Friday, July 29, 2011

On the Liturgical Movement and on a New Liturgical Movement

Wednesday, our blogger friend and colleague Fr. Ray Blake asked the question, "whether the Liturgical Movement has done more harm than good?" (And I would emphasize, as he does, that he is asking a question.) To set some context, Fr. Blake's question is rooted in some critical considerations about the loss of popular forms of piety and devotionals in parish life -- and lay involvement in coordinating and participating the same:

I just wonder whether the Liturgical Movement ... has stripped the Church of its devotional riches and robbed the laity of taking an active part in Church's life, clericalising many aspects, including catechesis, that should properly be the domain of the laity. I am just wondering - because something seems to be missing.

(Some interesting discussion has ensued in his comment box, so I'd invite you to look at that as well.)

While there are a few points that would be worth pursuing for discussion and debate in his piece, what I would like to particularly focus upon is the specific question of the Liturgical Movement.

My own thought about that particular question is that I think one has to be wary of generalizing about the 20th century Liturgical Movement. That movement was not homogeneous, but was instead a broad movement spanning multiple decades and locales, as well as different trends and streams of thought. In short, one has to sift the wheat from the chaff with regard to the 20th century Liturgical Movement for while there are certain commonalities or general principles we might be able to identify, it is by no means a monolithic entity and is best not approached as such -- "lest perhaps while ye gather up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it."

Now while saying this, insofar as we can seem to speak generally, I think it is fair to say that the Liturgical Movement did very well indeed to emphasize the primacy of the sacred liturgy. Insofar as it re-focused on the Mass and the Divine Office, including the "Pray the Mass" movement, emphasis on the liturgical year, and the revival of Gregorian Chant (to name a few), these were very good and meritorious initiatives -- initiatives we do well to continue and expand upon as part of a new liturgical movement.

The issue I see -- and which Fr. Blake is pointing to -- is that some within the Liturgical Movement, in reacting to a devotionalism which at times came at the expense of the sacred liturgy (a problem for certain), went too far the other way, pushing devotions aside altogether. It is the all too familiar problem of absolutes and either/or's -- and this is a lesson to be learnt and avoided as part of a new liturgical movement.

It seems that the proper approach is rather a "both/and" approach whereby there is indeed a fostering of the primacy of the liturgical, while at the same time giving place to devotional life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (in part quoting from Sacrosanctum Concilium 13 §3) speaks of this both/and approach, on the one hand clearly emphasizing the primacy of the liturgical:

The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc. These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They "should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them." (CCC 1674-5)

At the same time, it also clearly gives place to devotional forms of piety:

In addition to the liturgy, Christian life is nourished by various forms of popular piety, rooted in the different cultures. While carefully clarifying them in the light of faith, the Church fosters the forms of popular piety that express an evangelical instinct and a human wisdom and that enrich Christian life. (CCC 1679)

I would suggest this too should be our approach, and by the same token, our approach both to the Liturgical Movement and to the history of popular piety must be nuanced, recognizing aspects to be both critical of, as well as aspects which are praiseworthy and to be fostered.

To further elaborate on this topic, I thought I would today publish a talk I gave in Detroit, MI last September at the 2010 Latin Liturgy Association conference. The talk was on the subject of a new liturgical movement and as part of this I considered some of these very same aspects in more detail.

LLA 2010: A New Liturgical Movement by Shawn Tribe

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