Liturgical Movement

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Dom Virgil Michel
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The liturgical movement originated as a movement to reform Catholic worship through a renewed importance on liturgical practices (e.g., more frequent reception of the Eucharist, Gregorian chants, etc.). In the early 1900s, Benedictine monk Dom Virgil Michel helped develop the movement in the United States having learned about it in Europe. In 1926, he began both The Liturgical Press and the journal Orate Fratres (later renamed Worship) as a means to disseminate literature on liturgical reform.

By the 1930s, U.S. Episcopalians and certain Protestant groups were engaged in a comparable liturgical movement. Emphasizing sacramental renewal and liturgical education, liturgical organizations emerged (e.g., Episcopal Church’s Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, 1946) and liturgical books as well as instructional texts appeared in the 1950s-1960s.

Liturgical organizations have continued to form into the 21st century, although scholars debate whether the liturgical movement has concluded or has entered a new phase.
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The beginning of the liturgical movement often is dated from the address given by the Belgian Benedictine Lambert Beauduin at Malines in September 1909, though precursors worldwide (Catholic, Anglican and Protestant) in the 19th century were similarly committed to the renewal and reform of Christian worship -- especially the active participation of the faithful in sacraments and prayer -- by drawing upon early, medieval and Reformation liturgical theologies, forms and practices for their inspiration. The emphases specified in Beauduin’s La piete de l'Eglise (1914; ET Liturgy the Life of the Church, 1926), namely liturgical scholarship and education, sacred music and arts, parish work and life and moral and ethical formation, gave focus to the movement that in the United States developed initially under the leadership of the German American Virgil Michel (1888-1938), a Benedictine of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., who knew Beauduin. Michel advocated a theology of the church as the living and mystical body of Christ, linked liturgy with social justice and addressed the need for clergy and lay liturgical education by establishing in 1926 both The Liturgical Press and the journal Orate Fratres (later renamed Worship). His Catholic collaborators included religious, clergy and lay men and women. As the Roman Catholic liturgical movement grew (especially in the Midwest), its leaders made connections with such groups as the Liturgical Arts Society (1928-1972) and with Catholic social movements, including the Catholic Worker and The Grail. Lay involvement in liturgical renewal also was stimulated by the organization of day events in the 1920s-1930s, which were expanded in the 1940s to annual liturgical "weeks" overseen by the Liturgical Conference (founded in 1940; now ecumenical).

By the 1930s U.S. Episcopalians and certain Protestants were engaged in a comparable liturgical movement with first- or second-hand knowledge of Roman Catholic activity. In 1937, the 23-member church Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America published The Christian Year, mainly for denominations unfamiliar with the annual cycle. Proponents of sacramental renewal and liturgical education within several denominations established organizations to support their work, such as the Methodist Church’s Brotherhood of Saint Luke (1946; renamed Order of Saint Luke in 1948) and the Episcopal Church’s Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission (1946). New liturgical books, experimental rites and instructional texts appeared in the 1950s and 1960s as denominations evaluated their liturgical life. As one example, from 1950 to 1963, the Episcopal Church produced 16 Prayer Book Studies and prepared trial services that would culminate in the authorization of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Many of the goals of the liturgical movement were realized by Vatican II’s promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1964) and the revised rites that resulted. Inspired by this work, Protestants continued or began anew their own liturgical adjustments; and since many revisions drew upon common sources, orders of worship and their textual components bore similarities across the churches. Such ecumenical and liturgical sharing as fruits of the liturgical movement was formalized by the founding in 1969 of the Consultation on Common Texts (which in 1992 produced the Revised Common Lectionary), in 1975 of the scholarly North American Academy of Liturgy and in 1994 of the North American Association for the Catechumenate. In the 21st century, scholars debate whether the liturgical movement has concluded or has entered a new phase.

Oxford Martyr's Mass- photo by Martin Beek, via Lawrence OP on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Virgil Michel portrait- courtesy of St John's Abbey Archives

Communion at Ulm Cathedral- National Archives and Records Administration

Lambert Beauduin portrait- Wikimedia Commons- photo by Theodore68

Liturgical Press, St John Abbey- Flickr- photo by jason john paul haskins (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Karen B. Westerfield Tucker

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