Liturgical Movement

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The Liturgical Movement began as a 19th-century movement of scholarship for the reform of worship within the Roman Catholic Church. It has developed over the last century and a half and has affected many other Christian Churches, including the Church of England and other churches of the Anglican Communion, and some Protestant churches. A similar reform in the Church of England and Anglican Communion, known as the Oxford Movement, began to change theology and liturgy in the United Kingdom and United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The Liturgical Movement has been one of the major influences on the process of the Ecumenical Movement, in favor of reversing the divisions which began at the Reformation.

The movement has a number of facets. First, it was an attempt to rediscover the worship practices of the Middle Ages, which in the 19th century was held to be the ideal form of worship and expression of faith. Second, it developed as scholarship to study and analyze the history of worship. Third, it broadened into an examination of the nature of worship as an organic human activity. Fourth, it attempted to renew worship in order that it could be more expressive for worshippers and as an instrument of teaching and mission. Fifth, it has been a movement attempting to bring about reconciliation among the churches on both sides of the Protestant Reformation.

At the Reformation of the sixteenth century, while the new Protestant Churches abandoned the old Latin Mass, the Roman Catholic Church reformed and revised it. The split between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches was in part a difference about beliefs regarding the language to be used in the liturgy. A Mass in Latin, some argued, would be something one would primarily see and hear as a sacred event; a vernacular service, one in the language of the worshipper, would be one which the worshipper was supposed to understand and take part in. The revision of the Roman liturgy which followed, and which provided a single use for the whole Western Church, emphasized the sacramental and sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, rather than a direction urged by reformers toward lay participation. The Liturgical Movement, which originated in the work to restore the liturgy to its ancient principles, resulted in changes that have affected both Roman Catholics and Protestants of various denominations.

Catholic origins[edit]

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the breaking away of European Protestants by engaging in its own reform, the so-called Counter Reformation. Following the Council of Trent, (1545–1563), which adopted the Tridentine Mass as the standard for Roman Catholic worship, the Latin Mass remained substantially unchanged for four hundred years.

Meanwhile, the churches of the Reformation (Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, and others) altered their liturgies more or less radically: specifically, the vernacular language of the people was used in the worship service. Deliberately distancing themselves from "Roman" practices, these churches became “Churches of the Word” – of Scripture and preaching – breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church's focus on sacraments. The ritual of remembrance of the Last Supper and Christ's Crucifixion on Calvary became more infrequent and was supplemented in many churches by the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. In some Lutheran traditions, the Mass was stripped of some of its character, such as replacing the Canon of the Mass with the Words of Institution ("This is my Body... this is my Blood"). Common practice was to make the service of the day (the ante-communion) into a preaching service.

The first stirrings of interest in liturgical scholarship (and thence liturgical change) within the Roman Catholic Church arose in 1832, when the French Benedictine abbey at Solesmes was refounded under Dom Prosper Guéranger. For a long time, Benedictines were the pioneers in restoring Roman liturgy to its medieval form. At first Guéranger and his contemporaries focused on studying and recovering authentic Gregorian Chant and the liturgical forms of the Middle Ages, which were held to be the ideals. Other scholars, such as Cabrol and Pierre Batiffol, also contributed to the investigation of the origins and history of the liturgy, but practical application of this learning was lacking.

During the 19th century patristic texts were increasingly available and new ones were discovered and published. Jacques Paul Migne published editions of various early theological texts in two massive compilations: Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca. In addition, the Didache, one of the earliest manuals of Christian morals and practice, was found in 1875 in a library in Constantinople. The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to the 3rd-century Roman theologian Hippolytus, was published in 1900. This latter was a Church Orders containing the full text of a Eucharistic liturgy; it was to prove highly influential.

Pope Pius X, elected in 1903, encouraged such reforms. In the same year he issued a motu proprio on church music, inviting the faithful to participate actively in the liturgy, which he saw as a source for the renewal of Christian spirituality. He called for more frequent communion of the faithful, the young in particular. Subsequently he was concerned with the revision of the Breviary. Pius' engagement would prove to be the necessary spark.


The movement had a number of elements: Liturgical Scholarship, Pastoral Theology, and Liturgical Renewal. As to the first of these, in his influential book Mysterium Fidei (1921), Maurice de la Taille argued that Christ's sacrifice, beginning from his self-offering at the Last Supper, completed in the Passion and continued in the Mass, were all one act. There was only one immolation – that of Christ at Calvary, to which the Supper looks forward and on which the Mass looks back. Although Taille was not a liturgist, his work generated a huge controversy which raised interest in the form and character of the Mass. His argument, whilst not yet accepted by Protestants, removed the objection that each mass was a separate and new 'immolation' of Christ, a repeated and thus efficacious act.

Pastoral considerations played a major part. Such motives lay behind the tone of the papacy of Pius X. In 1909 he called a conference, the Congrès National des Oeuvres Catholiques in Mechelen in Belgium, which is held to have inaugurated the Liturgical Movement proper in the Catholic Church. Liturgy was to be the means of instructing the people in Christian faith and life; the mass would be translated into the vernacular to promote active participation of the faithful. One of the leading participants in the conference, Dom Lambert Beauduin of Louvain, argued that worship was the common action of the people of God and not solely performed by the priest. Many of the movement's principles were based in Beauduin's book, La Pieté de l'Eglise.

At almost the same time, in Germany Abbot Ildefons Herwegen of Maria Laach convened a liturgical conference in Holy Week 1914 for lay people. Herwegen thereafter promoted research which resulted in a series of publications for clergy and lay people during and after World War I. One of the foremost German scholars was Odo Casel. Having begun by studying the Middle Ages, Casel looked at the origins of Christian liturgy in pagan cultic acts, understanding liturgy as a profound universal human act as well as a religious one. In his Ecclesia Orans (The Praying Church) (1918), Casel studied and interpreted the pagan mysteries of ancient Greece and Rome, discussing similarities and differences between them and the Christian mysteries. His conclusions were studied in various places, notably at Klosterneuburg in Austria, where the Augustinian canon Pius Parsch applied the principles in his church of St. Gertrude, which he took over in 1919. With laymen he worked out the relevance of the Bible to liturgy. Similar experiments were to take place in Leipzig during the Second World War.[1]

In France, the Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, was published, but most practical experiments in liturgy were initiated after contact with the German and Austrian movements. Most changes occurred after the Second World War. In 1943 the Centre National de Pastorale Liturgique was founded and the magazine La Maison-Dieu began publication.

The idea of liturgy as an inclusive activity, subversive of individualism, while exciting to some, also raised anxieties in Rome. In 1947 Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Mediator Dei which warned of false innovations, radical changes and protestant influences in the liturgical movement. At the same time he encouraged the "authentic" liturgical movement, which promoted active participation of the congregation in chant and gestures.

Second Vatican Council[edit]

The Latin Tridentine Mass remained the standard eucharistic liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church in the West until the Second Vatican Council. In 1963, the Council adopted, by an overwhelming majority, the Constitution On Sacred Liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium". For the first time the vernacular liturgy was permitted, even if to a minor extent in relation to those practiced afterward by national churches. The influence of Hippolytus was evident in the form of Eucharistic Prayers. Accompanying this was the encouragement for liturgies to express local culture (subject to approval by the Holy See).

The recovery of the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office), the daily prayer of the Church, was just as startling. As liturgical prayer is the prayer of the Church, the Constitution states that "in choir" (common) office prayer is always preferable to individual recitation.

Anglican Communion[edit]

At the time of the English Reformation, the liturgy was revised and replaced with the Book of Common Prayer (first issued in 1549). The changes were relatively conservative and did not substantially shift after the sixteenth century. The 1552 edition of the prayer book showed more Protestant influence; after the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, no official revision was attempted until the 1920s. In Victorian England, interest in medieval liturgy had grown through the work of the Oxford Movement, which drew attention to the church's history and relation to the Roman Catholic Church. The Cambridge Camden Society (1839–63), originally formed for the study of ecclesiastical art, generated an interest in liturgy that led to the ceremonial revival of the later nineteenth century, with an adoption of medieval practices. The revival brought Anglican scholars into conversation with their Roman colleagues. The Oxford Movement was also influential in the United States, where the Episcopal Church adopted many ritual changes. Many new churches were built in medieval styles through the early decades of the 20th century.

By the 20th century, the Church of England had made quite radical ceremonial and ritual changes, most of them incorporating revival of medieval Christian practice.[2] Tractarians, followers of the Oxford Movement who published religious tracts, were initially concerned with the relationship of the Church of England to the universal Church. They became interested in liturgy and, in particular, the practice of Communion. Gradually, dress and ceremonial were altered with adoption of traditional Roman aspects from the Middle Ages, e.g. stoles, chasubles, copes and birettas; the use of candles multiplied, incense was burnt; priests learned to genuflect and bow. Gradually, the Eucharist became more common as the main Sunday Service instead of Morning Prayer, often enhanced by using prayers translated from the Missal.

The English Missal, published first in 1912, was a conflation of the Eucharistic rite in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Latin prayers of the Roman Missal, including the rubrics indicating the posture and manual acts. It was a recognition of practices which had been widespread for many years. The changes were the subject of controversy, opposition, hostility and legal action.[3] Some viewed such liturgical change not as reform, but a retreat to mediaeval models; many bishops and clergy perceived such change as 'popish'.[4]

The attempt to revise the Book of Common Prayer in 1927 and 1928 was rooted in the past, owing little to the researches or practices of continental scholars.[5] With the publication in 1935 of Gabriel Hebert's Liturgy and Society, the debate in England began about the relationship between worship and the world. Hebert, a Kelham Father, interpreted the liturgy on wider social principles, rejecting, in the process, the idea of the eucharistic fast as being impractical. Its members wished for more frequent communion, not merely attendance at Mass; they wanted to relate the eucharist to the world of ordinary life. Through its influence, the offertory was restored, though not without protracted controversy.[5][6][7] The ideas of the Parish Communion movement, as it came to be called, were in advance of English Roman Catholic scholars. The liturgy remained officially unaltered until the 1960s, when the synodical process began which was to produce the Alternative Service Book in 1980 and Common Worship in 2000.

Churches of the Lutheran tradition[edit]

Equally dramatic in some places has been the change in some of the Lutheran churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, for example, has been strongly influenced by the movement in its vesture and ritual. Black gowns have long been replaced by traditional Catholic vestments. The St. Thomas Mass returned the fuller use of ceremonial (the liturgical action, in which movement takes place during the liturgy to express its different parts).

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran body in the United States, has also revived a greater appreciation of the liturgy and its ancient origins. Its clergy and congregations have adopted many traditional liturgical symbols, such as the sign of the cross, incense, and the full chasuble, which have become more common than in years past. While some freedom in style is exercised by individual congregations, the overall style of the aspects of liturgical worship – including vestments, altar adornments, and a general return of many formal practices – has become closer to the styles of the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions.[8]

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has led in the recovery of Lutheran liturgical practice. Such practices as chanting the psalms and other parts of the service, and the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, are now relatively common.

In the United States, numerous inter-church organizations identifying as Lutheran bodies were formed, due mostly to the waves of immigration in the late 19th century and early 20th from nations of northern European and Scandinavia. Because of the differences in languages and customs, congregations developed along 'national' lines, establishing their own versions of the 'church back home' – for example, the Norwegian Lutherans, Danish Lutherans, etc. These early churches used the vernacular language of their native country. As settlers and their descendants adopted the use of English and assimilated as Americans, the need for foreign-language worship and identification with national churches was reduced.

In the state churches of the Saxon Electorate and the Thuringian principalities, the excising of the Eucharistic Prayer by Martin Luther was reversed in the decade after the Second World War. New service books were published.

Influence and criticisms[edit]

Horton M. Davies, a professor at Princeton University, states that "What is fascinating about (the liturgical) movement is that it has enabled Protestant churches to recover in part the Catholic liturgical heritage, while the Catholics seem to have appropriated the Protestant valuation of preaching, of shared worship in the vernacular tongue, and the importance of laity as the people of God."[9]

The influence of the Roman shape of the liturgy has been considerable among most liturgical churches of the west, including the whole of the Anglican communion, and the Methodist Church in England, and less formally liturgical churches such as the United Methodist Church of the United States. On the other hand, critics have lamented, mostly from within the Roman Catholic Church, the loss of mystery and the reduction in the sacrificial element of the Mass (see Mass of Paul VI).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ernest Benjamin Koenker, The Liturgical Renaissance in the Roman Catholic Church (1954), p. 10
  2. ^ Contemporary commentators, such as Benjamin Jowett, saw the changes as indicative of Romantic and aesthetic influences (and 'revolting to the reverent mind'), but the models were Roman Catholic. Judith Pinnington, "Rubric and Spirit: a diagnostic reading of Tractarian Worship", in Essays Catholic and Radical, ed. Kenneth Leech and Rowan Williams (Bowerdean 1983) p. 98f; see also Valerie Pitt: "The Oxford Movement: a case of Cultural Distortion?", in Essays Catholic and Radical,, p. 205ff.
  3. ^ Chadwick, Owen The Victorian Church; vol. 2; Carpenter, S. C. Church and People (SPCK 1933); pp.212ff.
  4. ^ see footnote 2
  5. ^ a b Gray, Donald, Earth and Altar, (Canterbury Press 1986); p. 196
  6. ^ Buchanan, Colin. The End of the Offertory (Grove Books)
  7. ^ Arguile, Roger. The Offering of the People (Jubilee, 1989)
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ O.C. Edwards, Jr. A History of Preaching. Abingdon Press. p. 746. ISBN 9780687038640. In the subtitle for the fifth volume of his history of Worship and Theology in England, Horton Davies refers to the twentieth century as the "ecumenical century." Nowhere is that more obvious than in attitudes toward Christian worship. As Davies said: "What is fascinating about (the liturgical) movement is that it has enabled Protestant churches to recover in part the Catholic liturgical heritage, while the Catholics seem to have appropriated the Protestant valuation of preaching, of shared worship in the vernacular tongue, and the importance of laity as the people of God." 


  • A Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, J.G. Davies (SCM)
  • Earth and Altar Donald Gray (Canterbury Press 1986)
  • Liturgy and Society A.G. Hebert (Faber 1935)
  • The Early Liturgy, Josef Jungmann (DLT 1960)
  • A Short History of the Western Liturgy, Theodor Klauser (trans. J. Halliburton) (1969)
  • Giewald, A. & Thomann, G. The Lutheran High Church Movement in Germany and its liturgical work: an introduction,, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4709-7378-0

Further reading[edit]

  • Adams, William Seth. Moving the Furniture: Liturgical Theory, Practice, and Environment. New York: Church Publishing, 1999. vii, 172 p. N.B.: The author's writes from an Anglican (Protestant Episcopal Church) standpoint. ISBN 0-89869-316-0
  • Buchanan, Colin O., ed. Modern Anglican Liturgies, 1958-1968. London: Oxford University Press, 1968. xix, 388 p., ill. with 3 tables (2 of them on fold. charts). N.B.: Includes various internationally selected liturgies with comments about them by the various contributors.
  • Marshall, Michael. Renewal in Worship. Rev. American ed. Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1985. xi, 142 p. ISBN 978-0-8192-1374-7
  • Reid, Dom Alcuin. The Organic Development of the Liturgy: Ignatius Press ISBN 978-1586171063