The Economist: A traditionalist avant-garde

We are in The Economist this week.  It is a pretty good article, all in all.  There are a couple little glitches, but they don’t touch the substance.  Enjoy!

My emphases and comments.

A traditionalist avant-garde
It’s trendy to be a traditionalist in the Catholic church

SINCE the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the Roman Catholic church has striven to adapt to the modern world. But in the West—where many hoped a contemporary message would go down best—believers have left in droves. Sunday mass attendance in England and Wales has fallen by half from the 1.8m recorded in 1960; the average age of parishioners has risen from 37 in 1980 to 52 now. In America attendance has declined by over a third since 1960. Less than 5% of French Catholics attend regularly, and only 15% in Italy.  [But remember… Vatican II produced many wonderful things!] Yet as the mainstream wanes, traditionalists wax.

Take the Latin mass, dumped by the Vatican in 1962 for liturgies in vernacular languages. [Umm… not quite. It was after 1962, but let that pass.  The date is not of the essence.] In its most traditional form, the priest consecrates the bread and wine in a whisper with his back to the congregation [That old “back to the people” chestnut again?  Sigh.]: anathema to those who think openness is the spirit of the age. But Father John Zuhlsdorf, an American priest and blogger, [Him again?] says it challenges worshippers, unlike the cosy liberalism of the regular services. “It is not just a school assembly,” he says.

Others share his enthusiasm. The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, started in 1965, now has over 5,000 members. The weekly number of Latin masses is up from 26 in 2007 to 157 now. In America it is up from 60 in 1991 to 420. At Brompton Oratory, a hotspot of London traditionalism, 440 flock to the main Sunday Latin mass. That is twice the figure for the main English one. Women sport mantillas (lace headscarves). Men wear tweeds. [Shouldn’t that be “wear mantillas… sport tweeds”?]

But it is not a fogeys’ hangout: the congregation is young and international. Like evangelical Christianity, traditional Catholicism is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the church. Traditionalist groups have members in 34 countries, including Hong Kong, South Africa and Belarus. Juventutem, a movement for young Catholics who like the old ways, boasts scores of activists in a dozen countries. Traditionalists use blogs, websites and social media to spread the word—and to highlight recalcitrant liberal dioceses and church administrators, who have long seen the Latinists as a self-indulgent, anachronistic and affected minority. In Colombia 500 people wanting a traditional mass had to use a community hall (they later found a church).

A big shift came in 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI formally endorsed the use of the old-rite Latin mass. Until that point, fondness for the traditional liturgy could blight a priest’s career. The cause has also received new vim from the Ordinariate, a Vatican-sponsored grouping for ex-Anglicans. Dozens of Anglican priests have “crossed the Tiber” from the heavily ritualistic “smells and bells” high-church wing; they find a ready welcome among traditionalist Roman Catholics.  [And not mainly because of liturgical sensibilities, though liturgy is doctrine, but because of open, clear adherence to the Church’s teachings in union with the Roman Pontiff.]

The return of the old rite causes quiet consternation among more modernist Catholics. [And not so quiet, too.] Timothy Radcliffe, once head of Britain’s Dominicans, sees in it “a sort of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ nostalgia”. [LOL!  Nice deflection Timmy, old shoe.  You can see his game with that reference, right?] The traditionalist revival, he thinks, is a reaction against the “trendy liberalism” of his generation. Some swings of pendulums may be inevitable. But for a church hierarchy in Western countries beset by scandal and decline, the rise of a traditionalist avant-garde is unsettling. Is it merely an outcrop of eccentricity, or a sign that the church took a wrong turn 50 years ago?

There is an open combox under this piece over the site of The Economist.  I’m just sayin’…

Click HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, Liberals, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The future and our choices, Vatican II and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fr AJ says:

    The statement here of the Church perhaps having taken a wrong turn at Vatican II reminds of how the Orthodox view councils of the Church. One concept that makes a council a council for them is how its teaching is received by the faithful. The Council of Florence being a prime example of one not being received well. It may be too early to say, but I wonder if VII will in the end being a council that was not well received by the faithful due to it’s aftermath, deserving or not.

  2. wmeyer says:

    [But remember… Vatican II produced many wonderful things!]

    Perhaps in the documents, but in the implementation? Name one.

    Take the Latin mass, dumped by the Vatican…

    Dumped, I thought, by the bishops, not by the Vatican?

    A big shift came in 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI formally endorsed the use of the old-rite Latin mass.

    Gosh, really? I was beginning to think no one outside WDTPRS was aware of it.

    The return of the old rite causes quiet consternation among more modernist Catholics.

    And noisy, in my old parish. But as they continue to ignore even the possibility of a Latin Mass, I really don’t know why they get so overwrought. In that parish, it will take years yet–the biological solution is not swift, after all–before any change away from their Spirit of Vatican II habits and locally created dogma. And even in my new parish, although it is less afflicted with the spirit, no likelihood of a Latin Mass is visible.

  3. MichaelJ says:

    There are distinctions to be made, surely, but is it wrong to believe that “ the church took a wrong turn 50 years ago“?
    His Holiness seems to think so. Otherwise, why would he be so adament that the state of the Church today is due to a “hermenutic of rupture”?

  4. Pingback: Saint Lucy in Dante's Inferno and Paradiso | Big Pulpit

  5. acricketchirps says:

    Help me. Is there any way I can be trad and NOT be trendy?

  6. anilwang says:

    To me, Vatican II had an optimistic view of the world. It assumed that the world was ready to engage in conversation, that Protestants and Orthodox would come into the Church if the old “you’re going to Hell if you don’t convert, you heretic” attitude was changed to “you’re our brothers, why are you separated?”, and that the average Catholic would just start reading the Bible and be holier if they were just encouraged and had more scripture in the Mass.

    The view was mixed at best. The world went from getting bishops input when major decisions were made (e.g. politicians, movie releases, etc) to relishing in being “strong and principled” for defying bishops. Relations with the Orthodox *have* improved and many Protestants have converted due in large part to Vatican II…but the average Catholics was left with the impression that Catholicism is “one of many paths to God”. Catholic Bible studies have increased in recent years (in some part to due Protestant converts like Scott Hahn) as has personal readings of Papal encyclicals and the Catechism and also fantastic Bible, Encyclical, Catechism, Church Fathers integration tools such as Verbum from Logos Software. It is far easier for the average Catholic to be well informed than ever before…unfortunately most Catholic don’t know or take advantage of those resources, and worse yet, the old devotions and disciplines that used to infuse the basics of the Catholic faith fell into disuse. Worse yet, the average lay Catholic knows the Bible is important and knows that priests encourage reading the Bible so when they start, they often assume Protestants are better at reading the Bible, so they become easy prey to Protestants who want to “save Catholics”.

    As for the mass, Vatican II gave an inch but priests took a mile, and now nearly all NO masses violate even the original Bugnini mass which assumed that priests look ad orientum towards the altar and cross, just as in the TLM, and the way Jews still do (the rabbi and congregation all face the Torah), and Muslims do as well (all face Mecca). Anyone who says the priest has his back towards the people really needs to know a bit more about Judaism and Islam since the same instinct derived from the same source exists there as well.

    I think the Council of Florence is a good comparison. While the Council of Florence failed in its main goal, it did have some success and it did sow the seeds for the growth and respect of the Eastern Churches. Without the Eastern Churches, the Catholic Church would be a lot less Catholic.

    In time the bad effects of Vatican II will either die off or be pruned off by wise Popes or be forced out in pain by God’s providence. Afterwords, only the good of Vatican II will remain.

  7. “In time the bad effects of Vatican II will either die off or be pruned off by wise Popes or be forced out in pain by God’s providence.”

    But how many souls may have been lost in the meantime? Almost every parent knows some he or she fears may be lost, but is convinced would not be, except for the loss of faith, collapse of moral discipline, and disintegration of both private devotion and public worship, all fostered by changes in the Church in the wake of Vatican II.

  8. wmeyer says:

    But how many souls may have been lost in the meantime?

    Precisely the problem with the biological solution.

  9. anilwang says:

    “But how many souls may have been lost in the meantime?…Precisely the problem with the biological solution.”

    We don’t know, and we don’t know if the number lost will be dwarfed by the number gained in the future. God’s ways are not our ways. Just as the Protestant wave swept Europe 500 years or so ago, the Americas converted en mass.

    Even the bad in Vatican II may be for our benefit. Vatican II’s naive over-optimism may well have accelerated the secularism we see in the world today. That same secularism which has severely injured the Church, has decimated Protestantism to the point where I seriously doubt it will exist within 100 years. It has also had acidic affects on Hindu and Buddhist cultures and even some Muslim countries and allowed Catholicism to gain a foothold in places we have it has previously been impossible .

    The Church will recover, but will anything other than secularism survive? We don’t know. What we do know is that we are our brother’s keeper and if we spend all our time “wishing things were different” rather than doing what we can to safeguard those we can safeguard, we will be held accountable.

    So yes, can’t just rely on “the biological solution”. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

  10. Father K says:

    ‘anathema to those who think openness is the spirit of the age. ‘ ‘Until that point, fondness for the traditional liturgy could blight a priest’s career.’ Having lived through that open age as a layman, seminarian [technically the same thing] and finally a priest I also lived through that Alice Through the Looking Glass world of contradiction and hypocrisy.

    And now the perpetrators of the injustices of that oh-so-open age snivel and wring their hands because oppressive Rome imposes on them cruel and unusual tortures such as having to say ‘consubstantial’ and ‘with your spirit,’ not to say the totally incomprehensible to John and Mary Catholic and unscriptural phrase, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.’

    Will we ever return to the ‘trendy liberalism’ of their generation when those who preferred the older form of the liturgy were welcomed and accepted by inclusive, sympathetic and oh-so accommodating ‘trendy liberals?’

  11. wolfeken says:

    OUTSTANDING job on this, Father Z and all those involved. This magazine is read by millions of people — many of whom (bishops…cardinals…) are quite influential. To have the traditional Latin Mass and its communicants called “trendy” by a major, secular center-left publication is no small victory!

  12. HighMass says:

    Kudo’s To wmeyer, really couldn’t have said it much better. Being Catholic before and after VII, it is hard to believe that the fruits have yet ripened. The documents are Beautiful.
    THE LITURGY is another story….How one longs for the TLM, High Masses are the Most Beautiful Thing this side of Heaven….If those who do not prefer it…should complain a bit after all look what we have put up with these last 45yrs…

  13. acardnal says:

    HighMass said, “Being Catholic before and after VII, it is hard to believe that the fruits have yet ripened.”

    Actually, I think much of the so called fruit of V2 has over-ripened. And it stinks, too. It needs to be cleaned up and thrown away into the trash bin.

    I agree with what wmeyer said, too.

  14. AmandaL says:

    But it is not a fogeys’ hangout: the congregation is young and international. Like evangelical Christianity, traditional Catholicism is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the church.

    My MOM wasn’t even born when the Second Vatican Council was called. And I have three kiddos already!

  15. wmeyer says:

    HighMass said: “The documents are Beautiful.”

    I might not go that far. There is much in them that is excellent, but there is something missing: specificity. Too much leeway was allowed for interpretation, and even more was taken. Read Michael Davies’ Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican 2: Destruction of the Faith Through Changes in Catholic Worship, if you have not; he makes the case very clearly that the ambiguities were not by chance, but entirely intentional.

    As to the liturgy, I remember a catechist telling her class that the Latin Mass was never taken away, it was simply that the people did not want it. Total nonsense! I was in college when the Latin Mass was summarily removed, at least in southwest Michigan, where I was raised.

    The need for rubrics has long been understood, but the need exists, as well, for metrics. Consider the use of EMHCs: How much time would be “too long”? How should it be determined how many EMHCs? The GIRM is silent on this; the abuses are legion. In this archdiocese, the local guidelines also provide nothing on when or how many might be used. Scandalous!

  16. Mike says:

    Bank on this: if evil happens, God allows it because His omnipotence can bring good out of it. All that happens, either is so because God wills it, or allows it for a greater good.

  17. HighMass says:

    Don’t misunderstand, I would have been very happy if there was no council… get really right winged I have read that Giuseppi Card. Siri , was “Elected in 58…63…and 78….
    If that is true an he declined the papacy, we all know that in 1963 the council most likely come to a shreeching Halt!
    Not such a bad idea……

    ACardinal yes the fruits are over ripe………and do belong in the trash bin!

  18. joan ellen says:

    4 Questions – Mostly for Bishops and Priests:
    1.) Is any Bishop in the USA ready to Consecrate his Diocese to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary…for our strength, protection…maybe even for our very lives. Am hoping and praying the 1st Bishop so inclined does so others will follow. (Not my idea…but SSPXers, who say a Bishop in Spain did so during World War II and not a soldier from his Diocese was lost. They also pray that each person in a Diocese contact his or her Bishop with this request.) The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would change overnight, surely, and then the faith. (Mike inspired.)

    2.) How many priests in each Diocese KNOW how to offer the Extraordingary Form but don’t for one reason or another, (I was pleasantly surprised in 1 Diocese, and grateful), and how many would like to learn it? Resource here:

    3.) Has any Bishop made it known that he is asking his priests to offer an EF Mass in each parish, if not weekly, at least on special days to begin with.

    4.) How many Bishops in the USA have already given SSPX priests jurisdiction, and how many more would grant jurisdiction if they were just asked? (Fr. Thompson inspired the question on a previously related post.)

    Have been liking the OF in English as to a Beautiful Dandelion Flower; the OF in Latin as to a Beautiful Tulip Flower; and the EF as to a Beautiful Rose. Words seen on an unrelated blog…good, great, exceptional may apply also. The Masses, no matter which form or language, do offer us Sanctifying Grace…and Actual Grace. Maybe Exceptional Sanctifying Grace is greatly needed for the common good.

    5.) Our Protestant brothers and sisters know the Bible. But the Bible does not offer Sanctifying Grace, the very life of God in us. (anilwang inspired.)

    Wolfeken: “many of whom (bishops…cardinals…) are quite influential.” for them I hope and pray
    they also read Fr Z’s blog…and that they act, with prudence, but with haste. Souls are most needy. As the word disintegration is being used more often, even by the Holy Father, it needs also to be applied to souls. (Henry Edwards inspired.)

  19. Gratias says:

    Congratulations Father Z. This blog is indeed influantial. The Economist is a powerful liberal magazine. I wonder what happened to let this article slip through.

  20. dominic1955 says:

    When I was in the seminary (in a day far less oppressive than our Rev’d Moderator and other priests who post here) at Matins I always thought of that previous open and tolerant group who imposed the “Spirit” on us-For forty years I endured that generation, and I said they are a people of erring heart and do not know my ways so I swore in my anger they shall not enter into my rest.
    However, I think many of the formators had awoke to smell the coffee and were not near as hostile to the TLM and other traditional expressions but one still had to walk on eggshells around certain folks. Those folks were generally reduced to making snide comments about cassocks and birettas and implying that lace was gay.

    Of course, if Catholic Traditionalist circles were like the nose-bleed high, gin n’ lace Anglo(Agnostic)-Catholic groups amongst the Epos and Anglicans, our progressives would be the ones sporting buckled shoes and lace cottas that go down to their bellybutton. They accuse us of being effete aesthetes, but if we really were catty homosexualists and dandies there would have no bone to pick with us. What makes them squirm is not that we are form over substance but rather that form supports substance.

    The column from the Fishwrap by the priest from CA illustrates this much more openly-the “old ways” and the “old stuff” is a rejection of all their wonderful innovations and theologies that they’ve been force-feeding us for more than 40 years now. They are getting afraid that their cathedra is going to get torched and they run off to Holland (no offense to the many good Dutch Catholics). God speed the day.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  21. pmullane says:

    Fashion is temporary. Truth is permanent.

  22. asperges says:

    “Women sport mantillas (lace headscarves). Men wear tweeds.”

    Mantillas, yes. Tweeds (as in plus fours) in London? Please. Hip flasks at the ready and then straight off to Ascot for the racing, or the family pile or lunch at the club, one supposes.

    Clearly written for the overseas edition of the Economist, one imagines, rather than the home reader. Still they’re not so far off the mark for the Oratory. Vivat.

  23. StWinefride says:

    asperges, how about a Tweed jacket? The London Oratory is situated in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and is the parish church for the local residents and for those from further afield who love worshipping there, but I suspect you know that already!

    Speaking of the Oratory, spotted this from the Provost’s pen in the December Newsletter:

    The Fathers of the London Oratory are famously liberal and soft-hearted, and have never been known to berate anyone- and certainly not during the season of good cheer.


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