Monday, 11 January 2016

Going to Trad Mass without "Going Trad"

The Rome-based New Liturgical Movement blog asked for reports on attendance at readers' Traditional Latin Masses around the world. One commenter--I think he was American--decried  that one couldn't just go to the Extraordinary Form, one had to "go Trad." Unfortunately, the chap didn't say what he meant by that, or who is enforcing it, or what town he is talking about. We are talking about a world-wide restoration here.

Obviously the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is a incomparable treasure of the Church available to all Catholics, even if they are in a state of mortal sin, and any non-Catholic guests we bring with us. (Naturally reception of Holy Communion is reserved to Catholics in a state of grace who have fasted and wish to receive.) The one thing those who regularly attend the EF expect of those who don't is a reverent silence (or brief communications to each other in voices no louder than a whisper) in church before, during and after Mass.

You go in at the church door, taking off your hat (if male), you kneel or sit, you pray or sit being quiet, you toss money in the collection basket or you don't, you receive Holy Communion (if appropriate) or you don't, you sing with the congregation or you don't, you pray silently afterwards or you leave at once. If you leave early, no-one will take offense: in the Edinburgh TLM, a doctor often hurries off to answer a vibrated summons and two or three of the senior ladies toddle off  soon after Holy Communion  to set up the tea and coffee table. At the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the unspoken understanding is that no-one interferes with anyone else's concentration. Occasionally a chance visitor unthinkingly violates this rule silently, as did the poor woman who wore a sports bra under a T-shirt so deeply scooped, everyone behind her could read her underwear's message, spelled out in rhinestones, that the wearer was S E X Y.

That was about seven years ago; see how it sticks in the mind.

It may be that half--or all--the women who regularly attend the Edinburgh Missa Cantata have similarly memorable lingerie, but no-one will ever know because one of the principles of female traddism is to do our best to keep the under in underclothing.

At any rate, it is true that deportment within the church, in the half hour before, during, and up to fifteen minutes after an Extraordinary Form of the Mass (and Benediction, if offered), is expected to be Trad. Loud chatter, hailing friends, audible laughter, lighting cigarettes, stripping down to one's underwear, men wearing hats, rainbow sashes....all these things are most definitely frowned upon.

However, once you are out of church, you are free to be as noisy, free and easy, dressed or undressed as the the law allows. It is true a married woman of the parish pokes gentle fun at those male university students who do not wear tweed jackets, but she is only kidding. Tweed-haters can prevent being the object of such jests by not going to the After-Mass Tea.  And I think this is the crux of the problem.

As long as you are at the Traditional Mass (Extraordinary Form of the Mass), your personality should not trouble anyone, and nobody's personality should bother you. The priest's personality has been well muffled up with vestments and rubrics; his personality shouldn't bother you either. None of us should stand out much; none of us should trouble the others. We are shoulder to shoulder praying together, a community united in prayer, all facing forward towards the altar, the priest's movements, the Blessed Sacrament in his hands.

Afterwards we pop into the car park and become distinct. The smokers light up. The shy and the busy flee. Knots of friends form. The blind demand to know where so-and-so is. The uni students first greet uni students, the families other families, the old bachelors other old bachelors. There is a slow drift into the parish hall for tea, coffee and biscuits, and people plunk down at tables. In general, the uni students sit with uni students, the families with other families, and the old bachelors with other old bachelors, the childless with other childless. (The elderly women busy themselves in the kitchen.) So far so good. After-Mass small talk in the reserved UK tends to be along the lines of "What atrocious weather. What did you think of Cameron's speech on the telly? A lot of nonsense. I never listen to that rubbish. What do you think of this new adaption of "War and Peace?" Is it worth seeing? Where's so-and-so? Oh, in Ireland?" 

There is a perception that  Old Guard Traditionalist Catholics are obsessed with Freemasons and Jews. However, the one and only Freemason anyone in trad circles in the UK ever wants to talk about is Annibal Bugnini, and very rarely does anyone want to talk about him at After-Mass Tea.  Although Annibal sometimes does gets a kicking at Tea, the wickedness of Continental Freemasonry cannot be discussed without alcohol--at least in the UK--and this is yet another step removed from attending the actual Traditional Latin Mass. As for Jews, the one Jew mentioned by name to this Trad by any British/American or Canadian Trad Catholic was the then-Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, who was praised from the pulpit about his wise and courageous speech about something or other. Meanwhile conversations about the Jews or Israel are categorically banned from the Historical House, so the tiny number of trads invited (maybe three?) who have complaints about the rival tribe have had to stew in their grievances in silence.*So whereas it cannot be said Trads never, ever mention Masonic conspiracies and that the odd Trad here or there believes Jews have a disproportionate influence in society, these subject really do not come up that often in British Trad circles---certainly nowhere near the frequency of the word "Israel" amongst the secular chatterati.

My advice, should one be shocked to find themselves in a weird conversation about Jews, is to say "Which Jews?" This could work for the Israelis, too, should you be at a party of Guardianistas (news-reading left-wingers): "Which Israelis? Not the Arabs, [Women in Black, children, teenagers, babies], surely."

What else are Traddies said to be obsessed with? Oh, women's trousers, which Americans and Canadians call "pants" to the childish delight of the Brits, to whom the word always means "underpants."  The hopefully apocryphal story of the American priest who affixed a sign to his church reading "Women must not wear pants in church" always makes British men laugh like drains.  Nota bene: EF regulars in Britain and Continental Europe don't care if women wear trousers in church. Nor do we care if women go to church bareheaded, hatted, scarved or veiled. (German women went to church bareheaded as early as the 1930s.) Obviously we think people should dress suitably and respectfully for Mass, but we aren't that bothered about women's clothes. We are much more worried about women not taking their children out when they wail or arresting them from running around (Patter-patter-patter-patter-clunk-WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!) because the number one non-American Traddy obsession is Quiet in Church.

Other Traddy subjects that spring to mind are interesting new books on the liturgy or theology (not discussed at Mass), who is going to what seminary (rarely mentioned at Mass), conservative politics (not discussed at Mass), what happened to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (not discussed at Mass), what Pope Francis said this week (not discussed at Mass and decreasingly discussed anywhere else except online), why Pope Benedict might really have resigned (not discussed at Mass.)

To sum up, if you stick to Mass and avoid talking to anyone afterwards, you can have the Trad Mass without meeting anyone who has "gone Trad" or feel any pressure to "go Trad"--even if that is just to wear a nice secondhand tweed coat instead of that blue thing.

If however, you go out of your own philosophical comfort zone to talk to other people who go to the Traditional Latin Mass/Extraordinary Form, you may indeed hear new ideas, bizarre ideas, and new-to-you clichés, for After-Mass Tea, like most of the world, is not a "safe zone", and Trads have a high tolerance for eccentrics.

*In Europe, some people feel as free to complain about Jews as English-Canadians feel free to complain about "Quebeckers" and French-Canadians feel free to complain about the "Anglos."  Why this is is as yet a mystery to this Canadian, but I think it has a lot to do with political and ethnic rivalries, particularly in Central/Eastern Europe. Naturally it is shocking. Try saying "Bloody Poles" , "Bloody Russians" and then say "Bloody Jews." Which sounds worst, eh? And why?

Update: In case American and Canadian readers are swooning in horror, I should indicate that I have heard less-than-philosemitic remarks from no more than three trads in my seven years of traddery in six different countries. This is a contrast to my pre-Trad life when I heard such comments over the years from a variety of people from a variety of faiths (and, in the case of strangers, probably none).

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