I am a product of the traditionalist movement. My first Latin Mass did more to coax me into the Tiber than seven years of Catholic school, and I may not have converted at all were it not for Summorum Pontificum. (Former Anglo-Catholics rarely come to enjoy singing Dan Schutte hymns and holding hands for the Lord’s Prayer.) I wear tweed. I smoke a pipe. I keep a bust of Blessed Karl of Austria on my desk.
But, as Chesterton said, “There is many a convert who has reached a stage at which no word from any Protestant or pagan could any longer hold him back. Only the word of a Catholic can keep him from Catholicism.” When we set our minds to it, we are our own worst enemies. And that seems doubly true in the case of traditionalists.
For instance, I do not understand why so many of us traditionalists insist on using words like “sodomite” and “Mohammedan”. What purpose does it serve, except in making the Latin Mass look like a den of mouldy bigots? In Yes, Prime Minister, Jim Hacker rightly lamented those zealots who would “turn the Church of England into a religious movement”, and I do not mean to do the same with the Church of Rome. But St Paul did ask us to be kind to one another – tender-hearted, even. We might start by not going out of our way to be nasty.
Most off-putting, though, is surely the incessant pope-bashing: referring to Francis as “Bergoglio”, and to his theology as “the Bergoglian heresy”. As proud catechism-thumping Catholics, we should know that “the respect of children, whether minors or adults, for their father … is required by God’s commandment.”
Our Father in Rome is no exception.Of course, it is only a minority that gives the rest of us a bad name. But, sadly, the extremists are always the noisiest. That is why Cardinal Sarah is trying to draw us out of what he calls the “traditionalist ghetto”. “Some, if not many, people call you ‘traditionalists’,” he told the Fifth Roman Colloquium on Summorum Pontificum in September of 2017. “Sometimes you even call yourselves ‘traditional Catholics’ or hyphenate yourselves in a similar way. Please do this no longer.”
Obviously, Cardinal Sarah is not trying to undermine the movement to restore traditional forms to the liturgy. More than anyone in Rome, he wants that movement to flourish. That is why it pains him to see the Tridentine Mass looked on as a weird hobby, like historical re-enactment for people who do not like to go outdoors.
But the anti-social trads tend to be middle-aged or older. They lived most of their lives in the unpleasant years between Vatican II and Summorum. They learned to guard the Tridentine Mass jealously. Now the traditionalist movement is being refreshed by streams of converts who do not share the older generation’s weariness toward Rome. Many are simply grateful that our bishops do not bless themselves in the name of “the Mother, and of the Daughter, and of the Holy Friend”, as I heard an Anglican do recently.
As for the cradle Catholics just now rediscovering tradition, Pope Francis may well be baffled by those “who are too young to have lived the pre-conciliar liturgy but who want it”. He attributes this preference to rigidity and insecurity. More likely, they were traumatised by decades of elderly women in tracksuits belting out borderline erotic ballads to Jesus while distributing the Eucharist. “Let those of us who value silence not be forgotten,” Evelyn Waugh pleaded in the pages of the Catholic Herald back in 1964. Thanks to Benedict XVI, we know we haven’t been.
The next generation of traditionalists are not interested in fighting a civil war against the vernacular. They have children and careers to worry about. The repugnant anti-Semitism of Richard Williamson and Hutton Gibson has virtually disappeared from our congregations. The old dears who stand by the door with reams of lace, cutting little doily mantillas for women who arrive at Mass with their hair uncovered, are a thing of the past. Taking the “wrong view” of Edgardo Mortara’s baptism will not incur excommunication from coffee hour.
One would think this change in temperament would lead to greater comity between the progressive and conservative wings of the Church. So far, that has not been the case. Writing in La Croix, the theologian Massimo Faggioli recently described millennial traditionalists as an anti-intellectual revanchist insurgency.
He should take the time to attend more Latin Masses and speak to the young people who frequent them. Yes, their views are often more old-fashioned than their parents’. But they are also less “extreme” in those views than many of their Tridentine forebears. One hopes that, as this new generation of traditionalists comes of age, progressives will be magnanimous enough to put away their neo-feudal, crypto-Pelagian strawmen.
Michael Davis is the Catholic Herald’s US editor
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