In comments to the immediately preceding post, “What Can the Middle Ages Do For Me?”, the conversation in the comment boxes has turned to the so-called “organic development” of the liturgy. I thought it might serve that conversation, as well as be of general interest, to briefly present the origins and use of the term “organic development.”
“Organic Development” is one of the “laws” of liturgical development identified by Anton Baumstark in his book Liturgie Comparée (Comparative Liturgy, F. L. Cross, translator. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1958). In his second chapter, Baumstark first highlights two antitheses that characterize and shape the development of liturgy: a movement from variety to uniformity on the one hand, and a movement from austerity and brevity to extravagance and prolixity on the other.
It is the second antithesis, the movement from simplicity to richness that is of interest here, because
“the evolution from primitive simplicity in the direction of richness had. . . been pressed forward to a point where curtailments were demanded. . . . This phenomena [of curtailment] is typical. . . I shall describe it as the Law of Organic Development (‘Organic’ and therefore ‘Progressive’). In general, because the primitive elements [of the liturgy] are not immediately replaced by completely new ones, the newcomers at first take their place alongside the others. Before long they assume a more vigorous and resistant character, and when the tendency to abbreviation makes itself felt, it is the more primitive elements which are the first to be affected: these disappear completely or leave only a few traces” (Comparative Liturgy, 23).
One prime example, which Baumstark cites, is the disappearance of the Prayer of the Faithful in the medieval forerunners to the liturgy that has become today’s Extraordinary Form: the only thing to survive from that most ancient prayer was the Oremus (Let us Pray) that immediately precedes the Offertory in that rite. About the only thing holding this gradual process of “organic” curtailment in check is his second “law,” which finds that in the most solemn seasons and feasts of the liturgical year, the earlier, primitive conditions survive and are maintained with greater tenacity — thus, to continue the example, the Prayers of the Faithful survived in the Extraordinary Form only on Good Friday.
Scholars later than Baumstark (Paul Bradshaw, perhaps most notably) have identified further laws of liturgical development, but many of these derive from the basic “law of organic development” — newer elements placed side by side with older elements will eventually come to replace their forerunners when the impulse to curtailment is felt.