Contrary to popular belief, I’m a pretty mainstream Catholic. Outside of the Twitter feuds that see the Church as a binary between True Catholics and the Protestant Heathen that goes to the regular Mass they find in their parish, nobody would think much of me. If anything, to people who don’t bother with Internet wars and have never heard of Church Militant, I may look quite traditional in many respects. As today’s feast of Christ the King brings to a close another liturgical year, with Advent starting next week, I want to share with you the traditional Catholic things that I love about the Church so that maybe you’ll be inspired to discover more about one (or more) of them in the coming liturgical year, and enrich your spiritual life.
Bowing to the name of Jesus
It saddens me that most people don’t even bow during the Creed, when every Missal clearly states to bow at the mention of the Incarnation, so my heart is always filled with joy when I see people taking up this beautiful practice, which is not only biblical (I believe bowing in worship is mentioned at least 41 times in the Old Testament alone) but also expected by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (275a). People would bow or curtsey to the Queen of England, so why don’t they bow to the King of the Universe Whom she serves? It is true that gestures alone mean nothing without the disposition of the heart, but changing your behaviour can influence your disposition. Knowing I have to bow my head whenever a name is spoken tends to make me more attentive to the words the priest says, and as a woman who walks with her head straight high it is really a humbling gesture. It is a constant reminder that there is Someone greater than I am.
Famously a fetish of a certain type of Traddie boy, the veil (about which I talked about at length here) is something that fell into disuse after Vatican II and is now making a comeback not only in parishes with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but also in many of your average Novus Ordo in the vernacular parishes. It’s a simple way to separate your Self from before the Mass (and if you’re like me and always running you will know how hard it is to get into a prayerful state), to the Self ready to participate in the Mass. It makes you a bit more dressy (again, think of when visiting the Queen…) and, like the bowing, it’s an outward gesture that is meant to influence your disposition of the heart.
The Mass in Latin
I would like to highlight and underline repeatedly that I DO NOT mean the Mass in the Tridentine rite, although if kneeling for over half an hour with hardly any idea of what is going on, because you aren’t the altar server, is your cup of tea, then be my guest. I mean the Mass you are familiar with, but in Latin. Some churches, like the Oratory or Westminster Cathedral, offer them daily and it’s a shame it’s not a practice that trickled down to more parishes. I love it because Latin is a language that is not in use in day to day life unless you’re a historian or a classicist. Even then, it’s a limited use that makes that a language reserved for worship, and it would be universal to the Church. While you still know the Mass wherever you go, there is something special about being able to participate in the Mass as if you were in your own country, while halfway across the world somewhere you don’t speak the language. It goes to the heart of what Catholic means.
The Mass celebrated ad orientem
Similarly a remnant of the Tridentine Mass, Cardinal Sarah’s favourite way to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass is limited to the most traditionalist of parishes when really it’s a way to ensure the continuity with the Church of the past that is inherent in her. To quote St. Augustine: “When we rise to pray, we turn East, where heaven begins. And we do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth…, but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order, that is, to God.” It is a symbolic gesture, and the priest facing in the same direction unless addressing the congregation emphasises that the Mass is offered to God. A Catholic Church is also built in a way really close to the Jewish Temple as described in Exodus, and the flow of worship to the east would be in continuity with the way of worship that Jesus himself was used to. And unlike what both side of the Catholic culture war say, Vatican II never did away with either Latin or this.
Taking communion kneeling
Altar rails are making a comeback in churches of various degrees of traditionalism. If one isn’t there, it might be difficult to do (especially in some churches that seem to want to break a record of how fast they can get through a Communion line), but if you ever get a chance it is quite an experience. The act of kneeling itself changes your disposition: you are taking your time to receive the Lord reverently, in submission, and with no rush, as the gesture demands a few more seconds than just stepping forward.
Religious music, from classical Mass settings to Gregorian chants
I admit I can sing and sort of dance to Matt Redman like your average 20something charismatic, and I love to switch my mind off to the Walsingham playlist on Spotify when on a train, but there is just something about the traditional music of the Church that I find is missing from modern music. There is a vast repertoire on YouTube, but experiencing it in person (especially Mass with a full choir) is quite something. It resonates really deeply into your soul.
The monastic rhythm of life
I think everyone needs to read “Finding Sanctuary” at least once in their lives. I could never live in a monastery for longer than the few days of retreat at a time, and in a way that’s what makes the retreat so special: I get away from life, and rest in God and go back recharged and hopefully less useless at bringing the rhythm of monastic life into my day to day. I don’t pray the Divine Office unless on retreat, but I have the Echo app sending me reminders at the hours of prayer of the church. It’s a less demanding way of translating the ora et labora way of life into my busy schedule. Lectio Divina is also a beautiful way to pray with Scriptures from the Benedictine tradition that doesn’t have to put huge demands on your time. A full one takes about half an hour, and if you can set that time aside then great! Otherwise you can adapt the practice (read slowly and meditate upon the scriptures 3 times) to however long you have. The time you spend isn’t important if it isn’t fruitful, and it’s fruitful when you are open and receptive to the Holy Spirit. 30 minutes going restless thinking about the to-do list for later may give you brownie points with people who see you clock half an hour quiet time, but it’s better to spend less time and give your undivided attention to the Lord.
What are your favourite Traditional Catholic practices? Which one will you discover (or re-discover) in the new liturgical year?