Tuesday, November 12, 2013
The Value of Tradition
I saw someone on twitter comment that the sealing — with the wax, as is traditional — was all part and parcel of our church’s “medieval” mindset, and it annoyed me, because it is a kneejerk (and false) bit of approved grousing, put on for show; or because the commenter is too lazy to actually think but wants to play to an audience (the curse of social media, to which we all fall into at times!)Sadly this "sourpussery" is not limited to the secular observers of such things. It is alive and well inside Evanghelicalism which wants to strip us completely of the traditional and ceremonial for the sake of the utilitarian. Sanctuaries are now multipurpose rooms and any form of adornment runs dangerously close to idolatry.
So, really, what is wrong with tradition, particularly when it is illustrative, evocative and meaningful, as the sealing of the papal apartments surely is? The sealing says: this place is Peter’s for the world’s sake, not for the casualness of our everyday. It connects us to our past; it reminds us that Offices transcend any man.
There is a brand of sourpussery that appears to be in ascendance, and some of it is rooted in the utilitarian mindset that values everything (and everybody) on usefulness: if this thing/person seems to be pointless to the day or doesn’t suit our idea of what matters, it is extraneous; it is wasteful; it should be stopped, or killed.
These same people, I am quite sure, do not think twice about secular excesses of pomp and ceremony. They’re fine with Olympic ceremonies with lavish, overdone opening and closing ceremonies — the bestowing of medals, and the playing of anthems. They’re fine with Super Bowl traditions and World Series drama. They’re glued to their televisions during Red Carpet Walks and the bestowing of statuettes, and they travel to Washington DC to be part of the crowd during presidential inauguration that sometimes extend over a period of days and culminate in dozens of balls.
And they’re fine with Mardi Gras, too.
Worse all, the liturgical is always assumed to be void and empty. But consider what the Anchoress said there, "...particularly when it is illustrative, evocative and meaningful...." The problem is NOT that these things are void, but that we have not bothered to learn the meaning, and therefore we are not evoked by it.
But worse yet are people that learn and simply do not care, for these are people in whom selfishness has taken deep root. Most of the time this is done for the sake of "reaching out." That is to say the traditional and ceremonial is set aside for the sake on the uninitiated. But so often the uninitiated, once they come to the institution, are never initiated to these things, rather they are turned around to draw more through the door. What's the assumption there? That the uninitiated are too stupid to become initiated? Who are we to decide that? Are we not in the business of elevating people?
I will close with an analogy. The abbreviated form of English that dominates the texting world is quite utilitarian. But it is also far less informative that full prose. What we do in the church when we jettison the traditional for the sake of reaching out is the same as our schools jettisoning spelling and grammar for the sake of making sure everyone can spell and speak grammatically in texting code. They cannot really spell of speak grammatically at all.