It was bound to happen and it has been slow to come but finally a report from Associated Press about the beginning of the end of return to Traditionalsim so avidly promoted under John Paul ll and Benedict. Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has sent traditionalists reeling. It is “in violation of Holy Thursday rubrics”, they howl. The new pope is “singing a new song” and it seems to be speaking to people in surprising ways. He consistently has rejected much of the pomp which has too long defined the Roman Church and the papacy.
One of the things which grabs people is the universality of his gestures. They are not Catholic(large C) —like the Latin mass.They speak to people across the religious and humanist divide. The church has always known from its earliest times that Christianity and humanism go together. Seneca who lived around the time of Jesus spoke for a raft of secularists when he said,”know that the best things are common to us all”(“esse communia”); they are catholic that is truly universal. Pope Francis’ humble gestures mimic Jesus—service, sensitivity to the margins and washing the feet as he did on Holy Thursday—female and Non-Catholic feet!
Toronto still has a few places flogging practices which simply do not fit our culture.They are symbols, practices etc which may have fit other generations but now simply do not speak to us any more. The Latin Mass is a classic example. There are of course many others which simply have no purchasing power.
Tradition evolves and it is the people of God as a whole who are the bearers of the living Tradition.It is this tradition that Jaroslav Pelikan pointed to as “the living spirit of the dead”, continuously refreshed by Yves Congar’s “forgotten God”, the Spirit, as we journey through history.
This living tradition animated by the Holy Spirit through all the members of the church has made us aware that we all have a “sensus fidei” “an active capacity for spiritual discernment. Church leadership must not only acknowledge this but enter into serious dialogue with it. If it fails to do this it will end up where it too often lies, in the stagnant waters of Traditionalism where we no longer reflect ‘the living spirit of the dead” but rather as Pelikan says “the dead spirit of the living.” We try to recreate the past, but it is like a cadaver without an animating spirit, it is the words without the music—Roman collars, Latin masses,altar rails, clerical power— a top down authoritarian ecclesiology as an answer to a new future and a new song which beckons us.
And Pope Francis is softly whistling this tune and a lovely melody it is.