Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rare Merton observations on the liturgical reform

Kenneth J. Wolfe, "Thomas Merton on post-Vatican II liturgy" (Rorate Caeli, September 20, 2016):
For Father Louis (his religious name that appears on his tombstone, above), his liturgical sensibilities began in quite the traditional manner. In his 1948 autobiography "The Seven Storey Mountain", he wrote of his love of "the warmth of Gregorian chant" and noted his first attendance at Mass (before converting) was an August 1938 Low Mass at Corpus Christi church in New York, where he was impressed by even a music-free liturgy.

... In the 1960s, Father Louis would get caught up in the spirit of Vatican II, but he also showed some misgiving. A recent article by Gregory K. Hillis, an associate professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, highlighted some of these quotes in the context of embracing "really groovy" Mass insanity in 1967, while writing numerous letters in the same decade opposing the reforms that led to the novus ordo (which he did not live to see). From the article:
...Merton knew that liturgical reform was risky, and in a letter to Dom Denys Rackley, a Carthusian at La Grande Chartreuse written five days after the constitution's promulgation, he expresses his reservations about the liturgical doors opened up by the council:

"Our great danger is to throw away things that are excellent, which we do not understand, and replace them with mediocre forms which seem to us to be more meaningful and which in fact are only trite. I am very much afraid that when all the dust clears we will be left with no better than we deserve, a rather silly, flashy, seemingly up-to-date series of liturgical forms that have lost the dignity and the meaning of the old ones."

"The monks cannot understand the treasure they possess, and they throw it out to look for something else ...."

... But Merton also frequently expresses frustration with the willingness with which progressives were willing to rid the liturgy of that which had timeless value. Merton's frustrations come through clearly in a 1965 letter to an Anglican:

"As I tell all my Anglican friends, 'I hope you will have the sense to maintain traditions that we are now eagerly throwing overboard'."

He is particularly concerned about the ease with which Latin and Gregorian chant were being abandoned, even in the monastery: "The monks cannot understand the treasure they possess, and they throw it out to look for something else, when seculars, who for the most part are not even Christians, are able to love this incomparable art."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Great material. And I am guessing better than at least sixty percent of his larger corpus. Makes me want to dust of his 7SM to see how it has held up.