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The Small-T Traditions
by Arturo Vasquez   
7/07/10
http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.p...&Itemid=48

In many ways, the American experience is all about forgetting. Since this is a nation where almost everyone descends from immigrants, homogenization of cultural differences is necessary for creating a harmonious social order. It is only a matter of time before this affects the religious sphere of any given group. It is at least arguable that religion in the United States must inevitably become individualistic, consumerist, and fascinated with innovation. What came from the past, from ancestors in another time and society, must be forgotten since it is irrelevant; or at the very least, it must be subjugated to the needs and prejudices of the present.

Thus, forgetting has been an important survival mechanism in our society. In the Catholic experience, believers have often been confronted with a hostile environment that considers their beliefs and practices to be backwards, atavistic, and even pagan. As a result, Catholicism has frequently bowed to the prejudices of the American Protestant society. Our Catholicism thus became highly institutionalized, moralistic, and sober. Arguably, it went from being a faith and practice based primarily in the home and hearth to one that obsessed over how Catholics could be better citizens of American democracy. The predominantly Irish hierarchy of the first half of last century thus sought to flatten the heterogeneous Catholicisms of Italians, Poles, Slovaks, Mexicans, Louisiana Creoles, and so on into one homogenous American faith. Forgetting was an important ingredient in this new Catholicism.

The trajectory that this process took is pretty well known by all. As the Catholic ghettoes emptied and the suburbs filled, festivals, devotions, languages, and imagery were lost to the bunker-style mega-parishes of middle class America. Perhaps some of the traditions of the past were preserved by the older folks, but those who were born in the aftermath of this movement were left with little sense of the Faith that had come before. What was passed on was Catholicism at its lowest common denominator: a Catholicism of convenience, a Catholicism with the ethos of a strip-mall Starbucks.

It was inevitable that certain people would revolt against such a faith. While many progressive elements see nothing wrong with the present state of the Church (mainly out of a visceral dislike for "pre-Vatican II" ways), many more Catholics are extremely dissatisfied with the flavor of Catholicism in 21st-century America. The larger portion of these people is often ignored: those who leave the Church altogether. Why these people leave is a topic for another day; but other more "conservative" elements do indeed feel cheated by the state of the Faith as it was passed down to them.

These Catholics -- call them "Neo-Caths," "traditionalists," or "conservatives" -- seek to satisfy their hunger for a "thicker" Faith through books, Web sites, clubs, and even specialized "niche parishes" where they are allowed their own liturgical and devotional particularities. While such aspirations are legitimate, they must be tempered by the realization that these efforts do not necessarily create an organically traditional Catholicism, but rather can be yet another manifestation of American consumerism on the religious level.

In these circles, arguments over what Tradition is can miss the forest for the trees. Having been deprived of a tradition, properly speaking, many try to recreate it using books, Internet forums, and popular media. What often results is a parody of the ancestral faith; a version in which certain practices are preserved while others are conveniently dropped. Variations on the theme of remembering and forgetting are often at the heart of the arguments among members of the Catholic right. Some want one thing done at Mass, others want another. One group says we must follow this page in the book, others say that we must follow that page. These arguments often have nothing to do with what we were taught at the home by our parents, or what was passed down to us by our forbearers. In other words, they have little to do with tradition proper, and more to do with personal taste.


I have come to learn the hard way that such debates over what constitutes tradition have little foundation in what tradition actually is. I confess here that I first learned to pray the rosary out of a book. I had joined my local Legion of Mary as a teenager and said the rosary the way the Legion did. After a long youthful period of religious exploring, which included a stop in the Eastern Church, I ended up once again where I started from: in the house of my grandparents.

I began to pray the rosary in Spanish with them, and in the process realized that this was not the rosary I had learned as an adolescent. The method of saying the rosary that they had brought with them from Mexico was a rushed catechetical poetry, an echo of generations of prayer that I could never learn from a book. There was nothing wrong, in principal, with what I had learned as a youth, but the way my grandparents said the rosary seemed better precisely because it was old. It belonged to me. It was my birthright. It was almost in my blood.

It is that organic tie with the past that is missing in many of the polemics over liturgy, devotions, and the general shape of Catholic life in this country. When some pundits speak of capital-T Tradition, they are often speaking of a disembodied ideal that they want for everyone that was lived in the past by no one. It is found only in books, beamed to them directly via satellite feeds from the Vatican, packaged in cellophane wrap complete with a user guide. It is often disconnected from real life, and negligent in terms of the little details of the Catholic ethos. How does one pray the rosary, bless the food, decorate a home altar, etc.? Like learning to drive or raise children, there is only so much one can learn from a book (or from a blog, for that matter).

Of course, not everyone has Mexican parents who grew up in a rural village in the 1950s to teach them these things. If the Catholic ghetto of yesteryear is dead and buried, then where can we learn these things if not from books, EWTN, Web sites, and so forth?

While acknowledging the objection, I would at the very least exhort the reader to reach out to other, less conventional sources when arguing about tradition. Perhaps one could go to an elderly relative, an old devotional book, or an ethnic festival where vestiges of the old ways can be seen. Perhaps we have to begin to acknowledge once again that to be Catholic is to venerate old things precisely because they are old. Tradition is not convenient, and it may not even seem tasteful. But like many old things, it can be wise.
Too bad Mr. Vasquez is such an apologist for all sorts of illegitimate forms of folk religion and seems to be enamored of any folk custom that the Church rightly condemned, such as the religious veneration of a dead dog.  (I kid thee not.) 
(07-14-2010, 06:18 AM)Bonifacius Wrote: [ -> ]Too bad Mr. Vasquez is such an apologist for all sorts of illegitimate forms of folk religion and seems to be enamored of any folk custom that the Church rightly condemned, such as the religious veneration of a dead dog.  (I kid thee not.) 

Yeah. I think Arturo has a lot of great thoughts, but he also seems hellbent on being the world's only apologist for folk Catholicism.
Okay I'm old and stupid. I just read this article and what he said in the article is like a spike driven through the heart of the problem. What am I missing ?  (Boy I wish I had a cig right now!)
tim
(07-14-2010, 02:30 PM)timoose Wrote: [ -> ]Okay I'm old and stupid. I just read this article and what he said in the article is like a spike driven through the heart of the problem. What am I missing ?  (Boy I wish I had a cig right now!)
tim

You're not missing anything. I think it's a good article. Arturo just says some nutty things on his blog, usually something related to folk Catholicism vs. clerical Catholicism.

http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/
(07-14-2010, 02:41 PM)The_Harlequin_King Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-14-2010, 02:30 PM)timoose Wrote: [ -> ]Okay I'm old and stupid. I just read this article and what he said in the article is like a spike driven through the heart of the problem. What am I missing ?  (Boy I wish I had a cig right now!)
tim

You're not missing anything. I think it's a good article. Arturo just says some nutty things on his blog, usually something related to folk Catholicism vs. clerical Catholicism.

http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/

You know I have to say that I think Mexican Catholicism was compromised a long time ago, at least going back to the 1920s.  The author is also making the mistake that immigrant culture = Catholic culture, and that the more there is a ghetto the more Catholic you are. 
The only problem with blaming the loss of Catholic traditions on "the American experience" is that Europe threw them out even faster, from what I understand.  It might be more accurate to blame the post-Enlightenment West in general, but he seems to like taking shots at white-bread America.  To paraphrase Homer Simpson: is there any calamity we haven't caused?

He makes a good point, though, that learning tradition (or anything) from a book just isn't the same as absorbing it from your elders.  You can see that with other things that were lost by the boomer generation.  I grew up on a farm with a big garden, and now I live in town and know all these people who are starting small gardens.  They go get a couple books, and then they try to do things by the book, which may or may not make sense for their situation, and is usually a lot more work than the techniques and shortcuts I learned growing up.  You see the same thing with people whose mothers and grandmothers worked and brought home TV dinners, so they're trying to learn to cook from books and TV shows.  Sometimes I'm reminded of the phrase, "just enough knowledge to be dangerous."

But to get back to religious family and regional traditions like flavors of saying the rosary:  if our only choice is learning from books and starting our own new local traditions, that's what we'll have to do.  I don't see much point in crying about it.  Better to go back to the books that our ancestors used as a jumping off point -- whether anyone back then did it exactly that way or not -- than to try to make our own from scratch or try to 'traditionalize' modern innovations.

(07-14-2010, 03:00 PM)Robert De Brus Wrote: [ -> ]You know I have to say that I think Mexican Catholicism was compromised a long time ago, at least going back to the 1920s.  The author is also making the mistake that immigrant culture = Catholic culture, and that the more there is a ghetto the more Catholic you are. 

I haven't read all his stuff, but what I have read is pretty contemptuous of middle-class white America, to be blunt.  The standard multi-culti viewpoint, really: all cultures are valuable except one, and they tend to increase in value the more different they are from that one.

It stands to reason that Mexican Catholicism would be compromised.  Mexico had one of the earliest communist revolutions in 1910, and though there weren't the gulags and mass killings there like there were some places in Europe (well, not counting a massacre here and there) Catholics were certainly persecuted, as we always are by socialist governments.  Priests were run out of the country at gunpoint and churches were closed.  As he suggests in this article, a nation can forget a lot of things very quickly when it tries.  The Mexican government has been more or less socialist and oppressive ever since, so it's not like there's been a lot of opportunity for a rebirth.

I'm not saying there aren't devout Mexican Catholics, obviously.  I'm sure there are many.  But the idea that everyone south of the border carries around a rosary and makes devotions to the Blessed Mother every day appears to be a fantasy of Hollywood and Republican strategists who think it'd be easier to import new voters than win back old ones.
For tradition to take root US society needs to abandon the necessity to move from place to place for your livelihood. This was planned to kill the society and the family. If we continue in this way the homogeneous lowest common denominator is what we will remain.This is why Manufacturing and a ghetto must return, and the progressives grip on society must be broken.
tim
(07-14-2010, 03:39 PM)timoose Wrote: [ -> ]For tradition to take root US society needs to abandon the necessity to move from place to place for your livelihood. This was planned to kill the society and the family. If we continue in this way the homogeneous lowest common denominator is what we will remain.This is why Manufacturing and a ghetto must return, and the progressives grip on society must be broken.
tim

Maybe you're right, but I can't imagine how it's possible to just change to an older kind of economy.

Besides, I think moving around can actually help circulate tradition around the country faster. For example, if my friend rbjmartin (a former FSSP seminarian with considerable knowledge in chant) didn't move here to my city, our Gregorian schola might not have ever gotten off the ground.


Also, on the subject of chant, it goes into Arturo's point that most (American) churches pre-Vatican II didn't actually use Gregorian chant. "Tradition" in the literal sense of what was actually done before the Council would more likely mean the Rossini Propers and some really bad hymns at low Mass. Arturo seems to actually argue in favour of that at some points in his blog. I don't. I'm fine with trying to propagate the music of the Church as understood by Rome and places like Solesmes, even if that means being cut of the same clericalist cloth as the "periti" or whatever, and even if it wasn't the reality of the average pre-VII parish.
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