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By Hugh McNichol
Perhaps there are multiple reasons for the confusion about Benedict XVI's relaxed restrictions on the Tridentine Rite, which preceded the II Vatican Council. Some points are mired in the political juxtapositioning always associated with the old tried and true Liberals against the Conservatives, the Traditionalists against the Modernists and so on. However a point that crosses my mind is not related to either camp of theological thought, but rather relates to a more basis and underlying issue associated with the matter...namely the lack of proper catechesis and evangelization in regards to the knowledge curve associated with a basic understanding of Church sacraments and their sacramental significance.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, especially in the United States, religious education consisted of primarily the Baltimore Catechism and the rote memorization of statements that included proper matter and form for sacramental validity and often neglected the historical and social significance of the development of the sacramental nuances over the centuries. For example, the Tridentine Liturgy was never quite explained well to Catholic believers, but rather it was an enigmatic ritual wrapped in a mystery of a sacrifice and adequately isolated with the vernacular of Latin. Most people understood more about biochemistry than they knew or understood about the Sacred Liturgies.
This author laments the fact that fellow Catholics are not more keenly aware of the historical development of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as the contributions Catholic life and liturgy have made to the history of civilization ever since the Incarnation of Jesus. If there is a confusion about the Mass and its proper implementation and celebration...the matter might well be considered Catholic institutional indifference to the proper teaching and understanding of even the most basis premises of our faith. St. Anselm is often quoted for the saying, "Fidens quarrens intellectum!" and the premise indeed is correct. Faith does seek knowledge! However the correct knowledge needs to be communicated to the body of believers.
It amazes me on a regular basis how little the average Catholic thinks about the rich tapestry of their Catholic faith outside of the 3 essential moments of Baptism, Marriage and Burial. The Church in the past 2000 years or so has accumulated quite a heritage of traditions in its prayerful expression of faith, in its institutional hierarchy and in its revolutionary approach to social progression. These are the things we need to spend our resources on...namely a primer of Catholic identity that incorporates all of the rich traditions of the past, the practices of the present and the aspirations of the Church's future into a holistic theology and philosophy that appreciates each chapter of the Church's mysterious life.
Firstly our Catholic faith is based upon the message and mystery of hope. Benedict's recent encyclical on the theological aspects of "spes" shows us very clearly that we are an expectant faith that revels in the positive expectations that include world peace, domestic harmony and a restoration of the Kingdom of God among all peoples. Our faith does not include the development of divisive theologies and activities that are meant to divide or degrade God's people and creation...but rather bring knowledge of God's divine existence to all peoples, places and times.
Secondly as a religious group of faithful Catholics we need to educate ourselves and each other about our most sacred religious beliefs and explain how our Catholic life and existence is rooted in the celebration of Jesus' divinely instituted Sacraments. Sacramental rituals are important for us as a community of faith because they are tangible signs and symbols of our participation in God's life and his providential intervention through the Incarnation and the Church into our human life. These moments are sacred communications between God and Man, intended as a foreshadowed example of our future celebration of eternal life. They are moments of time...outside of time, the Divine touching the human, and the mundane interacting with the Divine cosmology. With that being said...there is substantially more to our religious experience than just the routine participation in Sunday Mass. The Eucharistic Sacrifice we experience in our Catholic liturgy is a distinctly unique ritual that joins the entire People of God, regardless of past, present or future into a contemporary eschatological and rejuvenating reality that transcends human time and space...and brings us into a Divine understanding of cosmology and harmony that we hope to enjoy after this temporal life.
Finally, our educational premises regarding the sacraments need to be clearly identified as "developmental" understandings of our unfolding conceptualization of God's existence. Rituals develop; rituals change...but the underlying premise of religious beliefs remains always the same. We worship and praise God through our sacraments and rituals not because we have achieved religious truth...but because we are on a constant journey that seeks ever deeper knowledge and understanding of God's divine life.
As Catholics, we should not really be too concerned about the reintegration of rituals that represent Pre-Vatican II practices, or Post-Vatican II practices. What we should always and everywhere be acutely aware of is the true heritage and richness all of our sacred rituals incorporate into our ever growing appreciation and understanding of God and his unfolding plan for universal peace and harmony.
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