Monsignor Léon Gromier and Liturgical Reform

When I was in seminary in Italy, our liturgical expert Fr Franck Quoex handed some of us a photocopied sheet of an essay by a distinguished French prelate and MC of Pope Pius XII. About ten years ago, I published this paper on the internet and translated it into English. Here are the links:

Perhaps better versions are now available elsewhere, as this paper has not gone unnoticed in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world.

Another article has been published about this remarkable man – Léon Gromier: Liturgical Reform Between Rupture and Continuity on the Chant Café blog. I also make a HT to The New Liturgical Movement which has linked to this article. It somewhat “mainstreams” criticisms of the 1950’s reforms of certain aspects of the Roman Missal like the Holy Week ceremonies and gives a theological and scholarly tilt to the discussion. This is something we can be very grateful for.

I’m sure Fr Smith, who wrote this article, would be grateful for comments over on Chant Café. The idea of liturgy coming from centuries of tradition and gradual change rather than being “manufactured” has always been a theme close to my heart.

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17 Responses to Monsignor Léon Gromier and Liturgical Reform

  1. Stephen K says:

    Very interesting! I had never heard of Leon Gromier. I like and approve of his emphasis that solemnity resides in the concept being celebrated and memorialised, not in the quantity of gestures and paraphernalia. And the idea of liturgy as an organic not a juridical development is certainly an attractive one, that lies at the heart of Dr Geoffrey Hull’s critique of the Roman mindset that made progressively “ruptured” reforms culminating in the 20th century changes possible and expected, his book “The Banished Heart”. I would like to suggest, however, that in a sense, all changes, however small, however gradual or separated by centuries, represent some degree of discontinuity and “manufacture”, just less obvious or more easily conceded. True organics – like the phenomenon of life (vegetable or animal) – operates in a mysterious way whereby whatever is now is suddenly seen somehow different from what was before without our being able to point to any particular change, often any change at all. When it comes to human “devices” like liturgy, we clearly use the term “organic” in an allegorical sense. Each change, however small, is deliberate, loaded with imported meaning, and generally mandated for everyone else. For liturgy to approach the truly organic process, one might expect that it develop and normalise purely by individual choice and assent, not by law. Whether people adopted a form would thus depend on the merit and attractiveness of the form and a common cultural readiness and capability, and not on a rule. Such a process would be however fraught with the risk, indeed, inevitability of considerable confusion and make the concept and fact of broad community impossible or difficult because in the proliferation of variations no one group would feel entirely at home if at all with one form rather than another. So it seems we can only push the organic character of liturgy so far. Even the reform of the reform, the tinkering with the Pauline liturgy, the re-introduction or promotion of the old Mass (whether 1962 or 1910!) are deliberate processes and to the extent that for vast numbers the older rites are completely unknown, they might as well, for practical purposes, be wholesale “changes”, notwithstanding they represent changes from a long time ago. I absolutely agree that there is collossally bad and banal liturgy and sublime and richly-signified forms, but we must base the liturgy always on the meanings which it sets out to reveal and vivify, and not approach the issue on dubious or false principles that either “Old” or “New” are always better. Just some thoughts. Thank you, Father. This is an interesting post and the links were stimulating and there should be a lot contributors have to say about it all.

  2. Michael Frost says:

    Father, As regards your statement that “The idea of liturgy coming from centuries of tradition and gradual change rather than being “manufactured” has always been a theme close to my heart”, have you ever read Luther D. Reed’s magesterial work, The Lutheran Liturgy (1959, 2nd Ed./1947, 1st Ed.)? The 2nd ed. is directly tied to the 1958 Common Liturgy that was adopted by eight American Lutheran bodies (that eventually ended up as the ELCA). Reed, who was most active on Lutheran liturgics, in general, and their common liturgy, in particular, was writing during the liturgical renewal movement of the mid-20th Century, before the disruptive 1960s. His work gives an interesting perspective on how a denomination with various jurisdictions worked on its common liturgy. Reed was both the interested observer and eventual diarist, who worked hard to recover the living historical Western Liturgy as interpreted through the historical Lutheran lens.

    Pace 1662/1928 BCPs, I believe the 1958 Lutheran Common Liturgy was the zenith of a dignified, simplified, yet full and fully traditional Western liturgy designed around and for English speakers. It has all of the traditional components (Confession, Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Collect, OT Lesson, NT Epistle, Gradual/Alleluia, Gospel, Creed, Sermon, Peace, Offertory, Prayer of the Church, Preface, Sanctus, Prayer of Thanksgiving/Eucharistic Prayer w/Epiclesis, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis, Post-Communion, & Benediction). In distinction to the Anglican model, the confession of the people and the Gloria are in their “proper” locations. What was so sad is that this magnificent liturgy was wiped out by the end of the 1960s, as the modernist revisers across all denominations (RC, ECUSA, Lutheran, etc.) rejected their historical liturgies and worked for radical changes. It was formally thrown out in 1978. The current ELCA liturgy (recently revised from the 1978) continues to follow the modern RC and ECUSA revisers.

    • William Tighe says:

      It is a lovely liturgy, although I can’t much fancy its Eucharistic Prayer, which has a bit of a flavor of that in the Liturgy of St. James, but which (as is understandable from a Lutheran perspective) wholly lacks any real “oblationary” aspect as regards the eucharistic elements.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Reed, Chpt. XVII, specifically addresses your point. The 16th Century liturgical reformers, including Luther and Cranmer, rejected the medieval, scholastic view of the offertory/oblation-sacrifice, as do the Lutherans in the 1950s. Reed’s work includes comparisons to the complete texts of the Tridentine Liturgy, 1928 BCP liturgy, 1958 Lutheran Common Liturgy, and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. St. John’s oblation is rather simple (accept our prayer of sinners…enable us to offer oblations and spiritual sacrifices for our sins…welcome our sacrifice”), certainly different than the medieval Tridentine’s oblation (“Receive…this spotless host…for all faithful Christians living and dead…their salvation unto eternal life…bless this sacrifice”), and more in accord with the 1958 (which uses Psalm 50 (51): “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit…Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness…I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving”). I think the Eucharistic Canon is quite dignified (certainly a vast improvement over most prior Lutheran liturgies, esp. in America, and stands up well to the current canons in the RC, ECUSA, ELCA). Not unexpectedly, in this area Reed argues the 1958 is more aligned with the liturgy of the early church and is in accord with Luther and the Augsburg Confession/Apology/FC.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Your comment induced me to pull out my Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (2nd Ed.) I found this comment regarding the Offertory interesting: “The teaching of Cyril of Jerusalem led to a similar development along the single ‘Cyprianic’ line of thought in later Eastern teaching about the eucharistic sacrifice, though the Eastern hardly reached the same precision in their understanding of the matter as the later Westerns. It would be misleading, as I see the matter, rigidly to divide early eucharistic teaching into an Eastern or ‘Irenaean’ and a Western or ‘Cyprianic’ doctrine….”

        Of course, Dix’s comments in the lengthy chapters on “The Mediaeval Development” and “The Reformation and Anglican Liturgy” point out both the precision reached by the medieval scholastics and the reaction by liturgical reformers like Luther and Cranmer. I think the 1958 tries to recover all that it can from the pre-scholastic Western tradition in this area without undoing the reformed liturgy.

      • William Tighe says:


        You might like to read my article on Dix:

      • Michael Frost says:

        Thanks. I’m a long-time subscriber to Touchstone, a truly magnificent ecumencial publication (where contributors take their own faith background seriously).

        I wish someone would do the same for Luther D. Reed and his The Lutheran Liturgy (which is about far, far more than just Lutheran liturgics). His first edition (1947) was just two years after Dix’s, and his 2nd edition (1959) was seven years after Dix’s death. Reed toiled in liturgics for longer than Dix lived. Reed elevated Lutheran liturgics, but then his work was washed away by Vatican II’s liturgical reforms and the spirit of the 1960s that attenuated Western liturgics around the world.

        While I often refer to Dix when doing any research, I use him carefully and, when looking at Western liturgics, always in conjunction with Reed. As you point out regarding the priest’s position vis-a-vis the altar, Dix could sometimes be a bit rash and didn’t always have the best source information. Reed and the 1958 Common Liturgy have the priest face appropriately (e.g., facing altar during the introductory confession, facing people during the readings, and facing altar during the Eucharist Prayer: as the rubric states, “The Minister standing before the Altar, and facing it, shall say the Prayer of Thanksgiving”).

  3. Dale says:

    ” St. John’s oblation is rather simple (accept our prayer of sinners…enable us to offer oblations and spiritual sacrifices for our sins…welcome our sacrifice”), certainly different than the medieval Tridentine’s oblation (“Receive…this spotless host…for all faithful Christians living and dead…their salvation unto eternal life…bless this sacrifice”)”

    I think we need to be more careful in using terminology that nowadays has a negative connotation; Medieval and Tridentine are such buzz words. One must also ask, what is meant by “medieval”? The prayer, “Suscipe sancte pater” occurs in Charles the Bald’s (875-877) prayer book, and personally (and is most likely far more ancient than even that), I would question denominating this prayer as either a horrible relic of the Middle Ages, or even worse, a papistical attempt to rule the world through the reforms of Trent!

    Also, let us be careful in using terminology such as “spiritual sacrifices.” In modern terminology “spiritual” is usually in reference to something that does not exist or is not really believed in; such as Protestants believing that the Eucharist is a “spiritual communion”; really meaning that they have no use for the real presence. Or the very popular phrase, “I am spiritual, not religious,” insinuating anything that individual may or may not believe is valid. It is interesting to note that the first use of this phrase that I have discovered appears in the pro-euthanasia, Nazi film, “Ich Klage an.”

    Personally, I am sick and tired of my tradition being demeaned by simply calling it Medieval or Tridentine. Recently a priest of one of the eastern churches condemned the western rite by simply screaming that it was “Tridentine”; thus, one suspects, all conversation must cease. A bit like liberal politicians condemning the opposition by the ending of all conversational buzz words, Racist!
    How the very, very ancient rite of St Gregory, especially the canon of the Mass, became “Tridentine” has never been explained, but people who use such phraseology never bother to explain anyway.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Dale, I hope you’ve studied the liturgical changes that took place with the Roman Rite over say about the 800 years immediately preceeding the Reformation and resulting Council of Trent (Counter Reformation). One might label those changes after say about the year 700 AD “medieval” and those after say about 1,200 AD “scholastic” and, of course, Trent, is a huge watershed in Roman Catholic liturgics. Also keep in mind that there is an ongoing change in the theological understanding of what is happening in the liturgy during this time.

      To better appreciate the changes, you might read some non-RC works, starting with say the Augsburg Confession/Apology (for a Lutheran perspective on what the RC liturgy had come to before Trent) as well as the 39 Articles (for an Anglican perspective on “abuses”). Dom Gregory Dix (a near papal Anglican) and Luther D. Reed (High Church American Lutheran) both have wonderful books discussing changes to the RC liturgy and liturgical theology leading up to the Reformation.

      Fortunately for you, the old “medieval” and “Tridentine” forms of worship and ways of thinking are now essentially obliterated? So I hope you’re not “sick of your tradition being demeaned by simplying calling it”…the Vatican II or New Order Liturgy. But once again, massive change in both the words of the liturgy and the underlying theology.

  4. Dale says:

    I have also studied all of the medieval changes made to the Greek liturgy as well. I especially like their adaptation of Byzantine court rituals. But I notice that no one is condemning their liturgy or tradition because it is mostly from (gasp!) the medieval period.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Dale, Anyone who has ever compared the (longer) liturgy of St. Basil to the (shorter) liturgy of St. John Chrysostom knows Orthodoxy has made liturgical changes over the years (though mostly a very long time ago indeed). And any of us who study such things are also (sadly) aware that one of the (unfortunate) results of the rise of Islam was the homogenization of Eastern liturgics around the Imperial Constantanople-approved/used liturgy. Thus the liturgies that were used by Antioch, etc. were “standardized”. And any Orthodox in America can be (painfully) aware that we (sadly) fail to use the language of the people (English) for too many of our liturgies (esp. Greeks & Serbs). However, I suspect most Western commentators on liturgics quickly realize that vis-a-vis the West, the East has maintained a constant liturgical tradition for nearly 1500 years (with some small changes) and the West has seen massive and ongoing changes (that never seem to stop).

      I also think you fail to account for the difference in words and the meaning of the words. Note the oblation of the the medieval/scholastic Tridentine liturgy: “Receive…this spotless host…for all faithful Christians living and dead…their salvation unto eternal life…bless this sacrifice”. The language about this sacrifice being for the “dead” and their salvation is what separated this Oblation from both the East and the Reformation. Because it is directly tied to specifically RC doctrines on the sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory, the super-treasury of the saints, and indulgences! The East is mostly silent on the specific issue because it isn’t in our history (and it hasn’t been part of our dogma) and Protestants wrote liturgies that refuted these doctrines because they viewed them as heresies justifying the Reformation. Now compare the Tridentine Offertory to the Vatican II New Order one. New language and new meaning, though we know the (problematic) dogmas are still in full force per the RC CCC.

  5. Dale says:

    ” West has seen massive and ongoing changes (that never seem to stop)”: I will have to disagree with this statement. The west, until VERY recently, has always been much, much more conservative in liturgical change than the east. This is shown that following the canons of the ecumenical councils the liturgical text of the offices are almost exclusively from scripture, whilst the Greeks have regulated Scripture to a sideline and filled up the office with loads, and loads of composed works. The Roman Canon has remained, until recently, for centuries. One example of this is that the Greek tradition of the Byzantine rite has for the first three antiphons have deleted the scriptural text, preserving the composed antiphons, whilst the Russians have, for some reason, preserved the psalms, but have deleted the antiphons. One could go on and on and on…

  6. Michael Frost says:

    Dale, As I’ve said, we’re talking about both changes to the liturgy and changes to what the liturgy “means”. If you broke “the West” down into four 500 year blocks and compared both the liturgy and “the meaning of the liturgy”, you’d see significant changes. And the sum of those changes would be massive if one looked at the liturgy and its meaning in say the year 400 AD and one then compared it to 1200 AD or 1600 AD and now 2012. Take the rise and fall of the Gallican Liturgy. Or the reduction of most non-Roman Rite liturgies by Trent. And the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Trent. The “need” for the Reformation arises due to the significant changes in theology regarding the liturgy, esp. in the period from about 800 AD-1500 AD (the medieval/scholastic periods). And now the post-Vatican II New Order liturgical revolution.

    I’m not talking about some obvious things like the addition of the Last Gospel (now gone). For “the West”, the primary liturgical issues are transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory, indulgences, and the super-treasury of merit controlled by Rome. These ideas did NOT exist before 500 AD. They were never part of the East’s thinking and thus never a part of our liturgy. They were all uniformly rejected by the Reformers, who had to reshape their liturgies to remove the abuses. Trent tinkers and modifies with things to remove the worst of the medieval/scholastic corruptions. While Rome accepts them as dogma today, her New Order liturgy was redesigned to deemphasize and “hide” them, or at least make them more palatable to non-RCs.

    And take some of the “secondary” issues, things like communion in one vs both kinds and the use of Latin or the vernacular in the liturgy and readings/Bible. Here the Roman West goes off the rails (well before the Reformation), things aren’t improved by Trent, and only now has Rome recovered what it changed.

    Have you ever read Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars, about the English Reformation? As he points out, so much of the Roman system by 1500 AD was all about purgatory and prayers for the dead. That is what the common man and woman took away from Sunday service and it was the dominant thought of their worship, devotions and gifts.

    I think Rome is still way off in regard to some things. Like private liturgies. Or having a priest say multiple liturgies on the same day. Or having Sunday worship on early Saturday afternoons (esp. before sundown).

    Of course, the East has tinkered with its primary liturgy (St John’s) as it has been adapted and adopted to various peoples (esp. the Slavs, in general, and Russians, in particular). But the “theology” of the liturgy has remained pretty constant. Thus we never had all the additional meanings added by Rome nor have we had the opposite reaction of removing too much, as was done by many of the Reformers.

  7. Dale says:

    Michael, you stated: “For “the West”, the primary liturgical issues are transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory, indulgences, and the super-treasury of merit.”

    I am sorry, but none of these issues has anything to do with rite; the eastern rite Roman Catholics believe all of these doctrines and do not celebrate the Roman Mass; also, the wonderful Greek-English Holy Week Manual produced by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, in its rubrics states, before the epiclesis, that this is the “moment” in which the “transubstantiation” of the elements happens (it also demands kneeling at this time). As for indulgences, they are very much post Roman Rite, and also believed by eastern rite Roman Catholics.

    As for the Sacrifice of the Mass, I was taught this doctrine as a seminarian of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as “transubstantzia.” We were also taught that the priest at the altar, becomes Persona Christi. By rejecting these doctrines the creeping Protestantization of modern Orthodoxy continues.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Dale, Too funny! Bringing up post-Trent Uniates (Eastern Rite RCs). Of course they are officially required to believe all the things Rome believes in. And they are required to change their beliefs every time Rome does (e.g., add papal infallibility, immaculate conception, & the Assumption; remove Limbo). That is part of being Uniate RCs; they couldn’t give up Orthodoxy and become RC without accepting what Rome requires. Luckily, they get their own canon law. But they are NOT Orthodox!

      My local Greek Orthodox Church uses the English transmutation. As my Antiochian Orthodox Western Rite Missal shows for the Tridentine-based liturgy, “transmuting them by thy Holy Spirit.” Of course, believing in the real presence we acknowledge a “change”. We just haven’t officially needed to choose a particular word to describe it.

      As regards issues like “transubstantiation” and “sacrifice”, you suffer a serious flaw in logic when you wrongly assume that because we don’t use Rome’s specific word or particular theological definition of a word or phrase that we somehow then must be using Protestant words or definitions. We’ve been around since the beginning so we use our own words and definitions, which oft are neither RC nor Protestant.

      Our discussion was about changes in what Rome said, did, and believed about its liturgy over time. Thus I bring up the Reformers and the Reformation, as they are the immediate intervenors regarding “the West”. Like I said, read any good Lutheran or Anglican history of the Western/Roman Rite and you’ll get a good sense for the impact of the medieval age and scholastics.

  8. Michael Frost says:

    Dale, I’m Western Rite Orthodox. I’ve watched the liturgical and theological changes in the RC Church. When I was born their liturgy was in Latin, with the priest facing the altar with his back to the congregation, communion in one kind kneeling at a communion rail, with the distribution by a priest, reading from the traditional lectionary, singing traditional hymns, following the traditional calendar. I’ve watched the changes. The horrible New American Bible. Wretched folk music hymals. Dumbed down liturgy. Cremation is just another option. Altar girls appear to predominate, standing next to the large numbers of female eucharistic ministers; there is no longer any real discussion about “minor” orders vis-a-vis “major” orders since women are allowed to do everything but be deacon, priest, or bishop. Limbo erased from the cosmology. Purgatory and indulgences hidden in the attic out of sight. Not to mention the sociology of modern RCs in the pews, who appear to act like their protestant and secular peers when it comes to moral issues. (I’ve seen what has transpired in the ECUSA, ELCA, LCMS, UMC, etc. both liturgically and theologically. And we both know there was a revolution during the West’s Reformation. Now there is more revolutionary activity all across the Western front, from Norway to Italy, Finland to Spain, Ireland to Poland, and all points in between.)

    Now whether it is theological change leading to liturgical change or liturgical change leading to theological change, all I know is that correlation is not causality and I can’t prove it one way or another. All I know is…it involves a whole lot of change, both theological and liturgical. I “blame” the changes on…the people responsible for imposing them, both liturgically and theologically.

    You’d have to ask them why…cremation is now OK, Limbo vanished, steak on Friday is normal, scapulars are collector’s items, Ms. Smith hands over the chalice on Sunday, and all the rest. 🙂

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