Friday, September 6, 2013

Catholic Stand: Tradition vs. traditionalism

The Communion song this last Sunday at the 11:30 a.m. Mass was “The Servant Song”. One might say it’s one of those Gather Hymnal songs that traditionalists point to whenever they compare the richness of the traditional Latin Mass to the relative poverty of the Novus Ordo Mass that’s been with us the last forty-odd years.

Okay, “The Servant Song” as it’s sung now is truly dreadful: with quarter notes stomping the diatonic scale on the beats, it plods along like a man flat-footing it up a sidewalk. However, I have a faint quasi-memory that at one time the melody was much more syncopated … light, sweet and inoffensive, though still too much “all about me/us” to be appropriate for worship.

So I’m a child of the 1970s. The Gather Hymnal is what I grew up with. Occasionally, though, the chorus will sing an older song, like “Lift High the Cross”, and something in me lifts up with it. And Mozart’s Requiem, though not his best work, still beats out anything by Marty Haugan.

De gustibus non est disputandum: there are times when I can really appreciate the traditionalist perspective on liturgy, especially when it comes to my first love, music. The cultural heritage of the Church is one of great aesthetic richness and beauty; when done well, the Tridentine Mass is a glorious concentrate of everything the Latin Church did right for centuries.

The great danger in traditionalism, however, is the tendency to conflate liturgical and devotional traditions with the apostolic tradition. Doctor Taylor Marshall speaks of “the [radical traditionalist] belief that Latin Mass Catholics are ‘A Team’ and Novus Ordo Catholics are ‘B Team’”, but that’s actually a bit mild: the further you move to the right, the more you run across the sentiment that Novus Ordo Catholics, or “neo-Catholics”, aren’t really Catholic at all — we’re crypto-Protestants with an idiosyncratic fondness for the pope.