March 18, 2012      David Timbs (Melbourne)                               David's previous articles   

Traddies in Turmoil


One of the most obvious results of Benedict’s papal blessing of the reforms planned and put in place over during his years as Cardinal Ratzinger of the CDF is the exuberance now experienced by the self-named Traditionalist members of the Catholic Church. A particular source of joy and celebration especially for the English language Traditionalists is the rapid deconstruction and de-legitimation of the Eucharistic Liturgy of Paul VI, the long suspect and barely tolerated Novus Ordo.

Without being overtly cocky, they definitely smell victory in the air as the shameful stain of the vulgar and the mundane is removed. The promise was made by Joseph Ratzinger in 2003 and it was realised in the forced and shamefully authoritarian dismissal of the excellent English vernacular translations of 1997 despite its previous acceptance by the English speaking Episcopal Conferences of the world.  Liturgiam Authenticam was the directive and Vox Clara its loyal and obedient servants.

This initiative of Benedict’s Reform of the Reform in Continuity may bring comfort for the few but little for the many. For the Traditionalists, the New Translation of the Mass and the accompanying energetic promotion of pieties of the pre-Vat II era and strongly linked to the personal devotions of JP II signal the end of what they might describe as the period of liturgical aberration and piety void. For others, perhaps the majority, the pontificates of JP II and Benedict represent a tragic regression into an antique world long abandoned.

A quick survey of various websites and journals will verify this. Many Restorationist sources  also provide the reader with  a rather informative glimpse into the workings of Traditionalist the mind and cosmos. They offer snapshots of a whole domain of rituals and meanings frozen in time, specifically, the era of the Counter Reformation. The ecclesiastical world presented by the Traditionalists is clearly identifiable by its insistence on fixed practice and refusal of more than the most cosmetic change. It is also highly recognisable for its insider dialects, codes, airs of exclusivity and effeminate fixations on liturgical gear and accessories.

 But it is, ironically, exactly that kind of ecclesiological world within a world, securely fixed in time and space, that is causing increasing stress, tension, anxiety and dissention among the ranks of at least three sub-groups of the remnant of faithful.

The schismatic leadership of the SSPX are on the verge of confirming what it always has been and is, a cult-like group which rejects or strongly resists almost any Church reform or theological development after Pius XII. After John Paul II refused to take them seriously, Benedict has made constant overtures to them to come to the table and work towards reunification. The extensive and long drawn out talks have so far met with failure. The deadline for reconciliation with Rome is apparently April 15 but it is almost certain that negotiations will come to nothing.

The SSPX are allergic to even the most conservative strand of modernity or movement beyond the fixity of their own established religio-cultural environment. They are the equivalent of latter-day Seventeeth Century dinosaurs. They remain the spiritual children of the powdered and bewigged aristocrats of France ’s ancient regime. Their real King is le Roi Soleil  or, even more absurdly, Louis XVI, not Christ and it is not his pieced and bleeding Sacred Heart they venerate but the collective heart of the  potentates rejected and cast aside by the Revolution. If and when negotiations fail, predictably they will claim the martyr’s crown and the reparation they demand will be owed to them.

Slightly on this side of Vat II, the natural allies of the SSPX, the disciples of the sanity-stressing Rorate Caeli have recently been physically and electronically conferencing on matters of the gravest importance: making absolutely sure that the clerical sanitised zone, the completely female-free sanctuary, is kept inviolate and ritually clean; overseeing with the greatest vigilance the possible introduction of ‘new’ prefaces to the 1962 Roman Missal. These people believe that the earth stood still back then and, pace Galileo Galilei, it still moves not!

Then there are the self-proclaimed moderate or progressive Traditionalists who are now showing just how modern and adaptable they really are. They would see themselves as being at the very cutting edge of ecclesiastical reform, from liturgy to Church structure. Predictably, they have established both group identity and validation on the de rigeur moniker of loyalty to the Pope and Magisterium. A fairly representative example of this brand of moderately progressive Traditionalists is a Canberra based sub-group, animated and led by a self-styled Anchoritess. Together this small but noisy little lot constitute the community of Australia Incognita.

The Anchoritess and the devoted disciples are trying desperately at the moment both to distance themselves from the obdurate SSPX and to demonstrate their own centrism by highlighting the excessive zeal of the Rorate Caeli Tridentine loyalists. Their driven and almost weekly symbolic burning of their favourite strawman, Cathnews  is matched in hubris only by the frequent public displays of faux liberalism by the Anchorite and the disciples. These are standout performance especially as the cabals of both the Anchoritess and Rorate Caeli  are essentially supportive of the culture and the agenda of the SSPX.

They all reject what they see as a grave error by the post Conciliar Church of marginalising of the Mass of Pius V and the installation of the Novus Ordo in its vernacular expressions. All of them interpret this as a violation of the clear and definitive authority of the Council of Trent which elevated the Tridentine Mass to Immemorial status which could not be substantially changed either in text or rubric. The template of Liturgical orthopraxis became from that time on and forever, say black, do red.

While all three major Traditionalists groups welcome any return to the liturgical orthodoxy of Trent, they are also rather uncomfortably blind-sided Benedict’s plan for a single Rite in the Latin Church and on the exact shape the anticipated mutually enriched liturgy will assume. To one degree or another they would see themselves as losers because of the continued contamination caused by the tolerated vernacular residue in the hybrid Rite.

One thing these three do not fear from the Reform of the Reform’s vision for the laity. The non-ordained will stay in their place, pay, pray, obey, do the working bees, run the fundraisers, stay as far away from the sanctuary as humanly possible and forget any aspirations of having a voice or influence in governance.

For those with a different sense of Church history, who have responded to the invitation and challenge of Vatican II to be fully engaged in all aspects of ecclesial life, anxieties also remain, vision, sadly, is forcibly blinkered and promises broken. Benedict long ago lost the vision and nerve that he had as a Fr Joseph Ratzinger, peritus at Vatican II. With almost unlimited and unchecked power, he has over the years engineered a plan and programme to lead the Church backward from the life, creative impetus and directions of Vatican II into the quiet and controlled predictability of an age long gone. He is clinging to a corpse and trying to resuscitate it.

A new source of grief and betrayal that has emerged in recent months is an imposed translation of the Eucharist texts with its clunky literalism, grammatical gymnastics and overall tortured English. While the official line is that this translation opens up for the faithful, long oppressed by the contemptibly mundane and vulgar texts, a whole new world of courtly, poetic, theologically and scripturally rich language, the absurd realities of this translation have now assumed parody status,

‘Their (the translators) task was much simpler: giving us a rather bone-headed rendering of the Latin, exactly as it was written. This, after all, is what Liturgiam Authenticam required them to do. Had the Latin said, vulpes velox brunnea super canem ignavum salit (the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog) then this is what they would have written or, more likely, fox brown over dog lazy jumps. – Jonathan Day.

Or, ‘ the fox the quick one the brown one bounceth over the dog the lazy one. – Mary Burke.

David Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

HTML Guestbook is loading comments...