Monday, August 29, 2011

To date, I can only recall one instance where the 'First Lady' of theologians, Alice Von Hildebrand, faltered in an argument. It was in an essay wherein she lamented the loss of piety, and spoke of the hurt it caused the older generations to see irreverence in the young and a total disregard for the traditions handed down to them.

Though this holds true in her case, it is not so in many others. While traditionalists are certainly still a minority, those of the younger generation are not only more likely to tolerate tradition, but to be traditionalists themselves. It was an elderly woman, in linen trousers and a T-shirt no less, that once confronted me
after Mass for wearing a veil. It was only from the lips of an old priest that I heard believing in transignification was just as orthodox as espousing Transubstantiation.

This is not my experience alone but that of many in my age group. For some reason, the older spectrums of society chose to let tradition (amongst other things) go. Either they did not forsee the forthcoming devolution of our society, or they desired it.

It should not have been a surprise then, when queuing for coffee at the sanctuary of Paradyż, a friend from another group told me that an elderly lady had been bemused by what our group sang on entering the town.

'Christus Vincit?' I replied, 'Why was she puzzled?'

'She was wondering why you weren't singing in Polish.'

'But we were singing in Latin! The universal tongue
of the Church.'

Maria spared a commiserating smile for me from her end of the queue, though she could not join in the interchange.
'I don't think she knew it was Latin,' my friend replied.

'Even though she's old enough to remember when Mass was said in Latin,' I mused and then claimed my java.

Sitting on the lawn before the wall of the former monastery, I drank my coffee and shared some Oreos with O. We would have to wait an hour before our group could have its turn in the church, the common Mass being now underway. This might have given a reasonable occasion for my friend to ask (though she didn't) why we would upset our walking schedule in order to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. And indeed, it would later mean skipping a rest stop and plodding on through 6.5 hot miles

This seemed like the proper moment to sort out a particular question in my mind: 'Dlaczego biały-czarny-czerwony?' I had been asked the question why I was on pilgrimage many times the year before, as were others, and some even answered it on video. Apparently many pilgrims were asked the question this year as to why they chose this particular group. After Mass, as we began walking through the fields over tall grasses softly beaten down at
the base so that they resembled a jade, pleated gown, the answer slowly came to me.

Once, two good men were debating the issue of attending the old Mass (at table of course). It was not a hateful dispute, but it was aggressive. Finally, the traditionalist ended as the victor by saying: 'Let's agree to disagree. You worship God your way, and I'll worship God His way.'

I don't usually approve of using wit to conclude an argument, as it has the air of a 'jade's trick', but occasionally repartee does cut an aimless debate short, or in this case, present the truth in a succinct, incontestable manner.

The Novus Ordo was not cultivated over a vast expanse of time, but mushroomed comparitively overnight, crafted by significantly fewer architects than the Extraordinary Form. It left plenty of leeway for different nations, cultures, and communities to adapt it to their particular needs. So they have. A non-Catholic attending the liturgical dancing Masses of the Los Angeles cathedral would not identify it as the same ceremony and Sacrament celebrated in the chapel of Thomas Aquinas College, only 60 miles away. The possibility for great beauty and great ugliness is the trouble with the new Mass, valid though it is. Its structure allows any parish to trim, tone, and and tailor it to the taste and desires of the congregation.

Yet, anyone who has led a group of some sort would readily observe that in trying to please everyone, one
often pleases no one (or certainly not the majority). Thus, one often finds that the typical Novus Ordo conducted in a parish church is one dominated by the personality of the choir parish secretary (very rarely by the priest's) and attended by a mixture of cafeteria and practicing Catholics who endure the bad music and ugly display for either the sake of fellowship or the Eucharist.

At my former college, the Mass was celebrated with solemn piety, accompanied by beautiful music, and prayed entirely in Latin, but for the Scriptural readings. Yet, it was the charism of the school, the conviction of the chaplains, and the desire of the students that made the Mass to be what it is. We had moulded it to fit our spiritual needs--moulded rightly--but
nevertheless we had introduced our own modifications.

There is much to be said for making the case that the Novus Ordo was never propogated as it was meant to be, that it had been hijacked by Leftist elements in the Church and diverted into something that shocked and bewildered the world, Catholic and non-Catholics alike. Yet, even granting this subterfuge, it remains that the Mass's new stucture did lay itself open to the abuses that flooded in.

However, the beautiful, finely delineated form of the Tridentine Mass does not allow it to be a laughingstock. Whether it is gloriously accompanied by a schola, offered as a dialogue Mass, or even said silently, it remains a way of offering the sacrifice that is not our way, but the Church Universal's. It exalts man in appealing to that which is best in him, but it also humbles by forcing him to approach God on conditions other than his own.

Occasionally, this chastens rather than consoles. The first time I attended an old Mass, wherein the priest offered it in hushed whispers, I was so bewildered I was nearly in tears. 'I can hardly tell what page I should be on in my missal! Why is the priest praying so fast? How do I even know he's uttering the right words at consecration?'

I was willing to concede every argument made against the old Mass after this experience, until I attended it again. I found that even though I occasionally could not keep pace right with the priest or always know exactly what he said at a particular moment (which is a problem that time and practice will resolve), I was always aware of the immense thing that was happening.

Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee: in his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps (Psalm LXXXIII:6)

Ascending the steps to the high altar, uniting himself with the congregation by gazing in the same direction, his face turned to God, the priest parts the tent of the Holy of Holies and draws us into the Lord's presence, bringing Him to us on His terms and not ours. This form is the fruit of centuries, of many generations, and crafted by many. Its majesty may box our pert young ears at first, but as we grow accustomed to its discipline, we find that the universality of this rite renders it all the more personal. Hence, my preference:

Hear the Black
Watch the Red

Concerning the 'white, black, and red' group, I would say its defining charism is its devotion to the Extraordinary Form and to Polish patriotism. One may ask why these elements are necessary on a pilgrimage though. Isn't this a good time to rest from conventional
worship and rejoice in the energy other methods may offer? As one who has drawn spiritual consolation from such sources as U2 and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I cannot sneer at such a statement. Still, I must deny it. No, that sort of devotion is not the most fitting on a pilgrimage.

The reason for this is due to the very essence of a pilgrimage. It is a unique prayer, a journey set apart, because it mirrors our earthly life in a perfect allegory. Consider the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas before Holy Communion:

...O most loving Father, grant that I may one day come to contemplate face to face Thy beloved Son, whom now on my pilgrimage I receive under a sacramental veil...

Note that the Angelic doctor does not preface 'pilgrimage' with any adjective to qualify the term. He flatly states that this life is a pilgrimage, and any temporal journey we undertake that happens to fit the definition in a lexicon is but a reflection of the real pilgrimage. I grow tedious now, but I must repeat what I said a year ago: that these nine days of pilgrimage were nine days of reality.

So, first, the Mass immemorial was offered everyday--our moment of contemplation and foretaste of Heaven. Here the group reminded us of that for which we pined on this earth. Second, the devotion to hearth and home, to the nation of the people footing this march, reinforced in those walking the sense of where their temporal duties lay, of their duties to the Church Militant before God called them to join the Church Triumphant.

Clouds of dust were choking our path by the day's end, when suddenly (it always seemed suddenly) we came upon our resting place, and off of that dirt road. Washing the grit from my face later, I had to smile at the concrete symbol of this sojourn's conclusion:

...For dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. (Genesis III:19) 

Thank you Marzena/Basia!


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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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