The Ratzingerian liturgist Dom Alcuin Reid has been having a little controversy with Prof. Andrea Grillo about the extent to which the actual reform of the liturgy after Vatican II reflected the mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the ideals of the Liturgical Movement. In his latest intervention Grillo divides the Liturgical Movement into three phases: “an initial phase (until 1947), a phase of reform (from 1947 to 1988), and a phase of reception (1988-2???) that still continues today.” He then proceeds to make the following contentious claim about the continuity of these phases:
But it is not legitimate to insert jumps, breaks, and ruptures into this history. The Council and the reform, in this perspective, would be the second phase of the liturgical movement! Here I am fighting for a true hermeneutic of continuity, while it seems to me that Reid suggests a dangerous rupture.
Now, I don’t deny that there are some continuities between the pre-1947 Liturgical Movement and mainstream liturgical thought in the 1960s and 70s, but when I read pre ’47 liturgical theology now I am far more struck by how different it is from what followed. I claim that this discontinuity is partly a reflection of changing political ideology, and that it is present even in apparently unchanging liturgical projects. I want to show this with the example of celebration versus populum. Both the pre-’47 Liturgical movement (or at least many influential figures in it) and the post-conciliar liturgical establishment (obviously) were for versus populum, but for very different reasons. The pre- ’47 promotion of versus populum had to do with an anti-individualist, anti-subjectivist, reactionary politics that fit with the authoritarian and totalitarian political movements of the times; the post-conciliar promotion of the same liturgical posture was on the contrary tied to an anti-authoritarian, egalitarian ideology that reflected the egalitarian/fraternalist movements of the 1960s.
Charles De Koninck’s masterpiece On the Primacy of the Common Good provides a key for understanding what was going on. De Koninck shows that there are two opposite errors concerning the common good. The first is the individualist error (which he somewhat misleadingly calls “personalist”). This is the error of considering every common good as merely a useful good, a means to realizing purely private goods. The second error is the totalitarian error of considering the common good to be the good of a reified totality (“the nation,” “the classless society” etc.), to which individuals are entirely subordinated. The true position, which De Koninck unfolds with unrivaled brilliance, is that the common good is more truly the good of the person than any merely private good, so that the necessary and just subordination of the individual to the common good is not the alienation of the individual to someone else’s good. Now each of the two errors about the common good tends to produce a reaction toward the opposite error, and this is the key to understanding the Liturgical Movement.
The original Liturgical Movement was (in part) a reaction against an overly subjectivist, individualistic piety that its proponents saw as being prevalent in late 19th century bourgeois society. Thus Abbot Ildefons Herwegen of Maria Laach wrote the following in his Preface to Romano Guardini’s Vom Geist der Liturgie [published in English as The Spirit of the Liturgy—unfortunately without Herwegen’s preface]:
The individual raised by the Renaissance and by liberalism has exhausted itself. It recognizes that it needs a connection to an entirely objective institution in order to mature into personality. It demands community [Gemeinschaft]… The age of socialism does have communities, but only such as form a collection of atoms, of individuals. But our desire is for organic, for vital community.
[Das Individuum, durch Renaissance und Liberalismus großgezogen, hat sich wirklich ausgelebt. Es sieht ein, daß es nur im Anschluß an eine ganz objektive Institution zur Persönlichkeit reifen kann. Es verlangt nach der Gemeinschaft […] Das Zeitalter des Sozialismus kennt zwar Gemeinschaften, aber nur solche, die eine Anhäufung von Atomen‚ von Individuen bilden. Unser Verlangen aber geht nach dem Organischen, nach der lebensvollen Gemeinschaft.] (p. 9, cited by Wolfgang Braungart)
Herwegen’s yearning for “objective community” infamously lead him (at first) to greet the rise of totalitarianism in Germany: “The Liturgical Movement is to the religious sphere what Fascism is to the sphere of politics.” [“Was auf religiösem Gebiet die Liturgische Bewegung ist, ist auf dem politischen Gebiet der Faschismus.” From a 1933 speech also cited by Wolfgang Braungart]. Needless to say, National Socialism turned out to be a bitter disappointment to Abbot Herwegen.
Guardini’s book itself is not at all totalitarian. Its second chapter on liturgical Gemeinschaft (jejunely Englished as “fellowship”) is a masterpiece of the authentic doctrine of the common good. It was, however, Herwegen’s less subtle ideas that were more suitable to popularization.
In this context versus populum celebration had the purpose of letting the congregation see the objective liturgical action so that they would not be shut up in their own private devotions, but rather absorbed into the action of the Mystical Body, considered as a kind of giant individual.
After the Second World War, however, people were understandably rather disillusioned with authoritarian and totalitarian ideas. It took a while for the reaction to set in with full force, but in by the 1960s egalitarianism was everywhere on the rise. It was in this climate that the liturgical reforms were carried out, and while liturgists continued to press for versus populum (without any mandate from Vatican II of course) the reasons had changed. Now versus populum took on an egalitarian, horizontalist, anti-hierarchical, almost anti-supernatural sense. The Wir sind Kirche ideal of a happy brotherhood gathered around the table.
Since 1988 (to take Grillo’s somewhat arbitrary dating system) radical egalitarianism has perhaps subsided a bit, and one now finds various versions of the reformed liturgy. The run-of-the-mill banal parish liturgy is perhaps correlated to political neo-liberalism (or neo-conservatism), whereas the more flamboyant type popular in certain cathedral churches correlates more or less with the multi-culturalist “new left.”
Guardini’s liturgical vision (which is simply the true Catholic one) is also present in some places both in certain exceptional celebrations of the usus ordinaria and (perhaps even more often, as Reid argues) in the usus extraordinaria. Ironically, given that Guardini himself was a pioneer of celebration versus populum, ad orientem worship has become a mark of celebrations in his spirit.
I want to emphasize that I am not claiming that liturgical theology or praxis is reducible to an expression of political ideology, but only that a false political ideology, and its embodiment, can have a distorting effect on the liturgy. And this is one reason why I think it so important to promote an authentic Catholic integralism; a political philosophy that would not tend to distort the culmen et fons of the Christian life.