Jansenism and Liturgical Reform
Dated on the anniversary itself, December 4, Pope John Paul II in 1988 issued an apostolic letter commemorating the twenty-fifth year since the Second Vatican Council’s document on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium. Perhaps that letter went somewhat unnoticed, but students of the liturgy did take livelier interest when the real “insider’s story” finally came out two years later in the translation of Annibale Bugnini’s The Reform of the Liturgy, 1948-1975. This was a more detailed account from the administrative viewpoint of some of the warm reminiscences sketched earlier by Dom Bernard Botte and translated under the title From Silence to Participation: An Insider’s View of Liturgical Renewal.
Both Bugnini the curial prefect and Botte the scholar and consultant give us rich anecdotes and documentary evidence about how the conciliar liturgical reform was actually carried out, how the books were revised by compromise and even intrigue, and how the antecedents of the liturgical movement before the council were converted into these revised rites. Conventional church historians such as Roger Aubert identify the roots of our century’s reform in the efforts that began with Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875) in the nineteenth century. Aubert says:
“All things considered, the liturgical movement of the interwar period, despite its efforts to reach out to the steadily increasing masses, kept to the ideal of ‘restoration’ that had inspired Dom Guéranger, in other words it attempted to satisfy a nostalgia by retracing its steps back beyond the Counter-Reformation to an imago primitivae Ecclesiae. Pius X, it is true, had tried to do more and embark on reform, but his two successors did little to follow his lead, and outside Rome his work was felt by pioneers of the liturgical movement to be more in the nature of ‘a successful restoration, analogous to the architectural restorations executed by the Romantics’.” 
The Romantic movement had given great impetus to the Catholic revival after the devastation of the French Revolution. But when it came to things liturgical, the most it could engender was a reconstruction, perhaps artificial, based on love of the ancient church and the ages of faith. The liturgical aestheticism of some Anglo-Catholics after the Oxford Movement in this regard too frequently illustrates a Romanticism with not enough real depth.
However, though the Church may be governed in Rome, it was also long accustomed to have its thinking done in France. Guéranger was a personal favorite of Pius IX who had taken special care to invite him to the deliberations of Vatican I. And Guéranger’s well-known “romanizing” tendencies made him particularly hostile to the original and positive contribution available from the small but important Jansenist liturgical movement. In 1853 Pius IX wrote Inter multiplices which strongly approved the adoption of the Roman liturgy throughout France, recommending it in preference to local gallican liturgical rites.
An American scholar, F. Ellen Weaver, has analyzed the relevant documents, especially the ceremonial books and ritual books with their own notes, which pertain to this Jansenist interest in the reform of the liturgy. Nearly all the themes familiar in our own day after Sacrosanctum concilium were pursued by the Jansenist reformers–introduction of the vernacular, a greater role for the laity in worship, active participation by all, recovery of the notion of the eucharistic meal and the community, communion under both kinds, emphasis on biblical and also patristic formation, clearer preaching and teaching, less cluttered calendars and fewer devotions which might distract from the centrality of the Eucharist. Even the “kiss of peace” was practiced at Port-Royal, and a sort of offertory procession was found there and elsewhere among Jansenist liturgical reformers.
One of the few Jansenist reforms which would be unfamiliar to us today would be their use of public penance. But this insistence was not confined to the Jansenists, since it had been called for by the council of Trent as a return to an ancient rite. The Jansenists, on this point, just took Trent more literally and more seriously than anybody else.
Some Jansenist bishops wished to abolish priestly celibacy. Two of the more famous in Italy were Giovanni Andrea Serrao of Potenza, during the period of the French occupation, and Giuseppi Capecelatro, archbishop of Taranto early in the restoration era. We should not be led to believe, however, that they acted upon their opinion, any more than bishops today who hold the same opinion.
Moreover, in the middle of the eighteenth century the Jansenists were even accused by the Jesuit polemicist, Henri Michel Sauvage, of having women priests. While there is as yet no real evidence for his charge, it does illustrate how their enemies perceived them as a people whose liturgical reputation was suspect. Sauvage may have been exaggerating, but even this shows the form of the conceivable.
On the question of the vernacular, both the protestants and the gallicans used it in their liturgy in the seventeenth century in France. As Joseph Andreas Jungmann says when writing of the Liturgical Movement, breviaries and missals in French appeared as early as 1680, before being suppressed. Even the Jesuits sought indults from Rome for the use of the vernacular in mission lands, notably for China and Quebec. However, these missionaries would have been content with their Latin liturgical books had there been no real need to address the non-European mentality of the new converts. This was not the thoroughgoing and more systematic Catholic reform envisioned by the Jansenists which Weaver calls their “lex docendi, lex orandi”. The whole of their reform program was to seek its expression liturgically.
Even the Italian Jansenists of Tuscany and Pistoia centered their reform on liturgy:“Inside the parish church the service must be made congregational. And here doctrine entered. The liturgy was not an act done by priest for the people, it was ‘a common act of priest and people’. Therefore all the liturgy, even the prayer of consecration which was said secretly, should be said in a loud voice, and the congregation was to be encouraged to share. The reformers asked themselves whether logic must not demand liturgy in the vernacular instead of Latin, and plainly believed that in principle this would be right; but knew that in practice neither their people nor the Church at large would tolerate such radical departure from hallowed tradition. Nevertheless the people should be helped to understand by being provided with vernacular translations and by readings of the gospel in the vernacular after the Latin reading.” 
The most obvious reason why the Jansenists got opposition to their liturgical ideas, of course, is that such were understood to be protestant. Even today the same ideas are still rejected in some circles on these grounds. Despite Paul VI’s deliberate insertion of ##6-9 into the General Instruction on the Roman Missal of 1969, an assortment of tridentinists, traditionalists, lefebvrists, and sedevacantists continue to claim the reform was a protestant conspiracy. They think the missal of 1570 is an immutable bulwark against protestant influence, even though J.D. Crichton has rightly pointed out that this edition is nearly identical to the first printed one of 1474, several years before the birth of Luther.
Weaver tells us that Dom Guéranger had a personal antipathy toward the Jansenist reform. In speaking of the innovations of Jacques Jubé of Asnières, she cites Guéranger as saying “it was an example of the deviations to which liturgy was liable when the Roman Mass books were not adopted”.
Neither Pope John Paul II, nor Archbishop Bugnini, nor Dom Botte, nor the Second Vatican Council, nor Dom Prosper Guéranger give the Jansenist liturgical reform movement any notice at all for being ahead of its time–it is never mentioned either for its catholicity or its importance as an orthodox, or mostly orthodox, alternative to the mandated liturgical reforms of Trent. Since the canons of Trent were introduced very late in France, it had been up to individuals and small groups to conduct the Counter-Reformation by themselves in what now looks to us to have been an often unsystematic way. Were it not for unfortunate political entanglements which are notorious, Jansenism might have been integrated into the mainstream of the church, not expelled from it altogether. Though their liturgical ideas did not die, but resurfaced in Europe in different contexts, they were always tainted until well into the twentieth century. Jansenists have often been misunderstood or falsely blamed. Currently, though, church historians are re-evaluating the sources and are able to show that specific liturgical ideas congenial to us were flourishing inFrance andItaly during the early modern period when the Jansenists tried, but failed, to introduce them as reforms into the actual life of the Catholic church. Credit should be given where credit is due. We can recognize ourselves in the Jansenist liturgical reform.
See Origins, May 25, 1989 (vol. 29, no. 2).
Collegeville,MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990.
Washington,DC: The Pastoral Press, 1988.
Roger Aubert, The Christian Centuries, vol. 5, “The Church in a Secularized Society” (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), p. 599.
Romantic thinkers usually looked back lovingly to monarchy and the Old Regime, but Jansenist political reformers in Italy, such as the priest Eustachio Degola of Genoa, opposed the Old Regime and allied themselves with French republican ideals. See Owen Chadwick, The Popes and European Revolution (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1981), p. 455. Again, in 1799 the anti-revolutionary peasant army of Arezzo after marching on Florence arrested the famous Jansenist Bishop Scipione de’ Ricci, retired bishop of Pistoia, due to his sympathies for the French military occupation. This was but a few years before Chateaubriand published Le génie du Christianisme in April, 1802. Ibid., p. 473. In general, Chadwick’s estimation of the Revolution is the most succinct way to contrast it with the new Romanticism: “The Revolution did to the Roman Catholic Church what the Reformation failed to do. It appeared to have destroyed its structure if not its being.” Ibid., p. 481. Religious Romanticism surely hoped to bring back both.
Weaver remarks, “It is interesting and rather pathetic to note that when the Roman Catholic Church condemned all Jansenist teachings, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ–so thoroughly pauline, and orthodox–became suspect. In fact at the First Vatican Council in 1870 the definition of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ was rejected as Jansenist.” See F. Ellen Weaver, The Evolution of the Reform of Port-Royal: From the Rule of Cîteaux to Jansenism (Paris: Éditions Beauchesne, 1978), p. 104, n. 95.
Aubert says of Guéranger, “…il dénonçait avec acharnement ‘l’hérésie antiliturgique’ en accusant les liturgies françaises d’être tout imprégnées de tendances jansénistes.” See Roger Aubert, “La Géographie ecclésiologique au XIXe siècle”, in L’Ecclésiologie au XIXe Siècle, ed. M. Nédoncelle (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1960), p. 22.
J. Derek Holmes, The Triumph of the Holy See (London: Burns and Oates, 1978), p. 125. Holmes also says, “Guéranger believed that liturgical ceremonies should express the continuity of tradition and that the principle of liturgical unity should correspond to the visible unity of the Church. In 1840 he published Liturgical Institutions advocating a return to the unity of Roman liturgical practice. There followed an open controversy in which no less than sixty French bishops opposed Guéranger. During 1842 the Pope declared that it was deplorable to have a variety of liturgies, but only half a dozen bishops had adopted the Roman liturgy by 1848. Nevertheless Guéranger continued his campaign and between 1849 and 1851 several provincial councils came out in his support and Pius IX informed the French bishops of his wish that they should adopt the Roman liturgy. By 1864 eighty-one out of ninety-one dioceses had adopted the Roman liturgy and before Guéranger died all the French dioceses had adopted the liturgy of Rome.” (p. 138)
See “Jansenist Bishops and Liturgical-Social Reform” by F. Ellen Weaver, in Church, State, and Society Under the Bourbon Kings of France, ed. Richard M. Golden (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1982).
Ibid., esp. pp. 62-70. See also Chadwick, p. 428.
Ibid., pp. 59-60.
 Potenza is in Calabria, southern Italy. Bishop Giovanni Andrea Serrao took office in 1782. When the Parthenopean Republic was under siege Bishop Serrao was murdered in his bed by counter-revolutionary members of the Potenza guard who cut off his head and carried it triumphantly upon a pike around the city. See Chadwick, p. 475. Archbishop Giuseppe Capecelatro (1744-1836) of Taranto was one of the most urbane prelates of his day, and a Jansenist by conviction. He also was said to prefer a married clergy. Ibid., p. 548.
La Réalité du Projet de Bourg-Fontaine (Paris: 1755), vol. II, p. 302.
See Sacramentum Mundi, vol. 3, “Liturgical Movement” (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), p. 319.
Chadwick, p. 421. He further adds: “In this was nothing specially Jansenist. Muratori asked no less.” The multiplication of private Masses, and the separation of communion from the Mass itself were two other objects of reform, and were the concern of different kinds of reformers, too. Often Enlightenment-era Catholicism and Josephism overlapped with Jansenist liturgical and other goals. Ibid., p. 506. Even in Spain when the guerrillas were revolting against the Napoleonic occupation, their assembly was described thus: “The Liberal majority of the Cadiz Cortes was thus in line with the Catholic reforming movement of the eighteenth century which was still assailed as ‘Jansenist’.” Ibid., p. 533.
On this point see Chadwick, p. 394.
The Once and Future Liturgy (Dublin: Veritas, 1977), p. 7.
Ibid., pp. 64-65. In another place, Weaver stresses that the Jansenists were not protestant, for very good reasons. See The Evolution of the Reform of Port-Royal, p. 102. Furthermore, their emphasis upon infrequent communion can be interpreted in a non-protestant and positive way–the respect they had for the Catholic doctrines of the eucharist and the priesthood kept them in such awe that adequate preparation was necessary to partake of the sacrament.
See Aubert, ibid., p. 541; also Alec C. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution (Baltimore: Penguin, 1961 and 1968), pp. 31-32.*** Reverend Brian Van Hove, S.J.