Some time ago, the now liberal American weekly U.S. News and World Report had a cover story about a return to traditional religion. I wrote about it here. The cover photo was of a celebration of Mass in the older form. No doubt the publication was taking its cue from the implementation of Summorum Pontificum.
Someone sent me by e-mail a link to the reactions of people, written to the publications about that story.
I share them here, with my emphases and comments.
A Religious Revival
January 17, 2008 10:13 AM ET | Permanent Link
Thank you for the cover story "A Return to Tradition" [Dec. 24, 2007].
In Roman Catholic worship, instead of a return to tradition, it is really an embrace of nostalgia [This is obviously what this writer would like for it to be, so that the new phenomenon could be easily written off. Sorry, Charlie!] —turning the theological and liturgical clock back 50 or 60 years to what some think was a simpler, holier era. In truth, the so-called tradition of worship with the priest turning his back [cliche] to the congregation only dates back to the Counter-Reformation, when Catholics were on the defensive and partly responding to the Protestant reformers with liturgical entrenchment. The renewal of the Catholic mass after Vatican ii (1962-1965) actually restored the mass to its true tradition rooted in the Bible, the church fathers, and nearly 1,000 years of practice before the reforms of the Council of Trent. The modern mass is more in keeping with Catholic tradition than the Latin mass that nostalgic Catholics are embracing. [How may factual errors can you find in this?]
John R. Mastalski
"A Return to Tradition" pointed out something I have noticed among young Catholics: Their interest in tradition is not to be confused with fundamentalism. In this regard, I thought of a seminarian I know from his days as a student at the University of Wyoming. Though he is embarrassed by the behavior of some fundamentalist groups here, he was deeply impressed by the experience of a traditional Tridentine Latin mass in Denver. In his words: "I had never before been part of a mass where people were so perfectly clear about who was worshiping whom." Tradition, yes; fundamentalism, no.
The Rev. James A. Schumacher
"A Return to Tradition" details the movement toward conservatism in religion but fails to mention one church that has followed tradition for some 2,000 years—the Orthodox Christian Church. It is often said that stepping into an Orthodox church is like walking into 2,000 years of history where "traditional monastic and religious orders" certainly are not new. [Fly in amber?]
Why give space to traditionalists and their Tridentine mass that harks back to the Council of Trent? They are a minority living in the past, worshiping elaborate ritual. A priest turning his back on lay Catholics is an insult. [This is just knee-jerking. Poor guy.]
If not allowed to become rote by its practitioners, ritual is a structured way of getting us to ponder greater ideas that we might not if left to our own devices and schedules. When we consider the structured activities that we join—including the gym, book clubs, etc.—because they help us focus, religious ritual makes a great deal of sense.
My feeling is that people are returning to religion and religious services because they present a familiar ritual that is comforting and reassuring as our world becomes more complex with fewer definitive solutions. [Lot’s of emotion here.]
Janet E. Ordway
The Rev. Thomas Reese, the Jesuit priest quoted in the story, said the only thing that began to make sense to me. [Poor fellow!] The church should focus less on the Latin mass than on the three things that draw most churchgoers: "good preaching, good music, and a welcoming community." [What the writer, and probably Fr. Reece, don’t get is that this doesn’t have to be a zero sum game: either good preaching or the older Mass.] While I understand that many people need some kind of tradition in their lives, what we really need [and he knows!] today is love for all men and women, [All you need is luv!] good quality of life, a sense of belonging, new moral direction, love for the Earth, [luv!] and a firm understanding that God is on the side of all humanity. [Luv is all you need!] So let’s open ourselves to one another. Any religion that doesn’t promote these things first is irrelevant. [NB: The writer doesn’t mention promoting a blessed afterlife, only earthly concerns.] A return to tradition, what amounts to religious conservatism, is absolutely not what we need today. We need something new and far greater. [And he… she? … knows.]
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Reading about the revival of ceremonial traditions among various religious groups reminded me of the scene I beheld one recent summer when picking up my Catholic children from the vacation Bible school at a local Presbyterian church. There, parading through the congregation’s place of worship were several hundred, mostly Presbyterian Bible schoolers, their foreheads smudged with ashes once associated exclusively with the Lenten rituals of Catholics and other "liturgical" Christians. What the event encapsulated for me, however, was the intriguing flip-flop that has occurred in the last half century between certain Catholic and Protestant groups, at least, that has implications for ritual. Inspired partly by the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has grown in its appreciation for the Word, while various Protestant denominations have begun to explore the benefits of sacraments. [A good observation. I know of Lutheran congregations where their eucharist is reserved, they kneel, and have adoration. Who would have imagined that 40 years ago?]
Michael E. DeSanctis
Traditional religious rituals do not make one moral. To believe one is serving a god though such distracting rituals and managing actions in a moral fashion is wrong when all he is doing is embracing religious self-deception. [Wow. David apparently has issues.] I must say, however, that these traditional rituals could, in the minds of some believers, create ethical behavior and perhaps a closer relationship with their particular god.
I concur with the people of all faiths who long to have a sacred tradition based on the Scriptures, ritual, and love for God and neighbor. [There it is!] I salute you for the article and reporting the need for this return to tradition. Praise God!
The Rev. Michael Lubinsky
It’s not a return to tradition that we need. [And Wallace knows!] It’s not a return to the Counter-Reformation or the Reformation itself. It’s a return to the providentially preserved Scriptures of the Bible. These indicate that worship was very simple and unadorned in the early days of Christianity. Christians weren’t in church buildings. They first met, as Scripture puts it, "from house to house" (Acts 2:46). Let’s return to their practice and not to apostate tradition. [Another liturgical primitivist. This takes: fly in amber" to the extreme. Somehow, everyone wearing sandals and having scraggly beards is more authentically Christian. Is development and maturation not possible in religions?]
Wallace A. Bell
The cover of your issue on religion featured a traditional Latin mass said by a Roman Catholic priest, yet the three Catholics quoted—a Jesuit priest, religious sister, and Georgetown professor—all opposed or dismissed the rising popularity of the centuries-old liturgy. If one were to look at those in the pews of the Latin mass, he would see many young people, the driving force behind the restoration of Catholic practices that were eliminated in the 1960s, before their time. Asking the 20-to-30-somethings why they were there would have been more interesting than relying on tired analyses by older, liberal Catholics. [A very good insight, but not in keeping with the publications purpose, I am guessing.]
Kenneth J. Wolfe
As a 20-something I cannot understand why there is a such a visceral, almost pathological phobia, to the Tradition of the Church among the baby boomer generation. If it wasn’t for the rather intense confrontations I had with them (getting nearly expelled from high school for it on two occasions, among other things) I would almost find it comical. The only conclusion I’ve been able to come up with is that their enthusiasm for they did has turned bitter with old age as the younger generation asks for answers and points out their own failures to them. The heart of Tradition beats from under the floor and it drives them absolutely mad.
Bernie Rachel said in his letter: The church should focus less on the Latin mass than on the three things that draw most churchgoers: “good preaching, good music, and a welcoming community.
Oh, Bernie, I would like to invite you to Assumption Grotto parish in Detroit for a really good Mass.
I can promise you some of the best preaching you will have ever heard, complete with the fullness of the faith. In fact, you’ll hear about things you probably can’t hear about in most parishes today. You’ll get to hear about chastity, the evils of pornography, the immorality of abortion, and more. You’ll get all this along with hearing about the benefits of mortification and sacrifice, along with preaching about God’s love and mercy. It all goes hand-in-hand. You, and most Catholics have been hearing for over 40 years how much God loves you, but at Assumption Grotto, you will learn how to love God back, by playing on the 10 string instrument. You won’t hear about some of the commandments, you will hear about all of the commandments.
If you come to Assumption Grotto you will be treated with the best of Sacred Music. You’ll lift your heart in interior adoration during the Mass as Gregorian chant and classic sacred polyphony cut through the silence of the chuch, where reverence is so profound, it is catchy.
We have a very welcoming community, Bernie. However, we don’t socialize in the parish Church. Rather, we give our full attention to God by whose grace we are drawn to the Most Blessed Sacrament. What you will find, if you follow the crowd after our 9:30 and Noon Masses on Sunday, is hamburgers, hot dogs, and italian sausage along with the typical donuts and coffee. We don’t socialize once a month. We do so weekly, some staying for hours after Mass. You can enjoy the youthfulness of our parish where families are open to life. There are kids everywhere – visible not only by the roughly 50-60 boys in the server program, but by the dozens of kids running around the gym after Mass and around church grounds.
Fr Z is right. It is not a zero-sum game. In many traditional parishes, you will find that the preaching, the music, and the community are as pleasing as the finest prime rib and red wine.
Oops. Forgot to end the italicizing.
Hopefully, this ends the italizing
oy vey, maybe I’m the only one seeing it, but here’s one more try. I think I may have typed two open ‘i’s
Nothing quite like responding to responses to a reaction to an event…I think a good number of the readers of USNWR are not necessarily religious, let alone Catholic, and many are outright hostile to both religion and Catholicism. Trying to incorporate the opinions of those who oppose Catholicism into the discussion of the virtues of the TLM is something like having Democrats vote in the Republican primaries… it isn’t entirely clear why they would or should have a say in the outcome. We are all familiar with the opinions of the general public concerning Catholicism. While there are some good responses included in the article, most of them we can simply ignore with little consequence.
I think Fr. Z has his italics on.
Great follow up! It makes me happy to have been the blogger to break the picture to the ‘sphere.
“It’s not a return to tradition that we need. [And Wallace knows!] ”
LOL! I was half-expecting him to say “What we really need is more CHEESE!!! Right, Gromit lad?”
“The renewal of the Catholic mass after Vatican ii (1962-1965) actually restored the mass to its true tradition rooted in the Bible, the church fathers, and nearly 1,000 years of practice before the reforms of the Council of Trent. The modern mass is more in keeping with Catholic tradition than the Latin mass that nostalgic Catholics are embracing.”
LOL! That’s funny in its ignorance. That was the same argument used by Bugnini
which has since been discredited. In fact, the traditional latin mass was largely in the
form we have it today by the sixth century. Before that time, the rite was being
formulated since the time of the apostles. Although mass books, lectionaries, missals,
etc. do not exist from that time (the rite was admittedly variable and passed on orally
or the books have simple not been preserved) the early Church Fathers tell us
that the consecration of the Eucharist was the summit of the Mass. It is absurd
to think of the early Christians conducting themselves in a protestant-style
service, such as the Novus Ordo. They would have had a developed ritual soon
after the death of Christ.
Fr. Rob Johansen wrote a great piece on his blog “Thrown Back” about the nature of the opposition to the extraordinary form, what he argued was mostly “ideological.” By extension, it seems that’s the driving force behind many of the letters to the editor quoted here. We see expressions of ideological reasons for opposing such a “return to tradition.” This really sheds light on the issue and reveals the extent to which the Mass, Tradition, et al. has been used as an ideological weapon…and on both extremes.
A related issue is the extent to which even presumably orthodox Catholics dismiss Tradition and the extraordinary form as simply a matter of “taste.” A recent article by Mark Shea on Catholic Exchange illustrates this attitude. I like Mark Shea, and think he’s a good writer, but wouldn’t an orthodox Catholic embrace tradition and work to understand the extraodinary form in an effort to think more critically about its role in the Church…and the world? A refusal to do so seems just as ideological as some of the comments in US News. That is to say, the cold shoulder is not limited to what we commonly call “progressivists.”
Nice retort to the smug Orthodox writer, Father! In respecting tradition, we needn’t go all the way to their extreme. As Jaroslav Pelikan said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
A return to Tradition is precisely what is needed in the Church.
In too many places we have an impoverished liturgy precisely because the liturgical reformers, in their eagerness to embrace novelty, turned their backs on the Church’s liturgical tradition in that spirit of dicontinuity with the past which was condemned by Pope Benedict in 2005.
The answer is to conform our worship today with the rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Church in a spirit of continuity with the past.
The innovations of the past 40 years were a massive and disastrous rupture with 1,600 or more years of the Church’s liturgical tradition.
It’s time now that things were put right.
People would do well not to speak dismissively of the Church’s tradition.
Tradition : “quod traditum est”.
That which has been handed down to us through the centuries by the saints, martyrs, popes, bishops , holy men and women, right back to the time of Christ Our Lord and the blessed apostles, cannot be so easily ignored or discarded.
And some people speak of nostalgia for the recent past !
Some may find it odd that one of the liberals were from Lincoln, but sadly, they can be found just about anywhere.
The liberal reaction seems, to me, much akin to the response of any other totalitatiran regime losing power. It’s all about power-they can see the writing on the wall and they are scared to death because the revolution is being rejected. What is the response? Lash out. Demean people are people with accusations of being nostalgic knuckle draggers and “mentally unstable”. It would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.
This “young force” is very important. We had TLM at St. Benedict. Monastery at São Paulo this last Saturday, organized by young people. The father who celebrated was somewhat old, but there was a young father too, lots of young people, and the girls (they were about 20 years old), even being told that veil was unnecessary, wanted to use them!
The baby boomers, most – not all of course – seem to have been iconoclasts that I – as a 30 something – can somewhat understand. But I really don’t understand their gusto nor the in-your-face antics or glee in their acts. It appears to be centered as a rebellion against authority. Much like the reformation in a way, but instead of singing “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” they sang about “wearing flowers in your hair”. Their phobia may be a reaction to the rejection of the fuzzy woolly headed principles which really didn’t change somethings. And now the young ones are bringing back everything they fought against!!!! My guess is that most remember being “tortured” as kids by having to sit in the TLM and view the it as traumatizing.
Sigh…… I went to high school and college with the writer of the 1st letter cited by Fr. Z. He teaches theology at our old high school (Jesuit). Sadly, his view is also predominant among the priests I’ve met here in LA. I have also recently started hearing the period between Trent and V2 referred to as “the dark ages,” which is also what the 1st letter writer seems to suggest. It’s fascinating to see Trent being framed as a point of “rupture” – has anyone else heard that?
As Fr. Z says: brick-by-brick.
It’s unfortunate that a man so misinformed regarding the historic underpinnings of the Rite of the Mass is teaching to high school students. I hope he’s not spouting this misinformation in class. It’s almost like a constitutional law professor teaching the US Constitution and being unaware of the federalist papers. I feel for his students.
I am curious if Michael E. deSanctis of Erie is the author of this following book too.
This Jesuit has it wrong. The Old Mass (and Priest facing East) is the ancient practice of the Church and it has been lovingly handed down and been shaped by use.
The New Mass is the “modern” creation of a loaded un Ctholic committee who edited and malformed according to their own criterion. It is a valid Mass but it is suburban, banal and plastic.
This Jesuit has it wrong. The Old Mass (and Priest facing East) is the ancient practice of the Church and it has been lovingly handed down and been shaped by use.
The New Mass is the “modern” creation of a loaded unCatholic committee who edited and malformed it according to their own criterion. It is a valid Mass but it is suburban, banal and plastic.
The New Mass in its various distortions has no pedigree at all.
It is generic.
It is not the Mass in the form it was handed down. It is not that Mass just translated into English. If it were I think many would not be as bothered and the glaring contradictions so obvious.
It’s unfortunate that a man so misinformed regarding the historic underpinnings of the Rite of the Mass is teaching to high school students. I hope he’s not spouting this misinformation in class.
For over 25 years, this high school has offered a class called “Liturgy Workshop.” You can guess what the students are being taught about liturgy. :( One thing to note: these people are true believers. Facts and evidence will not sway them. As you can see in some of the comments, they’ll get very strident in defending their beliefs.
Some of these brash comments are stereotyping and trivializing the TLM and the worshippers. It is insulting to think that giving reverence where reverence is due is dead in the eyes of some Americans and this whole egocentric mentality of the Mass being all about “me, me, me” and the priest is “serving the people” (hence why his back should not be turned to us). It’s aweful to realize that some folks just don’t get that worship is about focusing on the Holy Sacrifice and Christ, no, it has to be about us.
As Jaroslav Pelikan said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
Interestingly, the study of traditions eventually made him join the dreaded “fly in amber”…
Certainly, Byzantine rite has changed through the ages. It is not that they refuse to change, they are rather not interested in changing (the Orthodox brethren on the list, please correct me). Not for the sake of accommodation, aggiornamento, or whatnot. Not for the sake of change itself.
I think that Fr. Z. was right commenting in his way on the Orthodox reader’s letter, yet taking it further and accusing Byzantines of ‘fly in amber’ syndrome (in liturgical realm) is wrong.