As much as I love my "Nova et Vetera" column at the (Toronto) Catholic Register, and very grateful I am to have it, too, there is a special place in my heart for my old (defunct) "Mad Trad Corner" column in (Saskatchewan's) Prairie Messenger. When I write a column for the Catholic Register, I imagine the ladies of my mother's CWL reading it with interest and agreement. I imagine the Fathers of the Toronto Oratory casting an eye over it, too. Alas, I fear my old professors do not read it, but when he was still alive, Carl, the college janitor, read it religiously. Bless him.
(Sudden aside: I have known three splendid janitors in my life, who all had a soft spot for me, and I for them. What is it about janitors? Talk about spiritual fatherhood! My three had it in sackfuls.)
"Mad Trad Corner" was another story. As it appeared in the most... ahhhhhhhhh... "progressive" print Catholic paper with any notable circulation in Canada, I knew I was on mission territory. It was really brave of the editor, who had asked me to write, to accept my column idea in the first place. From the very beginning, she was under a lot of pressure to drop the column. To her credit, she withstood the assault for 27 or 28 weeks.
Why the pressure? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, the hermeneutic of rupture. There are powerful and influential theologians, priests, media types, etc., etc., who firmly and honestly believe that the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was a New Pentecost that ushered in a New Church, a Church that reclaimed the purity of second century Christianity while accepting the modern day with love. Anything that recalls the Catholic culture between 400 and 1962 makes them shudder. Double plus ungood, and that certainly includes Saint Augustine, the greatest Christian theologian after Saint Paul. Having jettisoned the Early Church Fathers, they follow after the Latter Church Fathers (and, no doubt, Mothers) and write enthusiastic little préces on their work, full of gibberish.
And that is why, my little angels, I could hear the shrieking from Saskatchewan even while sitting in the converted linen closet of my Scottish attic, when the following was published in 2010:
Reclaiming Our Catholic Heritage
When I proposed a column for the Prairie Messenger called “Mad Trad Corner,” I was mostly joking. Friends have warned me not to write too often about traditional devotions, for fear I’ll be pigeon-holed as a Latin Mass nut. However, I am a Latin Mass nut—there’s no getting around it. Every Sunday I run about my apartment looking for my black mantilla, missal and bus fare, and travel for over an hour to a little wooden church to hear a beautiful Missa Cantata and an edifying sermon. My formerly Anglican husband is in its minute choir.
My love of the 1962 Mass sometimes puzzles readers, to say nothing of friends from the Toronto School of Theology. After all, I was born after the Second Vatican Council, and therefore shouldn’t have nostalgia for what some call “the bad old days.” And, indeed, I don’t. What I have is a great respect for all the ecumenical councils, including Vatican II, an event which was meant to invigorate the Church, not toss out our traditions. And I am excited about such signs of the times as Summorum Pontificum (2007), the papal letter granting us more access to the beautiful Mass of John XXIII.
In his December 22, 2005 remarks about the Second Vatican Council, Benedict XVI critiqued the hermeneutic (interpretive lens) of rupture, the view that the documents of Vatican II split the post-conciliar from the pre-conciliar Church. He suggested that this hermeneutic of rupture has caused much confusion, division and loss. And, having grown up entirely in the post-conciliar Church, I heartily agree.
In 1985, despite ten years of Catholic school, I felt woefully unprepared for my upcoming Confirmation. By Grade 8, religion class was an afterthought, alternating with or substituted by art class. The most tangible preparation for Confirmation was our stole project. We were directed to snip sacred symbols out of felt and glue them to felt stoles. We were also told to memorize the Apostles’ Creed and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the bishop wouldn’t confirm us if we didn’t.
I knew the Apostles’ Creed, and I duly memorized the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit without understanding what they meant: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and The Fear of the Lord. The first six sounded good, but “The Fear of the Lord” worried me. For ten years teachers had stressed that we need have no fear of the Lord. The Lord, I had sung over and over again, was kind and merciful. The concept of divine justice got lost in choir practice and the scraps of felt. Divine justice was right out of fashion in 1985.
I consulted my mother
“Of course, you should fear the Lord,” she said. “You fear your father, don’t you?”
I didn’t. My father is a kindly man who rarely raises his voice. Was I supposed to fear him? How sad! But my mother had become a Catholic in 1969, and did not know how to explain, as St. Thomas Aquinas had explained, the concept of filial, as opposed to servile, fear. St. Thomas Aquinas was right out of fashion in 1969. I should have asked my cradle Catholic dad.
I seemed to have been baptized into a Catholicism much different from the one into which my dad was baptized. His Catholicism included a liturgy that had developed slowly and organically over the centuries, pausing at the Council of Trent to be codified and made the standard for the Latin Church. There was a nun among his aunts. Nuns ran his primary school. He went to a Jesuit boarding-school. He learned the Baltimore Catechism by rote. He even—for he became an altar server—memorized the server’s Latin responses for the Mass. He knelt for Benediction.
My Catholicism included folk guitars and snappy tunes at our vernacular Mass. There were no nuns in my family. The last nun standing retired from my primary school when I was five. My brothers couldn’t go to my father’s Jesuit boarding-school, for it had closed. I never learned any catechism by rote. I didn’t know for years that the Mass had been in Latin. I first knelt for Benediction at my high school graduation; I had never heard of this devotion before.
I was a child, not of Vatican II, but of the hermeneutic of rupture. But slowly, thanks to those who preserved them, I began to find the ancestral treasures my father’s generation had taken for granted. What I hope to do with this column is to share them with you.
This was revolutionary. That is, it was counter-revolutionary. And I knew it when I wrote every column, and I counted each week I wasn't fired as a victory. My column made me a good friend, too, in the person of a young priest who, despite everything, managed to learn and to say the Traditional Latin Mass out there in the prairies.