Thursday, September 2, 2010

Anything you can 'trad' I can 'trad' better...

Around the time of the release of a certain papal document a young friend of mine wailed, half tongue in cheek, 'But Father! What are we going to complain about now?' I assured him that within the traditional movement(s) there will always be those who will find something not to their taste or not to their particular view of what the Church, and it's liturgy, was, is and should be. I had two immediate thoughts after the conversation. Firstly that I had rather been ignorant of these controversies. In the first decade of my Catholicism I'd never even heard the phrase third confiteor nor that it was of any reason for concern. Secondly that bells were ringing, so to speak more memories actually, of the inter parochial competition that used to exist in what proved to be the smouldering ashes of the anglo-catholic movement.

The story is told of  Catholic Cathedral which had nestling in the shadow of its triple spires one of the most prominent anglo-catholic church in that city. The Archbishop, quite elderly at the time but very sharp, dropped a handkerchief on the way out of Mass one day and the MC swooped to collect it with some ceremony. Five minutes later the same MC got a dressing down in the sacristy not because of any particular fussiness but rather because the archbishop was afraid that the rite of 'retrieving the celebrant's handkerchief' would be included in the ceremonies 'across the road' by the next Sunday.

Now we cannot ignore the fact that there are serious problems that we need to be concerned about and that there has been unwarranted tinkering with the way we worship for a long long time. We do, however, need to look behind the surface to see what is causing the ripples on the surface. It was said of an elderly relative of mine that she was never happy unless she was unhappy about something. I suspect this mentality exists within traditionalism. Are some of the current divisions and concerns amongst the traditionalist movement actually being fuelled by a underlying need to be a 'nation set apart' at all costs rather than the proclamation of objective truth?


  1. Good question, there.
    Truth or "antiquarianism" (is that a word?).
    Spiritual life is absolutely essential in all of this; otherwise, we're just antique dealers.

  2. A very sound and sensible post, Father. Thank you.

  3. There is a danger in the traditional movement of not “seeing the forest for the trees”. The same could be said of any ‘movement’ in the Church, as St. Paul was at pains to point out to the Corinthians awhile back - but that is a broader topic.

    To people who have ‘come late’ to the traditional movement there is sometimes a lack of understanding of the attitude to liturgy in the past. Some see the only ‘true’ liturgy as one performed with minute attention to detail, slavish observance of ‘every jot and tittle’ of rubrical nicety with ‘not a hair out of place’, as it were. They belabor a missed bow, an omitted Sign of the Cross, an extra swing of the thurible or a misplaced biretta - and triumphantly quote Fortescue to substantiate their position.

    Now while it is true that not every pre-Vatican II priest celebrated Mass with excruciating attention to detail, there was an underlying understanding that each would ‘go by the book’ as faithfully as possible – the book being the rubrics in place (“doing the red”). The rubrics were taken seriously and only the seriously casual would tinker with them or ignore them altogether. There was little room for innovation or creativity.

    While attention to detail was enjoined, tendencies to undue scrupulosity were discouraged. Attention was directed to the central parts of the Mass – Offertory, Consecration, Communion – with concern for the validity of Matter and Form. Everything else - while not unimportant – was of lesser import. The underlying assumption for a celebrant was the resolve as expressed in the Priest’s Statement of Intention before Mass: to celebrate “iuxta ritum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae…” And this was to be assumed ceteris paribus in all celebrants.

    Rubrics, ritual and the niceties of liturgical ceremony are important and to be respected, but always recalling the fallibility of human nature - which is not removed by Ordination. If the Sacraments are the “outward signs of an inner reality”, it is the inner reality that we are directed towards, not the outward signs. Or as Someone put it some time ago: “the law was made for man, not man for the law”.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.