Following Jesus: Traditional Catholicism

This month’s round in the Following Jesus conversation is a bit unusual. First, while it’s broadly about “The Roman Catholic Tradition,” the author of our lead essay, Christina Wassell, is a former Protestant who now identifies as a “traditional” Catholic and devoted almost all of her original essay to the importance of the Traditional Latin Mass — in the news of late because it seems that Pope Francis is less enamored of that liturgy than his predecessor.

One more wrinkle… In a comment posted a week after Wassell’s original essay, conversation moderator Harold Heie noted that she had said nothing about Catholic social ethics and invited her to submit an addendum. Unfortunately, her follow-up wasn’t completed until Sunday, by which point I had already finished my Pietist response to her original piece. And some other responses are still trickling in.

September’s Tradition: “Following Jesus as a traditional Roman Catholic

“All faithful Catholics assert that what happens at Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice at Calvary. The priest is there in persona Christi, or as a stand-in for the one true priest, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man. He offers the bread and the wine, each in turn, to show the separation of body from blood on the cross which resulted in Christ’s death. When the priest says the words Christ spoke at the Last Supper, that bread and wine becomes Christ as perfect victim, offered for your sins and for mine in the mystery of the Eucharist. It happens here on earth at every Mass, at a given place and time, but when it happens we step ‘outside of time’ and enter once again mystically into the perfect sacrifice at Calvary.”

– Christina Wassell

My Response: “A View from a Member of the Common Priesthood

“…any follower of Jesus Christ should rejoice to hear Wassell describe her experience of the Traditional Latin Mass as drawing her and her family ‘deeper into the wonder and mystery of the Eucharist and of following Jesus’… But what comes next? I’ll try to develop this idea at much greater length in my own lead essay, but this seems like a good moment to introduce one key point: even if Pietists find that their ‘experience of Christ flows out of‘ a sacrament — and I think most Pietists would more likely say that it flows out of Bible study and prayer, we’d be far more interested in asking what flows out of that encounter into the rest of our life. How does our experience of Christ lead us to follow Jesus into the world, to make disciples of all nations and to love our neighbors whether or not they follow Jesus — healing their wounds, slaking their thirst, feeding their hunger, and rectifying the injustices that create their suffering?… while I can understand the challenges inherent in summing up a Christian tradition in just 1,500 words or so, [Wassell’s] original choice of emphasis is itself important. For my part, I expect to say almost nothing about Sunday morning worship when my turn comes — save a few lines about hymnody — and will instead focus on how Pietists try to follow Jesus during the rest of the week.”

Additional Responses

“My attention was captured by Christina’s simple comment that ‘It was the theology of the Eucharist and the sacraments that drew us to Rome.’ The Latter-day Saint worship service is called the sacrament meeting, although the weekly blessing and passing of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in that meeting never takes more than about twenty minutes. For many years, people of my faith sensed that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was an important part of the meeting, but most of the focus tended to be on the sermons or addresses that were delivered after the emblems were passed to the congregation… In recent decades, however, the leaders of my Church have emphasized that partaking of the Sacrament is the major purpose of the hour-long meeting. They have stressed the need for each of the members of the congregation to spend the moments of the distribution of the emblems reflecting on and remembering Jesus Christ—His divine birth, His miracles, His teachings, His tender and loving ministry, and, most important, His suffering and death on the cross, linked with His glorious resurrection.”

– Robert Millet, “The Transforming Power of the Eucharist” (The Latter-day Saints Tradition)

“I understand the lure of tradition and history, which many find in the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM)…. But here’s my confusion (and I’ll doubtless raise a similar question when we get to the Reformed tradition): Why does fondness for the Latin Mass necessarily go hand-in-hand with reactionary politics? It seems to me eminently plausible for someone to evince a preference for the Latin Mass on aesthetic or historical grounds without having to buy into an entire conservative agenda. It’s no secret that the TLM leadership—and, I gather, many of the followers—regard Pope Francis as a flaming liberal. That caricature is ludicrous, of course, but it appears to be fervently held by the TLM contingent—and it is suggested in Ms. Wassell’s statement that she and her family ‘were engaged in a fierce battle against the culture with our dear Catholic friends, but this battle wasn’t truly led by our Catholic priests and bishops.'”

– Randall Balmer, “The Traditional Latin Mass & Reactionary Politics” (The Anglican Tradition)

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