Returning to Jungmann

Review by Derek Olsen

Composed in the chaos of the Second World War, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development brought an order and clarity to its subject with profound, far-reaching effects. Indeed, Joseph Jungmann’s scholarly masterpiece exerted powerful effects upon the liturgical work of the Second Vatican Council and, through it, upon western liturgical traditions, including the Episcopal Church and its Book of Common Prayer (1979). This seminal work receives new life in a two-volume reprinting in the Christian Classics series from Ave Maria Press.

The Mass of the Roman Rite
Its Origins and Development
By Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ.
Ave Maria Press.
Pp. 1,056 (two volumes). $49.95

Jungmann begins with a survey of the rite’s development. He weaves a narrative that leaves no questions as to his theological commitments, beginning with a simple patristic service of the gathered assembly’s praise that — under the influence of Gallican elements — becomes a clergy-driven mystery of God’s work. His discussion of the allegorization that proliferates in Gothic Mass commentaries serves to underscore that the eucharistic rite had been transformed — for the worse — from a communal celebration to a mysterious drama that the faithful were to observe from afar.

Succeeding periods only continued the trend, further divorcing the reception of the sacrament from the liturgy. A few bright spots are presented, notably in the German Enlightenment, when attempts to communicate the substance of the liturgy in the vernacular and the introduction of vernacular hymnody drew the community back into the eucharistic action. The Roman Catholic Restoration, however, snuffed these embers of reform, and Jungmann’s history concludes with a call to reformation, envisioning a vernacular Mass, transparently understandable on its own terms, enacting the community’s thank offering to God.

After sections on the theology of the Eucharist and the various forms of the Mass used in his day, he discusses the elements of the Mass. Each individual part is treated with reference to its historical development and theological meaning. His choice of certain historical themes frequently underscores his perspective of how the elements should be treated in a reformed Mass.

Jungmann wrote at a critical time in the 20th century. Energy was building for a revision of the eucharistic rite. Significant reforms to the Breviary had already been accomplished; everyone knew that the Missal was next. The first tentative changes to Holy Week appeared five years after the publication of Jungmann’s work. Additional revisions in 1962 led to the major reform represented in the 1970 Roman Missal. From our perspective, it is instructive to see how Jungmann’s suggestions were acted upon during the process of reform. And most of them were. Jungmann’s understanding of the Mass is not simply an inventive synthesis by a scholar with keen pastoral sensibilities. It became the dominant perspective that lay beneath the reform of the missal, our prayer book, and associated Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist worship resources since Vatican II.

The reprinting of this work at this time strikes me as particularly significant: it appears as the first fully post-conciliar generation comes of age. The Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), a work fully informed by Jungmann’s synthesis, shaped my earliest liturgical memories. My entry into the Episcopal Church was nurtured by my experiences with the 1979 prayer book. Even the Traditional Latin Masses I visited periodically during college and seminary stood in conscious awareness of this text. My worship experiences and liturgical education have been profoundly shaped by Jungmann’s interpretation. As my generation comes of age, it is fitting that we once again return to Jungmann, read his words, weigh his arguments, and assess his heritage.

Often polemical, always learned, Jungmann’s work stands as a harbinger of the changes wrought in Vatican II as well as a direct cause of them. More than 60 years later, some of his conclusions have been overturned by subsequent scholarship — but none can be ignored. Jungmann’s perspective has become the central scholarly narrative through which the Eucharist is seen. This book has defined modern liturgy, and remains essential reading for modern liturgists.

Derek Olsen is the secretary of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church. He served as liturgical editor of the new revision of the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book and is completing a book for Forward Movement on the spirituality of the prayer book.


Online Archives