Lambert Beauduin, OSB
August 5, 1873 – January 11, 1960
August 5, 1873 – January 11, 1960
The Vision Awaits Its Time
When one hears the word “movement” used to describe a phenomenon of human history, one is tempted to envision a throng of humanity rather than the faces of the individual human beings in the throng. Any discussion of what is called the “liturgical movement,” however, must center on the individuals whose energies and visions have fueled and directed this movement of the Spirit in all the communions of the church. Among these men and women we find Lambert Beauduin, OSB, whose epitaph at Chevetogne reads: “Monk, Presbyter, Man of the Church.”
Christened Octave, Beauduin was born near Liége in Belgium on August 5, 1873. His family was well-to-do, liberal in political issues and deeply religious. Octave’s father gathered the family and domestic servants for daily evening devotions and the children frequently engaged in “playing church.” From his father, Beauduin inherited a strong sense of political duty (although his father disliked clerical involvement in political affairs).
Following his ordination in 1897, Beauduin was assigned to teach in the minor seminary that he had attended as a boy. But his attraction to service in the world was strong, so in 1899 he volunteered for service as a Labor Chaplain. Beauduin’s first interests in this ministry appear to have been the result of a concern for social activism, but by 1902 he became more evangelical in his view of the priestly ministry among the workers: “One is a priest to give the truth and divine grace to people through the liturgical rites, preaching, the celebration of feasts and retreats.”
The movement into which Beauduin had entered encountered increasing political and ecclesiastical opposition. Beauduin left the Labor Chaplains and, after a period of spiritual reflection, entered the Benedictine monastery of Mont César. It is indicative of his lifelong commitment to action in the church at large that he took the name Lambert at his profession in 1907: Lambert is the patron saint of Liége, Beauduin’s home diocese and the diocese of his ordination.
In his first years at Mont César, Beauduin came under the tutelage of an Irish monk, Columba Marmion (1858–1923), who at that time was prior of the monastery. Beauduin thus came to appreciate the liturgy of the church. Although reluctant to discuss the stages of his own spiritual development, Beauduin would admit to Marmion’s influence as well as his reading of Guéranger on liturgical prayer and the lectures of B. Destrée (then master of novices) on the chanting of the office. In Liturgy, the Life of the Church (written in 1914), Beauduin reveals something of his reaction to private devotions:
The charge that liturgical piety is the enemy of private devotion . . . rests on a misunderstanding. It is true that the former is, in this domain, traditional, discreet, even extremely reserved. The sickly desire that is ever in quest of pious novelties justly affrightens the liturgical mentality; the latter is the enemy of all devotionalism and glories in that. But far from destroying traditional and authentic private devotions, it gives them an increase of vigor and strength. A stranger to all fashions and to all fads, imbued with sane doctrine, pure and unalloyed, broad and generous, the liturgy, having become the principle food of the Christian soul, will transform the private devotion, give it a new impetus, a new intensity, while at the same time keeping it in its proper place.Heart and Soul of the Belgian Liturgical Movement
Beauduin’s nascent commitment to the liturgy came to flower during 1908–1910. Sometime prior to 1909, Beauduin was said to have burst into the class he was to teach and to have exploded, “I’ve just realized that the liturgy is the center of the piety of the church!” In 1909, Beauduin presented a paper on the liturgy at Malines and in November, the journal Questions liturgiques (later Questions liturgiques et paroissales) began publication with Beauduin as editor. In June of 1910, the first Liturgical Week was held at Mont César. The goal of the early liturgical movement was “to restore Christian spirituality [and] the means proposed was the restoration of the parochial High Mass on Sunday, with full participation.”
From 1909 until 1921, Beauduin was the heart and soul of the Belgian liturgical movement. Such activity was not welcomed in all quarters and Beauduin’s critics were many. In response to his critics, Beauduin wrote his only monograph, La piété de l’église (Liturgy, the Life of the Church, English edition, 1926), published on the eve of World War I. In a memorable chapter entitled “The Sad Consequences of the Present Condition,” Beauduin enumerates the results of the failure to maintain the liturgy as the center of true Christian piety: individualism, abandonment of prayer, deviations of piety, the secular spirit and the lack of hierarchical life. Later in the book, Beauduin gives his goals for the liturgical movement:
- Active participation of all Christian people in the Mass by understanding and following the rites and texts.
- Emphasis on the importance of the High Mass, Sunday services and liturgical singing by the faithful.
- Preservation and the reestablishment of Sunday Vespers and Compline as parish celebrations.
- Acquaintance and active association with the rites of the sacraments received and assisted at, and the spread of this knowledge to others.
- Fostering a respect for and confidence in the church.
- Restoration of the Liturgy of the Dead to a place of honor and combating the dechristianization of the cult of the dead.
You’ll excuse my frankness, but the missal was for me a closed and sealed book. And this ignorance extended not only to the variable parts [of the Mass], but even to the unchanging parts and principally to the canon . . . Even the great and perfect acts of worship, the principal end of the Mass, of participation in the sacrifice in communion with the body of the Lord, the spiritual offering of our good acts . . . in short, none of the great realities that the eucharistic liturgy constantly puts into act, nor one dominated my eucharistic piety. . . . Visits to the Blessed Sacrament had a more vital role in my piety than the act of sacrifice itself.In 1921, Beauduin was appointed to serve as professor of fundamental theology at Sant’ Anselmo. These years saw the awakening of Beauduin’s awareness of the Christian East. He developed plans for a biritual monastery of Benedictine monks (to be located at Amay) who, by their knowledge and love of both Latin and Eastern rites, theology and piety, would serve as a witness to the East and foster eventual unity. By 1926, he had received permission to begin a monastery with five novices.
Within a month of opening its doors, Amay received canonical status from the Congregation for the Oriental Church. Irénikon, a journal devoted to the study of the Eastern church, began publication the same year. Beauduin’s vision of the unity of the church extended westward as well; contacts with Anglicans during World War I had quickened his interest in and participation (by correspondence) in the Malines Conversations. Opposition to his openness to Anglicanism and to his work at Amay (both from Benedictine superiors and curial officials) resulted in Beauduin’s eventual ecclesiastical exile from Belgium.
Exile from Belgium
It was during the period of Beauduin’s professorship at Sant’ Anselmo that his influence was transported to the North American continent. A young American monk, Virgil Michel, came to Rome to study. He quickly absorbed the teaching of Beauduin and was inspired to begin the liturgical apostolate on his return to the United States.
From 1931 to 1951, Beauduin was forbidden to return to Amay or Mont César or to enter Belgium. During this period, he served as a chaplain to two convents in France. He traveled widely and wrote frequently. In 1943, he was among the founders of the Centre de Pastorale Liturgique in Paris. In 1944, Beauduin renewed an old friendship with the papal nuncio to France, Angelo Roncalli (later John XXIII).
Beauduin’s exile ended in 1951 and he returned to the monastery he had founded (low located at Chevetogne). There he lived in an active retirement, despite the crippling effects of rheumatoid arthritis, until his death on January 11, 1960.
At his death, Beauduin knew that his vision slowly was coming to fruition. Chevetogne was thriving; Roncalli had been elected pope and called a council; the liturgical movement was alive and well on all fronts. Although Beauduin did not live to see it, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury would visit both the pope and the ecumenical patriarch in 1960. Beauduin was, as his American biographer said, “a prophet vindicated.”
In that biography, Sonya Quitslund states: “Beauduin had an insatiable thrist for unity. At first envisaged in rather narrow lines and somewhat hesitantly, unity soon became the predominant passion of his entire life.” His commitment to liturgical renewal was part of this passion. In the liturgy, the faithful were united with one another, the congregation with the church and the church with Christ. Furthermore, Beauduin was aware that the purpose of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and the descent of the Spirit was, and is, to lead humanity to the Father. Thus, unity with Christ in the liturgy serves to draw humanity closer to the one whom Christ called “Abba.” In this bosom, humanity would find its unity.
Beauduin’s contribution to the life of the church is substantial. Several of the journals he founded still are important means of research and communication. The monastery of Chevetogne continues to witness to Beauduin’s vision of ecclesial unity. The fullness of that vision still awaits its time.
Tribute from How Firm A Foundation: Leaders of the Liturgical Movement, (pp. 23–28) by Richard G. Leggett. Copyright © 1990, Archdiocese of Chicago, published by Liturgy Training Publications. All rights reserved. Used with permission.