Monday, September 5, 2016

Post-Traditionalist Aftermath

Today I had the chance to walk the campus of a small conservative-to-traditional leaning liberal arts Catholic college in the North Eastern United States. In recent years this same college gained some notoriety for playing host to various liturgical forums of conservative-to-traditional kind, although my impression is that such events have lessened since the tenure of the present papacy has taken hold.

My initial impression was that the campus was more underdeveloped than I thought it would be. Converted from a farm over thirty years ago, the road ways and parking are still lacking pavement, and the buildings and general grounds show their age - well weathered walkways and stairs laid well before the establishment of the college in some stage between being reclaimed by the earth, or having their structure give way. The library catalogue appeared to be managed by the old card system, and what is visible of the collection would not be mistaken as scholarly essentials. Some of the entries are just plain confounding. One does not expect to see Malachi Martin as a entry in any college library literary collection, but there you have it. The incongruity is potentially resolved when one considers the ideological leanings of the college and the likelihood that a number of personal collections from people of a similar persuasion under gird the library's selection.

The campus chapel has to be commended for the use of icons (allegedly painted by a former faculty member) in lieu of the typical late romantic and pre-modern productions/prints that typically find flavor in Traditionalists communities. The liturgical books in service include the English Novus Ordo (the standard issue chapel edition published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company), The Edmund Campion Missal, the Adoremus Hymanl, the latest edition of the Roman lectionary, and the Anglo-Irish set of the contemporary Divine Office. The latest edition of the 1962 Missale Romanum published, I believe, jointly by the FSSP and the Society of John Cantius was present as well. After spending a few minutes flipping through it, I can safely say that the interested reader would to well to avoid the volume one account of the failure of contemporary book production to match the quality of sixty or so year ago. The cover feels synthetic and although the reproduction of the text is crystal clear, the paper quality is does not compare to the genuine article from the time. In the same area, though laid inside a class cabinet, was the latest chapel edition of the Pauline Missale Romanum, which despite being bound in imitation leather does a nice job at keeping parody with the larger altar edition published by the Vatican. It is a hefty volume, running the same thickness as many of the 1962 altar editions. Regardless of one's perspective on the modern Roman liturgy, the book is very well made - if you feel so inclined to make the investment, I suspect its durability will return on the initial price tag.

The combination of the liturgical resources, the scholarly materials, and the very insular nature of the student body (pointed out to me as either coming from the conservative-to-traditional wing - with the exception of one Orthodox student - and a high number of home schooled products), demonstrated just how marginalized the pursuit of the Latin Tradition has become in the Roman Church. Although the number of titles in the library that can hardly be passed off as anything other that traditionalist conspiracy theory was confounding, liturgical speaking, what this college offers would be mainstream in a healthier. Of course, this college is in the position of trying to make due with a less than ideal situation, trying to find the Western tradition in the midst modern liturgical observance. The very modernity of its liturgical solutions ought to mean the college has a very mainstream praxis - yet somehow even this method finds itself at the fringe of Roman observance.

There has always been a price to pay for groups in communion with Rome that try to have some pretense towards traditional observance. I suppose what is so striking in this instance is that you have a college which does not see itself as "traditionalist"  (in the taboo sense of the term) and is pursuing every avenue of rediscovering the sacred proposed during the previous two papacy, with active encouragement from Cardinal and then Pope Ratzinger. The end result is a college community that is intentionally insulated, hardly accredited, formed not with any objective to separate from Rome (thought one wonders what the tangible benefits are of remaining attached), but as a reaction to general disorientation and ideological reorganization that resulted from the papacies of John XXIII and Paul VI. Again, in a healthier church, much of what the college does would be mainstream - and its "eccentricities" would likely be absent in virtue of the community not being a reactionary response marginalized by the larger body. However, in a church that suddenly overly qualified or outright rejected elements that once substantiated core parts of its self perception, and filled the void with contemporary secular propositions, the observance seems, at best, out of place. The real sting here is that this is a situation manufactured by the hierarchy this academic community looks to for leadership and indeed divine proclamation, in virtue of the relatively recent dogma of infallibility. One cannot say the marginalization of liturgical observance recalling the Western tradition or a classical education was the result of an organic growth away from either approach. Rather, it was the deliberate decisions of ecclesiastical leadership that brought this situation to fruition.

The feeling of nostalgia was most palpable. Years ago my associations were part of a similar circle and we were convinced such a community - be it academic or religious - would aid in the recovery of the Western tradition and arrest the decline of Roman Church. Times change very quickly. It became apparent that the more measured approach of the Western Province of the Dominicans was probably the only viable approach forward (though it meant an exclusively Latin liturgy was out of the question) and I've long since left the Roman Church. The romantic hopes that an intentional community dedicated to liturgical preservation (even if it must be with the Pauline liturgy) could be founded and persist with steady growth. In reality, such a movement seems likely to be weighed down by rumors of conspiracy and the insular nature of its participants - in truth, I believe such a movement could, would, and should serve as an oasis for the serious seeker, as opposed to a promise of security for those who otherwise feel they have none of it. If one is to be honest, the movement rediscover the Latin tradition and recover the sacred was too limited in its horizons - it saw a religion in ideological turmoil and turned its concerns inward, complementing itself with pious platitudes about how it was focused on the more important work. Had it shored up its liturgical praxis earlier and engaged outward, it could have established itself as legitimate option in the contemporary milieu.


  1. You always write of things in a way that shoals to my own experience when your topic is the Roman Catholic Church. I still find myself basically on the edge of Catholicism,but more Orthodox in almost everything, albeit with a real love for much of the western Patrimony such as the Benedictine Office.

    I must say, you are one of the few characters out there in the blog world that (in my own opinion) takes a critical look at the trad narrative and sees it in all its quixotic and tragic glory.

    I too have come to realize that it was the popes and the hierarchy that have foisted so many of the reforms on the faithful, and that the undermining of the Latin Tradition started happening way before Vatican II.

    What can be done? Perhaps I can only follow your own trajectory and become Orthodox yet remain somewhat nostalgic and appreciative for my Roman Catholic roots. The age of innocence has passed for both of us, no longer do the clarion calls of "recognize and resist " or the misguided and historical blindness of holding strictly to the 1962 Missal as the last bastion of tradition sway either of us.

    I suppose like you ill always have nostalgia for aspects of Roman Catholicism that perhaps existed only in books, in scattered chapels and in my own imagination.

    1. Orthodoxy has its benefits and its drawbacks and it takes some time to learn how to navigate - especially coming from a Roman Catholic background where things are more institutionalized by comparison. Then again, you may find what you are looking for.