Where Tradition Goes Wrong
In a recent YouTube video, Catholic commentator, Brian Holdsworth, made a provocative case that in matters of Catholic liturgical practice, our tastes are irrelevant, and that when those tastes dictate our worship, we act as if we know more than God, and instead begin worshiping ourselves. In his video, Holdsworth does a fantastic job of stressing the danger of determining our spiritual practices based on preference. Although he makes some good points, Holdsworth’s characterization of tradition is one which removes all options of personal choice, thereby doing a disservice to the diverse richness of the Catholic Church.
This diversity is consistent with the Bible, which shows God revealing himself in various ways. In the gospels, Jesus heals, performs miracles, instructs, and admonishes. These differences were based on the varied circumstances He found people in. What was appropriate for a tax collector would not have been appropriate for a Pharisee. This variety can also be seen in the great diversity of the Church’s saints. A simple survey of different religious orders reveals multiple types of spirituality. Throughout Church history, many have reached sanctity by retreating into silence and solitude, while St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi and others responded to God’s call by traveling and spreading the Gospel.
When one considers God’s nature, these divergent responses begin to seem appropriate. Just as we cannot grasp God’s infinite nature with our limited intellectual capacity, we also lack the ability to appropriately respond to God. If we were forced to make up our own way of worship without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we would inevitably do a terrible job. Thankfully, the Church provides a broader tradition of worship. Throughout the centuries thousands of saints found God through a myriad of different prayers, hymns, and devotions.
The sheer vastness of Christian Tradition forces us to choose different areas to focus on. Should I spend my prayer time praying the rosary or reading scripture in an adoration chapel? Both these things are good and lead many to sanctification but our limited capacity often forces us to choose between two good things.
As beings with free will, we should not be surprised when our worship of God requires us to make choices. The error in Holdsworth’s characterization of tradition is that he makes it seem that we simply have to choose between tradition and our preferences. This however, is a false dichotomy that does not help us decide how best to worship God.
The value of having a variety of traditional, orthodox forms of liturgy, is that there is a wide array of options within the Catholic Church that one can choose from without departing from the truth. Would Holdsworth condemn the various practices of the Eastern Catholic Rites (be they Byzantine, Ruthenian, Maronite, etc.), or even those of the Anglican Ordinariate? Or would he say to these long standing liturgical traditions, “quit it with your personal preferences and fall in line with Rome?” A response such as this fails to recognize that at the heart of the liturgy is Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. By routinely fetishizing traditional liturgical forms of worship, orthodox Catholics move ever closer to creating a “Church of the museum,” falling in love with the things which pass away, and forgetting the fundamental truth that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian life.”