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Being Faithful in Small Things

giving-handsOne of the frequent attacks against traditionalists has always been that we are scrupulous Pharisees, who try to make a camel pass through the eye of the needle.  (Mark 10:25)  While we get offended when we hear this, at times I think
we should acknowledge it.  Sometimes traditionalists do make an idol out of  liturgical discipline, and we are like the Pharisee in the temple.  We thank God  that we have liturgical correctness, unlike those filthy modernists!   Concupiscence sucks.  We have a noble impulse, and sometimes we go overboard.   Everyone does this, and we aren’t immune to that.

Yet if the impulse is noble, then that means there’s a hint of truth to this.   So why the emphasis on the smallest bits of liturgical discipline?  Why nitpick?  In short, we are trying to be like the just servants in the parable of the talents.  (Matthew 25:14-30)  The master looks for servants to manage his affairs, so he gives them small tasks.  When they complete these small tasks, he is pleased.  Since they have completed the small tasks, he gives them the higher things to concern themselves with.

Traditionalists advocate this kind of strict discipline for the same reason.  You cannot probe the endless depths of the liturgy and acquire the infinite knowledge the Mass possesses without first getting the simple things right.  Furthermore, once you are at those higher things, it is the basics that keep you there.

I learned this lesson being a baseball fan.  There is a player named Miguel Cabrera on my beloved Tigers, and he is recognized as the greatest hitter in the game currently.  When you watch why he is such a great hitter, you are struck by how good he is at doing the basics.  He has incredibly quick hands, his body outside of the hips seldom moves, his eyes are always focused on the ball, he only swings at things favorable to him, etc.  Because he does these small things, his coaches always have supreme confidence in him at every at bat.

That is how we traditionalists want to act so we can get the most out of the liturgy.  Not everyone is a liturgical scholar.  Yet everyone can be obedient in doing the gestures they are supposed to.  Not everyone is prone to grandiose visions and meditations during Mass, but everyone can express the smallest bit of love in making the Sign of the Cross.

The benefit of this attitude is how infectious it is on everything else you do.  If
you come to our Church, you find the canned food drives and other charitable
activities for the poor are done by a high percentage of people in the
congregation.  Indeed, I’ll wager that traditionalists give with greater amount
and frequency than your average “modern” parish.  Why?  Because the simple acts
are something everyone can do.

They also help teach us humility.  At first, giving to the poor can seem tough when things are scarce for yourself.  Yet as you continue to give, you learn to do more with less, and you realize that just because something is uncomfortable, does not mean following it is impossible.  Sometimes the rubrics might seem a bit silly.  Sometimes they might even seem a little pointless.  I don’t need to kneel at this point to express my reverence towards Christ.  Yet they are a pretty good reminder that I should reverence Christ, just as giving to the poor or donating to your church (even when it might be uncomfortable) is a helpful reminder that our talents and wealth are not there for our own benefit, but the benefit of others.

Is this abused?  Yes, as I said, concupiscence sucks.  Yet if we want to live out our salvation, there is no other way.  We must be faithful in small things, so our Heavenly Father will give us the greatest thing He can:  eternal life in His rest.


Kevin Tierney is an Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane.  He also blogs at http://commmonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com.  You may contact him on Facebook, Google+  or follow him on Twitter @CatholicSmark.
  • St Donatus

    I have to agree with you on all fronts. One thing I would like to add. I am relatively new to the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) so I don’t know all the movements at the correct time. The first time I went, I was embarrassed that someone would see my mistakes but then I noticed that nobody really cared, they were too interested in worshiping God. Now if I forget to genuflect prior to going into my pew, I don’t think about what others would think but what God would think. Was I so distracted by some unspiritual distraction that I forgot to show honor to him who I was there to worship. I guess it is like forgetting to show common courtesy to someone you love. I have always been self conscience, when I go to a Novus Ordo mass, I find myself still self conscience, since it feels more like a social gathering, but when I go to a TLM mass I am not, because I am their to worship God and only he cares.

    • Kevin Tierney

      I would say it is that and a few other things.
      1.) We don’t really knock when people make mistakes because probably 98% of the people attending the TLM made those mistakes when they first started attending. Very few of them have attended it from their youth.
      2.) Most importantly, we know this is something you have to learn and appreciate more as it goes on. None of us, and I mean NONE OF US worship perfectly. Yet the majesty of the TLM is that it knows this, so the rubrics are constantly there to help us learn to worship better through a variety of avenues. (Not good with words? Focus on the symbolism!)

  • Fred

    As a convert and a recent joiner to the TLM in the last year; I never thought of the people that go to the TLM as being holier than thou. However, the more I read about TLM complaints the more apparently there are people like that. In my case I don’t see the TLM as better than the NO, I just see it as the Mass that for me drives greater reverence out of me. If the NO brings greater reverence out of someone then that is awesome. For me I’ve found that the TLM is exactly what I expected from the Catholic Church when I converted and was surprised I didn’t find it at the time. I’m extremely happy that its there now and that I have what I desired when I came into the Church. I no longer feel like I’m at my Sunday meeting of my protestant church, which apparently this comment is one of the big complaints of the TLM people and is a comment that makes the NO people bristle.

    • Kevin Tierney

      If you experience most of your traditionalists on the internet, yeah, you might come across that “holier than thou” streak. Then again, everyone on the internet is holier than thou. It’s something they put in the water at the comboxes. The overwhelming majority of traditionalists you see in the pews are relatively humble people who just love the Latin Liturgy and take orthodoxy very seriously. Many top Catholics in the commentariat would sing Hosanna’s about them if they weren’t Latin Mass attendees.

      It really can make a lot of people who attend the Ordinary Form bristle, because for most of them, they really don’t have any other alternative to compare it to. So yeah, saying the Mass they attend, the Eucharist they receive (most aren’t making deep academic distinctions when they say this), is shot through and through with Protestnatism probably will make them a bit upset. 🙂 I’ve always found it far better to emphasize the humility present in the Latin Mass, the care that is taken by the priests celebrating it and how the rubrics make that easier. Finally, the deep symbolism that speaks to the soul greater than any words, once you know what to look for. A lot of that symbolism is either obscured or very implicit in todays modern liturgies.