Rorate Caeli

Third Semi-Annual National Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage


(Photo by Kevin Ceigersmidt)

“Hold fast to Tradition.  It is the treasury of our inheritance and can never be taken from you – it can only be given up.”

Michael Hichborn

Anthropologists and archeologists will tell us that man, as a result of the evolutionary process, had to discover God, and through this discovery process, had to grow in understanding through the development of religion.  It is commonly believed that pantheism pre-existed paganism, and that paganism pre-existed monotheism, and that as a result of this evolving development of theological doctrine, man had also developed the manner in which nature, the gods, and ultimately God is to be worshipped.

Nothing can be further from the truth.  If it was the case that man’s understanding of God was developed through some evolutionary process, then it must be concluded that either man is truly subject to a gnostic understanding of reality – meaning that he attains some secret knowledge or enlightenment through mystical acts – or man has invented religion altogether.

But the fact of the matter is that man can only apply reason to some understanding of God to a certain point, as is seen in the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.  These great men were able to observe nature and follow the course of logic in regard to God as one observes the movements of air: it can only be known by its effects.   So also did these Greek philosophers see the effects of God and come to know some of His attributes.  But what they could NOT conclude is His person.  They could not know that God is a Trinity, for instance, or that God wishes to be adored in a particular manner.  It is for this reason that God has made Himself known to man.

In the Garden of Eden, God spoke with Adam, but He never spoke to Eve.  Take note that the serpent asked Eve a devious question – “Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?”  Eve knew not to eat the fruit because her husband told her what God had told him, so this first question was directed at placing a doubt in Eve’s mind, not so much about what God had said, but whether what Adam told her was true.  Eve responded by holding to what Adam told her: “Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat:  But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die.

Eve had no direct knowledge of this, but relying upon Adam’s word, she held to a Tradition that should have kept her grounded in God’s commandment.  Instead, she was drawn in by the delightful appearance of the fruit, and she ate it and gave it to Adam to eat as well.

After the expulsion from the Garden, Our Lord fashioned for our first parents the skins of animals for them to wear.  Tradition holds that it was sheep skins, sacrificed as a prefigurement of the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary.  

In the very next generation of mankind, Adam and Eve’s first two sons were involved in a liturgical dispute.  Genesis tells us:

Abel was a shepherd, and Cain a husbandman.  And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord.  Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings.  But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell.

The difference between the offerings of Cain and Abel had everything to do with the nature of their sacrifices.  Abel’s sacrifice was of a lamb, whereas Cain’s sacrifice was “fruits of the earth” – as in wheat or vegetation.  If God provided the skins of lambs for Adam and Eve to wear as a sacrifice to cover their nakedness (their sin), then He provided to them the means by which they are to continue offering a sacrifice to God.  Abel followed suit and likewise sacrificed a lamb, but Cain introduced a liturgical innovation.  In other words, Abel followed the Tradition handed to him by Adam and Cain did not.  Asking Cain why he was angry, God said: “If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it.” 

In other words, Cain sinned because he did not offer the proper sacrifice.  And the result is that he murdered his brother.

Throughout the Old Testament and into the New, we see example after example of the proper manner in which to worship and offer sacrifice to God, and in all of it we see that God is the one who instructed His people in the manner of worship.  It is not an invention of man, and in fact, liturgical innovations that deviate from what God provided always end in disaster. 

Since 1970, the Church has been struggling with the effects of an inversion of Babel. 

And the earth was of one tongue, and of the same speech.   And when they removed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar, and dwelt in it.   And each one said to his neighbour: Come, let us make brick, and bake them with fire. And they had brick instead of stones, and slime instead of mortar.   And they said: Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven: and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands.   And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of Adam were building.

And he said: Behold, it is one people, and all have one tongue: and they have begun to do this, neither will they leave off from their designs, till they accomplish them in deed.   Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another's speech.

And so the Lord scattered them from that place into all lands, and they ceased to build the city.   And therefore the name thereof was called Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confounded: and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all countries. (Genesis 11:1-9)

Note well what is taking place here.  The men of this time, being united in a common language, sinned by proclaiming that they could reach Heaven through natural means.  They sought to build for themselves their own temple, of their own design, and with their own path that would take them to Heaven.  And to prevent this, God diversified their language so they would no longer be able to complete this task.

Now, following the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, God – through the ministry of His Church – brought the many scattered languages of man back together as one in the common language of Latin.  And through the common language of Latin, He provided the means by which His Church would preserve, protect, and defend the Doctrines of Faith and the manner in which He is to be worshipped.  Through the Mass, Heaven is opened for us at the Altar.  Through the Latin, the proper meaning of the words are held intact without the fear of corruption.  And by this means, Tradition stands as a bulwark against worldly or even diabolical innovations.

But in 1970, the unity of the one language of the Church was struck and now the Church Herself is undergoing Her own Babel moment.  Without the unity of the language, the integrity of worship has become subject to local custom.  Liturgical abuses now abound throughout Christendom, and we are becoming witness to the murder of Abel all over again.  Without Tradition, we lose the sense of proper worship, and in that loss, we become a self-centered people desiring to do things – in the words of Frank Sinatra – “My Way.” 

During the Soviet occupation of Russia throughout the majority of the last century, it was the babushkas who preserved the Tradition of worship, so that when the Soviet Union collapsed, Traditional religious practices were quickly restored.  During the 250 year period of Japan’s closure to the outside world, Catholic families were able to pass down the faith from generation to generation by Traditional practices and prayers.

My dear friends in Christ, if we do not have Tradition, we fall to a form of cultural and spiritual amnesia, losing all sense of what God has said, what He has done, and how He has instructed us in the manner by which He desires to be worshipped.  Hold fast to Tradition.  It is the treasury of our inheritance and can never be taken from you – it can only be given up.

God love you.  

(Time constraints prevented Michael Hichborn from delivering these prepared remarks in full to the pilgrims gathered today at the conclusion of the walk from the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia, to that of Saint Matthew in the District. They are shared here for the benefit of all friends of Catholic Tradition.)