In recent years, the notion of the genius of the Roman Rite has seen resurgence. That the Oratorian, Fr Michael Lang, and the Jesuit, Fr Keith Pecklers, have both published books called The Genius of the Roman Rite testifies to the usefulness of this turn of phrase. In the wake of such resurgence, the name of Edmund Bishop, liturgiologist and historian, has, once again, become better known and normally in the context of his illustrious essay, “The Genius of the Roman Rite.” This paper will seek to address three questions. What is to be understood by the term “genius”? How do we distinguish the presence of the genius of the Roman Rite in the Liturgy we celebrate? Where does the genius of the Roman Rite influence the identity of the priest?

[Much of the first part of this paper is etymological in nature, and is here presented as a text box which may be read or omitted.]

Genius: an etymological note. (Click to expand)

In the fifty years since Nigel Abercrombie published “The Life and Work of Edmund Bishop”,{{1}} despite a number of articles, no new book has been published that treats one or other aspect of Bishop’s contribution to liturgical science and its subsequent understanding. Consequently, some historical background is necessary in order to appreciate the setting in which there arose the term “genius” in its application to the Liturgy.

The episode of ‘The genius’ was a lecture that Bishop delivered on 8 May 1899 at Archbishop’s House, Westminster. In seeking to discover the formative influences on Bishop’s unique contribution to liturgical science, my research fell into three categories. The first concerned the context in which Bishop worked. The second consisted in Bishop’s papers and his marginalia in books, both of which are largely unpublished. The third category involved what others wrote and said of him both in related correspondence of the period and in academic reviews.

If Edmund Bishop has presented as a comparatively well-kept secret in the history of liturgical research within Great Britain, it is because the contemporary context of the Catholic Church in England was not yet ripe enough to respond to his findings. Edmund Bishop was born near Totnes in Devon into a family of a Low Church Tradition within the Church of England on 17 May 1846, a mere seventeen years after the Act of Catholic Emancipation.

Bishop profited abundantly from his schooling at Totnes Grammar School and at the age of thirteen was sent to Villevorde in Belgium for two years. There he learnt French and immersed himself into local culture. The Catholicism he experienced probably helped, subsequently, to direct him from the Low Church tradition of his earlier days, towards High Anglicanism and eventually into the Catholic Church in 1867. Early traces of influences upon Bishop were evident when, a sidesman in one of the Belgian churches had given him Chateaubriand’s Le Génie du Christianisme. It is likely that this was the very first context in which Bishop came across the word Génie as applied to religion. The effect of the power of this choice of word to describe the truth of everything for which the young Bishop was already painstakingly searching became the power he later recognised in the Roman rite. Thus, it would have not seemed strange for him to entitle his famous essay, written some forty years later, ‘The Genius of the Roman Rite’. It is hard to imagine that he had not been struck by Chateaubriand’s description of religious genius in Book III of Le Génie du Christianisme under the title, ‘Of Christianity as it relates to the manner of writing history.’

Religion seems to lead to the explanation of the most incomprehensible facts in history. There is, moreover, in the name of God something sublime, which imparts to the style a certain power, so that the most religious writer is invariably the most eloquent. Without religion, it is possible to have wit, but very difficult to possess genius.{{2}}

Bishop certainly considered Chateaubriand seminal to his even precocious development as he subsequently wrote himself:

But it was Chateaubriand that fascinated me: ‘The Martyrs, the Génie du Christianisme, the Voyage de Paris à Jerusalem and the Leçons de l’histoire de France particularly influenced me, and opened up whole regions of unknown literature.’ The Leçons were Bishop’s introduction to the Maurists, the Bollandists, Tillemont, Fleury and Adrien de Valois. Bishop wrote that at that time he had no notion of Jesuits or Benedictines but that the Bollandists had captivated him. Bishop wrote about the Maurists, ‘Le Cointe, Le Long & Fevret de Fontette & the ordonnances of de Laurière all fixed themselves in my mind as auxiliary troops, so to speak; and above all Du Cange. This was by the time I was 15.’{{3}}

So it is to be seen that the concept of genius according to the mind of Chateaubriand inspired Bishop and underpinned his breadth of liturgical research which continued until his death in 1917.

During the year 1899, in preparation for the reading of his paper, “The Genius of the Roman Rite”, Edmund Bishop collected characteristics peculiar to that rite and in their description called those particularities the “Genius” of the Roman rite. Bishop’s use of the word ‘Genius’ paved his way towards the interpretation of the historical facts about liturgical development that he had encountered in his study of French and German sources. The subsequent influence of Bishop on future writers opens a possibility of the ‘genius’ being quoted either with little connection to what Bishop might have meant by the term or even as a liturgical catchphrase reinterpreted to meet modern categories of thought. While it is highly unlikely that Edmund Bishop would have perceived that he had any monopoly over the ancient concept of genius, he applied it to the liturgy in a way that has never lost its dynamism. It is, therefore, necessary to ask, when Edmund Bishop used the word ‘Genius’ to describe the Roman Rite, ‘to what might he have been referring’? It is my intention to consider, not only the classical roots of the word ‘Genius’ but their applications as well, as a glimpse at the meanings that might have supported Bishop in his choice of word.

The word ‘Genius’ can be employed to suggest someone deemed to be inspiring of wonder. In a colloquial sense, the word is often used in modern English to describe a person who exudes excellence in what he does and less frequently to denote the particularity of the talent itself in a quest for further classification. Edmund Bishop was accustomed to considering the dynamism of the word ‘Genius’ because he referred to different ‘geniuses’. Etymologically, the root of genius is from the Latin word gignere, to beget, and from the Greek word, gignesthai, to be born or to come into being. The Oxford English Dictionary gives as its first definition “With reference to classical pagan belief: The tutelary god or attendant spirit allotted to every person at his birth, to govern his fortunes and determine his character, and finally to conduct him out of the world; also, the tutelary and controlling spirit similarly connected with a place, an institution, etc.”{{4}}

‘Genius’ is used also to denote a person’s good or bad genius by which he influences the life of another for good or ill. A ‘genius’ can be a “demon or spiritual being in general”, good or evil.{{5}} “With reference to a nation or [a particular institution of] age, this ‘genius’, is a distinctive character or spirit.”{{6}} “It comprises a prevalent feeling, opinion, sentiment, or taste”.{{7}} “Of a language, law or institution [the ‘genius’ is a] prevailing character or spirit, general drift, characteristic method or procedure.”{{8}} “With reference to a place: [it is] The body of associations connected with, or inspirations that may be derived from it.”{{9}}

There is even the “genius loci”{{10}} who is a presiding spirit or even a deity providing a place with inspiration and associations. “[The ‘genius’ is a] natural ability or capacity; [a] quality of mind; the special endowments which fit a man for his peculiar work.”{{11}} It is a “natural aptitude, coupled with more or less of inclination to or for something.”{{12}} It is a “native intellectual power of an exalted type, such as is attributed to those who are esteemed greatest in any department of art, speculation or practice; instinctive and extraordinary capacity for imaginative creation, original thought, invention, or discovery. [It is] often contrasted with ‘talent’.”{{13}}

The wider contexts in which the word genius was specifically used make clear the weight that such a word carries. Whatever Bishop’s personal preferences might have been within its span, Bishop chose the word to encompass the exalted material that he understood to be the Roman rite. Bishop did not concern himself with the question of whether of not the Roman Rite was perfect, flawed or both. He was interested in identifying its genius and its particularity. In that significance, like those before him who had sought contact with a particular genius, Bishop saw in the Roman Rite an attendant spirit, distinctive characteristics of structure and method, prevalence of particular sentiments and, in its purity of form, a native intellectual power.

[[1]]ABERCROMBIE N., The Life and Work of Edmund Bishop, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, London 1959.[[1]]

[[2]]CHATEAUBRIAND F., «The Genius of Christianity; or the Spirit and Beauty of the Christian Religion» tr. C.White, John Murphy & Co, Baltimore, 1856, 419.[[2]]

[[3]]BISHOP, E, in EDMUND BISHOP LIBRARY, F6, 1190,«On idea of E.B. to begin Library», April 1900, 2. F6 refers to the cupboard number of archives kept at Downside Abbey.[[3]]

[[4]]The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. 20 vol., «Genius», in vol 6 Fellow – Haswed, ed. J.A.Simpson – E.S.C. Weiner, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1989, 444, 1.[[4]]

[[5]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444, 1c.[[5]] [[6]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444, 2b.[[6]] [[7]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444, 3b.[[7]] [[8]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444, 3c.[[8]] [[9]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444, 3d.[[9]] [[10]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 445, 7[[10]] [[11]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444, 4.[[11]] [[12]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444, 4b.[[12]] [[13]]The Oxford English Dictionary, «Genius», vol 6, 444 – 445, 5.[[13]]

How do we distinguish the presence of the “genius” of the Roman Rite in the liturgy we celebrate?

As outlined in the text box, there is in the Roman rite an attendant spirit, distinctive characteristics of structure and method, prevalence of particular sentiments, and ? in its purity of form ? a native intellectual power. The meaning of these perceptions is now amplified by considering the subsequent use and relevance of “genius” as so perceptively identified by Edmund Bishop.

On the Wednesday subsequent to the reading of “The Genius of the Roman Rite” in May 1899, Bishop’s paper was printed in The Weekly Register and later published as an offprint, about which F.E. Brightmann in The Journal of Theological Studies in 1900 reported,

 The Genius of the Roman Rite (1899) and Kyrie eleison: a Liturgical Consultation (1900) are two interesting pamphlets by Mr Edmund Bishop. The first is a more or less popular exposition of the “soberness and sense” of the Roman genius as illustrated by the original simplicity of the Roman rite and the contrast between the pure Roman element and the imported Gallican element, which together make up the present composite rite.{{14}}

Whereas, Bishop’s view of what he wrote about was printed in Liturgica Historica.

 It indicated the conditions determining the development of the Western Mass in the critical period, the seventh century to the tenth, in which the fusion of the two great types of religiousness, the Roman and the Hispano-Gallican, took place.{{15}}

Bishop had not been a Catholic when Catholic life was being reasserted in England and much of what he saw as Catholic practice had not so long previously been comparatively unknown in the English Catholic experience. Bishop illustrated that many practices as observed were not of the essence of the Roman Rite. He strove to reveal that the Roman liturgy had known considerable development and that accretions from other cultures had been grafted onto it with the effect that the normally presented experience was not in fact the pure liturgy of the classic period.{{16}} Bishop worked to separate those parts of the Missal that were truly Roman and those that were not. Obviously, Bishop was working with what is now identified as the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. He lists firstly, the non-Roman elements as including the Psalm Iudica Me together with the confession that followed, the offertory prayers and the priest’s private preparation before communion. The Roman parts he described as the collect, the epistle and the Gospel, the “proper” prayer over the offerings, from the preface to the communion, the post-communion prayer and the dismissal.{{17}} Bishop distinguishes the direct approach of the Roman texts which say in a few lines what is necessary, from the non-Roman sources which are much longer and more elaborate. This set of distinctions led Bishop to describe the genius of the Roman rite as “simplicity, practicality, a great sobriety and self control, gravity and dignity.”{{18}}

How people of a different mood find unsatisfactoriness in the Roman liturgy

Bishop showed himself attuned to a possible disappointment that could be felt when people are faced with the facts about the genesis of the Roman liturgy when he wrote, “It may be urged by some persons, in a different mood, that the Roman expression of the sense of the relation between man and his Maker, found in the Roman liturgy, is an inadequate or unsatisfactory expression of the aspirations of the soul.”{{19}} This sadness would stem from the discovery that the “sensuousness of the Roman Catholic ritual,”{{20}} … forms the part of the Mass that is not of Roman origin. What continually interests me is the reason why these sumptuous elements have been “gradually borrowed, imported, [and] adopted in the course of the ages.”{{21}}

An answer to this question would be a significant step towards an understanding of why the integrity of the liturgy in itself is rarely adequate for popular needs. It is also to be noted that the addition to the liturgy of practices taken from elsewhere is not a phenomenon peculiar to our own day. Besides, every age expresses its needs with its own contemporary voice which in turn articulates its affective needs accordingly and guides the choices made.

Simplicity, sobriety and self-control, gravity and dignity

Bishop offers no demurral in his belief that “the general position [is] unassailable; namely, that the genius of the native Roman rite is marked by simplicity, practicality, a great sobriety and self-control, gravity and dignity; but there it stops.”{{22}} He reminds us that the Roman spirit is not quenched or enhanced by its Christianity or lack of it because “at bottom in his instincts, in his powers, in his limitations, he is the same.” These two statements form the heart of this essay. They illustrate that the Roman spirit is intrinsic to its local nature and is not defined by religious confession. The adjectives with which Bishop describes the Roman rite suggest a particular temperament of restraint which would come to the fore with the choices made by later liturgical reforms. If the Roman rite is essentially mortified, as much in its physical presentation as in its given structure of form, such an authentic manifestation will free it from encumbrances of excess. This freedom guards jealously the genius of the Roman rite which Bishop described more succinctly as “soberness and sense.”{{23}}

It was a matter of immense importance to Bishop to find the facts about any particular matter so as to participate in historical realities. Nonetheless, this was no retraction of the selfabandonment with which he had come into the Catholic Church. Rather, it was a kenotic [self-emptying] desire for God through the unadorned truth of his Church. The “Genius” was Bishop’s way of moving this process into action in his life, where he could be, reverent yet clear, or reticent and quiet.

Need for objective study of the liturgy

As late as 31 March 1909, Bishop wrote stridently{{24}} about the need to study liturgy objectively:

 What would become of the Craft,{{25}} if people, if the lay people, began to study these subjects in a rational manner? I saw above I wish, I want to say a few things if I can “before I go hence” &c. Do you remember that I said to you years ago about the “Genius of the R.R” – that is only a beginning; that only deals with the husk; what I care about is the kernel: that is only the externality of forms, I want to get at the realities of the spirit.

I wonder whether anything will be done as I should wish, “before” – I am inclined to hope so. Yet it is very difficult. I need only to look at the concluding words of the article you enclose… “at the supposed moment of the consecration.” What do you know about it? What do I? I am sure I know nothing; and I have no doubt that you (or any other layman) are just in the same advantageous plight…. {{26}}

It needs to be remembered that “The Genius of the Roman Rite” was written to be read aloud which determined its more colloquial style. Perhaps this enabled more people to understand that what Bishop was offering was radical. The key to the paper was in understanding Bishop’s use of the word “genius.” In stating that there were different “geniuses,” the Roman “genius” could be identified by its style which was so different from a Gallican “genius,” a Celtic “genius” or even a “genius” from the East such as that which provided the source of the threefold Kyrie at Mass. Bishop described a variety of attributes that together form the “Genius” of the Roman Rite.

An element of surprise in 1899 in what Bishop was arguing was contained in what he considered “sober.” If the Roman rite was sober then it was not towards its more sober parts that criticisms were generally directed. Bishop could show that different parts of the Missal dated from different periods. This variety revealed that the Missale Romanum was a collection of parts of differing merit and that as a consequence not everything that was in the Missal was necessarily of a fine quality. Bishop showed these different traits that formed the Missal to reveal different “geniuses” applicable to particular churches but that the quieter expressions within the Mass were the parts of the ritual that were essentially Roman. Bishop identified the English spirit in the Roman liturgical form. England had been faithful to the Roman rite for centuries. The sense of emotional reserve in the Roman rite was more akin to an English temperament which, externally at least, can appear glacial and stoic. Bishop saw a new way of linking liturgy and culture and, from his own context, identified why England would so naturally respond to the Roman rite. However, the French “Genius” was Gallican which resulted in a dynamic between the cultural and the liturgical that would be very different.

It is amazing to think that Bishop would have been content to accept that the Roman parts of the Mass were the less exciting and less elaborate parts and that the more interesting moments had come from elsewhere. Bishop’s paper does not fight that assertion. Bishop would have been only too aware of the Gnostic influences on the Romans which would have drained out of Rome its disposition to be either superstitious or particularly reverent. If Bishop was suggesting that the Roman “Genius” was cold, which is a very strong affirmation, he would, by definition, have been contrasting Roman genius from those of other nations. Alternatively, Bishop might have meant that the Roman “Genius” was a striving for a pure form. Such purity would not have envisaged dispensations from stricter liturgical form, in order to accommodate the weak. Bishop would have considered the English “Genius” to offer a calmness, to be temperate, controlled, moderate, reasonable, mild, measured, peaceable and formal. This would mean that whatever feeling there might have been would have been checked by any or all of the above adjectives. Bishop summarised, what for him were the hallmarks of the Roman Liturgy. “If I had to indicate in two or three words only the main characteristics that go up to make the Roman rite, I should say those characteristics were essentially soberness and sense.”

What should the Roman rite look like?

Thus it can be seen that a series of adjectives not only explain the native power of the Roman rite but indicate what the Roman rite should look like when it is celebrated. It is well for us, in the constant search for both balance and beauty, to consider the extent to which these adjectives reflect the realities of the liturgies we celebrate as priests. Is the tone of the liturgy sober, as opposed to dull, or, from time to time, exhaustingly exuberant? Is it simple or overwhelmed by complexities? Does inherent dignity within the celebration protect an emotional reserve that encourages respect or does the celebrant promote the cult of his personality? Is the rite as celebrated redolent of its pure form or is it filled with accretions or diminished by omissions? Is the approach of the celebrant calm or characterised by anxiety? Is he temperate in the delivery of his speech? Are his gestures controlled or even exaggerated? Are the movements around the sanctuary moderate rather than protracted or rushed? Is the general atmosphere peaceable or is the level of noise or confusion such that it is hard for the liturgy to lead people in prayer? Are liturgical celebrations dignified in their style and instinctively formal through reverence?

Characteristics that should be present in both forms of the Roman rite.

Since we have two forms that comprise the Roman rite, these are the qualities that need to be present in both. The structure of rubrics contained within the extraordinary form protects its native qualities. The ordinary form calls for no less care despite there being fewer indications. Priests that have grasped the structure and mentality of the extraordinary form will be well placed to celebrate the ordinary form better, allowing for its idiomatic differences while promoting the sense of the sacred. The rubrics of the extraordinary form draw attention to the indispensable need for liturgical discipline in order to celebrate well. The genius of the Roman rite eschews what is impractical yet shuns what is sloppy. The attendant spirit in the liturgy of Roman “genius,” wonderfully recognises what is human, and to humans, recommends what is divine.

Where does the Genius of the Roman Rite influence the identity of the priest?

Priestly recollection

The Genius of the Roman Rite will not influence the identity of the priest if he is not recollected before he celebrates Mass. As a parish priest for some years, I knew how difficult that was to achieve but that when it was made possible, a spirit of receptivity in the liturgy was markedly different. Romano Guardini describes the need to be “inwardly present” which, I suppose, stands in contrast to being present in a merely physical sense. He writes: “[Composure] frees his mind from many tempting claims and focuses it on one, the all-important. It calls the soul that is dispersed over myriad thoughts and desires, plans and intentions back to itself, re-establishing its depth.”{{27}} Guardini expands this idea: “Once composure has been established, the liturgy is possible. Not before. It is not much use to discuss Holy Scripture, the deep significance of symbols, and the vitality of the liturgical renewal if the prerequisite of earnestness is lacking. Without it, even the liturgy deteriorates into something ‘interesting,’ a passing vogue. To participate in the Liturgy seriously we must be mentally composed.”{{28}}

The Missal envisages this essential preparation even if few priests find time to do it. A brief and silent recollection is infinitely better than none at all. The private preparation in the Extraordinary Form gives a selection of psalms and devotional prayers whereas the preparation in the ordinary form has both reduced the quantity and excluded the psalmody. I highlight the distinction between the two forms because between them they form the current usage of the Roman rite and they compliment each other in their aims, as Sacrosanctum Concilium 1 describes, “to impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; [and] to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ.”{{29}} The Praeparatio ad Missam of both forms share in common a prayer of St Ambrose, a prayer of St Thomas Aquinas and a prayer of Our Lady.{{30}} The Formula of Intention reminds the priest that he confects the Body and Blood of Christ for the benefit of the whole Church and for any who have commended themselves to his prayers. Since this formula pertains to both forms, it can be seen that both forms protect the ecclesiological dimension of the Mass.{{31}} The priest who celebrates even privately does not celebrate Mass for himself alone. The GIRM 93 explains this and alongside describes the dispositions that shall occupy the celebrating priest:

A priest who possesses within the Church the power of Holy Orders to offer sacrifice in the person of Christ,{{32}} stands for this reason at the head of the faithful people gathered together […], presides over their prayer, proclaims the message of salvation to them, associates the people with himself in the offering of sacrifice through Christ in the Holy Spirit to God the Father, gives his brothers and sisters the bread of eternal life, and partakes of it with them. When he celebrates the Eucharist, therefore, he must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he says the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ.{{33}}

Interplay of priestly life and priestly celebration of the rite

We will be influenced by the “Genius” of the Roman Rite to the extent to which we allow its genius to inform our lives and motivate our choices. In the recently published Liturgia fonte di vita, don Mauro Gagliardi cites three categories that will encourage the particular genus of the Sacred Liturgy. “Liturgy and Ethics,” “Liturgy and Devotion” and Liturgy and “Liturgical Formation.”{{34}} Pope Benedict XVI states in his post-synodal exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, “Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith.”{{35}} The partnership that exists between morality and the Eucharist bears the force for positive change and genuine conversion, though the Eucharist can never be perceived as a reward for being good. Rather, as St Paul exhorted the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”{{36}} It is as if scales fall from our eyes when the geniuses of morality and liturgy converge. Chateaubriand referred to such as “moral harmonies.”{{37}} That is, when, as exhorted Justin Martyr, we “live according to the Logos,” katà logon.{{38}}

Liturgy and devotion and aesthetics

Liturgy and Devotion are intrinsically linked. If music is the handmaid of the liturgy, devotion is its most loyal servant. That liturgical life needs to be sustained by personal prayer is no secret. What forms the liturgy will expound what the liturgy teaches, though the genius of liturgy cannot be assessed without a similar consideration of its anthropology. Fidelity in personal devotion and space for public devotions adds a vividly affective compliment to the Lex Orandi. The support-system of the Liturgy illustrated, for example, in the veneration of images and in the encouragement of beauty, foster reverence for liturgical mystery. It is this sacral warmth that transforms an empty assembly hall into a church. Unsatisfactory church re-orderings indicate how true this is. Instances of many Victorian churches that have been emptied of their beauty, have exchanged their once inherent warmth for a kind of emotional anorexia. Simplicity does not imply that liturgy and its attendant artefacts should be bare. The exhortation for simplicity in the Constitution of the Liturgy also bore the adjective “noble.”{{39}} The noble is not typified by the utilitarian or common-place and it is never banal.

Whilst the Mass in vernacular languages is appreciated by the majority of people in our churches today, sight of our Latin heritage should not be lost. It should form part of the ordinary experience of worship in parishes in such a way that its beauty and facility are handed down to future generations with the avoidance of ideological polarisation. The Latin language is not only the native language of the Roman liturgy but contributes to its dignified and sober atmosphere. To promote a greater sense of the universality of the Catholic Church within the local church, one need not be afraid to reintroduce neither Latin in the Mass nor Gregorian chant into the repertoire of liturgical music and both with supporting formation. Gregorian chant is the music, par excellence, of the Roman rite and calls for ongoing training and perseverance to affirm its rightful place.

The purpose of liturgy is, in the first place, to worship God. Chateaubriand could have seemed even to have been prophetic in his observations written some 160 years before the Second Vatican Council. “It is objected against the Catholic Church that she employs in her liturgy an unknown tongue; as if clergy preached in Latin, or the service were not translated in our prayer-books. If Religion had changed her language according to the caprice or customs of men, how could we have known the works of antiquity? Such is the inconsistency of our nature that we censure the very practices to which we are indebted for a portion of our knowledge and pleasure.”{{40}}

Reclaiming what Vatican II actually said

The need for liturgical formation remains as great as when the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council identified its priority. Considering the need to lead the People of God to a “fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations,” the document added, “Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realising this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it. A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy.”{{41}} It has become clear that if a priest does not understand the ars celebrandi of the Roman rite he will obscure priestly identity and not be equipped to instruct others in a true understanding of the actuosa participatio.

As recently as 2007, the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, considered the Ars Celebrandi of the Roman rite which is the central means whereby the Genius of the Roman rite influences the identity of the priest. The second part of this exhortation deals with the Ars Celebrandi, especially from #38-42. The Exhortation at #36 states that the Eucharistic celebration manifests the beautiful intricacy of the liturgy which had come to be, not by mere aestheticism, but by the truth of the love of Christ into which the liturgy draws, captures and enfolds us. Thus, the beauty of Christ manifests itself in the beauty of the liturgy. So, a perception of the aesthetic of liturgy becomes a perception of Christ as we enter more deeply into the mystery of salvation. This perception leads to eschatological participation in the heavenly liturgy.

The ars celebrandi encourages a sense of the sacred and all that enhances it. Without that sense of the sacred, the liturgy and especially the Eucharist, loses its authentic identity. The Western tendency towards a liturgical minimalism in its celebrations risks losing sight of its heritage and of its tradition of reverence. As the exhortation states, “The ars celebrandi is the best condition for the actuosa participatio.”{{42}} The dignified celebration of the liturgy enables every Christian, in accordance with his particular ministry, to enter into contact with the Paschal mystery according to the mind of the Church in her living and offering of that mystery.

The ars celebrandi comprises profound respect of the liturgical norms which lead us to a true sense of the celebration. Obedience to the proper structure of the rite, on the part of the minister, defers to an awareness of the Eucharist as an ineffable gift. It shows fidelity to the Church.

Application of “ars celebrandi”

The third part of the Apostolic Exhortation, while containing aspects of doctrine, emphasises Eucharistic discipline. Meanwhile, indications are given to us by the papal liturgies that express the mind of the Holy Father and which reveal Roman genius in actu, with special concern for both celebration and adoration of the Sacrament of the altar. Clearly, there is only one St Peter’s and not every church has the same architectural support for the dignity called for by the liturgy. We should not be discouraged in striving after the “art of the possible” in our particular realities.

Nonetheless there are certain aspects in which we can all engage to ensure that the beauty and dignity of the liturgy prevail. The placing of the Cross on the altar for the celebration of Mass, far from creating a barrier between the celebrant and the assembly, serves as a support to remind everyone that God is the subject of the liturgy. The community has assembled to worship and give glory to God. Priest and people are oriented in the same direction in prayer, namely, towards Christ. In our love for the Eucharist, we will strive to be faithful to the norms of the particular forms within the rite and avoid the misplaced zeal of subjectivism that can accompany personal preferences. In the letter that accompanied the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, of 2007, Pope Benedict wrote: “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”{{43}} And so it is, in the paschal mystery of Christ, that through the centuries, we continue to celebrate the Eucharist that brings us salvation.

Enduring quality of Bishop’s identification of “genius”

Sacrosanctum Concilium and subsequent liturgical documents have reflected Edmund Bishop’s identification of liturgical geniuses, Roman and otherwise. The history of the Church’s Roman Liturgy, has been marked by adaptation to contemporary circumstances which can be seen in the French and German effects on that liturgy particularly in the second millennium. Within the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century, the pendulum swung towards a retrieval of the aspect of simplicity that is contained within Roman genius. However, true Roman simplicity is measured rather than bleak. It is not to be forgotten that the priest’s going to the altar of God should enliven so profound a joy that it incites in the priest, no matter what, a vivid awareness of, and a longing for, the eternal fervours of priestly youth.

While the Liturgy manifests, par excellence, the identity of the priest and the attendant spirit of the Roman rite upholds his dignity, the “genius” of the Liturgy is always Christ. The Mass is God’s great and ongoing gift of love to his Church to be loved and celebrated until he comes again at the end of time. It is for us – schooled in its liturgical genius – to emulate the sacred and revealed character of the Mass which, while anticipating the liturgy of heaven, embraces, above all, the spirit of sacrifice, particularly in the way we celebrate it. For, in the beauty of the Mass, which, at once celebrates the work of the Lord and calls us to conversion, “our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking”{{44}}

[[14]]F.E. BRIGHTMANN, «Chronicle», The Journal of Theological Studies 1 (1900) 632.[[14]]

[[15]]JOHNSON WARD, «Edmund Bishop’s “The Genius of the Roman Rite” », viii.[[15]]

[[16]]JOHNSON WARD, «Edmund Bishop’s “The Genius of the Roman Rite” », 401[[16]]

[[17]]CRICHTON, Lights in the Darkness: Forerunners of the Liturgical Movement, Columba Press, Co Dublin 1996, 107.[[17]]

[[18]] BISHOP, Liturgica Historica, 12.[[18]]

[[19]] BISHOP, Liturgica Historica, 19.[[19]]

[[20]] BISHOP, Liturgica Historica, 12.[[20]]

[[21]]BISHOP, Liturgica Historica, 12.[[21]]

[[22]]BISHOP, Liturgica Historica, 12.[[22]]

[[23]]BISHOP, Liturgica Historica, 19.[[23]]

[[24]] To his friend, J.Wickham Legg of the Henry Bradshaw Society.[[24]]

[[25]] The ‘Craft’ refers to the liturgical craft.[[25]]

[[26]] DOWNSIDE ABBEY ARCHIVES, Letter from Edmund Bishop to J. Wickham Legg, 44 March 1909.[[26]]

[[27]] GUARDINI., Meditations before Mass, tr. E.Castendyk Briefs, Newman Press, Westminster, Md 1956, reprinted Matthias Grünewald Verlag, Mainz 1993, 21-22.[[27]]

[[28]] GUARDINI., Meditations before Mass, 23-24.[[28]]

[[29]]Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium #1[[29]]

[[30]]The Preparatio in the Missale Romanum 1962 is more extensive.[[30]]

[[31]]Missale Romanum, Editio Typica Tertia, Typis Vaticanis 2002, 1289-1291.[[31]]

[[32]] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium #28[[32]]

[[33]] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani #93[[33]]

[[34]] M.GAGLIARDI., Liturgia fonte di vita: Prospettive teologiche, Fede e Cultura, Verona 2009.[[34]]

[[35]] BENEDICT XVI P.P., Post-Synodal Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, 83, AAS 99 (2007) 169.[[35]]

[[36]] Romans 12:1-2 RSV[[36]]

[[37]] CHATEAUBRIAND., «The Genius of Christianity; or the Spirit and Beauty of the Christian Religion», 473.[[37]]

[[38]] Justin Martyr, II Apologia, 8,2, in D.MINNS P.PARVIS, Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies, ed. H. Chadwick, Oxford Early Christian texts, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2009, 271ff.[[38]]

[[39]] Sacrosanctum Concilium 34.[[39]]

[[40]] CHATEAUBRIAND., «The Genius of Christianity; or the Spirit and Beauty of the Christian Religion», 483.[[40]]

[[41]] Sacrosanctum Concilium 14.[[41]]

[[42]] Sacramentum Caritatis, 38, AAS 99 (2007)[[42]]

[[43]] Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops on the occasion of the publication of the Apostolic Letter ‘Motu Proprio Data,’ Summorum Pontificum, on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970, paragraph 11.[[43]]

[[44]] CCC 1327[[44]]

Rev Dr Paul Gunter OSB is a monk of Douai Abbey in the UK, professor at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy, and Consultor to the Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.