Though well and truly ageing, I am still capable of naïveté. As a feed for the monastery website I have set up and linked an Instagram account. By means of it it was hoped that tasteful shots taken from those amazing modern pocket computers, the smartphone, might afford visitors and enquirers a little insight into our life at Douai. The world-wise among you are probably already shaking your heads.
In quick succession last summer were Breakfastgate and Lunchgate, when your correspondent posted photos of a monastic breakfast and a monastic lunch taken in the refectory garden (in holiday time our meals are informal). A few people found them decadent, shocked that monks might eat homemade bread with homemade jam and washed down by a mug of coffee, or have glass of wine with the Sunday luncheon roast. But these were minor niggles really.
This week almost all the brethren are gathered at Douai for annual chapter and a series of meetings to prepare for the congregation’s general chapter in July. Arriving a few days early was our Fr Edmund, abbot emeritus of St Paul’s-outisde-the-Walls in Rome and now chaplain at the Benedictine nunnery at the basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. He offered Mass on Monday and, given I was not concelebrating, it struck me as a good photo opportunity. So one photo was very discreetly taken, and later sent to Instagram. From Instagram it went to Facebook. And that is where the trouble started.
Some whinged about the concelebrants not being in chasubles but only albs and concelebration stoles. On Sundays concelebrants do wear chasubles, though we only have white or purple concelebration chasubles at present. That is an improvement on the previous practice of never wearing concelebration chasubles. The status quo is an improvement, not ideal, but not an abuse and not a scandal.
Someone else attacked me for taking a photo during Mass, citing Cardinal Sarah as having condemned the practice. This was news to me. He, like others, condemned concelebrants taking photos as being inappropriate for those acting in persona Christi. He hardly condemned all photos at Mass. If he had, what would all those traddie websites and blogs have left to post? These sites are littered with photos of sumptuous, baroque liturgies, all designed to make a certain cast of liturgical heart go all a flutter. And that is fine.
There used to be a blog by a traditional priest that was titled, or was it subtitled?, Love the Tradition, Loathe the Traddies. It was a harsh call in many respects, but it is easy to see that in some cases it was fair. The worst advocates of traditionalism in liturgy are some traddies themselves. Their impressive knowledge of liturgical minutiae (itself admirable) leads some into an automatic critical pedantry when they see liturgical scenes that do not accord to their ideals or the standard of their own liturgical sanctuaries (or are they ghettoes?). Damned for the lack of a maniple or a concelebration chasuble or a Gothic arch.
When any of us make the perfect the enemy of the good, we all too often find ourselves straining at gnats while swallowing camels. Many places have imperfect liturgical practice but perhaps a practice that has been slowly but steadily improving over a period of time, an inch added to an inch, a brick to a brick. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the liturgy of the Church.
The pre-c0nciliar liturgy was destroyed with swift ease; rebuilding it will take much longer. While some, with some justification, see the complete restoration of the pre-conciliar liturgy as the only real solution, they live in cloud-cuckoo land if they think this can be effected in one stroke by a decree from on high. Most often through little if any fault of their own many Catholics, clergy included, have received a deficient catechesis in liturgy that cannot be un-done overnight, but requires some patient and effective re-catechising. It might never be done if these Catholics only ever experience traditionalists who are petty, pedantic, hyper-critical and so obsessed with liturgical performance that they are blind to the demands the gospel makes on them with regard to charity and morality. This sub-group of traditionalists make most unattractive churchfellows.
So when we opine on the current pope’s sometimes negative view of traditionalists, we might ask ourselves if, perhaps, his experience of traditionalists is of that acerbic crew who taint their incense with the hydrogen sulphide of their loud and uncompromising judgments. A spoonful of sugar, not vinegar, helps the medicine go down.
There are many of us who have no choice but to start where we are, not where we might prefer to be. We also realise that even those who most disagree with us are not expendable, able to be left by the wayside as we march onwards into liturgical glory, but that we are bound to attempt to convert them to the light, not by the sword but by charity, clarity and good example. In this age of the laity I hesitate to say it, but perhaps it is the clergy, who have a solemn pastoral responsibility, who best appreciate this and thus are not so free to fire the slings and arrows of outraged judgment.
So the Instagram page is now unlinked from Facebook, and there will be no more photos of anything liturgical at Douai, as I would not want to the disturb the liturgical shangri-las of some with the messy works-in-progress of our drab liturgical suburbia. I had been all set to begin learning the EF Mass. All of a sudden all my enthusiasm is gone.