Rorate Caeli

FIUV PP2: Liturgical Piety and Participation

Today I can publish the second paper in our series, on Liturgical Piety and Participation (pdf). This is concerned with two closely related concepts which are fundamental to the debate about the liturgy, and to criticisms of, and proposals for reform to, the 'former liturgical tradition'.

I recently blogged about Liturgical Piety on my LMS Chairman blog here. The next paper will be about the manner of receiving Holy Communion, which I'll publish in two weeks' time.

Comments can be sent to positio AT
Full set of papers, including the introductor disclaimer, can be downloaded from the FIUV website.
2006 01 23_0301
Solemn Mass celebrated for Juventutem London in St Patrick's, Soho Square, June 2011


FIUV Position Paper 2: Liturgical Piety and Participation

1.      The term ‘Liturgical Piety’ refers to a piety which is fostered by frequent participation in the liturgy, draws inspiration from the unfolding of the sacred mysteries through the cycle of the liturgical year, and for which the texts of the liturgical books and the ceremonies of the liturgical rites as central rather than peripheral to its formation. It is contrasted with a piety which is formed predominantly by non-liturgical devotions, whether these be public or private. The fostering of liturgical piety, and the participation in the liturgy conducive to such piety, might be said to be the ultimate objects of the Liturgical Movement, from its beginnings in the nineteenth century up to, and including, the influence that Movement had on the reform of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council. It was the task of successive popes to encourage this movement while simultaneously guarding against the exaggerated and misguided conclusions which were sometimes derived from this ideal. The concept of liturgical piety is of particular interest in the context of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Missal, since this ideal continues to influence discussion of the participation of the faithful in the liturgy, and the discussion of how the Extraordinary Form should be celebrated, and its liturgical books further developed over time. In particular this paper is intended to shed light on the question of whether the ‘former liturgical tradition’ is itself a barrier to a proper liturgical participation by the faithful, and whether the arguments of the Liturgical Movement, and the contemporary Magisterium such as Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei, should be read as indicating that it is a barrier.

2.      The desire for a more liturgical piety arose naturally from two observations. First, that the Catholic liturgy is an enormously rich source for the devotional life. As the English Cardinal Wiseman exclaimed as early as 1842:
Why there is not a place, or a thing, used in the worship which [the Catholic] attends, upon which there has not been lavished, so to speak, more rich poetry and more solemn prayers, than all our modern books put together.[1]

3.      Secondly, the liturgy, and in particular the Eucharist, is of its very nature the privileged opportunity for the Christian to communicate with God. The liturgy is the public prayer of the Church, and the Mass is the re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross: in joining themselves to the first, the faithful can take part in the perfect prayer offered to God by His spotless Bride; in joining themselves to the second, the faithful can associate their own offerings with the perfect Sacrifice offered to the Father, that of the spotless Victim.

4.      For the liturgy to have the place in the ordinary Catholic’s devotional life which it ought to have, his participation in the liturgy must be as profound as possible. One way of fostering this was to promote liturgical formation, both of the clergy and the faithful,[2] notably by books, both of the liturgy—missals for the laity—and about the liturgy, such as Dom Prosper Guéranger’s monumental ‘L’Année liturgique’, published between 1841 and 1844. Guéranger wrote in his general preface, after noting the special value of prayer united with the Prayer of the Church:
Liturgical prayer would soon become powerless were the faithful not to take a real share in it, or, at least, not to associate themselves to it in heart. It can heal the world, but only on the condition that it be understood.[3]

5.      Even at its very dawn, the aims and inspiration of the Liturgical Movement encompassed a tension. On the one hand, the richness, which is to say the theological profundity, density, and complexity of the Catholic liturgy, is part of the reason for promoting a greater appreciation of it, particularly as the basis for devotional contemplation. On the other hand, if participation in the liturgy, which was also recommended by the contemporary Magisterium,[4] requires an adequate understanding of it, then it would seem that participation could be enhanced both by the exposure to view of parts of the liturgy traditionally hidden, in one way or another (by saying silent prayers aloud, by the use of the vernacular, by saying Mass ‘versus populum’), and also by the simplification of the rites.

6.      This tension explains the debate within the Liturgical Movement over liturgical reform, which continued for more than a century. Many writers in the movement were profoundly attached to the liturgy as it had been handed down, and opposed (for example) the use of the vernacular: Guéranger himself being an example of this. Others took the opposite view.[5]

7.      This tension can be resolved, however, by two observations. First and most simply, taken to its logical conclusion, the attempt to ease the comprehension of a rite by simplifying it is self-defeating, since the process of simplification has the result that there is less to comprehend. Removing prayers and ceremonies, clearly, removes things which could be the object of fruitful meditation.

8.      Secondly, the ‘comprehension’ at issue in liturgical participation is not primarily a matter of the grasp of propositions; it concerns rather the spiritual impact of the liturgy on the participant. Fr Aidan Nichols OP, discussing the views of a number of sociologists concerned with religious ritual, observes:
To the sociologist, it is by no means self-evident that brief, clear rites have greater transformative potential than complex, abundant, lavish, rich, long rites, furnished with elaborate ceremonial.[6]
The notion that the more intelligible the sign, the more effectively it will enter the lives of the faithful is implausible to the sociological imagination. ...a certain opacity is essential to symbolic action in the sociologists’ account…[7]

9.    This is not just a matter of aesthetic impact, but of the general issue of non-verbal communication. Elaborate ceremonial indicates in a universal language the importance of whatever is at the centre of the ceremony. The use of Latin serves to emphasise the antiquity and universality of the liturgy, as Pope Blessed John XXIII pointed out.[8] The use of silence is a very effective means of emphasising the sacred character of what is happening.[9] Similar things can be said of many aspects of the former liturgical tradition which might superficially appear to impede the comprehension of the faithful. Pope Blessed John-Paul II refers to such things in speaking of the liturgy of the Oriental Churches:
The lengthy duration of the celebrations, the repeated invocations, everything expresses gradual identification with the mystery celebrated with one’s whole person.[10]
Again, as the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam points out:
The Sacred Liturgy engages not only man’s intellect, but the whole person, who is the “subject” of full and conscious participation in the liturgical celebration.[11]

10.  The point is underlined by Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei. While approving a number of the initiatives of followers of the Liturgical Movement, as well as deprecating others, he makes an important qualification.
Many of the faithful are unable to use the Roman missal even though it is written in the vernacular; nor are all capable of understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas. So varied and diverse are men’s talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual. Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them.[12]

11.  With the aid of this fuller understanding of participation, which is certainly both active and liturgical, but which is of the whole person, and not merely the intellect, we can look again at the questions raised by the Liturgical Movement about the form that a properly liturgical piety should take. To be imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, to have the liturgy in its proper place of honour in one’s spiritual life, requires a degree of liturgical catechesis, but it is above all to be effected in the way the Church, in the liturgy, wishes us to be effected. This is with a profound sense of awe, awe being the rational response to the apprehension of the Holy. It is this sense which stimulates us to participate spiritually in the Sacrifice as intensely as possible. Pope Benedict XVI has noted that a particular charism of the Extraordinary Form in its ‘sacrality’, its evocation of awe.[13] The mysteriousness of the ceremonies, the fact that prayers are said in a sacred language, even silently, the fact that parts of the liturgy are veiled from sight, naturally contribute to that awe, and in this way facilitate, rather than impede, the participation of the faithful.

[1] “On Prayer and Prayer Books’, Dublin Review November 1842. This point is echoed in the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium 33.
[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium’s energy in promoting liturgical formation is very striking: see 14-20.
[3] Dom Prosper Guéranger ‘The Liturgical Year: Advent’ p6-7.
[4] Notably St Pope Pius X Motu proprio Tra le sollicitudine (1903): ‘Filled as We are with a most ardent desire to see the true Christian spirit flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the faithful, We deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.’
[5] Joseph Gottler’s 1916 paper ‘Pia Desideria Liturgica’ called for the ‘foremass’ in the vernacular, and the removal of some ceremonies. Romano Guardini actually put into practice Mass ‘versus populum’ in the inter-war years.
[6] Aidan Nichols OP ‘Looking at the Liturgy: a critical view of its contemporary form’ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996) p59
[7] Ibid p61
[8] Pope Bl. John XXIII Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia (1963) 8; see also Pope Paul VI Apostolic Letter Sacrificium Laudis (1968): ‘For this language [sc. Latin] is, within the Latin Church, an abundant well-spring of Christian civilisation and a very rich treasure-trove of devotion’.
[9] Pope Benedict (Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger) writes in ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ (San Francisco: Ignatius Pres, 2000) p209: ‘We are realising more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence.’
[10] Pope Bl. John-Paul II Encylical Orientale Lumen (1995) 11: ‘Extractum longius celebrationum tempus, iteratae invocationes, omnia denique comprobant aliquem paulatim in celebratum mysterium ingredi tota sua cum persona.’
[11] Instruction Liturgiam authentican (2001) 28: ‘Sacra Liturgia non solum hominis intellectum devincit, sed totam etiam personam, quae est “subiectum” plenae et consciae participationis in celebratione liturgica.’
[12] Pope Pius XII Encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) 108. ‘Haud pauci enim e christifidelibus « Missali Romano », etiamsi vulgata lingua exarato, uti nequeunt; neque omnes idonei sunt ad recte, ut addecet, intellegendos ritus ac formulas liturgicas. Ingenium, indoles ac mens hominum tam varia sunt atque absimilia, ut non omnes queant precibus, canticis sacrisque actionibus, communiter habitis, eodem modo moveri ac duci Ac praeterea animorum necessitates et propensa eorum studia non eadem in omnibus sunt, neque in singulis semper eaderr permanent. Quis igitur dixerit, praeiudicata eiusmodi opinionf compulsus, tot christianos non posse Eucharisticum participare Sacri icium, eiusque perfrui beneficiis? At ii alia ratione utique possunt, quae facilior nonnullis evadit; ut, verbi gratia, Iesu Christi mysteria pie meditando, vel alia peragendo pietatis exercitia aliasque fundendo preces, quae, etsi forma a sacris ritibus differunt, natura tamen sua cum iisdem congruunt.’ The concern with the variety of forms of participation is reiterated in Sacrosanctum Concilium 26: ‘[services] concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their differing rank, office, and actual participation.’
[13] Pope Benedict speaks of ‘the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage’ (Letter to Bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007)).



  1. English Roman Seminarian10:47 AM

    Gosh. You have done a lot of research into the liturgical movement here. Is this your own work or are you usuing some other source? I'd love to read the whole Wiseman piece.

  2. It seems to me that there could be more here on what the true nature of "participation" is, rather than more of what appears to be a summary of the Liturgical Movement's ideas. One of the errors engendered by the Novus Ordo and what goes along with it (laymen and laywomen reading, distributing Holy Communion, etc., as well as the faithful saying so many of the prayers) is the assumption that one must "do" something outwardly in order to participate. I encounter this assumption often among even Catholics interested in the TLM. Additionally, how about a thoughtful explanation of liturgical piety as akin to Our Lady at the Foot of the Cross - the perfect paradigm for our participation at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    All in all however, I appreciate FIUV's work and these papers and think they are most important! Thank you Mr. Shaw.

  3. There is also the debate on the dialogue mass, almost nonexistant in the English-speaking world, yet widespread almost everywhere else...

  4. Nice to see a picture from one of our Masses featured. Our next Mass is on Friday 23rd March - with a facebook event here:

    And our blog here:


  5. It seems to me (and then again, who am I to say?) that the liturgical movement did an awful lot more harm to the Church than good.

    Personally I think mumbled Latin actually has an insufficiently appreciated charm, one reason why I vastly prefer Low Masses. In a globalized world where artificial, ahistorical and robotic clarity of speech is so highly prized, a badly (read naturally) recited dead language can have a huge countercultural attraction.

  6. Placed on top of the blog homepage for its relevance.

  7. I am sorry if this out of line but I do not know how else to bring it to your attention.

  8. English Roman: a good account of the Liturgical Movement is Alcuin Reid's The Organic Development of the Roman Rite. (One can disagree with his conclusions of course.) Figures like Wiseman are receiving a lot more attention than in the recent past, and rightly so; Fr Schofield's book on the English Cardinals might be worth a look on that.

    Matthew: we certainly haven't exhausted the question of participation in this paper, but approached it from a certain angle. It is relevant to a large number of topics. What is crucial is to establish that participation is not exclusively intellectual, *and that the modern magisterial says so.* It's not about words words words...

    NC: I hope we'll have a paper on the Dialogue Mass in due course.

  9. English Roman Seminarian1:35 PM

    Thanks Mr Shaw. I haven't read Reid's book but I will now that you have recommended it. What are the conclusions you might disagree with?

  10. This paper on Liturgical Piety is all well and good but Our Holy Father is moving in a decidedly different direction.

    Y'all seek to rediscover the best in Tradition and to preserve it in carefully circumscribed order whereas Our Holy Father seeks to burst all Traditional restraint and he has thrown-in with one T. de Chardin:



    Cathedral of Aosta
Friday, 24 July 2009

    This is precisely the content of the first part of the prayer that follows: "Let Your Church offer herself to You as a living and holy sacrifice". This request, addressed to God, is made also to ourselves. It is a reference to two passages from the Letter to the Romans. We ourselves, with our whole being, must be adoration and sacrifice, and by transforming our world, give it back to God. The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. And let us pray the Lord to help us become priests in this sense, to aid in the transformation of the world, in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves. That our lives may speak of God, that our lives may be a true liturgy, an announcement of God, a door through which the distant God may become the present God, and a true giving of ourselves to God.

    But, remember, there has been no rupture and everything is as it has always been and the Lil' Licit Liturgy is just a renewed form of the Real Mass and the coming Cosmic Liturgy will, also, be in complete synchronicity with Tradition and will rep[resent no rupture; so, we have that to look forward to; which is nice.

  11. Matthew3:23 PM

    Mr. Shaw:

    Thank you for your response, and again thank you for your hard work on these most vital matters.

  12. English Roman: like a lot of books on these topics (and I wouldn't want to single Reid
    out) he is selective about what is compatible with organic development and what is not. Worship ad orientem: bad. Vernacularisation: fine. But while it seems obvious to him the argument is not made in much detail. Every writer has his own preferences, which is why it is important to thrash these issues out. One priest thinks that we need the canon out loud, another, altar girls; some like communion under both kinds; others think the preparatory prayers should be tidied away. And I'm talking about people who *like* the TLM.

    I should also mention Aidan Nichols' 'Looking at the Liturgy'. The first chapter is an excellent account of the Liturgical Movement, connecting it to its Enlightenment roots.

  13. This is a wonderful academic piece to support and defend the Tridentine Mass.

    Thank you to all who particpate in this effort.

    God bless.


  14. Fr Thomas6:08 AM

    Dr Shaw, I am a director of studies in a seminary and use Dom Alcuin Reid's book 'The Organic Development of the Liturgy' regularly (note - the title is not 'of the Roman Rite').

    You are in error when you say he says vernacularisation is fine. He says the opposite.

    I think you are also inaccurate in saying he does not give enough detail: where you could find more detailed reseach and nuanced arguments on the liturgical movement I do not know.

    Your own piece seems to have drawn on Reid's research and references without his subtlety and without due acknowledgement. If these FIUV papers are to be published, please give a full bibliography of sources used. That is not only just, but it will help people study the issues.

    I agree that Fr Aidan Nichols book is well worth studying also.

  15. Dear Rev. Father,

    I beg you to receive these words with all respect we always show towards Priests, but I do believe that tone was undeserved by Dr. Shaw and his text and comments.

    There are many books with more information on the Liturgical Movement, in several languages, written both by "Progressives" and those who love Tradition - there is a curious one, in particular, that is not particularly known in scholarly circles, but is very informative, "Le Mouvement Liturgique", by the late Fr. Didier Bonneterre, FSSPX - there is an English translation.

    Of course, the whole matter of the liturgical movement and how it was used by Modernists to reach their end (the other main movement infiltrated by them before the Council was that for "Christian Unity") fills an interesting chapter in Roberto de Mattei's History of Vatican II.


  16. Fr Thomas, I'm afraid I missed your comment but for the record: the papers are heavily footnoted, but I can't include every book every contributor has read which has informed our understanding, that would be silly.

    Alcuin Reid says more than onece that the wider use of the vernacular could be a legitimate organic development. One example is on p110.

    My criticism is that he doesn't explain in any detail why one thing would be, and another would not be, an organic development. It is a common criticism of this book, by the way, and does not impugn its usefulness in other ways.


Comment boxes are debate forums for readers and contributors of RORATE CÆLI.

Please, DO NOT assume that RORATE CÆLI contributors or moderators necessarily agree with or otherwise endorse any particular comment just because they let it stand.


(1) This is our living room, in a deeply Catholic house, and you are our guest. Please, behave accordingly. Any comment may be blocked or deleted, at any time, whenever we perceive anything that is not up to our standards, not conducive to a healthy conversation or a healthy Catholic environment, or simply not to our liking.

(2) By clicking on the "publish your comment" button, please remain aware that you are choosing to make your comment public - that is, the comment box is not to be used for private and confidential correspondence with contributors and moderators.

(3) Any name/ pseudonym/ denomination may be freely used simply by choosing the third option, "Name/URL" (the URL box may be left empty), when posting your comment - therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to simply post as "Anonymous", making debate unnecessarily harder to follow. Any comment signed simply as "Anonymous" will be blocked.

Thank you!