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

In 1840 the Benedicine 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.

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