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Peter, Popes and Passion

posted by awelborn

We recently took a weekend jaunt down to Cincinnati (or “Cinciana” as my son calls it) to view the touring exhibit , “St. Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes.”

It was interesting, but not in ways that I expected.

I was startled, first of all by how overtly evangelistic the exhibit was, letting us know from the film we had to watch before we entered as well as the introductory placards that what we were about to see was about those men whom Jesus had chosen to lead his church. Period.

Well. I guess there won’t be many Baptist groups sending busses to this one.

Especially with the cast of Pope John Paul II’s hand that ends the exhibit, and which you are invited to touch.

This might also explain why the exhibit is being presented in places like Houston and Cincinnati, rather than Los Angeles and New York City.

The exhibit tells the history of the papacy and the Vatican, beginning with Peter and the traditional location of his remains on that spot, moves to Constantine’s construction of a basilica, and then, by necessity, skips to the 15th century and the building of St. Peter’s , since during the intervening years, the center of papal administration was not, in fact the Vatican, but rather the Lateran – or Avignon, France for a few years as well.

There were certainly some interesting artifacts on display: a fifth-century mosaic of St. Peter, huge ciboria, a little hammer they used to use to tap a pope’s head to make sure he was dead, the hand-written diaries of several papal conclaves, papal seals, bejeweled tiaras, a liturgical drinking straw, whatever that is, and, oddly enough, in this museum setting, a rather significant relic of Pope Pius V: a finger bone with a ring still encircling it.

Unfortunately, in my mind, the art itself wasn’t terrifically or uniquely impressive – the collections of almost every major art museum I’ve seen in the Midwest over the past three years hold more depth of religious, and even liturgical art and artifacts than what we saw in this exhibit.

As it happens, I took in this exhibit the day after I (finally) saw The Passion of the Christ. It was an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least. Being immersed for two hours in the intensely redemptive suffering and sacrifice of Jesus at the hands of earthly powers and principalities, and then standing, blinking, in front of the heavily bejeweled tiaras of the Vicar of Christ gives one more than a little food for thought.

Papal fingers aside, I was particularly struck by two objects. One was a small paten and chalice set used by priests at Auschwitz. The other was a fascinating liturgical book stand, carved out of wood in the shape of a shell, that had been used centuries ago by missionaries to Latin America.

Perhaps it all works together somehow. Perhaps missionaries would not have been able to cross the world without the support of a wealthy papacy. Perhaps a papacy with deep roots in the world of nations and politics and economics stabilized the institution so that victims of persecution would have a church to come back to when they emerged back into the light.

Perhaps.

In a long clear glass case between other cases of crosiers and ciboria, was a staff with a little bowl on top. At a papal coronation, material is placed in the bowl, then set afire. It burns in a flash, and as it does, a Latin phrase is recited three times: “Sic transit gloria mundi” – So passes the glories of the world.

Living out our faith in the complexity and temptations of the real world is a challenge for all of us, not just popes. The way of the Passion lies before us – but will we follow?
The story is told that this same St. Peter, the focus of our exhibit, was fleeing Rome and his execution when Jesus appeared to him. Uttering another well-known Latin phrase, Peter asked him, “Domine, quo vadis?”
“To my execution,” Jesus answered. And Peter turned back and followed.

The glories of the world.

The way of the Passion.

Quo vadis?



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TSO

posted March 3, 2004 at 2:15 pm


Thanks for posting this Amy. What with all the bejeweled tiaras, I’m almost glad there likely won’t be Baptist groups coming since it does play into stereotypes. But of course popes ruling both church and state put them in a tight spot.



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Bill

posted March 3, 2004 at 2:41 pm


I haven’t seen the exhibit, but, as a general matter, I am in favor of bejewelled tiaras and would lilke to see them back in fashion. There is a certain dignity that should be part and parcel of being a successor of Peter or even just an everyday prince of the Church. That unworthy men may have served in these offices is not an argument againt an appropriate pomp.



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Sandra Miesel

posted March 3, 2004 at 3:04 pm


I reviewed the catalogue of that show for CRISIS and a spectacular and informative book it is. Buy it, folks, if you can’t go. I, too, was struck by the concentration camp chalice–as opposed to the silk slippers and Urban VIII’s pink vestments. A lot of the art and artifacts were not impressive aesthetically.



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Rich Leonardi

posted March 3, 2004 at 3:07 pm


When the exhibit opened, the Cincinnati Enquirer featured a number of debating letters to the editor addressing the points you raise.
Those in defense of the exhibit would usually cite the passage in the Gospel in which Jesus instructs “the poor you will always have with you” in response to Judas’ complaint that perfumed oil had been wasted on Jesus.
My own take is that since the Church was the guiding force of Christendom, it was inevitable that she would gather riches. Now that she has these treasures, at the very least they ought to be treated as part of a living museum of history.
I too was struck by the evangelical character of the exhibit. When you enter the exhibit hall, you are immediately shown a short film that explains Matthew 16 in explicitly Catholic terms. This theme continues throughout.
Even the bookstore contained orthodox material, e.g., the CCC, Kevin Orlin Johnson’s “Why Do Catholics Do That?”, the Divinity catechism game for children. I found it amusing that the one heterodox book they had on hand was a single battered copy of Richard McBrien’s “Catholicism”.
Hopefully, that was merely a concession and not a sign that customer demand outstripped their supply.



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Bill

posted March 3, 2004 at 3:23 pm


I think it is important to remember that beautiful vestiments and regalia, like beuautiful architecture, serve a public purpose and it is the “poor”, whom we will always have with us, who derive a special benefit, since, by definition, they lack the wherewithall to avail themselves of such things otherwise. Consider the alternative — the ugly vestments of the 1970s did not seem to produce a particulary pious crop of clerics or devout laity.



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Greg Popcak

posted March 3, 2004 at 3:52 pm


I agree that the treasures of the Church can be embarassing–superficially–and that they have been abused by some self-aggrandizing popes to exalt themselves rather than God.
That said, if God has given me a gift; be it the talent of being a craftsman, an artist, a jeweler, a tailor, or anything, the greatest use of my gift would be to use that talent to benefit the Church.
That’s why I counsel for the Church, or play music in Church. I want to use my gifts to praise the Lord. If others use those gifts for inappropriate ends, that’s their business. I made my effort for God.
When I look at the tiaras and the sculptures and the paintings. I think of the artisans who labored for the love of God. Too romantic? Maybe. But even if they did it to put food on the table (as they undoubtedly did), there were other commissions they could have pursued. In the end, the artisans did it for God. Not the man who wore the funny hat.



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Christine

posted March 3, 2004 at 4:13 pm


Are we really at this point in time really so different? We shower millions upon Michael Jordan for pushing overpriced shoes made by third-world labor, spend millions on our shopping malls and sports stadiums, etc. etc. Our “Hollywood royalty” rake in millions upon millions but we don’t seem to have a problem with that.
The Church is one of the world’s greatest patrons of the arts. Art is a God-given gift and can be used in the service of God. That it has at some times been misued is just part of the human condition.



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jen

posted March 3, 2004 at 4:31 pm


Mr. Popcak, et al
If you were a jeweler, et al, it would be your greatest pleasure to use those talents for the Church? Is that what Jesus calls us to? Or does he call us to use our talents to “feed my sheep?”
And really, the idea that “the poor people like to look at the rich people” may be true, but what does that have to do with Matthew 25?



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TSO

posted March 3, 2004 at 4:57 pm


I have less a problem with artists using their talents than in the way some of that beauty was financed, such as St. Peter’s.



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Liam

posted March 3, 2004 at 4:59 pm


The bejewelled tiaras come from a time when that expressed the language of power. That is no longer true today, so the functional purpose of such trappings has faded. In fact, today those things are interpreted in a way that undermines the Church’s mission. That’s why recent pontiffs have prudently curtailed them.
I have no quarrel with eliminating the papal coronation. But the recent pallium investiture used by JP1 & 2 seems to be too obscure to be understood well ritually.
It would be nice, instead, to see a series of investiture rites that communicated more of the Petrine ministry in today’s world.
For example, begin the day of investiture with Lauds at Sta Maria Maggiore.
Then process to the Lateran Archbasilica where the new pope takes possession of his cathedral and cathedra, etc., in the presence of the Roman presbyterate and others.
Then process to St. Paolo to be vested with the triple patriarchal cross as Patriarch of the West. An ecumenical Christian guestlist might also attend in this sanctuary of the Apostle to the Gentiles; this basilica has a history of such use.
Then process to S. Pietro for investiture in the piazza with some old but new symbol of the Petrine office: perhaps a pair of gold and silver keys to hang from the cincture, and include the Mandatum rite in this Mass.
These are broad outlines. Give some room for the Roman genius for these things to blossom again.



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Bill

posted March 3, 2004 at 5:18 pm


The Church casts aside its traditions at its peril. As the past 40 years have shown, it isn’t always as easy as one may hope to cobble together an adequate modern substitute for what has been discarded. The papal tiara ceased to make visible the authority of the pope only after the popes had decided not to wear it, just as the traditional Mass ceased to be accessible to most Catholics only after it was surpressed. Where in orthodox Catholic tradition is there a precedent for the claim that the Church should be despoiled of her earthly treasures?



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Bill

posted March 3, 2004 at 5:40 pm


In response to Sandra, sure, it is inspiring to see what I understand to be the concentration camp chalice and to imagine the lengths faithful priests have gone to in order to offer Mass in circumstances of dire hardship. But that is precisely the point. One does the best one can even in the worst of situations. However, a different standard as to what is appropriate applies when priests are not laboring under persecution, when one’s “best” is better than the humble materials available under concentration camp conditions (if I’m correct in understanding what the chalice in question actually is). After all, the Church did not choose to remain in the catacombs when it was no longer necessary. Instead, the Church chose to build the most beautiful buldings it could for the greater glory of God.



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Sandra Miesel

posted March 3, 2004 at 7:05 pm


I’m not objecting to the cost of the bejeweled papal goodies on display, only to the aesthetic quality. Some of the stuff is overdone to the point of tackiness, other pieces do have splendid workmanship. There’s a reliquary of Padre Pio of silver and mother-of-pearl that’s restrained and lovely for instance.
And on ritual, they shouldn’t have given up the custom of burning some tow to represent transience.



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caroline_gissler@testlabs.com

posted March 3, 2004 at 8:26 pm


However they did it, they created “Jobs, jobs, jobs” even down to curators and conservors etc, today. There’s poor relief and then there’s poor prevention. The Church does both.



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Charles A.

posted March 3, 2004 at 8:53 pm


Nice ideas, Liam. But I predict for the next incoronation a “World Festival of Liturgical Dance and Colorful Native Costumes” choreographed by the Vatican’s own Jerome Robbins, Archbishop Piero Marini.



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David Kubiak

posted March 3, 2004 at 10:31 pm


It is really very funny to me to read commments woefully regretting the worldly pomp of the Church. Don’t you get it, folks? This is now a museum exhibit. The Pope doesn’t wear a tiara, the coronation ceremony is gone forever, no one will strike the Pope’s head with the silver hammer. It’s now a collection of stuff to be gawked at. The Church has done to its sacred traditions precisly what the Soviets did to those of Orthodox Russia.



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John Lilburne

posted March 4, 2004 at 3:46 am


I am not from New South Wales, but this site may help with the phone book there:
http://www.whitepages.com.au/wp/



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Bill

posted March 4, 2004 at 7:46 am


David,
What makes you think a restoration isn’t possible? Unless I’m mistaken, the tiara is still apart of the pope’s official regalia. What would be so difficult for the pope to start wearing one again? I agree with you that it is a shame when the instruments of the Church are relegated to museums, instead of being used for their intended purposes. But the same could be said for chalices, chasubiles and reliquaries which have ended up in museums. Are you suggesting that Catholics must make do only with the ugly things which have been in vogue recently, since no one will ever pay a $9 admission charge to look at them in a museum?



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David Kubiak

posted March 4, 2004 at 10:22 am


Bill:
I think that the ceremonial traditions of the Papacy are absolutely impossible to recover given the reasons openly stated for abolishing them in the first place, i.e., a capitulation to the Protestant claim that a ‘trumphalist’ Church is inimical to the spirit of the Gospel. That is why I will always consider Pope Paul VI more self-indulgent and proud than any Pope who humbly wore the tiara as he was carried in the sedia. He arrogantly told the world he was mucy too good a Christian to involve himself in the holy traditions of his Church.
I also think, by the way, that the radical rejection of the Church’s past will mean that we will never have another Pope who is not called John Paul, since to assume any other name would seem to commit the ultimate papal sin — identifying oneself with the pre-Conciliar papacy.
There is, by the way, a wonderful story told about Msgr. and finally Cardinal Enrico Dante, the last of the old papal MC’s. At some point in the late 60’s Pope Paul asked him to supervise a papal ceremony, to which is supposed to have replied: ‘And what precisely am I to do, Holy Father, since you have destroyed everything.’



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Bill

posted March 4, 2004 at 11:14 am


David,
Look at the triumphalism of Gibson’s The Passion and see how Protestants are responding. Why should Catholics fear saying, “We’re right and you’re wrong,” when that, in fact, is the truth? Who is served by suffering the lies of a false ecumenism? I think you are mistaken to dispair of a general restoration in the Church. The “post-conciliar” mentality is less of a sacred cow today than it was 20 years ago and I would expect that it will become even less so in the years ahead as the fruit of that mentality becomes undeniable and those who staked their careers of the popular interpretation of Vatican II pass from the scene. By way of example, who in 1984 would have expected the flourishing Latin Mass indult that we have today? We may not get a tiaraed Pius XIII the next time around, but I would imagine he’s not too far off. Christ hasn’t abandoned His Church; He’s merely asleep in the barque.



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Liam

posted March 4, 2004 at 12:50 pm


And yet we can see how the world has been entranced by that tiara’d erstwhile Pius XIII in — where is it? — Wyoming or Montana? And that tiara’d fellow in Spain, can’t forget him. There are so many tiaras out there, it seems.



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Bill

posted March 4, 2004 at 1:12 pm


Liam,
Similarly, see how the world is “entraced” with the Anglican church — it drifts off into oblivion, yet nobody really cares. It is reassuring to know that looking good is not enough. O, but to have a real pope who actually dresses the part! That is the dream.



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Liam

posted March 4, 2004 at 2:16 pm


“but to have a real pope who actually dresses the part! That is the dream.”
I guess I just don’t get this at all. I just find the tiara, bejewelled gloves, sedia, flabella trappings as very remote from the Faith itself. They don’t trouble my faith itself, but I do find them distracting at best, and at worst making evangelization unecessarily more difficult. Sort of remind me more of Emperor Jean Bokassa visuals (if you are too young to remember the late and unlamented Central African Empire of the late 1970s) than anything else.
Also, I don’t find it spiritually edifying to inflict nausea (a common reaction to the sedia, according to reports) on our pontiffs for the sake of the visuals. There are more edifying and unambiguous ways to encourage humility in them.
Perhaps my visual tastes are more of those of the Roman Republic: a sparer, more austere aesthetic.



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Julia

posted March 4, 2004 at 4:53 pm


“sedia, flabella trappings”
Could somebody enlighten me about these things?
Thanks



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Christine

posted March 4, 2004 at 4:56 pm


“Perhaps my visual tastes are more of those of the Roman Republic: a sparer, more austere aesthetic.”
But then, there was also the gilded glory of the Byzantine East, much of which survives in Orthodoxy. And the Orthodox still very much view Christ as their King reigning in heavenly splendor.



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Bill

posted March 4, 2004 at 5:11 pm


Liam,
But our Church is not a Republic. Distracting or not, the papal regalia and other bits and pieces are apart of our tradition and we should not just throw them overboard in an attempt to be up-to-date. Why should a Catholic be ashamed of his history? As the Church has learned to its regret since Vatican II, fashions change, so it is a losing venture to keep running after the latest fads. Unless they can be shown to be positively harmful, traditions should generally be maintained, if the Church is to teach that it is a permanent institution, destined to last until the end of time.



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Bill

posted March 4, 2004 at 5:14 pm


Julia,
The sedia is the papal throne and flabella, I think, are fans that form a sort of canopy next to the sedia. Very cool stuff.



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David Kubiak

posted March 4, 2004 at 5:51 pm


I can’t resist recording a funny story apropos the sedia. At the end of his reign Pope Paul VI was persuaded to start using it again because his arthritis was making it hard for him to walk — remember this was the pre- papal golf cart period. But he clearly still felt uncomfortable, and didn’t want to be the object of attention while riding in it. I was at a general audience in St. Peter’s when at the end he got into it, was hoisted up, and then quite literally the sediarii ran down the nave of the Basilica. I can still see Pope Paul hanging on for dear life bobbing from side to side. It’ nice to have at least one fond memory of my least favorite Pope.



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Liam

posted March 4, 2004 at 8:17 pm


Bill
You appear to be confusing traditions with Tradition.
In these kinds of matters we are discussing, the Church has quite often cast aside traditions. It’s not all accumulated forever on end.
And it might help to remember that the rituals I illustrated earlier in the thread were far from a republic in substance. Far from it. And it might also help to remember that the Roman church’s constant emphasis on “noble simplicity” in its rituals has deep roots in the republican Roman aesthetic. The church of Rome has a different aesthetic tradition than the churches of the East.



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Bill

posted March 5, 2004 at 9:11 am


Liam,
I am not confusing the different senses of tradition. Fr. Chad Ripperger had an article directly on point in the Spring 2001 Latin Mass Magazine. Here’s the link:
http://www.latinmassmagazine.com/conservative.asp
The basic idea is that Church traditions, which are certainly distinct from the Deposit of the Faith, serve to safeguard and to effectively express what can be called Divine Tradition, that which is truly essential to the Faith. Although things like the papal tiara and the use of Latin in the Mass are not essential to Catholicism, it is foolish for the Church to discard them, because they have become hallowed through centuries of use and serve as bulwarks of the Faith, to greater or lesser extent, depending on the particular Church tradition involved. Thus, I think we can say that the traditional Mass is more important than sedia, but both are, in fact, important. The desire to cast aside the traditions of the Church in order to serve some ideology of “noble Roman simplicity” is nothing other than hubris and, of course, was the agenda which resulted in the failed Novus Ordo Mass and which had been condemned by Pius XII in Mediator Dei as “an exaggerated zeal for antiquity in matters litugical.”



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Liam

posted March 5, 2004 at 9:48 am


Bill,
Regarding the courtly trappings, I would argue that arguing for their importance bespeaks an exaggerated preservationism that is actually not terribly Roman in character but more latter-day American.



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Bill

posted March 5, 2004 at 9:59 am


Liam,
The courtly trappings are part of the tradition of the Church. They express symbolically who precisely the pope is and have done so for centuries. Why change? Would having the pope wear a toga be more in keeping with what you seem regard as the “true” Tradition? What standard are you applying in determining which Church traditions should be retained and which should be improved upon?



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Liam

posted March 5, 2004 at 10:51 am


Bill
I did not decide to get rid of these. The popes did. They are free to do that. And I don’t see the importance in quarrelling with what they did in this regard. If I had been pope I might have made different decisions, but it strains credulity to give these trappings such heavy weight when the popes did and do not.



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Bill

posted March 5, 2004 at 11:55 am


Liam,
You’re simply appealing to authority (in this case, the recent popes) instead of arguing the merits of your case. Discarding the tiara, etc. was the result of prudential decisions, presumably made for pastoral reasons. As such, these decisions can be either good ones or bad ones. It is fair to ask from the perspective of 40 years later, “What good pastoral purpose was served by repudiating these traditions?” Maybe (as I claim) the decision to repudiate them was actually a mistake and reflected the overly optimistic confidence in the zeitgeist and a desire to be up-to-date. I, for one, can’t see any benefit to the stripping away of our traditions. That alone would indicate that they should have been retained, since, after all, we did not invent the Faith, but rather received it, so should maintain it in the manner in which we received it, unless there is some compelling reason to change. But looking at the state of belief and practice in the Church, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the collapse (in the US, at least) is at least partially attributable to the aggiornamento. Thus, I think the Church ought to return to the traditional practices that were developed organically over centuries and were discarded misguidedly. This is not to claim that it is possible or even desirable to return the Church to 1960 (the history of the past 40 years has to be taken into account and obviously things were not perfect in 1960), but a general restoration is in order. The papal tiara would be an easy place to start.



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Liam

posted March 5, 2004 at 12:24 pm


My so-called appeal to authority was merely in response to your misplaced implication that I made the decision. I agree one can disagree with the prudential decision, and you have every right to do so. But what I question is the energy spent in doing so.
The tiara is far from where I might start things if I were you, that’s all, and I would be concerned that starting there would prove quite counterproductive to your desiderata. Because things tend to work that way…
Perhaps it would be better to tear down St. Peter’s and restore the original basilica?



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Bill

posted March 5, 2004 at 3:32 pm


Liam,
You stated that my concern for papal regalia was excessive, because recent popes haven’t been very concerned about it. To me, that seems like an argument from authority.
Regarding tearing down St. Peter’s, that would be precisely the sort of change I am saying is bad. The basilica is objectively beautiful and is a help to the faith. It was built, not because of a desire to detroy what existed there already, but because a new basilica was needed and the Church sought to create as fitting a building as possible. (Leave aside the prudence of how it was financed.) Tearing down St. Peter’s today in order to recreate an earlier version would be akin to what was done to the traditional Mass in 1970. I am in favor of tradition, but I am against “an exaggerated zeal for antiquity”, in matters liturgical and otherwise.



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