Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Trad Archipelago


From every point by many a turning road,
Maimed, crippled, changed in body or in mind,
It was a sight to see the cripples come
Out on the fields. The land looked all awry,
The roads ran crooked and the light fell wrong.
Our fields were like a pack of cheating cards
Dealt out at random - all we had to play
In the bad game for the good stake, our life.
Edwin Muir - from The Good Town

A LITTLE while ago an aquaintance - a former Protestant, someone of far deeper theological learning than me (not my Fundamentalist Friend, to whom I'll return subsequently) - began expressing a serious interest in the traditional Liturgy of the Roman Rite (as I guessed he would, sooner or later). His questions were characteristically thoughtful and Christocentric; but living in a country with a tiny Catholic population, he had no present opportunity to assist at the traditional Liturgy and few sympathetic souls with whom to discuss it. He had provided himself with a Missal and a Breviary, for the purpose of investigating the differences between Old and New and, having done so, had drawn the same conclusions as so many of us - not from the romance of Latin nor the ravishing heaven-hungry beauty of the chant, nor the "silence", nor any vision of glamorous externals; no brocaded fiddlebacks nor incense-hazed high altars haunted his imagination (yet). The texts and the rubrics did it all on their own. A man after my own heart.

"Will the Old come back? Should I pray for its return?" - these were his immediate concerns, together with how best to assimilate the traditional liturgy into his devotional life, where no opportunity to live it fully and properly (in the Church and with the Church) existed. I told him right away - pray the Office anyway. Pray the Missal. Adopt both as the primary source and inspiration of your devotional life - but for the good of your soul, keep clear of TradWorld!
The spontaneity of this last advice surprised me as much as its vehemence. "Where did that come from?" I had a vision of myself as a hooded spectre, indicating with horrid warning the unseen pit, from which groans, muted screams and abandoned ullulations were suddenly audible. I am of course, a denizen of the pit, acclimatised to its acrid, sulphurous bowels, having spent most of my adult life there. I'm a Trad: one of those whom the abnormality of the times has compelled into a variety of absurd and unnatural postures; one of the mad, driven in my leisure hours to the digestion of turgid encyclicals in order to defend what ought to be self-evident; to contrive some kind of "systematic statement of the obvious" in the face of universal denial and purblind stupidity. Has it done me any good? Well has it?

"Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI's reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy. Even those who want to preserve the liturgy or pray in the spirit of the liturgy, and even those who make great sacrifices to remain faithful to it - all have lost something priceless, namely, the innocence that accepts it as something God-given, something that comes down to man as gift from heaven.

Those of us who are defenders of the great and sacred liturgy, the classical Roman liturgy, have all become - whether in a small way or a big way - liturgical experts. In order to counter the arguments of the reform, which was padded with technical, archaeological, and historical scholarship, we had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy-something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy. What is absolutely indispensable for genuine liturgy? When are the celebrant's whims tolerable, and when do they become unacceptable? We have got used to accepting liturgy on the basis of the minimum requirements, whereas the criteria ought to be maximal. And finally, we have started to evaluate liturgy - a monstrous act! We sit in the pews and ask ourselves, was that Holy Mass, or wasn't it? I go to church to see God and come away like a theatre critic. And if, now and again, we have the privilege of celebrating a Holy Mass that allows us to forget, for a while, the huge historical and religious catastrophe that has profoundly damaged the bridge between man and God, we cannot forget all the efforts that had to be made so that this Mass could take place, how many letters had to be written, how many sacrifices made this Holy Sacrifice possible, so that (among other things) we could pray for a bishop who does not want our prayers at all and would prefer not to have his name mentioned in the Canon.

What have we lost? The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life, days begun with a quiet Mass in a modest little neighbourhood church; a life in which we learn, over decades, discreetly guided by priests, to mingle our own sacrifice with Christ's sacrifice; a Holy Mass in which we ponder our own sins and the graces given to us - and nothing else: rarely is this possible any more for a Catholic aware of liturgical tradition, once the liturgy's unquestioned status has been destroyed."
Martin Mosebach - from The Heresy of Formlessness
...We have seen
Good men made evil wrangling with the evil,
Straight minds grown crooked fighting crooked minds.
Our peace betrayed us; we betrayed our peace.
Look at it well. This was the good town once.’

These thoughts we have, walking among our ruins.
Edwin Muir
- from The Good Town

Will Pope Benedict break in upon the captives to harrow the Limbus Tradorum, the unfurled banner of the Motu Proprio streaming in his excommunication-banishing wake? Who knows? I shall in any case continue to sustain myself here on sweet messages from the pre-lapsarian, "separated" but unsullied East, among whose gentle ministers Father Stephen always seems so uncannily apropos.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is excellent Moretben - you've hit so many nails on the head! As an ex-denizen of TradWorld myself: one who ultimately found it impossible to survive in its thin and unnatural air, but who still carries some of its spiritual bacteria, I agree entirely. As you say, it has become impossible to celebrate the Classical Roman Liturgy in an unselfconscious manner. Perhaps it will never be possible again. This is the great tragedy of the Roman Catholic Church!

"I told him right away - pray the Office. Pray the Missal. Adopt both as the primary source and inspiration of your devotional life - but for the good of your soul, keep clear of TradWorld!"

But what about the sine qua non of leading a fully corporate, sacramental life? How can one do this without entering the violet waters of the River Trad?

Mr Bleaney

Anonymous said...

Quick afterthought: actually, how can one lead a fully corporate and sacramental life even if one hazards the Trad's foaming currents?

Mr Bleaney

Moretben said...

Greetings Mr B!

As usual, the best bits are borrowings (Muir, Keats and Mosebach) but thank you anyway. As to your first question - the answer remains: you can't.

As to your second...
1) Ecclesia supplet
2) 1 + another theoretical apparatus
3) Il faut cultiver notre jardin

Moretben said...

As a layman, of course, you're under no obligations with regard to the Office, so you're entirely at liberty to pray the Traditional Office - as much or as little of it, as rubrically or as "freely" as you wish. I hasten to insist that I do not recommend "praying the Missal" instead of fulfilling one's obligation by the only available means.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Ben,

Absolutely correct. As laypeople, liturgy should be none of our business other than the prayers of religious and clerics that we take for granted, and in which the more avant-garde among us follow along.

I have said on my own blog that the problem of the whole "People of God" theology is not just that it has led to the secularization of the clergy, but it has led to the clericalization of the laity. Laypeople want more power "in the Church", when the whole point is to spread the Church out into the world. How many Catholic artists, intellectuals, composers, etc. have an influence OUTSIDE of Church circles. Compare this to before the Council, when even atheists had to read Maritain.

The Catholic mind has closed in on itself. That is why perhaps I spend so little time thinking about or studying Church issues or theology now. It is time to get out of the pit, and stop being preoccupied over the rubble of our ecclesiastical institutions.

Moretben said...

even atheists had to read Maritain

Serve the buggers right. :o)

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Yeah, Maritain could be a real pain in the a#@ sometimes...

New Catholic said...

Dear Moretben,

I am worried not with the Tradworld, but with the Tabletworld -- where there is tolerance for every aberration beneath the sky, but not for Catholics, as Catholics have always been...

Back to my recess...

Moretben said...

Dear New Catholic

I'm part of TradWorld myself, and probably always will be. I am a Catholic first, after all - and TabletWorld isn't on my radar.

Moretben said...

...but more to the point, what I'm having a go at here is not "Catholics as Catholics have always been", but something else entirely, identified by Arturo in the following:

"Often, however, this so-called traditionalist rhetoric is embedded in its own positivist and authoritarian narratives of what the past was like and how the present should be. It is not enough to preserve in some sense the forms used in the past. One must go deeper, into the very foundations of these practices that were dismissed as medieval, baroque, and decadent. Traditionalism, as it has appeared as a movement since the 1960's, is not radical enough, in the sense that "radix" in Latin means the root of living things. Traditionalism tends to ossify liturgy, theology, and the Catholic ethos into an agenda that did not exist prior to the changes."

New Catholic said...

It is essentially "reactionary" (in an etymological sense) in our days, due to the great obstacles and humiliations imposed by the prelates, priests, and laity in Tabletworld -- especially prelates. When the relentless persecution stops, and the sun rises anew, then what has been frozen may flourish again. Those in "Tradworld" should not feel guilty about their "fossilization": they should cherish it fully, and act charitably towards the world and fraternally (ecumenically?..) towards their fellow Catholics, until this age which demands extreme self-protection ceases.

Moretben said...

Yet again: the ex-Protestant introduced here is in no danger from TabletWorld. He's a good orthodox believer, deep in the theology of the Latin Fathers as I mentioned. I am instinctively troubled, on the other hand, by the thought of him sinking subsequently, as a consequence of careless advice received from me from me, into one or other of those hopeless, rancorous ante-chambers we're all familiar with.

New Catholic said...

Yes, I understood it perfectly. What you see as a potential problem for him, though, should be faced as a period of growth - if indeed he succumbs to it. The light of Christ is abundant even in the "hopeless" ante-chambers of a fossilized underworld, where apparent cries of rancor are in fact songs of praise to Almighty God from people who have suffered enough.

Moretben said...

Sorry NC, our posts crossed - that wasn't a reply to your last.

I am not ashamed of being a Traditional Catholic. What you say about Tabletworld bishops and priests is quite true. I am, however, ashamed of some of the positions I've felt obliged to adopt over the years which had nothing directly to do with the ancient faith but were an expression of the "false self".

This piece is not an attack on Traditional Catholicism, but on an ideological trap into which Traditional Catholics are sometimes led, to the great detriment of their souls.

Moretben said...

This is what I said on Fr Z's:

By “TradWorld” the author seems to mean what he finds on the internet"

Well, kind of; I’d say, rather, that it’s typified by what one finds on the internet. The “archipelago” reference isn’t really to Solzhenitsyn’s novel (which to my shame I’ve yet to read), but to TradWorld as something that subsists (sorry!) in variety of locations and manifestations; all over one’s bookshelves; among one’s friends; in last week’s sermon; not least inside one’s own head.

Ryan said...

New Catholic says:

"from people who have suffered enough"

Many of the Separatist Traditionalists seem to think that their sufferings entitle them to disobedience, and to saying whatever they want againt the Church and its bishops.

You can see this here in New Catholic's comment about suffering and humiliation. Since they suffer and are humiliated, their "rights" entitle them to to disregard obedience to the One Holy Church.

Some of them talk about their "independent" chapels being their "right" -even thought "independent" is the opposite of "Catholic," and that their snarky little comments about the Church and its bishops are always acceptable because they've been "humiliated" and have "suffered enough."

First of all, it is not up to you to decide when you have suffered enough, and secondly, we are to bear humiliations and suffering with charity and contentment in the peace of Christ. We are not to
whine incessantly and make fun of the Church and her priests every chance we get.

New Catholic said...

?

Moretben said...

I think the the point of the post is really encapsulated, not in my own couple of paragraphs, but in the quotes they introduce. The one from Mosebach, and particularly The Good Town (in its entirety). The whole tragedy of our plight is captured in that poem.

Moretben said...

First of all, it is not up to you to decide when you have suffered enough, and secondly, we are to bear humiliations and suffering with charity and contentment in the peace of Christ. We are not to
whine incessantly and make fun of the Church and her priests every chance we get


It's a fair point ryan, but it must be insisted upon that New Catholic of all people has never deserved to be rebuked on these grounds. Rorate Caeli is beacon for Traditional Catholics, and about as far from my idea of a "TradWorld" dystopia as its possible to get.

Moretben said...

...much further from it, in fact, than the dank Undercroft!

New Catholic said...

Thank you for your very kind words, Moretben. And to your friend, I say: "Confidite, ego sum, nolite timere..."

Anonymous said...

Moretben, indeed. My comments came off too much as targeting NC directly, which was sloppy writing on my part. I only speak to what other have said that truly do encourage disobedience. My apologies.

-Ryan

John L said...

'We are not to whine incessantly and make fun of the Church and her priests every chance we get.' I sympathise with this remark for a reason that no doubt differs from what you had in mind in making it. Making fun of Tabletworld is appropriate to a certain extent, but when that is the main reaction to it - as it sometimes is with trads - it is really a defensive reaction that is trying to escape the terrible reality. The writers for the Tablet, and the bishops whose sort of outlook they express (most if not all of the bishops of England and Wales, of France, Germany, at least half of North American ones) are not Catholics, and are doing their successful best to destroy the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith in their respective countries; and their opposition to the traditional mass is a key element in their efforts. Trads who really faced up to this fact would be devoting themselves to prayer and penance, but that would be very unpleasant; so they mock their enemies and feel that they have done something for the cause in that way. I include myself in this condemnation. I'm not calling for an end to mockery, the more the better! as it is a very effective tool. But holiness and suffering are what is realy needed. What a drag.

Fr Ray Blake said...

For awhile I lived with a community in which the Liturgy, at least of the Mass, was for the most part a matter of opening the Graduale, occassionally referring to the Ordo, starting at the beginning and going through to the end.

It is choice that destroys Liturgy and place Man at the centre.

Fr Ray Blake said...

sorry,
...and places Man at its centre.

Moretben said...

It is choice that destroys Liturgy and place Man at the centre.

Dear Father

I believe you are absolutely right - and in fact, you remind me that I touch upon this on a forthcoming "Letter to a Fundamentalist Friend".