Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reclaiming Our Faith and Our Tradition

This has been bugging me for a while, and I guess now I finally feel the need to verbalize it (or at least type it, I suppose). Does anyone else grow tired of the fact that Roman Catholics (that is, Catholics of the Latin Rite) have been out of touch with their particular traditions, devotions and overall demeanor and expression of their faith? Now my current parish is pretty good for the most part, except for instances when a visiting priest who is not our pastor comes in, giving eyebrow raising homilies. However, I feel that everything is watered down in a lot of Latin parishes, especially here in the United States where I reside.

Few parishes make use of incense. Our priests often do not have the beautiful vestments that our Latin Rite permits, or, show a disregard for (or were never taught in the first place) the correct vestments to be used, i.e. wearing blue for Marian feasts is not permitted in the Latin Rite. Often, liturgies are truncated because it "takes to much time" to do all the extra things that make the Roman liturgy beautiful. Too often, devotions such as benediction or adoration are pushed into the background, and novenas which used to be said throughout churches (including my parish were I grew up at) are now unfortunately forgotten by the laity. Instead, we now have a decent chance, in the US, of walking into a Roman Catholic church and finding that the liturgy is quasi-Protestant where the Propers for Mass aren't used, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are plentiful, the dress of the laity is not becoming of a wedding banquet (which the Mass actually is; the Bridegroom has come to consummate His covenant [His death on the Cross] with His Bride, the Church), and the homilies are banal and often forget to mention, expound, or even acknowledge true Catholic teaching on a myriad of subjects. As the 20th century theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand said, "The new liturgy [can] threaten to frustrate the confrontation with Christ, for it discourages reverence in the face of mystery, precludes awe, and all but extinguishes a sense of sacredness."

Divine Liturgy celebrated at a Ukrainian Catholic Church
Now I have to mention, I have no disdain for the Ordinary Form (OF) of the Mass. While at my previous parish, I was lucky enough to attend the Extraordinary Form (EF) every Sunday, I did not necessarily prefer it to the OF. As long as the Mass is reverent, I could care less which rite or form or language the liturgy is said. All the things I mentioned above can easily be done in an OF Mass. If you don't believe me, check out an OF Mass at a place like St. John Cantius in Chicago. I currently attend an OF parish, and it is very reverent when our pastor says Mass, and he gives excellent homilies. However... I still feel like I'm missing out.

If you recall, earlier this month I made a post about the Divine Liturgy I attended for the Vigil of the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany) at the local Ruthenian Catholic church. It was beautiful. And I soon found out that the Latin Rite has the same blessings and devotions for this feast as the Byzantine Rite does, albeit expressed in different ways. The Latin Rite also features blessed chalk on this feast day, as well as blessings for the gifts that the Magi actually brought to the Christ Child. So if you have some gold watches or rings, you can get those blessed on the Epiphany. However, my church did none of these blessings. In fact, I'm not sure if any of the churches in my area did this for the Epiphany. My question is, why do we have to abandon traditions such as these? Who thought it was a good idea to deprive my generation of the beautiful expressions of faith made manifest in the Roman Church, and substitute it with vapid hymnals, ugly churches which do not evoke a sense of the sacred and of transcendence, and abuses such as liturgical dancing (which still happens at a friend's geographical parish) and families standing around the altar during the consecration? Whoever thought these were good ideas are probably the people that are OK with Mass being said on a card table in a living room while the laity self-communicate and a chapel with an altar attached to the building they are in goes unused. (Yes, this has happened to me, unfortunately.)

Perhaps another location would've been better?
This has really been made apparent to me in two ways recently. Yesterday night, I was able to attend Divine Liturgy at the Ruthenian church for the first All Souls' Saturday of the year. This is the Byzantine Rite's equivalent of the Latin Church's All Souls' Day, and is one of five such feasts, the first always occurring on Meatfare Saturday. There were not many people in attendance, it being a Friday night, but there were a few things I noticed. The priest wore some lovely purple vestments, and although he was without deacons, he still made great use of the incense around the church, and walked around the church with the holy gifts before the consecration even though there were no deacons or altar servers to walk before him. It was also interesting to note that before the dismissal, he read the names of all the faithful departed to be remembered by the members of the parish. This took some time, but it was such a nice gesture that all these souls were remembered, and that this liturgy had been offered up especially for them. Could we do the same in our regular, Roman, suburban parishes without worrying and complaining that this was taking too long?

The second thing that made this whole disconnect with tradition apparent to me, was a news item I saw earlier this week concerning the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church of the Antiochene (or West Syrian) Rite. On January 23rd, Pope Francis established the first Syro-Malankara Catholic eparchy outside of India, which is to be called the Eparchy of St. Mary, Queen of Peace, of the United States of America and Canada. This is now the only eparchy in the Americas, and will serve nearly 12,000 faithful, which will be based at St. Vincent de Paul Cathedral in Elmont, New York. You can see pictures and video of the inauguration of the new eparchy here. As I scrolled through the pictures and watched the video, I was amazed at the beauty of the liturgy. The priests and bishops were dressed very ornately, as their liturgical tradition provides, and the laity were joining their voices together in the hymns and songs of their tradition.

Inauguration of the new Syro-Malankara Catholic Eparchy in the US and Canada
So can you see why I scratch my head? If these other rites in the East and these particular Churches can hold on to their traditions and their devotions... why can't we in the West? Why does the Latin Rite have to "dumb things down"? Obviously, orders such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) are keeping our Latin traditions alive. My former parish keeps our traditions alive as well with the celebration of the EF every Sunday and on Holy Days. But for the average Catholic, especially those at my current parish, it seems that we've lost a sense of the sacred. Often, it doesn't seem like the irreverent OF Mass that are said is heaven on earth, as the Byzantine and Antiochene Rites have shown us. There just seems to be a certain syncretism at play in many Roman Catholic parishes right now. For all the fighting that the Byzantine Catholics did do remove Latinizations from their churches, and re-embrace their Byzantine traditions and devotions... it seems that Roman Catholics have been moving in the opposite direction over the last 50 years; moving away from the transcendence of the Mass by trying to please the "gotta have it now" culture. Can we please stop abandoning our traditions in the Roman church? Can we have the bells at the consecration again? Can the priest face the East so as to lead the laity in adoration and worship of Christ? Can we sing in Latin at Mass, especially the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus? Can we not get side-eye for receiving the Eucharist on the tongue? Can we bring back Eucharistic adoration and benediction on a regular basis?

Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass
Is it so much to ask? Is it so much to ask that we embrace and not reject our traditions? I've always wanted to ask Catholics of a certain stripe, those that agree with things printed in the National Catholic (Schismatic) Reporter and despise any Latin being said in the Mass (yes, such people exists and are not boogeymen)... would you ask the Ruthenian Catholic Church to abandon it's traditions? To get rid of the iconstasis, perhaps? Would you ask Syro-Malankara Catholics to have their clergy stop wearing such ornate vestments? In short, I would ask, if these Eastern Catholic Churches have the beauty and mystery of their liturgies at the forefront of their worship to Almighty God, why can't we do the same in the Roman Catholic Church? Why can't we praise God with a beautiful, and reverent liturgy? And if we as Roman Catholics cannot praise God in this way... then are the Eastern Catholic Churches doing it wrong? Should we tell them to stop with all of these "extravagant" traditions and tell them to scale it back? I would like to ask these questions one day, because I'm genuinely interested in seeing the answers I would get. But whether I get the opportunity to or not has no bearing on what I'd really like to see happen. That is, a whole-hearted acceptance of the Latin Rite's liturgical traditions and devotions, and for those that would rather see such traditions die off, a resolution to not look down on those that embrace said traditions and devotions. We are one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. We have many different ways of expressing our faith in the 24 particular Catholic Churches, each equally beautiful. Let's not snuff out these traditions because we wish to be "modern". Let's celebrate these traditions, and put them to good use, chiefly, to worship and give thanks to Christ our God.


Here's what I'm talking about. A very reverent Mass said in a hotel bar by people stranded during winter storm Jonas following the March for Life. This is what gives me hope for my fellow Roman Catholics:

Stranded Pro-Life Group Holds Ad Orientem High Mass in Motel Bar

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