Tired Old Arguments against Tradition

As the September-14 liftoff date for the Motu Proprio approaches, commentators are busy trying to frame public opinion about the Traditional Mass. There have been some very good and penetrating positive responses to the document, and there have been some doozies on the other side. A couple of the reactions I have read or heard from liberals weren’t so much critical of the document as they were of the Mass itself. Even then, they were really criticizing the way the Mass was offered when they were growing up. The inadequate way the faithful assisted at the Mass, as well as how the priests celebrated the Mass, were presented as reasons against the Classical Rite. The faithful said their Rosaries or wandered around the Church praying the Stations. For their part, the priests often mumbled the Latin quickly, said (the much shorter) Requiem Mass when they could, and assisting priests would often say their breviaries on those rare occasions that clergy assisted in choir.

These objections are not new. Supposing, for a minute, that they are valid, that is, let’s assume that it’s a bad thing that people did all these things in the old days. They are not objections to the traditional Rite as much as they are objections to the way it was offered. As St. Augustine would say, abusus non tollit usus, that is, the abuse of a thing does not take away its rightful use. Otherwise, corrupt government would prove the validity of anarchy, or a single car accident would make us want to outlaw cars (pace Al Gore). This is very basic logic.

The old pastor of a parish offered such a lame objection to a friend of mine. When he was first ordained, the faithful weren’t paying attention when he turned around to say Dominus Vobiscum. This pastor’s young associate, a priest known to me, informed me that it was the old people in the parish — the ones who grew up before the changes — who know how to go to confession, not their juniors. However bad things were in the old days, those brought up in that regime had imbibed more of the faith and its practice than their younger counterparts. It was clear to this young associate that the changes had taken their toll.

Another commentator I read objected to the fact that, in the old days, the altar rail divided the lay people from the priest, thus implying that what was on the sanctuary side was somehow holier than what was on the other side. This constitutes, so the argument goes, an offense against the holiness of the laity. This same writer was one who took exception to those who ignored the sacred action taking place on the altar while they focused on their private devotions. That struck me as a serious contradiction. If what happens on the altar — inside the sanctuary — is not the holiest thing, what’s wrong with ignoring it for one’s private devotions? But if what is going on in the sanctuary is — as the word implies — more holy, then the sanctuary should be regarded as holier than what is outside it. You can’t have it both ways.

There are some very bad “ecumenical” dimensions to this objection. Like their Uniate Catholic counterparts, the Orthodox to this day retain their beloved and traditional iconostasis. This marvelously decorated icon screen, separates the sanctuary, where most of the Divine Liturgy actually takes place, from the nave of the church, where the laity assist at the divine mysteries. The priest goes in and out of the “Royal Doors” to communicate the faithful, but most of the sacred action is concealed, even though the Church is filled with beautiful chant and incense, the overflow, as it were, from the altar. All of the traditional rites of the Catholic Church, East and West, have some sort of separation of this nature, either an altar rail, an iconostasis, or something similar. The non-Catholic Christians of the East have retained them. Why offend them by jettisoning our common tradition?

If we go back to the Old Testament to consider the Temple of Solomon, we see that there is the “Holy Place” where only the priests could go, and the “Holy of Holies” where only the High Priest could go, and only on Yom Kippur. The Temple was built in such a way that concentric rings separated one “more holy” region from the one before it, the outermost being the court of the gentiles, where anyone could go. In short, the Temple was holy, but the temple itself had “more holy” and “less holy” places. This was a powerful architectural cosmology which taught the people something of the mystery of God’s holiness in relation to the created universe. St. Paul would use the formation that the Jews had in this sacred cosmology as the basis of his Epistle to the Hebrews, explaining how Christ fulfilled all these things.

Amid their diabolical errors, the pagans of Rome preserved similar notions concerning holy places. This has even come into our language. The space outside the temple was literally “profane” (pro-fanum — “before the temple”). Profane originally meant “secular,” or “non-sacred.” So, Bach wrote “sacred” and “profane” music.

The argument against tradition is that, after the changes, we learned that the sacred is to enter into the profane and make it holy. This sounds good, but the evidence suggests that the distinction between the two has been lost. What was sacred — the sanctuary — has instead be profaned with all manner of silliness and banality. Tearing out partitions has produced a leveling along the lines of the least common denominator, not the highest.

Yes, we must strive to sanctify all aspects of life — absolutely! But to do that — to make everything and everyone holy — we have to separate ourselves from the world, approach the divine Mystery with fear and trembling, receive it in faith, love, and gratitude, and carry it wherever we go. Ignorant peasants in the Middle Ages knew this implicitly because the medieval cathedral was an elaborate chatechisis in stone and glass. Just as the Jews of the Old Law learned their religious cosmology from the Temple’s architecture, so the Faithful of the New Law learned the sacred order in the universe from their Churches. This is what we call the “sense of the sacred.”

The only way to recover this sense of the sacred is to return to tradition.

Send forth thy light and thy truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto thy holy hill, and into thy tabernacles. And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.” (Ps. 42:3-4, used in the prayers at the foot of the altar.)

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New Article Posted:
“What’s in That Latin Footnote?”

Summary of the introduction to our translation: No doubt, our readership has heard of the document released by the CDF on July 10: “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” The fourth footnote of that document is mostly in Latin, left untranslated in the various language editions. Whatever the CDF’s reasons for veiling the note in the now all-too-mysterious language of the Church, we have decided to lift the veil, at least for the English-speaking world.

The references in that footnote affirmed, “that the Catholic church alone is the true Church of Christ.” Further: “there is one sole true Church of Christ; that this is the Apostolic Roman Church; that all must seek to know Her and enter Her in order to obtain salvation….” Lastly, “the Church governed by the successors of the Apostles with the successor of Peter as its head” is called “the sole flock of God” and “the one, sole Church of God.”

Whatever amiguities exist in the various texts of the Conciliar documents, we now have an official interpretation that clarifies Lumen Gentium Chapter 8 in a traditional way. The one true Church of Jesus Christ IS the Catholic Church, that Church under the Successor of St. Peter. Whatever contradicts that is now, as it always was, consigned to the realm of liberal theological fiction. Click here to read more.