Thank you for the cover story "A Return to Tradition" [Dec. 24, 2007].
In Roman Catholic worship, instead of a return to tradition, it is really an embrace of nostalgia—turning the theological and liturgical clock back 50 or 60 years to what some think was a simpler, holier era. In truth, the so-called tradition of worship with the priest turning his back to the congregation only dates back to the Counter-Reformation, when Catholics were on the defensive and partly responding to the Protestant reformers with liturgical entrenchment. The renewal of the Catholic mass after Vatican ii (1962-1965) actually restored the mass to its true tradition rooted in the Bible, the church fathers, and nearly 1,000 years of practice before the reforms of the Council of Trent. The modern mass is more in keeping with Catholic tradition than the Latin mass that nostalgic Catholics are embracing.
John R. Mastalski
"A Return to Tradition" pointed out something I have noticed among young Catholics: Their interest in tradition is not to be confused with fundamentalism. In this regard, I thought of a seminarian I know from his days as a student at the University of Wyoming. Though he is embarrassed by the behavior of some fundamentalist groups here, he was deeply impressed by the experience of a traditional Tridentine Latin mass in Denver. In his words: "I had never before been part of a mass where people were so perfectly clear about who was worshiping whom." Tradition, yes; fundamentalism, no.
The Rev. James A. Schumacher
"A Return to Tradition" details the movement toward conservatism in religion but fails to mention one church that has followed tradition for some 2,000 years—the Orthodox Christian Church. It is often said that stepping into an Orthodox church is like walking into 2,000 years of history where "traditional monastic and religious orders" certainly are not new.
Why give space to traditionalists and their Tridentine mass that harks back to the Council of Trent? They are a minority living in the past, worshiping elaborate ritual. A priest turning his back on lay Catholics is an insult.
If not allowed to become rote by its practitioners, ritual is a structured way of getting us to ponder greater ideas that we might not if left to our own devices and schedules. When we consider the structured activities that we join—including the gym, book clubs, etc.—because they help us focus, religious ritual makes a great deal of sense.
My feeling is that people are returning to religion and religious services because they present a familiar ritual that is comforting and reassuring as our world becomes more complex with fewer definitive solutions.
Janet E. Ordway
The Rev. Thomas Reese, the Jesuit priest quoted in the story, said the only thing that began to make sense to me. The church should focus less on the Latin mass than on the three things that draw most churchgoers: "good preaching, good music, and a welcoming community." While I understand that many people need some kind of tradition in their lives, what we really need today is love for all men and women, good quality of life, a sense of belonging, new moral direction, love for the Earth, and a firm understanding that God is on the side of all humanity. So let's open ourselves to one another. Any religion that doesn't promote these things first is irrelevant. A return to tradition, what amounts to religious conservatism, is absolutely not what we need today. We need something new and far greater.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Reading about the revival of ceremonial traditions among various religious groups reminded me of the scene I beheld one recent summer when picking up my Catholic children from the vacation Bible school at a local Presbyterian church. There, parading through the congregation's place of worship were several hundred, mostly Presbyterian Bible schoolers, their foreheads smudged with ashes once associated exclusively with the Lenten rituals of Catholics and other "liturgical" Christians. What the event encapsulated for me, however, was the intriguing flip-flop that has occurred in the last half century between certain Catholic and Protestant groups, at least, that has implications for ritual. Inspired partly by the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has grown in its appreciation for the Word, while various Protestant denominations have begun to explore the benefits of sacraments.
Michael E. DeSanctis
Traditional religious rituals do not make one moral. To believe one is serving a god though such distracting rituals and managing actions in a moral fashion is wrong when all he is doing is embracing religious self-deception. I must say, however, that these traditional rituals could, in the minds of some believers, create ethical behavior and perhaps a closer relationship with their particular god.
I concur with the people of all faiths who long to have a sacred tradition based on the Scriptures, ritual, and love for God and neighbor. I salute you for the article and reporting the need for this return to tradition. Praise God!
The Rev. Michael Lubinsky
It's not a return to tradition that we need. It's not a return to the Counter-Reformation or the Reformation itself. It's a return to the providentially preserved Scriptures of the Bible. These indicate that worship was very simple and unadorned in the early days of Christianity. Christians weren't in church buildings. They first met, as Scripture puts it, "from house to house" (Acts 2:46). Let's return to their practice and not to apostate tradition.
Wallace A. Bell
The cover of your issue on religion featured a traditional Latin mass said by a Roman Catholic priest, yet the three Catholics quoted—a Jesuit priest, religious sister, and Georgetown professor—all opposed or dismissed the rising popularity of the centuries-old liturgy. If one were to look at those in the pews of the Latin mass, he would see many young people, the driving force behind the restoration of Catholic practices that were eliminated in the 1960s, before their time. Asking the 20-to-30-somethings why they were there would have been more interesting than relying on tired analyses by older, liberal Catholics.
Kenneth J. Wolfe