More From The Progressive/Traditionalist Divide


Sometimes I wonder exactly how helpful posts like this really are. Another favorite sparring partner and I have been tussling on the NLM site the past day or two. I confess the guilty pleasure of discussing things with people of different sensibilities than my own. My wife usually chases away the door-to-door religious people because she knows I’d talk religion with them all night. My daughter’s frequent question of me is, “Don’t you ever give up?”

That said, it is tiring responding to the oodles of people who oppose female altar servers, lay communion ministers, the sign of peace, the guitar, and other liturgical aspects which, while important on their own level, are really peripheral to the focus of Christian liturgy, namely the worship of God and the sanctification of believers.

My friend Don Roy confesses his “great difficulty in the necessity of using labels and terms without adequate definition. its necessary to have a debate but many times terms mean different things for different people. “progressive” for me has a different meaning then for you-hense confusion about what we’re really saying.

I think this is a pretty easy one. People can label themselves. I wear many labels proudly: Catholic, husband, father, minister, musician, progressive. There are also labels I’m not so proud of: sinner, stubborn, arrogant, etc.. But I think I’m mature enough to own them. And there are some labels I refuse to have pinned on me. And if you try, I’ll tell you off.

My friend continues a bit later:

The progressive insistance on standing at communion and using girm at this time to stamp out personal prayer. (Ive actually heard liturgists say “your not supposed to be praying now!”)

Kneeling versus standing is a peripheral, in my opinion. I’m not denying it’s important. I received an unfavorable letter from a priest in the Archdiocese of Seattle for my criticism of their mandate to stand in my Worship Times column a few years ago. I thought the effort was more about rubbing the GIRM in the face of rubricists. The wording is in the Missal: of that there’s no denial. But insisting on people kneeling is about as distracting a program as a bishop mandating a parish to have kneelers. The point is that people should be worshipping, and if kneeling or not kneeling makes that work, the pastor, with the input of the people, is the best judge of that. When the discussion about kneeling or not kneeling gets too heated, we’ve lost track of the essentials, namely, the interior posture for worship and the aspiration to holiness.

And on the point of some liturgists’ lectures, yes; some of us are noodleheads when we say things like that.

“If we touch the divine, the need to genuflect assumes more importance,the number of candels on the altar gives comfort, beauty is more highly valued,the minutae of ritual is not idolatry-it is the process by which we can touch the divine. If Mass is sacrifice these things are important. If we get together to feel good, then its not.”

I can see where my friend is coming from and I appreciate this point: to a degree. I think of liturgy celebrated with mindfulness. Particular gestures, quantities of candles, even tabernacle location are indeed peripheral to the essential Christian posture to which Christ calls us. The important thing is that even if we’re handed dross to work with, God challenges us to work with it just as he works with imperfect us.

I do think that liturgy people need to be allowed to make liturgy special. As parishes, we need to spend time and energy on it. Probably money, too. To me, the liturgical lesson is not outward genuflecting as one mindlessly enters a pew and doesn’t even consider the direction one faces. The lesson in holiness is in the way we “genuflect” to one another, including to the poor. That’s not, in my opinion, an exercise in the horizontal, but a natural outgrowth of Christ’s commission in John 13-17.


“A conservative sees strength in the preservation of our tradition, in the ancient rubrics is a mass identifiable to my ansestors one day whom ill see face to face, Mass is a foretaste of heaven and in this life I can touch the God of my fathers.”

And I’m a lot more worried about this portrait of the afterlife:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

I don’t mean to make light of authentic and deep-felt sensibilities of my conservative and traditionalist sisters and brothers. I know full well the attachment people feel to aspects which have been profoundly experienced as a doorway to the divine. Yet, the Christian experience is at its root a progressive one. We live as sinful people and we’re called to metanoia, or conversion. Baptism grafts us from a merely human existence onto the vine of God’s family. Confirmation presumes strengthening and growth in God. The Eucharist fills our emptiness and gives us strength for the journey. (We cannot help but be entranced with the connection between the act of receiving Communion with consuming food.) The other sacraments also presume that as believers, we are open to God’s living and present grace and that we are being lifted up from the muck, getting out wounds bandaged, and set straight on the path of God’s will.

I realize change is difficult. Many people resist it gamely. Many have good reasons for resistance. But my whole experience of God and my sense of the Scriptures and the sacraments is that God is always calling us to something better. It’s probably more my own experience of God, but I’ve never felt the freedom to be able to stand still spiritually. There’s always some new challenge on the horizon. And many of the beloved things of my past often feel very, very far behind me.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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