Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Dr Scott Hahn on the TLM: An Assessment by Mr Matthew Roth

I am sure that many of our readers have already seen this interview with Dr Scott Hahn, published a few days ago by Cameron O’Hearn as part of his Mass of the Ages documentary project. A long time reader and Steubenville alumnus, Matthew Roth, was inspired to share with us his thoughts about what Dr Hahn says here, for which we thank him. Mr Roth is experienced in assisting with the celebration of the traditional Roman liturgy, and is especially interested in the history of the traditionalist movement in France, where he currently lives.

What Dr. Scott Hahn’s Public Support for the Traditional Liturgy Means
By Matthew Roth
Virtually all students of the Franciscan University of Steubenville are asked by practicing Catholics among their friends and family if they have ever taken a class with Scott Hahn, or if we have at least read his books. Sometimes, the answer is in fact negative. When I was an undergraduate, Dr. Hahn and I were only on the same campus for three semesters in the three years on the Hill in the post-industrial gem which is Steubenville, Ohio, and as a history major, I did not take any biblical theology classes with him, preferring theology electives that fit neatly into my interests.

Surprisingly, I have never even read his books beyond the footnotes of A Father Who Keeps His Promises (written for an academic audience, whereas the book was more popular, I found). But Dr. Hahn was of course a prominent figure on campus, as a mentor in prayer and faith, and is one of the most prominent Catholic biblical scholars and apologists in the English-speaking world. Therefore, when he speaks, he has my attention.

Dr. Hahn’s attendance at the traditional Mass at St. Peter’s in downtown Steubenville was consistent, so his preference is unsurprising. That he gave an interview on the subject is a surprising but a welcome development. Without diving into internal Franciscan University politics, that Dr. Hahn is able to say this reflects that the traditional Mass is popularly entrenched among Catholics, thirteen years after Summorum Pontificum. Incoming freshmen are now young enough to have spent all of their formative years attending only the traditional Latin liturgy, between the haphazard indult chapels and Masses which began after the motu proprio.

Pontifical Mass celebrated by His Eminence Raymond Card. Burke at the church of St Peter in Steubenville.
Second, Dr. Hahn is generally correct in his dispositions. The Church’s worship is fundamentally prayer and sacrifice, giving God that which he is owed. We must never forget that religion is primarily about the virtue of justice, not a series of beliefs with which we agree, and faith is by grace anyways, not pure reason. It is necessary to argue for the traditional Latin liturgy–– how else can we convince our pastors to celebrate it and our friends to attend?–– but polemic ought to be as measured as possible, as only “being all things to all people” will attract souls to the traditional Mass, and more broadly, to Christ.

We have a duty to nourish our souls, and it is hard to argue against going to great lengths to attend the traditional liturgy, but if we have no choice when fulfilling our Sunday obligation, then the Mass is the Mass. This is all the more reason to attend the traditional Mass frequently in order to increase in divine life while reducing the obstacles that impede growing in charity.

A little game of pretend is helpful here. A priest of a traditional community, and very dear to me, explained to me and my family that he and his confrères generally do not talk about the “new Mass” from the pulpit. To do so is an easy temptation, because most of us seek out the traditional Mass on purpose; few discover it by accident and stay without also going to the Novus Ordo.

But that the church of Rome herself has two liturgies in common and in widespread official usage is an anomaly; they are not analogous to the variant usages of the various papal basilicas, because the Novus Ordo was expected to totally displace the traditional liturgy. When this didn’t happen, Pope Benedict XVI created a unique legal status, which allowed as many priests as possible to celebrate the traditional liturgy without the interference of the bishops.

A traditional Mass at the chapel of Christ the King on the Steubeville campus.
So what does this mean for the priest? It means that in preaching, he should treat the traditional Mass and Office as normative, with limited qualifiers. Then the flock will come to believe that this is the faith, and eventually, the traditional liturgy will return in its plenitude. We have already seen this at work with the traditional ceremonies of Holy Week and slowly but surely with the pre-Pius XII rite of the Mass; perhaps one day, the breviary will be prayed as it was prayed from time immemorial.

This said, American Catholics tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater. French Catholics attached to the traditional liturgy are second to none in their efforts to preserve the liturgy of our fathers, but still sing the Laudate Dominum omnes gentes of the Taizé community and the Je vous salue, Marie, comblée de grâces made popular by the Communauté de l’Emmanuel, a charismatic community to which Mgr Dominique Rey belongs. The bishop of Fréjus-Toulon is the most traditional bishop in France, celebrating traditional ordinations for his diocese and traditionally-oriented communities alike, and is a self-described “tradismatique,” a portmanteau of “traditional” and “charismatic” that works equally as well in English. There is something to be said for integrating such prayers and songs into our life of prayer, without falling into the trap of the four-hymn sandwich or the necessity of the vernacular, which Dr. Hahn nimbly argues against in discussing participation.

It might be true that France was rural for so long into the twentieth century that these songs are more organically connected to traditional music and ways of life, or that Americans and other English speakers are broadly cut off from our past in such a way that renders these melodies cheap or saccharine, but to embrace this possibility is to open up another way of being spiritually healthy, without constantly seeking to mark oneself as different from other Catholics. In short, pick your battles. By way of conclusion, I offer this periphrasis, again borrowed from the French. Catholic Scouting today shows us that we are not made for this world, as the Scouting movement revolves around the liturgy, to which all activities ––pilgrimages, spectacles and variety shows, camping–– are anchored. However, while we are in this world, we ought to strive for a society which reflects divine and natural law, one which promotes peace, supports families, and most importantly, provides for the right worship of God. To this end, the Roman liturgy is the means for most baptized Catholics, as well as being an end in itself, and it provides the nourishment that lifts the reason of the most intellectual and orders the senses of the most sentimental, so that we might be filled with the grace of the Spirit in every moment; something to consider in this sublime season after Pentecost when such themes predominate in the propers of the Mass.

If you take no other lesson away from Dr. Hahn’s conversation and my reflection, then take this one, in order to weather the storm and emerge in triumph behind the royal banner of Jesus Christ the King.

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