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.
The two previous articles introduced Dom Guéranger and his work of restoring the Roman liturgy, the prelude and beginning of the liturgical movement, as well as his prophetic analysis of the Novus Ordo Missae through his considerations of the anti-liturgical heresy.
This article considers one of the most beautiful religious and pastoral achievements of the second half of the 19th century in France, accomplished by Fr. Emmanuel, who lifted up his parish through the liturgy. A monk from the Maredsous Benedictine Abbey once stated that three Benedictines summarized the liturgical effort of the 19th century: Dom Guéranger, doctor of the liturgy; Fr. Muard, apostle; and Fr. Emmanuel, pastor.
Origin and Vocation
Born Louis André on October 17, 1826 in Bagneux-les-Fosses, in the Aube, the future Fr. Emmanuel entered the minor seminary at thirteen. With a rare intelligence, he cultivated excellence. In 1843, he joined the major seminary of Troyes, shortly before Msgr. Jean-Marie Debelay took up the episcopal see. This bishop introduced the Roman liturgy in 1847 and prescribed its observance in his major seminary. He was then quickly transferred to the diocese of Avignon.
Even if his successor leaned towards the maxims of the Gallican Church, the movement to return to the Roman liturgy was well established, and it was in this spirit that the priestly formation of Fr. André took place. While still a seminarian, he was charged with the preparation of the first Roman Ordo which regulated the liturgical office of the diocese.
Ordained a priest on December 22, 1849, he was immediately appointed parish priest of Mesnil-Saint-Loup, a modest parish of around 350 souls, which was damaged and still suffering from the wounds caused by revolutionary apostasy. It was in this apostolic field that Fr. André’s activity was going to work wonders during his 53 year-presence.
Our Lady of Holy Hope
Fr. André wanted to go to Rome, the heart of Christianity. His bishop allowed him to fulfill his desire in 1852. No sooner was he on the way than an inspiration came to him during the recitation of the rosary: ask the Holy Father, for the parish of Mesnil, a feast in honor of Our Lady of Holy Hope. Admitted to a papal audience on July 5, he humbly presented his request to Pope Pius IX.
What follows is quite unusual for those who know the wise slowness of the Church in these matters. Pius IX turned his gaze upward, appeared to reflect, then turning, he appeared filled with joy and with a marked accent of satisfaction he acquiesced. The feast was fixed for the fourth Sunday in October. Shortly after, the zealous parish priest approved the invocation which had become famous: “Our Lady of Holy Hope, convert us.”
The Queen of Heaven was going to answer this parochial prayer. Conversions followed quickly, and in 1859 the most fierce enemies of the Church in the parish had almost all been converted.
The Religious Foundations
Religious life, especially in the great contemplative orders, is linked to the liturgy in an essential way. Fr. André had always had a strong attraction to the religious life. He first became a Carmelite tertiary in 1858, then he settled on the Benedictine life.
He was initially attracted by the strict observance as represented by Fr. Jean-Baptiste Muard (1809-1854) and his foundation of Pierre-qui-Vire, in Burgundy. He received his first formation and took the Benedictine habit in 1864. After the war of 1870, he founded, with a companion, a small community in his own parish, where he built a small monastery which soon had five monks. But his health could not stand up to the strict observance regime, he had to look elsewhere.
So, he took the road to Solesmes, which represented the mixed observance, essentially centered on the divine liturgy. He asked Dom Guéranger to affiliate his monastery with the congregation of the Benedictines of France. The Solesmes Abbot accepted and Rome gave its authorization in 1874. The one who was now Fr. Emmanuel was in the novitiate for a month. But the day before he was scheduled to make his profession, Dom Guéranger suddenly refused to receive it, because of a theological incompatibility with the parish priest of Mesnil.
In 1878, Fr. Emmanuel took another important step to develop the religious life of his parish: he founded a second monastery in Mesnil-Saint-Loup, a monastery of Benedictine sisters. Thus, the zeal of this parish priest and religious had succeeded in founding, in a village of less than 400 inhabitants, two monasteries, the first occupants of which came from the parish itself.
The men’s monastery had to undergo the impious dissolution of the decrees of 1880 against the monks. The execution was not however pushed in Mesnil and the monks were not worried. Fr. Emmanuel was even able to ensure the stability of his monastery by affiliating it with the Benedictine congregation of Notre-Dame du Mont-Olivet—the Olivetans—which was effective in August 1886.
This monastery, after having been dispersed by the anti-religious laws of the beginning of the twentieth century, was able to be reconstituted in 1926 and continues its existence today. On the other hand, the Benedictine monastery, which suffered the same vicissitudes, could not reopen.
The Liturgical Work
From the beginning of his ministry, Fr. André had sought to anchor the liturgy in the hearts of his parishioners by giving it to them in a worthy setting. This is how he rebuilt the parish church, which was in poor condition and had become too small to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims to Our Lady of Holy Hope. The first mass was celebrated there on June 10, 1866.
But Fr. Emmanuel’s work was also reinforced by written teaching. In 1877, he published the first issue of the Bulletin de Notre-Dame de la Sainte-Espérance [Our Lady of Holy Hope Bulletin]. Apart from the life of the confraternity of the same name, the bulletin contained elements of the catechism so parents could repeat to their children what the parish priest taught them in the church.
Starting with the first issue, Father wrote: “Going further into the study of church things, we will allow ourselves excursions into the offices and sacred ceremonies; we will work, if necessary, to reconcile our readers with the Latin of liturgical prayer; we will tell them why it is necessary to sing Latin, and even how we can understand something there.”
This is how he developed a course in ecclesiastical Latin, starting in 1879. For this introduction, no complicated grammar, but only basic instruction and exercises, with sustained applications. The success was sufficient to allow a goodly number of parishioners to grasp the usual texts of the liturgy, at a time when the missals in the vulgar language still existed only in a very limited way, most often in the form of prayer books, and were not widely distributed.
This introduction encouraged the faithful to participate more in the services. Sunday vespers, of course, which used to be an integral part of Christian life, but also certain offices during the week. In particular, many parishioners met every evening to sing compline with the monks.
The monastery was also a source of liturgical splendor for the parish. Thanks to its presence, the ceremonies could be deployed with greater amplitude and solemnity. However, the persecutory decrees would limit these possibilities: indeed, the bishop of Troyes asked the monks, in order to protect them, to be more discreet starting in 1880.
The religious heart of the zealous pastor thus formed his parish through religious life, prayer, and liturgical life. Under his leadership, true Christianity flourished in Mesnil-Saint-Loup.
The Teaching Work
It would be an omission of an important part of Fr. Emmanuel’s work to not mention its doctrinal dimension, both in his very extensive oral teaching with his parishioners, and in his writings, especially those directed against the evils of the time: naturalism and religious ignorance.
Regarding sacramental matters, in his Bulletin he left a complete teaching on the Holy Mass considered from the theological, spiritual, liturgical and pastoral points of view.
So it can be said that what Dom Guéranger accomplished for the restoration and the teaching of the liturgy through the foundation of Solesmes and through his writings, Fr. Emmanuel achieved in a grandiose way in a very small village, Mesnil-Saint-Loup, by embodying it in his religious and pastoral work.
Fr. Emmanuel wrote his Méditations pour tous les jours de l'année liturgique (Meditations for Every Day of the Liturgical Year).