What do Traditionalists Want?


Pontifical High Mass. Ireland’s Shrine at Knock[3]Dear Kevin,

Thank you for your continued work on this dialogue. It’s been a pleasure reading the comments from Catholic Lane readers. I encourage anyone with questions or concerns about anything I’ve written here to email me. As a self-described orthodox Catholic, I guarantee that any differences I may have with traditional Catholics are small when compared to our common ground.

Per your recommendation, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you about the motives and goals of traditionalists in the Church today. I think a Q&A of sorts here will be educational for myself and others, and perhaps you will get a better understanding of the causes of my concerns.

My first question addresses what I think is the elephant in the room for any discussion about the Roman Rite; Do traditionalists believe that Tridentine Christendom and Catholicism are (or should be) nearly synonymous? Is there something about the Church’s past European traditions that are inherently superior to traditions that developed, or may develop in another time or place? A recent piece written in Crisis Magazine argues that “the New Mass didn’t give nearly so distinctively Catholic a view of things” compared to the Extraordinary Form. Is this a statement you agree with? If so, I would like to know what exactly makes the Extraordinary Form more Catholic than the Ordinary Form.

I would like to be similarly frank with my next question; are most traditionalists hoping for revisions to take place in the Ordinary Form, or would they prefer that the whole thing be replaced with the Extraordinary Form? If the former is the case, will traditionalists attend the Extraordinary Form until the Ordinary Form is sufficiently improved? More broadly, in the battle over Vatican II, what does “winning” for traditionalists look like?

Regardless of their ultimate goal, I am concerned that, in their efforts to win this battle, traditional Catholics are creating a Catholic ghetto of sorts, in which families practice their faith in an entirely pre-Conciliar Church, unattached to the modern Church and maintaining a bunker mentality towards the modern world. The Church in the United States already has an issue with self-segregating parishioners, with social justice liberals congregating in one part of town, political conservatives in another, and fewer parishes desiring true obedience to Rome. As I’ve said before, traditional Catholics set a good example for us all by partaking in frequent confession, fasts, feasts days, and adoration. But their good example goes largely unseen by most of the Church because traditionalists, like everyone else, have their own parish.

Allow me to dive a bit further into the topic of American Catholic segmentation. In 2007, current New York Times conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat, then writing for The Atlantic, wrote an insightful post on this issue:

“I wish more people went to confession and fewer people went up to Communion, but I also want to attend a church where the lukewarm and the zealous can feel comfortable sitting side-by-side in the pews; I understand the impulse behind Ave Maria University and all the other redoubts of neo-orthodoxy, but I’m wary of the separatism they embody. And I hate the polarization in the Church that makes me feel like I have to choose between what the op-ed accurately describes as the listlessness of the typical suburban Mass on the one hand – thick with ‘parents sedating children with Cheerios; priests preaching refrigerator-magnet truisms; amateur guitar strumming that was lame in 1973’ – and what often seems like a strident, more-Catholic-than-the-Pope zealotry on the other.”

Douthat is harsh on everyone here, but he gets his point across. Though EF parishes may continue to grow, it’s extremely unlikely they will become a majority. The best case scenario, in my view, is that adjustments are made to the OF that satisfy traditionalists enough yet don’t undo the important work of ressourcement initiated by Vatican II. The worst case scenario is that the liturgy becomes the subject of a proxy war between the different parties battling for the meaning of the Second Vatican Council.

[editor’s note: this letter is part of a series on the role of traditionalists within the Church today. Read the entire discussion here.]


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  • Start enforcing the documents of Vatican II and you will see the novus ordo Mass become reverent and pious. Which will draw the traditionalists back to these lifeless suburban parishes.

    • ColdStanding

      If they are unenforced, then it is reasonable to conclude that they are unenforcible, either because the documents are unwieldy or the authors wanted an out from having to wield them.

  • BXVI

    I consider myself a “traditional” Catholic, but not a “traditionalist” one. I attend the Novus Ordo Mass at my local parish. I have only ever been to one Extraordinary Form Mass. Here’s what I want: a Novus Ordo Mass that is shows greater respect for the Church’s history and traditon, that is more reverent and worship-focused, and with decent Catholic music. I’d like some Latin included in the Mass, even if it is just the Kyrie, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. I’d like the unclusion of some Gregorian chant. I’d like to see the hymnals full of Protestant songs thrown out and replaced with authentically Catholic ones. I prefer when the priest sings or chants portions of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And I want incense. As Tito Edwards says below, changes like these would draw many of the “traditionalists” back and would please a lot of the others, like me. Also, what would it hurt for the parish to offer Mass in the traditional form once a month?

    • Terri K

      Ditto…except that I consider myself “traditionalist.” I think we need a dictionary. :0)

    • eddie too

      yet, millions of catholics have no such preferences. where do they fit into your church.

      • BXVI

        Well, the question was “What do traditionalists want?” So, I was just saying what my preferences were. I understand there are many who may disagree. I think the issue is trying to strike a balance between trying to force a reversion to the Extraordinary Form and completely banal celebrations of the New Form. I happen to think the current celebrations of the new form don’t give enough respect to our great liturgical past. I think millions of Catholics are desperately hungry for that. And honestly, I doubt many of the millions you refer to would really care that much if the Mass reflected our history and tradition a bit more. Except the radical ideologue modernists of course.

  • Dastardly

    What do we want…really you don’t know? Respect for the Liturgy and the Eucharist with the re-recognition of it as the source and summit of our Faith. Defense of the Faith as the True Faith (One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic) proudly and some attempt to hold public officials/celebrities accountable for their public actions that are contrary to the Faith.

    • eddie too

      sounds more like what you want is for the church to fashion itself after your preferences, opinions and understandings.

  • Yankeegator

    Seems like The Church has lost Her understanding of the serious business at hand during The Mass, where heaven touches earth, where eternity touches time and space and Almighty God tabernacles with His people… Instead it seem like it’s entertainment hour with a total lack of reverence by many priests and laity…Alas, Kramner would be happy with his service being implimented in The Kingdom…

  • ColdStanding

    How is it that the author of the OP does not understand that, when it comes to the One, Holy, Roman Catholic and Apostolic faith, it isn’t a question of being one tradition in the set of all traditions, what ever there source or stripe. That is to make the Catholic faith relative. The reality is that the Catholic faith is absolute. What the Catholic faithful have handed on, generation after generation, is the doing in the command “Do this in memory of Me.”

    I think Mr. Bornhoft has a lot more thinking, praying, and reading to do before he is ready to take on the role of honest broker. Try spending the next six months focusing, not upon liturgy – worthwhile as that’d be – but upon Church dogma. Take the time to hear what the Church has been saying for centuries. There are many excellent English language writers from the turn of the last century up to the early 1950’s. Find some of the dreaded manuals of dogmatic theology and read them. Pay special attention to those dogmas that are de fide. Compare what you get now to what was gotten before. If there is a difference, you’ve got a problem.

    The relationship is principle: Holy Roman Catholic Faith to principitate: Catholic liturgical life. The second is predicated upon the first.

    Don’t spend your time asking us what we want. You can’t deliver it to us anyway. Find out what Holy Mother Church wants of you.

    • eddie too

      dogmas are not the faith. they are a part of the faith but they are ONLY a part of the faith. dogmas can become idols as too can rituals and traditions.

      • ColdStanding

        Idolatry is the offering of a sacrifice to a man made object as if the object itself was in some way a deity. Dogmas, which in no way can be separated from the Catholic faith, for they are the revealed truths which we hear and give our act of faith to, are from God not man. I do not see how it would be possible to make a sacrificial offering to a dogma, but given that they are from God, the sacrifice would still be directed to its proper end. Besides, the Church in no way teaches us to make anything resembling a sacrifice to a dogma.

        So, no, I do not accept your attempt to distinguish the dogmas that are the contents of the Holy Roman Catholic faith from the Holy Roman Catholic faith. Doesn’t make sense.

  • Dan

    Flannery O’Connor wrote that Protestantism is inherently unstable, and ultimately outlets into either atheism or Roman Catholicism. The same is true of of the new Mass, which is Protestant in nature. The new Mass is whatever the priest saying it wants to make it: clapping with nursery rhymes and jokes or Gregorian chant with the priest ad orientem, or anywhere in between. Just as Protestants are allowed to make up their own religion, so adherents of the new Mass can make up their own Mass. A Mass of this ill-defined nature in the long run cannot survive. It is for this reason that I believe that the new Mass will eventually die out. It probably won’t happen in my life time, although who knows. Who would have thought in 1962 that the Mass would be what it became by 1969?

    • BXVI

      The rubrics define what must and must not occur in the new form of Mass. What you are describing are abuses that go uncorrected. If they were reverently followed on a consistent basis, I don’t think there would be a problem. I believe the vast majority of us would be satisfied with reverently celebrated Novus Ordo Masses that included some Latin and included legitimately Catholic music. What bothers me is when the Mass seems completely divorced from (and hence appears to reject) the 2,000 year history of Catholic liturgical practice. Yes, the changes to the liturgy wrought by Vatican II were epochal. But, Catholicism cannot be divorced from its history – that is what Protestants do. When the rubrics are ignored or when the Mass is not celebrated reverently, and there is no feeling of connection to Catholic history, is where I have a problem.

  • taad

    I would say improve the Ordinary Form. It has built in problems, that may not be repairable without a complete overhaul. I grew up and have only attended the Ordinary Form. I feel like their is no set form to the Ordinary Form. Every new priest comes in and changes it. Their is no consistency to it. We were just told that many of us have mistakenly believed that Communion was about Jesus and me. We are wrong, it’s about the community!. We must stand from the Great Amen until everyone has received Communion. Missals and following the Mass using it are forbidden. We are now his soldiers. We must worship the Altar, the Community, and what ever else is he orders. Jesus is last I guess. This is problem. One priest is one way, another priest is another, back and forth we go. The music is right out of a John Wayne movie. Let us Gather at the River! God Help Us! We have nothing traditional. We are not permitted to have anything Traditional, it is always changing. Even at a liberal parish where my brother goes, they are doing parts of the Mass in Spanish. One problem, no one is Hispanic in the parish. I thought ” inculturation” was part of the new Mass? How is constantly changing, and using African, Hispanic, and other cultures in what you could say is European culture parish using inculturation”? How is removing things that people have done for decades, building a tradition? The Ordinary Mass folks don’t even follow the precepts of the Ordinary Form. It has become a freewheeling event.

    • BXVI

      You know, I have attended Mass in various locations, in different languages (English, Spanish, French, Latin) and honestly they are remarkably consistent. I know exactly what is going on and what is being said, no matter whether I understand the language. I think most priests try to follow the rubrics and celebrate a reverent Mass. The problem I have is with the priests / parishes who seem to want to hide or run from the greatness of our liturgical past as though they are embarassed by it because it is supposedly not modern or up-to-date. There are people on both sides, but I honestly believe people are very hungry for connection to tradition and the past. Look, there is just no going back to the extraordinary form on a widespread basis at this point. We just need to a) celebrate the Novus Ordo properly, and b) make sure the Extraordinary remains available to those who strongly prefer it (even if it means having to drive all the way across town to attend).

    • eddie too

      perhaps the form seems so elusive because the form is far less important than the substance, and that is as it should be.

      • taad

        The substance will be missed if the form is wrong. Pope Benedict righty would remind us the connection between how we worship is ultimately what we believe. We moderns discount so much. We don’t realize we are being formed in our beliefs by what we see, hear, and smell, even when we don’t realize it is happening. Hence, why TV and media are so powerful. A great Chinese leader once said that given the choice of controlling the literature or the music of a nation, which would he prefer. He said music is how you really control people. Music, gesture, smells are all very, very important. Monsignor Pope wrote an article on tradition in his blog. We need traditions, and to know why we do things to keep the faith alive. It is the story telling of our Faith in gestures. Jesus used this way of communication. He didn’t have a complete rupture with the past, but a fulfillment of the past. My kids love our family traditions and insist upon them. It is shocking how much they desire this. It is a secure place for them. It lets them know who they are when you know where you came from. The new Mass is destroying this sense of who we are as Catholics. We have forgotten where we came from and why we do what do. It really is sad. The people of the so called :greatest generation” would never have been the people they were and accomplished what they did without this sense of knowing where they came from.

  • Terri K

    This discussion is encouraging…until I remember that we have very little influence in the bigger picture. As for me and mine, I try to steer my family toward more traditional liturgies and more reverent observances at home. I think the home life is actually more important than the mass–but the mass is essential too.

    • eddie too

      home life is more influential than the mass in the early formation of a catholic. however, as a catholic matures, the mass becomes the primary factor in effective spiritual formation.
      how a parent lives and transmits the faith is, typically, the foundation of a fruitful catholic life. I say typically because there are many instances where exceptions to this rule occur. exceptions in both directions, I should add.

      • Terri K

        I agree. It becomes the home life of an adult. Good point. I was thinking in the mindset of my family. I forever want to find a more traditional, more faithful liturgy.

        I think more info for people who are interested in a more traditional liturgy would be effective in facilitating more interest. It’s hard to find resources for attending a TLM for the first time. I was very intimidated the first time I went. The only info on youtube is SSPX and for priests, not lay people.

        • Terri K

          “home life” in the sense of being the place of nurturing and teaching as the home is for children.

    • You’d be surprised how much influence springs from small beginnings.

      Awhile back the common way for Catholic writers to refer to any traditionalist was with the epithet “radtrad” or “radical traditionalist.” Sure, they had some imaginary distinctions, but they weren’t real. They described every trad with it.

      None of them do anymore. Know why? Catholic Answers did a radio show where two guys who didn’t have a clue bashed even loyal trads for hours, and it enraged a lot of people. Especially non-trads. Why? Because all those seemingly non-influential encounters trads had with everyone else, having discussions precisely like these, made them realize that flesh and blood trads were not the boogeyman these professional bubble boys were making them to be. So when I wrote an article pointing out how stupid it was, it went nuclear, crashed Catholic Lane, and had to be reposted when a backup wasn’t available. It still got several thousand more fans.

      After the lengthy discussion, only the ideologues still say “radtrad.” Everyone else has realized how polarizing and stigmatizing the term was even to normal trads.

      I’m 31 years old. Lord willing, I got decades of time to carry this out. Add up a bunch of non-influential events, and after 50 years, you got something.

      • Terri K


        Could you post a link to the article? I’d like to read it.

        Good stuff. Thanks.

    • goral

      We have tremendous influence and power, Terri K. Corruption in the Church starts at the altar, ie clergy. Reform and correction originates from the pews. We have a battle on our hands and we will be stronger and more knowledgeable about our faith as a result of it. Already more and more Catholics are scoping the landscape and realizing that Communion in hand has produced disrespect for the Eucharist. Handshaking has given us hand-waves, hugging, shouts, peace signs and an occasional pistol finger from the big guy. Talking in church is incessant and responses in vernacular have become more subdued and uncertain than they ever were in Latin. I don’t even want to get into the attire, bikers and sportsfans.

      All of this was precipitated by the same mindset that in the political arena goes under codewords of helping children and seniors and the underprivileged. In the religious arena it’s sold as making religion relevant in our daily lives. Well it hasn’t done that. Liturgy has symbolism and purpose. It works its holy magic without us understanding it. When the religious and political democrats mess with what natural and spiritual law gives us, they do violence to our well-being. Unfortunately we have an imposter at the helm of the ship and the course correction will have to be done by another. In the meantime we do battle.

      • Terri K

        I was with you 100% in the last paragraph right up until the “imposter” comment. :-/

        • goral

          To align myself with the title of the article- what must I do to get back up to a hundred percent? Perhaps contrition is in order. Let me borrow a line from R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion (appropriate). “Consider this…consider this…”
          The papacy is both a political and spiritual office, it is rooted in the whole concept of patriarchy and all that it entails. That can not be suspended, can not! Fatherhood and motherhood, for that matter, cannot be suspended.
          The papacy can function entirely even if Moses has to have his arm propped up. Electing a new pope was a political move devoid of any spiritual and rational considerations. Essentially it protestantised the office. If you recall there was even confusion as to – what do we now call this, this, …ahh…retired guy, Benedict. Let’s call him Pope Emeritus, yeah, that’s it! It’s Latin sounding, the media will love it.
          Fiat! done!
          There is however an irreconcilable conflict here. There can be Peter and Paul but there can not be Peter and Peter, not in a monarch and certainly not in a Patriarch.
          This only works in the twisted minds of Liturgy changing democrats.
          So, can we change that forward slash frown into at least an “l” ?…?

          • Terri K

            Be it said that I miss BXVI. That’s all I feel qualified to say. God forbid I should commit calumny against our Holy Father or the college of cardinals–or Pope Emeritus Benedict for his decision to retire. I’ll err on the side of caution.

          • goral

            Fair enough. Check out the u-tube video under the heading of – Shocking – Catholic bishops and cardinals refuse to shake Benedict’s hand on his visit to his native land. That’s calumny. “He came to his own and his own received him not”. The chief theologian, shepherd and guardian of orthodoxy does not retire. Benedict was ousted. The trads are not going to get what they want. We’ll honor the Church and it’s leader, the course will be corrected at another time.

          • Terri K

            I’ve seen the video. Those men are fools. I’d kiss his ring given half the chance. May God bless him.

            Recently I started praying fervently for the Second Coming. I think only Our Blessed Lord can make sense of the mess we’ve made of things.

            Come Lord Jesus! Make us ready.