|How Traditional is Your Traditionalism?
2:01 PM 9/17/2015 — I've noticed that, even though I'm the most liturgically traditionalist priest I know, most Catholic traditionalists don't think I am, mostly because I don't do things that they have come to associate with the traditionalist movement in the Catholic Church, or do things that they don't recognize or remember from the “old days.” Let's take an example of each.
Most liturgical traditionalists love the Roman Canon. So do I. An elderly priest I'm friends with—more elderly than me, I mean—loves it so much that he refuses to offer Holy Mass using any other Eucharistic Prayer—which is perfectly legitimate since the Roman Missal Third Edition specifically states, “This Eucharistic Prayer may always be used.” Hooray for the Roman Canon. I use it very rarely. I used it the other day on the Memorial of Saints Cyprian and Cornelius because they are mentioned in it, so I'm certainly not antagonistic to it; but, I suspect that most other liturgical traditionalists prefer it because, in the “old days,” it was the only one available. Of course, when I use it I usually sing it—the Missal has musical notation in it for this purpose—which, of course, was never done in the “old days.” My preferred anaphora (the Greek word for the Canon of the Mass), is the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, which most traditionalists hate, and usually for two reasons: (1) it didn't exist in the “old days,” and (2) the old translation in the previous edition of the Missal was so horrible that it reeked. The translation in the Third Edition, however, is quite lovely and very accurate. Translation of what, you ask? The anaphora of Saint John Chrysostom. Before taking up my current assignment, I served most of my priesthood in an eparchy (diocese) of the Ruthenian Catholic Church, and celebrated the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom for most of my priesthood, and I can testify that the translation in the Roman Missal Third Edition is almost word-for-word the same as that used in the Ruthenian Church today when it's Liturgy is offered in English, both being accurate translations of the Greek. It traces the whole history of salvation, from the creation of man to the death and resurrection of Christ. Since it can only be used with its own proper preface, it can't be used that often, but I use it whenever I can. The irony, for your low-information traditionalist, is that this anaphora is a lot older than the Roman Canon, almost by six hundred years. So, which one of the two is more traditional? Even so, it's not the oldest Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Missal; that distinction goes to—get ready to gag, low-info trad—the Second Eucharistic Prayer, from which the low-info trad cowers like Dracula from the cross, probably because it is so short. Idiomatically Roman and dating from the Third Century, it's the anaphora of Saint Hippolytus of Rome, the oldest extent canon still in continuous use in any form of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, East or West. Whenever I use it, I typically pray it in Latin which, believe it or not, still doesn't placate the low-info trad, probably because it's just not the Roman Canon.
Let's take another example of why the low-info trad doesn't trust me: I refuse to end the Bidding Prayers—when I choose to do them—with the Hail Mary. The Roman Missal Third edition calls this purely optional part of the Mass the “Universal Prayer”; most Catholics grew up calling it the “Prayer of the Faithful,” a designation that was never correct, as the true “Prayer of the Faithful” is the Our Father when prayed at Holy Mass. In any case, concluding the Bidding Prayers with the Hail Mary has become something of a trademark for your low-info trad: it signifies love for the Mother of God and a desire to present our needs to Our Lord through Her intercession. Now, since I am by choice the chaplain of a Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, it's kind of ludicrous to accuse me of not loving Our Lady, but, believe it or not, some do because I have never latched onto this practice. This is a particularly good example of my point, since this practice represents what I like to call “junk traditionalism”: that is, traditionalism based on popular devotion without any appreciation for liturgical history or context. The simple fact is, there is not one missal, liturgicon or sacramentary from any period in history, either East or West, that includes the Angelic Salutation in any form of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The closest that any liturgy comes to it is a hymn to the Theotokos sung directly after the consecration in the Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great, which is replaced by something else on major feast days, but is not the Hail Mary in any case. “But don't you love Our Lady?” Yes, I love Our Lady. That's not the point. What's the essence of traditionalism? It's doing things that are traditional, not making up modern practices that cater to our own, uninformed desire to include anything that just seems to us to be “conservative” or satisfies our personal devotion.
You would think that my practices of offering Holy Mass ad orientem, often omitting the exchange of the Sign of Peace, and providing a kneeler for those who want to receive kneeling would cause the low-info trads to love me, but they don't. All these practices are specifically allowed, without condition, in the Roman Missal Third Edition, and have history behind them; but, even the old priest I'm friends with, as traditional as he obviously thinks he is, would never do them. He's a late vocation, trained in one of those programs for older men in which no one ever had to study classical languages, do a paper or take an exam, in the misguided attempt to ease the vocation crisis by ordaining pious widowers to the Holy Priesthood. He knows nothing of liturgical history, not a word of Latin or Greek,—nor does he want to—has never heard of the Fathers of the Church, never worn an amice or a maniple; and, if you ever took away his zipper-alb with the Velcro belt and handed him a cincture, he'd probably accidentally hang himself with it. Like most of the men who came out of those failed programs (most of which, thankfully, do not exist anymore), his intellectual and liturgical formation is on par with that of the average member of the Holy Name Society. A Catholic traditionalist should be someone who is able to think in centuries, and true traditionalism—especially liturgical traditionalism—has to be based on something more than just “what I remember growing up” or "this is beautiful and meaningful and not specifically forbidden so let's do it." Kind of like the "unity candle" at a Catholic wedding: it has it's origin in the Wicca Hand-Fasting ceremony, but who cares? … "It's just too cute and the people love it and the florist did put a really neat cross on it superimposed with two intertwined wedding rings, so it must be OK."
The recovery of the sacred in Catholic worship has always been an uphill fight against historical ignorance. In these difficult days of the stream-of-consciousness papacy of Francis, it behooves those of us who are still in the fight to make sure our traditionalism is … well … traditional.