Interview: Catholic Tradition and the Future of the Church

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Our own Father Joseph Kramer, FSSP, was interviewed by the Catholic News Service this spring, in a short but excellent interview on the draw of young people to the ancient traditions of our Catholic Faith.

Father Kramer’s central question is this:

Has one of the reasons Pope John XXIII called Vatican II — to find a new language to better engage the modern world — occurred?  Have we found this new language?

From Pope John’s opening speech:

Our task, our primary goal, is not a discussion of any particular articles of the fundamental doctrine of the Church, nor that we repeat at greater length what has been repeatedly taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which we think to be well known and familiar to all. For this a Council was not necessary. But at the present time what is needed is that the entire Christian teaching with no part omitted, be accepted by all in our time with fresh zeal, with serene and tranquil minds, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council. It is necessary that as all sincere cultivators of the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic reality ardently desire that the same doctrine be more fully and deeply understood that consciences be more deeply imbued and formed by it; it is necessary that such certain and immutable doctrine, to which we owe the obedience of faith, be scrutinized and expounded with the method that our times require. One thing is the deposit of faith and the truths contained in our venerable doctrine, another thing is the way they are announced, with the same meaning and the same content. – Oct. 11, 1962

Fr. Kramer is pastor of the Fraternity parish in Rome. Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini, or Church of the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims, is a baroque 17th-century church which sits about a mile from St. Peter’s Square.

In his interview, Fr. Kramer emphasizes the enduring appeal of traditional worship in its beauty, aesthetics and meaning, as well as being drawn into the traditional liturgy’s emphasis on the Mass as Sacrifice, which makes it “more obvious that Christ is offering His Body and pouring out His Blood for the remission of sin.”

Classical liturgical music, too, has an “uplifting, energizing effect, it really moves people to prayer,” he says. “Both Gregorian chant and polyphony highlight the texts of the liturgy. When you’re listening to them, you meditate on the words and internalize their meaning.”

The loss of traditional worship and the anticipated shock is reflected in Pope Paul’s general audience the week before the new Missal was put into use for Advent in 1969:

No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. The introduction of the vernacular will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power and the expressive sacrality of Latin. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant. We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? We are giving up something of priceless worth. But why? What is more precious than these loftiest of our Church’s values? The answer will seem banal, prosaic. Yet it is a good answer, because it is human, because it is apostolic. Understanding of prayer is worth more than the silken garments in which it is royally dressed. Participation by the people is worth more—particularly participation by modern people, so fond of plain language which is easily understood and converted into everyday speech. – Nov. 26, 1969

Father Kramer notes that the ethos of the Council brought an overwhelming desire of the clergy of the council generation — not so much the laity — to update the Church and reconcile the Church to the modern world. However, as that period has faded, it has given ground to a desire by the youth of the Church to regain what was lost, recapture clearer teaching and catechetics, more discipline, and find greater certitude and commitment.

A longer article on Father Kramer’s interview can be found on the CNS website.

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