In Defense of Traditionalists

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In the classic movie “To Kill a Mockingbird” legendary actor Gregory Peck, playing the heroic and virtuous defense attorney Atticus Finch, tells his young daughter Scout:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For Catholics who rarely or never assist at the Traditional Latin Mass, I would respectfully ask you to “climb into” the skin of a traditionalist and “walk around” for awhile to see the Catholic landscape from a different perspective.

Who are Traditionalists?

First, an explanation of terminology. For the purpose of this blog post “traditionalists” specifically references those Catholic faithful who either exclusively, or primarily, assist at the Traditional Latin Mass. While my family and I attend a diocesan parish, the term could also apply to those Catholics who attend chapels of the Society of St. Pius X. While traditional Catholicism is much more than just a devotion to the Traditional liturgy, for the sake of this discussion I am limiting my focus to the Mass.

So just who are traditional Catholics? Are they the bogeyman that many have made them out to be over the years? Are all traditionalists like those obnoxious and uncharitable folks who seem to exist in the world of Facebook threads and website com boxes? It would seem that the answer is yes if we believe what many establishment Catholic bloggers are saying these days.

Instead of accepting that prevailing view, however, I would like to turn to Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos for a different perspective, one based on his experiences as both the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (1996-2006) and also as the president emeritus of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. The following quote comes from a 2004 interview with Cardinal Hoyos (emphasis is mine):

“These faithful people, in full communion with the Apostolic See, strive in the midst of many difficulties to keep alive the fervor of the Catholic Faith and true devotion to it, expressed by their particular attachment to the liturgical and devotional forms of that ancient Tradition, with which they are mainly identified.

“Indeed, it is my impression that those who are attached to the old Rite are involved in expressing a legitimate religious, liturgical and spiritual sentiment that is particularly rooted in the ancient Tradition and therefore, when this is lived in full communion with the Church, represents something that is truly an enrichment.

“I don’t like, indeed, those views that would like to reduce the traditionalist “phenomenon” to only the celebration of the ancient rite, as if it were an stubborn and nostalgic attachment to the past. That does not correspond to the reality that it is lived within this vast group of faithful. In reality, what we frequently find is a Christian view of the life of faith and of devotion – shared by so many catholic families that frequently are enriched by many children – that has special characteristics, and we can mention as examples: a strong sense of belonging to the Mystical Body of Christ, a desire to maintain strong links with the past – that wishes to be seen, not in contrast with the present but in a line of continuity with the Church – to preserve the principal teachings of the faith, a profound desire for spirituality and the sacred, etc…”

Cardinal Hoyos concludes:

“The love for the Lord and for the Church, finds within the particular Christian views of these faithful its highest expression through their attachment to the ancient liturgical and devotional forms, that have accompanied the Church through the centuries of her history.”

The Atticus Finch Exercise Part One

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Imagine this: You are a traditional Catholic. You attend the Traditional Mass with your family. As your family is large, let’s say six children with number seven “in the oven”, you drive a not very fuel efficient passenger van that guzzles gas like it’s 1979. You have three parishes within a reasonable driving distance, maybe thirty minutes or less from your house. However, none of them offer the Traditional Latin Mass. You are told by the pastors of these parishes that there is no desire on the part of the faithful for the “old Mass” in your area…maybe not even in your diocese. Of course, the funny thing is that there is a SSPX chapel somewhat close by for those Catholics who apparently don’t exist…the ones who desire the “old Mass”.

Now let’s pause for a moment. I have been told by some Catholics, those who have neither animosity toward, nor interest in, the Traditional Latin Mass, that the Novus Ordo is indeed the Ordinary Form of the Mass, so that explains (and actually excuses) the widespread unavailability of the Extraordinary Form.

But is this way of thinking really inline with the wishes of Holy Mother Church? The answer is a resounding no.

The Latin Mass & Life Teen

During the pontificate Pope John Paul II, the Church issued both an indult (1984) and Motu Proprio (1988) with the express desire to increase access to the traditional Mass. In fact, in the 1988 Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei, Pope John Paul II wrote:

“To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations. In this matter I ask for the support of the bishops and of all those engaged in the pastoral ministry in the Church…moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.”

How was this request subsequently supported by the majority of United States bishops in the ensuing years?

By 2007 the number of Traditional Latin Masses offered on Sundays in the United States was still less than 250. This in a country with nearly 200 dioceses.

Now compare this with something which many more priests and bishops found appealing: the Life Teen mass. Originating at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Mesa, AZ in 1985, the Life Teen program became the standard offering for many parishes around the country. By 2005 over 100,000 American teens attended a Life Teen Mass at their parish.

Unlike traditionalists, Americas youth had no difficulties finding a Life Teen Mass near them. According to their website, there are now over 1,600 parishes worldwide incorporating either the Life Teen program or it’s junior high equivalent, Edge. Most of these 1,600 are within the United States.

The Atticus Finch Exercise Part Two

To continue with our scenario: As a lover of the traditional Mass you spend the twenty years after Ecclesia Dei waiting and watching to see what will change. The truth be told, very little changes for you.

You now have all the local parishes offering a Life Teen Mass every Sunday night featuring a full band, guitars and drums no less, playing the latest theologically unsound Contemporary Christian hit from Praise and Worship radio stations. You also have all the teens going up into the Sanctuary following Consecration (in the prerequisite jeans and graphic tees) to lock arms around each other and sway along to the Our Father.

However, you are still driving your beautifully large, beautifully Catholic, family upwards of two hours to find that Traditional Latin Mass that is your liturgical patrimony. You have been herded to the fringe and then accused by fellow Catholics of being…on the fringe. This despite an indult and a Motu Proprio that directly called for the worlds bishops to pastorally reach out to someone like yourself.

The simple truth is that, regardless of how much charitable forgiveness you are able to manifest within, you may actually succumb to a bunker mentality or “fringe” point of view at times.

The Greatest Defense of Traditionalists

With the release of his 2007 Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI immediately altered the liturgical landscape forever. In the six years since it was released Sunday Latin Masses in the United States have nearly doubled. A younger generation of priests and seminarians, far from rejecting the ancient rite, are actually seeking it out and in some cases even offering it for their first Mass of Thanksgiving following ordination.

To conclude, I would like to reference something our Pope emeritus wrote in his letter to the bishops which accompanied the release of Summorum Pontificum:

“Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”

May those who have no experience with the Traditional Latin Mass prayerfully reflect upon these words from the Holy Father. May those who do not personally know traditionalists resist the temptation to paint with a broad brush and create an ugly caricature that exists primarily (and disproportionately) in the virtual world of social media. And may more and more parishes begin to offer both forms of the Roman Rite so that the pastoral resolution and ecclesial healing sought by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI is finally realized.

Posted on March 22, 2014, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. This is one of your best posts yet, Brian. THANK YOU.

    Signed,
    A Traditionalist

  2. Fantastic post and so well said.

    ~ A proud, young traditionalist

  3. Thank you for your post. As you so rightly stated: “traditional Catholicism is much more than just a devotion to the Traditional liturgy…..”. This is very true. I sincerely hope you will expand on this in a near-future posting.

  4. Matt Tortorich

    Hello
    Post is well written – thanks.
    I am a faithful Catholic with minimal experience with the extraordinary form of the Mass. I’ve experienced this form of the Mass a bit but not enough to comment on my personal preference. I’m certainly open to whatever Holy Mother Church guides us to.
    With that in mind, my comment is as an “outsider” – one who doesn’t fully understand the appeal nor do I necessarily hold your suggested stereotype above. What I can say is the impression many traditionalists give (perhaps not you – this is the first of your posts I’ve read). There are 2 main messages I’ve picked up from traditionalists:
    1. “The reason you don’t prefer the extraordinary form of the Mass is because your devotion to our Lord is lacking. Once you become “holy enough” you’ll understand it to.” Reality or not, this is very much the impression given by many traditionalist. And to be honest, it turns me off to the entire thing. There are millions of faithful Catholics – very devout – who simply prefer the Ordinary form of the Liturgy. Regardless of their spiritual growth, they will probably always prefer it (even if fostering an appreciation for the ancient Rite). Somehow I’m not sure many traditionalists agree with this.
    2. “The Oridnary form was yet another mistake of VII.” (Again, I’m sharing the perception from afar – I don’t know you or many traditionalists.). There seems to be a bit of self-righteousness – something reminiscent of the Pharisees in the Gospel – with the traditionalist following – not in principle, but in mindset. I’ve heard too many rants regarding everything that was wrong with VII or everything that’s wrong with the Novus Ordo. I have a hard time separating traditionalist Catholics from SSPX folks. That doesn’t strike me as a good thing. I’m grateful that despite some people’s personal opinions they choose still to remain faithful to the magesterium, but a great many seem to be right on the line. A balance seems to be needed between personal preference and trust & obedience to Holy Mother Church.

    Anyway, that’s just a few thoughts from an outsiders perspective. Again, nothing against you or the Tridentine Mass – just some observations and commentary from someone who is not in the group – but also not opposed to the group. Some strategy to combat these possible stereotypes may be in order.

    • Matt,

      First, thank you for reading the post and for taking the time to comment. Let me address a few of your questions or concerns.

      You said that you are open to whatever Holy Mother Church guides us to. Of course, she has largely already done that. From the 1984 indult, to Ecclesia Dei (1988) to Summorum Pontificum (2007), the Church has been consistently showing us the value of the Traditional Mass and of reconciling old wounds. Also, as our Pope emeritus said, “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.” As I said, Holy Mother Church has already been guiding us.

      Before addressing your two points, I would ask you to reread, and reflect upon, what I wrote. I asked for those who aren’t traditionalists or have little to no experience with the TLM to refrain from painting with a broad brush. Yet, it seems to me that you do to some degree.

      To your first point, I personally do not know anyone who questions your personal holiness or devotion because you attend an OF Mass. I only know people who recognize that much of what has been given the faithful for decades is something which often intentionally avoids tradition and the sacred and earnestly seeks the profane and casual. I know your parish and pastor and so I know that the OF Mass you attend IS NOT what the vast majority of Catholics have availability too. You are blessed.

      As for many Catholics preference for the OF, I don’t disagree. However, despite all the efforts of the Holy See over the past 30 years, very few have still any real exposure to the traditional Mass. It’s hard to form an opinion when something has been actively kept from so many. Sadly, many priests and even bishops have suppressed anything that represents the pre-Vatican II Church or the TLM.

      To your second bullet point: there have been FAR MORE Catholics, including bishops and priests, who negatively and openly reject nearly all that came before the Council. I have seen far more Pharisaical words and actions by those who enthusiastically embrace the changes of the last 40-50 years. This would be the mentality of so many Catholics who only attend the OF and who embrace, for example, communion in the hand because it’s now permitted, even if the norm is to receive on the tongue and even after the examples given at papal masses during Pope Benedict’s papacy.

      As for disobedience, there are many traditionalists (I would argue) who demonstrate greater loyalty because they adhere not only to what is permitted today, but also to the faith and disciplines that have continuously been practiced for centuries, if not longer.

      Please read the post again and ask yourself if driving folks to the fringe by tucking TLM masses out in the boonies at 3PM on Sundays is what JPII or BXVI wanted. Is this how we achieve the mutual enrichment of the forms that Benedict called for in 2007? Of course you and I are blessed in our diocese to have much greater support for tradition from our outstanding bishop and our holy priests.

      God bless. I hope you keep reading the blog and sharing your thoughts.

      Brian

  5. Matt, you need to revisit a EF community. Since Mother Angelica actually READ the documents of VII and made them well known, many people who attend the TLM no longer had to get all information from schism books. They have learned the truth.
    I don’t attend an EF, I have been exposed only because of my daughters’ choir performances. I’ve never run into the problems you have stated.

    That said, there are bad apples in every group. You see what is stated in the article. Traditional people have been beat on for 40 years. They are not superhuman. You’re going to find people who are taken to the limit.

  6. “resist the temptation to paint with a broad brush”

    This has been the cry on my heart. Thank you!

  7. Having been a part of the tradition from my birth until my ordination, I gladly accept JXXIII and FI, that fresh air is always needed in the church.

    • Thank you for your comment Fred. As you know, the 1962 Missal, used for Mass in the Extraordinary Form, is indeed the Mass of John XXIII. Specific to this post and the observation that I am making, what are your thoughts about the continued lack of availability to the Traditional Latin Mass for many of the faithful?

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