Thursday, November 27, 2003

If Traditionalists Talked Like this . . . .

Fr. Jim posts one of the most elegant apologias for Catholicism's traditional usages I've ever read in this post from Dappled Things. Here's an excerpt:
I have no objections in principle to the vernacular in the Mass. I don't think Mass "facing the people" is from the Devil. I don't want to ban Marty Haugen music. I do not yearn to outlaw Communion on the hand or to force you to kneel to receive It. If a priest wants to wear those polyester horse blankets that pass for Gothic chasubles these days, more power to him. Altar girls, felt banners, and the banjo ensemble: go for it. You won't hear me screaming objections.

But here is what I do object to, and very strongly: the fact that, contrary to the explicit instructions of the Second Vatican Council, one can scarcely find a Mass in Latin, and even then it's often viewed with suspicion; that Mass ad orientem, though just as licit as it has always been, is so rare as to be practically non-existent in Latin-rite churches in this country; that Gregorian chant and the polyphonic heritage of the Western Church have been so universally replaced by songs of the present day (or from the 1970s) that people don't even have an option to worship regularly in the context of the traditional music; that the way that Communion has been received in the Western Church for over 1,000 years is now frowned upon or openly discouraged in some quarters; that vestments of more traditional design -- whether Roman or Gothic -- are disparaged or effectively banned for being obsolete and not up-to-date (as if any liturgical garment were "up-to-date"); that every modern option that has been introduced in the last 25 years is now obligatory for all; that every liturgical option that Bl. John XXIII would have recognized is now somehow retrograde and reactionary, even if current legislation continues to allow it.

. . . I object because these nasty tendencies have alienated two generations of Catholics from their birthright. The forms of worship that our ancestors practiced for centuries -- and in some cases for over a millennium -- have been forcibly pried from the Church, so much so that those once-common elements of Catholic worship are now as alien to millions of Catholics as Buddhist or Muslim worship would be to them. This is not an indictment of what has taken the place of those traditions. It is, rather, an indictment of the narrow-minded intolerance with which those traditions have been replaced and continue to be shut out of the Church's life. If the "contemporary liturgies" and the music of the St Louis Jesuits are as spiritually uplifting and relevant as their admirers say they are, then they really have nothing to fear from a widespread and permanent offering of worship according to the more classical forms of Catholic liturgical tradition. By alienating those traditional forms and making it burdensome to celebrate them, one merely succeeds in alienating the Catholics who prefer them and in fostering factionalism and a (not always unjustified) sense of paranoia.
Now Fr. Jim is not what I usually think of when I read the word "Traditionalist." He has no suspicion about whether the Holy See is occuped by a Catholic, doesn't post running monologues about the Dolchstoss of True Catholicism[TM] by the Illuminati, and doesn't have pejorative opinions about the salvation of people who happen to like Marty Haugen, felt banners, and the idea that they might see C.S. Lewis or a couple of (former) Buddhist monks in Heaven. So I wonder: If Traditionalists argued like Fr. Jim, would anyone recognize them as Traditionalists? If Latin Mass featured an editorial like the one above, would anyone subscribe to it? If the answer to those questions isn't an unqualified "yes," then what can we say about the value of Traditionalism?

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