Latin Mass Society

Organic Development and Liturgical Rupture

Taken from the Latin Mass Society's August 2004 Newsletter

Does Rome’s recent document on the correction of abuses in the new rite, Redemptionis Sacramentum, represent the beginning of the reconnection of that rite to Tradition? Michael Davies reviewing Dom Alcuin Reid’s important new book shows what a chasm was opened up by the fabrications of the Mass of Paul VI.

The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Dom Alcuin Reid OSB

Once again Dom Alcuin Reid has put every Catholic who loves tradition greatly in his debt. This is his sixth book relating to the liturgy of the Roman rite – the most important of its predecessors being his revision of Fr Fortescue’s The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described and Looking again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger – his edition of the papers delivered at the 2001 Fontgombault liturgical conference. Both have been reviewed in Mass of Ages, and while the former is primarily of interest to priests and masters of ceremonies, the second should definitely be in the library of every Catholic, clerical or lay, who loves the Mass so rightly described by Fr Faber as “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.”

Dom Alcuin’s latest work, certainly his magnum opus, is entitled The Organic Development of the Liturgy. It places him among the foremost liturgical authorities in the English-speaking world; indeed, I would go further and state that it makes him the foremost liturgical authority. Having had the misfortune to waste a great deal of my time reading the mediocre works of self-styled liturgists from the USA, Australia, and New Zealand (I have not come across any, even mediocre, from Britain or Ireland) this is not such a great compliment as it might appear!

The thesis of the book is summed up perfectly in its final sentence, quoting the Protestant scholar Owen Chadwick: “Liturgies are not made, they grow in the devotion of centuries.” This was most certainly not the case with the reform that followed the Second Vatican Council. By no possible stretch of the imagination can it be described as the fruit of organic development; instead, as Cardinal Ratzinger expressed it:

In the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.

Dom Alcuin does not examine the post-Vatican reform in any detail, but documents the development of the Roman liturgy up to the eve of the Council. He summarises the development of the Roman rite in the first millennium as follows:

The Roman rite, the ritual of the local church at Rome and of most of the Western Churches in communion with her, may broadly be said to have undergone a gradual development throughout the first Christian millennium, being enriched by the introduction of some customs and suffering the loss of others, over time. The central role of the Church of Rome in the Christian West meant that particular attention was given by other local Churches to its liturgical forms. The early Carolingian monarchs showed it particular reverence. Franciscan mendicants of the thirteenth century would spread the Roman missale throughout the West. The post-Reformation papacy would impose it on all Western Catholics where no venerable local rite existed.

In a detailed examination of the history of the Roman rite until 1545, Dom Alcuin notes that while there is evidence of development there is little evidence of major liturgical reform. He states correctly that the appearance of printed missals in the fifteenth century accelerated the spread of the Roman rite. The first printed edition of the Roman Missal was published in Milan in 1474, and was identical in every important respect to that of St Pius V in 1570, thus giving the lie to those self-styled contemporary liturgists who protest that if it was legitimate for St Pius to compile a new rite of Mass in 1570, why should Pope Paul VI not have done so in 1970? The reform of St Pius V, enacted in obedience to the Council of Trent, was to a large extent a reaction to the new liturgies concocted by the various Protestant heresies. Dom Alcuin writes:

Protestant reformers not only rejected what they perceived to be abuses in the Church, they rejected the medieval liturgy. The Protestant Reformation has been described as “essentially an anti-liturgical revolution.” Its typical desire was for a “service” newly “made out of the scriptures and other authentic doctors.” Protestant rites thus “broke away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution.” The legitimacy of the organic development of the Liturgy throughout history was rejected, freeing the reformers to construct heteroprax liturgies according to their heterodox ideologies.

“The reform enacted by the Tridentine commission,” writes Dom Alcuin, “is of singular importance.” He examines it in great detail and concludes:

The Tridentine liturgical reform, initiated in order to correct abuse and ensure doctrinal orthodoxy, was thoroughly traditional. It produced nothing radically new. It promulgates – and facilitated by the development of the printing press – published a missal that could be used uniformly throughout the Roman rite, without prejudice to venerable local uses, which it respected. Neither clergy nor laymen were astounded by this reform, and there is no evidence of disparity between the mandate of the Council and the work of its liturgical commission. It was another growth of the living organism that is the Roman rite, involving little substantial change.

Edmund Bishop is then quoted to the effect that with the Missal and breviary of St Pius V, “the history of the Roman Liturgy may be said to be closed.”

After this initial discussion, Dom Alcuin devotes most of his book to an examination of the history of the Liturgical movement up to the eve of Vatican II. He begins, of course, with the motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini of St Pius X, promulgated on 22 November 1903. In 1905 Sacra Tridentina Synodus declared that frequent and daily communion should be open to all the faithful, and Quam Singular of 1910 allowed children from the age of reason (approximately seven) to receive Holy Communion. In 1911 Divine afflatus promulgated a reform of the breviary and calendar which radically rearranged the ancient arrangement of the Roman psalter, and has been criticised rightly by many of the most orthodox liturgists as a disaster. In respect of the abolition of the Laudate psalms, Anton Baumstark is scathing in his critique:

Down to the year 1911 there was nothing in the Christian Liturgy of such absolute universality as this practice in the morning office, and no doubt its universality was inherited from the worship of the Synagogue...Hence to the reformers of the Psalterium Romanum belongs the distintion of having brought to an end the universal observance of a liturgical practice which was followed, one can say, by the Divine Redeemer Himself during His life upon earth.

This disastrous reform, which most certainly did not respect the fundamental principles of organic development, provides a salutary warning sixty years before Paul VI promulgated his Missal, that approval of a liturgical reform by a pope by no means guarantees its conformity to tradition. Dom Alcuin writes:

That a pope could discard ancient liturgical Tradition by sole virtue of his authority is found nowhere in liturgical history before St Pius X. Lamentably, in a period where the prevalent ultramontanism led to the assumption that even prudential judgements of popes were unquestionably correct, St Pius X contravened that part of the principle of liturgical reform that obliges even popes to respect objective liturgical Tradition and to develop it organically.

The detailed history of the Liturgical Movement provided in this book is unequalled in any other publication that I know. The scope of the author’s research is made clear in his footnotes and bibliography. He gives particular attention to Dom Lambert Beauduin, and makes it clear than in the initial years of the movement neither Dom Lambert nor the other members envisaged a radical reform of the Roman rite, but sought to help the faithful to participate in, and derive the full benefit of the riches found in, the existing liturgy. The contributions of all the principal members of the movement are examined, and the approval of Popes Pius XI and Pius XII noted, but the latter was to warn against deviations from the principles of the founders of the movement, and made this clear in 1947 in his encyclical Mediator Dei . These deviations were recognised by some members of the movement. As early as 1951, Fr Louis Bouyer warned:

One must never become too caught up in eclectic and hasty constructions, showing contempt (often simply through ignorance) for the traditional heritage of the Church, and throwing oneself uncritically and without discernment upon whatever appeals to the fashion of the day.

Could there be a more accurate description of the reform (better termed a revolution) enacted in the name of Vatican II?

In a remarkable example of historical research Dom Alcuin examines all the liturgical conferences prior to Vatican II, beginning with the celebrated Maria Lach Conference of 1951. This conference can be considered as the actual source of the post-Vatican II revolution, the principles it expounded growing more radical with each succeeding conference. He points out the centrality of Annibale Bugnini to the movement throughout the 1950s. He “was to become and remain the key figure in liturgical reform until 1975.” Dom Alcuin’s verdict on Bugnini’s proposals is that they would constitute “a break with tradition...going well beyond the organic development of the liturgy.”

Astonishing as it may seem, in view of the clear and frequently reiterated plans for reform enunciated by the more radical members of the Liturgical Movement in their publications and conferences, Dom Alcuin tells us that “it is fair to say that on the eve of the Council neither John XXIII, the dicasteries of the Holy See, the Pian Commission, the world-wide episcopate nor the publishers of liturgical books envisaged that a root and branch liturgical reform was imminent.” Cardinal Heenan would remark that neither Pope John nor the Fathers of the Council realised what the liturgical experts were planning.

Dom Alcuin’s conclusion is as follows:

Our review of liturgical reform in history leads us to the conclusion that, while liturgical history bears witness to the development of many rites, and at times to their reform, it is clear that Catholic Liturgy is by no means a subjective expression of the faith that can be altered at will according to contemporary fashions or desires. Rather Catholic Liturgy is a singularly privileged and an objective and constituent element of Christian Tradition. The liturgical rites and formulas themselves share in this objectivity. Their faithful transmission ensures continuity and orthodoxy of belief and practice. Their development – which is at times both necessary and desirable – can only be legitimate by ensuring substantial continuity with received Tradition.

The Organic Development of the Liturgy is a book which should be owned by every priest, seminarian and Catholic layman who is devoted to the liturgical treasury of the Roman rite.


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