Vol. XVII, No. 5
Recovery of the Sacred
A Key Analysis of Liturgy Reform Now Online
Recovery of the Sacred by historian James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, was originally published in 1974, a decade after the Second Vatican Council.
The book provided an extraordinarily incisive analysis of post-conciliar liturgical developments that had impeded the authentic reform that the Council — and the pre-1965 “Liturgical Movement” — had intended.
Twenty years later, Recovery of the Sacred’s constructive critique was not only still timely, but arguably more urgent, as new scriptural and liturgical translations were then in progress, and their integrity was endangered by the same erroneous views that had prevailed in the intervening years. Thus the book was published again in 1995.
In the author’s preface to the republication of the book, Dr. Hitchcock began:
This is a book the author wishes would never have to be reprinted. It was first written less than a decade after the Second Vatican Council to call attention to certain liturgical trends which seemed unwise and even destructive. But the book had no perceptible effect on the course of liturgical development… For thirty years every warning about liturgical abuse has automatically been dismissed as uninformed.
Dr. Hitchcock’s analysis of the unexpected and rapid desacralization of the Liturgy in the years following the Second Vatican Council under the influence of a new class of professional liturgists remains an insightful guide to this period in the Church’s history. Chapters of the book have appeared in the Adoremus Bulletin.
Now, in 2011, the Church is about to receive, for the first time, an authentic English translation of the sacred text of the Roman Missal. Its reception and implementation is crucial to the “recovery of the sacred” in Catholic worship. After four decades — two generations — it will not be easy to overcome errors and abuses that have become deeply entrenched in the minds of many Catholics, clergy and laity alike. This has affected not only translation, but nearly every aspect of Catholic worship — from art and architecture to music and popular devotions. As Father George Rutler wrote about the second publication of Recovery of the Sacred, “what was prophecy when it was first published, now is sober reflection. There is hope here for surviving the most tragic self-mutilation of Catholic culture since the Arian crisis of the fourth century”.
Signs of authentic renewal of the Church’s liturgy, however, are no longer rare, as they were in the 1990s. Progress has been made in recovering the sacred dimension of the Church’s liturgy; but much labor remains.
Though his book is again out of print, Dr. Hitchcock’s often prescient insights concerning the necessary recovery of the sacred in Catholic liturgy are as compelling today as when they were first written — and perhaps even more concretely useful. Thus, with the author’s kind permission, we are pleased to present a complete online edition of Recovery of the Sacred on the Adoremus web site.