Friday, March 09, 2007

Some Thoughts on Tradition

This post will yet again be brief, but it is my hope that I can at least communicate something coherent and in the end profound to the reader (if any, lol).

Tradition, as I've said in my previous posts, is the essence of the Church. The word itself hails from the Latin 'traditio' which means something which has been handed down. Tradition is more than just the sum of all the gestures we do during the Mass; in tradition, we see the entire history of the Church, from Her infancy to the present day. A genuflection, for instance, is more than a mere act of politeness; it also symbolizes our affirmation of the doctrine of the Real Presence, as well as the fulfillment of the Biblical command that 'at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend'. In the numberless gestures that we Catholics make-- whether the triple cross during the Gospel, or bowing the head at the mention of the Holy Name, or kissing a St. Michael medal in times of trouble and affliction, we see a part of the truth of the Church. Tradition, then, is almost a 'sacrament'. It binds and has bound Catholics throughout the centuries, and still does so, albeit on a less obvious level (no doubt due to our own fault). Tradition both sanctifies us and has, in turn, been sanctified, canonized, by the actions of many saints in the past.

Tradition is history. It helps us to reconnect with our past, without actually dwelling on it. The beauty of Tradition is that it is by nature 'sacred'. It has been hallowed, as it were, by its usage by men and women greater than ourselves, and has given strength and succor even to the destitute. Tradition, then, connects the rich to the poor, the mighty to the fallen, the sinner to the saint. Tradition tells us, rather, reminds us, of that one truth we have seemingly forgotten: that the Church is a living, breathing entity, much like an extended family. Oftentimes we are confined to the notion that the Church is this unshakable monolith with the Pope and his curia at the very top. Tradition reminds us that the simple and ignorant are just as much a part of the Church as the learned. Tradition, then, serves as an equalizer. It is our common inheritance, that precious piece of memory from the past.

Lastly, Tradition is perhaps the most visible, tangible proof of the communion of saints. In the Creed, we profess our belief in the doctrine of the communion of saints, that most comforting doctrine by which we affirm the capability and efficacy of the saints' intercession for us in Heaven. By repeating the hallowed and hallowing gestures of our faith, like the above mentioned genuflections, we are doing exactly what Francis Xavier would have done all those years ago. By weeping over the Santo Entierro, we are imbibing the simple spirituality of Francis of Assissi. By venerating Our Lady of Victories, we are paying tribute to Pius V. Tradition, then, is a continuous process that should, theoretically, grow more profound with every passing generation.

This is the disaster of Vatican II. It has destroyed these 'family customs' and substituted 'new', 'fresh' and 'experimental' ways and approaches to do things which we have always done in the past. Instead of Tradition evolving into something more glorious, this Council has done much to circumvent the wisdom of the past with its arrogant innovations. Gone is the sense of Tradition being a common property; in this 'Spirit of Vatican II' age, tradition is virtually rendered meaningless, and it is left to the individual to make his own sense of it. We have thus effectively estranged ourselves from each other.

Tradition is not sacred because it is untouchable. A true sense of tradition knows that it is continually evolving, whether through accretion, amalgamation or otherwise. The Church-- the human element, that is-- is beautiful not because it is perfect, but precisely because it is human. It is a Church that knows how to love, how to cry, how to mourn, how to rejoice, how to be angry, what have you. The same is true for any family. While we might occasionally pick fights amongst ourselves, these only help to make us understand how much we love each other. I believe St. John Chrysostom said something to the effect that Adam and Eve's banishment from Paradise was the only way they could see how much God loved them. Vatican II, in its dream to reflect a fabled 'Golden Age' of the Church, has forgotten that there is no such age. There have always been heresies and schisms and grave scandals in the past. To try and think otherwise would be the height of foolishness.

This is the ultimate irony of it all. Vatican II was actually more idealistic (in the wrong sense) than what it tried to portray itself. In its dream of achieving perfection in this earthly life, it has steered the Church clear away from the path of the supernatural and into the world of the mundane. Tradition is our sole refuge in reconnecting with our past. It is the one thing that connects us all, the living, the dying and the dead. That the Council destroyed this notion of connection is indeed lamentable.

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