Organic Development

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.

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34 comments

  1. In terms of the Prayers of the Faithful, the Roman Canon actually contains them and when used, praying the prayers of the faithful becomes a bit redundant, but not with the other Eucharistic prayers. In the Maronite Rite, their canon, somewhat similar to the Roman Canon has these intercessions also, but the deacon actually prays them, not the celebrant. So in a sense, we can say that the elimination of the General Intercessions as a separate entity when the Roman Canon became the only Eucharistic Prayer of the Latin Rite until around 1968, was an organic development. Re-instituting them even when the Roman Canon is used was not an organic development but a retrograde act by decree creating a novelty in the new rite except for the new Eucharistic prayers that do not have them already included.

    1. Organic in the sense that Masses began to eliminate elements that related to celebration of Mass with the faithful present, due to a focus on the “private” Mass of the priest, ultimately resulting in the Low Mass as being the normative form.

      With the reforms, which attempted to assert the Sunday Mass with the faithful present as the normative celebration of the Eucharist, it could be pointed out that the restoration of the Prayers of the Faithful was indeed an organic development in the liturgy, one that looked back to the historical roots to restore what had been eliminated due to changing circumstances and conditions.

      1. I would be hesitant to call that return an “organic development” in Baumstark’s sense; remembering that “organic development” isn’t an operative principle in SC. What is operative is resourcement, a return to the primitive sources and shape of the liturgy — more than enough to warrant the return of the Prayer of the Faithful to the liturgy.

      2. Please clarify what you mean by writing, “…’organic development’ isn’t an operative principle in SC,” in the light of SC 23, “…and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” What is going on here in SC 23 then?

      3. “Organic in the sense that Masses began to eliminate elements that related to celebration of Mass with the faithful present, due to a focus on the “private” Mass of the priest, ultimately resulting in the Low Mass as being the normative form.”

        My impression has been that the increased importance of the private Mass is thought to have caused doubling (like the pre-reading of the Gospel at Solemn Mass), but other than the (disputed by others here) prayers of the faithful, what was eliminated on the basis of its being congregational?

        Certainly rubrically, even before the early 20th century reforms, the private Mass may have been seen as fundamental and the place where many priests began to learn to celebrate the liturgy, but it wasn’t “normative”. The requirement to recourse to the Ceremonial of Bishops to properly understand the Missal and celebrate the Mass points to the Cathedral celebration of the Bishop at the throne as being normative, though obviously not normal.

      4. Responding to Ioannes Andreades:

        I mean organic development in the original sense of the term: the gradual introduction of new elements alongside older elements that eventually replace (or force the excision) of the older elements. This is an organic or natural process….

        The way SC uses the term “organically” refers to a similarly natural or organic outgrowth, but in this case it’s more by the way of ensuring that the offspring, the newly developed rites and texts, etc., are evidently outgrowths from the old, and bear a family resemblance.

      5. Fr. Unterseher,
        That makes sense.

        Perhaps it is more circumspect to distinguish between “organic development” a la Baumstark and “organic growth” a la Sacrosanctum Concilium. I’ll be more careful in my wording from now on.

  2. Baumstark’s opinion about the disappearance of a prayer of the faithful in the Roman Rite was widely held 50 years ago, but it has been challenged since then. One would prima facie think that something is missing just before the offertory; but this does not imply prayers of the faithful. The prayers of the faithful is rather the practice of Byzantium. Indeed, unlike Byzantium, the Roman Canon already contains general intercessions said by the priest to the Father on behalf of the faithful, which would be a needless duplication if there were prayers of the faithful, as they are now in the Novus Ordo when the Roman Canon is used. Something else was likely there.

    1. This presupposes that the Roman Canon did not undergo development alongside or even after the Prayers of the Faithful were in some form already part of the Roman Liturgy.

      While his witness may be circumscribed to a small, Syriac-speaking community, Justin martyr, writing in 150 CE, gives our first witnesses to the Prayers of the people at Rome (First Apology, 65 & 67). In these same texts he also indicates that the anaphora was still prayed extempore. In this case, then, as the Roman Canon was compiled from bits and pieces of Ambrosian, Gallican and Hispano-Mozarabic texts, the inclusion of intercessions in the prayer likely displaced the Prayer of the Faithful.

    2. Since I celebrate the EF Mass every Tuesday as a Low Mass and a once a month high Mass on Sunday, I have always thought the greeting and then the “Oremus” after the creed if it is said referred to the Offertory Antiphon that the priest immediately must say either aloud in the low Mass or quietly if it is sung by the choir in the high Mass and that it prepares us for the prayers of the offertory. Am I missing something?

      1. Fr. Allan,

        The Oremus does not refer to the antiphon — on a couple of counts.

        First count: why would this antiphon in particular have an “oremus” when the others (introit, communio) do not? Even in its complexified form in the post-Trent/EF liturgy, the Offertory remains a “soft spot” — an interesting transition, but relatively unimportant in the hierarchy of liturgical importance.

        Second count: I’ve done a bit of checking with the Liturgical Historians here at Notre Dame: Mr Krasnicki’s comment above, suggesting that Baumstark’s assertion regarding the Prayer of the Faithful in the Roman Liturgy, is very simply unsustainable. There is no reason not to believe that it is the last surviving “oremus” of the early Roman prayers of the people.

  3. Most readers are surely smart enough to know- but I think it’s important to point out explicitly.
    “Law” here, as in “Law of organic development” is not a rule to be followed, but rather a pattern that has been recognized as naturally occurring.

    And just because something occurs naturally does not (or should not) have any bearing on whether or not it is a good or acceptable thing.

  4. Thanks for this post. I think the concept of “organic development” is at the heart of the debate between the traditionalist/”reform of the reform” camp and the defenders of the modern liturgical reforms. I haven’t seen a lot of literature on this concept and would be interested to hear what Fr. Ruff and Fr. Cody have to say about the importance (or lack thereof) of “organic development.”

    I tend to fall on the side of the traditionalist/”reform of the reform” camp, in large part because I am persuaded by the argument that liturgical reforms ought to organically grow from existing liturgical forms and that the post-VII reforms often did not adhere to this principle. However, that’s easy to say, but much harder to explain. For instance, what constitutes “organic development”? Traditionalists take as a given that farsing and the proliferation of sequences in the Middle Ages was a corruption rather than an organic development and, thus, properly disposed of by Pope Pius V. Why? Why is the proliferation of offertory prayers in the Middle Ages (many of which were retained in the Missal of Pius V) considered an organic development and farsing not?

    Also, does our concern with organic development even make sense in an era where all reform–whether “traditionalists” or “progressive”–is reform by committee and experts?

  5. Another issue: The concept of organic development demands a certain amount of deference to existing liturgical practices, with the related presumption that the older the practice, the greater the deference to be shown. I sense that there is a Burkean concept (partially) at work here. Namely, that older liturgical practices merit more deference not only because they have greater proximity to Apostolic authority, but also because they’ve stood the test of time. In other words, we know this practice “works,” don’t mess with it.

    But how does that argument square with the fact that the Roman Rite was essentially frozen in time by papal fiat from the 16th century until the mid-20th? In other words, it’s hard to argue that the “success” of the older form of the Roman rite–at least during the post-reformationera–was due to its inherent qualities rather than papal authority. (Incidentally, I think this will always be a problem so long as the governance of liturgy is highly…

    1. Yes, the freezing/ossification of the liturgy by legislative fiat was actually the undoing of organic development as a relevant concept.

    2. “But how does that argument square with the fact that the Roman Rite was essentially frozen in time by papal fiat from the 16th century until the mid-20th? In other words, it’s hard to argue that the “success” of the older form of the Roman rite–at least during the post-reformationera–was due to its inherent qualities rather than papal authority. (Incidentally, I think this will always be a problem so long as the governance of liturgy is highly…”

      It squares with it by the fact that it wasn’t enitrely frozen. There *are* practices that were legislatively approved later. The now widespread practice of the Missa Cantata with incense is a 20th century development by a gradual practice of petitions for increased permissions, contra legem practice, etc. leading to its full ad libitum approval only in 1960.

      1. This is a fair point. Obviously the Roman Liturgy did admit some reforms during the post-Reformation era (e.g., sanctoral calendar), not all of which originated from the curia. But I don’t know if that really touches on what I’m getting at. Namely, the Burkean-type argument is an argument for why we should care about “organic development” in the first place. To the extent a liturgy is shielded by papal authority, the slings and arrows of history that normally challenge and shape a liturgical form are significantly lessened.

        In other words, once the papacy monopolized legislative authority over the liturgy in the West, its harder to champion the various elements of the Roman liturgy as “tried and true.”

      2. In contrast, this is less of a problem for the Eastern Orthodox. It’s hard to make the same argument against the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which spent that same period of time (the post-Reformation era) in the catacombs so to speak (at least with respect to the Greeks). Moreover, and I’m starting to get a little out of my depth here, but it seems to me the real guardian of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is not some hierarch, but the Eastern Churches as a whole. The people are the protectors of the liturgy in the East, while we rely on the law in the West.

        Relatedly, I think one of the most powerful arguments against the traditionalist camp is the overwhelming approval Sacrosanctum Concilium received by the bishops–men who were nourished by the Missal of St. Pius V their entire lives. The obvious retort–a retort to which I largely agree–is that post-VII reforms are not faithful to SC. (to be cont’d)

      3. However, this argument only goes so far, and overlooks some of the other more radical changes mandated by SC; the most obvious being the reform of the breviary.

        It’s all well and good to wax eloquent about the venerable tradition of the one week psalter in the Roman Liturgy or the office of prime and how the Liturgy of the Hours departs from this tradition, but if the VAST majority of the world’s bishops are willing to abandon those traditions–despite having prayed the breviary every day of their life–then surely something was amiss with the state of the Roman Liturgy before the Second Vatican Council.

      4. Let me jump in on this point: Mr. Highberger is essentially correct in stating that “the real guardian of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is not some hierarch, but the Eastern Churches as a whole.” That being said, from one national church to another variations can be found in the Chrysostom Liturgy, such that a thorough study of what that liturgy is today requires familiarity with a variety of languages and a variety of translations. Even among, say, the OCA (Orthodox Church in America), one will find a variety of translations in use, with the determination as to which one varying from diocese to diocese. Some bishops permit their parishes to choose whichever they wish; others want to approve whatever translation(s) are used in their sees; some will only permit the translations confirmed by the Synod.

        And yet, unity prevails — within and among these differences in the OCA — and among the Orthodox as a world-wide whole. There’s a lesson here. . . .

    3. “The people are the protectors of the liturgy in the East, while we rely on the law in the West.”

      Very well put. It’s worth an entire post to comment on that alone.

      1. The strong role of the people upholding tradition seems to be balanced by an ability of pastors to adapt the liturgy, especially the long Divine Office. Service booklets in my local orthodox parish are authored by the pastor with approval of the Bishop. A rite for the ordination of women deacons still exists; a few Orthodox bishops on special occasions in the past century have used it. Orthodox pastors appear to want to serve their people rather than getting out ahead of them. They talk about serving the Liturgy rather than presiding over it. I was moved by the local priest’s asking forgiveness for his faults at liturgy in the Forgiveness Vespers which begins their Lent. A much different tone from the “we know what is best for you” that comes from both the right and left of our Church.

      2. Jack: Most of the traditionalists and reform-of-the-reform Catholics I encounter dislike the term “presider” for the celebrant of the Mass. We are all “ministers” (although that’s a loaded word) in the liturgy, but the priest’s ministry is of a very different sort from the congregations; it differs not only by degree but also by essence (like the two exercises of the priesthood).

        And the Mass (perhaps the E.F. more than the O.F.) reminds the priest of his unworthiness and sinfulness for any priest who dares to pay attention to the prayers he speaks.

        (I say the E.F. more than the O.F. because of the presence of prayers such as the Aufer a nobis, Oramus te, the embellished Munda cor meum, Suscipe Sancte Pater, Nobis quoque peccatóribus (in the Canon), Corpus tuum, Placeat tibi. All these prayers express the sinfulness of the priest.)

  6. Fr. McDonald:
    I think the opinion on this is that the offertory antiphon was a 7th century addition as a chant by the Roman schola, perhaps even for an offertory procession that existed at the time, but the void after the oremus had already been there. The offertory chants that have come to us and as still used in the EF Mass have been abridged.

  7. Ed makes a great point, which should be expanded on:

    There is little to no opportunity for organic development when:
    -liturgy is legislated
    -liturgical practice (even at the local level) is determined by experts and/or committees
    -parish liturgists (pro/am, solo/committee, rel/lay) approach the liturgy as fundamentally open to change, rescripting, tinkering, and creativity
    -mass media and mass communication allow any new liturgical practice to be witnessed (and suppressed) by Rome
    -we live in a culture that fundamentally views the past as disposable, or (possibly worse) has no understanding of or connection with the past.

    1. Reid’s work has been subjected to a great deal of criticism by other scholars, alas.

      Wouldn’t it be a boring world if we all thought the same thing! And this blog would be much less interesting, too.

  8. A lot of comments, but ….

    The comments regarding SC and it’s use of “organic” demonstrates clearly enough the need to be careful here. While Baumstark makes an excellent point regarding the issues he addresses, his use of the term “organic” is a bit different than that being used by the majority of posters on Fr. Ruff’s article.

    I think it might be best to avoid too narrow and academic a definition and defer instead to the more common notion of “new things developing recognizably from older things”. This is particularly true in regards to liturgical form when asking whether the NO Mass is an “organic” development of it’s immediate predecessor.

    The same is also true for music. If our current liturgical music forms and styles are an “organic” development, what exactly are they an organic development of? Polyphony? Chant? Popular Devotional Music? 1960’s Popular music? And given the answer to that question, does organic development matter at all anymore?

    1. Granted, the trailer on the blog’s front page did make an explicit back-reference to Dom Anthony’s article on the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, as I note above, I thought it would both “serve that conversation, as well as be of general interest, to briefly present the origins and use of the term ‘organic development.'”

      In other words, I saw a rather popular catch-phrase being tossed about without overmuch consideration for the fact that it has an historical foundation. And since both the concept of organic development and the idea that there is a law of organic development have been used to defend and excoriate various moves in the reform and the so-called reform-of-the-reform, I thought a brief return ad fontes was in order.

      That being said, I agree that an over narrow definition might unnecessarily attenuate an otherwise stimulating debate. (But you have to admit that it has provoked a decently interesting discussion here!)

  9. The same is also true for music. If our current liturgical music forms and styles are an “organic” development, what exactly are they an organic development of? Polyphony? Chant? Popular Devotional Music? 1960’s Popular music? And given the answer to that question, does organic development matter at all anymore?

    Now that is a question which deserves serious discussion. Thank you, Jeffrey. Who will set the ball rolling?

    1. “does organic development matter at all anymore?”

      Perhaps not in a world where, except for (or maybe despite?) a keen desire for organic foods, we seek to re-engineer and create everything – even human life – artificially and mechanically…

    2. Yes, please, someone start the ball rolling. Time for a new thread?

      There’s always been some sort of organic development: Some chant Masses were always more popular than others: eg De Angelis. Was this to do with the tunes or because the modes better relate to secular music?

      Tens of thousands of Irish immigrants landed in my home city in the mid-19th century. They brought no liturgical music with them yet their descendents love singing items with a Celtic feel: Organic development or the popularity of Clannad (and Enya) 10 or 15 years ago?

      Why do songs with the feel of a 1950s pub or a Victorian parlour get such a good response?

      Why do our incoming Filipino and Kerala parishioners most frequently request music with that slushy (and very European?) I-VI-IV-V chordal progression? And why is the most popular Taizé music that which is based on 18th century ground basses?

      Perhaps my questions are less to do with organic development and more to do with musical colonisation.

    3. Well, if this would be a good topic for a discussion thread, perhaps someone with access to posting articles here would be a good candidate.

      BTW…which of the two questions were you referring to as deserving serious discussion? “What styles are our current compositions developed from”, or “Does organic development matter anymore”?

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