Actually this posting should be titled The “New” Liturgical Movement. This blog aka Novus Motus Liturgicus has been around since 2005 – or perhaps I should say “MMV”. Its founder is a Canadian named Shawn Tribe. He has a number of collaborators, who from their pictures are all relatively young. In reality, the only thing “new” about The New Liturgical Movement is the sophisticated technology used in presenting traditional Roman Catholic liturgy. Whoever does their photography knows what he or she is doing. The website is extremely attractive – often with excellent photos. If one of the aims of the website is to put the best face on the former Roman Rite (yes, I mean former) then the creators of NLM have been very successful. The site also contains a number of articles on liturgical architecture and music. These are very well done. The series, the stational Masses of Christmas and the breviary reforms of Pius X – just to give two examples – are very well done.
Advocating the return of the older Roman Rite (or Usus Antiquior as the contributors love to style it) is not the only aim of NLM. One often finds articles on the latest papal interpretations and adaptations of the liturgy under the new Marini. They love to show the “Benedictine” altar arrangement with six candles and a large crucifix reminding us that the focus of the Eucharist is the Lord. Of course our focus should be on Christ, but the real liturgical movement has helped us to realize that we find Christ both vertically and horizontally in our celebrations. Pope Paul VI and the General Instruction on the Roman Missal made that abundantly clear with the outlining of the four-fold presence of Christ in the Eucharist (word, minister, assembly and pre-eminently the gifts). It has been the unfortunate aim of the present pope to weaken the gains made by the post-Vatican II reform of the liturgy. Instead he seems to be hearkening back to a nostalgic liturgy of the past.
Readers and supporters of NLM no doubt are on the same train as Pope Benedict XVI – and the train doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. That’s why they think it’s the “new” liturgical movement. They are convinced that the future is going to look a lot more like 1960 than 1975.
Anyone who’s read my recent work on the critics of the liturgical reform knows that I am sympathetic with many of the criticisms launched against the sometimes careless and ideologically irresponsible application of the post-Vatican II liturgy reforms. The criticisms are often accurate enough, but the problem with NLM and groups like it is not their criticism so much as their prescription. The movement to have the priest and the faithful face in the same direction is a good example. There are many excellent examples of Eucharistic celebrations versus populum in which it is quite clear that Christ (the whole Christ – head and members) is at the center of the celebration. The fact that there are celebrations where this is not the case should not discount the former. As I’ve said elsewhere, each “side” of the liturgical debate has the tendency to caricature the worst of their opponents in favor of the best of their own practice. It doesn’t take much sophistication to realize that those kinds of arguments are less than useful.
Before I leave the subject of the NLM I must pay tribute to their right and left hand columns which are treasure troves of bibliographical and other information. I certainly intend to recommend them to my students in a seminar on Medieval Liturgy. Those are the people who will benefit most from the NLM – not my students who are trying to understand and appreciate the liturgy as well celebrate it in the Roman Catholic Church today.
John F. Baldovin, S.J.
Boston College School of Theology and Ministry