Do Catholics Overvalue Pomp and Ceremonials?

Here we see the Camerlengo, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sealing the papal apartments, because we currently have no pope.

I saw someone on twitter comment that the sealing — with the wax, as is traditional — was all part and parcel of our church’s “medieval” mindset, and it annoyed me, because it is a kneejerk (and false) bit of approved grousing, put on for show; or because the commenter is too lazy to actually think but wants to play to an audience (the curse of social media, to which we all fall into at times!)

So, really, what is wrong with tradition, particularly when it is illustrative, evocative and meaningful, as the sealing of the papal apartments surely is? The sealing says: this place is Peter’s for the world’s sake, not for the casualness of our everyday. It connects us to our past; it reminds us that Offices transcend any man.

There is a brand of sourpussery that appears to be in ascendance, and some of it is rooted in the utilitarian mindset that values everything (and everybody) on usefulness: if this thing/person seems to be pointless to the day or doesn’t suit our idea of what matters, it is extraneous; it is wasteful; it should be stopped, or killed.

These same people, I am quite sure, do not think twice about secular excesses of pomp and ceremony. They’re fine with Olympic ceremonies with lavish, overdone opening and closing ceremonies — the bestowing of medals, and the playing of anthems. They’re fine with Super Bowl traditions and World Series drama. They’re glued to their televisions during Red Carpet Walks and the bestowing of statuettes, and they travel to Washington DC to be part of the crowd during presidential inauguration that sometimes extend over a period of days and culminate in dozens of balls.

And they’re fine with Mardi Gras, too.

The secular ceremonials of man are just fine by them, but let those Catholics honor their traditions…why, it’s perfectly medieval, misplaced, excessive, moribund.

The devil loves this game. All of those secular ceremonies and rites and spectacles keep us very distracted from anything but ourselves, and the rivalries, sports, movies and political theatrics that have captured our attention. They’re permissible and encouraged and approved of, because none of it trips our spiritual wires and turns our focus to heaven.

And that’s why he hates all of that showy Catholic stuff. If Catholics really loved God they’d go live in caves somewhere, like fifth century penitents.

But if they did, googlemaps would be there, scoping it out, and pilgrims would come, and traditions would begin, with rites and ceremonials. Because people like rites with meaning, and symbolic rituals, and humanity has always, always used both to help them refocus and reconnect with God.

As Mark Shea points out, the secular sneering is true for most religions. But of course…not all. And the fact that the sneering is selective gives you a hint as to how falsely those wrinkled noses are wrought.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!