Everyone has a place in the Church: a critical reappraisal of “traditional” Catholicism:
What I owe to my Catholic “traditionalist” brethren.
Here is an excerpt:
My one personal horror story and frustrations
To be charitable, we at least have to understand where this deep-seated suspicion, if not contempt, felt by Latin traditionalists comes from: it comes from the horror of years of liturgical “renewal” that often consisted in liturgical experimentation that often lacked a clear connection to what came before, accompanied by little or no catechesis, leading to extreme shortcomings in the celebration of the Holy Mass. If the traditionalists of this sort have taught me something, I owe them a heightened sensitivity to these disconnects, disorders, and abuses.
We all know the horror stories. Let me share one of my own.
In the early 1990’s I was stationed at a military base in San Antonio, Texas. I attended Mass regularly at the base chapel. One day a new priest arrived, an African American man I’ll call “Fr. Troy” – not his real name. His idea of “renewal” was to make the Mass “Afro-centric.” This entailed throwing everything out the window except for the Canon of the Mass which he left pretty much intact. For example, he replaced the Kyrie with Amazing Grace. If you feel that the hymnography put together by the OCP is banal and light, you ought to be thankful that they do not include songs by Whitney Houston. Some of her songs became staple post-communion hymns during Fr. Troy’s celebrations, often sung by guest singers from a local Protestant church’s choir. Fr. Troy himself at times discarded the Roman vestments that were indicative of his dignity as a Catholic priest, preferring to garb himself with the white robes of a Muslim mufti.
I was unable to verbalize a single protest against this priest’s actions for three reasons: I didn’t know how, I didn’t feel like it, and I didn’t feel I had any recourse. The Military Archdiocese is widespread and somehow reporting the priest to the Archbishop appeared to me as somehow short-circuiting the chain of command. What’s worse, I wasn’t well-educated on the origins, meaning, and end of the Liturgical Renewal, therefore, I thought this liturgical disaster was somehow a licit manifestation of liturgical renewal and that, therefore, I had no other resource but to go to a civilian parish off-base, which I did.
I went to St. Jude’s which had at the time a 4 PM Mass where the musical accompaniment was provided by a “mariachi choir”. It was very lively indeed, and culturally more intelligible to me. Yet I knew there was an inconsistency in my own thought, because, isn’t this “mariachi Mass,” I asked myself, but another valid manifestation of “inculturation” and of “diversity” within “unity”? In which way was this better than Fr. Troy’s “Afro-Centric” Mass? Then I answered myself that here, in this “Mexican Mass”, the priest did not violate the structure of the Mass, or changed the prayers, or dressed like an Aztec priest in order to reassert his “cultural heritage.” The choir responses captured the words of the prayers without modification. It was still a very recognizable novus ordo Roman Rite Mass.
On the other hand, Fr. Troy’s Afro-Centrism, besides his forays into Muslim dress, did not represent any given African culture, but African-American pop culture. The Mass at St. Jude’s captured the deeply-felt attitude of an entire Catholic nation, but Fr. Troy’s Mass was a pathetic effort to reshape the Mass into a pop culture psycho-drama which would then be “appealing” to a segment of the faithful long ignorant of the greater Catholic Tradition, East or West, Latin, Greek, or vernacular, or even truly African, and this is only if we focus on the material damage Fr. Troy inflicted upon the Liturgy, not to speak of the spiritual damage he inflicted upon others, the Church, and upon himself.
A critical reappraisal of “traditionalist” Catholics
My interactions with Latin traditionalists have made me want to reconnect with my Catholic roots, but that comes with a twist. You may be surprised to learn that I grew up attending the “new” Mass and that I did not attend what is now known as the extraordinary form of the Mass until my late thirties and even then I attended it more out of curiosity than of an unconscious need that I was somehow missing “something.” Today, my appreciation to the extraordinary form has increased and enjoy it thoroughly in the few occasions when I have been able to attend it.
The faith I reconnected with was the faith of my youth, which I first experienced within the post-Conciliar Church and the “new Mass”, ably led and celebrated by my local ordinary at the time, Bishop Juan Fremiot Torres Oliver of Ponce, Puerto Rico. I saw no abuses at Mass as I was growing up. Our bishop described himself as a “Vatican II conservative.” He had attended the last session of the Council, and although he placed no restrictions on the vernacular Mass, some things were clearly “leftover” and therefore, clearly connected with the usus antiquor. Under his leadership, the transition to the novus ordo was orderly and intelligible to me, more so than what I’ve found it in many places here in the U.S. Mainland.
Today, Latin traditionalists have helped me understand what a liturgical abuse consists of, and realize that the vague sense of uneasiness I felt when, say, Fr. Troy said his Mass, or when banal songs or hymns are used at Liturgy, or when I discovered that the sacred vessels were made of the wrong material, or when the church itself was rearranged in such a way that the Tabernacle was shoved into a corner and the altars were made into perfect squares and no longer occupied a central space in the Church; or when I heard the words of the Creed or of the prayers changed to satisfy a priest’s whim, that my uneasiness was justified, that I shouldn’t see all these things as somehow in accord with the post-Conciliar Liturgical Renewal, but that they were, and continue to be, clearly abuses. Foremost, I also became aware that I had recourse, that I had options, and that I deserved a hearing.
I owe to my relations with Latin traditionalists a more educated, more developed sense of a what a well executed Roman Rite ought to be in either of its two expressions, but even more so in the now “Ordinary Form” of the Missal of Paul VI. They have given me the conceptual apparatus and vocabulary from which I can critique shortcomings in the celebration of either expression of the Roman Rite.
In these my mature years I have become convinced of the wisdom of “say the black, do the red.” A simple obedience to this rubric would have made Fr. Troy’s liberties and in fact, all likely-minded experimentation, quite impossible.
That’s why I agree with the Pope that the Latin traditionalists need to be accepted and embraced as full Catholics, and not feared. We need to allow their spirit and finesse to reenter the entire Church. Of course, they have to wrestle with their own temptations and shortcomings too, as we have seen, but it will be better for them and for all of us that they do so within the Church and not in some schismatic outfit well outside of her.
Their effect is now being felt. I haven’t personally seen egregious abuses since the early 1990s during Fr. Troy’s experiments. But much remains to be done in terms of language, hymnography, music, and church architecture in order to bring to bear Pope Benedict’s idea of a “hermeneutic of continuity” in the full spectrum of the Church’s liturgical action.
True renewal will not be achieved without a living connection to what came before. I humbly submit to any one in a position of authority that Latin traditionalists have a just place in the Church, that they should not be discouraged, and that the full expanse of the Church’s treasures should be rediscovered and once again shared with all. Their contribution should be seen as an integral part of the Post-Conciliar renewal and not as something foreign or inimical to it.