“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. ” 

– Letter of Pope Benedict XVI accompanying the publication of the apostolic letter “Motu Proprio Data” Summorum Pontificum


If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 4, “The Ethics of Elfland


Have you ever had the experience of sitting in a car that is stopped, only to feel as though you’re moving backwards when the vehicle next to you pulls forward? You haven’t moved at all, but from a purely subjective point of view, you can’t help checking to make sure your foot is on the brake pedal. The analogy isn’t perfect, but this example helps shed light on what it’s like to be a Catholic traditionalist in the modern Church. It’s the feeling that you haven’t left the Church, the Church left you.

If you were a part of some bible-belt, ever-evolving form of Protestant Christianity, that might make sense. It’s incomprehensible, though, when you’re a member of the one faith which possesses truths unchanging and immutable. I think it’s high time we address this issue. It’s time to stop the use of the identifying label “traditionalist” to describe what earlier generations would have recognized merely as a Catholic. In allowing ourselves to be labeled — and worse, to embrace the label — we have made it incredibly easy to simply be marginalized.

In a discussion on Karl Keating’s Facebook page, Keating himself made the comment:

1980 was nearly half a lifetime ago. Things inside and outside the Church are much changed. The big rift among orthodox Catholics caused by self-styled Traditionalists was still years down the road. Yes, there was some noise from some particularly overheated folks prior to 1980, but almost no one was aware of it in the larger Church.

In response, Jeff Culbreath responded with what I found to be a very poignant analogy:

The “big rift” was not caused by “self-styled Traditionalists”. That’s like saying an amputation was caused by the severed limb. And how dare the severed limb accuse the hatchet, that’s just plain uncharitable.

I have written on more than one occasion about the attitude problems inherent in the Catholic subculture which favors the Church’s Traditional Mass. I have also highlighted one group which I think represents a positive future for such Catholics, if they could only serve as the model. But I would like, for the sake of timeliness, to briefly quote something I wrote six years ago on the topic of this “amputation”, since I don’t think I can articulate it any more clearly now than I did then:

In his homily on October 21, 2007, the first time his parish would celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form following the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, Rev. Franklyn McAfee, pastor of St. John the Beloved in McClean, Virginia, offered an insight:

What flowed from the promised renewal of the Mass in the late 60s was something entirely new. The American Theologian Avery Cardinal Dulles has pointed out that the new rite of the Mass violated every norm for liturgical renewal prescribed by Vatican II. He said it was the only Mass in history that was put together by a committee. As a result . . . many people stopped going to Mass. Some even left the Church. My parents were shaken but they did not abandon the Church. But my older sister did. In the 50s, more than 80 percent of parishioners attended Mass in their parish church. Today it is far less than 30 percent.

It is not my purpose here to prove causality, but the fact that the change in the liturgy of the Roman Rite and the exodus of Catholics from the Church coincide is hard to dispute. People were hurt, immensely, by the drastic nature of the change. The liturgy on which they had been nourished their entire lives became something unrecognizable — a Mass as alien to them as my first experiences with the old form were to me. Some, like Sts. Padre Pio and Josemaría Escrivá, asked and obtained permission from Rome to continue saying the older form of the Mass. And a group of intellectuals, artists, writers, and actors from England petitioned Rome not to change the Mass at all. Throughout the Catholic world, there was controversy and upheaval over the changing shape of the liturgy. Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani asked during the first session of the Second Vatican Council if the gathered fathers wanted to “stir up wonder, or perhaps scandal among the Christian people, by introducing changes in so venerable a rite, that has been approved by so many centuries and is now so familiar?” Following the Council, in his famous Intervention, the good cardinal, along with “a group of theologians, liturgists and pastors of souls,” urged Pope Paul VI not to replace the venerable Mass of the Church with the new creation that was the Novus Ordo Missae.  Their study showed

quite clearly in spite of its brevity that if we consider the innovations implied or taken for granted which may of course be evaluated in different ways, the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent (emphasis added).

Despite all of the objections, exceptions, and petitions, Rome moved ahead with the new rite. The old liturgy was effectively suppressed, leaving innumerable Catholics shanghaied in a new Mass that adopted a different form, different postures, a different language, and a different theological focus than that to which they had been accustomed their entire lives. They felt alienated and forgotten.

If someone is suffering from schizophrenia, there is always a point in time where the first break from reality happens. Vatican II was a warning that the break was coming. The full tearing in two of the Church’s mind happened upon the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae. This, and no other origin point, is where we find the root of the rift which now so plagues orthodox Catholicism. If we trace it back, we find that the Church split its worship in two in an absolutely unprecedented act of liturgical rupture.

By now, everyone has heard the old saying, “Lex orandi, lex credendi” — the law of prayer is the law of belief. Worship matters. It impacts our way of thinking. And, of course, it wasn’t just the liturgy that was changed, but the sacramental forms, the various blessings, the disciplines, the holy days, the penitential requirements, etc.

Holy Mother Church had a face lift so extreme, she no longer looked like herself.

It is not the point of this essay to prove the superiority of what came before or to condemn all that came after. It’s not that simple. My purpose here is to highlight the fact that when you suddenly and without warning change everything a religion has been doing for the past 1500 years, it’s going to cause problems. Combine the massive overhaul of the Church’s worship and sacraments with the bombshell that the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control set off in anticipation of Humanae Vitae — a countercultural movement within the Church that was never corrected and has accelerated in the present day — and you have the ingredients for exactly the sort of crisis we’re experiencing right this very moment.

The problem we are facing is that when you tell someone that you are “Catholic” in 2014, it has no universally accepted or understood meaning.

Some call this tribalism. Some factionalism. We can try to find words for it, but the fact is clear: one of the Church’s four marks — unity — is no longer in evidence, either in worship or in doctrine. Catholics who understood what the Church taught before are running up their bar tab right now trying to keep pace with the divergence from those teachings playing out in the Vatican and beyond. Catholics who were born into the post-conciliar Church or came into it as converts seem to have pegged their wagon to the person of the pope. If he moves the goalposts on a doctrinal issue, that’s where they should be, regardless of the permanence with which they had been previously planted.

Both camps believe that the Catholic faith is the True Faith. Both believe in the sacraments, the ministerial priesthood, magisterial authority, apostolic succession, devotion to Mary, the communion of saints, and a few other essentials. But both don’t believe the same things about…well, a lot of other things. Including the necessity of Catholicism for salvation. I’m attempting to create a Venn diagram to try to sort this out, but it’s going to take a while. The inescapable conclusion as I work through the list of things on either side is that The Catholicism of Before ≠ The Catholicism of Now.

Parties on both sides sense the divergence inherent in the Church’s identity crisis. This is why the two positions have become intractably opposed. Pope Benedict XVI’s arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, a “hermeneutic of rupture” is in evidence. This is why we fight. It’s not traditionalists vs. conservatives vs. liberals, etc. It’s the Catholic Church before 1960 vs. The Catholic Church after 1965. There aren’t supposed to be such start contrasts and, dare I say it, contradictions. I’ve talked to people who have lost their faith in the Church and in God because indefectibility seemed to them nothing more than a construct when evaluated in light of these contradictions.

I choose to believe. I choose to throw some doubt under the veil of the mystery of iniquity. I choose to hope that some day, God will make it all clear. But without clarification from the Church herself on how the irreconcilable can be reconciled, I don’t know how this conflict will end. Any common sense evaluation of the Church’s claims, however, should make one thing clear: “Catholic” meant one thing for the better part of 2000 years, and now that meaning has bifurcated and turned in on itself and become a big stinking mess.

Traditionalists aren’t a subculture of Catholicism. They are Catholic, full stop. The novelty and innovation which has followed has lasted less than half a century. We don’t need to justify our adherence to the Church’s perennial teaching and worship, nor our skepticism of those new things which seem to stand in opposition to them. We think with the mind of the Church.

The problem isn’t us. It’s the “small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about”.

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