It is a much-quoted line of Cicero which says that to be ignorant of the past is to ever remain a child. Memory and learning the lessons of the past is part of what it is to be mature. It is true of our faith, too. Remembering particularly the wonders the Lord has done is a constant refrain in the Old Testament and, for Catholics, being faithful to that which was handed down to us from the Apostles requires of us a remembrance of things past. But this requires not just a mere remarking upon the past as we might do in a museum, observing artefacts. Rather, the past of which we speak, the Tradition of the Church, informs the present and the future, because we live it in the now.
At Vespers this evening the Church prays, in the hymn for Peter and Paul, “O happy Rome, which was consecrated by the glorious blood of the two Princes!” They are called princes not because of any earthly power or stately glory at the time — the state put them to death — but on account of their faith and their share in the glory and kingship of Christ, sealed by the shedding of their blood.
It is not just out of pietas to these Apostles, these Princes of the Church of Rome, that our particularly Roman Catholic traditions and heritage is important. We speak of the importance of a Romanità in what we do in church not out of some sort of mawkish sentimentality. Rather, it is a statement and a participation in what has gone before us. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis a few years ago reminded us that: “To be modern, some believe that it is necessary to break away from the roots. And this is their ruin, because the roots, the tradition, are the guarantee of the future.” To be fearful of our tradition, to be anxious at the presence of the past is a fear that our ways, our innovations, our blowing with trends and fads — which at times seem attractive — might be curtailed. Tradition, its practices and above all its Sacred Teachings, free us. They strengthen our unity in faith, and they give us a trajectory.
Our Catholic remembering sees itself crowned in the Mass, when we not only remember and recall the sacrifice of sacrifices of our Lord and Saviour, but by our “hyper-remembering”, by action of the Lord made present again we participate in that sacrifice again. We receive its merits afresh, applied now. Our past, made present now, saves us.
Romanità is not just a particular decorative taste or an affinity for a kind of music (it includes those things and we must celebrate them). It is moreover an active participation in the faith and the sacrifice and the mysteries of those who have gone before us, who have sought to follow Christ in his way — and in the case of Saints Peter and Paul even to death. It is our tribe, our identity and culture. It is the way we express our fidelity to the Lord and to his teachings, passed down from these men who planted the faith at the centre of the world in the city of Rome.
We must learn about our Roman Catholic tradition. We must embrace it as our culture, as the roots from which we draw much to help us live well now. But it is so much more than just a source of inspiration. It is our participation in what St Peter and St Paul died for. It is our sharing in the life and work of all the other saints we hear of in the Roman Canon, or who were buried in the Catacombs, down to St Philip and his holy friends, or any of those great saints of the Church. With an active participation in that treasury of faith, we can face the future with confidence.
These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Click here to sign up to our mailing list, and receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.