Friday, July 3, 2020

Fancy Catholics

Are you "fancy"?

"[Rad Trad], you are verrrrry fancy," I was told by a coworker, chewing and spitting out the words in his deep drawl.

An old classmate heard that I began attending the Divine Liturgy some years ago and snarled, "Did those babushka ladies and their fancy liturgy win you over from reality?"

It is with a sense of bedlam and near-resentment that people condescend that which they do not understand as "fancy." Anyone who has attended Vespers at my parish with the Rad Trad himself cantoring knows how very un-fancy the Byzantine rite can be. I was once forbidden to sing the Regina coeli before Mass at the Oxford Oratory, but the Greek rite singing loud is preferable to singing well, making me an ideal cantor for lesser services.

The concept of an ordered taxis is offensive to some Catholics born a generation ago, reared during the post-Vatican II "liturgy wars" between parishes that did not rip out their pipe organs and the more modern parishes with priests refusing to don the chasuble and singers strumming guitars. The general calming down since those days and the revival of the real Roman Mass exposed a new generation to an altogether different type of worship, where order regulates each step and each office dictates ontologically who does what. The choir sings the Introit in the Roman Mass, the subdeacon sings the Epistle in the Roman Mass, the cantor chants the stichera at Greek Vespers. There is no question of which opening song, who lectors, and which cantor will wave her arms during the responsorial psalm. Indeed, the music isn't much harder than secular musical styles, they just require a few months of patience to learn.

So how did liturgically minded Catholics, especially the Traditionalists, get so "fancy"?

It was in part our own making. In order to retain the old Mass during the years betwixt Missale Romanum and Summorum Pontificum, mainstream Catholics had to concoct some reason, other than those expounded by the likes of Michael Davies and Mgr. Lefebvre, to continue the old Mass. In places like France the Liturgical Movement baked the liturgy into the piety of those who wished to continue it. In the Anglosphere this was untrue and required a different approach.

The solution was to champion the old Mass for its cultural value, its great aesthetic beauty, and its unique features like periods of quiet. This is certainly how many American Catholics had to approach their bishops following the 1984 and 1988 "liberalizations" under John Paul II and it was similar to the approach of the the writers of the "Agatha Christie" indult:
"Today, as in times gone by, educated people are in the vanguard where recognition of the value of tradition in concerned, and are the first to raise the alarm when it is threatened. We are not at this moment considering the religious or spiritual experience of millions of individuals. The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts - not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians. In the materialistic and technocratic civilisation that is increasingly threatening the life of mind and spirit in its original creative expression - the word - it seems particularly inhuman to deprive man of word-forms in one of their most grandiose manifestations. The signatories of this appeal, which is entirely ecumenical and non-political, have been drawn from every branch of modern culture in Europe and elsewhere."
Thus, we did not wish to be "fancy," but became fancy for a time nonetheless. Anyone who has ever attended spoken Mass at an FSSPX church or in a pre-Summorum indult Mass at 3pm in a ghetto knows how very un-adorned the old Mass and its attendees really are, unadorned with silly instruments and bored people wanting to take their turn in front.

We have all heard this canard before, but I hear it less and less with each passing year. That is some cause for optimism.


  1. There were many confusions and muddles in England, which really began (I think) with the Latin Mass schism - a very famous meeting in which the question was: which Latin Mass - Tridentine or the New Mass. There was a split and people were nearly lynched, so I am told. The Association for Latin Liturgy was formed and there was an alliance between the "good churches" like the Oratory - allied around the new mass in latin - done in the best of taste,of course and pretty fancy. This fudged the issue and the witness to tradition was muddled and largely became a question of Latin-Massism (a huge broad church) and people were attached to different rites for many reasons. The Lefebvre question - especially the 1988 Consecration of Bishops - which I remember so well - clarified things and divided the real Traditionalists from the Docile Vatican Yes men of the newly formed FSSP/Latin Mass Society and again, the New Rite Latinists. It was and still is complicated. I wish the LMS had not chosen the name Latin Mass Society - because it gave the impression of a bunch of cultured goofs who were keen on Classics. It began as a reasonably Traditionalist groups with people like Hugh Ross Williamson (who was a New Mass-invalidist). Now it's a society for people who like dressing up in Latin and never say Boo to any Episcopal Goose.

    As far as I know in France it was all quite different; thanks to the Liturgical Movement [ whatever its negative aspects] people knew their Mass and used the Missal and often had the Dialogue Mass - when it was Papally taken away they knew what they were missing and they rallied to the
    Traditional Mass,practice and doctrine. There was very little Latin-Massism and very little New-Rite-Latinism, things were much clearer in general; it was Old Rite or nothing. This was when the Frat. was able to take over and instead of LMS monopoly - as in England - it was really a Frat. monopoly.

    It is all very complicated - but I think that the great question is of choice - which would you choose to go to on Sunday - a splendid "Oratorian" Latin New Rite Mass with Gregorian chant; Orchestra,Mozart and lace or a Low Mass in the Old rite said at a side altar ? The presence of a number of "Good churches" where things were done "fancy" did spoil and fudge the Traditionalist witness. I am rambling but this is how I see the emergence of fanciness in England.

    1. "It is all very complicated - but I think that the great question is of choice - which would you choose to go to on Sunday - a splendid "Oratorian" Latin New Rite Mass with Gregorian chant; Orchestra,Mozart and lace or a Low Mass in the Old rite said at a side altar ?"

      I would choose the latter, of course - as would, I assume, virtually every reader of The Rad Trad's blog.

      But I do think the criticisms made of the Latin Mass Society are rather unfair. That name was chosen before the Pauline missal was ever issued; and after it was, it seems to have been thought better not to change the name again. But the mission has never changed, and the LMS's devotion to the Roman Rite (1962 or earlier) has never changed.

      Yes, French traditionalist instincts were pretty arguably more sound and more consistent, but then a) they had far deeper and more robust Catholic roots that modern (post-1850) England has had, and b) they were also much more accustomed to the blows of repression. But this merely underlines how difficult the Latin Mass Society's job in England has been.

  2. What's wrong with fancy? I like fancy.