Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.
Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Editor, Oblation: Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization
Editor, Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization
The first issue of Orate Fratres (OF), published on November 28, 1926, sets forth the rationale for the journal (and the liturgical apostolate as a whole). The editors note:
“Our general aim is to develop a better understanding of the spiritual import of the liturgy, an understanding that is truly sympathetic…A sympathetic understanding of the liturgy is one that will affect the actual life of a Catholic. The liturgical life is essential to the Catholic, for without a minimum participation in it he can not be a faithful child of the Church. This participation in the liturgical life of the Church admits of increase in its intensity as well as in its individual and corporate extent…A better understanding of and participation in the liturgical worship of the Church, should affect both the individual spiritual life of the Catholic and the corporate life of the natural social units of the Church, the parishes, so properly called the cells of the corporate organism which is the entire living Church, the mystic body of Christ” (OF I.1, 1-2).
Thus, several themes surface in the first issue of OF relative to the aims of the journal: the promotion of liturgical participation, the fostering of the liturgical apostolate, and perhaps most importantly the treatment of the mystical body of Christ as the theological cornerstone of the liturgical movement. I will treat each of these themes in order.
The Promotion of Liturgical Participation
In recent years, questions have surfaced among some regarding the precise intentions of the pre-conciliar period regarding the nature of liturgical participation. The first volume of OF is careful to set forth what is meant by participation in the liturgy. In the very last issue of the first volume (October 30, 1927), Alcuin Deutsch, O.S.B. (Abbot of St. John’s Abbey from 1921-1950) provides the hermeneutical key to the nature of liturgical participation in his aptly titled article, “The Liturgical Movement.”
In the introduction to this article, Abbot Deutsch writes:
“…the Liturgical Movement has for its purpose to put the liturgy into our lives; that the centre and very heart of the liturgy is the holy Mass; that, therefore, the main purpose of the Liturgical Movement is to put the holy Mass into the very centre of our lives and to make it and what is stands for, the vitalizing and directing principle of our lives” (OF I.13, 391).
Indeed, as the Abbot notes, the danger with the liturgical movement is to treat it as an antiquarian return to lost practice, the promulgation of the Missa Recitata alone [also known as the dialogue Mass], or as a celebration of a lost aesthetics. Instead, the heart of the liturgical movement is the cultivation of a liturgical attitude in all facets of Christian life. Let us explore what the Abbot means.
First, active participation in the liturgy (as advocated by Pius X) is never simply a matter of ritual engagement or activity, or for that matter an explanation of liturgical rites. Instead, as Abbot Deutsch notes:
For Pius X the liturgy is ‘the most holy mysteries’ and ‘the public and solemn prayer of the Church’: it is the sum-total of the feasts which place before us the mysteries of God and Christ, of our creation and redemption and sanctification; of the rites by which we are sanctified and prepared for union with Christ; of the holy Sacrifice by which we honor God and are mysteriously united with Him through partaking of the flesh and blood of the sacrificial Victim; of all the words and ceremonies by which we express our relation to Him, praise Him, confess His truth and power and goodness, and implore His mercy and bounty for all our needs. The liturgy is, therefore, the substance of Christian faith and practice, expressed in the language, the gestures and the symbols of prayer–of the official prayer of the Church” (Ibid., 392).
Two important points to draw out from the Abbot’s claim. The pivotal figure in the early liturgical movement (among the editors and authors of OF) is Pius X. Gerard Ellard, S.J. remarks that Pius X will be known as the liturgical ancestor of Gregory the Great (“Gregory and Pius, Fathers of Liturgy”, OF I.1, 12-16). And in a later essay, Ellard examines Pius X’s motto (Instaurare omnia in Christo) remarking that Pius X sought (through liturgical renewal) to infuse Christ’s very life into all aspects of the Church, carrying out the divine pedagogy of the Triune God. Whenever the first volume speaks of chant, Pius X’s name surfaces–serving not simply as an authority promulgating the use of chant in the liturgy but an inspiration for the entire renewal of ecclesial music: “The chanted text reaches us not by means of the spoken word alone, but with the penetrating power, the transforming force of melody, of words that wing their way to God in song” (Justine Ward, “Winged Words”, OF I.4, 110).
The liturgical movement is fundamentally a matter of a fostering of the Christian life as a whole. Abbot Deutsch claims:
This is what the Liturgical Movement seeks to bring about: a sense of what the liturgy is, a repristination of the spirit which brought it forth and which derived from it the nourishment that made Christian life flourish and produce the fruits of Christian virtue. This is putting liturgy into life. Liturgy is the life of the Church; it must become the life of our lives, if we are in intimate contact with it. The Liturgical Movement aims not only to put the liturgy into our lives, but to put the Mass, which is the very heart of the liturgy, into the centre of our lives–to create in us a eucharistic atmosphere in which our soul lives and moves and has its strength (OF, I.13, 392-93).
The liturgy is thus part of a whole process of renewal whereby Christian existence is re-conceived according to the Eucharistic gift of love, an integral anthropology in which all aspects of our humanity become an expression of divine worship, a sacrifice of love. In the first volume of OF, this renewal of our humanity through liturgical prayer is carried out with a particular emphasis on the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the liturgical year. The sacrifice of the Mass, a matter of controversy among some present-day liturgists, is featured prominently throughout the volume.
After all, the Mass is a common participation in the sacrifice of Christ (hence the name of the journal to begin with, Orate Fratres…pray, brethren that my sacrifice and yours may become acceptable to God the Father almighty [Virgil Michel, O.S.B., “Participation in the Mass,” OF I.1, 19). But, the importance of this participation lies not in externals alone. It is a participation in the Eucharist itself so that one may join the depths of one’s humanity to Christ’s sacrifice to the Father. Virgil Michel, O.S.B. and Louis Traufler, O.S.B. write,
“Herein lies the explanation for the continued re-enactment of the sacrifice of Calvary. What was on Calvary made possible for all men, can now be realized for each one through personal choice by means of the Mass. In the sacrifice of the Mass all persons have the chance to offer up Christ to the heavenly Father as their own personal sacrifice. Christ descended to the altar for that purpose, in order to put Himself at our disposal, in order to give us a sacrificial gift that can not be refused by His eternal Father. And Christ, as the gift offered, most truly represents us, since He at one time took upon Himself a human nature in order to represent us more fully, and since He himself was the first to offer all of us up to God in His person on Calvary. The sacrifice of the Mass thus puts the fruits of the redemption wrought on Calvary within the reach of every man. By taking active part in the Mass, the Christian gives his personal consent to the general sacrifice Christ made for all men on Calvary; and through Christ he offers himself up to God as an acceptable child” (“The Sacrifice of Christ,” OF I.3, 80).
Thus, the Eucharist capacitates the human being for authentic sacrifice, enabling the Christian to give him or herself away in deeds of love. For this reason, the first volume of OF turns to saints as examples of liturgical figures par excellence, especially Therese of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi (Rev. James E. Mahony, O.S.F.C., “St. Francis: Vir Catholicus, OF I.2, 39-44; Mother Mary Ellerker, “The Little Flower of Jesus and the Liturgy,” OF I.7, 215-17).
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the first volume, relative to the theme of liturgical participation, is the first column in each issue by Cuthbert Goeb, O.S.B, entitled “The Liturgy of the Season.” The column is so interesting, precisely because it does not simply supply a translation of the Epistle, the Gospel, and the propers for each Sunday (or feast) of the liturgical year. Liturgical formation is not simply a matter of translation. Rather, Fr. Goeb offers a narrative in which all aspects of the Christian life unfold over the course of the liturgical year. The texts themselves invite the Christian to offer themselves in a myriad of ways, in thanksgiving in the season of Easter, in penance in the season of Lent, and awe and wonder in the Incarnation. Precisely, because there is a larger narrative, a story of salvation implicit throughout the column, one discovers a form of mystagogy, of liturgical education, which is both kerygmatic and anamnetic—proclaiming the hidden mysteries of God revealed in Christ, while simultaneously inviting the Christian to participate in these mysteries.
The Liturgical Apostolate
Of course, the celebration of the liturgy itself must promote such a sacrifice, an exchange of humanity with divinity in the act of worship. And the editors of OF take a sober view at how the liturgy was celebrated in many parishes throughout the United States. At the conclusion of each issue is a small column entitled The Apostolate. Here, the reader encounters concrete, practical ways that those throughout the United States (and world) have sought to inculcate the liturgical movement in parishes and schools alike. One hears stories about successful (and less successful forms) of the dialogue Mass; of congregational singing; and of praying the Mass along with the Missal (“The Apostolate”, OF I.2, 61-63). While an extensive summary of each of these accounts is outside the scope of our review, it would be helpful to choose one representative account:
‘The Missal has brought me more enjoyment than any other thing I have ever possessed,’ admits a young lady, ‘because it brought me to a fuller realization of the spiritual beauty and richness of the great sacrifice of the Mass.’ Another has learned that ‘the prayers, psalms, and offerings found in it are of ever increasing and lasting beauty’. Others, in fact most of the answers, speak of increased devotion at Mass. The dialog Mass ‘increases my fervor and brings me closer to our Lord,’ suggests one; and another: ‘It makes one feel closer to God and desire to receive Him’ (“The Apostolate”, OF I.5, 157).
Two important points. First, it should be noted that the liturgy being celebrated in the Dialogue Mass is the Missale Romanum typified in 1920 by Benedict XV and carried out by Pius X. That is, when participated in intelligently, with spiritual fervor, this Missal produced real fruits. It is thus patently unfair to imagine liturgy before the second Vatican Council as devoid of spiritual fruits, as a kind of mechanical ritualism. This, of course, is not to say that the liturgy should never have been translated into the vernacular (incidentally, a fascinating article is found in the first volume on the topic of translation for personal Missals, entitled “The Liturgy in Translation” by Richard E. Power, OF I.7, 203-207; he writes, “After all, the liturgy is meant for ‘the multitude’, so often mentioned in the Gospel as attached to our Lord and beloved by Him. It must come to them with some of its original simplicity and charm. Unless the Ordinary of the Mass is established in the minds and hearts of the people, young and old, as the noblest and dearest of all their forms of communion with God, the liturgical apostolate will strive in vain to realize the purpose of its existence…Our best form of propaganda is, therefore, an English (of, if you will, an American) text of superlative excellence” (206)). Simply, a form of liturgical participation that was genuine, authentic, spiritually fruitful existed before the Missal of the Paul VI and vernacular translations.
Simultaneously, from the Apostolate column one discerns how much effort was required to foster active participation in the liturgy. The teaching of various modes of chant; forming school aged children and adults in the history of the Mass; introducing parishes to the basics of liturgical theology. It was an entire movement, an educational effort touching all aspects of Church life. One can see that even the level of preparatory formation that went into the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal in the United States (and worldwide) is inadequate relative to the commitment to the liturgical apostolate launched in the United States in 1926. If liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist, is to become the source and summit of Christian life, then we will need to return again to the level of commitment to liturgical education fostered by the Apostolate.
The Mystical Body of Christ
The theological cornerstone of the liturgical movement, even as early as 1926, is the mystical body of Christ (for an introduction to this Christological and ecclesiological doctrine, see Emile Mersch, The Whole Christ). Paul C. Bussard, author of a small catechism on the Mass, writes:
To understand this doctrine of the Church is to have apprehended, at the same time, the basis and reason of the liturgy. The Church, as the mystic body of Christ, lives her life in the liturgy; and it is a life of magnificent prayer. Following the example of the divine Christ, the mystic Christ has always prayed, now in the garden, now on the mountain, now in tears like Magdalen, now in joy like David before the ark of the covenant. And in all these variant actions of prayer, the Church is intensifying her sanctity. Those members who use the liturgy as a means of divine glorification and personal sanctification, are making themselves more perfect members of the mystical Christ, and are co-operating in the building up of the body of Christ, ’till we all attain to the unity of faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the full measure of the stature of Christ’ (“The Mystic Body of Christ”, OF I.7, 202).
Thus, in the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ, the liturgical movement in the first volume of OF begins to perceive the liturgy as central to all aspects of Christian identity. All of humanity is being built up into Christ, and in liturgical prayer, this central reality is performed for the sanctification of all humanity. And it has consequences, as the 1926-27 volume of OF makes clear. To the peace movement in Europe. To the love shared among members of the body of Christ in care for the poor. To the vision fostered relative to nature. Indeed, in this first volume it is a theme that has not yet assumed total prominence. But, the seeds have been planted for the treatment of the liturgy as integral to social transformation itself. The Editor’s Corner of OF I.8 states, “How can a soul thus living the life of Christ still think of war? How can it still think of the ungodly slaughter of men who are made after the image of God and were rebrought by the blood of Christ? How can any Catholic worthy of the name, signed with the seal of Christ and the Spirit, refrain from supporting eagerly a ‘Movement for International Peace’, so perfectly identity with the spirit of Christ and His Church?'” (251).
Future issues of this column will explore precisely how this theme of the mystical body develops in the pages of OF itself.