What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum (2007)
I honestly did not expect to write another St. Pius V Corner post this month, nor another one about Studio Trigger’s Little Witch Academia. However, it has to be done. Last Friday (16 July 2021), on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Pope Francis released his latest motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes (Custodians of Tradition). Amongst all the whack things he’s spouted over the last eight years of his pontificate, this one will probably take the cake. In his letter, directed against Catholic folks with an attachment to the Tridentine Mass, the Pope throws down restrictions on the celebration of said liturgy, notably preventing the creation of new locations where such a Mass can be celebrated, and making priests jump through hoops and flames with their bishop before being allowed to recite it in public. It’s a stark contrast to Summorum Pontificum, released by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, which pretty much said the opposite of whatever this document said.
Granted, so far many bishops have pretty much allowed the celebration of the Tridentine Mass to continue undisturbed. (The Archdiocese of Toronto where I live has yet to release such a statement) However, it’s only a matter of time before some episcopal hack comes along and (God forbid) abrogates the celebration in his diocese, forcing the faithful to either find another location for it or sit through yet another “Mass” thrown about with armies of so-called “Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers”, shoddy music and liturgical dancers. Though the document concerns itself with liturgical unity, ironically it’s expressed in such a way that it’ll drive Catholics away from embracing a liturgical treasure – which one Fr. Frederick Faber, seeing the fruits it has left on the faithful, called as “the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven”, throughout its one-and-a-half millenia stay in Christianity.
Needless to say, Traditionis Custodes was received with backlash from both Catholics attached to the rite, and by Traditionalist groups; with the SSPX lambasting the Pope’s decision and the FSSP expressing sorrow at it. Reflecting on the events following its release, my mind immediately shifted to the anime Little Witch Academia, which as an underlying theme addresses a question of “tradition .vs. modernity” in episodes 19-20, which chronicles Diana Cavendish’s family crisis.
MAGIC IN THE LIGHT OF TRADITION
Diana: Enough! How much more of the Cavendish history must you trample on until you are satisfied?
Daryl: How pathetic. Still obsessing over the old, aren’t you? You’re just like your mother, a charity case who couldn’t help but treat all those people for free in the name of tradition. If anything, you should thank me for everything I’ve done to keep this family afloat.
Diana: What you’ve done is just sell off our family’s priceless and precious artifacts for money. Have you no shame as a Cavendish?… I will become head of this household tonight, and when I do, you’ll have nothing to do with our legacy any longer!Diana and Daryl’s feud, episode 19
Here, Diana Cavendish, the best student at Luna Nova Academy, is forced to leave school due to a major family emergency that can’t be avoided; she is to undergo an important ritual to become the family head. Even though she is visibly disheartened to cast away her ties to the school as well as her personal dreams, and rebuffs Akko, who in an ironic twist tries to stop her from departing despite her known animosity towards her, for her apparent disregard to magical traditions, she insists that it is a matter that she must attend to. Akko decides to follow her home and at dinner, where she learns the context surrounding the state of necessity surrounding the Cavendish family estate. You see, during Diana’s absence, the household was under control of Daryl, her aunt, who holds little to no reverence for the family’s history, and has been pawning off the family’s assets like a garage sale; it has been implied that she has been doing this for a long time.
Seeing her aunt’s lack of cherishment for the magical traditions she holds close to her heart, this drives Diana to the point of frustration, and she stands up to her aunt, who mocks her attachment to tradition, and her refusal to see through the end of the golden age of magic. She resolves to become the Cavendish household’s head, and prevent her family traditions from disappearing to the abyss of history. Akko follows her along the night of the ritual, rescuing her from an unexpected danger set by a jealous Daryl, and confronts her about the matter. Diana then leads her to a large library, revealing, apart from that she’s a descendant of one of the founding members of witch civilization, about her mother’s legacy as a healer and how she used her skills for the common good. The things she did left a deep impression on her, and served as the main motivation for her to abandon her studies, come back to the manor, and set things right; unwilling to see it just disappear.
Diana: I am truly proud of what my mother did, and how hard the rest of the Cavendishes worked to preserve their legacy. That’s why I left Luna Nova; because I want to protect that, and preserve this home.
Akko: And I’m saying you still can, there’s still a way!… I had no idea you were this kind of person with this kind of dream. You’re amazing, and I’m with you to protect what you hold most precious!Diana reveals her true intentions behind becoming the family head
At that moment, Akko becomes impressed, even to the point of tears, at seeing how strong Diana’s determination is to save her heritage, and she becomes encouraging of her to do whatever it takes to become head of her family and appreciate tradition. Suddenly, Akko’s Shiny Rod, which she carries with her, shines and she unlocks the fifth of seven Words Of Arcturus: Sybilladura Lebilladura, or as Diana puts it best: “When traditional and modern powers mingle, so opens the gates to a new world.” Although she comes short of fulfilling the ritual thanks to Daryl’s hassles, in the end she gains a moral victory by triggering a change of heart and attitude in the latter.
In this mini-arc, three lines of thinking towards tradition and modernity merge with one another, providing interesting insights towards the characters’ treatment of such a topic. Daryl is fully drunk on modernity, and holds her family heritage with contempt, discreetly insulting Diana’s mother’s altruism and blaming her for the family’s recent struggles. This grudge makes her sell off the family possessions in the name of money, leaving no smidge of respect in the process to wipe out the centuries of family tradition that represented their role. Akko, on the other hand, has her heart set on “Shiny Chariot this” and “Shiny Chariot that”, constantly clashing with teachers like the ultraconservative Prof. Finnelan or her mentor, Ursula Callistis, who at times don’t see eye to eye with her vision. However, to her credit, she’s at least willing to listen to others and change her mindset, provided a good reason comes for it. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why Diana comes off as annoyed with these two polar attitudes; because of their disdain, to a certain degree, for the one banner that she hoists to keep her mission going: respect for tradition.
In contrast, she reverences tradition, and holds it with high esteem. As important it is to preserve the heritage of magic, and make sure it doesn’t lose their true meaning, what matters the most is making sure that people can see just how valuable it is in the practice of magic – not by tricks or as a sleight-of-hand entertainment, but as a way to make people’s lives better. She despises people who want to devalue tradition, and unlike Daryl or Professor Croix, she’s unwilling to compromise her beliefs for modernity’s sake, as shown by her admiration for her late mother’s work. Similarly, the ancient liturgies of the Church, like the Tridentine Mass, do have a place in the 21st century, and how important it is to remind others of its legacy and significance to Catholic life.
THE FIGHT FOR TRADITION AND THE MASS
Going back to the topic at hand: one priest I saw on Twitter commented on the critics of the Tridentine Mass, believing because to them, “it expresses the faith of a Church which – to many – no longer exists”. Ergo, the old statement lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (The law of prayer is the law of belief, and the law of living) suffices. I do believe that to be the case; I can only share my experience from high school. Our “Masses” lacked the reverent motets of Palestrina, Franck, or Faber, replacing them with pop renditions complete with guitar, keyboard and drums; there was never an attempt to imbue a sense of the sacred within the liturgy. “Mass” felt more like a community gathering instead of a sacrifice offered unto God; never once was an opportunity for Confession presented before the service, and its atmosphere felt detached from the Catholic schools my grandfather told me about in the days of Pope Pius XII. What were the fruits of this?
- Not a single religious vocation was made among the graduating students (numbering 500)
- The rate of those who continue to practice the Faith or, at the bare minimum, attend Mass, are no more than 5% at best
- “Religious” retreats consisted of going to either a Hindu temple, a Jewish synagogue, Sikh gurdwara, or a Coptic church – NEVER ONCE DID WE PAY A VISIT TO A CATHOLIC SHRINE.
- During a school “Mass” I personally saw one student attempt to escape with the Eucharist instead of consuming it; yes, he received it in the hand. (Thanks, Paul VI!)
With the way my school treated the liturgy, you’d think it resembled more of a public event than a Catholic one; devoid of its spiritual foundation. The new motu proprio also appears to replicate this attitude, which is why it’s so problematic for many to accept. The restrictions on the Tridentine Mass are written in such a way that it seemingly tries to break with the Catholic liturgical traditions once held in esteem. it gives off the vibe that somehow it was trying to justify that it has no place now due to how disconnected it is from today’s reality – and that except for a select few, no one else ought to have access to it. This is patently a false line of thinking, and one that Little Witch Academia demonstrates through some of its characters’ attitudes towards magic.
If, like the teachers of Luna Nova, we turn the Tridentine Mass into something that can only be limited to an exclusive few, at the inconvenience of the Catholic faithful, and prevent its spread, we do a disservice not only to Christ in spreading the glory of His Church, but to the evangelization efforts. Keeping it into its own corner will deprive others of the graces that can be obtained there, and pose a stumbling block to those who wish to grow in holiness at worship. If we follow the line of thinking of Prof. Croix Meridies, who despised her practice’s ancient origins so much, that she tells Akko “Modern witches aren’t supposed to be proficient in ancient ways” and is willing to compromise the faith of others, or Daryl who treats it as a meaningless, ancient cultural trinket, then we lose our identity of what it means to be Catholic; heirs of an ancient tradition of teachings and ways of belief which extends to the time of the Apostles, and consequently nothing can be considered sacred anymore. This line of thinking destroys faith in the Mass’ efficacy, and is what led, during the heyday of Vatican II, one Fr. Annibale Bugnini to dare to tamper with it, much to the shock of various prelates like Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani.
Sure, Diana’s foothold on tradition can come off as harsh sometimes – if she were Catholic, Pope Francis would probably call her “rigid”. However, it’s contributed greatly in her resolve to find a purpose in life, and most importantly, reconcile the bridge between magic and the modern world. Her determination to hold fast to these traditions, amidst her peers’ questions, concerns, and even rebuffs – such as Akko’s or Daryl’s – are both admirable and personally relatable. I often get asked why I attend a liturgy in Latin instead of in the vernacular, why not just find a reverent service, and how I can admire a rite that isn’t like what most others experience. My response is: the issue of language is a strawman that avoids the integral crux of the matter (and even if it were an issue, an online Latin-vernacular missal fixes this); same for reverence (Eastern Rite, some Novus Ordo liturgies and even non-Catholic services can be too – doesn’t add to the argument); that the liturgy is timeless and transcends history; and my presence there is to worship, adore, give thanks to God, and atone for my faults in an environment best suited for Him and objectively helps unite myself to Him no matter where the place is – be it downtown New York City or a humble African village. All in all, it is by acknowledging the Church’s traditional elements that one can cultivate a stronger appreciation for the Faith, and use it to grow a bond with Christ.
A little over 400 years ago, Pope St. Pius V, pictured to the right, used his power as Vicar of Christ to write Quo Primum, which codified, in perpetuity, the same rite that was used in Rome during the reign of Pope St. Gregory The Great; in the medieval cathedrals of Salisbury, Paris and Milan; the one celebrated by Sts. Alphonsus Liguori, Francis Xavier, Padre Pio, and John Vianney among others; and which the folks of British-occupied Ireland risked their very lives to attend. It would be a scandal to the Church if this same rite were to suddenly disappear or be constricted to a few obscure places, because to do this would be to consign this rite – described by Fr. Adrian Fortescue as one of the most venerable in the Church – to irrelevance and by consequence, negate the divine, universal, and immemorial nature of the Catholic Church. I thank God daily for the priests and societies who continue to offer this Mass daily, and for how much it has changed my perspective on the Faith; I hope also to continue to be able to attend and serve there for as long as I am able to.
In the meantime, don’t be too distressed by the recent attacks made on the Tridentine Mass – be it from this motu proprio, disgruntled progressives who detest anything remotely Catholic, or indifferent prelates. Like Diana in Little Witch Academia, who fought to preserve her family’s magical heritage from her modernist cousins and live them to the fullest, it’s our Catholic duty as well to ensure that this liturgy does not fall into the hands of anyone who wishes to denigrate it in any way, shape, or form, and display the good spiritual fruits that they provide. It should serve as a beautiful expression of our Faith, our lifestyle, and how we offer the best to God; that itself, a nourishing legacy that no one can take away.
Furthermore… We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear… Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us. We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force…Pope St. Pius V, Quo Primum (1570)