USML | The Liturgical Institute

Hillenbrand Exhibit

Liturgy and Social Justice

Hillenbrand's Quest for Social Justice

Hillenbrand was a child during the time of the unheralded brutality of World War I and witnessed of the growth of atheistic communism. He was ordained in the roaring year of 1929, but began his priesthood in the Great Depression: by 1931, 624,00 Chicagoans were out of work. By the time he was named Rector of Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary in 1936, Hillenbrand had developed a keen sense of the need for social reconstruction between nations and between individuals. The same individualism which meant that people ignored the needs of their neighbor could also lead nations to war with one another or seek the atheistic collectivism of Soviet-style Communism. As rector he began inviting guest speakers on liturgy and social justice to speak to seminarians, including Virgil Michel, H.A. Reinhold, William Busch, Donald Attwater, and Dorothy Day (right), the first woman ever to speak at an American Catholic seminary. (photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal).

Hillenbrand was emboldened by a series of papal encyclicals on social justice and the liturgy. Always a loyal churchman, he cited the authority of papal teachings frequently to establish the orthodoxy of his claims. Beginning with Leo XIII’s encyclical on social justice, Rerum Novarum, a series of documents on liturgy and social justice followed, from Pius X’s oft-cited Tra le sollecitudini to Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno which critiqued the excesses of both capitalism and communism. He also approved of the work of the Cardinal Joseph Cardijn and the Jocists, a group of young Catholic industrial workers who hoped to Christianize the work force. His encyclical Casti conubii promoted the idea of the family as the basis of any just society, which encouraged Hillenbrand to work with his successful Catholic Family Movement. Later Pius XII confirmed the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ in Mystici Corporis.

The Link Between Liturgy and Social Justice

In Reynold Hillenbrand's mind, the Sacred Liturgy and social justice could not be separated. Because Christians were united as the Mystical Body with Christ as its head, the members could not be thought of as mere individuals, but as a corporate body that would have concern for all of its members. The divine power which would enable fallen human beings to live equitably and peacefully came from Christ. Since Christ chose to organize His Church as a hierarchically-arranged organization of pope, bishops, and priests and lay people, Hillenbrand understood the traditional organization of the Church to be essential to his project. Additionally, since Christ chose to use sacramental system to continue His earthly mission, active membership and participation the sacramental life of the Church was the primary means of being formed in God’s image by receiving one’s proper share in the divine life of the Trinity.

Within this organizational structure, Hillenbrand believed that lay people needed to reclaim their rightful place in the liturgy, participating in the parts that rightfully belonged to them. The move was not a Nietzschean or Marxist demand for power in the modern political sense, but instead was prompted by Hillenbrand’s deep faith in the power of the sacraments to change individual souls into a community. Inspired by the caritas Christi, this community would overflow with love for neighbor and seek a just society, where Christians would follow the principle of Catholic Action – “see, judge, act” –to take a Christ-inspired, active role in societal reconstruction. Hillenbrand was therefore interested in the proper formation of Christians in the Catholic Family Movement, and the labor, financial and racial questions of his day.
Later in his life, when Hillenbrand consistently held to these principles and papal teachings, he was somewhat marginalized and thought a “conservative” who could not adjust to a post-conciliar Church. In recent years his stubborn refusal to relinquish obedience to the teachings of the Church on its sacramental life have only increased his reputation as a forward thinker in liturgical reform


Hillenbrand's Organizations in Action

Catholic Action: Something of an umbrella term defined as the “participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy,” that is, the sanctification of souls, Catholic Action was highly praised by Popes Pius XI and XII, and informed Vatican II by urging the laity to take seriously their vocation to Christianize the world. Small groups organized in “cells” would meet with a priest chaplain and use the “see-judge-act” method to bring “the whole program of the Divine Heart” to all aspects of life: the farms, the workplace, families, schools, and racial and social class struggle. The life of the Trinity, found at its source in the liturgy, required diffusion through out society at all levels, and spurred many similar movements with more specialized groups.

Young Christian Workers: Founded on the principles developed by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn of Brussels, Young Christian Workers was founded to promote education on the needs of youth being drawn into modern industrialized society. Young people were reminded of their eternal destiny as human beings, not slaves or machines. Young people were encouraged to continue their formal educations, and a network of social services was established to help the displaced worker, particularly in crowded urban areas. Additionally, the YCW as an organization was able to represent the interests of young workers with national and international civic authorities.

Catholic Family Movement: Hillenbrand understood that industrialization and the ravages of war had their toll on the American family. In 1943, the CFM was begun to help couples strengthen their witness as an apostolic force within society. Strictly a lay movement, CFM groups used the same “cell” method developed by Cardijn. Cardinal Stritch asked Hillenbrand to start the CFM in Chicago, and Pat and Patty Crowley of Sacred Heart parish in Winnetka, Illinois served as its first executive directors. Holding conventions and publishing a journal entitled For Happier Families, the CFM grew rapidly, with over 5000 couples participating worldwide by 1952. The meetings `prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and participated in the missa recitata, anticipating the more widespread liturgical reforms of the next decades.

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