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Is the Church Opposed to Traditionalism?

Pope Benedict XVI with Coat of Arms*Editors Note:  Over the next few weeks William Bornhoft and myself will be in a dialogue over the role of traditionalists within the Church today.*

Mr. Bornhoft,

I read your article “The Latin Mass is Not the Key to the New Evangelization” with interest, and it must also be admitted, with a bit of bewilderment. With interest because a lot of people, even some mainstream voices, were talking about traditionalism and the Latin Mass, something I hold dear to my heart. Bewilderment because I believe that many of the complaints you use against traditionalists (or “TLM Millennials” as you call them) showcase an unfamiliarity with a lot of traditionalist thought, but also because I think these complaints , when examined closely, probably end up having a greater danger for your own article.

I think this statement is the one I’d like to begin our focus on:

Anyone interested in seeing the Catholic faith thrive in the world, rather than be ignored, should be concerned about a generation of Catholics who oppose reforms that the vast majority of Cardinals supported 50 years ago.

While I hardly speak for all traditionalists (don’t believe what the internet tells you, we are a pretty diverse group who take a wide variety of positions), I suppose I would object to such a statement with the following:

A Majority of Cardinals?

Why is it significant that “a majority of cardinals 50 years ago backed something”, ergo we should back it as well? At the end of the day, the title of Cardinal is an honorific. It doesn’t have inherently more authority than a bishop. Even then, there were several cardinals who were far more in agreement with traditionalists believing that many of the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council were misguided. This was especially the case during the pontificate of St. John Paul II. Even if many preferred the Ordinary Form, they were increasingly critical of saying mass versus populum, began to advocate receiving communion on the tongue, took a very negative view towards altar girls, etc. Are we forbidden from taking this position because “a majority” of a certain timeframe believed otherwise?

I suppose what I find most troubling about this view is that it cannot appeal to Church teaching. The nature of the Church necessitates that there will be differing schools of thought and opinion about matters that are not settled doctrine. This is because these points surround how to apply doctrine, and by its very nature, these points are sometimes more or less relevant depending on the time. As a result, they are also by their nature subjective. While you might dismiss the importance of a priest saying Mass ad orientem, then Cardinal Ratzinger viewed such a dismissal as one of the key problems behind the collapse of liturgical catechesis. There is no eternally “right” answer on these questions, so debates can and must take place. Your position seems to discourage them, and that is not the position of the Church. Benedict XV outlined the nature of these debates in Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum:

Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says.

As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline-in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See- there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.

I think this should be the framework from which we operate throughout this dialogue.   You believe that in calling for many of these changes to be reversed, traditionalists are “at odds with the teaching of the Catholic Church” and that this action makes us “skeptical of Vatican II.” I believe we arrive here at the crux of the matter. Are we really opposing the Magesterium and the Second Vatican Council in these acts?

Can you show us where in the Second Vatican Council the topic of saying Mass versus populum is discussed? Where is communion in the hand or altar girls treated in Sacrosanctum Concillium? While they do speak of a vernacular liturgy, do they not also speak of the Latin language being retained and having a special place in the life of the Church?

When we examine this question, there is only one acceptable answer: Vatican II mandates none of the things talked about. To look at Sacrosanctum Concillium as a list of change/retain is to misunderstand the entire purpose of the document: it is a dogmatic constitution; therefore it is speaking on something of a timeless nature. It is speaking about the nature of liturgical reform first and foremost. While it does offer certain liturgical prescriptions (such as suppressing the hour of prime in the Divine Office), a future council could just as easily change that in applying the principles Sacosanctum Concillium talks about. If traditionalists can (and we can!) base our critique of the liturgical reform around why our position is consistent with the principles of the Constitution, then I would suggest your statements are found wanting.

The way to do this is not rocket science, and it is something that traditionalists have increasingly understood and embraced. The pontificate of Benedict XVI mostly settled the way to understand the Council, and it is in a way traditionalists can (and must) live with: that the Council must be presented within the greater framework of Catholic tradition. When looked at from the framework of the hermeneutic of continuity, we would argue that while these things being innovations does not disqualify them outright, one can be skeptical of the results the change would achieve, and continue to advocate that before changing these disciplines, we should seek to change ourselves as much as possible.  This is entirely consistent with Vatican II, and hence I’m not really sure on which foundation you can continue to base your objections.

Regards,

Kevin


Kevin Tierney is an Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane.  He also blogs at http://commmonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com.  You may contact him on Facebook, Google+  or follow him on Twitter @CatholicSmark.
  • Terri K

    Where I live there is one Latin mass community which does not have the full liturgical environment. One kind priest offers the TLM, but not for funerals, baptisms, etc. I attend a novus ordo mass with my family, but my heart grows ever more toward the traditionalist side daily. To be honest, I have found myself looking toward the small Greek orthodox community here with interest and curiosity. If we want to keep the TLM millenials (I’m a Gen X’er myself), we need to look with objectivity, faithfulness, and openness at the issues. Personally, I think the novus ordo mass is watered-down and awful. I attend out of faithfulness to my husband’s direction for our family. I pray things will improve.

    Thanks for this article. It’s an important issue.

  • Shawn McElhinney

    Well done!

  • steve5656546346

    If you attend the Novus Ordo, then you reject Vatican II, because it is not compatible with some of the provisions of Sacrosanctum Concillium. 🙂

    • Terri K

      I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume what you meant to say is that the Novus Ordo falls short of the the Church’s guidelines for liturgy and therefore is left lacking. Your comment could be worded better to indicate such. It seems accusatory and self-righteous.

      Perhaps if someone attends the Novus Ordo they have no real opportunity to do otherwise. Perhaps, also, they have not had the opportunity to enjoy a richer liturgy, or through lack of catechesis or experience, have never considered there might be something else.

      Below is an excerpt of the article which applies to your comment:

      Benedict XV outlined the nature of these debates in Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum:

      Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says.

      As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline-in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See- there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.

  • eddie too

    I thank God for the novus ordo. I do not believe that receiving communion on the tongue is inherently more respectful than receiving in the hand, nor is kneeling inherently more respectful than standing. when the sounds emanating from the celebrant make no sense to the participants, it does not surprise me that people are less than enthused about participating.

    • Phil Steinacker

      I’m amazed and concerned for your well-being that you lack the simple, rudimentary ability to grasp what has been obvious for centuries to Catholics for centuries; namely, that receiving on the tongue kneeling is exactly inherently more respectful than receiving in the hand, standing.

      To make such statements one must have turned off (or never possessed in the least) a fundamental understanding of reverence in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Of course, the brainwashing that Mass is a meal and not a Sacrifice is the culprit for that disconnect, and so it follows that the ignorant go through the motions of a false reverence where there is NO reverence, in fact.

      How would you know what reverence in receiving Our Lord looks like? You certainly have not been taught anything of substance in this regard through the Novus Ordo.

      As for your quaint way of describing Latin as sounds making no sense, you’ve illustrated your ignorance a second time in one comment. Whether attending the TLM 50 years ago or today, most in the pews know very little Latin conversationally. They have always used Latin/English missals. Of course, it would might seem like a secret to you, but like anything else, frequent exposure through repeated, authentic participation (i.e. in your heart) one becomes at least familiar enough with the Latin prayers uttered by the priest that I can assure you those “sounds” make sense to those listening.

      You are awfully sure of what you obviously don’t know.

      • eddie too

        in my worldview, what is most important is what is in the heart of the people who receive the Lord in the Eucharist. that is where reverence exists. because some people want to impose their own view of reverence on the faithful is not that important to me. I respect your right to apply your concepts of reverence to yourselves. I oppose your forcing them on others.
        as for latin, I know many people who rejoiced when they were allowed to praise the Lord in their own tongue. believing that latin has some special graces attached to its use is incorrect. it is a good thing for the Church to allow the people to draw closer to our Lord during the celebration of the Eucharist.
        I encourage people to stop acting as though their preferences are superior to the preferences of other people. such an attitude can lend itself to self-right preening. in addition, clearly, in the usa, the preferences of the magisterium is that people receive communion standing and in their hands. also, the magisterium prefers the Eucharist to be said in the vernacular.
        everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but trying to make one’s own opinions and preference superior to those of others is what I reject. I understand that you can throw pages and pages of magisterial writings to support your opinions and conclusions, but if you are going to do that, I suggest you also follow equally devotedly the directions of your local ordinary when it comes to celebrating the liturgy and that you encourage all you come in to contact with to do the same. this whole idea of using the Mass to divide the faithful is unseemly and to me repulsive.
        I also much prefer the priest facing the people when he says the Mass. when he has his back to me, I always wonder to whom exactly is he praying since he is facing either an empty wall or a crucifix. I know Jesus is present amongst His flock in the pews. I also know Jesus is not present in the crucifix or on the walls to which the priest turns. I have heard others say that they think the priest turns his back on the people to separate himself from them. it does kind of seem like having the priest turn his back to the people, wherein Christ is most present, tends to create a more militaristic image than a community of the faithful. the troops are lined up in good order behind the general who will lead them in to prayer.
        in conclusion, I just want to say that because people disagree with your preferences, ideas and loyalties, does not make them wrong. just as their disagreements do not make you wrong.

        • Pax

          Just to establish a bit of my own perspective, I’m not a big traditionalist, and as it goes neither am i any real fan of extensive Latin during the mass, but I won’t get into that here. I would however invite you to reflect more deeply on a few things you seem be ignorant of.

          1) I think you are mistaken that most of the ordinaries , even in the united states strongly prefer the Eucharist taken in the had. There are many who dislike it, and it is a local custom only grudgingly allowed in the united states after certain influential bishops, who are all dead or retired now, pushed for it.

          Second, I would ask you to think a little bit about why that is. Receiving on the tongue has an different affect on the person then receiving in the hand. Have you tried both? have you observed the difference on yourself? I have. It requires greater humility to stick out your tongue and let someone else feed you then to pick up something in your own hand and feed yourself. From that the symbolism becomes very apparent as well. In the case Jesus comes to you when you are powerless to help yourself and feeds you, ( the priest or minister is standing in for jesus). In the second case YOU feed yourself Jesus by your own power.

          Only one of those ways of thinking about it are theologically correct.

          More over , the reason the bishops wanted to use the hand in the form was aid in ecumenism, because it was the way things are done in many protestant communities. The unsightly detail behind that though, is that the reason it was adopted in the protestant communities was to re-enforce the idea that the lords supper ‘WAS NOT’ the body and blood of Christ, but merely a symbol, only normal bread which we are more then worthy to handle ourselves.

          I have been to a novus ordum mass where the priest faces away from the congregation. According to the church rules on that , it is the priest choice and dependent on what he wants to emphasize.

          However, I think it ironic it had exactly the correct effect on you , but you didn’t appreciate the significance.

          “ie, I always wonder to whom exactly is he praying since he is facing either an empty wall or a crucifix”

          — what he is facing in the Alter where God is present, more over, not seeing his face, should re-enforce the idea that HE is unimportant , because JESUS is the one saying the mass and and the priest only stands in form him.

          “it does kind of seem like having the priest turn his back to the people, wherein Christ is most present, tends to create a more militaristic image than a community of the faithful” — so you are saying that it makes the church seem more like ‘the church militant’ , which is exactly what we are.

          We are not some vague gathering of people who get together to help each other out. We are a people at war with the devil, with the evil that is all around us and always attacking us.

          We have not vowed to ‘get along with the devil’ we have vowed , from our baptism to ‘reject the devil’ and his promises and his WAYS. So we are very much a ‘church militant’

          ” I just want to say that because people disagree with your preferences, ideas and loyalties, does not make them wrong. just as their disagreements do not make you wrong.”

          On this we can both most certainly agree, and honestly I try to have few attachments or preferences, and I greatly honor the principle of seeking unity in action rather the difference , because almost always the prior is more humble.

          However, I think it is important to acknowledge that knowledge of God ( theology) directly impacts relationship with him and our liturgy and our prayer must be a refection of true theology because poor liturgy encourage poor relationship with truth and with God.

    • With all due respect, can we keep the trolling to a minimum?

      I’m pretty sure nobody at the Latin Mass would say the sounds emanating from the celebrant “make no sense.”

      But your point, once you remove the snark and condescension (please, less of that, and that goes for those responding, me and William are trying to have an adult conversation here) is that people weren’t participating in Mass because of the language barrier.

      We’ve since removed that language barrier….. and the same people still aren’t participating. Those who participate hard today were likely the same kind of Catholic who participated hard when it was in Latin. So maybe there’s something different here, and maybe we should examine what that is.

      • eddie too

        it was not my point that latin was driving people away from the Mass. my point is that it is much easier to immerse oneself in to celebrations that appeal to the intellect and that speaking in a language that people do not understand can serve as an impediment to many. we should make the Mass as easily understandable as possible.

        • Terri K

          I tend to agree with this point. I would add, however, that the Latin and its accompanying translation is so much deeper and more beautiful than the English mass. You’d have to attend to experience. I know I had the same viewpoint as yours before I tried it. Much really has been lost.

          I commented on another article in this series that I attended a mass that was a wonderful hybrid. I believe it was celebrated according to the real spirit of Vatican II–although I am in no position to speak with authority on the issue.

          Eddie, I encourage you to find a Latin mass and attend. They’ll be prayer books in the back for you to follow along In both languages and I’m sure some helpful soul will give you assistance as well. The Latin mass community where I live is anxious for people to experience the liturgy they love and are extremely welcoming and helpful. You might want to investigate to see what the hype is about. :0)

        • I guess if it was not your point latin was driving people away from the mass, why say “when the sounds emanating from the celebrant make no sense to the participants, it does not surprise me that people are less than enthused about participating.”

          And while I believe in making the liturgy acceptable (to the point I write weekly guides for how to understand the prayers of the Mass), and can see where the vernacular helps in that regard, that is not the only understanding we should see. The Mass is meant to speak on a far deeper level than the intellectual.

          When Elijah encounters God on Horeb, he doesn’t encounter a logical theological argument. He doesn’t even encounter a spoken word. He encounters a stillness in his heart, and understands that stillness is God speaking to him. That’s what the liturgy is meant to provide.

          During the liturgical reform, we forgot all about helping people ot see that stillness. We instead made it an intellectual exercise, and simply figured once we changed the language, people would understand the Mass more.

          That was a mistaken belief, and we really need to stop acting like it was true.

        • Pax

          I’ve attended from time to time, because of distance. A parish where Latin is used fairly extensively. I mostly like but I do like to understand what is being said as well. I was a catechist at the parish for a while and mentioned the angles in haven singing holy holy holy during the mass. none of the children knew what part of the mass that was, because they sang sanctus sanctus sanctus.

          So suffice it to say I think the use and re-introduction of latin in the mass needs to be well thought out.

          When the same parish started doing the creed in Latin , I was not particularly happy about it. I feel like if there is one thing said in mass that everyone coming in off the street should have ready access to understand it should be the creed and while the normal catholic passing through may still have had no exposure to Latin it isn’t appropriate to say the creed it Latin.

          That being said I also feel there are one REALLY good reasons we as a people should consider making a well thought out and practical return to Latin as a more official language, it is still our official language as a church.

          UNITY. The second Vatican consul suggested that the mass should be performed in Latin in any parish where multi-lingual service is required.

          As an example, right now many American parishes are divided between ‘Anglo’ and ‘Spanish’ speakers and have English mass and Spanish mass. I think it would greatly help to bring people together if everyone had the ability to attend a mass that was unbiased in participation by language. Choosing a language no one ‘speaks natively’ puts everyone on equal footing.

          I guess not even the popes really believe that principle though because even at events like world youth day they don’t do the mass in Latin.

          Also, a culture is more easily unified if it shares a common language and it is important for the believers within the church to seek to be ‘one mind’ as Jesus prayed we would be.

          That being said , Esperanto would server both purposes just as well, Latin simply has the advantage of also connecting us more deeply with the fathers and history of the roman right, which is a non too unimportant advantage either.