And Vanishing Tradition
I have found yet another kindred spirit. A blogger who I have recently come into contact with has a beautiful blog that I commend to you all called Go Sit in The Corner. There is much food for thought there.
I was particularily impressed with a recent post the blogger made about growing up in New Orleans. It is a great Lenten post because it is quite out of the ordinary, and isn't that what Lent is all about anyway? I was particularily touched by this section of the post:
And then there are the churches. New Orleans is a Catholic city, and has historically fancied herself a European city. Thus, the churches (and there were so many of them in my childhood) are ornate in French or Italian baroque style, statues and paintings larger than life and in Technicolor with gilding everywhere. My sister used to fear a large statue of St. Lucy, holding her huge green eyes on a platter in front of her. There was St. Anne’s Church, where my mom often went to daily Mass and as she’d kneel and pray, I would play with an extra rosary she had that had a strange blue iridescence. Then, my favorite part: the Stations of the Cross, meditated on while crawling up steps on one’s knees. I didn’t do that bit, so eager to reach the Resurrection (at the top of the steps one walked out onto the roof, in the full blaze of that New Orleans’ sun) and then walk back into the darkness of an alcove where Mother Mary was, with votive candles surrounded by blue glass at her feet.
I had to laugh since I too feared many statues of saints growing up in the church. I used to fear in particular a large plastic set of the Holy Family that my grandmother had , to the point that I had nightmares about them. Hispanic Catholicism may not have a monopoly on bad taste in religious art that borders on the grotesque, but we certainly give everyone else a run for their money.
As you know, on the books I am Byzantine Catholic. Changing rites was a life decision I got stuck with for reasons that now no longer matter. Byzantine iconography was one of the reasons that I decided to make the Eastern Church home. But now, I no longer feel as compelled to bash the Western tradition of religious art. I suppose it is part of my realization that life is incredibly sloppy, and to portray that in art is something that will happen on its own. The Byzantine icon at times is too perfect, too theological, and too immaculate. I love them, but when it comes down to it, sometimes I just want to pray in front of a bloody Spanish crucifix, a statue of the Immaculate Conception, or of St. Joseph. It is our humanity shining through , for better or worse, that at times can seem sentimental, decadent, and even frightening. But there is something there that speaks to the soul of the Western Christian that an icon wil never be able to articulate. Indeed, can we say that the icon is prefered by many chique Christians to the exclusion of all else precisely because they can keep their distance?
There is a greater point I would like to make, however, and it has to do with the rest of our blogger's superb post, and it concerns what I call the rationalization of Roman Catholicism. That is to say, the creating of another parallel religious praxis of Roman Catholicism after the Second Vatican Council to replace the old one. In an earlier post on this featured blog, it was put very well in this manner:
“Well, at least we have the real sacraments!” is an oft-heard cry, but with it carries a smidgen of triumphalism and something more pernicious – that it doesn’t matter what they or we believe, as long as our sacraments are valid. We then give a point in argument to our critics: that all that holds us together is what the Catholic Church teaches about itself legally – that as long as one is tied to the pope, one is doing just fine in the spiritual sojourn.
I have been condemned for using the term, "neo-Catholic" on this blog, and I realize that categorizing people often does not help. If, however, we are to understand what is going on in our own church, we must apply some labels, if ever so delicately. My main fear about Catholic conservatives who unquestionably accept the order that has emerged out of the Second Vatican Council is that they are creating a religion out of the book, and not using the book to guide the religion. That is, what is occuring now is no longer an organic development of what has been done in the past but rather a formation of something new loosely based on what some experts think the past should have been like.
Many of the more prominent neo-Catholic voices are either converts or Catholics who grew up in a very secularized Anglo-Saxon culture. Those of us who had the benefit of growing up in a Catholic culture that was merely the normal way of life often cannot understand their very polemical and all-too-Anglo concerns about having to justify the Catholic triumphalist position at every turn. I cannot speak for the blogger I have cited, but growing up in the Mexican barrio in this country and having been exposed to folk Catholicism in Mexico as a boy, I cannot help but feel that these intellectuals are creating a safe, paper religion that does not know how to keep vigil all night in a cemetery, do the Stations of the Cross on one's knees, or pray in front of a rosy-cheeked statue of the Child Jesus. Is the heart of this new conservative Catholicism, Novus Ordo, faithful to the Pope, able to cite Newman at the drop of a hat, just cultural Protestantism on which a Catholic ideological structure is supposedly built?
I suppose I am not being fair. Not everyone can be raised in an atmosphere where Roman Catholicism was the unchallenged atmosphere that governed one's life growing up. The incredible hubris of many of these voices, however, cannot help but make me react rather dismissively towards them. This does not mean breaking communion with them or saying that they are "heretical". After all, they are my fellow Catholics, and who am I to judge them? But they have no idea what was lost; they have no idea how powerful all of those "decadent" things that have been consigned to church basements in the wake of the aggiornamento really were. It can be argued that even the mumbled pre-conciliar Mass of a distracted priest in an old Baroque church carries much more weight than even the sung Novus Ordo Mass as done by Solesmes. The former was unconsciously traditional, the latter is not. Tradition is truly tradition because we are beholden to it, not because we can re-make it according to our fancy.
My featured blogger and I are both about the same age, and that is quite an interesting fact in terms of what is being discussed here. For we were born precisely ten years after the Pauline Missal broke the liturgical back of the Western Church. Again, I cannot speak for the other blogger, but I certainly knew at a very early age that what took place before me at Mass had not been taking place for very long. I was exposed in other ways to the soul of what the Roman Catholic Church had always been, and this taught me that Papal encyclicals, catechisms, and manuals of theology are not schemata for making a religion from scratch (changing the Mass, the rosary, the idea of religious life, etc.) but rather aides in helping to guide the organic life of the heaving beast known as the Body of Christ here on earth, the Church militant. If this beast has no life of its own other than what is in books, and if it must constantly be re-made to conform to the latest theological fad, then it is either sick or dying. In spite of the fact that many aspects of pre-Conciliar Catholicism now seem unappetizing, would it not be advisable to return ad fontes to what we should have been taught, rather than trying to imagine what the early Church was like via the lens of a Von Balthasar or Congar?