Nazi links to the origins of liturgical reform

Liturgical Movement: Lost Innocence?

“Cult of the people – an ecumenical revision”: It is a sensitive and so far underexplored topic that a conference in the Vatican is currently dealing with. It's about the idea of the "people" in the liturgical movements and reforms of the last century.

“Has the liturgical renewal” – and it existed in the German-speaking area on both the Catholic and Protestant sides – “possibly lost its innocence, or was it able to keep itself free from the national zeitgeist or free itself again?” is the question asked by the ecumenical conference started on Wednesday evening and ends on Saturday evening.

The organizers are the Roman Institute of the Görres Society, headed by Professor Stefan Heid, and the Diakonie Bethel University of Applied Sciences. The Melanchthon Center in Rome and the Liturgical Conference of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) are cooperating.

Does the liturgical movement have skeletons in its closet?

Our question to Monsignor Heid: Does the liturgical movement, which is considered the forerunner of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, have skeletons in the closet, so to speak?

Heid: “At least this question is being asked. Arno Klönne (+2015) put it quite pointedly a long time ago with the question of the extent to which the liturgical movement in Germany and Austria is “hereditarily burdened”. That's a strong formulation! Klaus Schatz SJ also expressed himself in a similar vein when he said: There were representatives of the liturgical movement and the corresponding theological direction who, based on their mysticism of the people, became bridge builders of National Socialism in 1933.

Initial sympathies for the Nazis

“It wasn’t really thought about on the Catholic side,” says Heid. After all, research is now focusing more and more on this sensitive field. Example: Maria Laach. The Romanesque Benedictine abbey in the Eifel was an important address for the liturgical movement under its abbot Ildefons Herwegen (+1946) - and was considered a haven of resistance. At least Konrad Adenauer was able to hide here for a while from the Nazis, who had deposed him as mayor of Cologne. Did Maria Laach nevertheless become contaminated with the nationalist thinking of the Nazis?

Heid: “There was an initial complicity that remained an episode, but did not come about by chance. You have to treat Maria Laach fairly in this regard. On the one hand, the abbey under Ildefons Herwegen hoisted the swastika flags in 1933 and offered its support to the Führer. This was an episode that lasted a few months, but at least it is a fall from grace for the abbey. On the other hand, one cannot under any circumstances say that the abbey allowed itself to become permanently infected: they quickly regretted it and distanced themselves from National Socialism. And yet another question (and we also want to examine this) is to what extent the liturgical movement emanating from Maria Laach allowed itself to be influenced by ethnic thinking or not?

For further listening: Was the liturgical movement infected by the Nazis' nationalistic thinking? A contribution from Vatican Radio

When Jewish texts were erased from the Catholic liturgy

Professor Heid definitely sees “certain similarities between the liturgical and the decidedly National Socialist reform agenda.” In addition, in Reform Catholicism there are “clear ingratiations” to the Nazis “and even adoption of the ethnic style”. Particularly sensitive: the deletion of Jewish references from the liturgy.

Heid: “The question of Jewish texts is extremely unpleasant for the Catholic side, because the demand from the liturgical movement to free the liturgy from Jewish elements found an echo here - even after the war! So there is definitely a certain legacy here. The liturgical movement has of course examined all possible biblical texts, and in doing so, “consideration” was given to the sensitivities of the people, who were bothered by Jewish names such as Rebekah in the liturgy.”

The result: decidedly Jewish names and Old Testament texts disappeared from the liturgical area, for example from the wedding ritual. A cleansing that can still be felt today. “To this day, texts that were part of the Catholic marriage ritual for centuries have disappeared - for National Socialist reasons.”

Catholic priests with Nazi sympathies

After all: the liturgical movement was diverse. A more conservative wing - keyword Maria Laach - was opposed, especially in Austria, by a faction that was "addicted to change". And then there was even a “decidedly National Socialist” movement.


See also The Liturgists and the Fascists