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.