28 September 2011

Traditional & Modern Perspectives

Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, whose site Sensus Traditionis I cannot recommend highly enough, wrote an article some years back examining the mindset between the traditionalist and more modern mindset among orthodox Catholics, and explains why each mystifies the other. An excerpt:
It now becomes clearer why there is a kind of psychological suspicion between neo-conservatives and traditionalists: they have fundamentally different perspectives. The neo-conservatives have psychologically or implicitly accepted that extrinsic tradition cannot be trusted, whereas the traditionalists hold to the extrinsic tradition as something good, i.e. something which is the product of the wisdom and labour of the saints and the Church throughout history. For this reason, the fundamental difference between neo-conservatives and traditionalists is that the neo-conservative looks at the past through the eyes of the present while the traditionalist looks at the present through the eyes of the past.
I find that to be spot on. Blessed Cardinal Newman once said, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." In a similar vein, to be deep in our Catholic patrimony is to cease to be "neoCatholic". I don't use that as a term of abuse; I simply mean to differentiate that group of Catholics who think the Magisterium essentially began at Vatican II, and know little of what came before. It is our duty as Catholics, though, to learn about our faith, not just the recent bits, but the entire deposit of faith. If we do not, we have a woefully inadequate appreciation of our tradition, and our faith--as vibrant and deep as it may be--suffers.

Case in point: the argument about receiving Holy Communion on the tongue vs. on the hand. The modern mindset--which only takes into account the present--tends to think reception on the hand is simply not a big deal, that it all really comes down to personal preference, and that any Catholic who is bothered by it is some pharisaical reactionary obsessed with "inessentials."

The traditionalist, on the other hand, takes into account the entire history of the Church from the beginning, the practices in place for 1500 years, and notices the absolute rupture between the way the Sacred Species has been treated for most of the Church's history and the way it is treated now. It is true that in the primitive Church, communion was received in the hand--but note well: the communicant had to wash his hands thoroughly beforehand, make a profound act of adoration before the Eucharist, and then a cloth was draped over his palm, on which the Sacred Host was placed; the communicant then bent his head and received directly on the tongue. The other hand could never touch the Host; if he deliberately picked it up with the other hand, it would have been grounds for serious sanctions. Of course, the Church in Her wisdom developed more stringent rules for receiving Holy Communion in order to further protect the Host from desecration or irreverence, eradicating reception on the hand entirely.

It is with this long view in mind that the traditionalist considers with a measure of horror and sadness the way Holy Communion is casually received in 99% of parishes today; the fact that the practice began as an abuse, and was only ratified by the Church as an indult never meant "to be put into practice indiscriminately"; the serious potential for widespread desecration; all these, combined with the statistical fact that nearly 3/4 of Catholics don't even believe in the Real Presence, and therefore eat and drink judgment on themselves (and too many priests, in the interest of being "pastoral" and for fear of causing offense, fail to warn about the requirements for receiving in the state of grace, thus making themselves complicit in the possible damnation of these souls)...

I'll let Fr. Ripperger close here on another accurate note:
Liturgically, traditionalists judge the Novus Ordo in light of the Mass of Pius V and the neo-conservatives judge the Tridentine Mass, as it is called, in light of the Novus Ordo. This comes from the Hegelianism which holds that the past is always understood in light of the present, i.e. the thesis and antithesis are understood in light of their synthesis. This leads to a mentality that newer is always better, because the synthesis is better than either the thesis or the antithesis taken alone. Being affected by this, the neo-conservatives often assume or are incapable of imagining that the current discipline of the Church may not be as good as the prior discipline. There is a mentality today which holds that "because it is present (Hegelianism), because it comes from us (immanentism), it is necessarily better."

Furthermore, neo-conservatives love the Church and have a strong emotional attachment to the magisterium which causes them to find it unimaginable that the Church could ever falter, even with regard to matters of discipline. Like the father who loves his daughter and therefore has a hard time imagining her doing anything wrong, neo-conservatives have a hard time conceiving that the Holy Ghost does not guarantee infallibility in matters of discipline or non-infallible ordinary magisterial teaching. Traditionalists, confronted by a Church in crisis, know that something has gone wrong somewhere. As a result, they are, I believe, more sober in assessing whether or not the Church exercises infallibility. That, allied to their looking at the present through the eyes of the past, helps the traditionalists to see that the onus is on the present to justify itself, not the past.
For a truly wonderful little book on the history of reception of Holy Communion--endorsed by Cardinal Ranjith when Secretary of the Congregation for Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments--see Bishop Athanasius Schneider's Dominus Est! Drawing on the early Church and saints, he forcefully shows why a return to kneeling and reception on the tongue would be a great good to the modern Church.