Katharine E. HARMON. There Were Also Many Women There, Lay Women in the Liturgical Movement in the United States 1926-1959. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2012. pp. 340. $39.95 pb. ISBN978-0-8146-6271-7. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, 1900 W. Olney Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19141
This book took longer to review than many others of similar length. Allow that to serve as an outstanding recommendation for the text. Like many other young scholars, Katharine Harmon has transformed her doctoral dissertation, completed at the University of Notre Dame under the direction of Nathan Mitchell, into a very readable book. As a first kind of excuse, the extended time for reading comes from this reviewer’s keen interest in examining the extensive notation. However, even more to the author’s credit, the extensive time for reading results from the need to learn well the untold story Harmon puts forth.
As Harmon concludes, “From the inaugural issue of Orate Fratres in 1926 to the eve of the Second Vatican Council, Roman Catholic lay women reflected on and realized the impulse to lead the liturgical life during the liturgical movement in the United States” (p. 338). She successfully addresses a concern of her mentor that the history of the liturgical movement has largely been a “history for, by and about men” (339).
Harmon lays the foundation for the work of lay women in the United States by providing a brief sketch of women engaged with liturgical renewal in Europe. Here one sees the contributions of religious women in adopting and adapting patterns of renewal proposed by liturgical scholars. Her text shows a decidedly different direction when it comes to the contributions of American women. Harmon offers the history of lay women and their connection of the liturgical life to social justice and the family home.
While the author gives some brief references to debates concerning the use of the vernacular, the women engaged with liturgical renewal in the United States did not anticipate, nor strongly advocate, that change. Instead, perhaps appreciating the vernacular as an impossible dream, advocated the teaching of Latin, the congregational use of chant, and teaching the laity how to use the Breviary. The women advocated for the full participation of the laity in the Mass. They also had a deep appreciation for connecting the laity to the official prayer of the Church. With this also came a simultaneous conviction about the assembly praying as one, as the Mystical Body of Christ. Private devotions during Mass were to yield to a common praying of the Mass. One early expression became the Dialogue Mass.
More striking for this reviewer was the strong connection Harmon found between liturgy and social action. Here the author details the contributions of women like Ellen Gates Starr, Dorothy Day, and Catherine de Hueck Doherty. Likewise, Maise Ward authored some twenty-nine books often exploring the theme of liturgical renewal and social justice. The Catholic Library Movement connected to Sara B. O’Neill merged with the Calvert Renting Library to become the Shield School of Social Studies. The latter was an outgrowth of the discussion groups pioneered by women connected the Catholic spiritual life with social issues.
A lay movement transported from Europe, The Grail, also played a pivotal role in liturgical renewal and Catholic life as a whole in the United States. The movement sought to provide formation for young Catholic women in the practice of their faith. As with the library movement, the Grail engaged young women in a study of the liturgy, the Catholic faith in general, and the challenge to live that faith in society. Participants linked liturgy with the issues of justice. In addition to workshops, courses and summer camps, the Grail provided publications and its members contributed to the liturgical publication Orate Fratres. Ade Bethume was also connected to the Grail. She adds the contribution of embodying Catholic spirituality in art, poetry, music and dance.
The fifth chapter “Cooking for Christ…” develops with engaging detail the contributions of Mary Perkins Ryan and Florence Berger to connect liturgy with the Catholic home. Here, the reader needs to appreciate the cultural setting of the post-World War II era. While Harmon suggests some acknowledgement of this in her concluding chapter, some reference at the start would be helpful. Also, some development in the concluding chapter about the fundamental insight of “Cooking for Christ…” would be a fine contribution. Underneath the long-gone (and rightfully gone) domestic arrangement of the “mother in the kitchen” lies a powerful spirituality of finding holiness in the ordinary tasks of everyday life. The reader ought experience some genuine amazement at this pre-Vatican II lay spirituality offering a positive claim for marriage and the holiness of the family as the Mystical Body of Christ in miniature.
Katherine Harmon’s text deserves a scholarly reading by all those engaged in liturgical studies. Likewise students and scholars of American Catholic studies, Women’s studies, and those serious about further development of a genuinely lay spirituality should take the time to be fully engaged with Harmon’s work. And, despite the scholarly nature of the work, the educated Catholic can enjoy the text and perhaps find inspiration to be engaged with the ongoing work of good liturgy that leads to justice.