Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Resurrection of Virgil Michel?

The liturgical movement is dead and the attempt to prop up a comparatively shallow imitator as its successor has failed - although it is debatable if it ever had the forward momentum to begin with. Papa Francesco's liturgical ethic has many liturgical types that found some satisfaction in Benedict's pontificate struggling to find a point of orientation. It is in this contemporary context, it was with much satisfaction that a new write up on Virgil Michel has appeared online - and not from the usual suspects.

The article isn't a detailed treatment of Michel's writings - a project that, so far as I know, has not really been done. But it successfully inserts his name into the Latin, restorationist, and traditionalist forums. Traditionalist and otherwise Latin liturgy types must reconcile with a concept of social justice that exceeds pious works of charity. It is impossible to ignore the myriad of social justice theologies that emerged in the last century, be it the mystical political theology of Metz or the tumultuous annals of the Liberation Theology...or indeed the social ethos of the early 20th century liturgical movement.

Virgil Michel, OSB is a good figure to start with. Michel's writings influenced the early Catholic Worker movement. Michel, for his part, did not imagine one had to deconstruct the old Missale Romanum in order to have a liturgy that was "for the poor and marginalized." Yes, he probably would have voted in favor of discarding the effeminate baroque vestments. Nothing wrong with that, really. Michel, however, thought the old Missale Romanum needed to be studied, fully integrated as the dominant figure in one's prayer life and, if I recall correctly, sought to infuse a monastic ethos into the celebration of the Roman liturgy - at least that is the model of Christian thought into which I'd classify his thinking.

Is this a sign of hope? Depends. So-called progressive liturgists are good at mentioning Virgil Michel's name but very rarely deal with his concrete body of work. There is room to make use of his work. Yes, new liturgical movement types, it means possibly locking away the effeminate vestments, but that is a small price to pay for the old missal to suddenly ride a wave of new found credibility.