On Facebook this evening I posted a quotation, asking people to guess its author without recourse to Google. There were some interesting guesses, but one canny lady got to it by a clever process of questioning and reasoning.
The author was none other than Fr Thomas Merton OCSO (or O.C.R. as it was), from his 1950 pamphlet “What is Contemplation?” as published by Burns & Oates as title 7 in their Paternoster Series. This is early Cistercian Merton, grappling intellectually and manfully with spiritual things. Reading this particular little section, I was stopped in my tracks on page 13:
The liturgy teaches active contemplation above all by its rich content of theology and scriptural revelation, which it surrounds with art and music and poetry of chaste and austere power, deeply affecting to any soul that has not had its taste perverted by the artistic fashions of a degenerate age.
Once one has recovered from the stridency of tone (dare I say, rigidity!), a re-read and a longer meditation on his words is worth the effort. A little further down the page he concludes:
The Blessed Sacrament is not a sign or a figure of contemplation; it contains Him Who is the beginning and end of all contemplation. It should not be surprising then that one of the most normal ways of entering into infused prayer is through the graces given in Holy Communion.
It is hard to avoid applying his teaching, clearly drawn from the pre-cociliar liturgy, to our situation since the Council. It is a rare Mass indeed in the modern rite, unless one knows to look, that lends itself to this truest participation in the liturgy. Contemplative prayer is pure preparation for the life of heaven, and so is the (unwitting for many, but that is fine) goal of anyone who aspires to holiness. Far from being solely the product of techniques learned from books, it is most readily accessed through the Mass and the graces of Communion.
Perhaps if Pope Francis and his courtiers were made aware of this they might be a little less quick to shoot from the lip at those, especially the young, who are attracted to the old liturgy, or at the very least the new liturgy performed in fidelity to the letter and (I will say it!) the spirit of its rubrics. That said, the new liturgy’s rubrics themselves shatter the sacred silence that the old rite more generously afforded to those who wished not to do something but to pray and to worship.
So far from being rigid-minded adopters of a retro-liturgical fashion or a faux nostalgia for what they grew up with, perhaps these people, both young and not so young, have encountered the old rite and found Him Whom their hearts sought, and having found Him long to abide with Him in the peace and order of the old liturgy. Perhaps they do not want to be constantly talking and talked at, forced to recite this and that, to sing what is too often in many places not worthy of the human voice. Perhaps they would rather let the drama of the liturgy unfold as it has been crafted to do over the centuries, the great Sacrifice made present almost anti-climactically. With the distractions removed, perhaps they find it easier to behold Christ. Perhaps what the conciliar generation discarded as old and obsolete, the young have discovered as new and thoroughly timely.
Perhaps these apparently rigid people might find their experience given voice in that least rigid of Divine books, the Song of Songs (3:1-4a):
On my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not.
I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go…