Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stanford Nutting and the Angry Trad; or, of axes and hatchets

A lot of virtual ink has been spilled already over this article by Steve Skojec:

It's the same with the liturgy. When I stumbled on this ancient and venerable form of Mass of the Roman Rite and saw it with new eyes, I shared it every chance I had. I argued for it, defended it, got angry at those who sought to demean or suppress it, and generally kept my verbal sword at the ready for any challenge to this newly discovered ecclesial treasure. I even blogged for a time (tongue-in-cheek) as "The Evil Traditionalist," poking fun at those who painted the Traditional Latin Mass crowd with a broad, derogatory brush.

Over time, the arguments grew old. You can only spend so many hours in comment boxes, or start so many heated debates at family gatherings. The pope liberated the Traditional Latin Mass from the false shackles with which it had been kept from the faithful, and my life became simpler and less concerned with "traditional apologetics." The heady days of doing battle for the Faith faded from memory, and I focused more on being a Catholic husband and father than developing my reputation as a liturgical pugilist. However, as I settled down and sheathed my blade, I became gradually and uncomfortably aware of something: A lot of traditionalists really are jerks. [...]

Years ago, when I first became enamored of the traditional Catholic liturgy, a friend of mine who enjoyed going to the Extraordinary Form (but wasn't committed to it) asked me a pointed question: "If traditional Catholics have this great treasure, as they say they do, shouldn't it make them the happiest people you know? Shouldn't their joy over so beautiful a liturgy be overflowing, and thereby draw others in to find out what they have that's so great?"

That's an important point. I do believe that those of us who have been drawn to the majesty and solemnity of the ancient liturgy have a pearl of great price that should make us excited to be Catholic, and to share the goodness we've found with others. We should be happy at Mass, friendly to our fellow parishioners, welcoming to those who are new, and understanding to those who don't yet see why we make so much effort to be a part of something so outside the norm.

Predictably, Steve is taking a lot of "friendly fire" from fellow Traditionalists, who are bitterly scolding him for calling them...bitter scolds. There are, of course, some balanced, sane reactions as well, but these are sadly drowned out by those who seem to want to keep their battle-axes perpetually ground, for that inevitable moment when the closet modernist Benedict XVI decides to suppress once again the Mass that Jesus Himself said at the Last Supper which was then handed down unaltered throughout the ages (as anybody who has ever really studied the Shroud of Turin knows perfectly well) and force everybody to attend the Star Wars Mass, otherwise known as the Novus Ordo.


The Angry Traditionalist is quite an Internet character, isn't he? In fact, we've gotten to know his whole family: Mr. Angry Trad himself, with his perpetual bitter scowl of solemn joy; Mrs. Angry Trad, who is superior to the other women of her EF parish because the lace which drapes her from head to toe is both long enough and of good enough quality to serve as a tablecloth, or at least as an altar linen in the family's home chapel; there are the little Mr. Trads, who not only serve Mass themselves, but are expert in criticizing the other servers' behavior and demeanor, and have been maintaining, for years, a secret speculative chart plotting the likely eternal destiny of each of their brother altar servers based on these two characteristics; and finally, there are the little Miss Trads, each of whom would not be caught dead in a pair of slacks, and have learned to ride bicycles, play baseball, climb trees, and even swim in proper long skirts like the women of old.

Yes, the Angry Trad is quite a character, isn't he? You can almost picture him, striding about his living room in a manly but expressive stride, gesturing almost liturgically as he regales his wide-eyed little ones with the dramatic tale of Cardinal Siri, which the youngest of them have not yet heard.

He appears to our eyes almost as vividly Stanford Nutting:

who is, of course, a fictional character.

A caricature, in fact. A wildly funny caricature, if you are Catholic and grew up in what I like to call the Age of Not Believing. Funny, because there's an element of truth in him--and that truth may be a touch uncomfortable to those who took part in felt-banner creation once upon a time.

And the Angry Trad is a caricature, as well--a caricature of the Catholic whose reaction to the Age of Not Believing was to find certain solid other things to believe in--oh, yes, God, and His Church, though with a definite asterisk by things like Vatican II and the Catechism (the modern suspect Freemason-inspired one, not the Baltimore Catechism which is the Catechism of the Ages and was secretly penned back in the first century by the faithful centurion)--but more importantly things like the indisputable fact that all the angels in the Heavenly Host speak Latin, that "Bring Flowers of the Fairest" is sublime sacred music while "On Eagle's Wings" is unsingable dreck, and that of course active participation means standing stock still, perfectly silent, and preferably glowering (though a withering glare is permissible on some more joyful feast days) for however long it pleases Father to continue the Mass, with the occasionally permissible glance at the missal for those women, children, and weak-minded men who can't memorize all of the Propers and are liable to get lost if Father is using the optional prayers for the Feast of Saint Agonicibus instead of those for the Sunday at hand.

Is the Angry Trad ubiquitous in parishes where the Extraordinary Form is celebrated? No, of course not. He, like Stanford Nutting, is almost never encountered in the flesh--at least, not all of him. There are...echoes, we might say. Just as there are echoes of Nutting in the parishioner or two who wish our choir could sing "Happy Birthday" on people's birthdays, and who have bothered Father about it.

The thing is, I, a Novus Ordo Mass participant, do not think that every traditional person who attends the EF Mass is an Angry Trad, or has anything to do with his tribe. I know quite sane traditionalists, some in my own family. I also know that there are whole EF parishes full of people who, if told some derisive joke about the "Nervous Disorder Mass" by a fellow parishioner, would gently correct this person by saying that the Novus Ordo is a true and valid Mass, and it is offensive to Jesus for us to claim otherwise or disrespect what is holy.

But then, I also know that many, if not most, Novus Ordo parishes aren't full of Nuttings, either. We had a sort of Nutting-parish in our diocese, but our bishop has reportedly cracked down rather hard on them in the years since he came here (and the previous bishop was ill for some time before). But the Nutting-types are so far from being in the majority that you will be hard pressed to find any of them in regular Catholic parishes. You will find people who mean really, really well and have been catechized really, really poorly--like me, for instance. You will find people who are just waiting to hear what the Church really wants in order to act on it. You will find people saying to other adult Catholics that what's really wrong with the Church and the whole world is contraception--that too many people still don't understand why it's wrong or that it's a terrible sin to use it (and yes, I almost fell over when I heard that sentiment expressed by a member of our sister-parish, because I wasn't expecting it--though my "Amen!" was quickly expressed). You will find people who exemplify patience, joy, peace, generosity, kindness, goodness, and all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit in such great measure that they become models to follow, leading us to Christ.

You will find these people at EF Masses, at NO Masses, at Byzantine Rite Masses, and everywhere else where the Church celebrates the Heavenly Banquet on Earth.

So what I think needs to happen is that all of us, the Gentle Trads and the Much-more-than-Nutting Ordinary Formers, ought to start forcing the Nuttings and the Angry Trads to bury the hatchet. We are, after all, all Catholic. Some of us may be good Catholics; others may be bad ones--but as God hasn't given up on any of us yet, is it really the charitable and Christian thing to do to give up on each other?


priest's wife said...

Wow- can't wait to read the comments...

Carrie said...

I absolutely LOVE your writing style! - and I think this post is very well said!

Rebecca in CA said...

Thanks for writing on this. I attend a Latin NO about half of the time and the EF the other half, and go to the local English NO sometimes for daily Mass. Anyway, I must say I have really noticed a large extra dose of cantankerousness among the EF goers. I used to be intimidated by the ugly looks whenever my small children would make a peep in Church. Recently though, I have begun to feel that esp. with the EF being able to be more widely available, more families need to go out of their way to attend, with their babbling, wiggling little kids. Instead of avoiding it, we need to take it back. Normal people need to attend it and help it be a normal liturgy that normal people go to, instead of a gathering place for reactionaries and puritans. And maybe that will help the reactionaries and puritans relaxa little. Now when I get the dirty looks, I give the person a great big smile and continue praying. They'll get used to it.

JMB said...

What's the difference between a Latin NO and an EF? If the EF is the TLM, what is the Latin NO?

Rebecca in CA said...

The Latin NO is just the NO done in Latin. It is the Mass revised and promulgated after Vatican II. Some parts of the NO are the same as the EF. The EF contains many more prayers, though there are more Scripture readings in the EF. The rubrics are a little different. Some people think the Latin and the priest facing the tabernacle are proper to the EF rather than the NO, but that is just a matter of custom. Our wedding was a Latin NO with the priest facing the tabernacle.

Rebecca in CA said...

Scuze me, I meant to say that there are more Scripture readings in the NO than the EF. For instance, in the NO you have a three-year cyle whereas in the EF you only have a one-year cycle.

JMB said...

Thank you Rebecca. I've never been to a TLM.

LLMom said...

I attend the EF and see this a lot. It is really sad. I have been hurt a lot by these extremists as have many of my friends. Great piece.