At the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), ideas about lay participation in the Church and the ‘popularization’ of the service were definitively elevated to norms. The origins and implementation of this aspect of the Council’s decision have already been studied extensively by historians. By contrast, the tendencies towards reforming the service and Church material culture already apparent in the first half of the 20th century have received little attention. In these first few decades, debates were already taking place in church circles about reforming church music, church buildings, the stained-glass windows, church interiors and liturgical ornaments. Driving this call for change was the Liturgical Movement. Born in monastic circles in the second half of the 19th century as a reawakening to the liturgy, it came to full bloom in the 20th century. The Liturgical Movement strove for restoration of the liturgy and greater participation by the congregation in the service.
In the early 20th century Pius X gave papal legitimacy to the growing concern for the liturgy, sacred art and church material culture. In his motu propio Tra le Sollecitudini, he referred to the importance of "the decorum of the House of God in which the august mysteries of religion are celebrated, and where the Christian people assemble to receive the grace of the Sacraments, to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, to adore the most august Sacrament of the Lord's Body and to unite in the common prayer of the Church in the public and solemn liturgical offices". Later in his pontificate (1903-1914) as well, he continued to promote liturgy and the sacred and solemn character of divine worship as pillars of Catholic religious life. At the same time, he also continued the Church’s turnabout, begun by his predecessor, towards the people. These two policy lines constituted an important element of his battle against modernity. He considered the ensemble of church architecture, sacred art and liturgy as a sacred 'gesamtkunstwerk' and a buffer against the rational and ascetic ideas of the Enlightenment and dissident schools of thought within the Church.
Although some significant impetus to developments in liturgy, sacred art and material culture may have come from Rome, the religious institutes were at the very beginning of these innovative currents. The Liturgical Movement was strongly anchored in the monastic milieu. It was the Benedictines who took the lead in the debate about liturgical renewal and lay participation in many countries including France (Solesmes), Germany (Beuron, Maria-Laach), Spain (Montserrat, Silos), the Netherlands (Oosterhout) and Belgium. Belgium became an important centre of the Liturgical Movement in the 20th century, centred in the Benedictine abbeys of Maredsous, Keizersberg and Zevenkerken, and for many years personified by the figures of Dom Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960) and Dom Gaspar Lefebvre (1880-1966).
Possibly as a direct consequence of their participation in the Liturgical Movement, religious institutes also profiled themselves in changing church art and material culture. In many of the countries mentioned above, the Benedictines translated their urge to renew the liturgy into outspoken ideas about church architecture, sacred art and music. Monks from the abbeys of Maria-Laach, Zevenkerken, Maredsous and elsewhere promoted a church architecture and spatial organization that did full justice to the reinstated liturgy and the turn to the congregation, through their own artist studios, teaching posts and magazines. Other religious were also active in this area. The progressive French Dominicans and their journal l’Art Sacré may be the best known of them, but other monastics (including Franciscans, Capuchins, Norbertines, Jesuits and Carmelites) were also involved as artists, promoters or opinion makers in the innovations in religious art in the decades preceding Vatican II.
The intended focus of the 2012 Relins conference is the role – to which still too little attention has been paid – played by religious and religious institutes in the reform and renewal of religious art and the material culture of church architecture and of worship between 1903 and 1962, along three main themes.
1. Religious Institutes and national/international networks
The first aim is to get a better view of the religious institutes in Europe that were important in this area. Was there only interest from the ‘traditional’ orders or did the new institutes founded in the 19th century contribute as well? In which national and/or international networks were the religious institutes involved? Was the interest in renewing liturgy and church art grounded in certain religious traditions and/or outspoken (anti-modern) ideas?
2. Motives, ideas and significance of the religious protagonists
Secondly, the conference wishes to devote some attention to the individual religious protagonists, their ideas and how these ideas and concepts evolved throughout the years. Was the renewal of liturgy, sacred art and material culture purely a matter for men, or could female religious also profile themselves in this area? In what forms of art or craftsmanship or other aspects of material church culture did monastics have a defining impact? What were the motivations and the underlying ideas of those involved, and how did their ideas evolve during the period in question? How intense and decisive was the cross-fertilization with Catholic theology? Did the prevailing anti-modern discourse allow any room for interaction with the modern world and the contemporary art?
3. Conflicts and public perception
How important was the impact of the Vatican policymakers? Ultimately, some protagonists from the Liturgical Movement and the renewal of religious art and material culture clashed with the authorities in Rome. How were the ‘reformers’ perceived within their own religious institutes, by church authorities and lastly, by the outside world?
All these questions and themes will be discussed at the 2012 RELINS-Europe conference. RELINS-Europe (www.relins.eu) is an international forum that aims to foster international, comparative research on religious institutes in (Western) Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Previous conferences were organized in 2001 (Rome – Historiography of Religious Institutes), 2002 (Vallendar – Legal Position of Religious Institutes), 2004 (Rome – Religious Institutes and the Roman Factor), 2005 (Fribourg – Religious Institutes and Catholic Culture), 2006 (Rome – Missiology, Science and Modernity), 2008 (Leuven – Patrimony, Business and Management of Religious Institutes) and 2009 (Ravenstein – Educating a Catholic Elite).
The conference is scheduled to take place in Leuven (Belgium) on 8 and 9 November 2012 and will be hosted by KADOC-KULeuven (www.kadoc.be). Proposals for papers (max. 500 words, including a title), together with a curriculum vitae and a list of publications, should be addressed to Kristien Suenens (email@example.com) before March 1st 2012. Replies will follow no later than May 1st 2012.