Over at NLM, Peter Kwasniewski has a thoughtful and thought-provoking post on the early liturgical movement and what its aims were. (For those who do not follow insider Thomist baseball, Dr. Kwasniewski is a well-respected scholar of Aquinas’s work).

Though I am not entirely in agreement with what he says in his piece, it seems to me that he raises some points that are worthy of comment and discussion.

1. Dr. Kwasniewski offers what I consider to be a helpful reminder that the liturgy that the pioneers of the liturgical movement wanted to open up for the faithful was what we today call the Extraordinary Form. Their initial goal was not to change that liturgy but to catechize and celebrate it in such a way that it could have a formative effect on the People of God. Some of the harsher critics of the EF would seem to imply that anyone formed by it would be, from a post-conciliar perspective, malformed. I think Kwasniewski shows that this is not a view that most of the pioneers of the liturgical movement would agree. The intent of the liturgical reformers prior to the Council was to have the people better formed by the liturgy, not to have a better liturgy form the people.

2. I don’t think, however, that Dr. Kwasniewski takes sufficient account of how those same pioneers in many cases came to believe that some measure of actual reform was necessary in order to have the liturgy more effectively form God’s people. In particular, many came to believe that widespread use of the vernacular, openness to different cultural expressions, and even some reform of the text and Ordo of the Mass was needed. We might argue about the actual reforms that took place, but it seems undeniable that most of those who, prior to the Council, wanted to have the people better formed by the liturgy came to think that some measure of reform of the liturgy itself was needed in order to accomplish that task.

3. Dr. Kwasniewski’s remarks about the universal call to the mystical life and asceticism are very thought provoking. I have long thought that one of the big shifts that took place in the post-Conciliar world was the wide-spread abandonment of asceticism as an ideal of the Christian life. And it is certainly true that the EF requires a certain ascetic discipline in order to get much out of it. Latin and chant do not have the immediate appeal of a language one speaks in everyday life or music that sounds like what one listens to for relaxation, and Kwasniewski notes that the effort that it takes to appreciate such things can be an important discipline by which lay people can be led into the mystical life.

4. One might ask, however, if in the pre-conciliar ascetic demands of the liturgy really had that salutary effect on any but a relatively elite group of lay people. I think the idea that the liturgical life of most Catholics before the Council was, or even could be, a “way of life” along the lines of Pierre Hadot ignores the reality that despite the efforts of the pioneers of the liturgical movement the unreformed liturgy was for many less an ascetical gateway into the mystical life and more an irrelevant exercise that one did out of duty. The benefits of the ascetic discipline required by attendance at a murmured Low Mass might well have been pretty minimal for your average person in the pews, praying her rosary. Boredom might well serve as a source of mortification that has spiritual benefits, but so too could two-chord ditties banged out on dubiously-tuned guitars.

Despite my doubts, the essay is well worth reading.

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