I'm reading a recent gift (thanks, Bill Tighe), the book From Silence to Participation: An Insider's View of Liturgical Renewal, the 1972 memoir of Dom Bernard Botte, a monk of Mont César Abbey in Louvain (he died in 1980). A fast and fun read for non-scholars who generally know about the legitimate Catholic liturgical movement in the 40-50 years before Vatican II.Share
When you're a traditionalist after the council it's easy to fall into an echo chamber of your fellows and romanticize the past. That's a reason I value the fact that we're still a living tradition: people I call living links to before the council help us keep it real.
You'd think that seminarians and theologians have long studied liturgical texts and their history but according to Dom Bernard you couldn't be more wrong. He and others, including Anglo-Catholic emulators before the council (the late Fr. Ivan Clutterbuck in Marginal Catholics; shame he didn't come into the church), have written that the liturgy was sort of taken for granted, while being treated practically like a sacred text; it was just something you did as you received it, so the only liturgy course was to learn the rubrics. That has its good points but was also a wasted opportunity for the clergy and laity alike.
(But wasn't part of the charm of Anglo-Catholicism that Oxford dons and other "amateur Catholics" fell in love with the liturgy and its history? Did they study the liturgy like they did the church fathers, so many/most traded the Book of Common Prayer for the Roman Rite? As many of you know, in the beginning it wasn't about liturgy or ceremonial; the Tractarians used the liturgy they were told to, as Catholics did theirs, and "high church" originally meant church authority, as in a high ecclesiology and a high view of the episcopate.)
Dom Bernard starts interestingly with a portrait of Catholic life in his Belgium as he remembered it in 1910, untouched by the movement. You have to factor out liberal bias (he was orthodox like his old movement but enthused over the changes after the council) but you have to admit there was a need for reform, for those who might benefit from it. As in centuries past there were no hand missals for the laity (at one point in the church they were banned, but he doesn't say that); the movement came up with those. You had lots of Low Masses in slurred, mumbled Latin, at which the Bible was neither really heard nor sermonized about, leaving the laity to an unliturgical, devotional (me: even voodoo-ey) Catholicism or just bored and tuned out. The laity's knowledge of the liturgy or directly of the Bible was zilch, according to him. Communion and Mass were viewed and done separately: something I've never seen, Communion (for the few who were prepared, rightly) every 15 minutes on Sunday, interrupting Masses to have a priest in cotta and stole open the tabernacle and commune people at the rail. Not just non-communicating High Masses; people didn't receive at the part of the Mass where we do it now. Instead of going to the sources, the Bible and the rite, priests and laity got most of their religion from theology manuals (me: copies of copies of St. Thomas Aquinas?) and devotions, a copy of a copy. And rather than the ideal of a devout community being edified by the Bible and the liturgy, you had an individualistic faith about avoiding mortal sin, true but one-sided. (Small-o orthodoxy, well-rounded Catholicism: "the old religion" and the emphasis on community are not mutually exclusive.) (Read more.)