The Liturgical Conference began as the Benedictine Liturgical Conference, under the sponsorship of the Benedictine abbots of the United States in 1940. The first of these meetings, called Liturgical Weeks, was held in Chicago in 1940, and they were held annually in major cities throughout the United States and Canada. In 1943, the leaders of the Benedictine Liturgical Conference decided to dissolve it as a Benedictine enterprise and to reconstitute it on a broader basis. In 1944, the Liturgical Conference was incorporated as a voluntary association of American clergy and laity, formed to promote understanding of the liturgy among Catholics and to assist in leading the people to a full, active participation in the Church's public worship.
The Instruction on Sacred Music and Liturgy (Sept. 3, 1958) requiring the active participation of the people in liturgical rites, gave new impetus to the work of the conference. Its activities were expanded to serve the growing needs of parishes and dioceses. Under the presidency of F. R. McManus, a central office was opened in Washington, D.C., in February of 1960. Relations were established with diocesan liturgical commissions, and programs and publications were produced for laity and clergy.
The tremendous impetus given to all movements for ecclesial reform and renewal by the Second Vatican Council led to the expansion of the conference's membership and activities. The Liturgical Weeks drew large crowds of people, peaking at about 15,000. In 1964, the conference launched a major publishing and educational program to promote liturgical renewal and reform. This "Parish Worship Program" (1964) of books, kits, pamphlets was followed by the publication of a popular commentary on the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in 1965. Regional groups developed in New England, the Southeast, and the Southwest.
At the same time, ecumenical activity was accelerating. A number of Anglican, Lutheran, and other Christian liturgists became involved in the conference's activities. They participated in the one-day institutes preceding the Liturgical Weeks, and subsequently in the programs of the Liturgical Weeks themselves. Some were nominated and elected to the Board of Directors. Membership became opened to all Christians who share the conference's concerns. The conference's character evolved to one that is consciously and deliberately ecumenical.
The 1970s witnessed a great flourish in the conference's publications and activities. The conference sponsored specialized conferences on church architecture and music, and initiated a number of new periodical services: Living Worship, Homily Service, Parish Council, Today Songs for Today's People, and Major Feasts and Seasons. Short educational films on liturgical renewal were produced in cooperation with other agencies. Corresponding to the rapid postconciliar development of liturgical renewal and with the evolving ecumenical character of the conference, the range and focus of publications broadened. Problems of adapting reformed liturgical rites were addressed in the Manual of Celebration and its supplement; The Rite of Penance (a three-volume collection comprising: (1) Understanding the Document, (2) Implementing the Rite, and (3) Background and Directions ); It Is Your Own Mystery: A Guide to Communion Rite ; Celebrating Baptism; Children's Liturgies; Signs, Songs and Stories ; There's No Place Like People ; and Parishes and Families. The conference also produced liturgy resource materials: Liturgy Committee Handbook (1971); The Lector's Guide (1973); The Ministry of Music (1975); There Are Different Ministries (1975); Strong, Loving and Wise: Presiding in Liturgy (1976); The Spirit Moves: A Handbook of Dance and Prayer (1976); and Touchstones for Liturgical Ministers (1978). The particular gifts and contribution of the black worship experience in the United States is the subject of This Far By Faith: American Black Worship and Its African Roots. Other resource collections included Simple Gifts (a two-volume collection of articles from Liturgy ); Dry Bones (a collection of articles from Living Worship ); The Rites of People (a popular study of ritual questions); and the more recent From Ashes to Easter: Design for Parish Renewal (Years A, N and C) and Preaching on Death.
The Conference continues to publish Liturgy and Homily Service. Liturgy is now a quarterly resource for parish liturgy planning, with practical aids for clergy, musicians, educators, and planners. Homily Service is ecumenical in focus, covering readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, the Book of Common Prayer and Lectionary for Mass.
[j. b. mannion/