The Glory of Small “t” Tradition

One of the most disturbing things to me is the belittling of “t” Tradition by virtually every neo-conservative apologist. There is a current which runs in the neo-conservative mainstream to downplay the importance of the little traditions. This is done primarily when they incorrectly define them. One will say “Big ‘T’ Tradition stays the same always, and is of the utmost importance, but small ‘t’ Tradition is here today and gone tomorrow. It is not important and we shouldn’t get wrapped up in it.”

This is basically the position of the so-called mainstream of defenders of the New Rite, separated from historical Catholicism by the modernism pervading the Church since the Council. In a minute I will define what I mean by historical Catholicism.

Now, let us take a proposition, such as I have continually advanced, and will advance until I am put to death, that the Novus Ordo is inferior to the Traditional Rite. As soon as I say such a thing the aforementioned will claim that I am propagating a heresy. They will say that you can not say one Mass is better than another, Tridentine, novus ordo, Divine Liturgy are all fine and good and all equally pleasing to God. It doesn’t matter how we wrap the essentials, etc. etc. etc, blah blah blah. Boo hiss!

First of all, this is something which I would consider contrary to Catholic liturgical theology, namely minimalism. It is purely the minimalist approach to liturgy, and this is where the denial of small “t” Tradition flirts openly with heresy. It is the small “t” which protects, defends, reinforces and teaches the large “T” tradition. While it is technically true that you can eliminate the small “t” tradition and maintain the integrity of the faith, when you do eliminate it the faith begins to disappear. This is because man is not a pure spirit, he is a body soul unity, how the faith is presented to man determines the manner in which he receives it. We all accept that bad preaching, bad style, bad demeanor of the presenter can present a barrier to how one receives the grace of the Gospel. Almost any neo-con will accept that. However, be that as it may, when it comes to the liturgy they suddenly reject it. It suddenly doesn’t matter that a hideous neo-teric chalice is used in place of a beautiful Gothic chalice collecting dust in the sacristy, or crappy polyester vestments are worn with rainbows and/or hideous art on them. The apologists will tell us well, it isn’t the best, but it is still Jesus.

I just want to take them by the neck and say get a hold of yourself man with a thick Scottish brogue! What does a cheap polyester vestment say about the faith? How does it cheapen the faith? How does a glass wine claret used for sacred Communion weaken belief in the real presence?

Secondly, the main objection, that all liturgy is the same, fails to distinguish between the intrinsic nature of a thing, and its extrinsic nature. If we are speaking Intrinsically, then of course any valid Mass, that is a Mass which gives adoration to God the Father by making represent the one sacrifice of Calvary in an unbloody manner at the hands of the priest, is in fact the same. You can not have a valid Mass which is intrinsically evil, since the main object of the Mass, to offer adoration to God, is impossible. Yet the intrinsic is an inadequate dimension by which to judge liturgy in its totality, and to reduce it to such is minimalism which would be detestable to every age of Catholics until 1965. We must also consider liturgy offered in an extrinsic manner. What is the extrinsic? If the intrinsic refers to the liturgy in itself and what it accomplishes ipso facto, then the extrinsic is the manner in which it is accomplished.

A Tridentine Mass is offered, but rubrics are intentionally broken, portions of the liturgy are skipped wholesale, etc. Intrinsically, if you had a valid consecration, you had a valid Mass which accomplished its aim. Extrinsically, it is not as good and does not communicate as much grace as the same liturgy where the ceremonies are said correctly. Let us take another example: a liturgy said by heretics and schismatics with valid orders. Such a liturgy is said outside of communion with the Church and technically wrong. That impedes grace. Let us even take a Novus Ordo celebrated with obscene abuses. There is no shortage of idiots who will insist that there is no difference between that and a “reverent” novus ordo (which as far as I’m concerned is an oxymoron), because if done validly “Jesus is there”. Even if that is true, the grace which He imparts through the sacrament is impeded, it is not as powerful as one celebrated in union with the Church’s intention. Now there is yet another consideration to make, whether the rites in the Traditional Liturgy are more dignified and coming from apostolic tradition, better impart the faith than a liturgy created by a committee of left leaning priests and bishops in the late 60’s completely from scratch? I’ve never seen anyone try to claim that the new liturgy imparts more ritual than the old. Even if they were, a simple reading of text and rubric would smash such an argument.

Lastly, there is also more scripture found in the ordinary of the Mass in the Traditional Liturgy, the propers contain more scriptural usage all with their own chants, and essential teachings on sin, repentance and hell are not optional. Rituals call to mind the Jewish offerings of sacrificial animals, bringing sacrifice to the forefront, they represent Christ burdened with the sin of the world, and unmistakably condemn modern theology. The rites and the meaning they embody are superior to the Novus Ordo in every way, and consequently it is a better Mass in terms of the grace it imparts.

Some people will still say, “I like the Novus Ordo better”. Well there is nothing I can say about that, because what people like is subjective and not governed by objective principles of beauty and meaning. Some people like modern art, some people like rap music. To me it is all basically the same thing. If you look at the normal person at the Novus Ordo, not the exceptional case, you find people whose liturgy tells them nothing about the doctrine of Catholicism, but is tailored to make them feel good. Even in the Latin, if you have someone who understands Latin. If you look at the normal person at a Traditional Mass, not the exceptional case, you will find someone who at the very least understands what the Church teaches on major issues concerning his salvation, on his responsibilities toward his neighbor, and on the presence of his God at his liturgy. Every liturgical sign points to it, the kneeling, the adoration, the incense, the multiple signs of the cross, the reverence and beauty of everything required for each celebration. Small “t” tradition protects so-called big “T” tradition, and wherever the former is protected, the latter is upheld. Look at the eastern Catholic Church in our midst. The same cultural problems affect them which affect us, the same secularism, the same throw away culture, but not the same loss of doctrine and reverence for the Eucharist. Why? Because they have small “t” Tradition protecting their Apostolic Tradition.

This all brings me back to the original point of this post, namely what is that historical Catholicism which modern apologists seem disconnected from? It is characterized by a universal expression of “t” Tradition which had guarded and protected the true faith for over a thousand years. Very few real traditions had actually changed in that time, and for good reason, they protected the faith. People in every country were familiar with the universal “t” Tradition, whether French, or German, or Polish or Italian, or English, or Spanish, there was a universal “t” Tradition that was common to them all. The same was true of the Eastern Churches, and a Latin Rite observer could have seen the same traditions in the Eastern rite, even if they had a different form from the West.

I have read people claim they are not part of a “bloggersterium”, that they follow the Pope. I wonder if they would acknowledge the danger from the “apologeticsterium”? Let us look seriously. Who lives or dies by what someone writes on a blog? If anyone does he is an idiot. But there are people who conform their worldview to what this or that apologist writes. Consider those who remained completely in favor of the Iraq war, just as the mainstream of neo-conservative apologists were, when their hero, John Paul “superstar” condemned it? You get a situation where I, one of the late Pope’s critics, agree with him, and your ever faithful apologists opposed him! Yet no claims of disobedience arose, and when confronted with it they will ignore you or say they just cut the Pope some slack by not criticizing him. Seriously, is that not private judgment? To decide that the Pope’s consistent and impassioned pleas against the war have no merit because we trust our elected leaders? The same ones who enabled abortion contrary to the late Pope’s message of a gospel of life?

On the whole, I am perfectly willing and happy to acknowledge where apologists have done good, or even great work. Yet the ministry of lay apologetics is precarious at best. They are filling a void which our Bishops and Priests ought to be filling in terms of real and true teaching, but which the latter are happy to let someone else do. The problem and the danger, not unlike what everyone is always whining about with blogs, is when they get looked upon as a counter magisterium. Mind you, not when they try and usurp that for themselves If I’m wrong on a medium which requires patience and thought (while sighting sources), I can be corrected or refuted. What do you do about thousands of Catholics who don’t know any better and follow this disconnect from historical Catholicism that the self professed “mainstream” propounds? This is to me something highly problematic, even where the thinker is technically a good Catholic.

Fac responsum tuum hic...

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