Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Purpose of Tradition

I often mention the importance of tradition. I refer not just to authoritative Tradition but also those traditions that are the natural outgrowth of a deep devotion to our Catholic faith (excluding, of course, those traditions that develop because someone had a "cool" but uncatholic idea and people "liked" it, so it became "the way we do it"). Yet, it is easy for us to forget the proper place of these traditional practises. It should never be thought that our goal is to "do traditional stuff". Yes, we should continue to work to restore many of the Catholic traditions that are being ignored by many in the Church today, but not for the sake of the traditions themselves.

The traditions that I aim to revive (e.g. ad orientem celebration of the Mass, communion on the tongue, Gregorian chant, priests in cassocks, etc.) have a purpose to serve. They are the best means to accomplish what the goal actually is: to glorify God, by becoming Saints in Heaven, and drawing as many others with us as we can. Traditional practises are a means to greater faithfulness, but they are not the faithfulness itself (which is best defined by the two greatest Commandments). To get these two mixed up is exactly what the Jews of the first century did. They refused to acknowledge that the purpose of the Mosaic laws was to help them draw closer to God and thus become more holy.

Think of it this way: you could get to your destination either in an old junky car or in a high quality well maintained car (even if it is older than the junky one). Yes, you are much more likely to arrive if your car is in better shape, but that is not the only possible way to arrive. Yet, having said this, let me ask: which one do you feel more confident about getting you there? Right; the one that is in better shape. There may be more than one vehicle to use, but you want to use the one that does not have bald tires, a leaky transmission, a broken windshield and no brake pads.

There are many things that the Catholic Church today allows for in the practice of the faith (many of which are temporarily allowed), but that does not mean that it is the best manner of arriving at the goal of personal holiness. We are allowed either to sing Gregorian Chant in the Mass (which is supposed to be primary) or "some other suitable hymn". Yet, we have to ask the simple question: does "some other suitable hymn" impact our soul just as effectively as that which is supposed to hold precedence over all other forms of music in the Church? In other words, why would we ever willingly choose what is considered to be "second best"? Or, to go back to my earlier illustration: why would you choose the car that is falling apart?

What attracts us in our journey to the goal should not be just the car itself, but the quality of the car. This is really quite difficult for me state because I really am attracted by the reverence of the Divine Worship form of the Mass. In knowing this, I have to admit that the form of the liturgy itself is the "vehicle" and not the goal. God did not create us to "go to Mass" for all eternity; He created us to love Him for all eternity. Therefore, if someone is attracted by the tradition (like that in the Divine Worship Mass which goes back one thousand years), he must acknowledge that it cannot be idolized.

To treat the traditions themselves as though they are the final goal ("if we just do traditional things we will be OK") is to put a weight and responsibility on tradition that it was never meant to bear. When we fight for tradition, we must fight for the right reasons (and with the correct rationale). We are the ones who are supposed to be spreading the gospel and bringing many souls to worship Christ as Lord. We are the ones who are supposed to become Saints for the glory of God. Offering the Mass is what helps us do those tasks and therefore, we have to make sure that it is taken care of (not corrupted) and that it is used appropriately; it is not, however, the goal in itself.

In the Catholic faith, the quality of the "vehicle" is, simply stated, determined by its ability to help you arrive at your destination. In this case, we would find the answer by "looking under the hood". If it is a matter of liturgy, we would have to ask whether the liturgy was focused on God (the key point of the goal) or focused on man himself (a consequent component of the goal). If our liturgy is focused on man (which can happen in many ways without even being noticed; like when the priest is more concerned about what people think about the Mass than what God thinks), then it might get you to your destination, but the likelihood of it is questionable.

If our liturgy is focused on God, then our orientation will be correct and we will be heading toward the goal in the best way possible. After all, the goal is to be able to be in God's presence for all eternity. If we focus on our personal enjoyment and opinions then we are far less likely to be growing closer to God (this may seem like it is overly obvious but not everyone considers it). Therefore, keep the traditions; yes absolutely. Protect them and practice them with joy. Yet, remember that each of these things are gifts given by God to help us on the journey to Heaven. We value them because of how they help us; but we should never get confused about what our true goal is: Jesus Christ.