When it is asked what the biggest problem in the Church is, people respond in a variety of ways. Various Catholics cite the loss of the sense of sin, loss of the dignity of the human person, the dictatorship of relativism, too much legalism, etc. While these are problems, they are but symptoms of a much greater disease. The disease is a functional denying of the Incarnation.
Few today will deny that the eternal Word of God took on human flesh and died for our sins. Many instead deny the ramifications of the Incarnation: the things of this earth can and must be directed towards God. The fullness of this teaching is the Cross of Christ: where He offered up His very body and life on earth as a sacrifice of love for His bride the Church. Two ways in which the Incarnation is denied today are through secularism and a diminishing of the liturgy.
When we say secularism, I do not wish to engage in the tireless and endless debate over “separation of Church and State”, whether this country has one and whether or not it is a good thing. That debate is ultimately irrelevant to this discussion. When we say secularism, we speak of a divide between the ordinary things of this life (the secular), and the eternal destination of Heaven. We see this when we state there is the “everyday me” and the “sunday me”, the bargain that Catholics are expected to endure in today’s world. This is also manifested when we have politicians who flagrantly violate the laws of morality out of an alleged service to their constituents. We also saw it in the Church abuse scandals, where abuse was tolerated and covered up because many of them were allegedly otherwise good men, except for the whole pedophilia thing. (Yeah, I never understood that either.)
This may be the way the world and most Christians act today, but it is antithetical to the Gospel. St. Paul commands us to offer our bodies as a “spiritual sacrifice” to God, which means to take all that we do and offer it towards the Father. (Romans 12:1) While we frequently hear the motto of the Jesuits Ad majorem Dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God), we tend to forget that the second part is inque hominum salutem, or “and the salvation of man.” Everything we do is supposed to have in mind our salvation and God’s glory. Our families, our businesses, even our participation in the political system is supposed to be directed towards this purpose. Christians can’t be secular during the week and religious on Sundays, because Christ didn’t have limitations in His service to the Father.
This denial extends into the religious realm primarily by minimizing Christian worship. Through a belief in an alleged return to the Gospel, a lot of well-intentioned Catholics have stripped a lot of the ceremony from the Catholic liturgy, removing communion rails, incense, candles, sacred music, etc. They view these as barriers to true worship in the spirit, and a distraction from the Churches true mission of service to the poor.
Behind this veneer of piety is often the spirit of Judas, angry that the things of this world are used in the worship of God when they could be directed towards better uses, such as their own desires. (Mat 26:9-12) In the liturgy, we tell all humanity, materially rich or poor, that they are spiritually poor. They will remain spiritually poor until they come to the Cross and receive forgiveness. The Cross is not just the greatest tragedy of mankind, it is also the greatest celebration. We use everything at our disposal to point people towards the cross of Christ. To say we shouldn’t use those things, is to say that we should hold back something in presenting the Gospel. Rightly did the Council of Trent proclaim that “if anyone should say that the ceremonies and outward signs….. are incentives to impiety rather than offices of piety, let him be anathema.” (Session 22, Canon 7)
For all of her faults, I think this is something the Traditionalist movement really brings to the table of today’s Church. We aren’t perfect in our belief, but the Incarnation heavily influences our movement, our love of the Latin Mass, our view of Catholic Social teaching, everything we do. Next week I’d like to discuss how we apply this supremely important teaching to our lives.