USML | The Liturgical Institute

Hillenbrand Exhibit

The Liturgical Movement

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 19th century, 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 (left), 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 César 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 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 for 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 (left)became the hero of the Liturgical Movement by issuing his motu 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 required 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 principle 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. César, where the new ideas of the Liturgical Movement were germinating. He returned to the United States and grew convinced that the Catholic liturgy was the basis for social regeneration. In 1926 he founded the highly influential liturgical journal Orate Fratres, 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. Michael 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 John’s 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.


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