Thursday, October 7, 2010

What I've Been Saying All Along

A reader recommended this article:
The Will Know We Are Traddies By Our Love
Steve Skojec

Over the course of the seven years I've been writing on Catholic topics, I made no attempt to hide that I was flirting with, then later became, a "traditionalist" Catholic. The process was, for me, a surprising one, since despite my liturgically conservative tastes, my first few exposures to the Gregorian liturgy left me cold.

To be fair, I also didn't like beer or coffee until I'd tried them countless times, and I used to think Livingston Cellars' Red Rosé was good wine. As we mature, our tastes evolve, and we come to appreciate the complexity and subtlety of the finer things in life. From a personal standpoint, I've always been the sort who likes to share these epiphanies, introducing anyone I can to a favorite bottle of wine, a favorite cheese, the most impressive beer, or the best coffee I can find.

It's the same with the liturgy. When I stumbled on this ancient and venerable form of Mass of the Roman Rite and saw it with new eyes, I shared it every chance I had. I argued for it, defended it, got angry at those who sought to demean or suppress it, and generally kept my verbal sword at the ready for any challenge to this newly discovered ecclesial treasure. I even blogged for a time (tongue-in-cheek) as "The Evil Traditionalist," poking fun at those who painted the Traditional Latin Mass crowd with a broad, derogatory brush.

Over time, the arguments grew old. You can only spend so many hours in comment boxes, or start so many heated debates at family gatherings. The pope liberated the Traditional Latin Mass from the false shackles with which it had been kept from the faithful, and my life became simpler and less concerned with "traditional apologetics." The heady days of doing battle for the Faith faded from memory, and I focused more on being a Catholic husband and father than developing my reputation as a liturgical pugilist. However, as I settled down and sheathed my blade, I became gradually and uncomfortably aware of something: A lot of traditionalists really are jerks.

In a way, I was lucky. As someone who came to tradition shortly before it was cool again, I was able to soften my stance before the bad habits became too deeply ingrained. But for those who had suffered being abused and marginalized for decades, the transition must be hard. Can you imagine having the Mass that you grew up with taken away and replaced with something alien and unfamiliar? How do you think it would feel to be treated as though you are schismatic for simply clinging to the Catholicism of your youth? Would you appreciate being called a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a Pharisee for holding to your traditions and devotional practices? And how would you like to be marginalized, forced to drive 50 miles just to get to a Mass held at 1:30 in the afternoon in a parish that doesn’t want you there, and where it’s impossible to build real community because it’s local to none of the attendees? It’s as if everything these people knew about Catholicism was suddenly gone and replaced by a cheap imitation, and when they expressed their dismay, they were met by smug replies that Vatican II "did away with all that."

Many, shellshocked by such treatment, had become hardened veterans of GIRM warfare by the time Pope Benedict freed the old Mass. And so, young advocates of traditional liturgy like me found ourselves heading to worship God every Sunday in the company of individuals who, as often as not, seemed dour and judgmental. They spoke in effusive terms when they described their Mass, but appeared pained when they actually attended it. No smiles ever seemed to touch their lips, and they would glare at women (like my wife) who would at times forget their chapel veils, or wear makeup, or fail to provide some means of instant corporal punishment at the first sign of a squirming toddler. In short, they had become terrified of novelty, and accustomed to betrayal, they had seemingly lost the capacity for joy.

That joylessness became the traditionalist brand, and they spread it everywhere they went. From the condemning, anonymous masses who pass judgment on all things Catholic on forums like Angelqueen to the rantings of The Remnant; from propositions that the solar system is Geocentric to the pamphleteering Fatima Crusaders to the seemingly endless discussions on whether it's ever appropriate for women to wear pants, the attitude of many of the "trads" we encounter is often petty, conspiratorial, uncharitable, or out of touch with reality. Sometimes, it’s all of the above.

Years ago, when I first became enamored of the traditional Catholic liturgy, a friend of mine who enjoyed going to the Extraordinary Form (but wasn't committed to it) asked me a pointed question: "If traditional Catholics have this great treasure, as they say they do, shouldn't it make them the happiest people you know? Shouldn't their joy over so beautiful a liturgy be overflowing, and thereby draw others in to find out what they have that's so great?"

That's an important point. I do believe that those of us who have been drawn to the majesty and solemnity of the ancient liturgy have a pearl of great price that should make us excited to be Catholic, and to share the goodness we've found with others. We should be happy at Mass, friendly to our fellow parishioners, welcoming to those who are new, and understanding to those who don't yet see why we make so much effort to be a part of something so outside the norm.

Condemnations, judgments, specious arguments, and morose dispositions do no favors for our cause, or its future. We've got something great going on, and it's about time we acted like it.


Steve said...

Thanks for the link to my piece. Glad you enjoyed it.

cor ad cor loquitur said...

Great piece, Steve. I can see that you’ve been flamed on the original posting site and well and truly roasted over on Angelqueen. There’s a great deal that could be said about this issue, so I’ll mention only one thing. The vast majority of the “traddies”, and their most visible leaders like Fr Zuhlsdorf and Damian Thompson, show an ugly tendency toward the eristic. Sarcasm is their rhetorical tool of choice. Perhaps they think they are following in the footsteps of Waugh, Belloc, Chesterton or CS Lewis (whom they claim as one of their own, though he was profoundly anti-catholic). Not a good idea, as I see it: first, none of the sarcastic trad-bloggers can write remotely as well as the worst of their polemical predecessors; second, Belloc et al were, by many accounts, rather nasty people.

Whether you agree with him or not (and, generally, I do) the tone of the moderator of the Pray Tell Blog is far more edifying than almost any of the traditionalist blogs. The current blog is a shining exception, as is In Exsilium.

Long may they continue!

sortacatholic said...

Thanks Steve for callin' it like it is.

I'm never one to follow my own advice, but I always have to remind myself that the ancient liturgy will always carry with it the fundamentalists, quacks, and frigid rigid. They're akin to the bizarre in laws that no one can ever fully avoid at Christmas and reunions. It's a shame that the beauty and profundity of the ancient liturgy must be marred by such pettiness.

A paraphrase of James Alison, with additions. Alison once observed that there's little difference between fundamentalists and leather fetishists. Both adhere to a strict uniform; both require degrees of (emotional or sexual) sadism and masochism for identity and pleasure. Pleasure? I cannot imagine why anyone would want to hang with the scolds I knew when I was traditionalist. That is, unless a person enjoyed mocking the "lukewarm" and being mocked by the even more self-righteous in return.

FrGregACCA said...

It's all Anselm's fault.

Anonymous said...

In defense of "nasty" Catholic. Polemicists of previous eras, I would quote a great one , Evelyn Waugh who struggled honesty with sins against charity all his life as a Catholic

"I I know I'm terrible but how much more terrible I should be without the Faith"

Certainly endearing at least to me

Anonymous said...

While it might be unfortunate, there are always folks we might not like no matter where you go.

I, for one, go to the TLM for the TLM-I could care less if there are conspiratory quacks and the "frigid ridgid" there. Overall, most people I've met at TLM parishes are fine though there certainly is some bitterness amongst some of them.

That said, I also think that the TLM is somewhat like a fine restaurant. One really should do a little bit of background research to see the basic etiquette one should observe. Who likes a boor, and who likes being a boor? Not that such ignorance ever merits uncharitable behavior, but sometimes one saves themselves (and others) a lot of trouble by, well, doing simple things that show that they actually give a shit.

I also think people need to grow thicker skin. Too many are influence by silly things like how "nice" people are to them. How many folks leave the Church because they found some heretical sect in which people were "nice" to them? Utter foolishness. When you run into "rad trad" types, just don't put up with their nonsense.

sortacatholic said...

@Anonymous: That said, I also think that the TLM is somewhat like a fine restaurant. One really should do a little bit of background research to see the basic etiquette one should observe.

That's true of many secular situations as well. Bread knife at 12 o'clock; use the left and right utensils from the outside inward. Belief and ritual are quite different so far as one should not only know why someone attends a liturgy but also grasp the profundity behind the liturgy. Sure, many rad trads know every twist of the Lefebrvist soap opera, have compulsively read Catholic Answers, and know their Baltimore Catechism by rote. For some reason, their liturgical development is quite underdeveloped: in fact, some boast of their ignorance of the liturgy as if the Mass is a talisman rather than the theurgical union of word and movement. I've known places where well-meaning priests introduced the dialogue Mass and vernacular readings only to be soundly denounced for no other reason than appeals to emotion, nostalgia, and "that's the way it's always been" logical fallacy. The intellectual vacuity and even anti-intellectualism of some traditionalists scares me deeply.

When you run into "rad trad" types, just don't put up with their nonsense.

Okay, but the rad trad types are usually the ones that run the joint. Their presence stifles ideological moderation. If you want to raise your kids super-fundie, leave it for the homeschool and the family visits. Let's just have a ceasefire for the one or two hours we have to hear Mass together, k?

Andrew said...

Sure, there are people like this who seem to relish in their ignorance of the Mass they claim to love so much but nothing is ever going to be perfect. That said, in my experience (YMMV) folks usually like to learn more and are usually more than willing to hear it if you are intelligent and well read. If we had the TLM back in the whole of the Roman Rite, we'd have all the lukewarm of all types and kinds who care much less and just want to get in and out.

As to things like dialog Masses and vernacular readings, you know, sometimes they have a point even if their actual reasons aren't the best. I, for one, like a Low Mass to be pretty quiet and I have my missal. Attempts at dialog Masses tend to be pretty awkward and even back in the day the SCR recommended such things only for "advanced" congregations. Luckily, all the Fraternity and Institute priests I come into contact with are not too keen on actually "restoring" the 1950s.

As to the Rad Trads running the place, I don't see where that would be a problem if your just wanting to hear Mass. Afterwards, you either have to establish yourself or just not do anything but hear Mass and leave.