And Now the Work Begins

For those of us interested in Roman Rite liturgy — and the even smaller sector focused on music — the election of Pope Francis was a rather harrowing experience. Here we were losing our beloved Pope Benedict XVI. His replacement had no prior history with liturgical concerns, and his first weeks out indicated that he had other issues in mind.

I’ll admit that my friends and I really sweated this one out for a while. Were we going to see efforts to reverse the progress? Would we fall back into the default mode of the rupture that characterized the previous decades? Would everything unravel?

Those fears some of us had in the those days after the election seem seriously misplaced at this point. And this has reminded those of us who live and breathe liturgy that there are other issues that the Pope must concern himself with. News flash: It’s a pretty big job overall. There is curial reform. Evangelism. Scandals suppression. Doctrinal controversies. Religious orders. Politics. Really, it’s endless. And every Pope has a focus based on the needs of the time.

A story to reflect on here. Back in the middle of the 19th century, we saw the formation of what was later called the Liturgical Movement. They began a new effort to focus on the liturgy as a neglected feature of Catholic life. As part of this, the monks of Solesmes began a focus on repairing the chant from centuries of neglect. It took decades but then they were ready for real influence. They hoped and prayed for reform toward a more authenticate liturgical experience.

But they had to wait. Pius IX had to deal with the loss of the Papal states, the decline of the temporal power, the end of monarchy in Europe, the rise of the socialist menace, the push of democracy in the U.S. and abroad — all of which meant gigantic changes in the way the Church relates to the world. He called a Church council and that led to more upheaval.

The liturgy people had to wait it out.

Then Leo XIII came along and had to deal with global economic upheaval, the rise of communism, the demands of labor, dramatic technological changes, extended lifespans and the demographic craziness that implied, the rise of prosperity and the moral issues thereby, the appearance of atheism and modernism, and the crying need for an expansion of Catholic moral teaching to the social sphere. This is a gigantic number of responsibilities.

The liturgy people had to wait.

A full half century went by from the beginnings of the liturgical movement before election of Pius X in 1903. Finally the moment had arrived. There was peace and many of the above questions had already been addressed. Now there could be focus. Like Benedict XVI, Pius X was a musician who had an intense interest in the liturgy and chant. He issued a Moto Proprio on music — one that generations had waited for. He approved the new chant books. He was the culmination of so much work and for those who cared about this issue, his pontificate was a dream come true.

But he died in 1914. Now there was a world, a ghastly murderous war that consumed the whole of Europe in flames and bloodshed. Benedict XV was there as a proclaimer of peace. He taught and worked toward this. He condemned war against civilians and the new age of industrial murder — a historical first. He was a serious man and did mighty and wonderful things to bring the teachings of the Church to bear on modern life. What had not figured into his outlook: liturgy. It was not part of what he did.

What did the musicians do? How did the liturgists respond? I can imagine that they were initially rather down in the dumps. Their issues were suddenly out of the spotlight. People stopped focussing on them. Probably many people stopped caring anymore. They probably felt a bit like orphans. Where are the controversies? Where is the momentum for change? Where is the life, the action, the energy, the productivity?

At this point, they might have just thrown in the towel and said: well, clearly we aren’t that important to the life of the Church. But that is not what happened. What they did was get to work. They built schools. They started organizations. They published books. They started new conferences. They trained others. They weren’t going to let this moment pass. They took the flame that Pius X had given them and turned it into a raging fire. The pontificate of Pius X turned out to be just the beginning.

So it is in our time. Benedict XVI and his papacy were epic for liturgy and music and for those who care so intensely. But these are not the only issues. We had our Pope and we had our time. But we must not depend on that. The idea here was to give us the push we needed and then send us out to do our work. If we do not do this work, we might as well be rejecting the gift and turning away from our responsibilities. Any cause that is right and true must continue to live and grow. It cannot depend on leadership. It must become self-sustaining.

That is where we are today. We are at the beginning of a long process. Where are nowhere near where we need to be. If you doubt it, drive about 60 miles from your home and attend a liturgy at the closest Catholic Church. See what happens. Observe the decor. Listen to the music. See how people respond. Check the skills and talents of the musicians. See the rubrics. What you will find is that this parish is probably only 10% of where it needs to be.

Consider your own role in this process. Are there things you can do in your own parish? Is there time you can commit? Is there a conference you can attend? Are there financial resources you can donate to the cause? Can you assist as a parent or teacher? If you feel that calling and you care, this is for a reason. You are probably being asked to play a bigger role. Now is the time to do it.

Benedict XVI gave us something spectacular. But there are other concerns in the world too and the Papacy must attend to those. It is up to us to make a difference and carry that Benedictan legacy forward into the future. There is work to be done. We must be the ones to do it. The change toward a brilliant future has just begun.

14 Replies to “And Now the Work Begins”

  1. This is a really beautiful perspective on things, Jeffrey, and is full of such wisdom and insight.

    Let me do a quick projection based upon your historical analysis:

    Since the Second Vatican Council (which was to be the crystallization of the liturgical movement) took place in 1963, 60 years after Pius X's official inauguration of the liturgical movement in the Church, can we expect that around 2063 (50 years from now) we can see a crystallization of the Benedictine vision and reforms? This seems about right. I will be 81 years old (if I'm still around), which is perhaps similar to the state of many today who were born during that intervening time between Pius X and Vatican II.

    It will be interesting to see what will come of our work. Let us hope and pray that the Benedictine renewal can take root in the life of the Church and finally bring to fruition the Church's desires that reach back into the Church's memory at least several hundred years, if not more.

  2. A weakness I see here is, however, that it is blindingly clear now that we in fact haven't done what the Second Vatican Council told us. If Sacrosanctum Concilium is the crystallization of the Liturgical Movement, then why would we dare want any analagous event or document to be the crystallization of the Benedictine vision and reforms? Wouldn't that just be a perversion of his Pontificate's message?

    Of course, I'm not saying Sacrosanctum Concilium is horrible. That aside, it's still being used as a scapegoat for all sorts of wonky silliness.

    What are we going to do differently now to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again? I think that is what Jeffrey is trying to get at.

    I think the difficulty with the Liturgical Movement is that it tried to rely on a Conciliar document to release its fruits to the whole Church. That didn't work. Part of that, I think, is history. The year 1962 was just on the cusp of the separation between poor worldwide communications and wonderfully fast communications. Had SC been promulgated in, oh, 2012, I think things would have turned out much better.

    But the larger portion of the problem is that it is clearly preferable to enact something at a widespread parish level through several decades (now) or centuries (in the past), and then simply have it confirmed by a Pope or an Ecumenical Council. The Liturgical Movement did have institutions, it did have publications, it did have ardent clerical and lay supporters, but 100 years of pre-2000's time is way too short of a span to entrench anything. It never became part of the Catholic subconscious. Perhaps it was a half-baked thing (the movement itself) that was taken out of the oven too early (SC) and at just the time when the kids were in the kitchen, and mom slipped and spilt the dish.

    So perhaps the better thing to do with what we seem to be calling the Benedictine Movement (although I'm not wedded to that term) is to wait a bit longer and let our reach go a bit further before trying to push things at the highest levels, and be _extremely_ cautious and watch our backs.

  3. Well, this is why I said "was to be the crystallization". I didn't say that it in effect actually was. The entire point of the Benedictine renewal was to focus attention on the right implementation of Sacrosanctum. My point, perhaps, is that I wonder if it will take us another 60 years of work for this to actually be realized. I'm actually not disagreeing with anything that you say above. Very much in agreement here.

  4. "drive about 60 miles from your home and attend a liturgy at the closest Catholic Church" is, I think, a rather curious phrase. The center of gravity of Catholic liturgy is not 'at' places where one has to drive 60 miles to attend nearest liturgy. It is at those place where one can walk, albeit a mile or two, to multiple Masses on any given day.

  5. I'm sorry this wasn't clear. What I mean is this. Get away from your usual liturgical experience and sample another one that is chosen randomly. I used 60 miles as an example. Get out of town and see what's going on out there. The reason I suggest this: too often our conception of the whole is defined by the part of it that we choose to consume. We tend to consume what pleases us and so therefore over time we develop a biased sense of things. This is especially true in liturgical matters. We tend to think everything is improving or everything is declining depending on our local situation. This is why it is good to get out.

  6. There is a difference between the "wait it out" periods of the past centuries, and the present one.

    In the earlier periods, there was a general consensus — let's call it the Trent consensus — on how the liturgy was to be done. In the present period, the Trent consensus was exploded and replaced with a different one — the HappyClappy consensus. Furthermore, the HappyClappy consensus developed a bureaucracy and a culture that was committed to the death to its preservation.

    Then came the battleship Papa Benedict, which shot a pair of Mark-XVI torpedoes (named "Summorum Pontificum" and "Benedictine altar arrangement") into the HappyClappy consensus. Damage assessment: the torpedoes caused hull damage, but did not sink the vessel. And now the rest of the HappyClappy fleet is riled up and loaded for bear.

    Now the ship has a new admiral, and orders from the captain are: Wait. Do not move. The HappyClappy fleet has no such inhibitions, and their orders are: Destroy. And the ship that sits and waits, without fleet orders from the admiral, will be destroyed.

  7. Thank you Jeffrey. I am weeping buckets. We have just returned from a 526km round trip to assist a parish down south with its music and choir for ordaining two deacons to the priesthood. God bless you.

  8. A more detailed look at the history of the liturgical reform will suggest that, when Popes wanted to accomplish permanent liturgical changes, they were able to do so quickly and with little delay.

    Dom Gueranger's first and urgent goal was not the restoration of sacred music; it was the abolition of the Neo-Gallican rites and their replacement with the Roman Rite. Dom Gueranger accomplished this in his lifetime, thanks to the support of Pius IX and the Sacred Congregation of Rites.

    The reign of Leo XIII was admittedly a hiatus of sorts for the liturgy; however, when Pius X became Pope, he accomplished the restoration of Gregorian Chant to the whole Church within a few years (even if its implementation was never perfect), and pushed through the reform of the Missal (largely concerning the calendar) and the massive and far-reaching rearrangement of the Breviary before his reign ended in 1914.

    Benedict XV enriched the liturgy of the dead (1915), published the Missal of Pope St. Pius X in its final form (1920) and celebrated the first papal Dialogue Mass (1921).

    Pope Pius XI was a very liturgical Pope, establishing the Feast of Christ the King (1925) and the Octave of the Sacred Heart (1928) and publishing Divini Cultus in 1928. He also made very strong statements about the pre-eminent value of the liturgy.

    Pope Pius XII, after World War II, lost little time in reforming the liturgy. Within 7 years of the first commission being established for the reform of the liturgy (in 1948), the rites of Holy Week and the liturgical calendar had been extensively reformed (1955). This was followed in 1960 (under John XXIII) by an extensive reform of the rubrics and the publication of a reformed Pontifical in 1961. Then Vatican II came along and the rest is history.

    One thing also frequently forgotten is that the liturgical movement can be divided into two: the first liturgical movement, starting with Gueranger, which was concerned not with reform but with deepening and improving the faithful's understanding and experience of the liturgy, and the second liturgical movement, starting c. 1913, coming to its own in the 1930's and 1940's, and which sought the reform of the liturgy as it stood. This second movement got what it wanted within 50 years of its inception.

  9. That's a cute analogy, and there is something to it. However, there are as yet no orders from the new "admiral" regarding the liturgy. And I suspect, though I may have to eat my hat, that there will be no "orders." As a Jesuit, the liturgy is just not that big a thing to him. Also, in point of fact, the new liturgical movement began in the early/mid 1990's with the inspiration of Cardinal Ratzinger, but BEFORE he became pope. It is going to continue. It has inspired a whole series of new organizations, publications, and Catholic youth. There is plenty of work cut out for it on the ground level that does not require orders from an admiral. Although Fleet HappyClappy still exists and will fight back as hard as possible, it does not have a lock on Catholic youth the way it did 40 years ago. And, just as importantly, it does not have a lock on the young clergy the way it did 40 years ago.

  10. All of this is interesting, but one needs to take note of what Pope Pius XI himself said in "Divini cultus sanctitatem" (1928) regarding Pope Pius X's 1903 motu proprio on sacred music: "it is, however, to be deplored that these most wise laws in some places have not been fully observed, and therefore their intended results not obtained. We know that some have declared these laws, though so solemnly promulgated, were not binding upon their obedience . . . "

    So, in one sense, popes got 'what they wanted,' but in another sense they didn't.

    One cannot over stress the fact that the liturgy collapsed after Vatican II, at least partly, because the wise counsel of popes before Vatican II was simply ignored in many places.

  11. I just wanted to add that, while I share your concerns, one of the main problems with your analogy is that "Fleet HappyClappy" does not have an admiral. We may have an admiral who will not give us orders, but they don't have one at all. Also, I think it is a mistake to assume that we can accomplish nothing until we get direct orders from the pope – I'm told that this is not even the way the military works. In the military, a admiral or general will give the most basic of orders ("take that enemy stronghold"), and then those under him will accomplish it in whatever way they see fit. Plus, the order continues even under a new admiral or general, until he expressly rescinds it.

    So, we have at least one order: Summorum Pontificum. It is up to us to implement it in whatever ways we see fit.

    Go to it!

  12. As far as one can tell now, Pope Francis is neither interested in continuing the liturgical work of his predecessor nor to develop an alternative approach. It seems that he merely wants to celebrate the liturgy as common in a given place (e.g. with great decorum in St Peter's, and with shabbiness in parishes), the only personal preferences seem to be to make things quick and to use dull vestments (I wonder how much money will be wasted on them).
    I can see that his approach to liturgy will be a relief for priests who don't care about liturgy and who have been nagged by some of their parishioners to improve things, but I wonder if, apart from this, he will have any influence on the liturgy at all? Will any priests do or not do things in imitation of this pope? Up to now, I have not found any signs of this, and if anyone else has it would be good to mention it.

  13. Interesting analysis. It is probably a little too soon to tell, but I think that you may be on to something. I have a further question: Is this "being all things (liturgical) to all men" a Jesuit thing, or is it just a Card. Bergoglio thing?

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