Friday, 14 June 2013

What would a traditionalist diocese actually look like? A manifesto, Part I

One of the common criticisms of traditionalism - seemingly given a push even by the Pope of late - is that it is just about 'going backwards', and has nothing to offer the Church in the twenty-first century.

I beg to differ!

So in response, I thought I'd try and sketch out, in a series of posts, what a traditionalist diocese might actually look like in the context of Australia today, because I think that anyone who claims that 'traditionalism' is about going backwards just doesn't understand what the movement is actually about.

In fact, of course, there is some common ground (albeit also key differences) between 'conservative'/New Evangelisation style Catholics and even charismatics, and traditionalists, as I'll try to show below, for we all agree that what passes for the norm now is just not good enough.

Back to the future?  Not really.

But it is true that in one sense, traditionalists do indeed want to go back to a better past: to go back to that time when over 60% of Australian Catholics actually went to Mass every week, instead of the 12.5% who attend regularly today; to a time when more than half went to confession at least monthly, instead of less than around 2-3% today; to a time when vocations to the priesthood and religious life were normal, and not a rarity.

How do you actually achieve these things though, sixty or so years on?

The reality is that it is impossible simply to reimpose the past, and that traditionalism as most of us experience it is not in fact an attempt to do that.

Yes, traditionalists do want to bring back those things that worked in the past and whose jettison those have proved a disaster for the Church - to recover things like a strong sense of priestly identity, for example, and a stronger sense of the sacred developed through an emphasis on ritual and reverence.

But traditionalism is also, in my view, a thoughtful and creative response both to the excesses of spirit of Vatican IIism, and to post-modernism.

Far from rejecting new ways of doing things, traditionalists are perfectly prepared to use creative and innovative ways adapted to the times to achieve their aims.

That is why there is such a strong traditionalist presence in the social media for example - apart from the strong traditionalist presence on facebook, twitter and blogs, consider enterprises like Michael Voris' Church Militant TV, or the fabulous resources for Gregorian chant up at Corpus Christi Watershed, and the Mass on the net options from the FSSP.

An example: promoting confession

Take, for example, that ideal of reviving the use of the sacrament of confession, something the Pope himself has been pushing.

One of the biggest barriers (though not the only one) is simply the availability of the sacrament.

My own geographical parish of Central Canberra, for example, has according to the latest figures, some  2,616 Catholics.

If they all made a confession once a week of five minutes on average, the priest would need to be sitting in the confessional for some 218 hours a week.

In reality, he is there for a about an hour, perhaps an hour and a half (the parish does actually at least make some attempt at providing a more convenient confession time, with a half an hour at one lunchtime before Mass, in addition to the stock standard Saturday 'after Mass' provision).

There was a great story told this week though, over at Fr Z's blog of a priest doing creative about making confession more readily available that I think most 'traditionalists' would applaud.

He has remodelled his rectory, and added a confessional off his office, so that people can come there to confession - he has a small chapel in the rectory, with a vestibule that turns into a confessional.  And he has created an app to go with it, which both helps penitents prepare for confession, and indicates his (and potentially others') availability.

Now personally I'd prefer that priests actually spent most of their day actually in their churches, including sitting in the confessional there (reading their breviary or whatever in the downtimes).

But where that isn't possible for one reason or another, this idea sounds like something well worth trying.

A traditionalist parish?

Similarly, there was a nice story from the Melbourne Archdiocesan News last week, of two seminarians who had visited what sounds like an extremely vibrant parish in London, St Patrick's in Soho.

It is true that this is a novus ordo 'New Evangelisation' parish rather than a traditionalist one.  But liturgy aside, it sounds pretty close to the kind of model I for one would like to see as the norm, with daily Office, Adoration, Catechesis and more.

Here are some extracts from their descriptions of it:

"In London, a typical day for the seminarians included a 7am Holy Hour, Morning Prayer and work, afternoon Mass and Evening Prayer. Twice a week, the parish opens up its purpose-built centre to feed the homeless. About 80 people are fed each night by volunteer staff who cook and serve.

The Soho parish is known for its St Patrick’s School of Evangelisation, established by Fr Sherbrooke. Marcus and Trevor attended catechism, Scripture and liturgy classes throughout the week, and took part in the school’s Friday night street evangelisation....

Marcus said Fr Sherbrooke was an inspiring and hard-working priest, who set an example of prayer and fidelity to the Church.

‘He would always be up before me in the morning and go to bed after me. Inevitably he’d be off in the church praying. He’d hear confessions every day,’ Marcus said."

There are some few places where this kind of thing does happen in Australia.

Take a look, for example, at the range of activities the Adelaide Latin Mass community have on offer - daily Confession (with the priest actually sitting in the confessional and waiting for comers) and daily Mass; Sunday Vespers; First Friday devotions including Compline; a choir; server practices; sacramental preparation; classes for youth and adults on Scripture, Apologetics, Catechesis, Latin; and a healthy range of social activities.

Surely we need more of this.

So what is traditionalism in practice?

When we talk traditionalism, traditionalists tend to focus on three things: liturgy (particularly revival of the TLM); theology (ie how to combat the modernism that seems to have infiltrated the Church do deeply); and orthopraxis, or the bundle of practices and ways of approaching life that sustain a deep life of faith.

But how does it all fit together?  What does it actually look like in practice?

That I think is a little harder to articulate, not least because even the best traditionalist communities, in Australia at least, still lack the basic infrastructure for the practice of a genuinely traditional faith.

Habited religious orders teaching in schools and providing the other supports religious have traditionally provided to make life easier large families for example, are few and far between.

Traditionalist contemplative religious to pray for us and offer retreats are non-existent.

Many laity have to travel long distances to get to a TLM, making community activities and organised groups hard to organise.

Moreover, where bishops and other clergy are generally at best merely tolerant (and at worst outright hostile) of traditionalists rather than actually supportive, there are real limits on what you can do.

So rather than focusing on liturgy or theology per se, I want to start by looking at what each of the three groups that make up the Church - priests, religious and laity - would be doing in a traditionalist world, and try and paint a picture of how the underpinning 'religious infrastructure' would ideally fit together in Australia today.

And lest I be accused of hopeless idealism, well as trying to paint a picture of what it might look like, I'm going to try and suggest some possible means of making this vision a reality.  Don't take these as gospel though - they are just ideas for consideration, offered in the spirit of 'praying as though everything depends on God while working as if everything depends on us'.

In the next part of this series, I'm going to start with the role and work of priests, for in many ways, everything does indeed depends on them!

But do tell me if you think I'm spinning it wrong here.


Orak said...

Aside from Sunday Vespers, Fr Michael Rowe at St Anne's TLM parish in Belmont WA basically has the same kind of schedule including daily Confession. There are 3 Masses on a Sunday (7.30 Low Mass, 9.30 am High Mass and 11.30 am Low Mass) and two on Holy Days of Obligation and Major Feasts. Orak

Kate Edwards said...

It is not actually the Mass schedule I find impressive Orak; many parishes have that. More the range of otheractivities engaging people each night (choir, servers, youth classes, adult catechesis etc).

But it is true that most trad communities do try and do this kind of thing; indeed, there is something badly wrong if tra community has a priest yet lacks this kind of communal activity in my view.

Fr Mick Mac Adrew said...

I first started to seriously look at Traditionalism in the Catholic Church when I was trying to defend my Vatican II position, in 2003. Being in a rural parish my resources were limited as far as attending conferences, talks etc, but I set myself one goal, that of study to defend the Novus Ordo against what I perceived to be unjust attacks by way of Liturgiam Authenticum etc. I had at my disposal a very basic knowledge and experience with the internet and two tomes - "Beyond The Prosaic" a pro-Traditionalism epos and "The Sacrifice of The Mass In The West" an even handed history of the Mass. I also read Cardinal Ratzinger's two short books on the Liturgy. On the internet I digested each day Zenit and CathNews.
Over a year I became convinced that the Novus Ordo had serious problems and set myself about - as a simple 'country' priest, to be ever so much more faithful in celebrating Mass as reverently as possible. I think the more I did that, the more frustrated I became and yet, I still didn't look further. When Summorum Pontificum Motu Proprio was released I still didn't get it. I put all my hopes in the reforms of the New Missal translation. It's only since being befriended by priests and lay of a Traditionalism community that I have had the courage to continue the search that began in 2003.
All of my story is to say, in comment to your article, that I think you are on the right track by beginning to look at what Traditionalism would look like in practice in an Australian parish context. I'm still at the point where I think that Tradionalism and Vatican II can coexist or be the amalgam that is needed, but I am open to the study, for that is what is needed, no more of that 'conversation' or 'dialogue' approach. We need to study and draw up a strategy to be implemented.

Kate Edwards said...

That is a great story Father, I'm sure many will be praying hard for you on this journey!

And I agree that parishes offering both forms of the Mass are probably the ideal in the current context, and that we need to incorporate the best of V2 in our theology while putting to bed the things that just haven't worked (I'm not talking here about the few difficult and contested theological propositions which will need their own process to sort out, but rather some of the pastoral directions).

Indeed a splendid example of that approach is Blackfen in London (popularly known as Blogfen since priest and half the parish seem to be bloggers!) led by Fr Tim Finigan, currently in Australia to talk at the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy conference next week.

Catherine said...

I am looking forward to the rest of this series. I would be particularly interested in your thoughts on catholic schools, how they would fit in and what they would look like.

Orak said...

Kate, when I said "schedule" I meant the the whole gamut - not just Mass and Confession. There is First Friday and First Saturday devotions, monthly youth group, children's catechism days, confraternity, high quality altar serving, high quality singing at High Masses, co-operation with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate re "Days with Mary", the parish has had a number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, good relations with the Ordinariate, etc

A Canberra Observer said...

the activity of Fr Rowe reminds me of those heroic priests from the pages of Fr John O'Brien's 'The men of '38' [that's 1848].
Perhaps that should be required reading for Australian seminarians (wherever they study ...)