Dear Catholics who support the suppression of the Traditional Latin Mass,
Following the publication of Traditiones Custodes and the subsequent Responsa ad dubia of said apostolic letter, many of you have inquired as to the reasons for our clinging to the Old Mass, which is the liturgy of the saints and of our ancestors. Many of the questions asked of the traditional Catholic community over the past six months have revealed a lack of understanding about the issues on the part of those who would suppress or even support the scaling back of old rite sacraments.
Please read and consider these questions and responses before you engage in public conversations about the liturgy. We ask this in the name of unity.
To the proposed question:
It would seem that those who regularly attend the Old Mass want to see elements of reverence, antiquity, and piety that, admittedly, are often not part and parcel of the Novus Ordo Missae. Wouldn’t a Novus Ordo Mass that is celebrated Ad Orientem or in Latin be the perfect compromise or “middle way”?
The answer is:
The question displays a lack of understanding of the liturgy, Church history, and the present situation.
Even if the Novus Ordo is entirely in Latin, it is vastly different than the traditional rite. The entire structure of the Mass is different and over 87% of the prayers from the TLM were heavily changed or entirely removed.
A New Mass said in Latin would not remedy the entire architecture of churches being changed, the introduction of Eucharistic ministers, the removal of the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Last Gospel, the removal of the minor orders of the priesthood, and the wholesale changing of every single sacramental rite. Though Latin is important, changing the language of the Novus Ordo is the smallest move in the right direction you could possibly make, the smallest “concession” as it were, not the entirety of what we are asking.
There is a lack of understanding of Church history because you do not realize that when the Tridentine Mass of Pope St. Pius V was replaced by the New Mass 400 years later, the Church turned Her back on our 1500+ year inheritance as Roman Catholics. The changes made in the 1960s and 70s in the Catholic Church were the exact changes that Protestant leaders like Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer made to their liturgies in the 16th century in order to erode the Catholic Faith. Using tables instead of altars, placing the emphasis on meal instead of sacrifice, and removing sacred language and music that has a history too deep to fully trace were all first done by Protestant “Reformers.” Why would we want those same changes in our own Church?
Finally, there’s a lack of understanding of the present situation because traditional Catholics are not just fighting a battle over the use of a dead language or directional prayer. We are fighting to have our children baptized in the same rite in which their patron saints were baptized. We are fighting to combat the massive loss of faith that has occurred in those who have left the Church in droves the last 60 years and, perhaps more alarmingly, of those who remain in the pews but do not believe. We are fighting against irreverent and abhorrent offenses against our Eucharistic Lord, whose Body and Blood is regularly spilled, trampled upon, and received scandalously in the modern church. We are fighting to spiritually nourish our family after the model of the greatest saints in the Church.
Latin is a sacred language and its use should be retained, as the document on the sacred liturgy from Vatican II stated, but this is a secondary issue to the actual prayers, the text of the Mass itself. (See a side by side comparison of the new and old here.)
To the proposed question:
Many who attend the TLM, and certainly some of its loudest, most famous proponents, are too counter-cultural in the way they live their lives and their faith. Should we not suppress a Mass that attracts strange, judgmental, conspiracy theorist Catholics?
The answer is:
First, you would have to prove that there is something truly wrong and non-Catholic with the general attitudes, dress, cultural tendencies, and other personality traits of “weird” TLM attendees that are so often pointed out.
Second, you would have to prove that the majority of TLM attendees possess the aforementioned traits and adhere to the lifestyles that you have deemed wrong.
Third, you would have to say that punishing these people is a bigger priority than addressing any of the other scandals that the Holy Father will “not say one word” about such as the German bishops being in open defiance of the Pope’s orders or Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and non-Catholic and openly lesbian Lori Lightfoot receiving Holy Communion, to the scandal of all and the destruction of their own souls barring repentance.
Fourth, even if you can prove all of the above, you would have to show that taking away the old rite sacraments will be effective in changing what it is that you dislike about this group of people.
“The people who attend the Latin Mass are weird” is both a hasty generalization and a weak argument against the Traditional Liturgy, even if it were proven true en masse. To use a couple clichés about TLM attendees, I would rather attend a Mass where the women are dressed like it is the 1940s than one where mini-skirts and low cut dresses are perfectly acceptable. I would rather chat after Mass with a man in an old-timey hat who is obsessed with Lord of the Rings than with one who works in my field and takes his kids to church but thinks that abortion is “up to each mother” and is not sure what transubstantiation is.
And before you accuse me of a false dichotomy there, remember that you are the one accusing TLM goers of being weird, an opinion that has no basis in fact. Why am I not allowed to point out that the majority of Sunday Novus Ordo Mass-going Catholics do not believe in the Eucharist, an opinion based entirely in fact?
I attend the Novus Ordo Mass at my local parish with great frequency and know many holy, devout, saintly Catholics who attend. I am not saying all people who attend the Novus Ordo are bad Catholics. What I am saying is that if we are making generalizations, “Novus Ordo-going Catholics do not believe the Faith” is far more realistic and based in fact than “TLM goers are weird.” And even if they were equally true, the former problem is of far greater magnitude than the latter, so let us devote our time to that.
To the proposed question:
Those who attend the TLM seem to practice a different form of Catholicism entirely. In the name of unity, shouldn’t there only be one expression of the Roman Rite?
The answer is:
Pope Francis and the entire curia seem very focused on unity. This is a good thing! We are, after all, one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. But the idea that the Novus Ordo is the one of the two Roman Rite liturgies that will cause more unity in the Church is patently false, and laughably so.
After the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae, the Catholic Church was absolutely devastated. Mass attendance, baptisms, ordinations, religious life, and every other measurable statistic used to gauge the health of the Church absolutely plummeted. No, you cannot draw direct correlation between the promulgation of the New Mass and this catastrophic decline in the Church; there are other factors like the cultural/sexual revolution and the advent of new technologies. But Protestants dealt with these outside factors as well and did not face such a monumental loss in membership and belief as the Catholic Church did.
If you are worried about virtually different forms of Catholicism, then place yourself in the shoes of a Catholic who had every single sacramental rite completely changed to the point of being unrecognizable. Wasn’t it those who promulgated all of the new in the Church who created the virtually different form of Catholicism?
If changing from the TLM to the Novus Ordo was to provide some great unity in the Church, why have we not seen any evidence of this happening at all in the last 60 years? The liturgical experiment has shown us that the two forms of the rite cannot co-exist, and therefore one must go. Why would you choose to retain the novelty that is rife with abuse and has failed egregiously to catechize and inspire the faithful?
You also have to ask yourself, what is more unifying? A Mass said in dozens of different languages with many options on how to be celebrated such that it can look entirely different from parish to parish, or a Mass that is the exact same whether you are in Brazil, or Russia, or Thailand? One of the great benefits of the TLM is its universality and unifying nature. It is the Mass that was used to evangelize the world; the Mass that spiritually nourished our great saints. Doing away with that for a modern creation that is shot-through with abuse will cause unity in the Church?
Think of this: my parish has many Masses said in English every Sunday, and then one said in Spanish at an odd time in the evening. I have attended my parish for 14 years and do not know hardly anyone from the Spanish community. Why is that? Because my lived experience of my parish happens largely at Sunday Mass, and the Spanish community is, by design, never at any of the morning Masses or English-speaking events. We are effectively two parishes. Not exactly the picture of unity, diversity, and inclusion. What if all of our Masses were in Latin? Would that not serve to unite communities who speak different languages by at least putting them in the same room?
Finally, who do you think is more equipped to work out which rite is more unifying? Those who have attended both Masses extensively or those who have only attended one of them? The data, as well as common sense, show us that the majority of TLM attendees have also attended many Novus Ordo Masses, often being raised in them. Whereas the majority of Novus Ordo Attendees have never been to, and often have never heard of the Latin Mass. In short, Novus Ordo devotees criticize what they do not know, while TLM goers criticize what they do know and what they grew up with, and are therefore far more qualified to engage in this discussion.
To the proposed question:
There have been changes to the liturgy dozens of times in Church history; shouldn’t we just accept the changes made in the 20th century as binding, orthodox, and traditional because they come from the Church?
The answer is:
The liturgy has grown like a tree since the time of the apostles, producing great fruit in the Church and in society along the way (thousands of saints, the evangelization of the world, universities and hospitals, sacred art and music, vast scientific discoveries, etc.). The trunk of the tree, the Roman Canon, dates back to at least the 5th century. This is remarkable because the canon of Scripture was not compiled and approved until the end of the 4th century, so the Roman Canon is nearly as ancient in its official formulation as Sacred Scripture.
The next great branch that grew on the tree was Gregorian chant. The Jewish people had chanted the Psalms in the temple since before the time of Christ, and Pope St. Gregory the Great organized a formal structure for chant in the Catholic Church in the late 6th century.
As the Church continued to grow and great saints were canonized, the calendar was updated as well. The formalizing of the use of sacred vessels and vestments, the compilation and organization of the propers and the ordinary of the Mass, and other aspects that we are all familiar with in today’s liturgy were added over time.
Using this analogy of a tree, you can see that some growth and addition is always necessary, but it is manifestly obvious that the majority of this takes place early in the life of the tree. As it matures into a sturdy, tall, beautiful tree, it will only grow little branches here and there or need some minor pruning (e.g. when Pope Leo XIII added the prayers after low Mass).
As Cameron O’Hearn, director of the Mass of the Ages films said, “the liturgy cannot be everything; once the tree is mature it still needs the bright sun of orthodox teaching, and the frequent watering of devotion.”
The liturgical tree in the Catholic Church reached this maturity after 1500 years, when Pope St. Pius V promulgated the Roman Missal in 1570. From then on it did not need much other than this devout watering and orthodox sunlight. If you study this time period after the great Council of Trent, it contrasts quite sharply with the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council.
Pope St. Pius V was largely codifying and formalizing liturgical practices that were already part of liturgical tradition and ensuring that this was the norm all over the world. He did not compose new Eucharistic prayers, throw out intercessory prayers to saints, cut out entire parts of the liturgy, or re-write the propers from scratch; he was creating unity. In our analogy, the codification of Tridentine Mass was a pruning, shaping, and beautifying of the tree, whereas the liturgical changes in the 1960s and 70s were like cutting the tree down to its stump with a chainsaw.
When we speak of justifiable, organic growth of the liturgy, the word “organic” calls to mind something living, something that develops and matures over time. A removal of the limbs of a tree is not consistent with organic growth, but rather with destruction.
To the proposed question:
Aren’t adherents to the Traditional Latin Mass largely quasi-schismatics who deny the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass, the validity of the Second Vatican Council, and the validity of Pope Francis’ pontificate?
The answer is:
I am well positioned to speak from experience on this topic, because I have spent the last 2 years traveling with the Mass of the Ages film crew and meeting famous traditional Catholic authors, podcasters, and social media influencers from around the world (including some of the most criticized), as well as moms and dads in the pews of TLM parishes. I have personally met or spoken directly with over a thousand people who attend the TLM on a regular basis. I have received Holy Communion from and had my confession heard by the priests that you may hear are “divisive” or “against Pope Francis.”
I have not met one who denies that the Novus Ordo is a valid Mass. In fact, here I would direct you to Phil Lawler’s recent article in Catholic Culture explaining why the lack of faith amongst most Catholics means that TLM goers are actually more likely to think the Novus Ordo is valid than other Catholics.
Additionally, validity is a pretty low bar. Protestant baptisms are valid, but does that mean you should have your next baby baptized at the local Methodist church instead of your Catholic parish? Validity is the bare minimum we need from a Mass, not the entire goal. As many before me have pointed out, it would not inspire confidence if someone asked you “how is your marriage?” and you responded “well, it’s valid!”
I have met plenty of people who criticize aspects of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, their implementation, and the reforms enacted thereafter, but I have not met a single one who thinks it was not a true council of the Church. And if you think Catholics are not allowed to question any statement from any council without being dissenters or schismatics, you probably do not want to read the canons of the Fourth Lateran Council, as it might put you in a tricky situation (especially canons 68 and 69).
I have also not met one who does not acknowledge Francis as our Pope or pray for him. In fact, the majority of traditional Catholics I have met see it as an imperative to pray for the pope, and they do so with great frequency. For example, even lay members and supporters of the FSSP, a traditional order of priests, are asked to pray for Pope Francis every day. I do not get letters from my diocesan bishop asking for prayers for the pope, but I get one from the FSSP every month.
Again, you need to substantiate this claim and then if it is found to be true, you have to explain how suppressing the Mass fixes the supposed problem. Show me all these terrible people in the Church who deny the validity of the New Mass or the Second Vatican Council. I will wait.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about those who would suppress the TLM is that none of them ever have anything to say about the Mass itself. “They are weird!” “They do not follow Vatican II!” “They just love Latin!” “They are mean and judgmental!” None of these claims have anything to do with the liturgy, they are all about the people. Furthermore, they are falsehoods, hasty generalizations, and irrelevant and over-blown claims about the people. Can you articulate what it is about the Traditional Mass itself that is so poisonous, so divisive that you need to restrict it? If not, why are you so entrenched in the discussion about it?
Critics of the Novus Ordo are quick to point out the differences in the liturgy, the removal of incredible and ancient prayers, and the rampant abuses that the New Mass allows. But critics of the TLM criticize the way the people dress. This disparity in quality of argument is astonishing, and this debate cannot be fruitful when the reasoning on one side is so far beneath the other in terms of honesty, intellectual rigor, and knowledge of the topic at hand.
Please, brothers and sisters who would suppress the TLM, stop acting like long skirts and veils, fedoras and 3-piece suits, and an affinity for Tolkein are causing such great harm to the Church. Do you want to talk about why you think Eucharistic prayer IV is better than the Roman Canon? Or why you think the Last Gospel or prayers at the foot of the altar should be removed? Or why you think the centuries-old lectionary and liturgical calendar should be thrown out? Or why you think exorcisms in a baptism are not important? Call me anytime.
Rather than being unfoundedly offended that the Mass you currently attend on Sundays is being questioned, educate yourself on why that’s the case. If you are a faithful, church-going Catholic who was raised in the Novus Ordo and are just discovering the TLM or this part of Church history for the first time, it doesn’t invalidate your life’s spiritual journey, put into question your personal faithfulness, or mean you don’t love God. We are Catholics dedicated to celebrating the Mass with all the due reverence and respect owed to the fact that it is a re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. If you are a Catholic who shares this dedication, we look forward to discussing this more.
I would like to close with St. Edmund Campion’s final words right before his gruesome martyrdom, and to ask for the intercession of him and all of the great Counter-Reformation saints, that their witness and prayers for unity in the Church, which many of them died for, will bring about a spiritual revival and a renewal of faith amongst all Catholics.
All for Christ, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph!
In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors–all the ancient priests, bishops and kings–all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.
For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach? To be condemned with these lights–not of England only, but of the world–by their degenerate descendants, is both gladness and glory to us.
Editor’s note: for more resources on these issues, see this essay by our contributing editor, Peter A. Kwasniewski.