When the Belgian liturgy reformer escaped a German prison . . .

Consider Dom Lambert Beauduin, previously noted as a World War I hero. This account is from a successor in the liturgical movement, Dom Bernard Botte, in his excellently readable, largely eyewitness account of the movement From Silence to Participation (Pastoral Press, 1988). The book is a translation of a 1973 book in French.

Botte was drafted into the Belgian army in April 1914 and served until August of 1919, having left off his pre-ordination studies to follow the call.

Life was like that in Northern Euro countries, where seminarians were not exempt. Indeed it was like that in the early ’50s, when as a Jesuit scholastic studying philosophy in Indiana I heard from a New York Jesuit about the French scholastic who returned to studies after a compulsory turn in the French army. For us Americans, of course, seminary occupancy was a ticket to non-service in the military.

Botte tells of running into Beauduin in a train station during the war, when needless to say they did not discuss liturgy, Botte being headed for the Western Front, where all was not quiet, and Beauduin doing God knew what and the Germans were trying to find out.

He was in fact working with British Intelligence and at one point was jailed for his troubles. Here he had an Apostle Paul-like experience, escaping when the guard inside fell asleep and bluffing the sentry outside when he walked away. Later, he was condemned to death in absentia.

By then he had made it across the Dutch border, but only after “other equally fantastic adventures” did he later make it to England, where he acquired a zest for ecumenism from Anglican friends.

More later about ecumenism as an element of Dom Beauduin’s voluminous real-life portfolio . . .

Who killed reverence at holy mass? Alternate opening to book . . .

. . . as explanation for my interest in Holy Mass besides the usual for a mass-going octogenarian with a long history of mass attendance.

Along lines of something I wrote a few years back as “Church Reporter” for the (now defunct ) Chicago Catholic News:


No paragon of these am I, even if at 18 I left home to study them full time. After two years of it (novitiate), I got my SJ degree, which I relinquished many years later but would rather not go into right now.

Even so, much of it has stuck. At Mass, for instance, I often enter the zone of prayer and meditation, which makes me a poor participant in the liturgy.

Doesn’t mean I think of nothing else (distractions, you know) or that I am superior to the fellow or gal next to me who belts out the songs and other responses. In fact, you could argue I’m not as good because I seem to reject the communal aspect of today’s liturgy.

So allow me to hang my head in shame at that, asking only for tolerance. I am what I am, stuff happens, and all that. Bear with me.

That said by way of self-exoneration . . .

Do we not exceed the limits of liturgical propriety when we proffer the handclasp of peace to other pew-sitters far and wide, even getting out of our pews to hug and chat or even extort the same from them? Just asking, don’t get mad.

Communion time also. What about our meeting and greeting on way to the communion station? Ushers do it. They are the souls of geniality as if they were the host greeting you at the door of a party.

And they and others seem sometimes to take it amiss if you don’t participate, like the elderly gent at Ascension-Oak Park some years back who stood where communion-goers passed, glad-handing one and all. When I didn’t oblige, he was surprised and wounded.
Do we get carried away with our communality?

Something missing here? Sense of the sacred? The R-word, reverence?

I had to wonder, and decided to look into the history of  changes in the Mass.

Ecumenism a third rail for liturgical movement, but remains part and parcel of its mystique. Church politics at its finest . . .

Ecumenism is the third rail of traditionalist criticism. The universal church prays for Christian unity, that all may be one, Father, etc. So what kind of Catholic would choose a wary, un-Christian approach by questioning such a vine goal? A fool or a charlatan or an all-round mean person. That kind.

And yet traditionalists have been wary, boldly claiming to see a problem in the business of uniting somehow, some way, with the separated brethren, suspecting a watering-down of what they believe to be the true Church, its values, and in the case of liturgical change, its everyday ways of praying and worshiping.

Be that as it may, as the liturgical movement flourished in the 1920s, it began to absorb this presumed given of contemporary Christian life that in the view of many seemed to undermine and contradict true Catholicism.

At the heart of this movement within a movement was a man whose penchant for activism led him during the recently completed war to acts of daring, even heroism, in the cause of thwarting invaders, a bold and courageous fellow who risked his life in the cause of freedom from under the German boot.

This was the Belgian monk Dom Lambert Beauduin, a once parish priest with an eye for the progressive in the cause of soul-saving — a “workers’ priest” under and in the spirit of Pope Leo XIII, accustomed to getting with the common people — who later joined a monastery known for its innovative approach to pastoral work, Mont César by name, of which more later.

In the war, he had a large part in drafting and circulating a letter heard round the world from Belgian Cardinal Mercier protesting German tactics and implicitly exhorting Belgians to resistance. After a succession of adventures, he fled to England under threat of execution, connecting there with Anglican “personages.” This was his entry into “the troubled circles of ecumenism,” said the traditionalist Bonneterre.

He was already chafing at his “too conservative,” monastery and “could now dream” only of “a new monastic foundation” (monastery), which would “restore the life of the monks . . . from the East.” His superior, aware of his “highly sanguine temperament” and “extremely vivid imagination,” sent him off to teach in Rome.

The superior was right about Beauduin’s “passion for the Eastern Church,” which in Rome was encouraged by a Jesuit, Michel d’Herbigny (1880-1957), an “ardent Orientalist” who had the ear of Pius XI from the start of his papacy in 1922. Thus the “impetuous” Pius XI (as Bonneterre characterized him), took up his ideas and Beauduin’s “grand ideas” about starting a monastery aimed at achieving “rapprochement” with Eastern, primarily Russian, churches.

The Jesuit d’Herbigny rose under this pope, becoming his “confidential agent for Eastern affairs” — heading the Pontifical Oriental Institute — was consecrated bishop in 1926 in Berlin by the future Pius XII, Archbishop Pacelli — and in 1930 becoming president of the Pontifical Commission “Pro Russia,” in which capacity he tried and failed to restore the Catholic hierarchy in the USSR.

In four years d’Herbigny had lost it all, having resigned his appointments — “officially for reasons of health,” wrote Bonneterre — and returning to Belgium, where he ended his days “in strict seclusion.”

Meanwhile, Beauduin’s abbot, “baffled by all this,” wondered how the Pope could give support to one he (the abbot) considered “afire and ablaze for his own projects,” being “almost contemptuous of the Western Church, a man with a powerful attraction to external activity,” according to Bonneterre.

What he didn’t get was the influence wielded on Pius XI by d’Herbigny and Cardinal Mercier, who until his death in 1926, said Bonneterre, was “obsessed by a whirlwind of ‘Unionism.'”times.

As Mercier’s theologian (or speech writer), Beauduin had prepared a report on “the Anglican Church united but not absorbed,” in which he spelled out what Bonneterre called his “more than dubious ideas” on ecumenism, which he “would soon be inserting . . . into the Liturgical Movement . . . working to adapt our liturgy to the needs of the apostolate, or rather to the pressures of ‘church union.'” Beauduin was teetering on the edge of trouble, and Bonneterre was clearly not pleased by any of it.

Indeed, one may say that Beauduin’s successors were to see traditional liturgy as the enemy of (a) pastoral requirements and (b) ecumenism. And yet major changes of the 1970s and later, the Novus Ordo era, were to coincide with steep declines in (a) pastoral success as measured by declared faith and attendance and (b) slippage to back-burner status of any move towards ecumenical union — unless one could except the case-by-case absorption of Anglican and other clergy and congregations, drawn to the Roman church not by its liturgical changes but by its holding the line on female clergy and homosexual morality.

Another view of the Beauduin emphasis was given in a laudatory New York Times book review in 1973 by Carroll E. Simcox, a prolific writer and editor and an Episcopal priest, that the goal of Christian reunion should not be “return” or “submission” of other churches to Rome but voluntary union of the churches, each keeping its own traditions, ethos and jurisdiction.

Simcox was approving — and attributing to Beauduin — what Bonneterre and other traditionalists strongly disapproved, as we have seen. But Simcox did not approve Beauduin’s “strong opposition” to use of vernacular. This he found “baffling,” as would many a liturgical reformer of decades to come.

Baffling? Beauduin had his reasons, including deep appreciation for worship for its own sake and for people who worshiped in the old ways. He loved liturgy for good reasons, even if he proved susceptible to another enthusiasm which for many years, 1930 to 1950, led to his being in effect banished from Belgium and the monastery he founded.

During this period, he served as a chaplain to two convents in France. He traveled widely and wrote frequently. In 1943, he was among the founders of the Centre de Pastorale Liturgique in Paris.

And another wrinkle:

In 1944, Beauduin renewed an old friendship with the papal nuncio to France, Angelo Roncalli (later John XXIII).

With whom he was in enthusiastic agreement.

But he was opposed to the vernacular! A very interesting guy, about whom more later . . .

The early ’20s: Wonderful developments but with shadows of Euro-extremism

The war over, the liturgical movement kept moving along. Special gatherings, “liturgical weeks” and days became common, as in the French cities Rouen and Lourdes and other cities. A Congress of Sacred Music in 1919 was attended by cardinals and bishops and “mitred [bishop-level] abbots.” Interest was building in high places.

Gregorian chant, approved vigorously by Pius X almost 20 years earlier, was being taught to children — a half million in New York City, to site a major effort. Lay people were being encouraged to receive communion at mass — another Pius X footprint — and were in some cases were reading Scripture at mass. Pius XI told of “lively satisfaction” at these developments.

In Holland, the best organized in these matters, every diocese clergy-staffed liturgical commissions established by their bishops.

The lights of the movement were beginning to shine — Dom Odo Casel (1886-1948), source in his Liturgy as a Mystery Rite of “perhaps the most fruitful theological ideaof the 20th century, in the view of then Cardinal Ratzinger; the prolific Pius Parsch (1884-1954); the Italian-born Romano Guardini (1885-1968), who was raised in Germany.

These would be mainstream contributers and theological shapers of the reform in the decades to come.

Bonneterre was pleased to recall these giants of scholarship, but was at the same time critical. In 1920, he noted, their writings “remained moderate, but that did not last long.” In fact, “It was in Germany that the movement experienced its first and perhaps most serious deviations.”

The flourishing was under way, however, including in Italy, Spain, and the United States. In New York in June 1920, was held an International Congress of Gregorian Chant at which mass was sung in chant by 4,000 children from 47 Catholic schools in the city, the schools where the half million students were learning the chant.

In the Chicago archdiocese in the early ’40s, grade schools were still learning it, along with the “dialogue” mass. I was in such a school — and sang too in the men and boys choir, where the music was the church-approved, magnificent polyphony of the Renaissance, and the (professional) choir director scorned chant!

Fr. Lasance produced his Sunday missal, Dom Lefebvre his Catholic Liturgy, translated from the Italian. In 1921, the St. John’s Abbey, Minnesota, Benedictine Virgil Michel published My Sacrifice and Yours; and Dominican sisters in Grand Rapids, Michigan, published brochures for classroom use in teaching liturgy, titled With Mother Church.

Only later, in the ’50s, would the “American Movement” fall under what Bonneterre considered the very bad influence of “the French and German movements.”

Indeed, even at this early date, the pastoral-vs.-God-centered liturgies conflict was in the mix, Bonneterre explained. The pastoral approach emphasized the “apostolic” character of liturgy as emphasized by the Belgian, Dom Beauduin, who “tended,” he write, to over-emphasize it.

This conflict was to become increasingly pervasive, he said, as the movement faced “the great temptation . . . to make liturgy above all a means of apostolate; to bend [it] to the needs of the apostolate.” Of which more later.

Here was the danger, said Bonneterre in the 1980s: the movement could not “withstand this temptation” to subordinate worship to pastoral technique, and “this magnificent work [of reform] broke down, bringing with it nearly the entire fabric of the Church.” (!)

Big stakes, to say the least.

— Coming up, the zest for ecumenism as a key part of the problem —

In worship, who comes first, God or the faithful? More than a conundrum.

In 1889 at a Eucharistic Congress in Lieges, Belgium, Dom Gerard van Caloen, a trailblazing Benedictine monk, presented a daring idea: reception of communion by worshipers at mass.

 Dom Gerard had already published a Missal for the Faithful in Latin and French and la much appreciated Little Missal for the Laity and started a publication and a study group.

 Participation was in the air. The new pope was to play catch-up.

He would be Pio Decimo, the tenth Pius, with a “Renew all things in Christ” motto –very much the parish priest from humble surroundings, a man of the people with a common touch but also a stern demeanor and willingness to take the battle to the enemy, in his case the moral (and cultural) evil as he saw it, of modernism.

He was to push frequent communion also.

As to worship in general, he was already highly supportive of participation and recognized the need for liturgy to match that goal of his, to bring the faithful to warm belief in the glory that was worship and the grandeur that was God.

In 1903, the first year of his papacy, he restored the centuries-old Gregorian chant — what we may respectfully call liturgical mood music, in that it sets a tone and contributes to a meditative state of mind. He assigned top priority to “active participation” in liturgical services.

 With the pioneering Benedictine, Dom Gueranger, he considered liturgy “essentially theocentric, existing for the worship of God rather than for the teaching the faithful,”  said said Didier Bonneterre, in his The liturgical movement: from Dom Gueranger to Annibale Bugnini.

 But this position was hard to uphold under pressure of pastoral considerations.

 Another Benedictine, Dom Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960), an early supporter of the God-first approach, found himself “unable to maintain . . . this hierarchy of ends” — worship first, teaching second,” wrote Bonneterre.

Beauduin was a priest of the diocese of Liege, a “workers’ missionary” under Pope Leo XIII, the pope of the working man and author of the seminal economic justice encyclical Rerum Novarum. 

In 1906, at thirty-three, he entered Mont Cesar, a Benedictine Abbey and center of liturgical study and innovation.

 He had been immersed pastoral work and approached liturgy from that viewpoint, finding it as ideal for achieving pastoral goals and passing lightly over the divine-worship priority.

 From Bonneterre’s standpoint, he began to stray from the Pius X way of doing things. Not that Pius ignored the faithful, but he wanted to keep the cart behind the horse, the engine of sanctification as propelling the betterment of the worshipers.

It was not a means to an end anyhow, but an end in itself, owed by worshipers to The Almighty, and it had to show that. From it good things would come. Without it you are missing the point entirely.

 The issue was bothering some. In 1913 a noted Benedictine wrote about Pius’s seeing liturgy as the “primary and indispensable source of the spiritual life” — his famous, much-quoted expression.

A Jesuit took offense and “violently retaliated” maintaining in an article “to all intents and purposes,” that piety was quite possible “without liturgy.” Thus he “tended to contradict” the pope, wrote Bonneterre.

The Benedictine replied with fervor, defending Pius and arguing “the educative and apostolic value” of liturgy” while still respecting the “theocentricity” of worship.

 The war came and people had more to worry about, and these combatants calmed down. Another Jesuit saw his opening and wrote to argue, peacefully, that there was no opposition between Ignatian spirituality and liturgy.

It’s a revealing conflict nonetheless, and it seems unlikely that the conflice disappeared completely. The time-worn, probably no longer applicable sardonic comparison — as confused as a Jesuit in Holy Weekwas not entirely unfair. 

 A good thing came out of the squabble, in Bonneterre’s view, generating as it did publicity for the still not widely know movement. This “renewal,” launched by Pius X but still largely a matter of workshops, lectures, and academic discussions, was acquiring legs.

Indeed, priests and seminarians continued with their liturgical weeks and retreats in Belgian monasteries and returned to their work with a desire to restore liturgy in their churches. Especially did they do so during the sad war years,” wrote Bonneterre, including, surprisingly, in the occupied part of France.

Next, a post-war boom for the liturgy movement . . .

19th Century Rediscoveries: The Mass as Experience Not a lecture, not even a prayer meeting. Being moved by the Spirit

In 1840 the Benedictine monk Dom Prosper Gueranger published his Les Institutions liturgiques [“liturgical institutions”] , “a closely argued attack on the neo-Gallican liturgies and a wonderful demonstration of the antiquity and the beauties of the Roman liturgy,” says Bonnetere his 1980 book (Angelus Press, 2002), The Liturgical Movement: Gueranger to Beauduin to Bugnini, Roots, Radicals Results.

 Neo-Gallican refers to newly revived separatist liturgies in northern Europe, especially in France. Neo because Pius VI had struck a mighty blow to the separatist movement Gallicanism (French-ism) with his condemnation of the Synod of Pistoia in 1794 at a time when “the whole of Europe . . . was floundering in an “anti-liturgical heresy.” (Bonneterre)

 Gueranger was on the side of traditionalist angels, standing up for the wisdom of the ages, opposing changes meant to keep up with the times, etc.

 Primarily, he wanted to bring the clergy back to the Roman rite. By the time of his death in 1875, all the French dioceses had abandoned their separatist ways. Their liturgy, wrote a fellow Benedicine in 1948, was replete with “confession, prayer and praise, rather than instruction.” He had “rediscovered the liturgy . . . discerned [its] essence” as worship that “sings to God its faith, its hope, and its charity.”

 It formed and educated worshipers, but was “lyrical rather than didactic . . . essentially God-centered.” As if, participating in it as good in itself, the worshiper, throwing himself into it, is only secondarily if truly improved, we might say.

 Sanctification of the worshiper and his or her supernatural education is accomplished in due course as worshipers “raise themselves up so that the devotion they offer to God is more worthy of Him.” People are changed by the experience. It’s a sort of osmosis. You can’t plunge into it week after week without reacting.

 It’s an experience not to be compared to a lecture, for instance. It’s far more than that. I have to think of the old pop spiritual song of the 1940s, with its refrain, “When that spirit moves you, you will shout hallelujah/ it hits you you’ll holler/ yes indeed.”

 Or as Pius X said fifty years later, the liturgy was “essentially theocentric . . . for the worship of God rather than for the teaching of the faithful.”

 Crucial theme here, with a provocative question. Is the mass a teaching moment, to the exclusion or diminution of it’s being a sacred event, a sacrifice? Is it to be valued in itself. Not for which the priest is “presider,” as at a committee meeting, not even the not-quite-there “celebrant,” or even one who “says” the mass or even prays it (close), but its central performer or agent, his function captured in “priest,” one who does the sacrifice?

 Major issue here, on which more later. The concept was affirmed by the Council of Trent and the entire Counter-Reformation gestalt, in stark contrast to that primary structure of the Reformation, whereby the central figure in worship became not the priest-sacrificer but the preacher and leader of prayer. A permanent diaconate long before ours of today.

Note to author of soon to be published Dominus Vobiscum . . .

Dear Jim:

In your soon to be published book, do the anti-Novus Ordo (New Mass) part, interspersing it with with the pro. Can you do that, Jim? Keep it dry and detached? If you try, yes. But will you try?

Jim: Good question.

Note, continued:

Make your posts a foreshadowing of arguments to be fleshed out along the way.

And remember: keep it flat and noncommittal. It’s only right and it’s less you might have to apologize for.

Be not overly concerned with order and sequence, but be willing to test your readers for their ability to connect things. Does that mean not concerned at all? Hardly. That would be a slatternly procedure, to be sure.

Go rather for the lasting image or hit-home phrase, the (dare I?) poetic. Absolutely. Do not shrink from the poetic. Do you dare?

Don’t overdo the explanatory or saying where you got such and such, as from so and so, who is not paying attention anyhow and furthermore probably does not give a care.

For instance, recall the Synod of Pistoia, a regalist gathering called for by a secularly reforming grand duke seeking to clip papacy’s wings who got almost no local support in his territory Tuscany, as we saw in the last installment.

The duke and the bishop who sided with him lost that one, we have seen. The bishop resigned, the duke lost and when he went on to become emperor, the air had been removed from his balloon, even before the pope kiboshed the whole matter.

It would after all be a several generations later before papacy wings were clipped — by Garibaldi’s and his red shirts, chasing the Vatican I bishops and cardinals from their holy city.

We have noted too that the Pistoia proposals were eerily prognosticative of the yearning for vernacular liturgy, instituted 150 years or so later.

Pistoia was too much, too soon, a trial balloon of liturgical and other change and became a mere footnote. . . . .

more more more . . .

The bishop who lost his way: Tuscany in the 1780s

Pius X (1903-1914) is best known for promoting frequent communion, seen by some at the time as making a sacred thing unduly common and therefore less highly regarded.

This problem seems not to have risen until after Vatican 2, when communion became not only frequent but standard for mass-goers and everyone went — as I noted in a National Catholic Reporter essay in the 1970s, calling attention to an unsung achievement of the council, namely that it had abolished mortal sin.

In any case, this change of his and another, to teach catechism in the vernacular (!), are pretty tame stuff by today’s standards.

Let us, however, put a hold once more on this tenth Pius and his works, looking back a mere hundred or so years before him to the synod of Pistoia, a diocese in Tuscany, in 1786.

Liturgy was dying on the vine. Jansenists had made worship barely approachable with hard-nose demands on worshipers. Quietists had made it irrelevant with their insistence on a God-to-individual hot line as more than adequate.

Gallicanism (French-ism) was chopping away at the idea and practice of a universal liturgy, in fact universal lots of things, promoting church as federation of independent entities and the papacy as a first among equals, if that.

The issue or issues came to a head with this Pistoia synod, called by the local bishop at behest of the grand duke, Peter Leopold — later Emperor Leopold II — who pressed all 18 bishops in his duchy to do it, of whom three did. One was the Pistoia man, Scipio de’ Ricci, who was buying into some highly questionable ideas and causes whose time had come and gone. Bishop de’ Ricci was to regret this sorely.

To each bishop the duke, seeking to limit what some considered the “overweening” church power, had sent fifty-seven “points of view of His Royal Highness” (himself) on doctrine, discipline, and liturgy and said each should hold a synod every two years “to restore to the bishops [themselves] their native rights abusively usurped by the Roman Court.”

He was stirring the revolutionary pot, revving up a supposed discontent — ineffectively, he was to discover. Promoting his points of view and giving a finger to the pope were things all but one of the 18 wanted no part of.

The Pistoia synod made its points, however, approving these items about church authority:

* Church authority came entirely from church members.

* Therefore bishops were on their own. They needed not make an oath of obedience to the pope before their consecration. Same went for priests.

* Excommunications had only external effect. None were reserved to the pope.

* Civil rulers could decide divorce cases, dispensing from marriage vows as they saw fit.
Two others:
* Each parish church should have only one altar; liturgy should be in the vernacular, only one Mass should be celebrated on Sundays.

* Religious orders should all amalgamate, with a common habit and no perpetual vows.

The pope of course would have none of it. He gathered four fellow bishops and some theologians to examine the offending enactments. They would have none of it either, unsurprisingly, and condemned the synod, calling most of its propositions completely out of line.

Which indeed they were, considering how they upended the centuries-old structure of a centuries-old organization which for all its fault its adherents for the most part loved still.

Notice, however, the part about vernacular masses among the anarchic deviations and the emasculating, you might say, of religious orders, also centuries-old and competing in their own way with both papal and secular power, adding their mix to the central structure.

In due time, as we know, vernacular worship became the order (New Order, or Novus Ordo) of the day.

As for religious orders, with varying support from popes, they have managed over the decades to keep calm and carry on.

In 1794, eight years after the Pistoia fiasco, the pope made it official with his bull “Auctorem Fidei,” condemning this diocese-rights doctrine.

The duke had left Tuscany, succeeding his brother as emperor in 1790, and Bishop De’ Ricci, bereft of his support, had to resign. He subsequently submitted to the pope and retired to a monastery.

Do not put your trust in Princes, the Psalmist had told him, but he apparently wasn’t listening.

Sic transit gloria episcoporum. That is, bishops should look before they leap (as should we all.)