Sunday, 7 December 2014

How did they do it?

Ttony, of the excellent Muniment Room blog, tweeted some acute observations and asked some interesting questions, following my recent posts on antipathy to the traditional Latin Mass.
Thanks for making me think. I should have realised a long time ago that people were incited to have an opinion about praxis.
That for no apparent reason people suddenly started claiming that they couldn't understand-something that had never been an issue.
and in response to my remark that my parents were initially pro English in the Mass, but were less keen when the full extent of the changes became clear (see my fathers notebook, here, and following posts, for more on that...), Ttony replied:  
It gets worse the more you reflect. Your parents were persuaded that their understanding was defective. Stop & reflect.  
Who in, say, 1939, would have even been able to think that there was something wrong with the way Mass was celebrated? 
I'll withdraw and reflect for a while. How did "they" persuade people who had never questioned that there were questions?

These are all very through-provoking questions, and I will, as so often, think out loud about some possible answers, all the while inviting comments and perspectives from others.

I think that the immediate answer was the Second Vatican Council. The zeitgeist of the age, the press coverage, and the rhetoric of the Council itself 'throwing open the windows of the Church' invited ordinary lay people to consider these issues in a way that was, I suspect, wholly new to most of them.

But I think there is a background that set the scene and enabled that to happen within the Church. Throughout the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, there had been a growing liturgical movement. Some of it was very good: one thinks of the re-discovery of the Chant patrimony of the Church. But there were also strands that led to strange and illicit experimentation with the liturgy (particularly in parts of Europe around the Rhine...) and indeed to the radical changes to the Holy Week ceremonies in the 1950s, which were in many ways the precursors of the liturgical upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.

That Liturgical Movement, then, started to foster an environment in which ordinary people expected to have an opinion about praxis: people started to attend to the liturgy, rather than attend to Him to whom the liturgy is directed.

I quoted from memory something from (I think) Fr Bryan Houghton's great book, Mitre and Crook: we have been taught to be critics where we should be pupils. I am all to keenly aware of that in myself.

My late mother used to lament that in the past, on returning from Mass, she would laugh to herself when her protestant friends asked her if it had been a 'nice' or a 'good' service. It was the Mass, of course, silly, she inwardly answered. But since the changes, it seemed to her, the question was all-too-valid.

So those are my first thoughts in response to Ttony's tweets: I'll be interested in his and others' responses to them.

7 comments:

Idle Rambler said...

'We have been taught to be critics where we should be pupils'
How very apt for today. As the saying goes, 'Everyone's an expert'!

Lazarus said...

My hunch on all this is that it's primarily a theological problem rather than a liturgical one: the bad theology came before the bad liturgy. But perhaps above it all there are the social changes: the liturgical changes sit within wider (non-Catholic) social changes (eg reduction in formality, suspicion of authority etc) and were, in part, supposed to be a response to them. In the end, this is probably all about how the Church should/did respond to modernity. And that's a very wide question which should keep us all blogging for a while!

Part-time Pilgrim said...


I really liked thoughts one to three but I think you have gone off course with this one. Basically it is based on the premise that the liturgy was ok until the reforms and now it is broken.

I think it is a actually a good thing for all people to reflect on praxis provided they are reflecting in the right way. The sentence "people started to attend to the liturgy, rather than attend to Him to whom the liturgy is directed." should be meaningless. I agree it isn't because people focus on their own emotional or aesthetic response rather on whether the liturgy does what it should - focus you on Him.

And as for pupils or critics, making a choice for the form of liturgy you prefer is necessarily being a critic.

Ttony said...

Here are three quotes, each one quoted by D Alcuin Reid:

"The next phase came during the second world war. There was a vast, forced movement of workers from France into the factories in Germany. Some priests went with them. And they realised once again as Beauduin had realised that the Liturgy, the Mass as it was, was remote from these people who were risking their lives, and so out of this situation came the phase of the Liturgical Movement which has been absolutely decisive, which was the foundation, which was the coming together of the German and the French liturgists and others ... And so the Centre de Pastorale Liturgie was set up in 1943 in Paris and the emphasis was on the pastoral nature of the Liturgy, that the Liturgy must be available to the people and accessible to the people There was also an immense propagation of the knowledge of the Liturgy and of the history of the Liturgy, education in the Liturgy, in France especially but also in Germany, and this was the truly pastoral Liturgical Movement."

"What happened was that the historical, doctrinal and pastoral work brought the realisation that our present Liturgy was not in a healthy state. Historical studies laid bare the evolution of the liturgy and showed the reasons why the Liturgy had ceased to play the part in the ordinary Christian life that it should. One conclusion became clear: if vitality was to be restored to the liturgical life of the Church, changes must be made. Historical studies made it possible to discern what changes would be foreign to the Liturgy and due to some unfounded modern fashion."

"I think it is true to say that [Dom Odo] Casel was out of touch with the pastoral problems of the liturgical revival, and, further, that there is a definite tinge of romanticism in his approach to the Liturgy. By romanticism I mean a failure to see and admit the reality, often defective, of liturgical forms and practice in the actual life of the Church, both past and present. His view on the use of Latin and his dismissal of the idea of intelligibility which, unfortunately, are sure to be seized upon and exploited are only the more visible symbols of [his] attitude ... The Liturgy he describes does not seem to be the growing and changing thing that it actually has been. He has fixed it in an imagined moment of classical perfection and isolated it from the ups and downs of its history."

The last quote is from 1962. Casel had died in 1948 and was the theologian par excellence of the Liturgical Movement, yet only a decade and a half he could be described dismissively by the author of the Preface to his selected works.

I draw three points from this: the experience of French forced labourers is not a valid reason to change the universal experience of the Mass; that historicism, especially false and ill-educated historicism, is no basis for liturgical change; and that my guess about 1939 was pretty good (though no doubt a result of internalising D Alcuin's work).

I have said before that the reasons for French and German Catholics to be able to turn their backs on the period which ended in 1945 and look forward to something new and different are obvious and clear, but that they are a Franco-German problem and not one which should have bothered or affected anybody else: they really should not have been allowed to come anywhere near the Liturgy.

These are developing thoughts: we have to add too the fact that after Pius X liturgical change could happen by papal fiat, possibly the greatest novelty in the history of liturgy.

Ben said...

"we have to add too the fact that after Pius X liturgical change could happen by papal fiat, possibly the greatest novelty in the history of liturgy"

Indeed; Paul Cavendish has pointed out that the people in positions of authority at the time of the 1960s reforms included many who as seminarians or young priests had lived through the sweeping breviary reforms of 1911-13, and had thus learnt at a formative age that the Pope could take the liturgical books out of your very hands and replace them with something new.

Patricius said...

I think that you may be running a little ahead of yourself here, Ben

"That Liturgical Movement... started to foster an environment in which ordinary people expected to have an opinion about praxis: people started to attend to the liturgy...."

My thoughts on this subject are still forming but what evidence is there that ordinary Catholics were expecting to have opinions on the liturgy before the reforms of the sixties? I was growing up during the sixties and witnessed the changes in two different parishes more or less simultaneously.My, admittedly imperfect, recollection of the discussion of things liturgical prior to the first raft of changes- fifty years ago this Advent- seemed to amount to little more than the length of a particular priest's sermons. I recall hearing that Father So and so's sermons were exceedingly long or, alternatively, that if another priest was saying the mass then if you arrived five minutes late he would already be at the Gospel. I have long maintained that it was the changes themselves that turned us all into liturgy critics. It requires a real effort of imagination now to return to what it was actually like as an experience at the time- so coloured have become our reflections by what has gone on since. I would suggest that, for better or worse, there was next to no discussion of the liturgy by ordinary Catholics not least because it was standard and relatively unvarying from their point of view. There was, perhaps in the best sense of the word, nothing to discuss. The First Sunday of Advent 1964, changed all that. There was suddenly, in addition to the dialogue- prayers aloud, an awful lot of sitting down and standing up! That was something to grumble about and I strongly suspect that was the precise moment when we all became liturgy critics.
Until the reforms "bit" I doubt that very many ordinary people were appreciably affected by the Liturgical Movement.

As for the "visceral hatred" towards the old rite to which you refer I have encountered something similar towards Latin in the Ordinary Form and was shocked. And then there are those who grumble about "consubstantial" in the Creed. Perhaps we have to make allowances for the "Church Grumpy"!

vetusta ecclesia said...

On a lighter note: as children in the 50s my brother and sisters and I used to laugh at Anglican friends and relations for 2 things: they chattered in church before the service began and they sought out churches, often far away, where they "liked the service". Now Catholics do both these things!