7 Things the Church Should Bring Back — and Why

“Because of our traditions,” says Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”

Ludwik Stasiak (1858-1924), “A Nun Among the Children”
Ludwik Stasiak (1858-1924), “A Nun Among the Children” (photo: Public Domain)

Almost a year has passed since the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes, the motu proprio that severely restricted the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, so it might be time to think about what the Catholic Church could — and probably should — bring back before we forget why the following items were ever important in the first place.

 

1. Full Habits for Nuns

As the old joke goes: “Letting religious sisters wear ordinary clothes seemed like a good idea at the time — until we realized what horrible fashion-sense they had!” Three of my great aunts were nuns (two Franciscans, one Salesian), and all of them always wore a habit. However, this habit (pun intended) fell into desuetude by the 1980s so that the Sisters of Saint Francis at my junior high school were wearing everything from overalls to satin blouses, all bought at the St. Vincent de Paul Society shop. On the face of it, the Sisters had a good and practical argument: they were dressed as the “poor” would be dressed (or at least the poor who were getting their clothes at the Goodwill or Salvation Army). Still, this seems to be one of those good ideas in theory that, in practice, produced sisters who didn’t look like … well, sisters. Not a hill one wants to die on, exactly, but with the habits unique to each order (one here thinks of the Brigittines and the Canonesses of St. Norbert), and you’d think that these women would at least prefer to wear something a bit more becoming.


2. The Old Knights of Columbus Uniforms

Another sartorial sore point and miscue. Christopher Columbus was a sailor. Hence, the Knights who bear his name also use nautical terminology (i.e. the “navigator”; an anchor in the coat of arms) and, until very recently, the dress uniforms bore a resemblance to a naval uniform. Now they bear an uncanny resemblance to a shopping mall security guard. There was certainly something to be said for the old uniforms — and very little to be said that is good about the new ones. Almost no K of C council meeting is now complete without an argument about the new uniforms!


3. A Q&A Catechism

Make no mistake: the issuance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church under Pope St. John Paul II was a remarkable achievement on many levels. Indeed, the Didache Bible as well as the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible are indexed to the new Catechism, making the teachings of the Church even more biblically-based. However, unless one has at least a minor in Theology and lots of time to spend in lectio divina, one wonders whatever happened to simple, straightforward question-and-answer catechisms à la those of St. Francis de Sales and St. Peter Canisius, who were masters of the genre. The answer to the all-important opening question: “Why did God make you?” — namely, “To love, know, honor and obey God in this life so that we may be happy with him in the next” — is still one of the most cogent (and beautiful) statements a Christian can make. And keep.


4. The Altar Rail

Oddly, this holdover from the pre-Vatican II years can still be found even in churches built after the Council. But that’s a rarity. These days, one is fortunate if there’s an extra step up into the sanctuary. Contrary to popular myth, the altar rail does not serve to “separate” the clergy from the laity, but, rather, to set off that holiest of spaces: the altar where the priest or bishop confects the Eucharist, and where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle. On a practical level, the altar rail also serves for those wishing to receive the Body of Christ in a kneeling position — which is, of course, not only a position of penitence (as we are constantly reminded by rigid liturgists) but one of reverence and respect.


5. The Divine Infant of Prague Statue

Every church has a central crucifix, of course. And for a long time many (most) churches had a representation of the infant Jesus, as the “Divine Infant of Prague” in his regal regalia. As a child, I always enjoyed seeing the care that went into changing the garments of the Divine Infant in accordance with the seasons. However, this devotion — which is accompanied by a beautiful prayer “to be said in urgent needs” — appears to be vanishing, and as far as I can tell, everyone loses a little bit on this one, as (1) we are reminded that Jesus was indeed a human being, indeed, a child, and (2) we are reminded that he was (and is) King of the Universe. 


6. Latin Hymns

There are, of course, some incredibly beautifully English sacred songs: Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, O Sacred Head, Day is Done and perhaps, if it is sung without dragging, We Three Kings (along with almost all Christmas carols). However, for my money, the Latin hymns still cannot be beat: O Salutaris Hostia, Salve Regina and Pange Lingua — along with the Sanctus and Agnus Deibeing sung at Mass — really do add an air of majestic music. The lesson here is that, whether the Mass is in Latin or not, we are still part of the Latin Church — though the Greek Kyrie Eleison is worth singing too.


7. The Coronation of the Pope

This will, of course, almost definitely never, ever happen again — and hasn’t happened since the election of St. Paul VI, who promptly sold the papal tiara for charity. Still, the full ceremony of a papal coronation, replete with the monk who appears with the burning twist of oakum to remind the new pope that all the glory and glamor of the ceremony are fleeting, must really have been a high point for the Church. I’ve never much cared for the rather prosaic “installation” of the new pope (or bishop, for that matter). Moreover, people seem fascinated by modern-day monarchs, even those who are strictly figureheads, and if there is one thing the Roman Church excels at is show-stopping ceremony. The coronation of the pope, while a bit of a throwback, hurts no one, and the newly-elected pope can then go about showing how humble he really is — one need only think of St. John XXIII who, when fully vested for his coronation, carped that he was “wrapped up like a Persian satrap.” No one ever accused “Good Pope John” of being a slave to sheer ceremony or thinking he was some sort of temporal ruler. It’s hard to believe that any future pope would, either.

‘The Unbroken Thread’ book cover

Sohrab Ahmari on the Unbroken Thread of Tradition (May 29)

Convert to Catholicism and best-selling author Sohrab Ahmari has made a significant contribution to the important question of where we are as a culture and how we have lost our sense of tradition. This week on Register Radio we talk to the author about his new book The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos. And then, we catch up with the news from the Editor’s Corner on the division among bishops on the drafting of a teaching document on Eucharistic coherence.