Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why history?

Let’s take a time out from the march of history and talk about "why do a history blog?". There are many voices around claiming to have a monopoly on what it means to be a Catholic. There are web presences like “Trinity Communications” that “rate” sites for their Catholic “orthodoxy.” There are sites like “Restore DC Catholicism,” “The Defender,” “The Saint Catherine Review,” “The Cardinal Newman Society,” “The Catholic Media Coalition,” “Catholic Citizens of Illinois” Michael Voris and “Real Catholic T.V.” and dozens of others who claim to be authentic Catholic voices yet are no more than the opinionated voices of individuals or groups who very often use a “Catholic” identity to mask other agendas—political, economic, or social. Their particular views on Catholicism and misrepresentations of our Catholic Tradition is best countered by a knowledge of the history of the Church which shows just how rich and varied our Catholic heritage and Tradition is. Very often Catholics think that the Church into which many of us were born and in which we grew up—the American Catholicism of the 1950’s—represents historic Catholicism. Well it does, sort of. It was one flower on the abundant vine of the Catholic Church, a flower of a very different color or scent than the Catholicism of medieval France or that of seventh-century Ireland or that of second century Rome. Things that we thought always and everywhere were: Mass in Latin, celibacy for the clergy, papal infallibility, seven sacraments, confession, kneeling at mass, communion on the tongue, nuns in habits, calling priest “Father” never were either “always” nor “everywhere.” History can shed a very different light on things. One might be surprised to know that “Mr. Carroll,” as our first bishop was known to his contemporaries, normally wore ordinary clothes in public—granted, of a dark color and with out ornamentation; pews in church were a Protestant innovation, Kneeling at Sunday Mass was banned by the same Council that gave us the Creed we recite on Sundays, and communion rails were an Anglican custom that we borrowed. It surprises people to know that even before Vatican II, the papal altars in the four Roman basilicas always “faced the people,” that Vincent de Paul wanted his Daughters of Charity to live in rented apartments not convents, and that Thomas Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception. Our history can be very enlightening, very freeing, and also show us that many of the “changes” of the last forty years are not “innovations” but restorations of more ancient practices of the Church. So that is one reason to do a blog like this. Some of us believe in real “Tradition” and know there was a Catholic Church long before there was a Baltimore Catechism and even before there was a Roman Missal. Our image today is a medieval sculpture from the facade of Lucca Catheral showing mass facing the people 500 years before the Second Vatican Council.

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