Upon hearing or reading the words, Dominus vobiscum, Catholics of a mature age, and increasingly today, lots of younger folks, will instinctively respond with, Et cum spiritu tuo. “The Lord be with you . . . And with your spirit.” These words of greeting from the traditional Latin Mass have become second nature to many Catholics. And I use them to introduce my thoughts about the lasting impact of tradition and emotion in the religious experience.
Here I’m not so much concerned with the ongoing liturgical debates about the value of the Traditional Latin Mass vs the new liturgy; nor the use of Latin vs English in the liturgy; nor the preference of celebrating Mass ad orientem or versus populum. In my view all of these options are fine when properly done, and can be a source of abundant grace for God’s people. But that’s a debate for another day.
Here I’m thinking about the value of the more personal and emotional experience of traditional Catholicism. Walk down memory lane with me and recall what it was like to enter a traditional Catholic church – with spectacular, soaring architecture reaching to the heavens; the solemn, reverent quiet, even when filled with people; the darkened church with sunlight streaming through the historic stained-glass windows; the flickering vigil candles casting shadows in the distant corners of the church; the faint aroma of incense recently used for Holy Mass or devotions. This was a true encounter with the transcendent.
Catholic hymnody carried the experience too. First of course was the soothing sound of Gregorian chant, a lasting Catholic gift to the world. We remember and know by heart the O Salutaris, the Tantum Ergo, the Pange Lingua, Holy God We Praise Thy Name and the Salve Regina. (You’re humming along, aren’t you?) As catchy as some popular tunes might be today, they’ll never be in the same league as our beautiful traditional hymns.
The enduring quality of Catholic traditions. It’s the same reason that Catholics, especially members of many ethnic groups, love their feasts and festivals, their parades and processions, their medals and statues.
All of these things – the sights and sounds, the beautiful, soaring hymns, and the ethnic customs and traditions – are important to the Catholic experience. They are comfort food for the soul. They transport us to a spiritual world and open a window that we might catch a glimpse of the eternal. And they engage the entire human being in the encounter with and worship of Almighty God. Deo gratias!
Something to think about: Do you have some fond memories of traditional Catholicism?