2 August 2009

Traditionalists- the biggest obstacle to tradition?

Father Z has an interesting article up where someone discusses how the people who identify themselves as traditionalists are creating simply another ism against the Church, and the only true "ism" within the Church is Catholicism itself.

Father Z is also fond of posting articles about peoples' first experience with the Extraordinary Form. These articles are universally positive. I thought I would write a little about the time I spent in an Extraordinary Form parish, which, while positive, was also a little more ambiguous in many respects, and quite in keeping with the article I linked to above. The author of the article Father Z cites refers to "gnostic traditionalism." I know exactly what he is talking about.

I began by looking into the Extraordinary Form (at the time still under the old indult) and trying to learn everything I could about it. I found a parish which was under the indult that I could reach fairly easily, and resolved to go there one Sunday. From what I had read on the American blogs, such places were usually packed on a Sunday, so it was a good idea to go early.

First thing I noticed: it wasn't packed by any stretch of the imagination. There was no one waiting in the vestibule for the early Mass to end with me. The congregation when it did arrive, could easily have been quadrupled and left room. The second thing I noticed, the congregation was weighted towards elderly people, with a fair showing of young people. There were very few in the middle years.

As I walked into the church I looked around at the interior, and what I saw was one of our older churches which had probably once been spectacular, then fallen into some disrepair, and which was being revived. Then I fell face first into the floor, with a loud 'boom'. This being my first time to this parish, I was unaware that there were some among the Extraordinary Form congregation who felt genuflecting was insufficient, and prostrated themselves completely, lowering themselves entirely to the floor immediately after going through the door. I found out when I tripped over one.

Dusting myself off, I chose a pew near the back and continued looking around from the safety of my pew. I saw the confessional at the back was in use, with a good sized crowd going to confession before the Mass. Then I turned my attention to preparing myself for the Mass.

The Mass itself was neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. The priest was very careful and precise in all matters. I found I liked having everyone facing the altar. I liked people kneeling to receive communion. I found it much as I expected it to be. I resolved to come back.

I joined the schola of the parish and stayed with them for a little over a year. In time I got to know a few of the people who went to Mass there, and I found them to be good ordinary people. I also met other adherents to the older form whom I found to be a little more disconcerting. For example, many of them debated endlessly about canon law- or, more accurately, hypothetically debated with a hypothetical group (NO Catholics, presumably) because they themselves were in total agreement that everyone was wrong but themselves. They knew everything about the Church, the Mass, and so on, in exactly the same way that conspiracy theorists know everything about the Kennedy Assassination. When they spoke of the OF Masses and compared them to the EF Masses, they almost always compared the very worst of abuses of the OF and compared it to the very best of the EF, as if every OF was a clown Mass, and every EF was a pontifical. I found this group to be fairly unique to the Ef parishes, in that I can't think of an analog in the OF parishes. While on the one hand it was refreshing to meet Catholics who knew something about their faith, as opposed to so many of the Ordinary Form Catholics who know precisely squat, I must say that paranoia was never far from this group, and that was a little disturbing.

The Extraordinary Form Mass also had adherents who had their exact analogs in the Ordinary Form Parishes. For example, there are those who insisted that we play their favourite music in Mass, every Mass, all the time. One time, when the director decided to change the Credo from III to I for a little while, one of the members freaked- and I do not use that word lightly- and demanded to the priests that the director be removed immediately, and when they refused he began to try and bully the director into returning to playing 'his' credo.

There was also the Church Lady. She was an assistant to the priests, also a very popular blogger, and one of the most unlikeable people I ever met. She did everything she could to control the EF Mass and rule it like her own private fiefdom. In attitude she was exactly like the feminists with whom I butted heads back in the days of university, though in politics she could not have been more opposite. Her attitude went beyond a simple "I'm right and you're wrong" and headed towards an "I'm right and you're stupid." She demanded people display perfect manners to her, and listen politely when she spoke, yet if you spoke to her and voiced a disagreement, she would turn her back on you and begin speaking, loudly, to another. She also found fault with the music program and regularly bombarded us and the priests with complaints, demanding everything be more to her liking. The difference between her and an OF Church Lady? In politics, much. In attitude, nothing.

There was another tendency I fond among some of the worshippers, not all. Like the man who spoke of 'his' Credo, there were several who spoke of 'their' Mass, as though their adherence to the older form constituted some form of ownership. While I find their identification with the Mass to be admirable, they may as well declare the Sun and the Moon to be their chattels.

The people for the most part believed themselves to be separate from and different from most Catholics. The problem with difference is that it always eventually brings in a question of superiority. For these people, all of them, there was no question of who was superior Catholics, r who had the superior Mass: it was they, themselves. In many ways, I believe they were correct. Their behaviour at Mass, their observance of the commands of the Church were generally much better than most ordinary parishes. But in other ways, they were an ordinary parish, with many nice people and a few warts. Chief among the warts, if I may say so, is the sense of superiority among some of them, their sense of gnosticism, that they are the ones who truly know, and are better than others because of it. In the reform of the reform, those who hope the EF will influence and help the OF will find little aid among many of the parishioners of this church.

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