Even as climate change is making our contemporary world increasingly uninhabitable, I have used some summer downtime to reread Sonya A. Quitslund's Beauduin: A Prophet Vindicated (NY: Newman Press, 1973). I first read Beauduin back when it first came out (49 years ago in 1973) when I was a grad student, who had never yet heard of Beuaduin. Nor had I heard of my future novice-master, the ecumenist Fr. Thomas Stransky, who wrote the book's Forward while President of the Paulist Fathers, a religious community with which I was likewise completely unfamiliar at that time. Quitslund's book was the first - and perhaps still the only - full-length, English-language biography of Don Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960), the great 20th-century Belgian monastic liturgist who was also one of the pioneering figures of the ecumenical movement on the Catholic side.
Born into a religious, but politically liberal, landed Belgian family, Beauduin was ordained a priest of the diocese of Liège in 1897. He soon became involved in a fraternity of priests committed to sharing social experiences with and evangelizing members of the increasingly de-christianized working class, which highlighted his conviction that a priest "is to give the truth and divine grace to people through the liturgical rites, preaching the celebration of feasts, and retreats."
Then, in 1906, Beauduin became a Benedictine monk at Mont César Abbey, north of Leuven (Louvain), where he discovered the beauty of liturgically-oriented spirituality. This led to his active immersion in the early 20th-century Belgian liturgical movement, which emphasized restoring the Sunday parochial High Mass with full participation (something we still seem to have trouble achieving today). He wrote:
"The parish is the normal organism created by Holy Church to develop in the mystical body of Christ this collective life and perfect unity which gives it its strength. Regular and active participation at the same altar by the full and solemn assembly of the whole parish family, especially on the Lord's Day, constitutes the first and indispensable source of this parish life."
Quitslund highlights the difference between the liturgical renewal Beauduin advocated and liturgical reformation:
"He structured his movement on the principle that the liturgy belonged to the Church; hence he took it as she offered it and urged that it be known, understood, and carried out as it was - that is, as it was meant to be." His movement was definitely not about advocating a vernacular liturgy but was "a preservative force to restore full meaning and significance to the gestures, texts, and chants of the ancient tradition." A particularly significant aspect of his work "was his emphasis on the risen Christ, the unique priest who here and now accomplishes our liturgy."
The Great War and German occupation (1914-1918) totally disrupted Beauduin's monastic life. Belgium's heroic Primate, Cardinal Mercier, employed Beauduin on special espionage missions both in Belgium and abroad. (He even used an alias, Oscar Fraipont.) He spent the later part of the war in Britain, where he became acquainted with the future Bishop Bell, one of the pioneers in the Anglican ecumenical movement. In 1921, he became Professor of Fundamental Theology at Sant'Anselmo, the Benedictine House of Studies in Rome, where his liturgical enthusiasm expanded into increasing interest in Eastern Christianity. He also contributed to the unprecedented Anglican-Catholic Malines Conversations (convoked by Cardinal Mercier), during which he concluded that the Anglicans "should be united to but not absorbed by Rome - in much the same way as some Eastern Catholics had preserved a definite liturgical and disciplinary autonomy while yet being united to Rome."
In 1925, Beauduin founded an experimental bi-ritual Benedictine monastery at Amay, devoted to "(1) an indirect apostolate of prayer, propaganda and study, and (2) a more direct one of hospitality, with temporary sojourns abroad in Oriental monasteries and Oriental foundations." (In 1924, Pope Pius XI, in Equidem Verba, had encouraged the Benedictines to work toward reunion of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, with particular emphasis on Russian Orthodoxy.) The monastery also published a scholarly journal, Irénikon. But Beauduin personally and his ideas were quite controversial in the 1920s. After Pope Pius XI's 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos, which censured ecumenical efforts, Beauduin was forced to step down as Prior and leave Amay. Worse still, he was subjected to a secret ecclesiastical trial in Rome in January 1931. Eventually, he was even forced to decline a position at the Belgian Royal Library and accept two years exile at the austere Benedictine monastery of En Calcat. His response to ecclesiastical injustice "revealed the depth of Beauduin's obedience and humility and the strength of his Christian optimism."
Finally free to leave En Calcat in 1934, he began 17 years of "Parisian Exile," during which he served as chaplain of two communities of nuns and in 1943 collaborated in the founding of France's Centre de pastorale liturgique. After the war he renewed his friendship with the new Nuncio to France, Angelo Roncalli, whom he correctly predicted would be elected as the next pope, and with whom he had many conversations - among other things about the need for another ecumenical council to complete the unfinished work of Vatican I, something he had been thinking about since at least 1907. During this period, he got to see Rome's increasing endorsement and sponsorship of the liturgical movement to which he had devoted so much of his life and work."To the very end, his love of the Roman liturgy and his conviction of its capacity to function as a valid and efficacious channel of grace in the twentieth century remained unshaken."
In 1951, he was finally permitted to return to his Belgian monastery, now moved from Amay to Chevetogne. Familiar with both diocesan and monastic life, he appreciated both and sought to promote a new model of "diocesan monastery." Meanwhile, he contributed to the newly authorized inter-confessional encounters then taking place. and he lived to see not only the election of John XXIII but his announcement of the Second Vatican Council. Full of ideas for the coming Council, Beauduin wrote:
"there is the priestly power of the Church that sanctifies the faithful. She does it by her prayer and her liturgy. As long as the people will not think with the Church and will not live with her the mysteries of the paschal cycle and the Sundays, as long as they will not pray with her, nothing will be done. The council should have for its objective the revitalization of this great prayer."
Beauduin died at Chevetogne on January 11, 1960. Pope Saint John XXIII said to his secretary, "we were both there in spirit," at his burial. Over his grace are the words Monachus Presbyter Vir Ecclesiae (Monk, Priest, Man of the Church).
Beauduin was "a practical theologian," who "lived and wrote not for a scholarly elite but for the Church." His "central doctrine" focused on the body of Christ, emphasizing both the humanity of Christ and his mystical body. A deficient Christology seemed to him to explain the weaknesses of 19th-century ecclesiology. "No matter how one approaches Beauduin's ecclesiology, Christ is always at the center - either in his glorified humanity, or in the eucharist which makes his humanity accessible to man, or in the priesthood which makes him present in our midst as priest and victim."
Always prioritizing the liturgy over modern devotions, he saw in the Christmas liturgy an "emphasis on the social and collective nature of the redemptive mystery inaugurated through the incarnation," and emphasis which "clearly established Christ as the source of the new relation between God and humanity." Given that nowadays Christmas may be for many the only remaining link with the classical Christian calendar, this may be an area which would warrant further exploration.
Another area of increasing contemporary relevance would seem to be Beauduin's treatment of the Trinity, which he experienced as "three very real and very personal relationships." He wrote:
"The action of Christ in the present phase of the realization of the great plan of the Father is to send us the Holy Spirit - that is, to transmit to us his whole life and all his riches by the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church, in the sacraments, and in the souls of the faithful."
Ever the liturgist, Beauduin emphasized how the Holy Spirit takes possession of us through the sacraments, especially the eucharist. Interestingly, he campaigned in particular for two liturgical reforms, which he believed had once been standard Church practice and which he felt would foster true eucharistic piety - concelebration and the distribution of communion during Mass. And he lamented the lack of pontifical liturgy at Rome, something which should have become possible once again given the 1929 resolution of the Roman Question. He understood how the East interpreted the absence of a pontifical liturgy at Rome as diminishing the concept of the church as the Body of Christ in the Roman Church.
Beauduin's biography brings us back into the religious and social ferment of the 20th-century and how the Church sought - with some surprising success - to respond. For all the secular challenges of that era, it produced a genuine flowering of religious renewal which our precarious present can only look back upon with envious admiration. That things haven't exactly turned out the way Beauduin had hoped could perhaps have been anticipated in how his particularly liturgical focus and priorities got lost in the decades after his death. As Quitslund notes, Beauduin "intended to encourage the layman to lead a more demanding Christian life rather than to discourage him from even trying."