Peter Kwasniewski has a fascinating article at the New Liturgical Movement called The Ironic Outcome of the Benedictine-Jesuit Controversy. In it, he refers to a series of articles by Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory in Ireland. I think that these articles are very much worthy of reflection, and that they may provide both a key to interpreting some of the liturgical battles of today, as well as provide a necessary tonic or corrective to some of the more extreme reactions in those battles.
The central thesis is this: A “Benedictine” liturgical model, inspired by monastic life and the classical liturgical movement, views the liturgy as the source and summit of Christian life. A “Jesuit” liturgical model, in contrast, presents the liturgy as “one among many tools of personal spiritual growth, with private meditation having a certain pride of place.” Today, after the Liturgical Reform, we have seen a meeting of the two models which underscores the capital importance of the liturgy, but a liturgy which is intensely personal and subjective in its actual execution.
The merit of this thesis is that it looks at the history of spirituality and its relationship to the liturgy and provides a useful intuition. Ancient and medieval spirituality was very much centered on the communal celebration of a liturgy which, although it was not entirely without organic development, was perceived as something “received.” Its communal aspect became apparent in the tradition of the choral office and conventual Mass, cathedral liturgies and canonical ceremonial. The piety of the laity was often centered in some way around, or inspired by the liturgy. The devotio moderna in the late medieval period, as it focused increasingly on the humanity of Christ, and less the Kyrios of glory, took a turn to the more intimate, private and devotional. Spirituality in this vein became less anchored to the liturgy and more intensely individualistic. The monastic and mendicant model remained to a large degree liturgical, while the newer model become more devotional.
By the time the Society of Jesus and the new clerical associations of the Catholic Reformation came around, this later model of spirituality had already coexisted with the former for some time. There were certainly points of contact, but new religious orders like the Jesuits dispensed with choral office and communal liturgical experience. They did so in part because of the demands of the apostolate of the time, and in response to new models of evangelization and mission. It is certainly understandable why it would be easier to transplant Low Mass and a rich devotional and processional life to the Americas as mission territory rather than attempting to transfer the entire liturgical culture of Sarum!
Interestingly enough, the history of religious orders in the Tridentine period indicate that, for monastics and mendicants, the new orders and for the laity, the devotional Catholicism of the modern school triumphed over the liturgical ethos of antiquity and the medieval period. Even the most famous monastic congregations lived through a period of liturgical decadence in which their interior life was often rarely indistinguishable from the Jesuits who worked in the same towns.
The ravages of the Enlightenment, after all of the unrest of the Wars of Religion, produced a spiritual hunger that yearned for community and antiquity, but in a very individualistic and modern fashion. The refounding of Benedictine monastic life by Prosper Gueranger and friends in 19th century France could not have happened at any other time. While an attempt to recreate a glorious Christendom of old that had been lost, the recreation itself was an exercise in Romanticism, and it is debatable as to exactly how much Solesmes really had in common with abbeys of ages past. But, the Solesmes project (and similar ventures like Lacordaire’s refounding of the Dominicans) responded to a need. It was extraordinarily successful, and it succeeded in re-establishing the sacred liturgy in its own right as source and summit of Christian life, and indeed, as the hope for the renewal of society. That was the vision that moved people as diverse as LeMaistre and Pugin, from politics to parapets.
The nascent liturgical movement was undoubtedly influenced by a Romantic vision of the early Church, and was in its own way motivated by the very modern preoccupation for relevance: how can the Church, through her public witness of prayer and spiritual life, renew men’s lives and our whole world?
As is well known, however, the Liturgical Movement came to a crossroads. Do those of us formed in the liturgy go about the laborious task of educating others to reach the level of the liturgy, or do we simplify the liturgy to make it more accessible to the people? This bifurcation produced a divergence between what was going on in monastic centers like Beuron and Solesmes and what was happening in parishes and youth groups under leaders such as Pius Parsch and Romano Guardini. All the while, though, a not insignificant part of the Church was still living according to a liturgical and spiritual culture that could be described as Ignatian, in which the liturgy was one means among many for union with God.
Kwasniewski points out that, on paper, the Benedictine liturgical vision prevailed, during the time period from St Pius X to Mediator Dei. There is a second period, though, from the 1948 encyclical to the 1970 Missal, where several currents of thought came together.
What are those currents of thought? 1. The centrality of the liturgy praised by the classical monastic sources of the liturgical movement, 2. the pastoral orientation of a second moment of that movement which sought out the change of exterior forms of the liturgy for supposed greater accessibility by the laity, 3. as well as an Ignatian predilection for the individual, devotional and subjective.
That first current of thought seems to be the motivating principle behind most of the liturgical Magisterium of the Church in the 20thcentury and today, whether we are talking about Tra le sollecitudini, Mediator Dei, Sacrosanctum concilium, or Redemptionis sacramentum. But that lives in tension, and some might say, opposition, to the way the second current of thought prevailed in the production of the Novus Ordo Missaeand how the third current of thought conditioned the reception of the reformed liturgy.
Ascertaining what current of thought prevails can help us understand why people react the way they do about matters liturgical. Those who argue for the retention of the classical Roman tradition, whether they be SSPX adherents or the people who have been inspired by Sacrosanctum con cilium and the liturgical theology of Ratzinger and Gamber, all have the first school as their fundamental principle. The second school is behind movements as various as Reform of the Reform to the original set of ideas behind the foundation of the Society for Catholic Liturgy in the United States. The third school is behind some of the calls for greater experimentation and inculturation, such as the work of Keith Pecklers and Piero Marini.
The great influence of three very different schools of thought on the liturgy have led Kwasniesi to posit:
The legacy of the post-conciliar reform is a Benedictine insistence on the primacy of liturgy, fused with a Jesuitized re-conception of liturgy as collective private devotion. It is as if new Jesuit wine has been poured into old Benedictine wineskins, causing them to rupture. The moment of triumph was the moment of disaster, as the very notion of a rite—a formal ritualized act of common worship based on a common orthodox tradition—gave way to a pluralistic, relaxed, malleable, and privatized praxis of variations on a more or less Catholic theme. In short, the Consilium’s exploitation of Sacrosanctum Concilium left us with a volatile mixture that makes genuine reform today much more difficult.
This is a bold claim, and one which I think needs to be examined more closely. It removes the discussion of the liturgical reform away from hackneyed labels of liberal vs. conservative, and also removes it from the thorny question of hermeneutics of continuity vs. rupture vis-à-vis Vatican II. This claim instead relocates the debate within the history of Christian spirituality, and within a broader historical context.
Now, that having been said, to the extent that one of the aforementioned three schools rises to prominence, it is clear that reaction ensues. But the reactions have tended to be expressed in terms of fear: fear that the uniqueness of the historical liturgical tradition of the Church will be lost, fear that Vatican II and the liturgical reform is in danger of being undone by reactionaries plotting to usher a kingdom of pharisaical rubricist status quo ante, fear that all of these liturgical battles are losing sight of what is truly important and central to our Christian faith.
Those reactions may partly explain certain phenomena we have seen in the contemporary Church. What provokes bloggers to pour out sheer vitriol whenever they see a picture of a prelate in a cappa magna? To the extent that an observer is immersed in the third school as opposed to the first and second, they react accordingly. What provokes someone to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite but refuse on principle to attend a celebration of the Ordinary Form? To the extent that she is plunged into the first school as opposed to the second and third, she makes choices as to where to go to Mass.
Yet these reactions, these growing phenomena, are not limited to comboxes and where individuals choose to attend Mass. They are being translated into absolutes, and are dictating policy and teaching.
Under the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, and to a lesser degree, St John Paul II, Rome expressed a clear predilection of teaching based on the intuition of the first school that the liturgy was the source and summit of Christian life and is something received by the Church. That teaching did not entirely exclude aspects of the other two schools. The fact that Summorum pontificum was not an express repudiation of the liturgical reform is evidence of influence of the second school, of a pastoral orientation to the liturgy which recognizes the possibility of change. The fact that even the liturgical experimentation of groups such as the Neocatechumenal Way were not entirely quashed is evidence of the influence of the third school. The “Benedictine” model of liturgy, re-elaborated in our time by Benedict XVI, was a call to the essential insight of Vatican II that the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian life. That this model was not imposed by legislative fiat was a recognition that this vision has not reached every cell of the Church’s life, and that the liturgical battles had to come to and end before this model could be peacefully received. It was a sign of hope that the renewal of the Church promised by Vatican II, the new Pentecost, would be a fruit of the Spirit, and not merely the fruit of another papal document.
Now, though, we are living in a different time. Pope Francis clearly manifests a certain predilection, as a good Jesuit, for the third school of thought, one which is influenced by the devotio moderna, the Ignatian tradition, and his experience as a pastor in Argentina. Liturgy does not seem to be central to his thought, but neither it is it entirely absent from it either. His constant calls for a purification from pharisaical tendencies or the desire to reduce the liturgy (and morality) to just another set of rules can serve as a necessary corrective to a temptation to formalism that the first school of thought risks.
There can be more points of contact between the thought of the last two Popes than may seem evident at first glance, when we examine them from the relative influence of the three strains of thought. At the same time, though, reactions driven by fear are also impelling decisions to be made which reflect a desire to exclude one or other of the schools of thought.
After a brief period of freedom in which the Extraordinary Form was allowed to flourish as a normal part of the life of the Church, there are signs of regression. Rectories and seminaries are often abuzz with fears that priests and seminarians who have tried to make the Benedictine vision the model for their lives and their parishes will be ostracized or prohibited from doing so. There are those who have already forbidden priests and seminarians from learning or celebrating the Extraordinary Form, or according to principles of liturgical theology which inculcate Reform of the Reform ideas.
It is hard to see how this will contribute to a more fruitful experience of ecclesiastical or priestly communion in the life of the Church. Will the third school of thought impose its will all over the life of the Church, practically or expressly prohibiting discussion and practice of the liturgy according to the mind of the first two schools, and especially the first one?
It is yet another fear, and reactions are ensuing from that fear, but it is there.
Benedict XVI had hope that the celebration of the two forms of the Roman Rite would lead to mutual enrichment, and a corresponding renewal in the life of the Church.
Much ink has been spilled on promoting or proscribing one form or another of the rite.
I am beginning to wonder whether we need to examine, not which form is better or worse, but what lines of thought are driving the way we think about and execute the sacred liturgy, and whether, if they are allowed peacefully to coexist along side each other, that a true synthesis may emerge, one not forced by the work of human hands, but by the action of the Holy Spirit.