Friday, September 02, 2011

Law and Tradition

In two weeks, all of the dioceses in the U.K. will reinstate the pre-Vatican II law requiring (not recommending) but requiring abstinence of meat on Fridays. This is a very welcome development from a region of the Church that is known for its wackiness and extremely progressive tendencies. We should all applaud this move by the British bishops as a step in the right direction and pray that such measures would be contemplated and enacted by their American counterparts.

How often have we all wished that the bishops of the world and the Holy Father would take definitive stands for the restoration of tradition! Imagine if this directive was followed up by another directive forbidding communion in the hand, or abolishing altar girls, or forcefully asking the bishops to stop relegating all the major feast days to Sunday, or forbidding drums in Mass, mandating chant, etc. How we would rejoice?

But, for the sake of argument, let me pose a question: Were all these things to take place, were the Magisterium to do nothing for the next two years other than legislate against abuses and forcefully impose traditional Catholicism, would Tradition be restored?

My answer is no. Tradition, in its fullest sense, cannot be restored by force of law. The loss of tradition was permitted by a relaxation of law, but a constricting of the law is not enough to bring Tradition back. Imagine a tank full of water that has a hole in it. The hole in the tank may certainly have allowed the water to seep out over time, but once the water is gone, repairing the hole will not bring the water back. Repairing the hole is integral in preparing the tank to receive water again, but we cannot be deluded into thinking that repairing the hole alone is sufficient to restore what was lost.

There are two elements to restoring Catholic Tradition and Catholic culture: one, of course, is the restoration of discipline from the top down. This involves the Magisterium being a bit more assertive in cracking down on abuses, restoring practices that have fallen into disuses, and backing up its wishes with canonical legislation, if necessary. The second element, however, is a docile and obedient flock who have hearts that are truly converted and are already predisposed to live out the full expression of Catholicism within their homes and spheres of influence.

Even if we were to have all the legislation and "top down" changes we all desire, unless they were embraced by a flock willing to put them in to practice, we cannot really say Tradition has been restored. Certainly we would be a lot better off than where we are now; perhaps some such moves on the part of the Magisterium would "trim the fat" of the Church by encouraging people who are Catholics in name only to "sh*t or get off the pot," so to say.

Even so, we as Traditionalists cannot become legalists. We cannot imagine that a true restoration of our culture can be simply imposed from above. That would be a very important step, just like it is an important step in refilling the tank to first repair the hole. But culture cannot be regained in the same manner it was lost. Though we speak of culture being "restored", in actuality we have to start over. With great care and intentionality we have to cherish and nurture a cultural and spiritual heritage that may not yet be a tradition for ourselves or our kids but will one day be so if it is faithfully passed on. This homegrown expansion of Catholic culture will be solidified, reinforced and given direction by a Magisterium that legislates in favor of discipline and tradition rather than against it.

There are two sides to this issue - one that comes from above, and one that comes up from below. We have to realize that both are necessary. Unless we personally are forming Catholic culture in our homes and families, we can't expect the Magisterium to form it by passing some new directives. Unless we are obedient, we can't expect new demands for obedience to be heeded. Unless we are pious, we cannot expect new legislation to create piety (though it can reinforce it).

I will share a personal story, the sort of which I do not usually share on here. Several years ago, perhaps around 2003, I was attending Mass at a local parish. It was one of those days when someone was sick, I had to stay home in the morning and catch a Sunday evening Mass to make up for it. Well, the liturgy was terrible. Music awful. People in tank-tops, Daisy-dukes, flip flops, etc. Priest gave an awful homily. Scores of people leaving Mass after communion. It was a disaster.

As I sat praying after communion, I was lamenting to God about the sad state of things in this parish, essentially complaining about the lack of reverence and extraordinarily shallow spirituality. I was pleading with God to renew His Church and wondering why the priests and bishops allowed this sort of thing. Then God spoke to my heart in a very firm manner, a manner in which one has a fair degree of moral certainty that the Holy Spirit is telling you something. He said to me, "If you think the Church lacks piety, you be pious. If Catholics do not pray enough, you pray. If there is a lack of reverence, you be reverent. If they there is a lack of penance, you do penance."

I don't think the message was that other people do not need to reform or that the Church on the institutional level doesn't need to make some serious changes; the point was that renewal starts with the individual. Laws and disciplines given by the Church are given for the purpose of building up and empowering individual Catholics to have a more dynamic relationship with the Lord and make true success in pursuing holiness.

I applaud the bishops of the U.K. for reintstating the Friday fast. But with what we know about the state of the Church in the U.K., how will this legislation play out when the people there are so poorly formed? No doubt it will beneficial to some; no doubt it is a step in the right direction. But unless we have true conversion from our hearts, we will find these sorts of legislation always bringing us up short of where we want to be.


Anonymous said...


This is an excellent post!! All the reinvigorated Church legislation in the world will not 'refill the bucket'. We need to be the change we want to see; even if we are the only ones. individual by individual, family by family, congregation by congregation, praying prayers not only of lamentation, but petition - petition for God's divine power to transform hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, that people will re-discover godly holiness and allow the transforming work of sanctification (metanoia) to begin in our/their lives. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to blaze across the face of god's church, setting hearts, minds and souls on fire for the Truth. It commences with prayer and a wholesale plunge into God's word and Church teaching (that rightly implimented, is a reflection of God's word).

Pray the office,
Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy,
Pray the Rosary,
Study Holy Scripture,
Study the Catechism.
Establish habits that nourish faith in, and fedelity to Jesus Christ and His church. Free-pray also, for those Catholic Christian clergy who are wholely orthodox in faith, belief and practice, who worship god in Spirit and in Truth, that they may be encouraged, strengthened, prospered and increased in number, that God's work may be done, and for those who have bought into the falicies of the 60's and 70's to be open to the leading of our heavenly Father into the fullness of their priestly vocation. Pray also for Benedict XVI, that he may be empowered by the Holy Spirit to take God's Church further away from the trainwreck of the hippy rebellion years into mature expression of Catholic Christianity, not 'back to the past' but forward into the future of unbroken holy tradition, culture and faith, Belief and practice that draws us to Christ, that is selfless, not self-centred (boomer and builder mentality with its narcissism has no place in the House of God). Once we have our hearts and house in order, we will then be fully equipped to go out into the highways and biways, to reach out to the broken and battered, the brused and wounded. I have seen this work, and folk are drawn, from all walks, to Christ-s beacon, hungering and thirsting, their hearts, souls, minds and being, filled.

I heartily recommend the many and varied publications, presentations, CD's, DVD's and public seminars offered by Tim Staples and Raymond de Souza, (two of the most incredible lay Catholic appologists of our time). I have heard both in person; for the first, especially, the church that has seating for 1,000 was packed! he pulls no punches. The audience was largely Gen X and younger. Raymond de Souza had a more modest turn-out but once again, the vast majority was Gen X or younger. I have encountered priests and deacons in this age-group and they are not only on fire for the Faith, but have a sober, humble and reverent attitude about them both re liturgy and personal interaction that is refreshing; it also invites trust and confidence free of boomer and builder wishy-washy hippy flim-flammery. God is preparing Himself a people, boniface, step by step, inch by inch, precept upon precept, day by day. It is a generation who owns the faith, is enabled and empowered by it, and by whom will be raised up our children and grandchildren in the light of Christ. The boomers and builders are getting older. They may wish to cling onto power and live forever, but biology (not to mention Providence) has a different plan.

Take heart and be of good courage.



Boniface said...

Thanks, Sarah! Raymond de Souza came to my parish once as a matter of fact; it was standing room only. I have two of his CD's and his reprint of Henry VIII's "Defense of the Seven Sacraments." He is a great apologist.

Joe said...

I concur with Sarah--great post! I especially liked your personal story. What a great way to combat the temptation to despair when one reflects upon the extent to which the Church has been scourged by modernism over the past half century.

I just have one quick question about the reinstatement of meatless Fridays in the UK. You mentioned that such abstaining is required, not merely recommended. Will this be binding under pain of mortal sin like it was before the Council? Will there be any exceptions?

Regardless, this is a huge step forward. Let's just hope the US bishops soon follow suit...

Boniface said...

I do not know about that, but I would imagine so, just like missing a holy day of obligation is a mortal sin.

Nick said...

Fr Z's famous line is "Brick by Brick." Steps like these wont cause drastic change in themselves, but will slowly build a foundation.

I believe the key is largely a "top-down" solution, because renewal is really about the priests and bishops being on board and *deeply desiring* to boldly live out the faith. A priest dedicated to reverent liturgy will transform a parish far more effectively than a layman trying to get fellow parishoners to not leave after mass or use latin or kneel, etc.

All the layman can do is 'damage control', meaning pointing out to priest and other laymen what the Church really teaches, which is unfortunately what most have been tied down to doing.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the past generation that did all the damage is finally starting to die off - this is how time makes all things better. The modernist-liberals see their plans ultimately failed and are simply trying to desperately hang on seeing that nobody is taking up their banner.

Boniface said...


Yeah, that's what Fr. Z calls the "biological solution."

It is "top-down" if by top-down you mean bishops and priests actually living the Faith and legislating based on that - but if you mean a bunch of bishops who don't really believe (U.K.) just start making laws that they think will please the pope, well, that might help some but it's not a real solution.

The real solution is top-down and bottom-up - each part of the Church (lay & clerical) faithfully fulfilling their roles with the Magisterium faithfully passing on the Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Nick and Boniface,

I believe the clean-up project will be able to shift gears into 'top down' when the Gen X and younger priests finally make up the numbers and the Boomers/Builders are finally out of the loop. When today's thirty something or even forty something priests become bishops, THAT is when the top-down re-orientation off of the dead-end spur-line of 60's-70's rebellious selfishness and narcessism onto the main railway track of the hermeneutic of continutiy will increase exponentially. I observe the Gen X priests and young deacons that I know and am filled with a sense of eager anticipation - give it a decade, fifteen years max, and the final remnants of the failed hippy experiment will be tumbling away on the wind like yesterday's newspapers.

Nonetheless, they will try to take everything with them on the way out, so courage, strength, fidelity and faith are essential.



JM said...

Awesome post!

Anonymous said...

I hope Bishops in the US seriously begin to consider this for their territory. A sense of unity has disappeared along with meatless Fridays. Everyone knowing what that phrase means speaks volumes for what it stood for. What are Fridays known as since relaxing the rule? Nothing to most Catholics, again speaking volumes.