We are very pleased to offer to our readers this excellent article by Paweł Milcarek, an account of some important aspects of the Liturgical Reform before Vatican II. Dr. Milcarek is a Polish philosopher and historian, founder and director of the journal “Christianitas”, (published thrice annually; see also christianitas.org), the author of several studies about the liturgical reforms in the 20th-century, and the critical editions of Vatican II documents. He lives in Brwinów near Warsaw, with his wife and six children. This article will be published in two parts.
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.
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.
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.
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...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.
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)
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.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 the Memoria 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.
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.
footnotes: 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 the Memoria 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.)