I have called Michael Matt, of The Remnant paper and Remnant TV, my favorite Catholic comedian, because he and his confrere Christopher Ferrara have in the past cracked me up. Even here, in his latest video, his use of the term ‘young bucks’ certainly raises eyebrows; the phrase, in its tone-deafness, reminds me of the time Mr Ferrara said in exasperation at the notion of women’s ordination “What next? Ordaining cats and dogs?” Because, you know, ordination is only for humans. No, I do not favor women’s ordination, but that is an offensive comment by any measure.
Watching this, though, just made me sad:
The man’s distress is palpable, and the ‘catacomb’ stage set, complete with the pile of bones and skulls, speaks worlds about how the Remnant and other ‘traditionalists’ view the world and their place in it. While I have criticized, and goofed on, the folks who call themselves traditionalists, I am not unsympathetic to them and their concerns. Not least, because I know from attending the Latin High Mass that much of their angst is rooted in the experience of the numinous that awed them during the Latin Mass. There is nothing quite like it: cerebral but transcendent, contemplative and serene. In contrast, the Byzantine Divine Liturgy is ecstatic and exuberant, transfigurational and euphoric. I experienced the Latin Mass as a child, in powerful ways, and then later as a returnee. While I have not assisted at a Tridentine liturgy in years, I am pretty sure that the Latin responses, in chant, would come quite naturally to me.
For people who have encountered God in the old rite, its loss was traumatic.
And not least I am sympathetic because I know that in just about every case their anger is rooted in heartbreak, in lives of loved ones lost in the post-conciliar confusion, in betrayal by clerics and trusted authorities, in aesthetic horror at what replaced the calming cadences of the Latin chant, so pure and ethereal. To self-styled traditionalists, the days before the Council were relatively calm and stable, at least in memory. To them, the coincidence of Vatican II and the crackup of the West is too compelling to deny causality.
For all that, any particular form of the Divine Liturgy is 90% human construct, at least. The Latin Mass and the Liturgies of St John Chrystostom and of St James may be particularly beautiful and moving constructions, and the pedestrian Sunday Novus Ordo Mass may be a particularly banal one, but neither are the Absolute. While a beautiful liturgy may participate in the heavenly liturgy it does not duplicate it.
And for all the criticism, it can be argued that the stripped-down conciliar liturgy offered a flexibility and adaptability to various cultures that contributed to the explosive growth of the Church in the developing world. It does not seem to occur to traditionalists that much of the banality of the ‘new’ liturgy is a reflection of the banality of western culture, that the Novus Ordo, when expressing a living culture, rich in folk idioms, can be a medium for wedding that culture with the Faith.
Belloc was simply wrong: Europe is not the Faith, and the Faith is not Europe.
Traditionalists, so called, rarely look at the growth of Catholicism in the missions, instead focusing on the palpable decline of faith in the West, which arguably has roots much further back than the Council. If things were so great how could everything collapse, as it did in many Catholic cultures, and collapse so quickly?
Apart from all that, I really don’t understand the big deal about the canonizations: no one is required to venerate a particular saint, and you are perfectly free to believe that said saint was wrong about just about everything. I belong to a church, named after an empire no less, that venerates the likes of Constantine the Great, Demetrios, and Vladimir. I just ignore them.
I must admit, though, that for all my appreciation of John Paul, and my belief in his personal holiness, I thought Mr Matt made some very good points concerning the speed of this canonization and the innovations surrounding it. The idea that this haste may come back to haunt us is not an irrational one.
But I am willing to take the chance that Francis knows what he is doing, given his record.
And yes, that last statement would make Mr Matt’s head explode.