Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tracey Rowland replies to her critics: Part 1

It would be so much less off-putting to non-Trads if they could just sort themselves out into
hermetically sealed social categories who never talked to each other.
Readers may recall the video of Prof Tracey Rowland attacking the clothes-sense of women who attend the Traditional Mass, and a few other things, at a liturgical conference in Rome in July last year: I replied to her here, and defended my reply here. The book of the proceedings of the conference has now come off the presses, and her talk is included. The written  version is somewhat toned down from the video, and there is an explanatory footnote added. Since her attack on Traditionalists caused a lot of controversy at the time, here is an edited version of its written form.

From Sacred Liturgy (ed Alcuin Reid) pp132-7

Nonetheless, this conclusion comes with a few caveats which have nothing to do with the Rite as such but with the culture of some of the communities who worship according to it. Some proponents of the usus antiquior can be their own worst enemies and foster practices and attitudes which deter so-called 'mainstream' Catholics from attending Masses according to this form.

Spikey aesthetes for whom no "performance" is ever good enough, are something of a deterrent to parents with children who want their children's experience of parish life to be an experience of embodied charity.

Second, some Catholics who attend the usus antiquior are not only opposed to the post-conciliar form of the Mass but they are also opposed to contemporary modes of dress. While there is no doubt that some contemporary fashion styles are highly problematic from the point of view of feminine dignity, one can dress modestly without turning out like an escapee from an Amish farm. If mainstream Catholics who attend usus antiquior Masses feel as though they have landed on the set of a movie based in a nineteenth-century American mid-west or Pennsylvanian town, populated by Protestants who have a problem with modern forms of transport, they are not likely to come back. People like to feel as though they are mixing in a milieu where people are socially well-adjusted. they don't want to join a community which feels like a ghetto.

This issue is not a problem in every community which worships according to the usus antiquior. It appears to arise in social contexts where those who take a stance of outright opposition to all things modern are either tacitly or consciously influenced by the anti-modern movements within Protestantism. When this paper was first delivered at Sacra Liturgia 2013, which took place on the premises of the Opus Dei University in Rome the author was accused by 'rad trad' bloggers and Twitterers of being a member of Opus Dei, ... [She's not. She's a member of the Knights of Malta and the Constantinian Order.]
End note

Theologically, the problem here seems to be that members of traditionalist movements often lack a hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis. In the absence of any framework for judging what elements of contemporary culture to accept and which to reject, they often end up adopting practices from a past 'golden' era. This is sometimes connected to the problem of an understanding of tradition which is static rather than dynamic. ... While both Catholics and Brethren-style Protestants have good reasons to be critical of the culture of modernity, the theological explanations are remedies are different. This is especially so in the territory of attitudes towards women and the human body.

Thirdly, and most importantly, so called ordinary Catholics do not want to feel as though in attending the usus antiquior they are making a political stand against the Second Vatican Council. ... they probably are people who can distinguish between the genuine Conciliar reforms and what Cardinal Ratzinger called the "rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism" which was marketed as the fruit of the Council in the 1960s and 70s. Some members of traditionalist communities however continue to believe that the 'claptrap' was the Council and they hold onto that belief with great tenacity. Their world-view would be shattered if they suddenly realised that for twenty-seven years John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger laboured to present Catholics with a wholly different understanding of the Council ...

In short, liturgical issues need to be disentangled from the interpretation of Vatican II issues.

While there is an overlap between the two in so far as some theologians did indeed interpret the Council as a call to accommodate or correlate the Church culture, especially her liturgical culture, to the culture of modernity, there is an alternative reading of the Council, what might be called the Trinitarian Christocentric reading. ...

There are some things here which, if not exactly fair, are at least attempts to articulate widely-held anti-trad attitudes. But taken as a whole it is riven with confusion. For example, is Rowland seriously expecting those who attend the EF to be on best behaviour, hide their true beliefs, and discard their usual attire, when a non-initiate comes through the church door? But the main problem is like this.

1. What sort of traddies is she talking about?
As I pointed out in my original posts, her first point appears to be directed against culturally highly sophisticated EF-attenders, and the second and third against unsophisticated, indeed downright simple-minded and culturally obtuse, EF-attenders. In the aural version, there was a telling connection between the first group and the occasions she attends the EF (ie, she goes with bitchy aesthetes), and the second group and 'families' she has met who attend the odd EF (she's the agony aunt to families who go and endure the more proletarian experience). It is of course possible she is talking about separate EF communities, but she gives no indication of this.

2. What sort of 'mainstream' Catholics is she talking about?
In reaction against the first problem, she talks about families, who are put off by the bitchy aesthetes. In reaction to the second and third problems, she seems to be talking about intellectuals, who are put of by trads' lack of sophistication. Hey, don't they understand the Trinitarian Christocentric reading of the Council? What sort of ignoramuses are they?
This is what Rowland really objects to:
Catholic inclusivity

It would appear that Prof Rowland has two completely different groups of trads, and two completely different groups of non-trads, in mind. It would also appear that the conflict between the trads and the non-trads she is talking about has got very little to do with theology, and a great deal to to with class. She worries that lower-middle class people going to the EF will be put off by upper-middle class regulars looking down their noses, and she worries about upper-middle class people going who will be put off by lower-middle class regulars lowering the tone with their poor standard of dress.

If her chums are so class-conscious and snobbish, it might be a suggestion that they simply go to a church where they feel more at ease. The housing market frequently arranges things so that parish churches only cater for people of a specific income bracket. This neat social apartheid is disrupted by the need for trads to travel long distances to get to the Traditional Mass. Personally, I've always valued the more complete social community which arises from this mixing, but it seems Prof Rowland's friends can't hack it.

Perhaps, then, the problem is not so much in the trads, as in the 'mainstream' newcomers who've been complaining to Rowland.

Rowland would no doubt object that the issues of clothing and attitude to the Council are ideological. But this won't wash. She's just contributed to a conference full of people with fundamental objections to the Council-as-usually-perceived. She footnotes the possibility of 'a 'smart retro look' which can even be avant-garde'. What she is objecting to is precisely the lack of sophistication in implementing these ideas. She is condemning trads for their lack of money, education, and intellectual and cultural sophistication. She is condemning them, in short, for being ordinary Catholics.

I will focus on some more specific issues, including the clothing issue, in another post.


  1. It's like we're not just expected to dress appropriately but we're expected to look 'cool'.
    This is a common attitude in the NO culture (at least the professional one). It's to their credit if it's not how traditional communities operate! I think it shows they're more balanced (and less shallow).

    I thought this description was fitting from a commenter said on another blog:

    "This is the new age of Catholicism in the West. It's suburban, urban, successful, and attractive, and very cleverly balanced between the materialistic secular culture and the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is the "we want it all generation", which is taking over what has come to be known as the "new evangelization" of the Church in North America."


  2. Indeed. You noted last December or so that the Novus Ordo really only works for the educated and the relatively well-off. I've noticed since I've gone more regularly to the traditional rite that no one sticks out, whether they be in a good suit or whether they be in worn-out jeans. The poor stick out at a Novus Ordo liturgy.

  3. "You noted last December or so that the Novus Ordo really only works for the educated and the relatively well-off."

    While it's not the whole explanation - collapsing working class family structures and other socieconomic factors are in play - this would indeed seem to be a significant, if overlooked (albeit not by our host), reason why Catholicism has largely collapsed in the West among what used to be its staunchest cohort - working class families.

    What was at work from the mid-20th century onward was a zealous attempt to remake the Church into something much comfortable and inoffensive sitting alongside a surrounding secularizing affluent, middle class culture, especially for middle class women. The massive overhaul of the sacraments was a noteworthy part of it, but just part of a larger project of radically remaking Catholic parish and religious life into something quite different from that which prevailed even as late as the immediate postwar years.

  4. I'd love to live like the Amish. It looks like good fun.

  5. Athelstane, and indeed anyone else. I wonder if you could explain your last sentence to me. I am too young to remember and both my parents were converts so no family history of what the Church was like then. Thanks.

  6. From what I can tell, Professor Rowland is writing as a friend of the Extraordinary Form, and I think her comments have to be seen in that light. It seems she is not against Tradition nor "traditionalist" Catholics per se.

    Her first caveat is in relation to "spiky aesthetes", for whom no "performance" is ever good enough. Such people do exist - I have met them. The beauty, symbolism and ritual of the Extraordinary Form appeal to them (rightly so) but this can also mean that there is (a) more to criticise when things are not done perfectly, or in accordance with their preferences, and (b) a greater willingness to criticise, because they are knowledgeable aesthetes. There is also a risk that attachment to a particular form of liturgy becomes the most important thing - over and above all other aspects of the Faith. That cannot be right. So I think there is some validity in what she says and those for whom the cap fits should wear it.

    Her second caveat is, at least at first sight, in relation to modes of dress. This is a superficial matter and we should certainly be praising, not criticising, people who take the time and trouble to dress smartly, respectfully and modestly for Mass. I myself have never met people at any Mass who look like they come from a 19th century Amish community (although, if there were such a trend in a parish it would be rather curious). I do think there is no harm in being socially well-adjusted, insofar as that is compatible with right faith and morals, and the vast majority of the people I have met who prefer to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass are indeed perfectly well adjusted.

    I do think she has more of a point in her wider observations in her second point - a concern that there is amongst some "traditionalist" Catholics an outright opposition to all things modern. By way of example, this appears to me to manifest itself not infrequently as a great attachment to the persons and traditions of various (often defunct) European royal families and other aristocrats, or a tendency to hark back to the "glory days" of the Pontificate of Pius XII. A blanket opposition to all aspects of contemporary culture, without an analysis of what is good and what is not good, is not healthy. A dismissal of all that has taken place in the Church in the last 50 years without distinguishing between the good and the bad is unwise. And a fair assessment of what might not have been so good in the Church as She stood in 1940 or 1950 might also be fruitful - we can always do better, and always come closer to Christ.

    I don't read Prof Rowland as suggesting that those who attend the Extraordinary Form hide their true beliefs or discard their usual attire when a non-initiate comes through the church door. But she is, I think, suggesting that a parish community (if one exists - and I have knowledge of no such community) in which the majority of the congregation wore old-fashioned clothing and pined for a long-past way of life might be off-putting to a newcomer. Such preferences - for that is what they are - are not essentially linked to Tradition, nor to a devotion to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and other traditional liturgies and devotions. If they are a hindrance to a wider knowledge and acceptance of these aspects of the Church's spiritual treasury then that is a problem. Whether this is a serious problem or not, I do not know. Prof Rowland seems to think it may be. Others can disagree. I think there is some validity, in some places, to the concern that traditionally minded worshipping communities are intellectually and socially rather exclusive - as in, they contain a preponderance of well-educated and well-to-do people, beyond what one would expect simply from their location. Again, I do not see why this should necessarily be so, and there may be many examples for the contrary - but I think it unfair and unwise to dismiss Prof Rowland entirely, or to take undue offence.

  7. When I assist at Mass, I simply do not look around to see what people are wearing, it is a distraction. Neither do I categorise people attending according to some pre-ordained system, I'm not looking for material for an article, I go to worship.

    This business of sub-dividing people : Trads etc, why, do we even know whether or not they are Catholic ?

    It is not our business.

  8. I do think that it is you who has brought class into this discussion, especially in your first rebuttal, and not Prof Rowland, Dr Shaw. Now, do you belong to the group you cite as being the "indeed downright simple-minded and culturally obtuse, EF-attenders?" Wow, how condescending of you.