Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just wondering: has the Liturgical Movement has done more harm than good?

Valle Adurni has got me thinking, yet again, in a provocative post in which he suggests Celtic spirituality isn't "Liturgical", that the ancient Irish Churches were too tiny for the masses to attend Mass, even for monastic communities to attend Mass. He suggests St Anthony in his 20 year struggle with temptation lived without the sacraments or attending Mass. The legend of Mary Magdalen tells of her going off into the desert as a penitent and only before her death receiving Holy Communion from once only in her life.

The Ethiopian eunuch of course does not even seem to receive that, he is baptised by Philip and goes of home.

The obligation to receive communion annually arose because people weren't doing even that. The reason why Greek babes are communicated at baptism is presumably because that was also likely to be the last time they would communicate. The Greeks remembering the Lord's words, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life in you".

Since the Vatican Council we have become obsessed with the Liturgy, to the point where the Church almost ceases to be without it. It seems to me that the pre-Concilliar or better the pre-Liturgical Movement Church was a much more complex structure. The church building was a more than a place for Mass, it was place as much for private prayer and devotions and para-liturgies as it was for the Mass. The altars or chapels of saints were often as significant as the altar where Mass was celebrated, in some cases more so. Often the altar or shrine was controlled by a lay confraternity rather than the clergy, sometimes the confraternities were more powerful, and wealthier too, than the clergy.
In Spain it is the still the Confraternities that organise the great street processions of Holy Week and whilst the Liturgy itself is often deserted.
The rituals surrounding devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, as well as funerals were essentially the preserve of laity, these were often the corporate expression of civic religion. In Malta where someone might choose to go to any number of Masses in town it is the festa that takes place in the streets that is the great expression of religion.
A friend of mine told me of attending Mass in Italy on Corpus Christi Thursday, though Sundays kept as the Holy Day. Mass was offered in the normal Italian half hearted way: polyester vestments, several tedious sermons, youth group with guitars, a small number of mainly elderly in the Church. Mass ended, then the organ began to thunder, a different set of altar servers appeared in cassocks and lace cottas, dozens of them, men and women in gowns, with other priests in baroque vestments, a huge high canopy with silver poles and ostrich feathers was brought. The bronze west door opened, trumpeters played fanfares, outside in the piazza bands were assembled, with the carrabiniere, the scouts, different banners were there to escort the Blessed Sacrament. The thing was this lay led, the clergy were there to carry the Blessed Sacrament, nothing more.

I just wonder whether the Liturgical Movement has done more harm than good, whether it 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.


Michael Anthony said...

On the one hand, I think you're absolutely correct that these non-Mass devotions should be given much greater emphasis. On the other hand, I don't think this necessarily requires accepting that the liturgical movement has done more harm than good. Excellent post, Father!

Fr William R. Young said...

I suppose, Father, that you have a point. But perhaps the "Liturgical Movement" needs to be treated with discernment, and not blandly lionised like the "Spirit of Vatican II". I wonder if it all comes down to whether the participation is "active" or "actuous", (or whatever English terms we use to express what is meant to be expressed by actuosa in the Latin). It does seem to be a ghastly mess at times, and, if we priests are honest about it, how refreshed are we ourselves by what passes for liturgy in our parishes? It is a work in progress, of course, a heuristic process, like fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps our nets need putting out on the other side of the boat.

me said...

This, is a profound question Father. I hope everybody gives it the serious thought and consideration it deserves and doesn't jump in too quickly with their defensive responses.

It would be great if people would let their thinking become vulnerable and exploratory before answering.

I don't feel at all equipped to attempt the question, but I am very interested to hear those who are able, do so.

Religious question of the year!

. said...

Might that missing something be the Office? This has all but disappeared from non-monastic settings in the UK. Certainly, I have never been to a Catholic parish, trad or not, which has sung the Office at all. And yet it is, surely, an essential part of the liturgy, and one which should be returned to parish life.

One of the problems, I suspect, with the liturgical renewal is that it has pared down the liturgy to just the Mass.

Marie said...

This is exactly what happens in rural Sicily. (personally known)
Would your readers approve of the popular piety here?

You have been to Sicily Father Ray. You cannot doubt the enthusiasm and marvel at the numbers:

Spirito Santo di Gangi

Neil Addison said...

Whether it is the fault of the liturgical movement or not I cannot say but I strongly agree with the point that we seem to have lost so many forms of traditional piety which were not Priest dependent (no offence Father.

Eucharistic adoration, the rosary, simply praying in a Church before a Statue or Holy picture all seem to have been eclipsed in favour of the idea that everything has to involve a mass and the Eucharist.

That I feel is why we are starting to see Eucharistic services led by EMHC's with the excuse that this is necessary because of the shortage of priests. Certainly that is a problem but except for Sunday do the laity need Mass or communion ? Very nice if possible but if there is no priest why not go back to other lay led but non sacramental forms of prayer rather than an sort of "mass Lite" which demeans the mass itself and also deprives us of the incredible riches of Catholic spirituality.

Anonymous said...


I am not surprised of what you described in Italy, as the "guitar masses" *positively keep people away* from it; this of course in a contest in which the priest doesn't see it fitting to stress the importance of going to Mass.

In countries like Italy there is a huge potential that is, I believe, simply thrown away.


GOR said...

Yes Father, Pastor in Valle has opened up an intriguing topic. Related to this, if we think back to Penal Times - in Ireland as well as Britain - what sustained the faith of the people? Availability of the Mass or the other Sacraments was scarce to non-existent for many of the faithful for much of their lives. I suspect they said their prayers or 'told their beads' privately or in small groups and visited holy or penitential sites when they could to sustain their faith. So, despite lacking 'the Liturgy' and the graces of the Sacraments, they held true to the faith. I seem to recall there was a similar situation in a far eastern country (China? Japan? Vietnam?) where a group of Catholics who had been without a priest for years - perhaps a generation or more - stayed true to the Faith through personal or group devotions.

After Vatican II, popular devotions were much-maligned as the simple faith of the uneducated Irish, Italians and Spaniards - among others. Perhaps we got too smart for our own good and look where it has gotten us today!

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up post VII, it seemed the important thing was to make the Mass replace all other devotions, to make it so that it reflected various forms of spirituality: therefore we had a charismatic mass; a folk mass; a rock mass; a monastic mass; a carmelite mass; a taize mass; a young people's mass; a children's mass; a franciscan mass; a contemplative mass etc. etc.

You could not have a get together unless it had a Mass, so much so that we seemed to have thrown out all other devotions, which were more refelctive of various types of spirituality.

We abandoned our devotions to the point we have forgotten how to pray. It was brought home to me some years ago in Pisa. An elderly women was sitting restless in church near me; I was praying in silence: my devotions and exercises. Eventually she asked me how I could spend time praying. She wished she could. She had forgotten the prayers of her youth. I asked her if she knew the Stations of the Cross; she knew to visit the various pictures on the wall in order but did not know the prayers. I asked her if she knew the Gloria; that she did remember. Say 1 Gloria under each picture, was my response, This she did, and spent 30 minutes in prayer for the first time in decades.

The Gloria is the most important prayer (after the Mass); it is locked forever in our memories and expresses our faith so succinctly.

Yes, they have thrown out our treasury of prayers and devotions. I refound it.

Stephen M.

georgem said...

I think there is also a practical reason why Mass and the liturgy have become such a fixation. Outside Mass times many churches are closed to prevent theft or vandalism. No longer can one just pop in for a private devotion, to say the Rosary, to light a candle or just to sit and contemplate in silence in the presence of Our Lord.
My concern about present day lay-led services of the Word is that they may morph into an ersatz Mass. Other lay devotions, well, why not? But the (understandable) restriction of "opening times" does present limitations.

Ernie Skillen said...

Have we, at times, turned churches from being the Domus Dei, Porta Caeli into being merely the locus for the gathered community of the "People of God" (and how I dislike that favoured expression of Tablet readers, otherwise so ecumenically-minded). Why don't the bishops save money by closing all our churches and hiring for an hour each Sunday a local hall where we can gather to sign and praise, which is what the litrugists tell us is what we are trying to do?

Anonymous said...

There is nothing simple about para- liturgical ( a term in search of definition) and non-liturgical devotion. It is very rich and, with a post Conciliar emphasis on Holly Scripture, could be compelling.

I was a member of a religious order while the Council was getting going for five years. Our traditional manner of worship contained a full Liturgical round and, formed bly the Liturgical movement, we studied and meditated upon its content. We also had the Angelus, the Litany of the Saints, silent meditations, Rosary of the BVM, Litany of the BVM, prayer for the dead, Grace, silent times in chapel, Benediction, May devotions, Holy Hours, days of recollection and retreats. There were all kinds of private prayer and"Spiritual Free time" and sp;ecial rituals and prayers peculiar to our community. You would think we did nothing but pray.

Truth be told, we got at least as much done as we did in life after we gave up all the " silly devotions" and had meaningful Masses on the coffee table. Suddenly a post conciliar diet became dry and the definition of self as socially "effective," seemed to raise impossible barriers. Christ came to us, and honestly, I think we pushed him away. We did not cultivate the gifts.

I noticed that I found that as choir faded, I recited the Office as a kind of clericalist separation, no matter what I said about it. Without the devotions, some of which were hopeless shlock, the Liturgy became hopelessly impersonal and dry, while loudly proclaiming a new horrisontal subjective "warm" spirit.

We unordained members lead our devotions, including all Sunday afternoon public devotions, minus Benediction. We were less priest ridden before the great Liberation.

Devotion and Liturgy work as great mutual counter- balances. They can animate one another if handled correctly and create incredible beauty to the honor and worship of God.
The Rev. Michael P. Forbes
Rochester, Minnesota USA

Robert said...

Well the eastern Byzantine churches don't seem to have this liturgical problem. They must be doing something right. Like sticking with ancient liturgies, it's rules and rubrics, and changing only the language, vs creating new ones, and making everything else vague, politically correct, and creative. The west still hasn't figured it out, and probably never will. My Rant!.

Margaret said...

@ ES

What is wrong with "People of God"?

I notice at the very end of the Sicilian people's energetic procession the formality of the priests.
It is not a strangely undignified chaotic event but orchestrated with joyful piety AND dignified reverence, taking place in the piazza.
Last time I was outside Westminster Cathedral the piazza was full of beggars (not having much luck either).

Have we in the Northern Hemisphere ingested a cold Calvinism which Ireland had resisted until recently?

Sicily is still family-based, As the Bones points out we leave our unfortunates to the state; people are scattered, the inside and outside of our churches are no-longer focal points.
It is good to look more closely at this issue which is probably more sociological than theological.
Where can we find this "popular piety" now?
So much was condemned as the sentimentality of old women that one is nervous about mourning its loss.

Anonymous said...

It certainly shows a lack of imagination and piety. Of course, to many of the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd, Church History begins in 1969. Anything before that is worthless, because it doesn't revolve around "active participation in the mass." Which seems to mean that the laity have to be running around the sactuary doing something or other, or singing all the time, or just "being" part of the "community." Forget about spiritual participation or even praying before mass. It is so sad to see how shallow some folks understanding is of participate,

Pastor in Monte said...

I think, Father, that I would not go quite as far. Or at least, I think that we do need to hang on to the Liturgy as the spine that everything else hangs off; it makes sense of them and directs them.
Where I begin to worry is when the sacred Liturgy becomes something we look at rather than look through to heaven. An end in itself, rather than a means.

Evagrius Ponticus said...

"The Gloria is the most important prayer (after the Mass);"

Stephen M, that is surely incorrect if not actually heretical. The greatest prayer, surely, is the Our Father - it was, after all, taught to us by Christ himself!

RJ said...

As I am sure you have said elsewhere, Father, the liturgy (understood as including Mass and the Divine Office) is the source and summit of all our activity.

It's difficult to judge how the hermits of old thought, but they were certainly in communion with the universal Church and therefore not separate from her prayer life, including the official actions where practicable.

Devotions are good, provided they remain connected to the central sacramental life of the Church. It would be a distortion if people went to devotions but not to Mass.

Ductless Ontario said...

"I am just wondering - because something seems to be missing."

Father Blake, what I see missing is the people. In the Western world, Mass attendance is between ten to twenty five percent and hardly anyone goes to Confession. If the primary purpose of the Church is the salvation of souls then the results speak for themselves regarding the effectiveness of the modern changes.

Richard said...

What is missing, sadly, is the organised groups of lay men (yes, men) who used to run those 'para-liturgies'.

Anonymous said...

Since Vatican II there has been a resurgence of Eucharistic devotion, particularly among young people. Many parishes have perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament but Benediction is rare. Our archdiocese (Atlanta)has a Eucharistic Congress. There is revived devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary (several parishes have vigils of "the two hearts" on First Friday/First Saturday. In our cathedral, the Holy Rosary is public recited after two daily Masses. Pilgrimages are popular, too. So extra-liturgical devotion has not been entirely surpressed.

The "Liturgical Movement" that I appreciate is that inspired by Dom Prosper Gueranger (l'Annee liturgique), people's missals that facilitated "praying the Mass" (e.g., St Andre), and Pius Parsch (restoring the integrity of the triduum, e.g., celebrating the Easter Vigil at night, not noon). Their influence is seen in the current emphasis on "Reform of the (liturgical) Reform."

I never understood why, in the name of "renewal," so much was thrown out by clergy purporting to implement Vatican II. However, the young clergy seem to have a more traditional sensibility.

authoressaurus said...

The New Architectural Movement has done more damage than the New Liturgical Movement. If, as in the monstrous nonsense of the Sioux City "restoration and renovation" it insists on making permanent the separation of altar and tabernacle, of placing such obstruction in the middle of the sanctuary PREVENTING the traditional use of the plano of the sanctuary for such services as Vespers, Tenebrae, then it is effectively preventing liturgical continuity from being effected. NO kudos from me for the New Liturgical Movement as it relates to the New Architectural Movement.

. said...


Is part of the problem that the Liturgical Movement asked the wrong questions? If you will allow the shameless plug, I have written a small piece on the subject of the nature of liturgy here:

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...