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When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.

From Anthony De Mello, The Song of the Bird

A follow-up post to Tradition

Many things in liturgy are given a disproportionate significance and importance. Burse and veil are made much of – with the burse put vertically on the altar for all to see, forming a significant ritual… with more reverence applied to the collection of money than would ever be given to the bread and wine Christ himself instituted and gives us…

It is well said: Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.

The Gospel candle never burns alone. When I once organised an altar to be moved forward from the East wall, confusion resulted: had the Gospel candle changed sides? Was it still on the priest’s left or now on the priest’s right?

Anglicans love allegorising. I don’t normally wear a cincture cord, but when once asked by a parishioner what the knots on the cord represented, she was scandalised when I responded that they represented the person wearing it not tripping up on too-long a cord. Had I said one represented the divinity of Christ and the other Christ’s humanity, or anything akin, she would have gone away satisfied.

I once upset an international liturgical scholar by declaring that the curve in Medieval cathedrals from East to West doesn’t represent Christ’s head leaning to one side at his crucifixion – it’s merely the result of the recession of the equinox. Churches are often aligned to the sunrise on their appointed feast day. But the sun doesn’t rise in the same place each year – and over a long time, that is noticeable.

You get a virtual maniple for each similar guru’s cat story…

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9 thoughts on “Traditions”

  1. I’ve often wondered if some of the things we do are because a long time ago one priest did something one way (simply as that was their personal style) and some well meaning person put some obscure theological slant on it and now it is done purely for that theological reason alone – I hope that made sense :0)

    I’ve also noticed priests copying things the Archbishop does (because that is the Archbishop’s style). Some are better at copying than others – however I suspect the copying is not for the correct reasons …

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dave. Yes – I think you are absolutely right. And if they do not do what that “one priest” did – some will see them as denying the theology! Your description in your second paragraph is exactly one of the ways how different rites developed. The Roman rite, the Sarum rite, the Ambrosian rite,…

  2. On the other hand, does that mean that it’s necessarily wrong to tie the cat for a particular liturgical reason?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Matt. I don’t know if the categories “right” and “wrong” are the best way forward. I think the message is in the inability of the liturgy to continue without purchasing a cat to tie up…

      1. And again I attempt to find the point and walk *right past* it… 🙁

        I remember listening to a speaker in a young adult group I belonged to (I was one of the oldest at about 32). The speaker’s subject was “Orthopraxy,” which sounded interesting to me, until I realized that he was primarily concerned with telling us, for example, (a) that one ought to genuflect on one’s right knee, and (b) why it was wrong to genuflect on the left knee. Or why, when crossing oneself, one ought to use three fingers (for the members of the Trinity), and touch the right shoulder before the left. That was just silly to me.

        Not as silly, though, as a writer whose article I read, or at least eventually made it through. He not only made the comment that all Catholic Masses (he didn’t specify Roman Catholic) should be celebrated using (what’s currently known as) the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but also used as reason the fact (if it is a fact) that this form uses three altar-cloths under the chalice, because according to him it was a mortal sin not to use three cloths (again, disrespecting the Trinity).

        I think that’s more the sort of thing you’re talking about. I’m left-handed, so I tend to genuflect on my left knee, and I don’t even know which shoulder I touch first when crossing myself. And if it made a difference to me, I imagine God would be happy with that; and if it didn’t, I imagine God would probably be okay with that too.

        1. Thanks, Matt. I touch my left shoulder first (should I relearn?) I didn’t know about the three altar cloths (which cloth represents which person of the Trinity?) I know in seminaries they used to teach priests to not hold their hands further apart than the width of the corporal by using a circular tied piece of string to practise (only what is on the corporal is consecrated). Blessings.

  3. a new priest shows up at a parish. After a few weeks, the Sr. Warden takes him aside and quietly expresses his concern that the Eucharist isn’t being celebrated correctly. It seems that his predecessor, Fr. Smith, always blessed the radiator before preparing the elements. Baffled, the new priest calls Fr. Smith and asks him why he had blessed the radiator. ‘What?’ Fr Smith exclaims, ‘all I did was touch it to get rid of static electricity!’

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