DPPL 46: Pius X and the Last Century

STA altar at night smallThe DPPL wraps up its look at history with the twentieth century. A momentous and often-overlooked shift:

46. At the outset of the twentieth century, St. Pope Pius X (1903-1914) proposed bringing the Liturgy closer to the people, thereby “popularizing” it. He maintained that the faithful assimilated the “true Christian spirit” by drawing from its “primary and indispensable source, which is active participation in the most holy mysteries and from the solemn public prayer of the Church”(“Motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini (22.11.1903), in Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, I, Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1971, p. 77). In this way, St. Pope Pius X gave authoritative recognition to the objective superiority of the Liturgy over all other forms of piety; dispelled any confusion between Liturgy and popular piety, indirectly clarified the distinction between both and opened the way for a proper understanding of the relationship that must obtain between them.

In one context, it makes sense for early and frequent celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The witness of the first half of the past century is that popular piety and devotions remained strong in many quarters, as the age of First Communion was lowered and more lay people were open to the grace of frequent Communion in their lives.

In academic and some experimental circles, a movement crystallized:

Thus was born the liturgical movement which was destined to exercise a prominent influence on the Church of the twentieth century, by virtue of the contribution of many eminent men, noted for their learning, piety and commitment, and in which the Supreme Pontiffs recognized the promptings of the Spirit(Cf. Pius XII, Allocution to the participants of the first International congress on pastoral liturgy, Assisi-Rome, (22.9.1956), in AAS 48 (1956) 712; SC 43). The ultimate aim of the liturgical movement was pastoral in nature (Among those involved with the movement mention must be made of Lambert Beauduin (+1960), Odo Casel (+ 1948), Pius Parsch (+1954), Bernard Botte (+ 1960), Romano Guardini (+ 1968), Josef A. Jungmann (+ 1975), Cipriano Vagaggini (+ 1999), Aimé-Georges Martimort (+2000)), namely, to encourage in the faithful a knowledge of, and love for, the divine mysteries and to restore to them the idea that these same mysteries belong to a priestly people (cf. 1 Pt 2,5).

Knowledge and love for the liturgy: yes, certainly. Where we have yet to grasp is what moves beyond the intellect and the affect. I’m thinking an internalizing of the liturgy. Living it, if you will. Worship as a way of Christian life, not just an aspect of it, not just one more piece in a busy and cluttered puzzle of possibilities.

In the context of the liturgical movement, it is easy to understand why some of its exponents assumed a diffident attitude to popular piety and identified it as one of the causes leading to the degeneration of the Liturgy. They faced many of the abuses deriving from the superimposition of pious exercises on the Liturgy as well as instances where the Liturgy was displaced by acts of popular worship. In their efforts to restore the purity of divine worship, they took as their ideal the Liturgy of the early centuries of the Church, and consequently radically rejected any form of popular piety deriving from the Middle Ages or the post-Tridentine period.

And perhaps this was too cold and calculating to have a desired effect. One cannot subtract without offering a better addition. In a way, there were elements of post-Tridentine magicalism at work–doing Vatican II  in a Vatican I way as my wife would call it. In many places, the Low Mass and its inheritor, the quickie four-hymn sandwich were simply insufficient to bear the load previously offered by Catholic devotional life. Say-the-black, do-the-red is a fine formula for cooking out of a book. It gives a busy or even a negligent priest some creature comfort. But it is not a formula for authentic renewal.

This rejection, however, failed to take sufficient account of the fact that these forms of popular piety, which were often approved and recommended by the Church, had sustained the spiritual life of the faithful and produced unequalled spiritual fruits. It also failed to acknowledge that popular piety had made a significant contribution to safeguarding and preserving the faith, and to the diffusion of the Christian message. Thus, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Mediator Dei of 21 November 1947, with which he assumed leadership of the liturgical movement, issued a defence of pious exercises which, to a certain extent, had become synonymous with Catholic piety in recent centuries.

If Pius XII was defending piety in the 1940’s, clearly the move against devotions was gaining traction long before Vatican II. Chalk it up to a modern rationalism independent of the Council?

The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council finally defined, in proper terms, the relationship obtaining between the Liturgy and popular piety, by declaring the unquestionable primacy of the Sacred Liturgy and the subordination to it of pious exercises, while emphasizing their validity(Cf. SC 7, 10, 13).

Vatican II brings us to the present situation, and we’ll cover that in sections 47 through 59 of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, which is online at the Vatican site.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

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