Traditional Catholicism is a sensitive topic. Oftentimes, it feels as if other Catholics and “Trads” are at odds with each other.
In fact, I recently witnessed a Twitter firestorm over a “Trad” Catholic criticizing some priests for break dancing at a conference. Immediately, other Catholics accused her of being easily offended and Pharisaic. They twisted her words and made it sound as if she condemned the priests.
In reality, all she did was express an opinion that the priests were behaving in a manner at odds with the dignity of their vocation. She also criticized Life Teen, which is apparently a cardinal sin of which I was hitherto ignorant.
The division between traditionalists and “neo” Catholics has always existed but it’s shown more in recent years.
Pope Francis, despite his best intentions, has not helped matters by openly wondering how people can still be attracted to the Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Extraordinary Form (or EF), and refers to such people as “rigid”. He concedes, though, that many such people have a good heart, which is the equivalent of a Southerner following up a critical remark with “bless her heart”.
This sharp divide and tendency to argue do not help us at all. One way to end division is through understanding. Therefore, to help people understand why anyone would prefer the pre-Conciliar Church, here are a few of my reasons.
The Latin Mass comes under many different names: Extraordinary Form (EF), Traditional Latin Mass, Tridentine Latin Mass, and Gregorian Mass.
The term “Tridentine Latin Mass” suggests that this Mass has only existed since the Council of Trent, which ran from 1545 to 1563. In reality, Pope St. Pius V only consolidated and codified what already existed. This Mass developed organically and did experience some changes over the centuries, but nothing like the extreme changes of Vatican II.
Therefore, when I attend the EF, I am attending the same Mass my patron, St. Therese of Lisieux, attended. Or St. Padre Pio (who never said the Ordinary Form). Or any saint who existed before the 1960s. That’s a long line of saints!
In addition, while the bare bones of the two forms are the same, the numerous differences are jarring. To create the OF (Ordinary Form), we lost many prayers asking for forgiveness and the deep silence integral to the EF. The OF is an extremely simplified version of the Mass of the Ages.
The OF is full of noise and movement whereas the EF gives plenty of space for quiet contemplation and mental prayer. In the EF, the priest leads us in our adoration of God, while in the OF, the priest acts as a Master of Ceremonies while the congregation remains a spectator.
Trimmed Down Scripture
Another change caused by Vatican II is how liturgy handles Scripture.
In the Breviary (now called the Liturgy of the Hours), people prayed what is sometimes referred to as the “cursing Psalms”. These Psalms appear to wish pain and death on enemies. In one place, the psalmist blesses those who dash the children of their enemies “upon the rocks” (Ps. 137:9 Revised Standard Version CE).
However, the Church accepted even that verse as worthy of praising God. Commentators like Haydock interpreted it in a spiritual sense. They saw it as a way to describe self-mortification; the little ones represented a person’s passions. Theologians interpreted all such “cursing” Psalms in that manner.
However, after Vatican II, these Psalms or parts of them were cut from the Breviary in the creation of the Liturgy of the Hours.
In addition, while people will tout you can hear the whole Bible at Mass in two years (if you attend daily Mass), you will never hear 1 Corinthians 11:26-29 in the OF Lectionary, not even on a weekday. In the EF, that passage appears repeated multiple times during the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The passage warns against receiving Holy Communion unworthily, suggesting that doing so can cause death.
If that doesn’t bother you, or make you wonder if traditional Catholicism has a point, then I don’t know what to say.
Traditional Catholicism is Richer
While helping at a Catholic summer camp, we held a pizza party. Nothing unusual or wrong in that. Who doesn’t like pizza? The only problem was that it was a Friday and the only option was meat. When I mentioned it to one of the women serving the food, her only comment was that she hoped Father didn’t come in and see (our priest is a staunch traditionalist).
Abstinence from meat for most of the year used to be a matter of course. Before Vatican II, no one would have dreamed of having pepperoni pizza on a Friday. Today, most only abstain during Lent.
We used to fast more, as well. How many people know about Ember and Rogation days, when we fasted and prayed for the good of our fellow man? How many people know about Septuagesima, that season where we prepared for Lent?
Even how we fast and abstain is different. Today, fasting from food one hour before receiving Holy Communion is sufficient. Once, fasting before Communion started from midnight before being reduced to three hours. Take a look at this table to see the variety of changes made.
These changes, supposedly, makes it easier for people. Apparently, fasting often, despite the recommendations of saints, is a hard practice to force onto people. However, in my experience, this attitude produces lazy Catholics. A lot can be said about traditional Catholicism but you cannot call it easy or minimal.
The Council also moved feast days or removed saints. For example, St. Valentine’s Day is technically not St. Valentine’s Day any longer. It’s now a memorial for Saints Methodius and Cyril.
This happened because we don’t know much about St. Valentine. In fact, that’s the reason why Vatican II removed many saints. However, if the Church still acknowledges them as saints (removal from the calendar does not mean suppression), then why not celebrate them on their days?
Give Me Some of that Old Time Religion
This is only the tip of the reasons why I prefer being a traditionalist. To me, traditional Catholicism (or being a “Traddie”) isn’t about me being right and you being wrong. It’s about practicing my religion in an authentic manner, rather than in the watered-down, simplified version handed on by Vatican II.
I am not saying a Catholic who loves everything post-Vatican II cannot be a good Catholic. I am saying that for me, the pre-Conciliar Church helps me to be a good Catholic and there a lot of people who share my views.
I’m not perfect. Because I don’t attend a parish that only celebrates the EF, I often miss the Rogation and Ember Days. I also like things that might make another Catholic traditionalist cringe. For example, I’ve heard enough classic guitar to know it can be played in a beautiful manner worthy of Mass.
If you meet a traditional Catholic, don’t automatically assume this is a rigid person who only sees things one way. We are still individual people. We all love the Church. In today’s culture, we can’t be divided.
So, let’s put the pitch forks down. Let’s stop arguing over break dancing priests. Let’s be Catholics together.
Note: If you wish to read more about these changes, including in how the Church approaches evangelization before and after Vatican II, I heartily recommend the series “Discovering a Church in Crisis”.