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 —

1 Comment

  1. Jim Bowman says:

    Reblogged this on Blithe Spirit and commented:

    Halcyon days of early reform. Learning Gregorian chant in New York (and Chicago) Catholic schools. But trouble brewing in Europe.


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