The Traditionalism I Know

I remember sunny late mornings after church. The adults would stand around drinking coffee while discussing things that would forever remain beyond my child’s understanding, even after I’d reached adulthood and earned a bachelor’s degree.

In their opinion, my generation could never fully understand the ins and outs of why a Traditional Catholic Church was necessary, especially someone like me who made honor roll in high school and Dean’s list at university. Despite dogmatically clinging to the teachings that formed my childhood throughout my educational years, I’d been tainted by modernism just because I’d set foot in a non-Catholic educational institution..

According to these folks, it was impossible for anyone not educated in a Traditional Catholic School to escape corruption by modernism. The result was anyone whose family could not afford the tuition or lifestyle necessary to send them to the church school was ostracized, including mine.

The result was a split. Those who went to the church school stayed into adulthood. Those they cut off left. This stands as a testament to the fact that herd instinct is stronger than any religious standard of truth.

Throughout my childhood, teens and early 20s, I was caught in a state of perpetual dismissal.

By my senior year of high school, I started asking questions about why we were separate from what everyone called the Novus Ordo*. We considered ourselves the true Church and whoever still followed Rome were heretics. 

No matter how I asked the questions or who I asked them of, I got the same responses: “Read this book,” “Listen to this tape,” and, my personal favorite, “How do you not know this by now?”

One priest, on the eve of being consecrated bishop, offered to send me a pamphlet on the subject, but never did. Granted, he may have forgotten about the promise, but why couldn’t he have taken the fifteen minutes he spent talking about his trip to France to instead help me understand the necessity of following a church HE was about to become a BISHOP of!

Every response sent me down another rabbit hole with no bottom and no answers. Rather than answer a direct question, my own father threatened to disown me if I did not stop asking such questions. Sounds rather similar to a cult, doesn’t it?

So, who had the answers I sought? The priests of these churches and a handful of men (yes, men, as women are only suited to caretaking) were mystically endowed with the knowledge of the intricacies of Church doctrine. 

I remember two in particular, Mister Mag and Mister Sanderson. 

Mister Mag believed the best way to adapt to heat was to dehydrate oneself and that staying in the cold was the best way to avoid getting sick in winter. I never got the chance to ask him, but he possibly thought that rain turned into frogs as well.

Mister Sanderson ran his home like a silent cloister, strictly regimented and even the infants among his 10 children weren’t allowed to disrupt the quiet at any time.

Whatever these guys pontificated about on those Sundays after Mass became standard practice by the following week. I don’t know for sure, but they may well have been the origin of the belief that fasting and abstinence (not eating meat) applied to children under 18 throughout Lent. I just know this didn’t get straightened out until the mid-2000s. 

At that point, a group of nuns took over the school. They straightened out this point, but then instituted the standard that anyone who failed to attend Easter services incurred a mortal sin, regardless of the reason.

Declarations like this started me really wondering how “Traditional” this Catholic movement was. The more I dug, the more I found out that the hard lines these priests laid were cherry picked across. They’d say that Pope Paul VI was an antipope, that everything the man touched was contaminated with Modernism, but that the use of missles re-translated in 1962 was perfectly acceptable. 

They also hybridized their teachings with those of the John Birch Society.* Regardless of your opinion on that group, they are not a Catholic society and have never been sanctioned by the Church.

Then, I started learning that much of what I’d been told about the Novus Ordo was either slanted or patently untrue right down to my being told that no part of the Mass was recognizable when compared to the Latin. Perhaps it was an exaggeration by some people prone to the dramatic, but is there such a thing as organizational hysteria? 

Because of my education, when I ask why this is, members of the Traditional movement gaslight me by saying that I’m a modernist and am only seeing what Satan wants me to see. 

The fact that I attended the Traditional church for a decade after my liberal education before I allowed myself to admit I was seeing these contradictions had nothing to do with it. In essence, they were discrediting my observations because they had no explanation. It was easier to browbeat me into silence than to find justification for the beliefs they bet their salvation on.

The message they conveyed was: One must remain utterly free from all stains of the modern world to see the logic in unquestioned Traditionalism much the same way as someone who has never tasted chili can fully appreciate unseasoned roast beef and desire nothing else ever.

People like Mister Mags fill the internet with dialogue about the superiority of the Latin Mass, using the different terms of Traditional Latin Mass, Tridentine Mass and Latin Mass interchangeably without realizing they are referring to different things. What they really mean is the Tridentine Rite, believing that it is the only form of the Mass ever practiced prior to the Second Vatican Council and that it was what the Mass was always meant to be. It was not the only previous form of the Mass, and as far as it being destined to be the only form of the Mass, that was said within the context of the Reformation.

So, why is it that so many of the younger generation are flocking  to the Latin Mass? I have a few guesses, and this is compensating for those who might interchange burgeoning families with attracting new members to mean their population is “growing.”

First, there is a mystical charm in the Tridentine form which would naturally appeal to a generation that grew up with “Lord of the Rings”. There is a formality in this rite that the Ordinary Rite lacks. 

To this day, I struggle with this difference and wish that parishes would cultivate a little formality. Not the rigid formality of 16th Century royal court, but at least something on par with a graduation ceremony.

Second, the Traditionalist movement offers a firm black and white picture of the world. To the vast majority of people, this is an oasis in a time when there is no firm meaning for anything. When all you find is invalidation, it is refreshing to have the terms of acceptance laid out plainly. Even if a person doesn’t agree with all of it, they will eventually be convinced of it, a phenomenon of sociology.

When boiled down, this divide in Catholicism is not over which Mass to attend, it really is over a shift in focus from fighting over who is “right” to teaching and facilitating individuals in becoming good Catholics. It’s no longer about keeping up appearances. It’s about developing substance in ourselves as Catholics.

Hopefully we can unify over that point, that being right or wrong in the eyes of man is not nearly as important as living the faith we profess.

(*Novus Ordo: Term applied to the Catholic Churches which followed the changes promulgated by Vatican II in the 1960s. The phrase comes from the Latin meaning “New Order” and is adopted from the belief that Vatican II was part of the New World Order established by Satan for the purpose of destroying the Catholic Church.)

(*John Birch Society was started in the United States in the 1950s with the purpose of defending the US from Communism. They were very active in the 1960s and 1970s and still exist today throughout the US.)


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