Saturday, March 07, 2020

TradiVox: A Major Catechetical Enterprise with Liturgical Resonances

As many already know, an inspiring restoration project is currently underway with the endorsement of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, to restore the traditional Catholic catechisms of the past millennium. For those unfamiliar with Tradivox, here’s a glimpse:

Catechism Restoration Project from Tradivox, Inc. on Vimeo.

This is a monumental work, comprising archival manuscript recovery, text and graphics restoration, reformatting and republication of dozens of classical texts as an entirely new catechism series – all demonstrating the continuity of Catholic faith, moral practice, and liturgical life across time and space. The catechisms will not only be published in book form, but also organized into a massive online database that will be able instantly to show the consistency of teaching across centuries on any subject treated.

NLM readers in particular should note one fascinating aspect of many traditional catechisms: their witness to the Roman liturgical tradition (both before and after the Council of Trent), and how significantly this shaped the formation of the Catholic faithful over the centuries. Reading these texts is like climbing into a time machine to watch the old adage, lex orandi, lex credendi play out before one’s very eyes; one is made aware that the signs and symbols of the traditional Roman Rite had the effect of deeply inculcating Catholic dogma, which in turn could be explicated to the faithful of every age and station of life, and at several levels of depth.

To take just a few examples, from the simple, 1614 “eye catechism” of St. Robert Bellarmine (forthcoming in Tradivox’s Volume 2):

Notice how the figure depicted here on the Altar is the resurrected Christ – indicating his presently glorified state by which He communicates Himself to us sacramentally. Note also the visual match between the standing Christ and the stooping priest, through whom He gives himself to the faithful, and the kneeling faithful, ready to receive what Christ gives through His minister. Note how the miniature includes a physical barrier separating the priest and acolyte from the faithful, emphasizing the fundamental difference between the ordained or ministerial priesthood and the universal priesthood of the faithful.

Here is another image from the same text, showing the seriousness with which the Mass was regarded as a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead. Note the gravity and attention paid to it by the faithful in attendance, who conceive of themselves as there to fully and actively contribute to the mediated extension of the salvific fruits of Christ’s saving work on the Cross:

As these small examples help illustrate, the traditional catechisms hold far more than didactic expositions. Indeed, many exude an art and piety that border on the poetic, the mystical – even the heroic, given the fact that many of them closely touched the lives of Confessors and Martyrs (for instance, each of the three separate catechisms reproduced in Tradivox’s Volume 1 was penned or printed by Catholic priests who suffered for the Faith in Elizabethan England).

Viewing the profound mystagogia and liturgical piety at work in the traditional catechisms in light of the historic integrity of the Roman Rite itself, one begins to understand just why and how many Catholics found the strength to die rather than violate Catholic liturgy in the 16th and 17th centuries, and why many of these catechisms found their origin in the same milieu.

One wonders if today, when nearly 70% of self-identified Catholics in the U.S. deny that Our Lord is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament (aggregating the Pew Forum survey and the EWTN survey), an “average Catholic” would die in defense of his liturgical or doctrinal heritage?

The old catechisms offer a way back. They bear witness to how things were, and how they could be again. Parents will find in them a lodestar for handing on the Faith of our Fathers to the next generation. Students will find simple and straightforward answers to questions of faith and morals. Priests will find exhaustive anecdotes, explanations, and illustrations to use in homiletics and systematic instruction. Scholars will find compendious annotations and fascinating apparatus for cross-reference and historical comparison. Non-Catholics will find in them a compelling testimony to the truly divine nature and mission of the Church established by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone will find in them an essential consistency and a reliable guide in this increasingly confusing period.

As one who has been involved in the genesis of TradiVox, I urge NLM readers this Lent to consider supporting this incredibly timely and much-needed restoration project – an enduring monument to our Catholic forebears, and a legacy of Faith to pass on to our children.

Donate to Tradivox here.

View the Tradivox volumes (so far) here.

Share their video in your own circles here.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: