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The Reality of the Traditionalist Ghetto

detroit_motor_city_500_280[1]Hello William,

In your previous letter you mentioned your concerns with the “indult ghetto” mentality that is evident in some (but not all!) traditionalist communities. Another way of saying this is that they tend to separate themselves from the Church at large, focus on only their liturgy and parish, and really not interact with the rest of the Church. While some will attempt to downplay and deny this problem, I don’t really think that’s a smart play.

Instead, I’ll freely grant your problem. The Indult ghetto is real, and it can have a really corrosive effect on traditionalism both in their communities and with their standing among the Church as a whole. While most discussions on this topic will discuss ad nauseam on how much of a problem this really is, I’d like to try something different. I’d like to explain part of the reason why the Indult ghetto came to be, and, more controversially, why it still exists.   To do this I would like to tell you two stories.

The first is of a small community of Latin Mass Catholics. They were given the Latin Mass shortly after the Ecclesia Dei Indult, and over the years built it into a pretty thriving community where in a diocese of closing churches, they were still regularly pulling in 150-200 people every Sunday. Suddenly their mass is moved to 4pm in a Church located in a ghetto right across the street from a strip club. Most people aren’t going to go to that Church at night, and during the winter season it’s dark at 5pm.

They then have their right to advertise the Latin Mass curtailed. Whereas once it was in church bulletins and even announced in local catholic periodicals, now it is no longer allowed.  Part of the condition of having the Latin Mass is you aren’t allowed to broadcast it.

Finally, the pastor of that parish decides to cancel the Latin Mass that day (after the celebrant drove 40 minutes to get there), celebrate an Ordinary Form Mass (when people showed up for a Latin Mass), and during that Mass gives a homily where he tells them to not think about registering at his parish, do not tell anyone you go to that parish, and to not get comfortable because you never know when the Bishop will decide this is no longer needed and shut the whole thing down.

All of this happens to something which Pope John Paul II noted was a “lawful aspiration.”  Some will deny that story, and I can tell them that they are wrong. I know they are wrong because I lived this story, and it happened at the parish where I attended the Latin Mass for 3 years.

While many non-traditionalists will read this story and be outraged, they will say “well that was before Summorum Pontificum and things are better.” They are indeed better in some places. I live in a metro area, which has a thriving traditionalist scene, and Bishops who have welcomed the Latin Mass in their dioceses. Yet I also know this is the exception.

Even with the explosive growth we have seen since the motu proprio, some of the largest dioceses in America put restrictions on the Extraordinary Form that would make the old priest I knew blush. They have to fill out endless paperwork so the Bishop can be satisfied they are “qualified” to offer the Extraordinary Form. They are forbidden from advertising it, so tourists entering an area can drive right by a Latin Mass and be clueless about its existence. Those who try to be advocates for traditionalists to lawfully worship are punished and reassigned. This injustice still exists in 2015, in a relatively trad-friendly landscape such as the United States.  Just imagine how it is in countries less friendly towards the Latin Mass?

The second story involves the Church promoting a series of changes that some people were not fans of. They just wanted to worship the same way they did yesterday without being a heretic or a schismatic. Rather than having their desires rewarded, the Church calls them a “problem” to be solved. That is what they did in Quattuor Abhnic Annos, the 1984 Indult established by the Congregation for Divine Worship regarding the Latin Mass. Imagine that. The way you worship, a worship they recognize is fully Catholic, is a “problem.”

This is not a case of the majority preferring something else. It is you, the minority, holding something they think is wrong, misguided and a source of real conflict in the Church, but politics requires them to address the matter delicately. When you look at them in that fashion, you don’t even bother trying to understand them as Catholics in equal dignity to yourself, but as people you just throw a bone to in the hopes they die off, which was the original plan the Church adopted towards traditionalists. It was only after a genuine schism aided by that animus did the Church realize they had to at least present a surface attempt at change, even if that was mostly a dead letter until Benedict XVI made changes in Church law.

As great as those changes were, even the current prefect of the CDW realizes they are more a pious sentiment than a reality within the dioceses of the world. In many places and even in the highest positions within Rome, traditionalists are looked at as a problem to be managed, still hoping we will die off. No attempts is made to dialogue with us or understand us, we are just given the cold shoulder. In the meantime, every step is made to ensure we don’t grow, and we stay within our communities.

Given this sentiment, is it really shocking that a lot of trads are bitter, and at times fall prey to thinking the worst about those who perpetuate this injustice?  When they protest this, they are told “you can go to the Ordinary Form; it provides just as much grace.” Would anyone who doesn’t attend the Latin Mass accept this as just if the shoe were on the other foot? What if I were to say you should be forced to attend the Latin Mass, because after all, you still get grace? It is a true statement, but would you find it just?

I can condemn this bitter attitude as wrong and counterproductive, but the one thing I will not say is that it is irrational. The attitude makes perfect sense, and often those receiving the bile of traditionalists deserve bile. The only reason we shouldn’t is that it is a cruel world where everyone gets what they deserve, and if we were held to that, hell would certainly be the only possible destination.

You are admirable in that you want traditionalists to leave those enclaves, and you seem to want to welcome them as brothers and equals. I think over the course of this dialogue, you have become more aware to these injustices. You are still a minority, a very small minority in the larger scheme of things. When it comes to the traditionalist (or indult) ghetto, even the loftiest of behavior by traditionalists would not change its reality. The Indult ghetto exists because it takes a Church of millions to create it, and it takes a Church of millions to hold traditionalists back in their ghettos.

By all means exhort traditionalists to live the Beatitudes and carry this injustice with a serene countenance. But this injustice will not end until Catholics of goodwill who aren’t traditionalists stand up and oppose that injustice. So if you want it to end, I will only ask you:  what can you do to end it?

[editor’s note: this letter is part of a series on the role of traditionalists within the Church today. Read the entire discussion here.]


  • RaymondNicholas

    There is nothing like the spires of a Gothic Church and the sameness of the altar within to demonstrate that we are on sacred ground and in the presence of Our Lord and His Angels. Now, a person may say that what we gain from attending a Latin Mass in such a venue is no different than that which we receive in the warehouse-like structure down the road devoid of traditional statues, murals, and molded stained-glass. They are correct, but I feel much more uplifted in the former. There is also another difference, a feeling of stronger ties to our Church and traditional Catholic teaching, which the modernists will no doubt claim is a spiritual weakness. But the fact that a Latin Mass ghetto exists can only mean that the folks in power have something to fear, which I think is a loosening of their grip on the laity. How we practice the Sacraments is also how we live the Faith. In other words, if the modernists wish to make changes in the Church, are they better off trying to convince Latin Mass attendees or the regular kind?

  • kelso

    Viewed in the light of “universal” (i.e.e, Catholic) in TIME as well as Place, it is the Ordinary or Novus Ordo advocates who are actually the “ghetto”. They have sequestered themselves from 1600 years of liturgical tradition in the Latin West. Of course, they are ignorant of this, supinely so. They wallow in the mediocre and refuse to examine themselves and do penance for destroying the Roman Rite. They are ghetto iconoclasts, but their ghetto runs the city.

  • Midwester

    I would argue that the grace available at the Bugnini mass is the same as that of the Traditional Latin Mass, but that the actual grace received by those attending is far less than that of the Latin Mass. The Latin Mass disposes one to receive the actual grace, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the orientation of the priest and the bodily posture of the people (including receiving Our Lord on the tongue and kneeling).

    • JTLiuzza

      I would go further and point out how revealing it is that novus ordo types would assess the value of a Mass by how much grace I receive. After all, it is all about me, right?

      It’s the perfect example of lex orandi, lex credendi. In the man centered, horizontal Bugnini mass, the “celebrant” turns his back on God Almighty to face us, and we share a communal meal. The mass is about what we get out of it.

      Ask a trad why they go to Mass and they will tell you to GIVE worship to God that is His due and His command by offering the Holy Sacrifice.

      Ask a new church novus ordo type why they go to Mass and they will tell you to RECEIVE grace.

      The priest turning around 180 degrees is the perfect metaphor for the 180 degree shift of everything in that frankenstein of a mass and why it will one day be put where it belongs, on the ash heap of ecclesial history, despite all the modernists efforts to prevent it.

      • Jude

        This is a very accurate observation. The TLM is not about what I get out of it. After all, I usually spend a great deal of my time handling the needs of my children and guiding them through the Mass. It is about bringing the very best that we have and offering it to the Father.

        • simplynotred

          So the Ghetto is manifested by the anthropomorphic design and humanistic outcomes of the Bugnini mass. The Ghetto does run the city! The function and purpose of TLM is in opposition to the NO Mass. TLM Glorifies God. The NO Mass tries to glorify mankind, but, continues to fail in its numbers of religious, parishioners, and churches almost daily. Whose remaining members are content with the worship of Man holding to the Protestant view that all men can individually interpret what the God-Man is, and why he came to this rock. Simply a Mass of Confusion/Chaos.

      • goral

        I agree with the overall assessment but not with the conclusion.
        Novus Ordo is here to stay. It’s ideal for the non-traditionalist Americans. We like our catholicism lite -minimal singing and chanting, optional membership, easy Communion, photo op Sacraments, who am I to judge morality, all of that is here to stay because American religion is casual just as the culture is casual.
        When and how is that going to change?
        Just as the welfare state has taken dandelion root so has casual catholicism. We traditionalists will also be a presence but along the lines of a “remnant”. We may get some concessions along the lines of an Agnus Dei chant put back in but it wont be much more than that.
        The new generation is scarcely interested in the “new order” how are they going to take an interest in the old?

        “Narrow is the way” rings true more than ever.

    • Peterman

      I tend to agree, I have gone (or used to go) to week day masses and there some pretty devout folks there who prayed the rosary together after mass. It’s pretty much the weekends that is/are a problem. Then you have the talking, social gathering in the church, the kiss of peace, half dressed women, guys in shorts, bad priestly vestments, 27 eucharistic ministers including here in Florida, women in short skirts and sleeveless tops, communion in the hand, etc, etc.This doesn’t get into the horrendous music with sacrilegious lyrics.

      Don’t worry about us traditionalists, we’re just fine and dandy in the “ghetto”. You want to visit, c’mon over, if you’re a woman, no pants or indecent garb and wear a veil. If you’re a man, dig that old sport jacket out of the closet and find a tie. You don’t like it, don’t come, there are I am the bread of life/ lord of the dance masses at 8,10, and 11:30.

  • Yankeegator

    We went from the undoing of Babel at Pentacost when all were called to be one…You could go to a Latin Mass in Africa, China or NYC and it would be the same. Now I can go across town and it doesn’t even feel like the same liturgy. We have returned to Babel… Cranmer would be proud of our Bugnini NO Service…

  • GuitarGramma

    Please, I beg all of you, listen to what you are saying. As way of background, I’ll tell you that I am a convert to Catholicism, and converted after Vatican II. I have only known the Novus Ordo.

    Since I fall into the class of Catholics whom you are discussing, I feel compelled to point something out. Many of you here purport to know the level of my love for God, why I attend Mass, and whether or not I worship when I’m there. This is personal, and may I say that the generalizations you are making are unfair and possibly uncharitable. They are certainly hurtful.