In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Glenstal Abbey, Music and The Liturgical Movement
  • Cyprian Love (bio)

The Roman Catholic Church's current theology of liturgy is influencedin a marked degree by the fruits of an intellectual movement whose roots lie mainly in the nineteenth century but which came to fruition in the twentieth. This movement is generally referred to as The Liturgical Movement. Pope Pius XII gave official ecclesiastical approval to this Movement of theologians, by commending it in his encyclical letter Mediator Dei (1947). The Catholic Church's authoritative recent statement on liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 1963) of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), remains deeply imbued with the principles of the Liturgical Movement.

The Movement took its rise in the 1830s from the work of Abbot Guéranger of the Benedictine monastery of Solesmes in France. Its ideas were developed more widely in academic and pastoral life during the twentieth century but especially in the Benedictine monasteries of Beuron and Maria-Laach (Germany), and Maredsous and Mont-César (Belgium). These Benedictine environments, with their emphasis on the liturgy celebrated frequently throughout the day, were particularly fertile places for exploring and developing new approaches to liturgical activity and liturgical theology.

Participation and Community

The Liturgical Movement had several major preoccupations. After a long period in which the laity had been expected to show a certain passivity at liturgical celebrations, one such preoccupation was a new concern with active lay participation in the liturgy. This concern finds expression in the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium. We read there that the Church now 'earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy'.1 [End Page 126]

This participation is understood as consciously communitarian (the Liturgical Movement began a major trend away from the liturgical 'I' towards the liturgical 'we'). It might seem tautological to assert that participation in a liturgical ritual should be consciously communitarian. However, participation in a ritual is not strictly speaking the same thing as having a sense of the corporate nature of the ritual. Indeed, for many years, prior to the Second Vatican Council, lay liturgical worshippers often attended in a rapt way to what was taking place at the altar, without any conscious sense of one another as significant spiritual reference points. In other words, one can participate in a ritual without necessarily participating with other participants.

This emphasis on specifically communitarian participation flowed from a renewed appreciation of the Pauline theology of the Christian people as the Mystical Body of Christ. Developing further a nineteenth-century revival of this theology in men like Johann Móhler and Henry Manning, Mystical Body theology became more firmly established in the mid-twentieth century through writers like Émile Mersch, and Henri de Lubac. The overall effect of this Mystical Body theology was to dissolve an individualistic piety and to supplant it with a more communal model. One outcome of this theological development was that Pope Pius XII devoted an entire encyclical to the subject of the Mystical Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis, 1943). The same theme was taken up at the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1964). Here, the idea of the Body significantly elucidates the nature of the Church, and, therefore, by implication, that of the liturgical gathering.2

Liturgy as Mystery

Most important of the emphases of the Liturgical Movement, however, is perhaps that on the liturgy as a mediation of divine mystery. This insight has been so fruitful that its main proponent has been described by Aidan Nichols as 'the great father of the twentieth century liturgical movement'.3 This was Odo Casel (1886–1948) a Benedictine monk of Maria-Laach.To ears schooled in modern Catholic theology, the idea that liturgy communicates mystery sounds commonplace and unremarkable, but its familiarity is attributable to the effectiveness with which Casel revived a crucial patristic theology of liturgy which had fallen into, if not oblivion, at least relative desuetude.

For Casel, the saving events of Christ's historical life are made vividly present by the Church's liturgical action, though without repetition. Liturgy...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 126-141
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.