Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Excellence is not "showing off"

How often have you heard the accusation that Trads want to "show off" by insisting that liturgy be done well? I have heard it several times: if a priest wears beautiful and costly vestments, he is accused of being showy; if liturgical utensils are made of precious metals, the accusation is that the priest/parish is wasting money on something non-essential when it could have been better spent elsewhere ( echoing Judas' complaint in John 12:5); if homilies are preached that communicate the pure doctrine of Christ, they are too exclusive, academic, divisive, etc. If liturgical music is executed beautifully and according to the tradition of the Church, the music director is accused of wanting to "show off." In short, anybody who thinks that liturgy ought to be done well is looked down upon as having a "holier than thou" attitude.

This complaint does not just come from progressives; conservative Catholic commentator Mark Shea takes the same approach regarding people who insist that the liturgical rubrics be followed and that the dignity of the liturgy be upheld. He says, "Some people are hypochondriacs who imagine injury where there is none or who grossly exaggerate small irritations into great big ones" and that frustration about the problems with the Novus Ordo are simply due to "oversensitivity" (click here for Shea' entire article).

It is not at all about being holier than thou. In fact, quite the opposite. To insist on doing the liturgy well is an act of humility, for several reasons (1) It acknowledges the profound humility of man before the awesome mystery taking place on the altar (2) It is humility because it graciously accepts what was handed on from the Fathers and does not presume to arrogantly change and alter it to fit with the spirit of the times, and (3) It is always humility to obey rather than to find fault, which is what the 1970 Reform was: a finding fault with the traditional liturgy of the Church and the assumption that modern man could do better than what was in place for 1500 years. This is arrogance and holier than thou, for modern man asserts that he is holier and wiser than the saints and doctors of the Church's history.

Besides, were the Jewish priests showing off when they overlaid the Ark with pure gold? When they fashioned the High Priests' breastplate with costly jewels? When they expended enormous sums of money for the construction of the Temple? Of course not; in the Old Testament, it was God Himself Who demanded such things, for the simple fact that what is most costly and precious to man is what most adequately reflects the awesome glory and purity of God. It's not about showing off anymore than overlaying the Ark with gold was about showing off. It was about a simple statement of what the reality was that these costly liturgical items were speaking of.