Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Traditionalism and all that jazz

As most of my five regular readers know, I'm a self described trad. That's "trad" as an abbreviation for Traditional Catholic or more precisely Liturgically and Doctrinally Traditional Catholic. Every now and again one finds a confession (in the popular rather than sacramental sense) on the web that details how the author used to be a trad but has since recovered. Some of these are fairly nasty pieces but most of them are honest expositions of how someone found their way to the Faith via a traditional parish/apostolate and then found that the atmosphere there was a bit uncharitable or even downright nasty.

The really odd thing is that the experience related in these "recovering trad" stories has so little in common with mine. I first attended the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass aka 1962 Missal aka Usus Antiquior aka Extraordinary Form or whatever you're having yourself) in the Spring of 1987. I moved with the diocesan Indult to St Michael and St John (subsequently sold off by the diocese) and then to St Paul (where Dom Marmion was baptised), then St Audoen and finally to St Kevin, Harrington St. So I've been a Trad for more than half of my life.

What I fail to recognise from this article is (a) the indifference to Pope John Paul II (b) hatred of the Bishops and (c) active hostility to the Second Vatican Council that author imputes to his fellow trads. Lest I be misunderstood, I am not presuming to criticise Mr Ruse's decision to leave a contentious and uncharitable circle for one that he perceives as more closely attuned to the mind of the Church. His conscience is in his own keeping, and he has to follow where he believes it leads. Still less would I claim that he is anything but 100% Catholic - a glance at his incredibly valuable work with C-FAM would show that. (If in these straitened times you have any spare shillings please consider C-FAM, one of the only bulwarks against Billary Clinton & Obama's worldwide anti-life crusade.)

As a traditionalist I was always focused on the teaching of John Paul II. Now I recognise that his reign was not without problems but if his task was to perpetuate Christ's threefold ministry as Priest, Prophet and King then we can say two out of three is pretty good going. His instantiation of the priestly office as daily celebrant of the Holy Sacrifice, as confessor (most notably in Holy Week), as ordainer of priests and consecrator of Bishops was unparalleled in modern times. He lived the priestly life to an extraordinary degree. JPII's fulfilling of the Prophetic office was likewise extraordinary. I can still remember the joy I had upon reading Veritatis Splendor; at last, an escape from vague woolly uplift after 14 years of it in Catholic schools. Here was the solid teaching I craved but never got from the schools, parish or diocese or any other part of the Church in Ireland come to that. You can imagine, I'm sure, that since I liked VS, Fides et Ratio was music to my ears. I still return to it for guidance and inspiration; I still marvel at how catholic [sic] John Paul's philosophical vision was and how everyone from Aquinas (naturaliter) to St Theresia Benedicta to Rosmini got a look in. Add to that, JPII's very, very long list of Pontifical writings and his championing of the Catechism and there can be no doubt that he gave a gift of sound teaching to the Church that we will benefit from for decades and even centuries.

However, not even his most generous supporters could reasonably claim that his governance of the Church was a success. His episcopal appointments were uneven at best. The lack of urgency with which he dealt with the abuse scandals in Europe and North America was deeply disappointing. It may be that as he was such a good and holy man, he couldn't comprehend the depravity of those who would violate the innocence of children. Be that as it may, when viewed objectively, it can only appear as a grave pastoral failure on his part. His half-hearted efforts to "reform the reform" were inevitable failures; even his own grave misgivings didn't prevent his participation in the syncretistic prayer service at Assisi not once but twice! (By contrast Benedict XVI sorted out the faulty structures at Assisi that allowed this to happen, in about 10 minutes!) Likewise for his attempts to free the traditional form of the Roman Rite; they were well meaning but inept. This trad, then, in common with many others had a mixed but on balance positive view of Pope John Paul.

Hatred of the bishops: Hmmm ... that's a tougher proposition. Mr Ruse lives in the United States, where faithful Catholics had to suffer under Hunthausen, Weakland and their cohorts. Many good Catholics still do suffer. I for one am delighted not to have Roger, Cardinal Mahoney as my Ordinary. (The Pro-Cathedral may not be an absolute architectural gem but Deo gratias we don't have the Rog Mahal. Or is it the Taj Mahoney?) European trads, in my experience, and Irish trads particularly don't hate their bishops. Exasperated? Yes. Impatient? Often. Trusting that the canonical retirement age (or Azrael) will remove the most egregious offenders still doesn't amount to wishing them ill - which is what hatred is. Wishing well to an offender against Church teaching or worse still, a man who diminishes the dignity of the Episcopal office he holds, may mean wishing him dismissed but more importantly it does mean wishing him repentant. It can even mean public criticism, though that needs a critic with an extraordinary degree of prudence. In my 22 years of living in Traddieland I've but rarely found the kind of Episcopophobia that Ruse decribes; it has certainly never been the norm.

Regarding the Second Vatican Council I may be something of an anomaly. My late parish priest, the Very Rev. George O'Sullivan, embodied the "Hermeneutic of Continuity" before such a phrase was abroad in the Catholic world. He kept a sense of the old liturgy in the new, and maintained some Latin and as many traditional practices as he could in a suburban parish setting. Thus the rupture between Pre and Post Vatican II was never a prominent feature of my experience of being Catholic. Moreover, my parents having lived through the Council as young Catholic parents in California had bought and kept a copy of Walter Abbott's translation of the Documents. So I had access to what the Council actually said and didn't need to be deprogrammed from any nebulous "Spirit of the Council". On one occasion a well-nigh distracted Religion teacher got the shock of her life when I refused to take part in our School Graduation Mass; as it wasn't in Latin, I maintained that it was disobedient to the Second Vatican Council and thus it was against my religion! In short I may have been impertinent but I was never ignorant of what the Council actually taught and while I had (and have) some reservations about it, I also believe that these are matters best settled by reflection, study and scholarly dialogue, pending definitive resolution by the Magisterium. (A case in point is the famous "Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church" formulation. As research continues, this problem grows less and less intractable. For those who have access to The Thomist, Christopher J. Malloy's article in Vol. 72 (2008): 1-44, Subsistit in: Nonexclusive identity or full identity is worth reading in relation to this issue.) The truth is that many trads, and this trad in particular, don't feel the need to fall down in adoration every time VII is mentioned but neither do we need to rage and fulminate about it. None of its teachings are binding under anathaema and so we have no urgent need to worry out every little detail. Being traditional minded means among other things being aware of the history of the Church. So for every Trent or Chalcedon, we have a Fifth Lateran Council. Thus Vatican II may go down in history as an epoch-making event or as a forgettable blip. Frankly, after a few hundred years, this will all settle down.

I guess what I'm really getting at is that I never was a Rad-Trad, a Mad-Trad, a more-Catholic-than-the-Pope Trad or suchlike, and so I can go on agreeing doctrinally with every faithful Catholic while pointing out for Latin Catholics a better way liturgically. Never having been as extreme as Mr Ruse was, I don't feel the need to renounce my former (and current) ways. Doctrinally orthodox, canonically in communion with my Ordinary and liturgically traditional seems like a good mix to me.


Pam H. said...

I've met many "trads" who fit your description. Unfortunately, some of the media for those who prefer the Traditional Mass is as described. Especially the magazine The Latin Mass - the version I read was openly schismatic.

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Éamonn said...

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