Happy, Not Brain Dead: Even Joyful Trads Have Limits



There’s an old article of mine making the rounds. The title sort of gives it away: They Will Know We Are Traddies By Our Love. Someone resurrected it from the archives in a coy attempt to paint me as a hypocrite, the same day I published this. I had intended to just let it pass, since this, like most of my work, speaks for itself. But like a bad penny, it keeps turning up. Having had it brought to my attention a number of times in the last four days, I decided to revisit the thing, to see if it holds true.

After all, inquiring minds want to know: are the old Steve and the new Steve are truly at war with one another?!?

I wrote the original article in 2010, when I was a columnist at Crisis Magazine. I had been attending the Traditional Latin Mass for six years, and had already concluded that my preference for it was far more than a matter of taste. We were in the heady days following the release of Summorum Pontificum, and it seemed as though a great revival of Catholic orthodoxy could be just around the corner. Pope Benedict was slowly but surely instituting liturgical and theological safeguards that put many of us more at ease, and the bombshell of his abdication was still more than two years away.

It was a time for building bridges, not burning them, and I had grown frustrated that some of the traditionalist polemics that were prevalent (particularly online) were hampering attempts to get Catholics to look seriously at what the Old Mass (and its entire sacramental and devotional paradigm) had to offer. People were only just beginning to open up to the idea that just because you liked the vetus ordo, it didn’t mean you were automatically a schismatic. We had a long way to go before we could disabuse them of the idea that even the trads with pristine bona fides weren’t all triumphalistic jerks.

In this particular essay, I made several appeals to try to get Catholics across the spectrum of theological orthodoxy to come to the table and work together. In the particular article in question, I tried to explain how coming to appreciate the old Mass was like acquiring a taste for the finer things in life, which at first can be off-putting. I tried to get people to understand that the grumpy trads they encountered were dealing with some serious trauma, and they should try to be compassionate. I took a couple of shots at online outlets like Angelqueen (where my writing had been bashed more than once because I wasn’t traditional enough for them) and The Remnant, which I thought had a tone problem. (I’ve since gotten to know some of The Remnant writers, and if I don’t always agree with their approach, we get along fine.) I talked about how having something so precious as the TLM should make people happy, not angry, and that joy should shine through in how we deal with others, or explain to them why we do what we do.

None of this should come as any surprise to regular readers here. 1P5 exists as a direct result of the ideas that were beginning to solidify in that article. I’ve always wanted to reach mainstream Catholics who would never otherwise consider the merits and claims of Catholic tradition, and show them how beautiful it is. And in that regard, I stand by what I wrote.

But I’ve also come a long way since 2010.

I still think the treasure we’ve found should have an effect on us; it should be evident in the way we speak of it and the joy that we derive from it. If it isn’t transformative in our lives, we run the very real risk of turning people away before they even give it a chance.

But I’ve also realized that I can play the diplomacy game until I’m blue in the face, and people will simply say, “That’s nice for you. Not interested.” They’ll continue to make disparaging remarks about traditionalists at every opportunity. They’ll call us things like “the greatest Catholics of all-time” or say we think we’re “more Catholic than the pope.” Others will never say an unpleasant word, but they’ll also never give serious consideration to anything we’re saying. The Church is different now, you see? The Vatican said the new way is the better way, so they just nod and smile and hope we stop talking.

In 2016, things are a bit more bracing than they were in 2010. We’re coming up on the 9th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. Two years ago, we published an analysis of where that document has taken us, and it’s sobering. In his conclusion to that essay, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski said it plainly:

In the pre-Summorum world, St. John Paul II asked bishops to provide generously for the faithful attached to the Latin liturgical tradition. Nevertheless, such a provision was still understood as a kind of favor, an exception, a special case. This model was decisively put aside by Summorum Pontificum, which regularized the Extraordinary Form as a treasure for all Catholics, to be provided directly by priests. It still happens far too often, however, that provision of the Extraordinary Form is treated as a favor or privilege rather than a just response to a legitimate request, a duty that corresponds to a genuine right on the part of the faithful.

Is it any wonder that there is such a heightened sensitivity, even irritability, among more traditionally-minded Catholics? If you are not so minded, try placing yourself in their shoes and see how it would feel if the thing that most of all enkindled and illuminated your life of faith — the thing that enkindled and illuminated the Church for 1,500 years — was rarely or irregularly given to you, treated as harmful or dangerous, while you yourself were viewed as if you belonged to a fringe group or sect.

Pope Francis seems mostly ambivalent about liturgy, but the bishops who have grown in power and influence during his tenure are not all so disinterested. Debates are even now ongoing about whether or not traditional Catholicism is in dire straits, and whether traditionalists themselves are to blame for a perceived plateau — or even drop-off — in TLM attendence. These articles coincide with reports about priests living in fear of their bishops when it comes to simply doing what they know is right, and a general sense that authentic Catholicism is being targeted from within, and from the top down.

Things are not getting better. How much worse they will get is an open question.

So if you want to ask me: does all of this make me angry? Sure. Sometimes. Can you blame me?

I believe firmly that any restoration of Catholicism begins with what we do at Mass. A Catholic liturgy that embraces the ethos of Christ’s sacrifice as sin offering, returns our focus to God rather than man, and embodies an anthropology of worship over fellowship is absolutely essential to the future of the Church. The Novus Ordo was designed to move us in an ecumenical direction and away from an explicitly Catholic framework. It has thus unsurprisingly coincided with a massive decline in fundamental Catholic belief. If the Mass is the highest prayer we can offer, if it is the central act of Christian worship, if it brings us into the mystery of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life, and if it represents the only catechesis most Catholics ever receive, it should be plain that we’re doing something terribly wrong.

That’s not just an opinion. There are mountains of data showing the decline.

And we have to face facts: pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Catholicism are so radically different in almost every manifestation that there is a chasm, not a gap, between traditionalist and mainstream Catholics. As a cradle Catholic, I felt completely alienated when I began assisting at the so-called “Extraordinary Form.” It was unlike any liturgy I had ever experienced, despite being the one that my Catholic ancestors all knew by heart. After years of being immersed in this authentically Catholic paradigm, I now have the opposite problem. If I have to visit an average suburban Catholic parish, I feel as though I’m visiting the place of worship of another religion.

This disparity is clearly not just my perception. Try sending any Catholic who has never attended the other form of their Mass to one for the first time, then ask them for their impressions. I guarantee you won’t find a single person who didn’t feel like they had just experienced something totally foreign. This is why even though Pope Benedict described the two liturgies as “two forms of a single Roman rite,” the experience of the faithful is that they are entirely disparateWith rare exceptions, there is no cross-pollination; whichever Mass people are used to almost guarantees their complete disinterest in the other.

And we’re all Catholic? How does that work?

What about the sacraments? These, too, have been changed. What about devotions? Many have been lost, others have been supplanted. How about our sense of propriety and dress when entering a sacred place? What about theology, on topics as wide-ranging as capital punishment, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, religious liberty, whether or not members of non-Christian faiths (like Islam) worship the same God, etc.?

Catholics now argue all the time because we can’t even agree on what we believe.

Isn’t it imperative that we sort this out? Wouldn’t you be a bit frustrated if you took the red pill and woke up, so to speak, in the Catholic Matrix, and realized that you and everyone you know had been tricked into thinking that the Catholicism they experience is the real thing? What if you had proof that it wasn’t? I mean, documents and history books and theological manuals and encyclicals and devotional handbooks and photographs and even videos…all of it. But what if, even then, your every effort to get them to see it was met with at best indifference, and at worst, contempt?

This is not healthy, ladies and gentlemen. The Mystical Bride of Christ has a split personality, and she is at war with herself. And it’s hurting us. All of us. And the whole world besides.

When I go to a beautiful, reverent Mass, yes, it absolutely fills me with delight and a desire to share it with others. When I have a child baptized in the old rite, and the priest pronounces the words of exorcism over him, delivering him from Satan’s power — the power under which he was born into this world by original sin — I am overjoyed to have been given such weapons against evil, and such a grace-filled start to my children’s lives. When I read what the saints or the doctors of the Church or the popes of old have written about the same issues that face us today, and they cut through all the relativistic nonsense and resonate with the truth, I am thrilled to be part of a Church that has such a deep intellectual tradition and which always spoke up, unafraid of what would come, even if that were martyrdom.

Am I a happy trad? You bet I am. I am happy because I have found that pearl of great price, and I want to share it with the world.

But if you expect me to smile pacifically when you mock and deride what I hold dear and insult me for believing it, you’re dumber than you look.

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