Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Saint Valentine's Day & Tradition

A few days ago our popular Western culture celebrated, in its own way, St. Valentine's Day, and two thoughts struck me.

1. The funny thing about the Lutheran Church (most elements of it) on St. Valentine's Day is that, although you will see it on wall calendars & desk calendars, you will find nothing stirring in your church on that day, not even the church mouse.

2. The funny thing about the modern Roman Catholic Church on St. Valentine's Day is, similarly to what I just observed regarding the Lutherans, the Roman Catholics have forgotten about this feast as well. It has been suppressed, and in its place, the 14th of February in the modern Roman Rite is now the memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius, whose feast is traditionally kept on the 7th of July.

I find it interesting that our culture knows full well what 14 February is, and to put it the other way, it knows when St. Valentine's Day is. Built into the heart and mind of man is a sense of tradition. Ask the average man on the street when St. Valentine's Day is, and he will tell you: it's the 14th of February. Ask him what the 15th of February is, and he will know that too. Namely, it is not in fact, Philemon and Onesimus' Day; rather, it is the day after the day he was supposed to get some flowers for his wife. And he is, in fact, more right on that count than the makers of modern Lutheran books, like Lutheran Service Book.

Christ's Church has an awesome opportunity before her. She can take full advantage of this basic traditionalist tendency on the part of those who would hear her message. For we in the Church have a great heritage, which we have received, and which is ours to hand on and share. That tradition is a Person, Christ Himself, our Immanuel, who desires to enter men's hearts, by water and the Word, to give them the forgiveness of their sins, and all that goes with it, namely, eternal life with Him, and true and sure salvation. And what better way to impart and inculcate this great tradition than by means of the opportunities given us in the manifold evangelical aspects of the tradition of the Church.

How do we do this? Some would argue that the best way is to follow the latest liturgical trends (like LSB), which have improved in many points upon the practice of our immediate past, such as the inclusion of St. Valentine's commemoration on 14 Feb. There is much else LSB does beside its improvements, but that is for another discussion. I suggest the best way is for the Church itself to employ a traditionalist approach to her own magnificent traditions. As I say, people in general are already prepared for such an approach. They would take the Church's lead. Such an approach does not depend on the latest trends promoted at the offices of church bureaucracy, whether in a Lutheran "synod" of delegates or a Vatican synod of bishops.

Traditionalism will take courage (not exactly heavily promoted at seminary today), study (on this count as well I have seen many seminarians get by without much of that), consistency (hardly found in modern service books), and practice. With the help of Christ, though, these things can be renewed in our time. Such is my prayer.


Brian P Westgate said...

I wonder, why did Rome change the dates for many a saint's day after Vatican II?

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

One of the guiding principles of the Second Vatican Council was that the Church was to achieve aggiornamento (being brought up to date) by means of a thoroughgoing resourcement (a going back to the sources). I am opposed to neither of these ideals, per se. The problem, if one may dare to put it so simply, is that both concepts were interpreted much too radically by those ultimately in positions of implementing the wishes of the Council, men like Archbishop Bugnini. Many confuse a "back to the sources" approach with traditionalism. Resourcement, as I say, is commendable in itself, but when it is taken to mean ignoring the tradition of the Church in favor of going back to what the scholars and "experts" of today say is a more purer practice, then the organic development of the liturgy gets traded in for radical revision.

This doesn't seem so far to directly address your question, but I think it gets to the fundamental problem, viz., that the experts of the moment thought it wise to jettison centuries old practice in favor of what they thought better. And what in partticular did they think was better? One of the main concerns of the drafters of the New Order, in refashioning the sanctoral cycle, was to make the feasts more accurately reflect the actual date of a saint's death. Hence, eg., Polycarp gets moved from 26 Jan. to 23 Feb. (today, as it happens). The are many other examples like this. Also, there was an effort to move some of the feasts out ot Lent.

Many of these ideas sound like good arguments in themselves. The traditionalist Lutheran, however, prefers faithfulness to the continuity of our churchly tradition, where the Gospel is not harmed by doing so. Sorry for the long answer. It actually is a topic that deserves a much longer one, hence my spending the last couple days thinking to how to answer it briefly.