Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961: Part 6.3 - The First Liturgical Movement

We conclude Part 6 of our series. In this sixth part, we have considered the changes in attitude toward the Divine Office beginning in the 16th century and then the impact of the "age of the revolutions." We now turn our attention to the 20th century Liturgical Movement.

For terms and their definitions, please see the associated Glossary which accompanies this compendium.

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

by Gregory DiPippo
for publication on the New Liturgical Movement

Part 6.3 - The First Liturgical Movement

In the midst of this continuing series of disasters, the original Liturgical Movement was begun by Dom Prosper Guéranger, founder of the Abbey of Solesmes, to restore the sacred liturgy to its proper place in the spiritual life of both the clergy and the laity. The great scholars of this movement, especially the monks and canons among them, considered the restoration of the Office as much a part of their goals as the restoration of Solemn Mass. Dom Lambert Beauduin, O.S.B., the Belgian founder of the bi-ritual monastery of Chevetogne, (Latin and Russo-Byzantine,) stated as a principal of the movement the “(s)econding of all efforts to preserve or to re-establish the Vespers and the Compline of the Sunday, and to give these services a place second only to that of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” (Quoted in a recent article by Shawn Tribe: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2009/08/dom-lambert-beauduins-1914-programme.html)

The efforts of a few leading lights in the Liturgical Movement did bring about a partial restoration in some places, but men like the great Fr. Adrian Fortescue, who had a profound love for the sung Office, were few and far between. He himself notes in The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite that Matins is hardly ever sung outside of Christmas and the Triduum, a statement as true today as when he first wrote it in 1917. The reform of ecclesiastical music carried out under the auspices of St. Pius X, and the major reform of the Breviary which he enacted in 1911, (the subject of the next article in this series) necessitated a complete re-writing of the books out of which the Office is sung. A few editions were printed of the reformed Antiphonal, containing all the Hours except Matins, but their exceeding rarity nowadays indicates how little they were needed or wanted at the time. The single edition of the concomitant book for Matins was not published until 2002, more than three decades after the promulgation of the entirely new post-Conciliar Office, and due almost entirely to the private initiative of a German chant scholar, Holger Peter Sandhofe. (Mr. Sandhofe passed away in 2005 at the age of 33.)

The Modern Situation

With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the first phase of the age of revolution came to a painful, bloody end, and almost immediately saw the return of the Society of Jesus, reconstituted by Pope Pius VII in the very same year. The revolution had toppled the regimes of their great enemies, the Bourbons, who then returned to power in the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat, “having learned nothing and forgotten nothing”, in the words of the great diplomat Talleyrand. The Bourbon restoration did not last, and they were no longer in any position to bully the Church as they had before, but much else had changed in the Catholic world.

In an age in which ‘low’ liturgy had become the norm throughout the Catholic Church, the highly flexible Jesuit vocation was still quite able to thrive. The Society continued to experience setbacks, but also to grow in numbers, reaching a total of 20,000 priests and just over 36,000 members by 1966: an astonishing recovery, when one considers not only the suppression of the order, but the constant attacks against it throughout the 19th century. As the Jesuits thrived, their approach to liturgy was widely imitated in the Church, both before and after the most recent ecumenical Council, by innumerable other Catholic orders and societies. The post-revolutionary age has been much harder on the monks and canons among whom Jesuits of the 16th century would one have attended the public celebration of the Divine Office. They have of course also been able to rebuild in many places, but much more slowly. In 1959, on the eve of Vatican II, the once mighty order of Prémontré had a total of only 1,750 members in the First Order, and about 200 cloistered canonesses. While this is certainly a great improvement from the low point of the suppression of their Spanish houses, the White Canons have found it harder to grow in a Church where the very basis of their life, the choral Office, is much less esteemed than it once was, and is hardly done even in the Pope’s own cathedral.

It has often been remarked that in the particular case of the Second Vatican Council, it is the spirit that killeth, and the letter that giveth life. In their very first document, the constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council fathers asked that the Divine Office be prayed in common even by those clerics who are not obliged to do so by law, that it be sung when possible, and that “the chief hours, especially Vespers, (be) celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts.” Like most of Sacrosanctum Concilium, this exhortation has been more or less universally ignored; choral celebration of the Divine Office is far rarer nowadays than it was even in 1962. The “Liturgy of the Hours” promulgated in the wake of the Council is the most thorough-going revision of the Office since it first came into existence. Despite radical abbreviation in virtually every quarter, which ought to have facilitated the singing of the Office, it has all but ceased to be the public prayer of the Church in any meaningful sense.

As anyone involved in the modern attempts to restore some sense of sacrality to Catholic worship well knows, it is always easier to destroy something of beauty than to rebuild it. When the average layman can once again attend daily Vespers at a local Norbertine or Dominican priory, and see the black cassocks of Jesuits and Oratorians among the white habits in the choir, we will know some real progress has been made in the restoration of the Office to its rightful place in the Church.

[The series will continue with Part 7 which will consider the 20th century and the breviary reforms of Pope St. Pius X.]

-- Copyright (c) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

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To read previous installments in this series, see: Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

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