wisdom of the ancient Collect of the Mass for Peace, that “holy desires, right counsels and just works” come from God, and from Him alone, and that the true peace is one “which the world cannot give.”

Deus, a quo sancta desideria, recta consilia, et justa sunt opera: da servis tuis illam, quam mundus dare non potest, pacem; ut et corda nostra mandatis tuis dedita, et, hostium sublata formidine, tempora sint tua protectione tranquilla.

God, from whom are holy desires, right counsels and just works, give to thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be given over to Thy commandments, and, the fear of our enemies being taken away, our times be peaceful under Thy protection.

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