Liturgical Movement Review

Source: FSSPX News


Growing up as a son of first-generation traditional Catholics who had to fight their way through the Revolutionary Third World War of Vatican II gave me plenty of opportunity to sit by at post-Missam coffee sessions and listen in on the newest abuses taking place in the local churches. Listening to many of those hardened veterans of resistance to the tyrannical revolution explain the latest outrage gave one pause to ask how it all happened in the first place. Even then, a youngster as myself could give a few basic responses to a companion on why the New Mass was bad and the traditional Mass was necessary. Today, some 30 years later, it seems that the reasoning has subsided together with the initial explosions over abuses. Instead, there have arisen two somewhat “peaceful” and unquestioned ways of Catholic life and practice: 1) the “renewed” liturgy wherein new generations know nothing else, and 2) the traditional Mass centers where piety is still nourished by the perennial Sacrifice. No matter in which category we fall, it is necessary for us to examine the origins of the division in order to assess where we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going. Without this examination, the “Liturgical Movement” begun two centuries ago and canonized by Pope St. Pius X will not bring forth the hoped for fruit and the Revolution which sprang from a good beginning will continue to wreak its destruction without any serious or intelligent opposition.

In seven chapters, The Liturgical Movement traces the historical origins of the Liturgical Movement through four basic stages: 1) Its good beginnings and consecration by Pope St. Pius X; 2) its corruption by three initial theological deviations from its three main protagonists: Dom Lambert Beauduin, Dom Pius Parsch, and Dom Odo Casel; 3) the Centre de Pastorale Liturgique (i.e., Liturgical-Pastorate Center, hereafter referred to as CPL) and its winning of support from bishops worldwide; 4) the final victory of the deviates at Vatican II and the subsequent implementation of this Council.

The Good Beginnings

In Church history it seems that the times of reform and prosperity are always followed by renewed attacks of the enemy. So it was that after the reforms of Pope St. Pius V, the errors of Jansenism and Quietism so affected Catholic practice that by the 1800’s the liturgy had ceased to become a vivifying principle of the spiritual life. But in the early 1800’s, the great apostle of the Liturgy, Dom Prosper Guéranger, the founder of the Solesmes congregation of Benedictine Monks, put his great energy and talent to the task of making the Roman liturgy known and loved by the clergy and laity. He bent all his ability and monastic tradition of scholarship to examining the origins of the Roman Liturgy in order to unveil its deep riches and to explain its rich ceremony. At the same time Dom Guéranger fought with all his erudition the main errors of his time, defending the true Roman spirit of the Catholic Faith against the false nationalism and liberalism so prevalent in his day.

Dom Guéranger became the leading authority on Liturgy, the true soul of a renewal that would last into the middle of the 20th century. His Congregation of Solesmes, famous for its restoration of Gregorian Chant, influenced a large circle of contacts throughout the best elements of the Catholic clergy well beyond the limits of France. For the laity, his great work was The Liturgical Year (1841), 7000 pages in 15 volumes which remain today as a classic spiritual work to nourish the piety of the faithful [available from Angelus Press. Price: $219.00–Ed.]

Dom Guéranger had hit a nerve and the response was rapid, far reaching, and profound. The movement he initiated spread throughout Europe in the work of priests promoting the devotion to the Sacred Heart and Communions of reparation, others promoting the “Morning Offering,” others promoting frequent reception of Holy Communion, all of them laboring to draw the faithful to the source of life that is Christ in the Mass and in the Liturgical Year. The momentum of this movement reached its culminating point in the work of Pope St. Pius X, who labored at the reform of the clergy, Canon Law, and the Liturgy. In 1903, his inaugural year, he stipulated that the Liturgical Movement fulfilled his

keen desire that the true Christian spirit may once more flourish, cost what it may, and be maintained among the faithful, We deem it necessary to provide before anything else of the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its primary and indispensable source, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and the public and solemn prayer of the Church.1

As was characteristic of Pius X, this desire was put into pastoral action through two pontifical documents. In 1905 the Pope issued Sacrosancta Tridentina Synoda calling all Catholics to acquire the proper dispositions and receive Holy Communion frequently. In 1910 he issued Quam Singulari, which called for children to receive Communion at the age of reason. The Eucharistic Crusade for children was just one of the practical results of these papal directives.

Theological Deviations

From the time of Pope St. Pius X up to the 1960’s, the Liturgical Movement was gradually derailed from the path traced by St. Pius X. There were authors and popularizers of the Movement who remained orthodox and very simply did what good Catholic sense, piety, and learning suggested. However, these were not the key movers and the shakers. The movers and shakers would take advantage of this situation, using this certain naivete for an end unforeseen by the good laborers in the vineyard and the episcopal hierarchy.

Dom Lambert Beauduin

First and foremost among the deviants was Dom Lambert Beauduin who had been ordained a priest under Pope Leo XIII, had worked hard for the working class, and then had become a Benedictine monk. He loved the doctrine propounded by Pius X and the Liturgical Movement and immediately saw its advantages for pastoral work. Unfortunately, the monk, drawing more on his pastoral desires than on his contemplation of truth, would gradually minimize and finally subordinate the glory of God to the needs of man. In fact–and here our author hits upon a common denominator of the falsified Liturgical Movement–Dom Beauduin had seen in the liturgy a great means of teaching, catechizing, and animating the faithful. This was something so good and powerful that nothing should be neglected in making it more accessible and more easy of his notion of “participation.” Focusing chiefly on the “pastoral advantages” he gradually lost view of the primary end of the liturgy which is the glory of God. Dom Beauduin began to think in terms of freeing the liturgy from old traditions and rules, and would eventually propose profound and radical changes to the immemorial liturgical custom of the Catholic Church. In short, dropping God’s glory made man’s utility all important. And without the guiding rule of God’s glory, the very signs, symbols, traditions and rules of Sacred Liturgy could be adapted to meet man’s perceived needs. Depending on the needs and depending on the times, such a perception could lead very far. And in fact, this first and initial deviation would result in another–the connection between the Liturgical Movement and the Ecumenical Movement.

The author, Fr. Bonneterre, points out how Dom Beauduin was the first to make experiments in the Ecumenical Movement. According to Beauduin’s pupil, Fr. Duploye: “Dom Beauduin taught us, now and always, not to dissociate ecumenism from the liturgy.”2 Indeed, it was very early on that Dom Beauduin was involved in the first ecumenical monastery in history –Amay sur Meuse in Belgium. There, the Monastery of the Union was formed in 1924, composed of Catholic and Orthodox monks, with Dom Beauduin at its head. When internal difficulties arose and Catholic monks began converting to Orthodoxy, Pope Pius XI reacted in 1928 with the encyclical Mortalium Animos, outlining true and false Ecumenism. Dom Beauduin felt personally targeted, resigned, and for a time, went into retirement. But he would never give up his ecumenical ideas. Virtually on his deathbed, hearing of the death of Pope Pius XII, he confided to Fr. Louis Bouyer, a fellow ecumenist:

If they elect Roncalli [the future Pope John XXIII who opened Vatican II–Ed.] all will be saved. He will be capable of calling a Council and canonizing ecumenism….I believe we have a good chance. Most of the cardinals are not sure what to do. They are capable of voting for him.3

Dom Odo Casel

Another serious theological deviation came out of Germany from a monk of the Monastery of Maria-Laach. This monastery had involved itself deeply in the Liturgical Movement by taking up criticism of the Tridentine Liturgy. Dom Odo Casel (1886-1948) contributed the “archeological deviation” which consisted in using archeological study in order to provide a basis to criticize the Medieval and Tridentine liturgy and to advertise the thesis that the Church had lost the true meaning of the liturgy over time. The Middle Ages, Trent, and the Baroque Period that followed were not true to the Patristic age. Whereas these latter placed too much emphasis on the Consecration and transubstantiation, Dom Casel argued that Christ has greater dimensions by being present in the mystery of the liturgy, the re-enactment, placing the emphasis on the liturgical action involving people engaged in the ceremony. It is not difficult to see how this deviation from the dogmatic truth of the Mass can easily end up in the heresy of Christ being present in the Liturgy simply because “two or three are gathered together.”

Dom Pius Parsch

After Archeologism, “Biblicism” holds a predominate place in the guiding principles of the Liturgical Movement. The German Augustinian Canon Dom Pius Parsch would elaborate the concept that relocated Christ’s presence in the Liturgy by focusing on the Revealed Word and its interaction with the living assembly present at the liturgical function. Without concentrating on nor denying the mystery of the Real Presence, he would develop the relation between the Word and the assisting faithful and argue that this reveals to us something of the nature of the liturgy and the Church. This is as much to say that Christ reveals Himself during the Liturgy and that He is present by way of the faith of the participants–a re-shifting of the weight of the Liturgy from the Consecration to the interaction of the faithful and celebrant. It also makes way for the deeper modernist concept that God is continually revealing Himself in the midst of His people–i.e., what boils down to the plain evolution of religious truth.

These profound and far-reaching theological deviations, by no means exhaustive, were difficult to discern at the time, and were well concealed under scholarship and apparent efforts to obey the hierarchy. Besides being disguised like the cockle of the Gospel they were also veiled by undeniably good works such as the training of children in Gregorian Chant. Nevertheless, they were very operative in preparing the ground for the liturgical reforms that were to follow Vatican II.

CPL and Winning the Hierarchy Worldwide

After Dom Beauduin went into retirement shortly after the encyclical Mortalium Animos that effectively condemned his ecumenical ideas, he soon began to conduct numerous “liturgical retreats” for priests. From these, he built a network of elite and capable men of “like mind.” In 1941, the best and most energetic of these were organized by Dom Beauduin into the Liturgical-Pastorate Center [CPL]. Alongside the retreats it sponsored, the CPL published magazines and articles and, most importantly, lobbied for contacts among sympathetic bishops. Dom Beauduin understood that in order to change things in the Church, it was important to

proceed hierarchically: not to take any initiative in practice other than what is at present legitimate, but to prepare for the future by fostering a desire and love for all the riches contained in the ancient liturgy [N.B.: a hint of “archeologism”–Ed.]; to condition people’s minds, for Rome’s overmastering fear is scandal among the faithful.4

He also knew that he had to win the bishops over to his cause: “The CPL must take pains to make its efforts known and appreciated by the consultants of the Sacred Congregation, the members of the Liturgical Academy, etc….”5

Several facts prove the success of such a strategy. Firstly, in Germany, the ideas underlying the German Liturgical Movement had come to Rome’s attention through the alarm of an outstanding and courageous German prelate, Bishop Grober. Though Rome answered with two encyclicals–Mystici Corporis (1943) and Mediator Dei (1947)–the practical effects were virtually null because the German Episcopate had come to back the Liturgical Movement and downplayed Grober’s criticisms. In fact, the actual practical decisions resulted in the Movement’s favor because suite to Mystici Corporis Rome put liturgical matters into the hands of the German Episcopate, already won over and sympathetic to the cause of the Liturgical Movement.

Vatican II and the Final Victory

It is important to note that up until Vatican II the Liturgical Movement, carefully abiding by Dom Beauduin’s prudential plan to do nothing without approval and to work within the boundaries of the legitimate, kept the Movement within the bounds of orthodoxy. To the mind of the liturgical revolutionaries, legitimate moves would prepare the way for the radical moves they really coveted. To the mind of the Church, certain reforms in conformity with those initiated by Pope Pius X and in conformity with the true end and purpose of the Liturgy would be good and useful for the faithful. In this vein, for instance, permission was granted for evening Masses and the Communion fast consequently reduced to three hours. Likewise, the modification of Holy Week by restoring some of the ceremonies to their original time-frames were approved by Pope Pius XII for the purpose of assisting the faithful to draw from the rich fountains of the Church their true Christian spirit. Unfortunately, and quite independently of the objective validity of these reforms, to the minds of the revolutionaries, these were steps to gain moral credit for the liturgical departures they were already contemplating.

Fr. Bonneterre rightly points out that it was this very legitimacy and goodness the Liturgy intrinsically carries that made it the perfect target for infiltration, the perfect “Trojan Horse.” Concerning the Liturgy, only the liturgical experts were prepared, the rest of the “good” men took what they said as Gospel. The bishops were largely preoccupied with other issues, so they too were ready to heed the experts. The faithful had even less erudition from which to draw, and so long as the Movement remained within bounds of the Catholic sense, they could not be expected to react adversely.

With the election of Roncalli as Pope John XXIII, the Trojan Horse was enthusiastically invited within the Conciliar walls and the victory of the Liturgical Movement was practically assured. Since Roncalli was a long-standing friend of Dom Beauduin, it was a joy to the Movement to realize that he would espouse their cause and that there would be little to fear of any restrictions upon the ecumenical aspect so hateful to the previous Popes. Accordingly, Pope John XXIII carried out a few reforms as naturally following upon those begun by Pius XII and promised a future Council that would treat more profoundly of liturgical principles. Naturally, a Pontifical Preparatory Commission for the Liturgy was introduced whose members were of the Liturgical Movement and whose Secretary was Fr. Annibale Bugnini.

An interesting anecdote finds this Italian Lazarist priest as a visitor at a Liturgical Reunion in Thieulin, France, some 20 years before Vatican II. Dom Beauduin was there, as was Fr. Congar and other important Liturgical Movement speakers. On the train trip back to Paris following the reunion, Fr. Duploye relates this confidence he received from Bugnini:

He said to me: “I admire what you are doing, but the greatest service I can render you is never to say a word in Rome about all I have just heard.” For the greater good of the Second Vatican Council, at which he was one of the most intelligent workers, Fr. Bugnini, happily, was not going to keep his word.6

Indeed, Bugnini went on to become the principal architect of the New Mass and the primary author of the Conciliar document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. While the document itself passed through the Council almost without a hitch, the subsequent implementation did cause something of a stir, though not one strong enough to make any lasting impression or stop the Movement in its tracks. Pope Paul VI established a “Consilium” to implement the Council’s liturgical desiderata and Fr. Bugnini was again appointed Secretary. The Pope gave the Consilium extraordinary power, backed it twice against the Roman Sacred Congregation of Rites and allowed it to give power to the Episcopal Conferences over the Liturgy.

Emboldened by this, the Consilium offered a Normative Mass as a test-run Novus Ordo on the occasion of the Bishops’ Synod in Rome in October, 1967. It was a real Novus Ordo and the bishops were to vote. The bishops voted down this experimental Mass. However, the Consilium stuck to its guns and on April 3, 1969, the Pope issued the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum promulgating the Novus Ordo Missae and issued an Institutio Generalis explaining the ceremony. Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci responded with a famous critique on September 3, 1969 which prompted Fr. Bugnini to modify a few points in the Institutio Generalis without making any substantial changes. Some discomfort in Rome cause a few delays but finally, on November 28, 1971, the Novus Ordo was officially promulgated and latitude was given to the Episcopal Conferences regarding its actual implementation. Despite annoying last-minute opposition, the deviate Liturgical Movement saw its desideratum through to final triumph.

If we recall the good beginning of the Liturgical Movement and follow it through to its corrupt ending, we can see how the praxis strategy [i.e., the strategy of natural action–Ed.] of the Marxist system was perfectly implemented by a modernist clique. Where the doctrinal angle was locked to the ecumentists by vigilant popes, entry was gained by simply practicing a new way, by making new contacts, and gradually disseminating through these contacts new ideas and habits. Once the environment was prepared, the revolution could be pulled off because sympathies were already predisposed. This is the conversion by action rather than by doctrinal principle so vaunted by Marxist revolutionaries.


By way of conclusion of such an interesting analysis, we should realize that as fire is fought by fire, so a false Liturgical Movement is fought by the true one. Irrational reactions such as throwing out all historical erudition or any participation of the faithful in the Mass would do nothing more than further the designs of the revolutionaries themselves. The foundations of the true Liturgical Movement have already been admirably laid by Dom Guéranger and Pope St. Pius X. We must simply return to the principles they so clearly upheld and taught, and from them draw the good fruits they will infallibly produce.

At the same time, the praxis strategy of creating compliance by the daily “rubbing of shoulders” with a different set of ideas in action must be combatted by a profound spirit of piety and reverence for the Church and her true spirit and practice. A revolutionary and false praxis can only be uprooted by a truly supernatural life and action.

Fr. John Timothy Pfeiffer was ordained for the Society of Saint Pius X on June 24th, 1989, and is presently stationed in El Paso, TX, performing there the duties of Novice Master for the Novitiate of the Brothers of the Society.