Monday, February 26, 2024

Restoring Lost Customs of Christendom “Brick by Brick”

On December 12, Our Lady of Victory Press published Matthew Plese’s latest book “Restoring Lost Customs of Christendom,” a serialization of his articles published on OnePeterFive over the past few years on customs related to both the temporal and sanctoral cycles. Plese mentions the following in the preface to the book:

The Church’s Liturgical Year is a harmonious interplay of feasts and fasts interwoven in both the temporal and sanctoral cycles that define the rhythm and rhyme of Catholic life. While there are many customs associated with the seasons of the liturgical year and high-ranking feast days, the entire year is replete with opportunities to live out our Catholic heritage through the customs our forefathers instituted.
          The Church’s annual liturgical calendar is comprised of two different, concurrent annual cycles. First, the Proper of the Seasons, or Temporal Cycle, traces the earthly life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church, it consists mainly of Sundays related to the various liturgical seasons – that is, the seven liturgical seasons contained in two cycles of its own: the Christmas Cycle and the Easter Cycle. It starts with Advent then goes through Christmas, Epiphany, Septuagesima, Lent, Easter, and Time after Pentecost. The determination of the date of Easter dictates nearly all the other dates in this cycle. But there is a second cycle: the Proper of the Saints, called the Sanctoral Cycle, which is the annual cycle of feast days not necessarily connected with the seasons.
Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines what is meant by a custom:
A long-standing practice that takes on the force of law. No custom is ever valid that contradicts a divine law, whether natural or positive, nor does a custom abrogate ecclesiastical law unless it is reasonable and has been legitimately in practice over a period of forty full years. Where the ecclesiastical law explicitly forbids contrary customs, the latter can be valid only if they are reasonable and in legitimate existence for at least a century or from time immemorial.
Customs Have the Force of Law
Customs are not simply part a discardable part of our heritage as Roman Catholics. Customs have a deep and permanent place in the lives of Catholics of all Rites. St. Jerome in Letter 71 states, “The best advice that I can give you is this: Church traditions - especially when they do not run counter to the faith - are to be observed in the form in which previous generations have handed them down...the traditions which have been handed down should be regarded as apostolic laws.” St. Thomas Aquinas likewise asserts: “Custom has the force of law, abrogates law, and interprets law.” This is why, for instance, Saturday fasting became law in the West but not in the East by way of custom. (I discuss this traditional understanding of custom as law in further detail here.) 

Customs Illustrate True Liturgical Diversity
Plese reminds us that our customs, which are aligned with the Traditional Latin Mass and the culture around it, are our birthright, which no one, no matter his office, can legitimately take from us:
It’s also important to realize that each rite in the Catholic Church (e.g., Roman, Maronite, Chaldean, etc.) has its own liturgical calendar, and some have multiple uses or forms of the calendar. Even within the same use or form, there are variations according to local customs. For instance, the patron saint of a church or of the cathedral would be ranked higher in the liturgical calendar of that local jurisdiction. Even in the Roman Rite itself, different dioceses, countries, and religious orders would keep some different feastdays. These were listed in the Mass in Some Places (pro aliquibus locis) supplement to the Missal. Beyond the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Lyon, and Bragan Rites are also all part of the Western liturgical tradition. So too are the various Rites for religious orders (e.g., the Carmelite Rite, the Carthusian Rite, the Dominican Rite). These are also part of the Roman Catholic Church. No one has ever doubted the legitimacy of this liturgical diversity.
          Those who try to discredit the Traditional Latin Mass may try to falsely claim that all Catholics must observe the same calendar of saints. But this is not the case as seen in the liturgical calendar diversity in the different Rites of the Church and in the Roman Rite itself. Even Summorum Pontificium affirmed that the continued use of the older Roman calendar in the traditional Mass and Breviary is permissible.
Customs Help Us Live Deeper Liturgical Lives

Initially when people are new to the Traditional Latin Mass, they are in awe of its mystery, splendor, and reverence. But as time goes on, they should go deeper and deeper into the mind of the Church and breathe in and live out catholicity to its core. And one important way of doing just that is to learn and live out Catholic customs. Plese mentions further as to the rationale for the book:

Beyond assisting at Mass and praying the Divine Office, we can and should observe the forgotten customs that further underscored authentic Catholic culture. Catholic culture is more than just going to Mass – much more. Catholic culture is built on fasting periods, assisting at Processions, having various items blessed at different parts of the year (e.g. herbs on August 15th, grapes on September 8th, wine on December 27th). It features days of festivity like during Martinmas and promotes family time and charitable works like visits to grandparents on Easter Monday. It is replete with food customs to celebrate the end of fasting periods and filled with special devotions during periods of penance. It is our heritage. These traditions are our birthright. They are ours as much as they were our ancestors. We must reclaim them. We must spread them. We must love them and observe them. And this book will show today’s Catholic how.
The outline of the book shows the depth covered which goes beyond the “major” seasons of the liturgical year. Customs surrounding the Nativity of our Lady, St. Clement’s Day, St. Anthony’s Day, and many others illustrate the tremendous extent to which customs would permeate Catholic culture. It is no exaggeration to say that they are the substance of a daily life under the sign of the crucified and risen Savior and of His friends, the saints and angels.

Notice that Corpus Christi does not only present the characteristic Procession but also mentions how the day is known as the “Day of Wreaths” in France. This is then followed by indulgences for Corpus Christi as well as some for Thursdays year-round. As such the book is not only concerned with relating former European traditions but giving readers the ability to act on them and pick up the gauntlet in keeping them alive in practice.

Customs Show Diversity in the Midst of Catholicity
Plese draws upon Father Weiser, Dom Guéranger, Cardinal Shuster, the Roman Ritual, and many other sources to present a comprehensive listing of Catholic customs. The book is available in PDF and in Kindle in addition to paperback, and the Kindle and PDF versions also include links to relevant devotions and articles for those wanting even more.

The book also goes beyond mere customs and mentions former laws of precepts in the form of both former Holy Days of Obligation and former obligatory fasting days. Plese shares detail on these so that we can keep devotionally what our forefathers kept under obligation.

I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this book and live out the customs contained in its pages throughout the new year. Catholic customs are truly part of our patrimony as Father Scott Haynes, a fellow endorser of the book, reminds us:
Catholics who want to integrate the Catholic customs of ages past will deeply appreciate Restoring Lost Customs of Christendom. Beginning with Advent and continuing through the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, this complete compendium of Catholic traditions by Matthew Plese will help integrate the ancient traditions of our faith in our families and homes. This treasured volume presents the fasts and feasts, the indulgences and blessings which are the patrimony of our Catholic people.

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