The Liturgical Movement and Catholic Action in Belgium

As the title implies, Helen M. Larke’s 1938 article “The Liturgical Movement and Catholic Action in Belgium” offers an interesting insight into the role of the Belgian Specialised Catholic Action movements in the liturgy reform movement that eventually led to such profound changes at Vatican II.

“I have been asked to write about two holidays I have spent in Belgium, because I saw there something of the liturgical movement and of Catholic Action,” Larke, “an avowed and convinced Anglican,” says by way of introduction. “I say ‘saw something,’ for my experiences when recounted make a series of pictures, as it were, related to each other by the idea underlying each: the idea of making religion live.”

Obtaining a copy of the magazine, Les Questions Liturgiques et Paroissiales, she found an article by Dom Vonier of Buckfast Abbey on “Corpus Christi Mysticum,” which contained “many directions as to how to make the funeral service mean more to the people.”

Arriving in the city of Dinant, Larke met a leader of the JACF, the female movement for young agricultural workers, who took her to the Benedictine Abbey of Maredsous in the Meuse valley.

There she learnt of the efforts of the JACF and other Specialised Catholic Action movements to involve young people in the liturgy, an “enormously difficult task.”

Larke also explains the efforts of the JACF to overcome the division between faith and their lives:

From time to time we met girls belonging to the J. A. C. F. Then she would tell me how this one worked in her father’s wayside café, and how she raised its tone, and made it a safe place for other girls; how that one had persuaded her father to cease giving short measure; how another, succeeding her father in authority, had raised the wages of the farm laborers…

It is realized that many keen Catholics are committing a kind of partial apostasy because their lives are not unified. That part of their existence which suffers the impact of society becomes infected by the social milieu, and to that extent they are living lives which are merely natural, secularized, even paganized. It is said that to reform society is a long job, but that it is possible to convert and to succor individuals immediately. Here, then, are the two objectives of Catholic Action.

Larke also notes the way in which the movements work:

There are organizations for young workmen, young working girls, young farm hands of each sex, and for students; working in the parishes, guided by the parish priest, but led by educated lay men and women. The young people are expected to attend study circles, to think things out, and to take every opportunity to better the conditions under which they and their fellows work, as well as to convert their fellows. They are taught that they can and should offer to God work that is good; i.e., work that is well done, and is at the same time of use for the good life.

She even mentions the magazine “Joie et Travail,” which was actually the paper of the JOCF, the female YCW movement:

The town worker’s magazine is “Joy in Work”; and there is a delightful little picture of a country child offering her sheaves of corn at the foot of the crucifix, with the legend ‘Our homes and our fields for God.” Questionnaires are sent out—and filled in and returned— bearing upon the daily lives of the working boys and girls, and valuable information as to conditions of labor are gleaned therefrom.

And she notes the way in which the Benedictine abbeys cooperated with the movements:

The Benedictines teach that everything of value in the faith is to be found in the liturgy, and that if what is taught there is lived out in Catholic Action in the parish first and then beyond, a live parish and a live Church must result.

And she quotes several passages from the Benedictine Dom Gaspar Lefebvre:

If it is to be well directed and to give the best results, Catholic Action must not be separated from Liturgical Action. There could be nothing more fatal than failure to establish a vital relationship between these two sorts of activity. The separation, where it exists, is not only to be marveled at, but to be deplored, for it prevents the official worship of the Church (the primary and indispensable source of a truly Christian mind), from bringing religion to bear upon the secular plane, upon which plane Catholic Action functions.

Before society can be Christianized (or re-Christianized), it will be necessary to do away with the watertight compartments which exist too often between the life of worship (prayer, sacraments, Mass), and the life of work. To do away with them would be to cause the first to shine through and irradiate the second. That is to say, religion, of which the liturgy is the living synthesis, would suffuse all human activity, of which Catholic Action is a part.

Larke’s article offers a significant testimony that confirms the later observations of Vatican II peritus, Dom Bernard Botte OSB, that the liturgical movement had “benefited from favorable circumstances, particularly the development of Catholic Action and specifically the jocist movement.”

Read Botte’s testimony here:

Bernard Botte (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Stefan Gigacz


[Larke, Helen M. “The Liturgical Movement and Catholic Action in Belgium.” Orate Fratres, vol. 13, no. 2, Dec. 1938, pp. 59–65.]