Liturgical Movement, and Reform

The Liturgical Movement, Active Participation, and the Liturgical Reform

Liturgy vs. Devotion, Liturgical vs. Theatrical music

The French Revolution, started in 1789 with the destruction of the Bastille prison, was a bloodbath. How could such a Mass-attending, well-catechized Catholic people turn against each other so violently? Is partaking in the Eucharist not the ultimate non-violent, priestly self-sacrifice? And was not France “the eldest daughter of the Church”? How did we start with martyrs singing to the lions in the arena in Rome, and end up fifteen centuries later with Catholics cutting other Catholics’ heads over rivers of blood? Clearly, liturgy in French churches was “not working”.

In 1833, Dom Guéranger re-opened the Abbaye of Solesmes and dedicated its work to the restoration of the Roman Liturgy. Other similar efforts across Europe: the Liturgical Movement has started. (Read also “General Preface” of Guéranger’s “Liturgical Year” ).

1903: St Pope Pius X issued the Motu Proprio Tra Le Sollicitudini, in which the faithful are called to “active participation in the most holy mysteries”. He states “Gregorian Chant” to be “the Chant proper to the Roman Church” and orders “the liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books”. The Church adopted the restoration work of Solesmes for new editions of Gregorian chant. The updated Roman Gradual was published in 1908. St Pius X sees Gregorian Chant as the ideal sacred music as it is “holy” (meaningful to the ritual), “true art” (has beauty of form) and “universal” (simple music, in the Latin language shared by all Catholics). Per Tra Le Sollicidutini: “Gregorian Chant restored in such a satisfactory way to its early purity, as it was handed down by the fathers and is found in the codices of the various churches, is sweet, soft, easy to learn* and of a beauty so fresh and full of surprises that wherever it has been introduced it has never failed to excite real enthusiasm in the youthful singers. Now, when delights enters into the fulfillment of duty, everything is done with greater alacrity and with more lasting fruit.”(bold emphasis added)

Liturgy vs. Rubrics,

The Liturgical Movement gained momentum in the 1930s. Missals were translated so the congregations can better understand the Mass (ex: bilingual St Andrew Missal, Latin-French 1938, Latin-English 1945). There was growing awareness that in seminaries, nit-picking on “rubrics” was taught in lieu of liturgy. Hymns sung in the vernacular were used as “compromise” to engage the Faithful and explain the movement (see below link: 1929 article references the choir singing “Mother dear O pray for me”). See

Still, Pope Pius XII saw active participation of the Faithful as offering themselves as victims on the patten, as one body with the Priest as “head”. (see encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, 1943, paragraph 82),

1963: Liturgical Reform – Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Final text is a compromise. Goal#1: Full, conscious, active and fruitful participation. “Conscious” means neither “rote” nor “emotional”. Compromise recognizes “progressive” hierarchy in participation: Liturgy superior to (>) Corporate devotion superior to (>) individual devotions.

Such flexibility brought a change in the meaning of the adjective “liturgical”, now often qualifying what is tolerated at Mass, rather than what should be at Mass.

Why are Vatican II texts not implemented? Benedict XVI blames the mistaken interpretation of “Rupture” (in lieu of the “Reform” carefully thought out by over 100 years of “Movement”). The “Spirit of Vatican II” was invoked to ignore the texts of the Council.

“Liturgy wars” were sometimes blamed for the lack of implementation of Vatican II, but this explanation does not resist scrutiny. Very few pastoral musicians follow the unambiguous Vatican II instructions to teach congregations the simplest chant (responses, Kyriale) as required for “Active Participation”. The real obstacles are two economic realities:

1- The income of church music professionals is usually tied to instrumental skills.

2- devotional music appeals to emotions and to a broader economic base.

So “Liturgy wars” were created to mis-label as “liturgical” a false choice between recently-composed devotional music and more classical devotional music. These supposed “wars” are not preventing any music minister to teach simple chants to congregations.

Gregorian Chant, as printed in the Roman Gradual, was confirmed by Vatican II as the ideal participation in singing.

1983: Catechism of the Catholic Church:

What is Liturgy? Participation of the People of God in the work of God (CCC 1069)

What Work? Glorification of God and sanctification of the people (CCC 824)

Working (or plowing on) the Roman Gradual confirms St Pius X’s judgement. The Gradual has the objective beauty of a musical Icon. Fruits: musical (sight-reading), vocal (support/appoggio), liturgical (the Church knows what she is doing).

To finally implement the Liturgical Reform, result of the Liturgical Movement started 150 years ago, some have called our effort the “New Liturgical Movement”.

To learn more about violence and the sacred, watch the video below, In his books, René Girard explains clearly the bloody origins of our “priestly office”, and how the Catholic rituals are the ultimate de-construction of archaic mythology:


—— Click here to return Home  ——

%d bloggers like this: