A young writer tries to figure out Pope Francis’ harsh words for “traditionalists”

A couple of days ago Amerika Magazine, a Jesuit organ, there was a rather thoughtful piece by a young man about his experience of the Vetus Ordo, the Extraordinary Form, the “Tridentine” form of Mass in the Roman Rite. Here is some of it, with my comments and emphases:

Is Pope Francis right about traditionalists who love the Latin Mass?  [The answer is clearly “No”.  It is also clearly “Yes”.  “Traditionalists” embraces a large number of people and they are not homogeneous, by any stretch of the imagination.  They’re just plain “folks”.]

As part of their efforts to draw us into a deeper faith life, my parents brought me and my brothers to a Tridentine Mass when we were kids. I do not recall being particularly impressed the first few times. One summer Sunday, however, I decided to attend one on my own, mostly for a change of pace from my home parish. This particular Sunday turned out to be the Feast of Corpus Christi, and I was caught off guard by the sheer spectacle of the ritual.

I briefly resented that the hymns and processions would keep me in church longer than I had originally planned, but I was soon overwhelmed by a feeling that I can best describe as communion. This was, I mused, the Mass as it was experienced by so many saints throughout history. [Let’s add a note here.  The older form of Mass has a pretty good track record in nourishing the lives of saints.  The newer form doesn’t have a track record yet.] Although there was no one in the pews around me, I began to feel as though I was surrounded by the saints who had come to know and worship God through this liturgy. I did not at that point understand that the rituals of the Mass had changed numerous times over the two millennia of Christian history, but learning about these changes never made me doubt the core of my experience that day. [Sure, the rites changed.  However, they were stable in their basics for those two millennia and stable in their particulars for the last 5 or centuries.]

Last year, Pope Francis spoke openly about his misgivings about liturgical traditionalists in an interview that would serve as an introduction of a book of his sermons as Archbishop of Buenos Aires:

I always try to understand what’s behind the people who are too young to have lived the pre-conciliar liturgy but who want it. Sometimes I’ve found myself in front of people who are too strict, who have a rigid attitude. And I wonder: How come such a rigidity? Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something: insecurity, sometimes even more…. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.  [Neither is true love inclined to judge so severely large swaths of people.]

I have been pondering this statement since I first read it. I wondered whether I was the sort of person he had in mind. Was I a “rigid” Catholic? The experience of being surrounded by the saints at the Latin Mass was one of the most profound and formative spiritual experiences of my teenage years.

I have also been thinking about the pope’s words because his struggle to understand young traditionalists echoes the suspicions held by many older Catholics who lived through the Second Vatican Council, particularly priests. (Plus, the pope has recently reaffirmed his commitment to the liturgical reform of Vatican II, saying it is “irreversible.”)  [Which is, of course, his desire and not something that he can command.]

My experience with the Latin Mass offers one possible answer to Pope Francis’ questions about why young people are attracted to traditional liturgies: Having grown up with the Mass in English, these young Catholics have a vague sense of what any given moment in the Mass is about. The unfamiliar rituals and language of the Tridentine Rite, however, allows them to see these moments with fresh eyes. Discovering the Latin Mass is, to many members of my generation, what the introduction of the vernacular Mass was to people like Francis. [This young feller is fairly thoughtful.  He turned the sock inside out.  Good for him.  However, if he continues to ask around among those who experienced the liturgical changes and, often, chaos of the 60’s and 70’s, he will find that many will say that, when they first experienced Mass with the vernacular they had a hard time recognizing their Mass.  Instead of becoming more “understandable”, it became less so.  Of course they were able to understand the words, but that’s not the same as understanding what is going on during Mass.]

As for the “strict” and “rigid” people about whose insecurities Pope Francis frets, he is clearly not referring to everyone who wants the option of attending the pre-conciliar liturgy. Although some of my friends will wrinkle their noses at certain kinds of homilies or deviations from the liturgical rubrics, their tastes are hardly worthy of a psychiatrist’s couch. They do not need anyone to “dig” into their psyches. Love of God and neighbor runs at least as deeply in them as it does in me, even if that love manifests sometimes in Latin prayers.

To whom, then, is Pope Francis referring? The answer may lie in Francis’ own past. As the Jesuit provincial and later the rector of the Jesuit seminary in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio was known as a strict and formidable figure, and he had a sizeable following among the members of his province. But his critiques of traditionalist Catholic groups are seldom read through that lens.  [I’m not so sure.  I think quite a few of us went there when he made those remarks.  And let’s not forget that, in those same years which the writer mentions, Fr. Bergoglio also prompted division.]

When the pope suggests that strictness and rigidity conceal insecurity, he may be speaking about people he once knew quite well or even about himself. Francis’ former inflexibility ought to give much more credibility to his warnings about the pitfalls of modern traditionalism. Traditionalists do not take his criticisms as seriously as they probably ought to. But without any additional context, Pope Francis’ statements sound less like pastoral advice and more like the perennial lamentation of older generations about trends among the young.

The same can be said about many of the admonitions I have heard from the Vatican II generation about the flaws of the pre-conciliar church. It was not until I had extended conversations with these Catholics that the depth and relevance of their experience became clear. If I had not taken the time to listen and ask questions, all I would have heard was a clichéd lament about young Catholics trying to turn the clock back to the 1950s.



You can read the rest there, but that is the part which I found to be of most interest.

Yesterday at the Summorum Pontificum conference here in Rome, Card. Sarah suggested that we not use words like “traditionalists” any longer.  In fact, they are simply “Catholics”.

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  1. Riddley says:

    The fellow makes a good point when he says that coming to the TLM allowed him to see the rites of the Mass “with fresh eyes”, having already had a “vague sense” of what was happening.

    Going to the Novus Ordo does familiarise you with the basics and make it fairly clear what’s going on at what point. Having learnt those things intellectually, if you like, it’s then very striking to see the Mass being enacted in front of you in its fullness at a TLM.

    I’m not saying it was worth bringing in the Novus Ordo for this reason, but a happy side effect of the NO is that it serves as a good “crib sheet” for beginners.

  2. jazzclass says:

    I find that many older priests, especially those who were ordained within twenty years of the council, have a fear of traditionalist faithful and priests, even if they themselves are traditional!

    The problem, I believe, lies in the fact that for the longest time, the majority of the people attending the UA were those who would call the NO invalid. One priest even related to me that he saw a priest separate the Consecrated Hosts from the NO and the Consecrated Hosts from the UA into two different ciboria, and in two different parts of the tabernacle.

    While we still do have the SSPX and the Sedevacantists, they are hardly the norm for the average Catholic today, especially with Summorum Pontificum. But these older prelates aren’t at ground zero, like the rest of us. It seems their minds are still in the 70’s.

  3. Sonshine135 says:

    “When the pope suggests that strictness and rigidity conceal insecurity, he may be speaking about people he once knew quite well or even about himself.”

    Bingo! By continuing to insult Catholics who have an appreciation for the older form of the Mass, is Pope Francis not demonstrating that he, himself is very rigid. I believe that he simply is projecting his own biases on others. He does not approach young people and ask them why they love the Mass, because it would force him to address his own insecurity. I continue to pray for the Pope. He has the corporal works of mercy nailed, but the spiritual works….meh.

  4. KateD says:

    This is going off a bit on a related tangent…In reading Pope Francis words, he says, “sometimes he finds a rigidity”…and then wonders, “what’s behind rigidity?”. He wans’t saying all trads are rigid. That’s news to me! The first glimmer of hope in a while on this topic. Sometimes is conditional. It implies that it’s outside the normative state. And who among us would deny that there are some trads that are a bit rigid? That’s not news!

    Sometimes…homeschoolers are freaks, sometimes….priest are bad, sometimes there have been Anti-Popes…but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

    Frankly, however, I’ve encountered more internal rigidity among attendees of the Ordinary Form, but because of the high pitched greeting frosted with disingenuous smiles and followed by wet noodle embraces from a native pattern textiles clad burnt out old hippie, it’s less obvious. These “Lethal Lefts” are every bit as gnarly and perhaps more prevelant (?) than the “Rigid Rights”…

    But, WAITJ?

  5. yatzer says:

    In the Comments section of the article referred to, there was at least one remarking that when they attended the EF it was noticeable there were no babies. At our parish, which always has an EF form on Sunday, the place is crawling (pun intended) with babies and small children. I’m puzzled about the difference.

  6. Prayerful says:

    I also read some related articles on the Mass of Ages. Those articles seemed to have an underlying dislike and sense of unease unease to them, particularly one written by an older Jesuit ordained before ’68, which this piece lacks. Some older priests seem to have a deep hostility or neurosis towards the traditional Mass, as though interest in it is a rejection of most of their lifework as priests. Any criticisms of the TLM in the article, or rather some practices of the time it was the sole Latin Rite (minor local and order uses excepted), seemed to be more reasoned.

    That said legalistic smokers who remained outside till the offertory were probably doing something better than their post V2 counterparts who huddle in some outdoor smoking area of some pub each Sunday, whenever they manage to avoid garden centre expeditions. The point about all those priests dumping their vocations post V2, surely supports pre-Conciliar norms, for many priests must have found the Novus Ordo Missae both dreary and lacking in mystery. Not for them to become another Fr Wathen, one man band rebels. Yet the point about ‘caution from experience’ of some older priests who are wary of the TLM, is lightly, and well made.

    Hopefully America magazine will hold towards this more thoughtful approach. It is an approach which might lessen the bitter and polemic attitude that some journals shows towards the liturgy.

  7. tho says:

    The way pre-councilor priests who didn’t agree with the Novus Ordo were treated was disgraceful. Except for the bloodshed, it reminded one of 16th century England, plus, what the wreckovaters did to our churches was unpardonable. That, along with the hiding of the Tabernacle, should make our prelates hide their faces in shame.
    Good leadership is a precious endowment, and with some obvious exceptions, our church has suffered dearly with a plethora of left-wing liberals, as has our country.

  8. Peter in Canberra says:

    Forest Gump springs to mind. “Handsome is as handsome does” and that’s all I have to say about that.

  9. WYMiriam says:

    “Turning the sock inside out. . . ” Yes . . . . when one attends Holy Mass in the EF, one needs to pay attention and consciously learn what is going on (and why things are happening the way they are happening).

    There’s nothing much “mysterious” (save for the miracle of Transubstantiation) in the OF that needs to be “figured out”.

    Kudos to the young man who wrote the article!

  10. surritter says:

    The pope suggested that a love of the TLM by young people might be a sign of strictness and rigidity, and thus concealing insecurity. Yet we recently learned that he received psychological therapy in the past. Interesting juxtaposition, no?

  11. Aquinas Gal says:

    One young person told me that attending the TLM for the first time made her realize what the Mass is all about. It was an eye opener for her. And she didn’t have any “rigidity” baggage.

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