The sweeping changes in Catholic liturgy between 1965 and 1975 undoubtedly constitute the most important and the most controversial results of the Second Vatican Council. Today, two generations later, the Council’s call for liturgical renewal in the Church remains a work in progress. Especially considering the renewed interest in the Council’s liturgical reforms, the insights of the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper (1904-1997) deserve greater attention.
In a series of essays written between 1969 and 1973, Pieper discusses the nature of the sacred — sacred action (actio sacra), sacred building (aedes sacra), sacrament (sacramentum), and ordination or consecration (consecratio) — and its relationship to the liturgical act.1 Against those who would reject Thomas Aquinas as the epitome of the “medievalism” the Church needs to overcome, Pieper (rightly) insists that “there is nothing ‘medieval’ about what he says.”2 Rather, Pieper argues, Thomas’s realist understanding of the sacraments and liturgy is uniquely well-suited to oppose the varieties of modern subjectivism that he believed lie behind the “desacralization” not just of the liturgy but of human existence itself in the modern world.
In order to explain the significance of Pieper’s thought, I will: 1) briefly present Pieper’s critique of what he calls the “desacralizing” program underlying many of the liturgical innovations of the immediate post-conciliar period; 2) examine his identification of the “sacred” (and his Thomistic understanding of it) with the essentially sacramental character of the liturgy; and 3) offer a short reflection on the continuing value of Pieper’s liturgical writings in light of the subsequent history of and contemporary debates over the Mass. Such a study can provide not just a better understanding of Pieper’s own intellectual sources, but also a deeper insight into the nature of reality with which the liturgy aims to connect us.
The rest can be found in the attached PDF.