Sunday, February 23, 2014

Benedictine Prior: "Life is short ... I could have better spent my time humbly carrying out the traditional liturgy"

The Benedictine Prior of Silverstream Priory, in County Meath, Ireland, Dom Mark Kirby, in "Home from the Liturgical Thirty Years War" (Vultus Christi, February 23, 2014 via Rorate), writes:
After having devoted nearly forty years to a worthy “reform of the reform”; after having taught and defended the Novus Ordo Missae to the best of my ability; after having composed — to a certain acclaim, even from a dean of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Liturgy — an entire monastic antiphonal in modal plainchant for the French liturgical texts; after having composed hundreds of plainchant settings for the Proper of the Mass in the vernacular; after having fought mightily for the restoration of the Proper Chants of the Mass; after having argued to the point of exhaustion for an intelligent obedience to the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani; after having poured myself out in lectures and in preaching to priests, seminarians, and religious, I am obliged to conclude that I could have better spent my time and my energy humbly carrying out the traditional liturgy such as I discovered it — and such as I so loved it — in the joy of my youth. I say this not with bitterness but with the seasoned resignation of a weary veteran lately come home from an honourable defeat in the liturgical Thirty Years War.

I respect those priests and layfolk who continue to believe in “the reform of the reform”. I honour their devotion and perseverance but, from where I stand and at this point in my life, I think their energy misplaced. Life is short. I can no longer advise others to devote the most productive years of their life to patching up a building that was, manifestly, put up with haste during a boom in frenzied construction; it has shifting foundations, poor insulation, defective fixtures, and a leaky roof. Right next door, there is another old house, comely, solidly built, and in good repair. It may need a minor adjustment here or there, but it is a house in which one feels at home and in which it is good to live, and it is there that I choose to live out my days. If others choose to live in the “fix–up” next door, I can only wish them well, confident that we can live as good neighbours all the same, with frequent chats over the fence in the back garden, exchanging insights, and perhaps even learning something from one another.

One the things I have learned over the past forty years, and this amidst the taedium of much dura et aspera, is that monks (and nuns) who profess the contemplative life gained nothing from changing the forms, content, and language of the sacred liturgy. Liturgical change swept through monasteries like a hurricane, leaving the most pitiful destruction in its wake. Did the so–called liturgical renewal in monasteries give rise to an increase in vocations? Did it generate a more generous commitment to the touchstones of sound monastic observance? Did it foster a greater zeal for the Opus Dei? Few monasteries have recovered from the ensuing decades of liturgical unrest....

I shall never forget the anguish generated by trying to invent new psalm tones suited to the vernacular, all the while clinging desperately in my heart to the chants of the Antiphonale Monasticum that had taken root there. Memories of the traditional liturgy persisted, through the winter of my discontent, like the lovely blossoms of the crocus, in trying to pierce the frozen crust that had been laid over my hortus conclusus. The “bare ruin’d choirs” of so many abbeys today attest, sadly, to the inward wreckage wrought by liturgical innovation, even when carried out, as it usually was, with the best intentions, and out of a skewed notion of uncritical obedience to what was misrepresented as “the mind of the Church”. [emphasis by New Catholic]


Ralph Roister-Doister


Forty years spent building liturgical golems is no way to go through life, son.