Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why do Traditionalists Care So Much About the Latin Mass?

Since the election of Pope Francis (and some of the overreactions of various traditionalists) I've had several friends ask me what at first may seem like an odd question.  Why do traditionalists care about the Latin Mass so much?  We aren't like the moonbat crowd that rejects the validity of the Ordinary Form, so what's the big deal?  If you aren't a traditionalist, it can be very tough to describe the attachment we have towards the extraordinary Form, even if we view the Ordinary Form a valid and lawful mass as we must.

When you go through dark times as a Catholic, you usually have a lot of avenues to turn to.  You have Church socials.  You have friendly priests.  You can seek encouragement from prominent Catholics that what you are doing is right.  For the longest time, traditionalists had none of these things.  They were faithful catholics persecuted in their own parishes.  Around the dioceses, they were seldom at the socials, as it was made clear they weren't welcome.  If you had a bishop who decided to offer a concession (and it was almost always a concession!) for a Latin Mass, it was typically in a bad neighborhood in a bad time that you were forbidden from advertising about.  If you found out about the Latin Mass, it was by accident more often than not.

These negative opinions were reinforced by a lot of the commentariat amongst Catholics.  It was never any surprise that the likes of National Catholic Reporter despised us.  Yet amongst magazines like Crisis Magazine, the disdain for traditionalists was unparalleled.  Janet Smith will lecture against contraception, always presuming the goodwill of those who nevertheless do a very bad thing.  Yet a traditionalist is a fossil, a relic of "yesterdays Church" who stands in the way of true progress in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Considering these factors, traditionalists tended to become tight knit small communities at the Latin Masses they went to during the Indult days, even in spite of those in authority doing everything possible to keep them apart.  Things began to change with the election of Pope Benedict, albeit in subtle ways.  I would say that there was never any revolutionary change under his pontificate for traditionalists.  Instead, we slowly but surely were able to rejoin the church at large.  Most Masses were still in the city (as they were designed for that kind of Mass) but they were a lot more out in the open now.  You started having religious orders like the FSSP encounter incredible growth, to where they are just now beginning to pump out the first generation of priests where the Latin Mass was an acceptable thing to celebrate.

Once traditionalists had that all important stability (rarely do we worry anymore that a bishop might wake up on the wrong side of the bed and outlaw the mass in his diocese), we were able to develop stable communities, host events, develop homeschooling networks, and begin to pass on to others all the good we have to offer, with little of the bad.  We even have leaders in the church who are not just sympathetic to our causes (like Pope Benedict XVI was), but outright advocates of our cause.  10-15 years ago, a Cardinal Ranjith or Bishop Schneider would have been unheard of.  The Congregation for Divine Worship has been ran (or had secretaries) who could count as close allies like Cardinal Llovera.  In short, the growth of traditionalists in the last decade has been stronger than many would have thought possible before Pope Benedict.

Even with all this growth, it is still a young phenomena, and many fear that without leadership encouraging traditionalists, it will whither and decay.  I think such fears are overblown, but I can completely understand why they exist.  We are too used to the old ways and sometimes forget how much we have accomplished, and how much more we can accomplish.  Yet I ask those who aren't traditionalists to keep this in mind whenever these discussions come up.  For traditionalists, the Latin Mass has been a rock of stability in our faith lives, and nobody wants their rock taken away.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I would say there were four phases, Kevin:

    --The "barren desert years." When I say barren, I literally mean barren. This was between 1969 and 1984 where if you did not know some stray priest who had faculties for the older liturgy, your only recourse was the irregular groups like SSPX.

    --The "needle in a haystack years." This was between 1984 and 1988 between the issuing of QAA in 1984 which allowed for a very circumscribed usage of the older liturgical form and 1988 when EDA was issued. Now you would with some tremendous looking around find something here and there but it may not have been convenient to go to and treatment of it in this time was one of wide and broad suspicion and even downright derision. (My parents actually asked around 1984 after they heard of QAA about having a mass at the church we went to be of the older Latin mass and the priest who had given me my first communion basically accused them of being pagans!)

    --The "long oasis years." This was the years between the issuance of EDA in 1988 and SP in 2007. In this era, many achievements were made and most fundamentally, the legitimate institutes regularized as a result of EDA enabled the movement of those who were attached to the older liturgical traditions to gain a respectable hearing not only in Rome but also in the dioceses throughout the world. There was a lessening of suspicions of the movement over time and the cardinal prefect of the CDF under Pope John Paul II who had negotiated the failed reconciliation with the SSPX begin writing books on the liturgy and recommending liturgical books by members of institutes promoting the older liturgy. The very same cardinal prefect was also among the Vatican influentials who celebrated the older liturgy personally which gave it a level of visibility that it had not had in a long time. And as things developed in this stage of the game, more masses begin being offered in dioceses throughout the world albeit in many situations begrudgingly so. (The reason for the latter can be speculated upon but the answers are probably a combination of many factors.) Nonetheless, in the latter part of the pontificate of John Paul II the personal prelature idea was being floated around more as an idea for groups like FSSP and perhaps as a reconciliation tool for SSPX. Also in early 2004, the constitutions of the FSSP which was established "ad experimentum" in 1988 were finally confirmed and they became a permanent society of religious life in the Church. This provided a stability for the movement that previously did not exist because it became clear that Rome was no longer viewing FSSP as a mere "experiment" but as a permanent part of the Church.

    --The modern renaissance era. This would be the years from 2007 to the present time. A greater expansion of the number of liturgical celebrations in the dioceses of the world occurred as a result of SP and Pope Benedict XVI (who was an influential cardinal in the growth of this movement from at least 1988 if not earlier insofar as the support he expressed for it) summarized many of the reasons that local ordinaries had not been as generous with the supplying of this liturgy as Pope John Paul II has requested of them to be. There was a structural change here where the pope removed the local ordinary requirement for licit liturgical celebrations for priests who were in good standing with the church and the movement continues to flourish and grow.


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