A Guiding Ideology of the Liturgical Renewal Movement

I was working up a post on the Kalendar in Holy Week when I encountered a concept that really deserves a post of its own. In thinking through the changes to Triduum (Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday including the Vigil), I put some pieces together. This is one of those odd insights where the pieces have been in plain view the whole time and stating it out loud is an absolute no-brainer—it’s just never clicked to the degree that it has now…

One of the central—if not the central—ideology of the Liturgical Renewal Movement (LRM) was to shift the liturgical churches from a eucharistic piety to a sacramental piety. That is, instead of focusing on and primarily referencing the Eucharist as the central sacrament of the Church, they sought to focus on the two chief sacraments, placing Baptism alongside the Eucharist. I would suggest that many of the liturgical and theological differences between the Church of the ’28 BCP and the Church of the ’79 BCP can be directly attributed to this shift.

From the perspective of the Church of the ’79 BCP, the Church of the ’28 and its piety focus on the Eucharist in fundamental relation to the events of the Passion. Note, for a moment, the piety captured in this collect, variants of which had wide circulation in the Anglican world of the early 20th century:

O Lord, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left us a memorial of thy passion, grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy body and blood that we may evermore perceive within ourselves the fruits of thy redemption through Jesus Christ…

Here the Eucharist is pre-eminently a memorial of the Passion and also a participation within Christ. The reverse is also true: the events of the Passion are understood eucharistically.

Again, from the perspective of the Church of the ’79 BCP, the anthropology of the Church of the ’28 is eucharistically derived with a focus on unworthiness, particularly an unworthiness to receive the Eucharist. The Prayer of Humble Access is typically People’s Exhibit A in prosecuting this line of thought:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Note in particular the theological function of the bit of this prayer that was edited out of the ’79 BCP’s Prayer of Humble Access: “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood.” I suggest that this change was made for three fundamental reasons. The first was to remove the separation of bodies and souls which the ’79 editors saw as too dualistic (see Hatchett), the second was to remove the suggestion that the body/bread effected one thing and the blood/wine effected another, but the third—and the pertinent one here—is that “washing” is connected to the Eucharist rather than Baptism.

The epicenter of this theological Change was expressed liturgically in the restructuring the Triduum. The centerpiece is the Easter Vigil as the great Baptismal Feast of the Church.This recapturing enabled the reorientation of Lent as a preparation for Baptism which takes the previous penitential character of the season and recasts it. We’re no longer just heading towards the Cross; we’re also heading towards the font.

Another noticeable change is the emphasis on the foot-washing on Maundy Thursday. While foot-washing has always been part of this day, I think that the LRM gave it a new emphasis and importance as a type of Baptism performed by Jesus on the apostles.This emphasis places Baptism as equal in importance to the Eucharist at the Last Supper, a uniquely momentous point in the Church’s consciousness.

The underlying point of these changes is the make the central festivals of the year, the liturgies of Triduum and Easter, to be centrally about both Eucharist and Baptism, then to portray the Easter Vigil as the paradigmatic act of Christian worship to which all Sunday Eucharists point. From there, the LRM and the ’79 BCP derive an anthropological shift. The sacramental center of this theological anthropology is not the Eucharist and our unworthiness to receive it, rather it is Baptism and our worthiness as members of Christ.  It is from this anthropology that a host of other changes have resulted.

(On a side note, I hypothesize that it would be very instructive to look at the exegesis of John 19:34 through the 20th century. This is the verse where the mingled blood and water flow from the side of Jesus. My guess is that at the beginning of the century, most liturgical exegetes would interpret this theologically as a reference to the Eucharist—see the number of depictions where this flow is caught by a chalice. As the LRM made headway, however, I think you’ll see a shift towards seeing it as a sign of Baptism which is how it was presented to me at seminary…)

In short, then, I think that one of the most profound theological differences between the Church of the ’79 BCP and the Church of the ’28 BCP can be traced to the impact of the LRM. Obviously there are other theological and cultural factors in play here too but I’d argue that this is how those factors were expressed liturgically. The reshaping of Triduum , the pre-eminence of the Easter Vigil, and the representation of all other Sundays as a reflection of the vigil serve to reinforce a sacramental anthropology that plays down a penitentially-rooted eucharistic anthropology in favor of a “higher” baptismal anthropology.

10 thoughts on “A Guiding Ideology of the Liturgical Renewal Movement

  1. John-Julian,OJN

    Yes, Derek — and many people involved in the development of 79 were consciously and intentionally aware of the very cogent points you make.

    THE sacrament came to be Baptism — and the LRM, of course, was responsible for moving Baptism from a Sunday-afternoon-family-only liturgy (I’m old enough to remember that as the norm) to the center of a congregations Sunday Eucharist! And finally Eucharist came to be seen as sort of “enwrapped” in Baptism, “defined” by Baptism, an “extension” of Baptism.

    And, although you would not be following the monastic literature as thoroughly as I, Baptism has been edging its way forward as an “envelope” for comprehending monastic vows. (Back in 1989, Aidan Kavanaugh, OSB, gave a great address at our annual JulianFest entitled: “Monastic Vows: Washed to Death”.)

  2. Derek Olsen

    I keep forgetting the context of Baptism as it’s been a part of the Sunday morning liturgies since I’ve been paying attention to these things. And, of course, placing it at the creed between the liturgies of the Word and Table echoes the ordo of the Vigil.

    So then was the LRM truly aiming for a sacramental piety or a full-on baptismal piety in your view?

    I’d much rather go with a both/and, myself; it seems a purer liturgical expression of simul iustus et peccator. Some current incarnations of the baptismal anthropology seem to stop at iustus

  3. David

    At the risk of shifting the focus (not that I think it really does) this is one more reason that detaching Communion from Baptism is a dubious theological, liturgical and pastoral development. To do so reinserts an understanding of the Eucharist in isolation from baptism -from baptismal grace and the call to discipleship.

  4. Christopher

    Derek, I think they aimed for a recovery of both. A recovery of a baptismal piety that was not as well recovered in our tradition as it might have been and is now front and center and public as well as central or ground to our theologizing liturgically. The eucharistic emphasis gets back to hangovers from Reformation controversies that centered around Eucharist. I would note that our own baptismal reemphasis is multiply informed, not just by the LRM, but by Luther through Maurice. A recovery of Eucharistic piety that was not only personally centered as it had become (against Cranmer’s intent btw) but also socially oriented. For all of the eucharistic piety of the ’28 BCP, I would note that Eucharist was not as commonly a given pre-’79 as post.

    The reform, however, did not place Baptism alongside Eucharist, but made Baptism the always functioning ground. This is a point Louis Weil drives home again and again.

    Font and Cross, in light of Paul, are appropriately joined imho.

    What I think you are remarking on in your comment is a shift beyond the LRM, which is beyond the ’79 BCP. We no longer want to find ourselves brought to self-recognition that our merits are nought and Christ is everything, that God’s generosity shows us up hardhearted. That is what Prayer I does for us, btw, imo.

    I would be curious to hear more from Fr. John-Julian about monastic vows and baptism, as I think the proper locus for our lifestyle vocations is baptism and eucharist. Ground by incorporation and nourishment of this by Christ’s own self.

  5. Derek Olsen

    Yes, David, you’re quite right. I’m thinking that the recovery of the place of Baptism will be more important going further as we progress into our post-Constantinian world. In the days of the ’28 you could safely assume that anyone who wandered into your church was baptised. That’s no longer the case…

    Christopher, no question about the connection between the two., And yes, I don’t think that the LRM and the ’79 BCP skew the balance but I do believe that it has been skewed in certain quarters of our church.

  6. Christopher

    A further note, which I have remarked upon before, we need to be very careful about the skewing of the Baptismal Covenant. The emphasis is first on God’s Who and work for us as proclaimed (and embodied in profession) in the Creed and then and only then out of this is our response in the promises. God’s promise in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit comes first and is ground. This is the Reality baptism communicates to us.

    What many of us are seeing is actually a skewing to another eucharistic over-emphasis by the making of Holy Communion the sacrament (rather than forgiveness and renewal) of welcome under the rubric of hospitality and inclusion. This undoes the sacramental balance of the ’79 BCP which makes Holy Baptism always justificatory (Luther) or relational (Maurice) ground for our participation (Hooker) God’s own life AND

    What this reversal does is Christological in concern. The emphasis becomes incorporation into the a body without clarity that this is Christ’s Body of Whom we partake and in Whom we participate, that is Personally and socially. What does it mean to partake of Holy Communion, Christ’s Body or to be a participant in Christ’s Body, without reference always to conversion of life…after all our Baptismal Covenant supposes promises (always because of God’s help) on our part that suppose conversion of manners lifelong. They are broad in sketch just as criteria 1 for commemoration of saints are broad in sketch, because love of God and neighbor must leave room for a breadth of actions.

    However, though broad in sketch, there is a set of virtues, of manners, of habits, to which we are to find ourselves being converted, including service, repentance, forgiveness, participation, proclamation of the Gospel, etc. The BC has been interpreted in ways that suggest a slide toward anything goes (or so is the perception) or an unbounded openness rather than a want to retain a patterned openness. By this, I mean that we recognize the immediacy of the Gospel as well as neighbor’s needs and that overtime (tradition, wisdom) we have discovered certain patterns that lend themselves to a life of conversion, such as religious vows, marriage, etc. This unbounded openness makes Holy Communion the center and while declaring parts of the BC vital (not the Creed, mind you), actually undermines the sacramental balance by suggesting Baptism is an afterthought in direct contradiction to the LRM.

  7. Kevin Montgomery

    When I was in the doctoral program at Catholic University, it was quite informative to see the differences in emphases between the RCs and Episcopalians. I took a class called Eucharist & the Church, and not surprisingly the main focus in RC ecclesiology is definitely the Eucharist. To use Henri de Lubac’s phrase, “Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist.” Baptism then isn’t seen as making the Church but rather what you have to go through to become part of the Church.

    Even though we read a few articles on baptismal ecclesiology (particularly one by Max Johnson), many of the RC students (the vast majority of the class) couldn’t quite wrap their minds around it. In a telling statement, one of the students said that he tended to see Baptism as more of an individual event whereas Eucharist was a more communal one. Of course, as an Episcopalian, I’m used to Baptism being a communal event with everyone renewing their baptismal vows. In this case, praying very much shapes believing.

    What I find really confusing is that there are a number of Episcopal churches that loudly advocate communion without baptism (CWOB) but then also loudly proclaim the Baptismal Covenant (well, mostly the last promise in it). To me at least there seems to be a major theological and cognitive disconnect here. On one hand, they’re proclaiming the Baptismal Covenant as central, but on the other hand, with such the emphasis on the openness and “hospitality” of the eucharistic table at which absolutely anyone can receive communion, baptism then becomes almost an afterthought. I’ve heard dozens of sermons on “eucharistic hospitality” (often code for CWOB) and the Baptismal Covenant but only a handful at most on Baptism itself. Anyone else noticed this?

  8. Derek Olsen

    I definitely agree with you on both dominical sacraments being fundamentally about community and community identity. And yes, that point about appealing to the Baptismal Covenant while undermining it with Communion without Baptism has been noted more than a few times. IIRC, both Christopher and I, among others, have written about it.

  9. Kevin Montgomery

    In some ways the relationship between Eucharist and Baptism could be compared to a cell. Eucharist is kind of like the nucleus, the center of the cell that directs the function of the cell; Baptism, then would be like the cell membrane, which provides a proper boundary (not to be confused with barrier). This boundary provides integrity to the whole and facilitates appropriate passage in and out.

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