A Bold Defense of Liturgical Tradition

A Bold Defense of Liturgical Tradition

A Review of Peter A. Kwasniewski’s Tradition and Sanity

“A traditionalist is one who sees the Faith, in its inner structure, as something handed down to us, not something we invent, assess, and re-create by our own lights. It is an organic set of ideas, practices, and attitudes that give birth to a culture of faith…. He will not play time travel games by pretending to go back to antiquity to do what the early Christians did, nor will he race ahead into futuristic realms to go where no man has gone before.”

Tradition and Sanity

Those who read the definition printed above and believe that it applies to themselves will enjoy reading Tradition and Sanity: Conversations and Dialogues of a Postconciliar Exile. While it focuses on the Latin Mass, Author Dr. Peter Kwasniewski also defends many other aspects of traditional Catholicism, especially liturgical music.

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This is one of those books that can be judged by its cover, including the back cover. On the back cover,  Bishop Athanasius Schneider proclaims that this “work is a sign of hope.”

A Refugee from Modernism

If the liturgical reformers had been accurate in their predictions, people like Dr. Kwasniewski would never have existed. He was born in 1971 after most vestiges of traditional Catholic life had been scrubbed away by the relentless “Spirit of Vatican II.” Like many students of the time, his training at an all-boys Catholic high school gave him (according to his web site) “an exceptional training in humanities and poor to non-existent religious instruction.”

Instead, his training left him searching. That quest took him to Thomas Aquinas College, from which he graduated in 1994. Since then, he did graduate work at Catholic University and has served on the faculties of Franciscan University of Steubenville and Wyoming Catholic College. In 2018, he left WCC to focus on writing, speaking and composing. Tradition and Sanity is his seventh book.

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Wisdom – and Occasional Silliness

This book is, as the subtitle implies, a collection of conversations – some real and some imaginary. The real conversations are enlightening. One of them, a transcript of a 2017 conversation in Vienna with Dr. Kwasniewski, Wolfram Schrems, Dr. Thomas Stark, and Pater Edmund Waldstein, may be worth the price of the book. Included in that chapter is a real gem stated by Dr. Stark, “the problem is that we have this old heresy of gnosticism which has influenced our theology, and our theology suits very well with the postmodern mentality, all of which makes this whole mixture so explosive and so dangerous.”

A more significant problem is within some of the imaginary dialogues. This form can be very effective, in that it gives an author a vehicle through which two sides of a controversial issue can be stated, and yet not leave the reader confused as to which side of the issue that the book’s author finds most compelling. Another serious lack is that of an index, making it difficult to locate a particular idea after reading the whole book.

The last of the imaginary dialogues take place in the future. It takes readers to a monastery sometime after the reign of an imaginary Pope Francis II, presumably one, even more, modernist than his current namesake. Apparently, in this fantasy, Modernism had run its course resulting in the most recent pope decamping from the Vatican by joining a “neo-Marxist tango-dance juggling troupe.”

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It is pleasant to imagine a day when Modernism has been wiped away, and the “Spirit of Vatican II” dispensed with once and for all. The idea that it will end in a way that is so silly strains credulity and weakens the book.

Appropriate Development of Liturgy

Ending the review on such a point would be unfair. This is a book that contains great wisdom. A more appropriate place to finish would with another of the imaginary conversations. In this one, “Charles” is describing the development of the liturgy.

“When the Latin Church shifted in the Middle Ages to communion under the species of bread alone, given on the tongue to faithful who are kneeling, it was for good reasons: it fosters a spirit of humility and adoration, and, on a practical level, is easier and safer…. Therefore, there could never be a compelling reason to undo this development, unless we wanted less safety, less humility, and less adoration. But that could only come from the devil,” (Pages 44-45, emphasis in the original).

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Indeed.