We are not just material beings, but spiritual persons with a need for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment that transcends the visible confines of this world. This longing for transcendence is a longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth, goodness, and beauty are called the transcendentals of being, because they are aspects of being. Everything in existence has these transcendentals to some extent. God, of course, as the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, has these transcendentals to an infinite degree. Oftentimes, he draws us to himself primarily through one of these transcendentals. St. Augustine, who was drawn to beauty in all its creaturely forms, found the ultimate beauty he was seeking in God, his creator, the beauty “ever ancient, ever new.”―Sister Gabriella Yi, O.P.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Joy of Tradition

While bishops and priests search for meaning, adjusting the Sacred Liturgy so that it becomes more "relevant", and tinker with language to make the Faith more palatable among the un-churched, Catholics who belong to tradition-minded parishes or communities such as the Ordinariate are finding deep peace in the reverent celebration of the Mass wherein the wisdom of God is preached and honoured by priests and laity alike. Of course, these generally smaller communities are not free from tensions common among any gathering of the faithful. However, the same folk share a passionate desire for truth and the roots of the Faith that are not preached about or lived in other parishes that, typically, exclusively celebrate the Ordinary Form of the Mass.

Tradition provides identity and connection. Of course, the Tradition of which I speak is the living teaching of Jesus Christ, and more! The Tradition of the Church is the encounter with the Person of Jesus, the Risen Saviour. Tradition is "living" in the sense that immersion in truth—the truth of Jesus Christ—is a constant encounter, or an encounter that is characterized by constancy, a constancy of intimate communion. The Holy Spirit makes constant in the heart the truth of the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and where there is one of the Divine Persons, the other two are, of course, present. By "living", those who accept Tradition with a capital 'T' know that what is not meant is novelty. The great and depressing mistake of the liberal religionist is that he equates "living" with novelty and innovation, a constant reinvention of the spiritual life that more resembles a cheap thrill or fling with a god of one's own making. Such gods are dangerous and ensnare the unwary believer in pride and arrogance.

In another sense, yes, God makes all things new. More precisely, God makes all things new again. God restores in us our original likeness to God. He does so initially through Baptism. The restored greenness, so-to-speak, of the soul is further watered through ongoing conversion, cooperation with the Holy Spirit and the practice of Christian discipline to conform us to the will of God: fasting, abstinence, frequent prayer, almsgiving, holy reading of sacred Scripture, confession and Holy Communion (!). A living faith, then, is a life lived in conformity to the commandments of Christ, a life permeated by and shaped into the image of Christ. By conforming the mind to the person of Jesus as mediated in and through Holy Scripture and the Sacraments, the person indicates to God that he or she is willing to be led into holiness. The degree to which one cooperates with God and does God's will is the degree to which God will bless the soul with life, wisdom, joy, perseverance and many other promised gifts. The movement of faith in a person is the movement of newness of life initiated by God.

Of course, the believer can only discover the fullness of such gifts if he or she is in communion with Christ and His Church. Where there is ambiguity of doctrine, there is almost certainly ambiguity, i.e., a lack of focus or purpose, and distrust of the Lord's will. A mind fed on a diet of cheap theology will be inclined to treat any authority other than one's own, that is, the Lord's authority over one's life, with less than binding force. God's word commands the mind, body and soul to surrender to Him, or at least it should. Most often, people are conditioned through lax observance to expect little from a parish liturgy. A liturgy that makes no promise of truth and goodness and beauty is a tepid and therefore timid liturgy. The Sacred Liturgy should be celebrated with a confident beauty that reminds the worshipper that he or she has one foot on earth and the other in heaven, both feet firmly planted on the ground of word and sacrament proclaimed and celebrated with a dignity appropriate to an encounter with the living God!

The more one is immersed in the reverent and dignified celebration of the Mass, the more one becomes free of distractions. Thus, with a mind free of needless attachments (to saccharine music, shabby preaching, a church sanitized of art and other expressions of the Faith which lead the mind beyond the senses to enter into the realm of the transcendentals...), the soul elevates at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.

When Masses are celebrated with serene continuity with the Church's rich treasure trove of music, art, architecture and orthodox theology, the soul becomes docile to the Holy Spirit. The use of "formal language", more accurately hieratic language, slows us down. When one first encounters 'Thee' and 'Thou', or words such as 'beseech' and 'vouchsafe', the experience can be frustrating, even annoying. There seems to be a barrier between the soul and God, and that barrier is language. The use of "formal" language takes us out of the mundane, however, and sharpens the ears and tongue to cause us to examine our commitment to the language we use. Suddenly, language is stripped of its triteness and we are led beyond our need to be in control of prayer. It is somewhat ironic that people who are fixated on using the vernacular to make more spontaneous their intention upon their lips fail to realize that when they pray silently, with or without words, they remain trapped in their "vernacular", unable to risk really letting go into the objective experience of the surrender to the Holy Spirit. A demotic liturgy is one that is too frequently limited to the mundane... and to some human projection or idol.

To be Tradition-minded is to be shaped by the theology and gestures inspired by the Holy Spirit over the centuries, beginning with an appreciation of the experience of our Jewish brethren and flourishing in the midst of the elders who welcomed Christ into their lives. Welcoming their witness into one's life is a sure way to nurture docility to the Lord in one's soul, despite what some are saying that to be immersed in Tradition is a sign of rigidity. Better to be rigidly prepared in the ways of the elders, i.e., the apostles and saints, than to possess a frigid heart and be spiritually destitute. Today, far too many Catholics are spiritually destitute because the "new" forms of prayer, or the music at Mass, simply cannot transmit the wisdom we need to thrive. Instead of the real meat that the spiritual man needs to build his strength to meet his day to day obligations, the bread he is offered at Mass, in the form of preaching and songs or hymns, is too often stale or riddled with the mold of trite me-centred devotional pablum.

The "Traditional Mass" invites the worshipper into risk. It identifies for us the Lord Who is to be worshipped and glorified. The Liturgy asks that we risk putting out into the deep water rather than merely dipping our toes into a puddle. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and similarly so the Mass of the Ordinariate, known as Divine Worship, invites the believer to move beyond what he or she expects. These two forms of the Mass are major seismic events, and so should be the Ordinary Form of the Mass—if it is celebrated as intended by the Council Fathers.

If one cannot get to a reverent Ordinary Form Mass, one would be well advised to consider attending an Extraordinary Form Mass or an Ordinariate Mass. Both of these forms of the Mass set for the worshipper a high expectation. That expectation is nothing less than the welcome of Almighty God Who invites you into His life. The experience of being welcomed by the living God is a ferocious attack on one's complacency, an experience that strips away expectations previously lowered by liturgies or worship services which attempt to make one feel comfortable and satisfied by appealing to our need for acceptance instead of calling us out of our sins and banal inclinations. Knowledge of one's acceptance by God is gained when one is confronted with the truth of one's condition. Only when one has confronted the state of one's soul can one lay it down again before the living God and say "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner." God shows mercy to the contrite of heart, those who bend the knee at the mention of the Incarnation and who genuflect in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Tradition-oriented liturgy is an apocalypse! It is no accident that the Book of Revelation, known as the Apocalypse in former times, is understood most fully when seen for what it is—a liturgy. Without the Mass to guide one's reading, the experience of the Book of Revelation becomes a shadow of its true purpose. The Book of Revelation is the Mass opened for us. The Apocalypse, i.e., the book, annihilates our foolish ways and places before us the true way, the way of the Apostolic Tradition bequeathed by and to the Church, our Mother.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.