The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Post-Traditionalism


On the Twilight of a Sentiment and a Movement

I am sorry that I didn’t post about this blog earlier, but it is well-worth catching up with if you haven’t. Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me is written by a thoughtful young man from the Philippines with an eye for the strange and the beautiful. His last post, Beati Pauperes Spiritu, has made me reflect more on the conclusions I have been confronted with in my own life.

I start with a quote:

But some of us don't have the luxury of debating Aquinas and Scotus during our spare times. We don't have the luxury or the money to spend on gas while looking for that 'perfect' Mass with Solesmes chant, Gothic chasubles, ruby-encrusted chalices, and clean and polished floors. And while these things are certainly pretty and nice to see, there are far more pertinent things to which we must attend to.

As a student in a cosmopolitan area of a First World country, with no commitments (yet), I can certainly chase the dream Mass. I have been pleasantly amused by people who will defend Vatican II yet run as far as they can from the real liturgical outgrowths of that movement willed by the bishops. After all, what is “active participation” supposed to mean other than what the bishops, the pastors of their flocks, have meant it to mean? What is the use of using the Pauline Missal if you are going to dress it up in as much Counter-Reformation clothing as possible? To use Gregorian chant in a Pauline Mass is to alienate the People of God (none of whom know Latin) who are gathered around the Lord’s table.

So I have no qualms in saying that I am a complete liturgical snob, that I can’t stand worshiping in a Mass with guitars and drum sets, and if I wanted to hear Protestant hymns I would just go to an Anglican service since they sing them way better than we do anyway. I acknowledge that this is very superficial. I even acknowledge that this is pharisaical and almost anti-Christian. I may have my reasons, but none of them are good enough to get on a bus and go to the other side of the city when I have a perfectly good Catholic Church down the street.

The question comes down to something very simple: is the issue enough to break communion? And by not supporting your local parish, what else are you doing in a de facto manner?

Maybe those with a much more sensitive conscience might be bothered by what I say, but I am not. I know that I am a pig who focuses on minutiae and not on more pertinent things. I like pretty things, I like things that sound nice, and I like things to be tasteful. But that doesn’t mean that I expect God to run His Church according to my expectations on how things should be like. (Though it would be nice…)

I have featured many blogs recently that have given a very particular slant to Roman Catholicism that I sympathize with. I have singled out these blogs since they offer a much more sober, organic, and intelligent response to the confusion in the Church than the blogs of the Catholic mainstream. However, I must put forward my own position when I say that when it comes to “traditionalism” of whatever stripe, I am a total defeatist. I don’t believe in the restoration of the Tridentine Mass, the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the rise of a new St. Pius X, or any other pipe dream of that nature. I believe in the Church. I believe in the Church as the violent, sloppy, and disorganized confrontation between the infinite mercy of God and the seemingly infinite capability of man to royally screw things up. There are no solutions, no permanent triumphs. Just retreats, groupings, and re-groupings… dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem.

Thus, we are confronted with two models of the Church. We can accept the Counter-Reformation model, based on absolute Jesuit-style obedience that states that the progress of the Church is a Hegelian ascending straight line. In this model, “everything is going to be okay” as long as we do XYZ, and the Holy Ghost has us all by some magical leash. Clearly, this model is far from realistic. The alternative is the model of Jacob wrestling with God through the night, when we are honest about our doubts, uncertainties, and sins of all stripes. When Jacob wrestled with God, he was not playing Mr. Nice Guy. He didn’t earn the name of Israel by being a pansy.

And while this chaos is going on, while the world and the Church flirt with destruction, I will continue to enjoy Roman chausables, sacred polyphony, and endless lines of altar boys who fidget and pick their nose. At the very best, it is like being a bearded Old Believer in Nikonian Russia, and at the very worst it is like being some effeminate Anglo-Catholic clergyman who has nothing but Styrofoam peanuts in his theological brain. (Although all of the Anglo-Catholics I know are very intelligent.) It may not be the answer, but a little beauty and peace never killed anyone. The solution, I know now, does not lie in these things, but rather in life itself, in all of its hardship, joy, and sacrifice. After all, the Cross is not very beautiful. At least at first….

6 Comments:

At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have attended Mass by walking to my parish church for my entire adult life (my parents insisted on driving a perfectly walkable distance during my childhood). no matter what kind of liturgical horror show I might find there, and I grew up in SF so it could get pretty bad. I recently moved to the South, and since I gotta drive, I might as well drive to the indult.

In the future, I am going to bloody well buy a house walking distance from a church like St. Margaret Mary in Oakland.

Obviously most Catholics on Earth are poor and none of this is possible. But you're writing in English to people on the internet. Most people reading you should be exhorted to stop liturgy-shopping, but not to just settle into singing "Eagle's Wings" every Sunday until death. People should move their households to the indult parishes, start businesses there, and have lots of children.

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger Peter John(son) said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger Peter John(son) said...

>>>People should move their households to the indult parishes, start businesses there, and have lots of children.

I agree. The other option is to bring an indult parish to our own towns and have lots of children. That is what I will try to do if the Motu Propio is liberal enough to allow it.

I am in the same place as some of you guys. Our parish is one block away in our small town. We walk there for every Mass, my 2 year old running up the uneven sidewalk ahead of me. The owner of Marzen's hardware is one of the lectors. Several mentally handicapped patients that I see from the nursing home say hello to me on my way out. Our town is there at the Mass.

Prior to moving here (Jim Thorpe, PA), we went to an indult parish in Scranton. There were many wonderful people there as well, daily Latin Masses, and beauty etc. None of the people lived in that neighborhood though. Everyone one was from 45 minutes away in every conceivable direction.

When we moved here we decided to go to our local parish instead of dragging ourselves and two little boys out of bed at 0645 to drive 50 minutes to an indult Mass where we would hardly know anybody.

I guess I am a liturgical slob as well. I have a website, a newspaper ad, and a bottle of chilled Champagne readied for the M.P. I would love my children to worship in the Traditional Rite, to be formed by it. I also don't want them to do it with a great disconnect from the people who live all around them. Maybe this attempt will crash and burn, or maybe Latin will be chanted in our hills and hollows in the next few years. In any case I'm going to try my damndest to do it, for them, for my little children.

 
At 5:33 PM, Blogger Peter John(son) said...

No, no. A litugical snob, not a liturgical slob.

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger Archistrategos said...

I believe in the Church as the violent, sloppy, and disorganized confrontation between the infinite mercy of God and the seemingly infinite capability of man to royally screw things up.

Reminds me of the reasons why I no longer attend the SSPX. There are certainly very holy people there, as there are affluent attendees and more blue collar ones. I was even surprised when I saw people there whom I thought were very liberal in real life (women writers and such). But I guess I was always a bit skeptical, especially since the SSPX pins its hopes on the revitalization of the Church on the restoration of the Tridentine Mass.

I love the Tridentine rite myself; I love how it forces people to be holy, how reverent it is, how mysterious it is, how culturally and historically significant it is, and how it synthesizes 2000 years of attrtion, contrition, adoration, petition, thanksgiving and supplication in a mere fifty minutes. But lest we forget, even in post-Tridentine days, there were still atheists, hedonists, Marxists, anarchists-- all within the bosom of the Church.

To say that the Tridentine Mass is the panacea to all the Church's problems is a leap of faith, I think; we are a Church whose ancestral fathers, the Apostles, were fighting for prestie and leadership in the midst of Christ Himself. I still attend an Indult from time to time, though. And it is in a beautiful chapel where all the women wear veils, where even the children are quiet and reverent.

My HS religion teacher always told us that the best way to distinguish a Catholic church is through dirt. A real church is dirty, unclean, unkempt; in the old days, there were even spitoons inside.And it is incredibly hot and stinks of unwashed bodies. Just like the Cross.

 
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