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 . . .

1 Comment

  1. Jim Bowman says:

    Reblogged this on Blithe Spirit and commented:

    The movement gets legs from a Jesuit-Benedictine squabble. Major issue, worship vs. instruction and formation . . .


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s