Rorate Caeli

"They have closed Heaven"
Guéranger, Liturgy, and Change.

Editorial: Radicati nella fede, March 2014
Newsletter of the Catholic community of
Domodossola and Vocogno, Diocese of Novara, Italy

Is it the liturgy that has to adapt to the times of man, 
or is it the times of man that have to take on the form of the Catholic liturgy?

A “modern” Christianity which sees the truth of the faith emerging from the depths of man’s conscience, would want the liturgy to take on the movements of a ‘lived anthropology’ i.e. from the life of man, to celebrate human awareness of man’s relationship with God. When all is said and done, this has been the winning line of the past years: the liturgy has increasingly celebrated man, even when it celebrated the faith of man. In other words, the liturgy has been adapted to suit the times. The result? A tragedy! God and the things of eternity have practically disappeared from the churches, to make room for the faith of believers, who ‘express, comment and interpret what they experience’ with regard to God. The reformed liturgy, in the best of instances, speaks about the Church, but hardly ever about God. And when it speaks about the Church, it does so according to the optic of “the People of God on the move” rather than “the Mystical Body of Christ”.

And note well, we are not referring to those shameless Catholic/Communist para-liturgies of the ‘70s… concerned about social issues and human commitments. On the contrary, we are referring to the liturgies and Masses that go on in most dioceses now, where the faith, ‘the believing community’, the ‘people round their bishop’ are addressed; these liturgies celebrate the community, but God, Who is present, is not adored, and one is not immersed in the Mystery of the Redemption. It is a sort of neo-modern liturgy, which has gone beyond the Marxist temptation of engaging with the world. By speaking only of faith it considers the believers, but never arrives at God, Our Lord, eternal truths, nor the question of salvation. It is as if “they” realized that a horizontal-type of Christianity could not continue, as was the case years ago, and so we ended up with church social programs, so as to edify the community of believers. In any case the error is the same: man as the starting point – and the closing of Heaven.

But does man really need this auto-celebration of his faith? Or is he not made to immerse himself in God?

No, the Catholic liturgy is something completely different: it is the eruption of Heaven on Earth and the open door between Heaven and Earth!

If you like, we shall try to give two opposing but eloquent images, which express two very different concepts of worship. The first, that of a simple priest in one of the many churches scattered in the Catholic world, in the quietness of prayer, facing the Crucifix, offering the Eternal Sacrifice which saves souls, in the presence of faithful attentive in prayer and adoration; the second, that of a noisy and festive community at Mass, concerned about “forming community” and “expressing their various charismas” (in truth doing things, since there is usually little tolerance for sitting still at the new mass) and getting into stride with the directions of the pastoral committee… and at the end, for sure, receiving also communion. Two opposing concepts which are hard to reconcile. The first, the traditional one, makes room for the action of God. The second one, slows down – but perhaps we can even say – stops, with the action of the community itself!

You see, the truths of the faith do not spring up from the depths of man’s conscience, nor from the “real life” of the community which reinterprets life in the light of God, but are communicated by actual revelation from God, which the Church guards and transmits: revelation comes down from Heaven – it does not sprout up from the earth as the moderns would have us think. Thus the liturgy carries Heaven to Earth and carries Earth to Heaven. It is above all the action of God and not primarily the action of the Church. The Church receives the action of God, guards it and expresses it, using certainly all of the appropriate human means; She safeguards the liturgy from erroneous modifications that can muddle up the work of God, and transmits it faithfully protecting it, so that Heaven stays open for mankind.

When the Liturgical Movement is discussed, practically everyone loves to refer to Dom Guéranger, the great Benedictine Abbot, who re-founded monasticism in France after the revolutionary tempest. The Liturgical Movement began with him, that is to say, the rebirth of the Christian spirit which takes its movements from the liturgy. A prolific author, the Liturgical Year was published by him, but not only that, as he also took part in all of the dramas and battles in the Church of the 19th century, and was also a trusted advisor to Pius IX as well as the founder of the Abbey at Solesmes.

But what did Dom Guéranger really want? And what was Pope St. Pius X asking for by taking up once again with authoritiveness the work by the great Benedictine and giving thus new life to the Liturgical Movement?

They wanted people to have intelligence of Divine things (that they would understand the liturgy of the Church) so that these would penetrate once again into the lives of Christian people. They wanted a great work of education so that the things of Heaven would return and give form to the life of men.

Let us quote Dom Guéranger: 

“The mysteries of the great sacrifice, the sacraments, the sacramentals, the phases of the Christian cycle, so rich in grace and light, the ceremonies, this sublime tongue which the Church speaks to God with in the presence of men; in a word, all of these marvels will once again be familiar to the faithful people. Catholic instruction will once again be the great and sublime interest for the masses and will dominate all other [interests]; and the world will understand again that religion is the first good for the individual, the family, the city, the nations and the entire human race.”

Guéranger, along with Pius X and his too-often badly quoted “active participation” wanted the exact opposite of what has been usually done since the Council. After the council the liturgy was transformed to adhere to the life of men, but, by contrast, the Church in the past always desired that the life of man would take on the form of the Catholic liturgy.

They did not want a lowering of the liturgy to the merely natural life of men, but they wanted to raise people to the sublime mysteries.

What use has a man of a liturgy that addresses only his hopes, efforts and his “religious sense”, but never mentions Heaven? It is on this misunderstanding, that tragically, the Liturgical Movement failed.

We need to return to Guéranger and the real Pius X. But the question is: when?

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]