Traditionalists and the Council

2vatican councilDear Kevin,

Thank you for organizing this discussion. I am grateful to you and the other good folks at Catholic Lane for providing this platform.

The Latin Mass is a topic I’ve been interested in several years now – ever since I went to my first Latin Mass at St. Stanislaus Oratory in Milwaukee, WI.

There’s no questioning the beauty and transcendence of the Latin Mass. Everyone from Agatha Christie to Bill Murray can have an appreciation for it. I believe Summorum Pontificum was beneficial to the Church in that it brought a level of beauty and reverence to certain Roman Rite parishes where it had obviously been lacking. As Pope Benedict noted in his letter to the Bishops:

“Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and        were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the       sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places           celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was              liturgy which were hard to bear.  I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that   period with all its hopes and its confusion.  And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the   liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”

So one can accept Vatican II yet desire the use of the 1962 Missal. But as Massimo Faggioli has explained, explicitly anti-Vatican II traditionalists understand better than anyone that rejecting liturgical reform is an efficient route to rejecting Vatican II. There’s a fine line between desiring the Latin Mass and rejecting liturgical reform, and one can find traditionalists on both sides of this line. My concern with “TLM Millennials” (a term I acknowledge is overly-general) stems from this: Attracted to beauty and moved by nostalgia, young traditionalists are unknowingly rejecting a hugely important new direction the Church took in Vatican II. Now, to your first question.

Why is it significant that “a majority of cardinals 50 years ago backed something”, ergo we should back it as well? 

It is important to disavow the impression that the Second Vatican Council was a product or reaction to the swift cultural changes of that decade. A popular narrative, driven by historians, traditionalists, and even some supporters of liturgical reform, is that most of the reforms of Vatican II was a product of a liberal faction in the Church who were swept up in the time. Noting the remarkably large majority of Cardinals who supported Sacrosanctum Concilium is the first step in telling the correct story of liturgical reform: it did not originate from ideology or partisan Vatican politics. Liturgical reform was a movement to restore the liturgy.

“For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance;    elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little             advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents        of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as         may seem useful or necessary.

The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided    for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy       scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 50-51)

A majority of Cardinals understood and supported the reforms during the council, and Pope Benedict confirmed that Summorum Pontificum was not questioning liturgical reform. What’s more, and I understand I can’t prove this, but I believe overwhelming consensus among the Cardinals is a sign that the Holy Spirit was at work.

 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?

This question reveals to me how some of the lines in my piece need clarification. In short, no, traditionalists (another general term) by and large are not opposing the Magesterium or the Second Vatican Council. In fact, my point is goes along with this: versus populum, communion in the hand, and altar girls are not against Church teaching, and I think it’s silly for Catholics to blame those items for various issues the Church currently faces. By staking definitive positions on these issues, “Never accept Holy Communion in your hand!” we indeed go against Church teaching.

I had a few things in mind when I wrote that TLM Millennials were not in line with Church teaching, and I should have stated them explicitly. First and foremost, the TLM Millennials who believe the Ordinary Form is inferior to the Latin Mass, are not on the side of Church teaching. There is nothing in Canon Law or in the Catechism that backs up the statement that the Latin Mass is a superior way to celebrate Christ’s Sacrifice. Additionally, I believe TLM Millennials (and anyone else) are in the wrong when they use the phrase “the Mass of all time” to describe the Latin Mass. This phrase is popular within the circles associated with the SSPX and the SSPV, which is an obvious red flag for me. The phrase falsely implies that the Latin Mass has been in use during the Church’s entire history until Vatican II, and that the Ordinary Form is more revolutionary than it really is. This special “Mass of all time” classification is problematic, and my hope is it falls away. Per Pope Benedict’s letter, which accompanied Sommorum Pontificum, the Latin Mass is “an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite” and that’s how it should be classified. The use and validity of the Ordinary Form should not be questioned.

Of course it is not against Church teaching to receive communion on the tongue, or to prefer boy altar servers, or to prefer Latin in the liturgy. There are many cultural things TLM Millennials and I can agree on. I really do appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass, and I am happy it is available where I live, even if I don’t attend regularly. Sometimes I prefer to receive communion on the tongue. I have a preference that boys become altar servers first, and girls fill in when necessary. I appreciate the use of Latin in any form of the Roman Rite. I appreciate the beauty of the Baroque style in Mass. But I’m thankful for liturgical reform, which freed the Mass from its culturally European origins, especially as the majority of Catholics today live outside the West. My question for you and other traditionalists; should the growing body of Catholics outside of Europe be required to celebrate Mass as if they were Europeans?



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

William Bornhoft is a freelance Catholic writer based in St. Paul, Minnesota. You may contact him wmbornhoft@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @WilliamStPaul