Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand

Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand, S.T.D.

Rector, 1936 - 1944

Priest, pastor, educator, social justice advocate and liturgical reformer, Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand (1905-1979), a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, served as rector of Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary from 1936 to 1944, and pastor of sacred Heart Parish in Winnetka, Illinois from 1944 to 1974. Known as one of Chicago’s most influential and inspirational priests, Hillenbrand was a visionary leader of liturgical reform and social renewal. As one of the American pioneers of the Liturgical Movement in the United States, Hillenbrand began promoting active participation in the liturgy decades before the Second Vatican Council made today’s liturgical practices the norm. Always conscious that worshippers formed a Mystical Body with Christ as its head, Hillenbrand encouraged appropriate lay participation so that Christ’s work, which continued in the Church, could flourish on earth.

Deeply interested in social renewal during and after the Great Depression and World War II, Hillenbrand believed that Christians would be transformed by the Divine Life by participating fully in the sacred liturgy, giving praise to God and receiving sanctifying grace. These individuals, then transformed, would bring this overflowing Divine Life to others in the workplace, schools, at home, with the poor, and in all aspects of social interaction. This cultural renewal avoided the excesses of both unbridled capitalism and collectivist communism, instead finding its source in Christ.

As a prolific speaker and founder of numerous organizations and events, including the National Liturgical Weeks, the Summer of Social Action and the Catholic Family Movement, Hillenbrand shaped the understanding of generations of priests and laypeople. He helped them to understand that the grace of Christ available in the sacred liturgy was the true source of personal and social renewal, and that this grace was most fruitful when people participated in the sacramental life of the Church most fully.

Early Years and Formation 1905-1931

Reynold Hillenbrand was born on July 19, 1904, the second of nine children and the grandson of German immigrants who settled in Wisconsin. Reynold’s father, George, moved to Chicago to earn his degree in dentistry from Northwestern University, marrying Eleanor Schmidt in 1901. The family joined Saint Michael’s parish in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, which like many German parishes, had a strong sense of social justice. St. Michael’s published the bilingual magazine entitledCentral Blatt and Social Justice, and participated in events sponsored by the German Central Verein, a Catholic organization which fought Freemasonry and looked after the welfare of Catholic immigrants in the United States. St. Michael’s was also known for its rich liturgical and devotional traditions and strong music program. Hillenbrand would later take this formation to his own efforts in uniting liturgy and social justice.

Hillenbrand’s formation remained deeply intertwined with the educational efforts of Cardinal George Mundelein, who founded both Quigley Preparatory Seminary and Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary (Mundelein Seminary), insisting on the highest educational standards and using the system to identify men of particular talent. Young Reynold was already known by his lifelong nicknames of “Hilly” and “Reiny.” He evidently showed leadership potential in his educational life, and his high school activities prefigure the many gifts he would use in his priestly ministry. The debate team no doubt prepared him as a preacher and persuasive orator. As founder and editor-in-chief of the school’s daily newspaper, The Candle, Hilly honed his writing and organizational skills, and as a member of the school’s orchestra and choir, he developed skills in music which would prove central to his later innovations in congregational liturgical participation.

At Saint Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary), Hillenbrand excelled academically, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1929 earlier than the rest of his class as a special recognition of his abilities. He later completed his License and Doctorate at Saint Mary of the Lake and would eventually become its rector.

Cardinal George Mundelein named Hillenbrand rector of Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary in 1936 at the age of 31. The founding of the seminary was a project dear to Mundelein’s heart, and its leadership no doubt required a man Mundelein could trust profoundly. The intellectual and energetic Hillenbrand wasted no time in bringing new ideas to the seminary program. Putting his beliefs about the corporate nature of the liturgy as an action of the Mystical Body of Christ into action, Hillenbrand brought the seminarians, who had until then worshipped in separate chapels, into a sung communal Sunday High Mass. He urged the use of the “dialogue Mass” so that seminarians could sing the responses, and expected the celebrant of each Mass to preach a daily homily on topics relevant to the scriptures, liturgical feast, or season.

Hillenbrand developed and taught a liturgy course for the seminary which addressed the nature and doctrine of the liturgy itself rather than the externals of the ceremonies alone. “The all-essential thing in the liturgy is to understand the doctrinal basis,” he wrote in 1942. For that reason, he studied closely the “divine life and the Mystical Body, because without understanding these it is quite useless to talk about the details of the Mass.” Hillenbrand’s skills as a preacher were legendary. Throughout his life he never ceased to be bombarded with speaking invitations. Seminarians recalled how even when not attending Mass, they would sneak into the sacristy and listen to his sermons.

Always a loyal churchman, Hillenbrand’s lectures on liturgy remained rooted in the Church’s official teaching, especially the writings of Pope Pius X, whose 1903 motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini used the phrase “active participation” for the first time in the relation to the liturgy. More important to Hillendbrand than classroom time, however, was the students’ lived experience of the liturgy. He insisted they learn the chants of the Mass, that appropriate liturgical colors and vestures be used, and that the Roman Missal be followed carefully.

Hillenbrand was known to students as formal and aloof, yet his ideas and preaching were considered magnetic and charismatic. Hillenbrand invited the nation’s leading liturgical minds to lecture at the seminary, including Virgil Michel, Martin Hellriegel, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Godfrey Diekmann and Dorothy Day, placing the seminary on the forefront of liturgical theology and forming a generation of Chicago priests.

The Liturgical Movement is a theologically-driven move toward helping Catholics understand the fundamental nature of the sacred liturgy so that they might draw from the font of “Christ-life” through their active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacraments, the Divine Office and devotional life. Though the Church has seen many such renewals, the modern Liturgical Movement began in the 19thCentury, greatly influenced the Second Vatican Council, and is still at work today.

Most scholars view the beginnings of the movement in France with Dom Prosper Gueranger, a Benedictine monk who refounded the monastery at Solesmes, restoring the choral monastic office and observance of the liturgical year, and publishing pastoral educational materials on the liturgy. Numerous interested parties followed suit, particularly among the German monastic foundations. Soon a “movement,” as distinguished from official ecclesiastical reform, was going strong. Names like Maurus Wolter of Beuron Abbey, Ildefons Herwegen and Odo Casel of the Monastery of Maria Laach, and Lambert Beauduin of Mont Cesar in Belgium have remained among the most influential thinkers on liturgical matters to the current day.

The leaders of the Liturgical Movement hoped that Catholics, believed cut off from the true understanding of the reality of the liturgy by certain liturgical developments, the Reformation and the French Revolution, would come to see the centrality of the sacramental life of the Church in their own lives. In his seminal work of the 1920s, Liturgy the Life of the Church, Lambert Beauduin wrote that liturgy is the making of the Christians into “living and holy oblations, offered daily unto the glory of the Father, in union with the unique sacrifice of Jesus Christ a mission that is destined to extend all the divine energies of the eternal priesthood unto all generations.” What followed was the need from active participation in the liturgy, a participation which was not to be confused with mere busyness or confusion of roles, but which united worshippers to Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body to both glorify God and bring about the sanctification of man. This idea was considered so valuable that at the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called active participation “the aim to be considered before all else.”

In 1903, Pope Pius X became the hero of the Liturgical Movement by issuing hismotu proprio on liturgical music, Tra le sollecitudini, which used the phrase “active participation” for the first time in a papal document in calling for the revival of Gregorian chant. Nearly all of the Liturgical Movement’s leaders repeatedly cited Pope Pius X, particularly his expressed desire to “see the true Christian spirit flourish again” by leading the faithful to “active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.”

This active participation in the offering of the self as victim with Christ requires that the faithful consciously understand their role in the liturgy, speak and sing their proper parts, and understand as deeply as possible both the words and theology of the liturgical acts. Once transformed by the divine life offered in the sacraments, they could bring about a more just society on the Christian principles of the unity of all in Christ. They could then renew the social order which seemed so wracked by the individualism which inevitably led to theological and civil error, economic and racial injustice, nationalism, and war.

Ever faithful to the Church, Reynold Hillenbrand would draw from the Liturgical Movement leaders his own inspiration for the renewal of the liturgical life and society of Chicago, combining education, calls for active participation of the laity, the renewal of Gregorian chant, and repeated calls for social justice.

“…we can readily see what the Liturgical Movement means…a movement towards the liturgy, towards the Christ-life giving mysteries; The holy Sacrifice, the Sacraments, the Sacramentals, the Solemn Prayer of the Church and the Liturgical Year; but also towards those external things which are so necessary for the pious, attentive and devout celebration of these mysteries.”

-“The Liturgical Movement,” 1930, educational pamphlet from the Liturgical Press of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.

Virgil Michel and the Liturgical Movement in the United States

Considered the founder of the Liturgical Movement in the United States, Rev. Virgil Michel, a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, lived from 1890 to 1938. After writing a doctoral dissertation on Orestes Brownson’s thoughts on social reform, Michel studied philosophy in Rome and Louvain, visiting the monasteries of Maria Laach and Mt. Cesar, where the new ideas of the Liturgical Movement were germinating. He returned to the United States and grew convince that the Catholic liturgy was the basis for social regeneration. In 1926 he founded the highly influential liturgical journal Orate Frates, now known as Worship, as well as the Liturgical Press.

Michel was the author of numerous books as well as the translator of European liturgical classics. In his 1937 book The Liturgy of the Church, Michel set the stage for the discussion of the liturgy in the terms so common today: full, conscious, active and fruitful participation. Michel argued that liturgical books contained the fundamental truths of the Faith, and that the people should not be denied access to these truths. He therefore argued for their “conscientious and intelligent” use by the laity as well as clerics. He claimed that there is “no worship without intelligence,” because only humans as rational animals could offer worship to God by consciously using their interior mental faculties. Exteriorizing this internal worship in active participation brought together the full participation of both body and soul, bringing honor to God and sanctification to mankind. This sanctification would therefore prove fruitful in daily life, leading individuals to see their Christian duty towards themselves and others and therefore bring about social regeneration.

Though Michel died while Hillenbrand was just beginning his priesthood, his ideas were nonetheless highly influential on Hillenbrand, who in 1940 spoke of the encouraging changes happening in American liturgical practice, citing the leadership in the field by St. John’s Abbey “with its memories of Dom Virgil Michel.”

The Mystical Body of Christ

Monsignor Hillenbrand wrote and spoke throughout his life of the “Mystical Body of Christ,” a theological supposition he believed critical to liturgical and social reform. The idea of the Mystical Body is as old as the New Testament itself, with Johns imagery of Christ as the Vine and the faithful as the branches (Jn 15:5-8). Paul wrote in Ephesians of Christ as the head of the whole body, the Church (Eph. 4:4-13). Because Christians belong to one body with Christ as its Head, the members of the Church are bound by supernatural life nourished by Christ in the sacraments. Throughout his life, Hillenbrand preached the Mystical Body of Christ, encouraged by Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis, which made official the teaching that Hillenbrand and others had been teaching for decades.

The doctrine of Mystical Body was particularly salient in the early years of the twentieth century, when two great wars and the economic collapse of the Depression had led many to believe that an un-Christian individualism had taken hold in society. Because people and nations thought of themselves as individuals rather than corporate entities united in Christ, the inevitable result was lack of concern for the other. In 1943, Hillenbrand gave a speech at the National Liturgical week in which he wrote that “the evil of individualism is disastrously clear.” By contrast, he wrote, the doctrine of the Mystical Body “stresses our oneness, our corporateness, our living, organic wholeness in Christ, Who is our Head, and consequently our absolute need of acting together.” Nowhere was this need for oneness more necessary than in the liturgy. Hillenbrand continued: “…it is at the Mass that we learn our oneness…the great corporate act of the Mystical Body. For the Mass is Christ and all His members sacrificing, joined in the greatest of actions, giving God the Father the most exalted worship.” Once this corporate worship occurred, the faithful would be filled with divine life which would then overflow into charity toward self and neighbor, the foundation for a peaceful and just society.

The “Mass Chart,” developed by Hillenbrand collaborator Fr. Martin Hellriegel, emphasized the unity of the Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and living the Catholic faith in daily life. This living out of the Faith was called “Catholic Action,” and is here poetically entitled “Mass During the Day.”

Through his studies, Hillenbrand developed his own particular understanding of liturgical theology which combined his deep foundations in St. Thomas Aquinas, the nouvelle theologie, and the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XII.

From Saint Thomas Aquinas Hillenbrand learned the notion of humanity’s destiny to share God’s divine life. God therefore gave humanity natural human life as a foundation for supernatural life. In the Fall, mankind lost that share in the divine life, and Christ’s mission was to restore the share of divine life to the human race and restore the oneness of God and humanity. This mission continued in the Church, with participation in the liturgy and reception of the Eucharist as the means of restoring this divine life through sanctifying grace.

From the nouvelle theologie Hillenbrand found a new approach to Aquinas. Like many of the liturgical pioneers of the twentieth century, Hillenbrand showed his move away from the “sawdust Thomism” of Neo-Scholasticism and toward the nouvelle theologie which incorporated ideas from patristic sources. Important for Hillenbrand was the notion of divinization, where participation in the divine life enable humans to become more like God. Participation in divine life, therefore, was not merely an individual inner sanctification, but an imitation of the Trinity acting in creation. Hillenbrand wrote in 1948: “Divine life, sanctifying grace, makes us be divine. It is not enough to be; we must also act…Therefore in the new existence God has given us not only divine life, but new powers to act divinely, to live divinely.” This action would take place in the world, but be nourished by the liturgy and the sacraments. For this reason, the image of deer drinking from flowing streams was a favorite of the Liturgical Movement.

From the papal encyclicals on social justice Hillenbrand learned of the Christian’s duty to society. Leo XIII’s 1891 Rerum novarum addressed the pressing issues of relations between labor and capital, while many writings of Pius X, XI and XII called for Christians to take an active role in the liturgy and the reconstruction of society. Hillenbrand joined these notions with the revived interest in the Mystical Body of Christ, seeing the Christian community as an integrated whole with Christ as its head rather than a community of individuals unconcerned with the common good. Because the reconstruction of society on Christian principles could only happen through human beings filled with divine life, and this life was made available in the sacraments and the liturgy, the renewal of the social order was deeply tied to liturgical reform and the full participation of Catholics in the liturgy. In this way, all things could be restored in Christ.

Hillenbrand’s Collaborators in the Liturgical Movement

William Busch

William “Billy” Busch, was a diocesan priest and faculty member at St. Paul Seminary. As something of the elder statesman of the group, Busch had been advisor to Virgil Michel as early as the 1920s, and together they planned the foundation of the Liturgical Press. Busch served a translator for many of the European works the Press published, particularly  the German writings of Pius Parsch. Busch also helped form the League of the Divine Office, a group determined to help lay people pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

H.A. Reinhold

H.A. Reinhold was a diocesan priest from the state of Washington, and perhaps the only true radical in the leadership of the Liturgical Conference. Known for his acerbic and hard-hitting opinions, his writings appeared frequently in his regular column in Orate Fratres, entitled “Timely Tracts.” Along with Hillenbrand, Reinhold was among the most vocal proponents of the connection between liturgy and social reconstruction. He was also a noted commentator on politics, art and architecture, leading to many articles in Commonweal and Liturgical Arts.

Martin Hellriegel

Martin Hellriegel brought great pastoral experience to the Liturgical Conference, having served for 22 years as chaplain to the Precious Blood Sisters in O’Fallon, Missouri and nearly forty years at Holy Cross parish in St. Louis, which he turned into a model of proper liturgical reform. German-born, he invited Virgil Michel to experience his liturgies, and the two became lifelong collaborators. The author of over 100 articles for Orate Frates, he also held a great interest in popular religiosity and devotions, spreading the notions of parish and family piety within the context of exquisite ceremonial .

Gerald Ellard, SJ

Gerald Ellard, SJ, a historian, was considered one of the great scholar minds of the Liturgical Conference, holding a doctorate in liturgical history from the University of Munich, where his doctoral dissertation was considered the first scholarly work by a citizen of the United States in the field of liturgy. As associate editor and frequent contributor to Orate Frates magazine and author of many of the pamphlets of the Popular Liturgical Library, Ellard helped form the large themes of the movement and identify areas of particular need. He was the author of the influential textbookChristian Life and Worship (1933) and Mass of the Future (1948) which spoke of the coming reforms of the liturgy.

National Liturgical Weeks

Though he was often busy with his official duties, Hillenbrand found time and energy to be a significant force in the local and national movement toward liturgical renewal. Along with other members of the newly-formed Liturgical Conference, Hillenbrand helped organize the first Liturgical Week in 1940. The weeks were modeled on the Belgian Semaines liturgiques held between 1910 and 1939, with the goal of bringing together those interested in liturgical renewal for talks, discussion and liturgical role-modeling. Held at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Hillenbrand served as its keynote speaker, with over 1,200 people in attendance.

Hillenbrand served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Liturgical Conference from 1943 to 1955, also acting as the organization’s Treasurer and Vice-President. As a young seminary rector who had earned the respect of Cardinal Mundelein and Archbishop Stritch, Hillenbrand’s virtuosity and papal loyalty brought to the conference an air of stability and respectability which would assuage some bishops suspicious of liturgical reform.

The papers of the Liturgical Weeks were collected and published, bringing together an invaluable record of the ideas of the American pre-conciliar liturgical leaders as well as artists, musicians, local clergy, and laypeople. Hillenbrand delivered a number of forcefully worded addresses across the years of the conference, revealing not only his powerful rhetorical style, but opinions and comments from colleagues and audience members, who called his writings “serious, scholarly and earnest.”