Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis and the Case for (Guarded) Traditionalist Optimism

If you read the Rorate Caeli guys, you'd be forgiven for thinking that our new Popes last name is Borgia.  He was a Latin American Bishops, and the Latin American Bishops weren't really that sincere in opposing homosexual unions.  It was just late in the game, and only because Rome forced him to speak up.  Evidence?  Who cares about evidence!  They might set a record in the speed with which they dumped on the new election of Pope Francis.  So far in 4 hours, they have 6 posts on what a rotten horrible choice Pope Francis is, and what a rotten horrible Pope he will be.  Yet they are still faithful Catholics who pray for him.  When you need to remind people of that, you are doing it wrong.

That isn't to say that I don't have some of the same questions they do.  How he responds to the Latin Mass is something I worry about.  It is something I would've worried about with anyone not named Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.  Yet I'd like to lay out a case for guarded optimism about this Pope, and the future of the Latin Mass/traditionalist movement in general.

The Rorate guys prove there is no attack they wont levy when they bemoan the fact that Pope Francis has never spent time in the Curia.  You know, that Curia which protected the Legionaries, is rampant with corruption, questions about their personal holiness, and has seldom hid their outright contempt for much of what traditionalists hold dear.  Him not being a member of the Curia is a feature, not a bug!  If a few Curial officials wind up being sacked, who cares what reason he did it for?

What about the more serious claim, that in his diocese, he hindered the spread of the Latin Mass.  Almost all of this is through off the record citations, but let us take them as true.  The Latin Mass grew during the days of the Indult, when John Paul II gave an indifference towards the Extraordinary Form at best.  (Love of the Latin Liturgy is not what moved his hand in Ecclesia Dei.)  We packed our parishes with young Catholic families, even when the Mass was at 4pm in the ghetto and we were forbidden from advertising about it.

Then Pope Benedict came and gave faithful Catholics his blessing to experiment with tradition.  He really didn't do a lot beyond it.  Did he celebrate it in public?  No.  The demographic of the Latin Mass has gotten even younger, and those churches which offer it find those masses packed.  Pope Benedict made it so that everyone would leave us heck alone, and the results have been positive.

If Pope Francis strikes down Summorum Pontificium then we can start worrying.  Yet why don't we wait until that happens, and not before?  The likely scenario is he does nothing about the Extraordinary Form.  It falls to us faithful Catholics to spread the beauty of this Mass, and let its grandeur do all the work.  The young will continue to flock to it.

Yet Kevin, we need a Pope who loves the Latin Mass and promotes it!  While we don't need it, hey, it certainly would be nice.  Yet let us be real here:  we are maybe a couple million (if that!) in a Church of 1.2 billion.  I want our numbers to increase, but there's very little a Pope can do with this, for good or ill.  Our movement gets built from the ground up.  Time to make that happen.


  1. I think you're right that it's very dangerous and irresponsible to trash this Pope this early on. The main concerns on the table are (1) who is this guy? and (2) will he strike down Summorum?

    I don't think he can strike it down for the simple fact the wording of it states that there is nothing 'shameful' about it. He could revoke its power, but it would be an undeniable sign of maliciousness and hatred of the Catholic Faith.

    It's almost certain that he is not a traditionalist, but whether he is an outright modernist is yet to be seen.

    Either way, how he acts will be more a testimony to the 2/3 of Cardinals than anything else. Being elected on the 3rd ballot means he was an early favorite. What did the Cardinals see in him?

  2. I really try to avoid the whole "is he a modernist" thing. If only for the fact that 99% of what is described as modernism nowadays is nothing of the sort, and simply means "crap I don't like."

    The only chance traditionalists had for one of their own was Ranjith. So I was pretty well resigned to the fact that unicorns don't exist, and a traditionalist wasn't going to be Pope.

    Our job is to do as much as possible to spread the beauty of tradition to our fellow Catholics so that one day, God willing, one of our own will sit on Peter's throne.

  3. I too am very worried. I think there are many of us who have a sinking feeling. I hope it is unfounded.I can not allow myself to consider a step back into darkness!

  4. [I don't think he can strike it down for the simple fact the wording of it states that there is nothing 'shameful' about it. He could revoke its power, but it would be an undeniable sign of maliciousness and hatred of the Catholic Faith.]

    Do not be absurd. It WOULD in light of the actions on this front taken by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI come off as manifestly imprudent of course. Furthermore, in light of picking the name of Francis and being committed to reconciliation with various peoples, it would also not be true to the spirit of St. Francis to act in that way. But the obrogation of liturgical forms does not manifest any sort of "undeniable sign of maliciousness and hatred of the Catholic Faith."

    That noted, I predict that Pope Francis neither expands/encourages SP or contracts/discourages it. He is also more than likely not going to entertain the SSPX show anymore -they had their chance and they blew it. As for those in communion with the Apostolic See, they will basically be on their own here with the status quo post-mid 2007.

  5. I just don't get the connection between this passion for traditionalist liturgy (which I love) and the words and deeds of Jesus. Our duty is to confess Jesus as Peter did at Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16), and to take up his cross daily, and that is what the secularized world needs to hear. Pope Francis talked about this in his homily at his first Mass yesterday, with his comments on Matthew chapter 16 (the gospel reading). Confessing Jesus and his death on the cross is part of the believer's service as a "rock" upon which the church is built, and among the solid rocks is Jesus himself, the cornerstone, the Pope said. Let's get back to scripture, and not wring our hands over potential small shifts in Papal attitudes toward liturgical traditions.

    1. ! Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not allowed: BLOCKQUOTE

      <blockquote>"I just don't get the connection between this passion for traditionalist liturgy (which I love) and the words and deeds of Jesus."
      --Tom Schuessler</blockquote>

      Some Catholics actually believe Jesus is God and that He is Lord. They take that belief seriously. They expect God to be worshipped with reverence, the highest reverence and devotion possible. They aren't experiencing that in ordinary form masses.

    2. G'day Tom

      You're on the wrong tram mate. Traditionalists have seen and experienced the damage that Novo Ordo Mass does, and what a poor Pope can inflict on the church. When Popes do not understand the liturgy, and its central role in defending and propigating the faith - we're in big trouble.

      Paul VI didn't understand the Mass - its mystical essence - its theology - otherwise he could never had approved Bugnini's protestant inspired changes. These changes have spread apostasy concering the Mass, and more broadly the loss of faith throughout the world.

      I think PaulVI, John XX111 did not know what they were doing. And alas JP2 failed to act!

      The N.O experiment has done great damage to the faith and thus the minstry of Christ - which is to save souls of ALL. Its not doing its job. That is why the Tridentein Mass is so important to the life and work of Jesus. Its teaches and saves souls.

      The N.O has destroyed faith in families, particularly those who children grew up with the N.O, and experienced all the post Vatican II destruction. They were all guinea pigs for crazy nuns and lay teachers, who mutilated the Mass in the Catholic Schooling system.

      N.O has destroyed parishes, religious orders, its corrupted dioceses.

      It has gutted the faith. It's bred contempt for the Real Presence and its produce a large number of Cathoics who behave in as if church is a town hall meeting.

      It's all but obliterated confession – because the “Dude upstairs is A.O.K, and we don't sin no more".

      The real and legitimate fear that Traditionalists have, is a repeat of Paul VI. It's baed on his cruel treatment of them in the 1970-'s and the continuation of this vitriol to this very day, in the many diocese and chancerys who still preach the Vat II mantra of "Get with the times".

      Paul VI and his acolyte Bishops in the 1970’s and 1980’s have systemically persecuated traditonalist catholics. Paul's behaviour was outrageous, cruel and lacking in every Christian virtue. This is the damage a bad Pope can do - so now we all have to be on our guard every time a new one in voted in.

    3. I'll admit, I've never been comfortable saying this or that pope "didn't understand" the Mass. I tend not to impugn the intellectual credentials of men who have more degrees than I have letters in my name.

      What we can say pretty much without a doubt is that Paul VI had completely lost control of the Church by the end of his pontificate for one reason or another. Personally, I think in a "time of peace" he would've been a fine pope. Yet just as Tom Hagen was not a wartime consigliere, Paul VI was not a wartime Pope. He came from the diplomatic world, where everyone participated in the niceties, and when he wasn't a diplomat, he hung around the Curia, where the Curia always got their way.

      I think it can also be asserted pretty clearly that Paul VI underestimated the "culture shock" his changes caused.

      Yet I think even if Pope Francis would turn out to be a bad pope, things are different nowadays. Traditionalists are far better organized, we have far better "support networks" outside of the Mass, and a strong amount of the younger priests are with us. NONE of this was true in 1969, 79, even 2005. That's a big deal.

  6. Hello Tom,

    The Mass is an integral part of our faith. And for a lot of traditionalists, that Latin Mass has sustained their faith through extremely tough and trying times, and a lot of pretty hostile persecution from, lets be honest, those within authority in the Church and a lot of lay Catholics who really should know better.

    When one gets a new leader with an agenda nobody is certain of, we all like the things which matter to us, and we want them preserved. I think a lot of people are blowing this way out of proportion, and should probably stay off social media until they can grow up spiritually, but I completely get why they are worried.

    I am all for getting back to the Scriptures, but we need not set up liturgical tradition and scripture in opposition.

  7. Everything said here is very reasonable and I have no disagreements with the various points made. I am someone who came back to trying to be a faithful Catholic after many decades away from the Church. For the last 13 years I have been hanging out with serious traditionalists every couple of weeks, but I am not a regular Latin Mass goer. I love it and served as an altar boy as a kid, but I have probably been so conditioned by the new Mass, which I attend every day, that the Latin Mass is very hard for me to focus on. And now it would be impossibly inconvenient for me to go every day. Here's what I see as important about Pope Francis and the traditionalists: They are 100% faithful to the moral and social teachings of the Church and those who go to the new Mass regularly are overwhelmingly not faithful. This is based on polls as well as my own experience. On might say that traditionalist are the Pope's "base," even if he is not one himself. And it seems to be very important that he "throw them a bone." And do it soon. I've read the over heated blog posts, and many of these people are mad. They deserve to be addressed. Some fast appointments of the right people would help.

  8. ok good points by all, especially regarding the centrality of the Mass.

  9. Someone above says about Pope Francis: "It's almost certain that he is not a traditionalist...". I'm wondering what's thed ifference between that and being Orthodox? I keep hearing that he is Orthodox. So what is the concern at this stage?

  10. Hello Brian,

    Welcome to the relatively pointless words that comprise a lot of inside baseball for Catholic commentators. I tend to use them because they are pretty useful descriptions, when you know the terms.

    When one says the Pope is Orthodox, that (should) be a given, if one understands being orthodox as to follow the faith "delivered once for all to the saints", as St. Jude puts it. While it is theoretical a Pope could be pope and not believe the Catholic Faith (during which case the Holy Spirit would prevent him from promulgating error), for the most part that is a simple academic excercise, as even rotten popes like Leo X (and perhaps even Benedict IX!) were doctrinally orthodox, they were just moral reprobates. Therefore if someone wants to claim Pope Francis is unorthodox, they have a pretty absurdly higher barrier to clear, with the understanding they are likely placing their immortal soul in danger of hell if they teach this yet are wrong.

    Now when people ask if they are a "traditionalist" they normally tend to mean if he is a traditionalist liturgically. Do they like the Extraordinary Form? Big on communion on the tongue? Do they celebrate Mass ad orientam (facing the East), etc. Someone like Benedict was relatively a traditonalists, those like Bishop Athanasius Schneider, O.R.C, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith of Sri Lanka, or Antonio Cardinal Llovera, or past leaders like Cardinal Stickler (what an epic name for a Cardinal!) and Cardinal Biffi (former Archbishop of Bologna), these men could all be classified as solid traditionalists.

    Then you have what could be called the "fellow travelers" of traditionalism. These guys might not be as "hardcore" as the above mentioned names, but they've always been very friendly to traditionalists. Add to that list individuals like Cardinal Burke (Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura), Cardinal Pell down in Australia, Cardinal George from Illinois, and Bishop Fabian Bruscewitz, etc

    Pope Francis is not amongst either of the past two groups. Yet one need not be a Catholic to be amongst them. And while he might not be of that group, there's really no indication he should be viewed with suspicion or even worse, an enemy of traditionalists. If this was Cardinal Kasper, Mahoney, Bertone, Martini (from the old school), Re, then you would probably see me a lot more worried.

    Those of the catholic blogosphere tend to think this stuff instinctually, so to the outsider (or the Catholic who actually has a life), the terms can be pretty darn confusing.

  11. It is sobering to realize that 'charismatic' Catholics who indulge in the most profane heresies (summoning the 'holy spirit' like a genie in a lamp) vastly outnumber the Latin Mass Traditionalists, especially among the poor and in the Third World. A 'democratic church' pandering to 'the poor' and gushing over their emotive feel-good antics is what I have always feared.

    1. While I'm sure the charismatics would disagree.... let's take it as a bit instructive. I for one don't find it an accident that Pentecostalism thrives more than we traditionalists. Even after one controls for the fact that they really do water down a ton of things, they simply are a lot more aggressive in promoting their viewpoints and interacting with people on a scale far larger than traditionalists are.

      We need their zeal and not their nonsense. and there's plenty we can learn from them. While truly success is not one of the traits that frequently describes Christians, we can still do a lot better.


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