This piece on Thomas Merton on liturgical reform is really interesting and really good. Which is to say, it agrees with me! Or rather, I agree, broadly speaking, with Thomas Merton on the topic at hand,liturgical reform. As the following excerpt shows, Merton supported the liturgical reform, but not the unfortunate (though probably inevitable) mistakes that would be made, especially at first, in throwing good things away.
“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.”However, despite his concerns about where the liturgical reform might lead, Merton was convinced of the need for renewal on ecclesiological grounds, as he makes clear in his talks to the novices on Sacrosanctum Concilium. Telling the novices that the liturgy is “theology-lived,” he argues that the liturgy is supposed to manifest the “true nature of the church” both to those within and outside the church. This does not always happen, however:
“Does it manifest the true nature of the church if you have one guy in a corner mumbling, and an altar boy kidding around with another altar boy and there’s a bunch of nonsense going on, and nobody knows what’s happening, and there’s just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo going on in the corner?”
Merton’s example of liturgical openness rooted in tradition and an ecclesiology of communion is as relevant today as it was in the years following Sacrosanctum Concilium. As he wrote in a 1965 letter, he was “deeply attracted” to “austere, traditional Latin liturgy,” and his journals and letters from 1963 to his death are replete with lamentation about the shape of the liturgical reform and particularly the loss of Latin and Gregorian chant. But his love for the traditional liturgy did not blind him to the problematic ecclesiology often associated with it, and it was for this reason that Merton advocates for a liturgical reform focused on greater lay participation that would enact a new spirit more in line with an ecclesiology of communion.
Merton’s exhortation to love, and even more importantly, his example of liturgical openness to others rooted in an ecclesiology of communion, remains important today as we continue to squabble about the liturgy…
Do go read the piece, “Communion of Love: Thomas Merton and Liturgical Reform.”