Tradition, Its Maintenance and Form
Or, A Whupping for the Whapping?
It is sometimes maintained, particularly by brash, if clever, youngsters, that somehow the Traditional Mass could sweep to popularity if only its advocates, attendees, and devotes would be a bit more flexible: "Couldn't it be just a little more participatory?" they opine; "Or at least not be peopled with annoying Saint Pius X quoters -- wouldn't a little JP the Great, or at least Papa BXVI, go a long way to reaching out to Today's Youth?" And while these aren't silly questions, those who ask them have made a fundamental error in their approach to Tradition and modernity.
The snag, you see, is that a novice, an outsider, one trained in the modern ways, is liable to make all manner of errors in his selection of the vital from the peripheral when it comes to sifting the Traditions of the Faith from the traditions of men; and is also very likely to disregard the deep power held by the latter, even while he gives lip service to both. In the case of the young man whose musings have prompted this reply, a frequent suggestion is trotted out: why not go back to the Dialogue Mass? That's pre-Vatican II, but anticipates the sort of "full, active, etc" business that's been such a hit (?) with people since the Council. And while his suggestions have a sort of facile truth -- who wouldn't agree that a young energetic priest's Mass is easier, humanly speaking, to attend to than that of a rickety old priest? -- they are presumptuous to the extreme, in their implication that those who love and provide for the offering of the traditional Rite are somehow all fuddy-duddys who love nothing more than obscurantism and ossification, who would sooner drive off a curious young'un like him than give up their ca. 1920's devotional structure.
Nothing could be further from the truth. For, even while it is true that a number of such grumpy trads are out there, it is not so easy a thing to keep a hold on a traditional devotional life and to traditional piety. Part of the reason for the disaster of the past four decades is the widespread adoption of this attitude: I don't see the need for X; let's drop it. Then why do we have Y? We'll drop that too. And so on.
Instead of such an approach, what we who are young to Tradition must be, first of all, is patient learners and cautious changers. We must first know and love all that is already there, before we make bold to change aught. Until we are very, very familiar with the old way of doing things, we cannot be sure that our preference for the new way is not driven primarily by our pre-existing familiarity. It is a truism that we are most comfortable with that which we already know. This drives, it is true, some of the resistance to cosmetic and more substantive changes to the surrounding pieties of the old Mass; but it also is a significant part of the young and aspirational trad's passion for aggiornamento.
We must never think of ourselves as a marketing team for TraditionTM, but as servants of God. And if we, as newcomers, should ever decide to promote even a small change in a particular community's local liturgical traditions, we must expect, even encourage, skepticism and resistance. The question one must expect, and be able to answer, is "why should we change for you, when you tell us you aren't interested unless we change? When does this end? If we change one thing, and you say that's not enough, do we change three? Eighteen? Why should you, who by your very demands have shown yourself unwilling to submit to that which you have not yourself chosen, dictate to us what of our own preferences and traditions we must give away?"
To close, I will say -- for completeness and to be fair -- that there are those among the traditionalist movement who have a disordered attachment to various things that are outside the established Tradition. There are some that raise a stink if the gregorian chant chosen for the Mass is changed, crying "how dare you change from Credo III to Credo I!" (true story!). Many others, contrary to the constant teaching of the Popes, maintain that the low Mass is a "higher" form of the Mass than the High, or Solemn Mass. Other crusty old folks can be quite rude to novice trads who haven't yet learned much, berating as-yet ignorant young women over their lack of veils or the like. In these cases, though, human frailty -- not traditionalism as such -- is the culprit, and though we must do what we can to gently correct those in error, we must simultaneously take, ever and always, as guarded and narrow of corrections as necessary, as charity and prudence demand.
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