Liturgy, Life of the Church; The Modern Rite; Pope and Council on Sacred Liturgy

Liturgy, Life of the Church; The Modern Rite; Pope and Council on Sacred Liturgy

Michael Daniel

by Lambert Beauduin OSB (trans. Virgil Michel OSB)

(St Michael's Abbey Press, 2002, 95pp, $22.95.
Available from Freedom Publishing)

Collected Essays on the Reform of the Liturgy
by Klaus Gamber (trans. Henry Taylor)

(St Michael's Abbey Press, 2002, 87pp, $24.95.
Available from Freedom Publishing)

by Aidan Nichols OP

(St Michael's Abbey Press, 2002, 151 pp, $28.00.
Available from Freedom Publishing)

Central to Catholicism is its liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium (reprinted in A Pope and a Council on the Sacred Liturgy) described it as 'the source and summit of the Christian life.' It is through this liturgy that Christians should have their most intimate communing with God and nurturing of their faith.

Sadly, this ideal of the liturgy is often minimised through all too frequent banal celebrations that the faithful have to endure. These three texts are a timely reminder of what the liturgy should be, both in terms of the theology of the liturgy which should in turn set the dynamics for how it should be celebrated.

The first of these, Liturgy, the Life of the Church, was originally published in 1914 in French in the early days of the liturgical movement, in the wake of Pope St Pius X's reforms of the liturgy. The primary concern of Beauduin and his contemporaries was not reform of the liturgy; rather, it was for people to be attentive to the Mass itself, by praying the prayers in a Missal rather than using the time to engage in private devotions that had at best a loose association with the text of the Mass.

Recognising the importance of the liturgy in sustaining and developing a believer's faith as a member of the community, Beauduin stressed the importance of the communal aspect of the liturgy that was appositional to the popular practice of private devotions during Mass, which he argued served to promote individualism. Similarly, Beauduin drew a close link between the liturgy and prayer, asceticism and preaching.

Many of these ideas expressed by the liturgical movement were to be re-stated in Church documents, two key texts being Mediator Dei (1947) and Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), both of which are reproduced in A Pope and a Council on the Sacred Liturgy.

In his introductory essay, Father Aidan Nichols argues that the major difference in liturgical theology is that Sacrosanctum Concilium emphasised the eschatological dimension of the liturgy, that is, through the liturgy Catholics share in and have a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy.

Fr Nichols then argues that this dimension is still not sufficiently emphasised in liturgical celebrations, despite the reforms. From this reviewer's perspective, it seems that a greater emphasis on the eschatological dimension may facilitate a movement away from celebrations that end up with communities worshipping themselves, football, the environment, or anything else but the triune eternal God.


The Modern Rite contains a collection of essays by the eminent liturgist, Monsignor Klaus Gamber, which were originally written at the time of the introduction of the Novus Ordo. Ironically Gamber predicted many of the problems that have beset the liturgy in the past generation, for example, a lack of reverence and a diminishing of belief amongst the faithful in the real presence.

In his essays, Msgr Gamber challenges much of the 'scholarship' that underpinned recent liturgical changes. For example, Mass facing the people was introduced with the argument that this was the practice of the early Church. Gamber argues that Mass said by the priest with the intention of facing the people was not the early practice, but rather the priest and the people faced east, even if the layout of the worship space was such that the priest was on the vertical bar of a C-shaped formation.

With recent trends to improve the liturgy, both in terms of liturgical texts and the manner of celebration, the availability of these three books is timely, particularly for those charged with planning and celebrating the liturgy.

Michael E. Daniel teaches at a Melbourne secondary school.

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