A Jeremiad against Pedantry

Though well and truly ageing, I am still capable of naïveté. As a feed for the monastery website I have set up and linked an Instagram account. By means of it it was hoped that tasteful shots taken from those amazing modern pocket computers, the smartphone, might afford visitors and enquirers a little insight into our life at Douai. The world-wise among you are probably already shaking your heads.

In quick succession last summer were Breakfastgate and Lunchgate, when your correspondent posted photos of a monastic breakfast and a monastic lunch taken in the refectory garden (in holiday time our meals are informal). A few people found them decadent, shocked that monks might eat homemade bread with homemade jam and washed down by a mug of coffee, or have glass of wine with the Sunday luncheon roast. But these were minor niggles really.

This week almost all the brethren are gathered at Douai for annual chapter and a series of meetings to prepare for the congregation’s general chapter in July. Arriving a few days early was our Fr Edmund, abbot emeritus of St Paul’s-outisde-the-Walls in Rome and now chaplain at the Benedictine nunnery at the basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. He offered Mass on Monday and, given I was not concelebrating, it struck me as a good photo opportunity. So one photo was very discreetly taken, and later sent to Instagram. From Instagram it went to Facebook. And that is where the trouble started.

Some whinged about the concelebrants not being in chasubles but only albs and concelebration stoles. On Sundays concelebrants do wear chasubles, though we only have white or purple concelebration chasubles at present. That is an improvement on the previous practice of never wearing concelebration chasubles. The status quo is an improvement, not ideal, but not an abuse and not a scandal.

Someone else attacked me for taking a photo during Mass, citing Cardinal Sarah as having condemned the practice. This was news to me. He, like others, condemned concelebrants taking photos as being inappropriate for those acting in persona Christi. He hardly condemned all photos at Mass. If he had, what would all those traddie websites and blogs have left to post? These sites are littered with photos of sumptuous, baroque liturgies, all designed to make a certain cast of liturgical heart go all a flutter. And that is fine.

There used to be a blog by a traditional priest that was titled, or was it subtitled?, Love the Tradition, Loathe the Traddies. It was a harsh call in many respects, but it is easy to see that in some cases it was fair. The worst advocates of traditionalism in liturgy are some traddies themselves. Their impressive knowledge of liturgical minutiae (itself admirable) leads some into an automatic critical pedantry when they see liturgical scenes that do not accord to their ideals or the standard of their own liturgical sanctuaries (or are they ghettoes?). Damned for the lack of a maniple or a concelebration chasuble or a Gothic arch.

Advocates of (American) Gothic?

When any of us make the perfect the enemy of the good, we all too often find ourselves straining at gnats while swallowing camels. Many places have imperfect liturgical practice but perhaps a practice that has been slowly but steadily improving over a period of time, an inch added to an inch, a brick to a brick. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the liturgy of the Church.

The pre-c0nciliar liturgy was destroyed with swift ease; rebuilding it will take much longer. While some, with some justification, see the complete restoration of the pre-conciliar liturgy as the only real solution, they live in cloud-cuckoo land if they think this can be effected in one stroke by a decree from on high. Most often through little if any fault of their own many Catholics, clergy included, have received a deficient catechesis in liturgy that cannot be un-done overnight, but requires some patient and effective re-catechising. It might never be done if these Catholics only ever experience traditionalists who are petty, pedantic, hyper-critical and so obsessed with liturgical performance that they are blind to the demands the gospel makes on them with regard to charity and morality. This sub-group of traditionalists make most unattractive churchfellows.

So when we opine on the current pope’s sometimes negative view of traditionalists, we might ask ourselves if, perhaps, his experience of traditionalists is of that acerbic crew who taint their incense with the hydrogen sulphide of their loud and uncompromising judgments. A spoonful of sugar, not vinegar, helps the medicine go down.

There are many of us who have no choice but to start where we are, not where we might prefer to be. We also realise that even those who most disagree with us are not expendable, able to be left by the wayside as we march onwards into liturgical glory, but that we are bound to attempt to convert them to the light, not by the sword but by charity, clarity and good example. In this age of the laity I hesitate to say it, but perhaps it is the clergy, who have a solemn pastoral responsibility, who best appreciate this and thus are not so free to fire the slings and arrows of outraged judgment.

So the Instagram page is now unlinked from Facebook, and there will be no more photos of anything liturgical at Douai, as I would not want to the disturb the liturgical shangri-las of some with the messy works-in-progress of our drab liturgical suburbia. I had been all set to begin learning the EF Mass. All of a sudden all my enthusiasm is gone.

Join the Conversation

  1. I’ve often thought there exists the phenomenon of ‘Worship of the Worship’ which causes people to lose sight of the bigger picture.

  2. it is a shame that your just wanted to share, perhaps offer a peek inside your world…when low and behold, the world decides to pick a part something meant as opening, offering and kind…and we are just left to hang our heads in this time of overt everything and sigh…..
    and please Father, I continue asking for your prayers for my dad who is in his final stage of life as he is losing the battle with the cancer….the priest came out Sunday and prayed the scarement of extreme unction…as he continues hanging in there

      1. thank you Father—the past several months have been long and hard—and with my driving almost daily to Atlanta from our home in Carrollton (about an hour’s drive when and if traffic is not bad or it can turn into a three hour drive when it is bad)I am tired…he is tired.
        The nurses are surprised that he’s hanging on as he is as they didn’t seem him lasting over a weekend…which was over a month ago–my prayer has been that he will not hurt—he is taking morphine but on an as needed basis—but at 89, he is tired…so we are just day by day…
        your prayers are greatly appreciated as prayer is the only thing that is sustaining us…

  3. Don’t despair Fr., the overly negative are always there but they are a very small minority! I know exactly what you are saying – keep going!

  4. I read your posts with interest and appreciation and do hope that your better judgment leads you to the celebration of the ancient rite, quelling the passing tempest of the feelings (enthusiasm being, as we all know, an unsure guide to action and all too often a prelude to notoriety). (Don’t misunderstand! I know quite well that sort of partisan of Tradition– or tradition– who writes without charity and without a sufficiently broad view that allows for unbought concelebration chasubles.)

    On the practical side, surely you can push the comments buttons on your blogging software so that you must approve ’em before they appear online? You are kind enough (so far as I can tell) to read them or most of them in any case.

    1. On my blog there is such a mechanism for new commenters, but I am not sure that Facebook has it, and it is Facebook where the damage was done. That is why I have unlinked the Instagram from it. My only remedy on Facebook is unfriending and blocking! Pax.

      1. Ah, I see. That place, eh. In Septuagesima I’ve been giving serious consideration to writing to all my actual friends and family there, making sure they have my email address, telephone number, &c &c, and then going off it. A relationship is worth keeping in touch via mail, or email, or… but in any case oughtn’t to be reliant on Fb, not in this day and age when there are so many other communications options available. Pax et bonum!

    1. I like to think, perhaps fancifully, that the EF already has influenced by OF. But I grant you, there is no substitute for knowing the old Mass from complete and direct experience.

  5. Dear Father Hugh, peace.
    Thank you for the above.
    I hope you will add some of your photos of Douai life on this website.
    I get annoyed when comparison photos are shown of the EF and OF, where the former is a sumptuous High Mass and the latter some degraded irregular form of the OF.
    This is not the norm for the OF anywhere I have been in Australia.
    I like the description “the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite”, and the monastic liturgies I have attended have exhibited it well.
    Some photos of High Mass on traditional sites, with a priest, deacon, subdeacon, and six or so men standing around in copes, make me wonder if this is salvation by haberdashery!
    I am sorry it was so hot when you were down under.
    Blessings, Fr Ronan erem. dio.

    1. “Salvation by haberdashery”— that’s a keeper, Father! I quite agree that sometimes the comparison shots are so biased and propagandistic as to be worthy of Herr Goebbels. To the disbelief of some I would certainly say that I have been to well-celebrated OF Masses that seemed to me sublimely beautiful and satisfying. Of course, I am a reform of the reform man, and find in 1965’s interim Missal the true Mass of Vatican II, but the OF is not beyond worthy celebration.

      On a side note, two weeks back I was driving past Berry and thought of you not so far away in Kangaroo Valley. I was not alone so a diversion was not practicable. And of course, I would not have known where to find you!

      Pax tibi.

  6. Yes, facebook has a lot to answer for in empowering the pedants and nutty fringe. And arguing them down takes time and effort that most can’t spare. But please do post your pictures here, it is great to get these little insights into the life you lead.

  7. I pray for a return of some of your lost enthusiasm for learning how to offer Mass in the EF.
    It is so sad that a minority of EF supporters can be such a turn-off to those of us who have a nostalgia for the silence and reverence which were and are so much a part of the old rite.

  8. What a very wise and thoughtful post. Our parish priest is doing what you suggest – gradually introducing a little Latin where there was little or none before; by his own demeanour encouraging devout practices reminiscent of the EF (such as teaching the servers to remain kneeling until the Blessed Sacrament has been replaced in the tabernacle) – and more and more people are choosing to genuflect (if they are able) rather than bow before receiving Communion. Ad multos annos, Father!

  9. “there will be no more photos of anything liturgical at Douai”

    With all due respect, Father, I think this a mistake. Why pander to the naysayers who you will never be able to please? Surely, far better just to ignore the criticism and then continue to let those of us who value our occasional wee glimpses into your life as a priest and into the life of your monastery to continue so doing?

  10. Hello Father, I second catholicommentblog. It’s great to have priests interacting with people through social media, I think it’s very valuable for promoting the gospel and for fostering a sense of community between the religious and lay people. I think having access to online faith communities and resources is especially important for people who can’t travel much but want to feel included and share their faith, and therefore can keep in touch with those who add so much to their daily walk with Christ. I think of your good self Father, along with Bishop Robert Barron, whose Lenten daily meditation via email I have signed up for, and his videos on YouTube, the Pope Himself and his Instagram and homilies. There are some more holy people I’m sure.

    Blessings Father and while I don’t have a smartphone as yet, I shall still watch out for your updates. Jane.

  11. Dear Father

    May I urge you to continue your study of the EF. I think it would be a great shame if you were to abandon it now. After all, why should you deny yourself its riches simply because of the attitudes of a few other people?

  12. Please, Father, please do not give up on the Usus Antiquior! I beseech and entreat you to pursue your initiation into the EF. I remember attending a few of your Sunday masses in Douai, in the small church next to the Abbey – and was always edified by your reverence and devotion. Do not give up!


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