Rorate Caeli

Prof Tracey Rowland and her rebuke to Traditional Catholics.
- Traditional Catholicism straddles the Income Gap - and that is a very good thing.

Perfectly normal Catholics attached to the Vetus Ordo in York, England, this March.
They were in a procession in honour of St Margaret Clitherow, in the LMS Pilgrimage.
Last July, the Australian theologian Professor Tracey Rowland, caused a stir by her remarks on how Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass can harm their cause by their attitudes and clothing. These, she said, put newcomers of attending the Extraordinary Form. You can see the video of her remarks on here, with some commentary from me.

Among the responses to her was a note from Fr Glen Tattersall, who is in charge of the Archdiocese of Melbourne's provision for the Traditional Mass. Since Rowland lives in that Archdiocese, it would be quite natural that Catholics of that community might feel particularly included in her comments. A view that is obviously not shared by the Archbishop of Melbourne, since the community, since then, has had its relevance to the local Church recognized by the Archbishop, who made it a full Personal Parish. Fr Tattersall said the following:

Dr Rowland is Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne. She is a person of some prominence in the Church in Australia.

As chaplain [now Parish Priest] for those Catholics in Melbourne attached to the Extraordinary Form, I feel compelled to offer the following observations, given that Dr Rowland claims to speak from experience:

1. Dr Rowland rarely attends Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Melbourne - I can recall having seen her once at Mass (a Low Mass on a weekday) in the last two years;

2. I do not recognise as present among the Catholic Faithful I am privileged to serve any of the problems she alleges in her interview.

This and the other responses have not deflected her from including these remarks in the printed version of her talk, though she has added a long footnote complaining about one accusation from on-line 'rad trads' which I didn't even notice at the time: that she might be a member of Opus Dei. Her defensiveness about this suggestion is at least as puzzling as the relevance of the suggestion itself. In my experience Opus Dei don't go in for trad-bashing, and they are keenly aware, from past and present experience, of the danger of generalisations uninformed by true and long-lasting acquaintance of a community.

I've put an extract from the relevant section of her article on my own blog here; what follows is a shortened version of my commentary in that post and a follow-up one.


Rowland has a threefold critique: First, that Catholics attending the Traditional Mass can be 'spikey aesthetes' who discuss the deficiencies of the music after each Mass in an uncharitable way.

Second, that Catholics attending the Traditional Mass can be 'opposed to contemporary modes of dress': they fail to avoid 'turning out like an escapee from an Amish farm'. 

Third, 'liturgical issues need to be disentangled from the interpretation of Vatican II issues', and Catholics attending the Traditional Mass fail to do this.

My first reaction is that there is a tension between the first criticism and the other two. It would appear that Prof Rowland has two completely different groups of trads, and two completely different groups of non-trads, in mind. It would also appear that the conflict between the trads and the non-trads she is talking about has got very little to do with theology, and a great deal to to with class. She worries that lower-middle class people going to the EF will be put off by upper-middle class regulars talking snootily about mistakes in the polyphony, and she worries about upper-middle class people going who will be put off by lower-middle class regulars lowering the tone with their poor standard of dress.

The housing market frequently arranges things so that parish churches only cater for people of a specific income bracket. This neat social apartheid is disrupted by the need for trads to travel long distances to get to the Traditional Mass. Personally, I've always valued the more complete social community which arises from this mixing, but it seems Prof Rowland's friends can't take it.

Rowland would no doubt object that the issues of clothing and attitude to the Council are ideological. But this won't wash. She's just contributed to a conference full of people with fundamental objections to the Council-as-usually-perceived. She footnotes the possibility of 'a 'smart retro look' which can even be avant-garde'. What she is objecting to is precisely the lack of sophistication in implementing these ideas. She is condemning trads for their lack of money, education, and intellectual and cultural sophistication. She is condemning them, in short, for being ordinary Catholics.

Perfectly normal faithful attend Pontifical Mass with Confirmations,
Saint-Eugène, Paris, May 25, 2014 (image by Gonzague Bridault)

What is peculiar is that she presents the problem of the connection between liturgy and the interpretation of Vatican II as part of her sociological observations about the failings of traditional Catholics. That they don't share her complex and highly controversial interpretation of Vatican II is presented as a social failing: they are wrong because they will make certain 'mainstream Catholics' uncomfortable

She has a vivid mental picture of how discussions of the Council during coffee after Mass go. On the one hand, she suggests, of the traditionalists:

Their world-view would be shattered if they suddenly realised that for twenty-seven years John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger laboured to present Catholics with a wholly different understanding of the Council ...

On the other, she says of the non-trads:

[T]hey probably are people who can distinguish between the genuine Conciliar reforms and what Cardinal Ratzinger called the "rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism" which was marketed as the fruit of the Council in the 1960s and 70s.

In other words, the trads haven't even noticed that Pope Paul VI has died and that his successors had a somewhat different take on things, but the people who wander in from the street have read all of Cardinal Ratzinger's works and have higher degrees in theology.

I'm sorry, this is just loopy. I've talked to a lot of trads, and a lot of people who've wandered into celebrations of the Traditional Mass off the street, and I've seen many interactions between the two, and I can tell Prof Rowland that the Trads are infinitely better informed than the newcomers. Most Catholics know nothing - NOTHING - of substance about the Council or the liturgical reform. (37% of American Catholics, remember, don't know even that the Church teaches the Real Presence.) Most haven't caught up with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. It's the trads who start making distinctions and citing Church documents in these discussions. Their position as an embattled minority has forced them to become well informed. Obviously, their failure to agree with Tracey Rowland on highly complex and controversial issues is unforgivable. But she should ask a few people in the average Novus Ordo parish what they think of her 'Trinitarian Christocentric interpretation of the Council', and see how far that gets her.

What she is doing is nothing more or less than negative stereotyping. It's not big and not clever. It is rude, uncharitable, uninformed.

The other area in which her desire to judge outruns the information she has about her victims is the matter of clothing. The nub of it is: are those who attend the Traditional Mass less well dressed than the average Novus Ordo congregation? Well, has she seen an average Novus Ordo congregation?

Let's take a little step back. First off, as Rowland appears dimly to apprehend, the world of clothing, particularly clothing for women, and particularly in the English-speaking world, is going through a profound crisis, like every other aspect of our culture. Add to this general situation an almost total collapse of regard for female modesty, and you have a cultural catastrophe. You can witness that catastrophe by walking into a Novus Ordo Mass anywhere in the English-speaking world on a warm day. Australia, I understand, has many warm days.

Perfectly normal pilgrims attached to the Old Rite fill Rio de Janeiro's Old Cathedral in a Pontifical Mass
celebrated during World Youth Day 2013

Those who resist the modernist ideology of clothing are, of course, attacked by its proponents. Men are described as 'fogeys', and women in the sort of charming terms Rowland dishes out. Notice how Rowland's first instinct is that anything old-fashioned is bad; she then accepts that there might be exceptions. In a footnote:
Ann Krohn, the Convenor of the Australian Catholic women's network called Anima, has suggested that a distinction can be drawn between a 'smart retro look' which can even be avant-garde, and the Amish puritan style...

If Prof Rowland needed Ann Krohn to point out that 'retro' can be fashionable, she has obviously been living under a stone for the last twenty years. But notice that, for her, it can be justified if it can in some way be 'avant-garde'. What if we don't want to be avant-garde? What if, like Martin Mosebach, the author of The Heresy of Formlessness, we reject what he calls 'the senile avant-guardism of 1910'? The relentless rejection of the past and of formalism which has been reprised in art and fashion over and over again since before the First World War? Are we to be trapped in this sterile ideology forever?

Rowland says patronisingly:

[T]he problem here seems to be that members of traditionalist movements often lack a hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis.
What sort of 'hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis' does Rowland have? It is pretty obvious that, as far as clothing and fashion is concerned, she doesn't have a clue. Is it relevant that, as I was so lambasted for pointing out in my original post, she was badly dressed when making these remarks? I'm afraid it is. It is not a matter of personal abuse, it is a matter of understanding. Does she understand the issues? No, she does not.

To return to the central point, Rowland says that, in their dress, EF congregations are bucking the trend a bit, in the direction of modesty. Could Rowland find it in herself to acknowledge that, in the current climate, this effort is both a good thing, and heroically difficult?

It doesn't follow that the ladies at the EF are invariably well styled. It is extremely difficult to find clothes which are both modest and good in every other way - and affordable. Can we cut them a little slack here? Just a little? Can we acknowledge that they are making a sacrifice for the sake of morality?

But finally, they can look pretty dreadful and still be superior, all things considered, to the people in the average OF congregation, who have given no thought either to modesty or to style. Who include people in jeans and t-shirts, quite possibly jeans cut short with nail scissors, accessorised with flip-flops. They don't exactly put up stiff competition in the fashion parade. Rowland finds them acceptable because they conform to the utterly debased standards of modern culture. Are these really the only relevant standards?

Perfectly normal faithful attached to the Vetus Ordo in Libreville, Gabon,
Palm Sunday 2014

There is a grain of truth in Rowland's contention that Traditional Catholics have been influenced by conservative Protestants. (Not the Amish - that is just silly.) It's not hard to see why: the Catholic intellectual leadership, Rowland included, has completely failed to rise to the challenge presented by the crisis of modern fashion, and you have to take your inspiration from where you can find it. It is also true that Protestant theology has a distinct view of women and indeed of beauty which Catholics need to be wary of. I am going to publish some guest posts on my own blog which address the question of a truly Catholic attitude to clothing.

For present purposes, however, that is a side issue. It suffices to say that Rowland's assessment of the Traditional Catholics community is completely unhelpful. It is unhelpful because it is crassly uninformed, as well as grossly uncharitable. It is one of those attempts, which are so wearying, of intellectuals who recognise some of the importance and truth of the liturgical tradition trying to distance themselves from the little people who actually do their best to live that tradition in the very difficult conditions of the modern world. She doesn't want to get involved and help them do it better: that would tarnish her. She just wants to look down on them from a great height and ridicule them.