Half a century ago, Pope Paul VI imposed a liturgical reform on the whole Church in the name of the Council which had just ended: thus was born the “Mass of Vatican II.” It was immediately rejected by two cardinals and, since then, opposition to it has not weakened. This sad anniversary is an opportunity to retrace its history.
Before considering the liturgical reform of Paul VI and the new mass, it is worth going through the history of the Roman missal, because his reform claims to be the homogeneous development of the past. Which is absolutely questionable. The historical step back makes it easy to see.
The first three articles in this series took us to the 19th century. At that time, the Tridentine Missal, which had been established almost everywhere, was challenged in particular by Gallicanism and Jansenism. This difficulty was encountered especially in France, but also in Italy with the famous synod of Pistoia, held by the Jansenists in 1786.
State of Things at the Beginning of the 19th Century
In France, the diversity of missals had become very worrying: almost all the dioceses had a particular liturgy, in their own way. In addition, the borders of the new dioceses created following the concordat of 1801 did not coincide with those of the old dioceses. As a result, a bishop could find himself confronted with several different liturgies.
Here is an example. Upon becoming the Bishop of Langres in 1836, Msgr. Parisis spoke of his astonishment: “Raised by venerable priests, all confessors of the faith, in the exclusive use of modern liturgies, I hardly suspected that there could be doubts on their legitimacy any more than their orthodoxy. Here is what I found in the diocese of Langres. Firstly, five different liturgies respectively followed by the fragments of the five dioceses which now make up the new diocese of Langres [Langres, Toul, Chalons, Troyes, and Besançon]; then various uses no longer recognized, established in the parishes by all the parish priests who had succeeded each other there for forty years, or simply by the school teachers. Finally, at the cathedral, the mass is said and the office chanted according to the Roman Rite, but the breviary recited according to a semi-Parisian edition which was not more that ten years old.”
Dom Guéranger: The Providential Man
Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger was born on April 4, 1805 in Sablé, on the banks of the Sarthe and was baptized the same day. At 17, he entered the Le Mans seminary in the philosophy class, and joined the major seminary the following year. He was ordained a priest on October 7, 1827. His ordination was marked by a prophetic incident: the bishop omitted an important laying on of hands during the ceremony; Fr. Guéranger complained about it, until, having recovered from his error, the bishop followed the pontifical prescriptions.
Shortly after his ordination, he exchanged, with the consent of his bishop, the diocesan breviary and missal for the Roman Rite which he kept until his death. It was the start of a long fight for the restoration of the Roman liturgy in France.
In 1830, he wrote his Considerations on the Catholic Liturgy, which contained in germ all of his work. In four articles, he describes the characteristics that allow us to recognize a true liturgy: seniority, universality, authority, and anointing.
But Fr. Guéranger had been thinking about a religious vocation for a long time. What must be remembered, however, is the desolation into which the revolution had thrown the religious state in France. This is how he was led to become the restorer of the Benedictine Order in his country. He rented, then after a few years acquired, the Benedictine priory of Solesmes to renew the monastic presence there.
Beginning in July 1833, Benedictine life had been fully resumed in Solesmes. The monastery obtained recognition from Rome on July 9, 1837, and on the 26th of the same month, Dom Guéranger made his solemn profession as a Benedictine. He was appointed as head of the French Congregation of the Order of St. Benedict, affiliated with the Abbey of Montecasino. It was the beginning of a glorious line of monks whose spiritual life is centered first and foremost on the official prayer of the Church.
The first article of the new Constitutions makes it duty for the religious of Solesmes to: “renew the science of ecclesiastical antiquity, recover the healthy traditions of canon law and the holy liturgy from the oblivion into which they had fallen, defend the rights and prescriptions of the Holy See against all assaults of novelty, employing towards the salvation of souls and consecrating to the Church all of its strength.” This was the whole life of Dom Guéranger.
The Work of the Abbot of Solesmes
The monks of Solesmes, with their abbot at their head, participated in the religious and liturgical restoration both by their monastic life and by their pen. In this area, Dom Guéranger is the author of remarkable works. To bring the clergy back to the knowledge and love of the Roman liturgy, he published Liturgical Institutions, a veritable summation of the history of the liturgy, of rare erudition and sure judgment. The work was decisive in encouraging learned circles to renew liturgical studies.
But Dom Guéranger also sought to touch the faithful to encourage them to associate themselves more with the liturgy at which they assisted. To this end, he composed The Liturgical Year, an historical and mystical commentary on the yearly Church cycles and the saints (15 volumes, published starting in 1841). The success was phenomenal: since its original publication 500,000 copies were sold within 60 years. The work radiated this then-new spirituality in cultivated Christian circles. Under his impetus and through his battles, Dom Guéranger set off a movement to restore the Roman liturgy, accompanied by the rejection of the Gallican liturgies.
The starting point for the dissemination and rediscovery of the Roman liturgy in the dioceses of France can be dated precisely from the mandate of October 15, 1839 of Msgr. Parisis, Bishop of Langres, who imposed it on his diocese. After much controversy, all of the dioceses of France restored the Roman liturgy after 1875.
This great work initiated by the first abbot of Solesmes would become what posterity has called the “liturgical movement.”