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Catholic Voice
  October 3, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 17   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

New missal: history of the liturgical renewal movement

Note: On the First Sunday of Advent this year, the new English Translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal is due to be implemented. This is the second in a series of liturgical catechesis offered by Bishop Cordileone in preparation for this new translation.

By Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

In a pastoral visit to a diocese in Italy earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI spoke the following words to the faithful: “The Church is not a social or philanthropic organization, like many others that exist: she is the Community of God, she is a community which believes and loves, which adores the Lord Jesus and opens her ‘veils’ at the breath of the Holy Spirit; thus she is a community capable of evangelization.” This speaks to the dynamic reality of the Church as a living organism, which finds its highest expression in her worship.

The upcoming implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal invites us to survey the liturgical renewal that has been unfolding within this dynamic reality of the Church for over a century, a movement which has as its fundamental challenge the uniting of personal prayer and liturgical worship, to move the People of God from praying during Mass to praying the Mass together. Obviously, a brief article such as this cannot do justice to this rich history; I will, nevertheless, strive to touch on the highlights.

The liturgical renewal movement emerged from a renewal of monasticism in the 19th Century, which had become almost extinct in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Age of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. As far back as the late 18th Century, however, German-speaking lands had had an indult (permission) for hymns in the vernacular; Haydn and Schubert among others composed Masses with the common parts in German — this was part of the Counter-Reformation movement, and so was focused in those areas where Protestantism had especially gained a foothold. Also, other sacraments (i.e., outside of Mass) began to be celebrated bi-lingually (baptisms, weddings, etc.). To this day all German-speaking countries use a common hymnal which includes vernacular hymns along with Gregorian Chants in Latin.

It is not surprising, then, that the original stirrings of the liturgical renewal movement began in Germany; it then soon spread to France. Both countries played a significant role in this initial phase of the movement when monks at this time began to study a wealth of liturgical texts. It was characterized by the renewal of the centrality of liturgy in the prayer life of monks and the re-invigoration of Gregorian Chant, in which the liturgical texts were sung by all. The movement received a significant impetus most especially under Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875), abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmnes, who also helped to spread the movement beyond the walls of the monasteries into the wider life of the Church, especially by his erudite study of the Church’s liturgy for the laypeople in the pews, “The Liturgical Year” (St. Therese’s family read this nightly when she was a child).

The year 1903 signals a landmark moment in the development of this movement: for the first time, the Church’s teaching authority intervened with the motu proprio (on his own — a letter or directive) of Pope St. Pius X, “Tra le solecitudini” (“Among the concerns”). We see here a sketching of the basic principles that has guided this movement down to our own time. Among other things, the pope encouraged people’s participation in the action of the liturgy and, consequently, discouraged the use of orchestrated Masses. As beautiful as these compositions are, they tend to turn the Mass into something of a performance, with the people observing a concert rather than being active participants in the Church’s worship. Instead, Pope Pius X — inspired by and encouraging the liturgical renewal movement taking place at the time — promoted the principle of the people singing the parts of the Mass proper to them in the traditional Gregorian Chants. In fact, it is here where we find, for the first time, the phrase “active participation,” so central to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. At n. 5 of the motu proprio he says (in the typically flowery language of the time):

Being moved with the most ardent desire to see the true Christian spirit flourish again in every way among all the faithful, the first thing to which We must turn our attention is the holiness and dignity of the temple. There Our people assemble for the purpose of acquiring the Christian spirit from its first and indispensable source, namely the active participation in the most sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church [emphasis added].

And again at n. 8: “Gregorian Chant must be restored to the people so that they may again take a more active part in the sacred liturgy, as was the case in ancient times.”

Another significant principle affirmed here was his teaching on the three elements defining sacred music as uniquely sacred (n. 7):

Sacred music must, therefore, possess in the highest degree the qualities which characterize the liturgy. In particular it must possess holiness and beauty of form. From these two qualities a third will spontaneously arise: universality.

Sacred music must be holy, and therefore exclude everything that is secular, both in itself and its rendition.

It must be true art. In no other way can it affect the minds of the hearers in the manner which the Church intends in admitting into her liturgy the art of sound.

It must also be universal in this sense, that, although individual countries may admit into their ecclesiastical compositions proper forms native to each, still these forms must remain so subordinate to the general character of sacred music that no hearer of another nation might be disturbed thereby.

The pope, then, did not exclude development of the sacred music tradition, but emphasized that it must be carried out in an organic way. He singled out Gregorian Chant as the reference point in this endeavor:

Gregorian Chant has always been considered the supreme model of sacred music. Hence with every reason we lay down the following rule: the more closely a Church composition approaches Gregorian Chant in movement, inspiration, and feeling, the more holy and liturgical it becomes; and the more it deviates from this supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple [n. 8].

With regard to instrumentation, however, he was very restrictive, even to the point of explicitly mentioning certain instruments: “The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like” (n. 19).

The first half of the 20th century witnessed several trends in furthering the efforts which by then were well underway:

• Scholarly research continued, with consequent greater awareness of the rich liturgical traditions before the time of the Council of Trent;

• Efforts continued to provide resources for ordinary churchgoers to understand and more actively participate in the liturgy (e.g., the innovation of hand missals occurred at this time);

• A deeper understanding of the link between liturgical participation and catechesis began to grow, recognizing that how we worship shapes our belief and our behavior.

From Tra le solecitudini onward, the popes have consistently endorsed and encouraged these efforts of the liturgical renewal movement. The next to do so was Pope Pius XI with the Apostolic Constitution Divini Cultus (divine worship) of Dec. 20, 1928. In it, he reaffirmed the basic principles set down by his predecessor, namely, the three qualities of sacred music and the encouragement of the lay faithful to “once more sing the Gregorian Chant,” so that they may more actively participate in divine worship. He also pointed to the ultimate reason for this: “to arouse and foster a Christian spirit in the faithful, by wisely excluding all that might ill befit the sacredness and majesty of our churches. The faithful come to church in order to derive piety from its chief source, by taking an active part in the venerated mysteries and the public solemn prayers of the Church” (n. 4).

Pius XI’s successor, Pope Pius XII, reiterated all of this again in his Encyclical Letter on the liturgy, “Mediator Dei et hominm” (“Mediator between God and men”), of Nov. 20, 1947. He also went beyond this by introducing certain innovations during his pontificate, such as the restoration of the Easter Vigil as a true vigil, and the restructuring of Holy Week to better express the mysteries of our Lord’s Passion and Death celebrated during that week.

Pope Pius XII also opened up greater possibilities for furthering the Church’s development of liturgical music, within the vision of this being the patrimony of all of the People of God. For one thing, he allowed for the singing of popular religious hymns in the vernacular at Mass. He also acknowledged the adaptation of modern forms of music, but with the necessary precaution that they be in keeping with the sacred character of the liturgy. He says in No. 193 of Mediator Dei:

It cannot be said that modern music and singing should be entirely excluded from Catholic worship. For, if they are not profane nor unbecoming to the sacredness of the place and function, and do not spring from a desire of achieving extraordinary and unusual effects, then our churches must admit them since they can contribute in no small way to the splendor of the sacred ceremonies, can lift the mind to higher things and foster true devotion of soul.

Finally, he expanded the possibilities of instrumentation at Mass, mentioning specifically the violin, but, again, with the usual precaution: “Besides the organ, other instruments can be called upon to give great help in attaining the lofty purpose of sacred music, so long as they play nothing profane, nothing clamorous or strident, and nothing at variance with the sacred services or the dignity of the place” (Encyclical Musicae Sacrae, (“Sacred Music”) Dec. 25, 1955, n. 59).

Given the broader sense of inculturation of the liturgy that we have today, it is much more common to utilize other instruments which in some cultures are associated with worship in the mindset and practice of the people. Nonetheless, the basic liturgical principles still apply, namely: (1) the primary purpose of instrumentation is to support the singing of the assembly, and therefore it should not overpower the voices of the people, both in terms of volume (the number of instruments employed should therefore not be exaggerated) and of style (showy musical embellishments more appropriate to a performance should be avoided); (2) instruments commonly associated with secular use must be incorporated in such a way as to be consistent with the sacred quality of the liturgy, and not simply reproduce the profane in a sacred context; and (3) there nonetheless remain some instruments that, by their very nature, cannot be suitably adapted into a sacred context.

Parallel with all of this Papal Magisterium during the first half of the 20th century, the work of scholars continued throughout this time, as seen by the seven international meetings on the liturgy held between 1949 and 1960, as well as the practical pastoral initiatives in the parishes, such as the growing movement of the “Dialogue Mass” (the assembly reciting the people’s responses in Latin rather than just the acolytes) and the common practice of singing hymns in the vernacular at Mass. These three tracks came together in a unique moment of flowering at the Second Vatican Council, a sign at this moment of history of that dynamic reality of the Church as “the Community of God . . . capable of evangelization,” communicating the timeless saving Good News of Jesus Christ in ways understandable to people and cultures in the world of our own time, as the Church has done in every age. The Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium”), and the immediate post-Conciliar reform, will be the topic for our next column.

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