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Losing the Labels: Let’s Be Catholic Again.

In a recent online exchange, someone accused me of not being a “real traditionalist.” I suppose that the jibe was supposed to chafe, but it landed pretty far afield. Not only is this not the first time such an accusation (if one could even call it that) has been leveled against me, but it’s an appropriate enough assessment. In point of fact, I’m not a traditionalist.

I am a Catholic

I can’t tell you how often I have lamented with friends the way this phrase has been denuded of any real meaning. I’m not old enough to know what Catholic life was like before the Second Vatican Council, but from what I understand, there are people still alive today who can remember a time when saying, “I’m Catholic” conveyed a great deal about one’s life. It meant, at the very least, that a person attended the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and called it that!) on Sundays and holy days of obligation. It meant that he observed the Church’s fasts and feasts and did penance throughout the season of Lent (and Advent, too, if you can believe it). It meant that he prayed for the pope, the conversion of Russia, the liberation of the Church, and the protection of St. Michael. It meant that he knew what he was made for, when he should and shouldn’t receive communion, who belonged in the sanctuary, and how to pray the rosary. Even those who had never darkened the doorstep of a church knew better than to offer a steak to a Catholic on Friday – not just during Lent, but year-round.

The Masses that Catholics attended espoused the universal character of the Church, in that they were all essentially the same. Picking a parish at random in a city far from home wasn’t a game of liturgical roulette, where one might get something reverent or something sacrilegious, depending on the luck of the draw. A priest in those days might have been more or less reverent; he might have been better or worse with the Latin; his homilies might have been inspiring or dull; the music might have been heavenly or hellish; but whether a man heard Mass in Atlanta or Antwerp, he knew, within reasonable boundaries, what he was going to get – and he could follow along.

It was a time when Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living could be one of the top-rated prime-time television shows on ABC; when biblical epics like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur were blockbuster films; when The Bells of St. Mary’s and Come to the Stable and The Quiet Man all depicted Catholicism as something real, noble, and worthy of respect.

Vocations were on the rise, Mass attendance was high, and decorum was still a notable aspect of Catholic life and thought. But even in the years leading up to the council, the apparent golden age of the Church was anything but. Science tells us that a star shines brightest right before it burns out. The collapse of faith that happened beginning in the late 1960s certainly had architects who helped it along. But only a structure already compromised could fall so far so fast.

So what happened?

If Catholicism infused the culture of the early 20th century, it was an inheritance from an investment many centuries in the past. It was the default position in Catholic Europe. It was a force to be contended with in Protestant America. The fact was, if you lived in the Western world, Catholicism had built the culture and had shaped its path. From the preservation of knowledge and the written word during the so-called “Dark Ages” to the many technological and scientific contributions of the Church over the centuries to the astonishing works of art, music, architecture, and literature that were inspired by – or at least indebted to – the Catholic ethos, even many of the people who saw the Church as an enemy didn’t bother trying to diminish her role or steal the credit for what she had done. They knew that the Faith was a force of nature (even if they didn’t recognize that it was also a force of supernature) and couldn’t simply be ignored. It had to be contended with.

As the Late Middle Ages ended, the world began a spiral into chaos. Everyone wanted to take a swing at Catholicism. From the Protestant revolt to the Enlightenment’s subversion to the outright attack on Catholic monarchy in the French Revolution, the Church suffered blow after blow. King Henry VIII divided European Christianity and furthered the cause of Luther’s Reformation when the Church wouldn’t break the rules on marriage for him – though he still tried to keep England Catholic without the pope. Voltaire saw the Church’s influence as such an impediment to his ideas concerning natural religion and the supposedly false dichotomy of good and evil that he wanted to “crush the infamous thing.” Italian communist Antonio Gramsci knew that his fellow Marxists would never have success in a world “thoroughly saturated with Christianity for 2,000 years,” and so he set about a program of uprooting the faith so that the errors Russia had to force on its unwilling populace could flourish and grow naturally amid the ruins of Christendom.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Pope St. Pius X warned Catholics that a dangerous change was coming. A change from within. A change that would come at the hands of “Modernists” with their toxic cocktail of all the most devastating heresies combined. These Modernists, the sainted pope foretold, would “lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers. And once having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to diffuse poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth which they leave untouched, none that they do not strive to corrupt.”

The advent of communism in early 1917 gave rise to warnings about the dangers it presented to the Church and the world by Our Lady of Fatima in July of the same year:

I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If My requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions against the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.

In 1929, Hilaire Belloc wrote that we couldn’t make sense of the decline of European civilization (and I would argue, by extension, that of the Americas) without looking through the Catholic lens:

We have reached at last, as the final result of that catastrophe three hundred years ago, a state of society which cannot endure, and a dissolution of standards, a melting of the spiritual framework such that the body politic fails. Men everywhere feel that an attempt to continue down this endless and ever-darkening road is like the piling up of debt. We go further and further from a settlement. Our various forms of knowledge diverge more and more. Authority, the very principle of life, loses its meaning, and this awful edifice of civilization which we have inherited, and which is still our trust, trembles and threatens to crash down. It is clearly insecure. It may fall in any moment. We who still live may see the ruin. But ruin when it comes is not only a sudden, it is also a final, thing.

In such a crux there remains the historical truth: that this our European structure, built upon the noble foundations of classical antiquity, was formed through, exists by, is consonant to, and will stand only in the mold of, the Catholic Church.

Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish.

The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith.

Within fifty years, the world had weathered its second Great War. Communism was contained, but as dangerous as a caged lion – with a nuclear arsenal. The Russian campaign of persecution of Christians was well underway, and communists began infiltrating Catholic seminaries in the hopes of bringing down the Church – its greatest single obstacle – from within. The dangerous theology Pope Pius warned about was becoming increasingly popular, and designs were already being forged for a liturgical and ecumenical revolution that would fundamentally alter the anthropology of worship and the ecclesiology of the Catholic faith.

The gates of Hell were besieging – but not prevailing against – the Church. They had already nearly laid waste to Europe – the continent and cultures to which the Church had given birth.

Despite the foul winds blowing outside, Pope John XXIII famously said, in answer to why he wanted an ecumenical council, “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”

Interestingly, a number of non-Catholics grew nervous as the Church began its ill fated embrace of “aggiornamento.” The late American radio commentator and lifelong Protestant Paul Harvey wrote an essay at the close of Vatican II describing his unease at how the permanency and predictability of the Catholic Church appeared to be slipping away:

This is none of my business, yet I am unexplainably compelled to address myself to a most sensitive subject however many or few read it, heed it, or resent it.

The Roman Catholic Church, from the outside, has symbolized authority since my earliest recollections.

Great institutions might erode away, towering individuals reveal feet of clay, nations be reduced to ashes or decay – yet the steeple with the cross on top remained, timeless and unchanging.

Why I did not abandon the faith of my fathers and ask adoption into the Catholic family which I so much admired, I cannot explain. Momentum, perhaps. Most often we keep going in the direction we are pushed.

The strict discipline implied by Catholicism certainly was not a deterrent, for I had been much disturbed and distracted by the almost constant intramural harangue among undisciplined Christians. Indeed, the rigidity of Catholic doctrine and tradition were comforting, reassuring evidences of a hierarchy which affirmed, ‘This is right…’ in an hour where so few seem to know what is.

Then came the recent sessions of the Ecumenical Council and the perhaps over-emphasized differences between ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives’ within the Church. And when these differences reached such a crescendo that the third session ended with His Holiness, Pope Paul, in tears, my unscholarly and largely emotional reliance on the invulnerability of the Church retreated.

True, there are sometimes shouted disagreements among the children of any family, but we don’t open the windows at such times.

And when long-standing texts of the Bible are called into open question and when the priesthood is expanded to include quasi-lay clergy and when sisters of some orders shorten their skirts up to their knees, the world appears to wobble on its axis.

In secular affairs we are being urged to tolerate, accommodate, and compromise. In personal relations, absolutes are passé, international relationships are governed by expediency.

In this climate of vacillation I shall pray in my protestant way that the Roman Catholic Church will emerge, when the smoke has cleared and the tears are dry, substantially unaltered.

In his address to a General Audience on November 26, 1969, Pope Paul VI set the expectations of the faithful on the new Mass and its many changes in peculiar terms:

We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed – perhaps so much accustomed that we no longer took any notice of them. This change also touches the faithful. It is intended to interest each one of those present, to draw them out of their customary personal devotions or their usual torpor.

We must prepare for this many-sided inconvenience. It is the kind of upset caused by every novelty that breaks in on our habits. We shall notice that pious persons are disturbed most, because they have their own respectable way of hearing Mass, and they will feel shaken out of their usual thoughts and obliged to follow those of others. Even priests may feel some annoyance in this respect.

So what is to be done on this special and historical occasion? First of all, we must prepare ourselves. This novelty is no small thing. We should not let ourselves be surprised by the nature, or even the nuisance, of its exterior forms.

This “feeling of annoyance” became somewhat more concrete, when, in 1971, a group of 57 artists, intellectuals, and culture-makers – many of whom had no love for the Catholic faith – pleaded urgently that Pope Paul VI not go through with the proposed changes to the liturgy. In their joint letter, they wrote:

If some senseless decree were to order the total or partial destruction of basilicas or cathedrals, then obviously it would be the educated – whatever their personal beliefs – who would rise up in horror to oppose such a possibility.

Now the fact is that basilicas and cathedrals were built so as to celebrate a rite which, until a few months ago, constituted a living tradition. We are referring to the Roman Catholic Mass. Yet, according to the latest information in Rome, there is a plan to obliterate that Mass by the end of the current year.

One of the axioms of contemporary publicity, religious as well as secular, is that modern man in general, and intellectuals in particular, have become intolerant of all forms of tradition and are anxious to suppress them and put something else in their place.

But, like many other affirmations of our publicity machines, this axiom is false. Today, as in times gone by, educated people are in the vanguard where recognition of the value of tradition is concerned, and are the first to raise the alarm when it is threatened.

We are not at this moment considering the religious or spiritual experience of millions of individuals. The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts – not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians.

The changes proceeded anyway. Within 25 years, the devastation in the Church was staggering. Debates continue about causality, but what is known are the numbers. A scanned page from the 1959 version of the Kenedy Directory gives a picture of the state of the Church in the years directly preceding the council:


The official statistics in 2014 paint a rather different picture for the United States:

  • Catholic population: 66.6 million (vs. 36 million in 1958)
  • Total parishes: 17,483 (vs. 16,552 in 1958)
  • Total Priests (Diocesan & Religious orders combined): 38,275 (vs. 50,813 in 1958)
  • Seminarians: 3,631 (vs. 36,980 in 1958)

The trend lines are obvious. Beginning in 1970, there is at first a gradual, then a significant decline in both priests and seminarians. Fewer than a thousand parishes were added to serve a Catholic population that had increased by 30 million people – nearly double the population in 1958.

Fewer priests. Fewer seminarians. Double the number of people in the parishes. How can anyone argue that this is not the picture of a Church in decline?

But there’s other troubling news. Take a look at U.S. Mass attendance in 2010:


The data continues to be parsed on how many Catholics believe in the Real Presence, but it appears that roughly 40% of Catholics do not believe. Polling done in 1994 showed that 70% of Catholics in the 18- to 44-year-old demographic believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol. Early results from the survey sent out in advance of the October 2014 Synod on Marriage and Family showed that only a small minority of Catholics follow Church teaching on matters of sexual morality. This data are deeply troubling. There is a passage in Scripture that immediately comes to mind:

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? – Lk. 18:8

With all of this in mind, I would like to submit to you a questionwhat does it mean to be Catholic?

This is the question for the Church in the 21st century. The far-reaching Catholic identity crisis facing us is devastating. Some have argued that catechesis has failed, and to an extent, they are correct. But any catechesis is only as good as the life of faith in the home and in the parish. It is only as strong as the message sent during Church “dialogue” with other religions about whether or not it is important to convert to the Catholic Faith to attain eternal salvation. It is efficacious only if it is reinforced by a liturgical life that is noble, worthy, and fitting, which treats the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a sacrifice. It makes an impression only if the Church, and those who claim her Faith, are willing to stand with courage and preach Christ crucified to a world that would rather oppress or even kill us than hear this Gospel message. Despite their opposition, it must be said: there is no Christianity without the Cross.

Being Catholic could mean something again. Not just that we were baptized or show up in a parish now and then on Christmas and Easter, or that we more or less go to Mass each Sunday but we’d prefer not to be bothered with these irritating teachings on contraception and the Eucharist – and please don’t mind if we show up in beach attire. After all, we have places to go afterward.

No, being Catholic could mean something real. Substantive. Specific. Something that shapes our identity. Pope Benedict XVI spoke often of the “hermeneutic of continuity,” which he set up in opposition to a “hermeneutic of rupture.” His idea was that the Church did not break with her past during the tumult of the 20th century, but maintained the connection between the present and what came before. It is true that this connection exists, but it is hardly robust. It is, if anything, a gossamer thread, a thin margin preventing collapse, drawing a line between what was and what is – and what could be again.

Catholics have fallen prey to the idea of labels, as if our faith were subject to the petty partisan politics of the secular realm. We speak of “conservative” Catholics and “traditional” Catholics; worse, we speak of Catholics on the “left” or on the “right.” But the perspective of our analysis is wrong. These labels move us from side to side, on a horizontal axis that is focused on the preferences of man, not the objective reality of God and His divinely protected Church.

There is no right or left in the Church. In a similar vein, there is no conservative, liberal, or traditional. There is simply orthodoxy, and there is everything else. There is fidelity, and there is laxity. We move on a constant approach as the practice of our faith waxes and wanes, coming either closer to God or farther from Him.

I am not defined by the characteristics of any sub-group or ideology. Though the shorthand is easy to fall into, I do not introduce myself to people by saying, “I’m a traditionalist.” I say I am a Catholic, and if the opportunity merits, I tell them that I love the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments, the old book of blessings, the exorcisms present in the venerable rite of baptism, and the devotions and practices that made Catholics strong in faith. I love them not because they are old, but because they are profound, and they bring me and those I love closer to God, and they more perfectly praise Him. I don’t care if some choose to measure my actions on an imagined scale of immersion in their ideal, on whether my family perfectly observes the extrinsic aspects deemed suitable for membership in the rarefied ranks of the self-professed. I am not a traditionalist – I am a seeker of truth, and I believe that the Church was more fully invested in understanding and spreading the truth in the past than she has been recently. I also believe that she will rediscover her zeal again in the future.

We don’t need labels, which serve only to justify and entrench our multiplying divisions. We need sanctity. We need to rediscover the things that made the Church strong and practice them again. We need to identify her perennial teachings and be faithful to them. We need to shrug off the impulse to innovate, and instead guard, contemplate, and – when necessary – develop organically and expound. We need to love Christ in the Eucharist, pray the rosary, wear our Sunday best to Mass, study our catechisms, obey the Church and evangelize those outside her embrace, carry our crosses and venerate His, and live the example of apostles. We need to teach our children the same. We need to love and support our priests, and pray that God will send us more of them.

We are Catholics. If we can rediscover how to act like it again, we might just change the world.

Editor’s note: This essay, originally published on September 10, 2014, has been reprinted to help inform our ongoing discussion of Catholic identity. This version has been revised.

65 thoughts on “Losing the Labels: Let’s Be Catholic Again.”

  1. I think you might want to review this sentence: “King Henry VIII divided European Christianity and laid the groundwork for Luther’s Reformation…”

    • Belloc argues that Luther’s reformation would have failed without Henry’s act of rebellion. Though Luther’s ideas influenced Henry, Henry’s actions paved the way for rebellion.

      Chicken and the egg?

      • The phrase “laid the groundwork for Luther’s Reformation” implies Henry acted prior to Luther. To lay the groundwork is to build the foundation. Whatever the result of Henry’s actions, Luther’s egg indisputably predated the king’s chicken. You can certainly say Henry built on Luther’s foundation of rebellion and brought the revolt to full flower. But no, you can’t say Henry laid the groundwork for Luther. It’s an anachronism.

  2. Also, it was Voltaire, not Rousseau, whose battle cry was, “Écrasez l’infâme.”

    Nitpicking aside, as much as we might wish that “I am a Catholic” was as self-explanatory a statement as it was in the past, the reality of the situation is that it is insufficient to convey one’s position accurately. Since both Nancy Pelosi and Fr. Anthony Cekada can self-identify as “Catholics,” the sad truth is that we require a more detailed taxonomy nowadays. Like it or not, as things stand, the closest equivalent of what was understood as “Catholic” in the past is “traditionalist.” (Then again, the “traditionalist” category itself has many flavors, from Fr. Cekada’s stance to that of, say, Fr. Z! Kyrie eleison…)

  3. Ad beatissimi apostolorum

    24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as “profane novelties of words,” out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

    As one who is the same age as Israel, I can testify that the Church I was born into survives but, outside of a few Caves of Covadonga (Traditional Orders in union with local Bishop and Pope), it is invisibilium and will remain so for as long as the eye can see.

    As the Church undergoes her passion (recapitulating the Passion of Christ) we Christian Catholics (those who follow Christ in the Church He established) have no other choice but to maintain the Bonds of Unity in Worship, Doctrine, and Authority for that is the sine qua non of what it means to be Catholic.

    This execrable ecclesiastical epoch can be seen as a test of our Faith and a, just, punishment for our sins but no matter how bad it gets – and it will get worse – one is constrained to maintain the Bonds of Unity for that is what qualifies one to be deserving of the name Catholic; and that can be shown to be a requirement from the get go.

    And that is an ineluctable necessity that must be adhered to no matter who the Pope is – even if he is a devil – for we have no control over who the Pope is or what the Bishop of Rome (Our Pope and Our Cross) does.

    I have no problem with using a modifying adjective for Catholic (Traditionalist) even though that particular one is a tautology, but one can not call his own self a Catholic if he severs even one Bond of Unity.

  4. I grew up in a parish that I always thought to be traditional and orthodox Roman Catholic. In a large gothic church built a hundred and fifty years or so ago. The altar servers would ring chapel bell, the priest was friendly and reverent and I still remember his favorite catch phrase in homilies “Vanity of Vanities”
    Then as I arrived in college and learned about traditionalists I discovered that my parish, having always done vernacular mass, with most people holding hands, and with music that ranged from organ and choir, to occasional piano and guitar, would be counted as liberal by some.
    I have been discerning priesthood and I love the Church, but one of the biggest struggles for me in the last year is the feeling that I am suddenly not “traditional” or “Catholic” enough. I recently attended a Latin mass and I thought it was alright, but not the be all, end all that so many seem to call it.
    I pray that the idea of whether someone is Catholic enough can be left behind with the Devil and his other distractions so that the Church can continue to do its good work for the building of the Kingdom.

    • Spencer, rather than waste time and energy worrying about whether you’re Catholic enough, consider that while conversion has a starting point, it has no end in this life. You are learning more about how the Catholic life is and has been lived, and thereby coming more closely in touch with the saints and martyrs who figure so importantly in the same mystical body to which you belong.

    • Spencer, attending one or two TLMs is usually not enough to enter into the deeper understanding of the differences between the New Order Mass and the TLM. There are profound differences, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because I would love nothing more than to feel comfortable once again in a NO Mass. The closest TLM to me is nearly two hours away. I have attended several area NO Masses and each one is different and reflects more on the personality of the priest and parish than on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The one closest to me resembles a Pentecostal service and I cannot receive there because I question the validity of the Mass. We have found a reverent NO Mass about an hour away. It is in Latin and the priest is extremely reverent. However, it is still not the TLM, in which the rubrics bring out a quality and depth of worship so different than the NO Mass. If I had to explain it in one sentence I would say: The TLM is/was centered on the worship of God, and the NO Mass is/was centered on man’s feelings about the worship of God. God bless you in your discernment, I will say an intention for you in my prayers today.

  5. First point–tremendous article. Second point–labels are here to stay because we live in heretical times. Heresy breeds division. Heresies were handled in ancient times by councils which clarified Church position, by men and women of great courage and insight, and by the biological solution. Third point–it is almost impossible to change the minds of lifetime catholics who claim to believe but do not. I came to church a half hour early for the Vigil Mass in order to pray the Rosary. I sat in front. In the back, a loud crew of middle-aged folks carried on. They could be heard all over the church. I got up, walked to the back, and gave them a royal tongue-lashing. They shut up. In fact, the whole church shut up. Since I am in my mid-sixties and have seen too many bad signs, I do not mind if I hurt the feelings of stupid, ignorant catholics. I’ve done the same thing to my parish priests in letters. They should know better. Blame it on my age!

    • Good for you. A priest I know was recently telling me a similar story. The deacon in his parish had opened the tabernacle to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament for sick calls. The priest, seeing the exposed sacrament, knelt right where he was in the parish, which happened to be half way up the aisle. The older folks who were talking loudly stopped briefly, looked at him, looked at what he was looking at, and went back to talking again.

      “They know.” He said. “But all their reverence has been rinsed away by years of exposure to the way things are.”

    • Good for you!!! There’s a RC church about 5 minutes from our house. I used to go to daily Mass at 6:30 am because I wanted to receive Our Lord and also for some peace and quiet.

      Well, after the 6:30 Mass one day, two older ladies were talking nine times to the dozen while I’m trying to make my thanksgiving after Holy Communion. I tried to ignore it, but at one point I got so mad that I went up to them and told them off. They finally stopped talking.

      I’m sorry for venting here. In the Our Father we say “… forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us…”. May the good Lord forgive us and them.

  6. Steve,

    I agree with you on principal. But I do often feel a need to clarify. It comes up frequently in my life. A fairly common exchange in a work environment for me:

    Co-worker: “where do you want to go for lunch?”
    Me: “somewhere that has a meatless option.”
    Co-worker: “Why is that? I’ve seen you eat meat. You’re not a vegetarian.”
    Me: “It’s Friday and I’m Catholic.”
    Co-worker: “But it’s not lent.”
    Me: “Catholics are to fast from meat every Friday.”
    Co-worker: “Well, I’m Catholic and I never heard that, and I went to Catholic school.”

    Most Catholics I encounter are either not Catholic at all, or are doctrinally somewhat orthodox (to the letter, but not the spirit, of the law) whilst thinking that everything that happened before 1970 is irrelevant and decidedly worse than what we have now. Without labels such as “traditionalist”, I often don’t know how to relate to other Catholics. It’s frankly a big challenge to think of Catholics who prefer the Novus Ordo as even being part of the same religion that I am. The banal music, the irreverence towards the Eucharist, and the borderline universalism make their very Christianity hard for me to accept. From all externally observable signs, they appear protestant at best.

    You say there is only orthodoxy and heterodoxy — where such Catholics lie here? Can you reject basically all Catholic culture and small-t tradition and still be orthodox? I’m talking about people that aren’t heretics, regularly go to mass and recieve the sacraments, and try to avoid sin, but hate everything that tastes, smells, or feels Catholic.

    • Aaron,

      I think what you’re talking about is exactly why this is important. The idea that you can say, “I do X because I’m Catholic” and another could respond, “Me too, but I’ve never heard that” is precisely why labels are dangerous. The minute that guy thinks that the only reason you’re doing X is because you’re Y type of Catholic, he thinks, “Well, cool for him, I guess, but it doesn’t apply to me.”

      One. Holy. Catholic. Apostolic.

      One means unity. Catholic means universality. And the “holy” and “apostolic” bits are for all of us.

      Saying to a guy, “I’m Catholic, and this is what we do” gives you the opportunity to answer his questions about his own faith. To compel him to look deeper. Sure, he might not, but that’s already the de facto situation. Why not look for the opportunity?

      As for the question of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, I’m not saying it’s binary. I’m saying it’s a scale, on a horizontal rather than vertical axis. On the one end is apostasy and eternal death. On the other is sanctity, union with the divine will, and eternal salvation through the Church. We all exist on that spectrum, either closer or further away. Those of us who draw closer to God are called to help the souls we can – what the Church used to refer to as, “souls entrusted to our care” – grow deeper in faith.

      Just because someone is lax doesn’t make them a complete heretic. But the two certainly go together. Laxity reduces orthodoxy and orthopraxy, makes us prone toward sins that obscure our intellect and will and apprehension of truth, and so on.

      • I agree with you, Steve, at least to a point. I think part of the problem is where I am. The NY metro area is full of faithless cultural Catholics, and when I do try and tactfully explain things like that to them, they just assume I’m being judgmental. I feel for them, I really do — the Church hierarchy has failed at catechesis so completely, and they have no reason to take me seriously when their Cardinal says and does what he does.

        I also do feel a deep divide with so-called “conservative” Catholics that prefer the Ordinary Form. I actually can better empathize with completely heterodox Catholics, because that at least makes sense. Preferring the Novus Ordo to me is conceptually like preferring burlap underwear, when both fine silk and going commando are options.

        • Ha. I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes it is easier for me to be with people who aren’t Catholic at all, than it is to be with those who are only practicing bits and pieces of the Faith and seem to view those who attend the TLM with suspicion. I guess I don’t get how you can have this Church that is so deep in history and tradition and beauty and only want to take this tiny nibble of it. I don’t mean to say that if you aren’t seeking a degree in theology or spending all your time in Adoration, you are somehow less Catholic. I have had Catholics in my life who weren’t particularly educated, but God and the Church were truly at the center of their lives. It is the Catholics who put the Church into this little time slot on Sunday (and maybe some feel-good activities) who have me stumped.
          I agree that the additional labels have really only been necessary for the last fifty years. I guess to get rid of them, we’d have to establish some kind of secret handshake.

          • I bet we all have stories similar. This is mine. I had made a slight sacrifice of some sort (can’t remember what it was) and my boyfriend asked why. I said I was offering it up for the Souls in Purgatory.

            Him: “Purgatory? I thought they got rid of that!”

            Me: “No. It’s still there”

            Him: “They got rid of it. I should know, I’ve been Catholic my whole life and you’re just a convert”

          • First of all, welcome home!

            Second, you are right and he was way off-base.

            Third, he was probably confusing Purgatory with Limbo. A commission under Pope Benedict XVI studied the question of Limbo. The *commission* denied the existence of Limbo . It was NOT approved by Cardinal Levada nor by Pope Benedict XVI. However, the press said that there was no more Limbo.

            The problem with that is fundamental: The grace of God (I.e. sanctifying grace) is absolutely necessary for salvation. An unbaptized baby needs the Sacrament of Baptism to wash away original sin. The baby has no actual sin, so it cannot go to Hell. It can’t go to Heaven because it has original sin (cf. Apocalypse 21: 27).

            So it can’t go to Heaven or Hell and Purgatory will end on Judgement Day. So there must be a Limbo.

            My aunt lost a baby in stillbirth. She was devestated and never got over it. This is why the Church has always taught that if a baby or other unbaptized person is in immediate danger of death, anyone – man, woman or child – can baptize the person *provided* that they use water and have the intention of doing what the Church does.

          • It is my understanding that Pope Benedict XVI, after reading the findings of the commission, refused to definitively rule one way or another on the existence of Limbus Infantum, and commented that we must hope and pray for God’s mercy in the case of deceased unbaptized babies. This took place in 2008, I believe. The secular media, as usual, put words in the Pope’s mouth.

          • “The secular media, as usual, put words in the Pope’s mouth.” Surprise me why don’t ya? Not! (sarcasm off)

  7. The comments here give me hope, and some sorrow. The hope is based in the expressions of faithfulness. The sorrow is from the implications–or downright accusations–that those who love the Novus Ordo are all gum-chewing, tee-shirted, pseudo-Catholics better suited to go to Protestant churches and leave ‘real Catholics’ to enjoy their lovely liturgies. Okay, I guess I AM feeling something more than just sorrow! Sorry.

    But please, just consider: We are all on the same side! We have the same old enemy! Don’t reject the beautiful expressions of faith in the vernacular, in the sign of peace, in frequent unified responses throughout the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist! Many of us are daily communicants! LOTS of us are aware that Friday abstinence is still in effect! We have read the Catechism–or are reading it! Eucharistic adoration and the rosary….what do ‘traditionalists’ have that they can boast? Are we not all saved by the One Lord through the One Baptism? One Faith, One Bread, One Body!

    Paul preached against factionalism in 1 Corinthians. We still need to listen to him!

  8. Louie V. at has been saying that “traditionalists” are just practicing Catholics for a while now. It is beyond human action to fix the situation presently, so expect the Warning to illuminate men’s consciences. Then you will be Catholic or not, with the corresponding consequences. In the mean time, some fire falling from the sky in the form of asteroids will help fill churches, as did major events like 9/11. Be prepared now.

    • Excellent post. If I may, I’d like to add this:. +Fr. Malachi Martin said that when the Third Secret of Fatima is revealed (I.e. the exact words of Our Lady which follow: “In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved…”), the churches will be full and there will be long lines for Confession.

      • Yes, definitely long confession lines after the Warning, and huge numbers of baptisms too. Know your Baltimore Catechism so as to be able to teach them the faith.

      • Hi Margaret – Father Malachi Martin, was right about many things, and those who listened to him 20 years ago are not surprised by the events and false teachings, he warned were to come and which he warned faithful Catholics would find intolerable.

  9. “This ‘feeling of annoyance’ became somewhat more concrete when, in 1971, a group of 57 artists, intellectuals, and culture-makers — many of whom had no love for the Catholic faith — pled urgently that Pope Paul VI not go through with the proposed changes to the liturgy.”

    The letter which formed the basis of what is known as “the Agatha Christie Indult” was not about “proposed changes to the liturgy.”

    By 1971, the changes were already in place, and had been in place in some venues for years.

    What that letter was seeking was the continued use of the former missal in places where that missal was still being used, which were few and far between.

    For many Catholics, the Mass had been altered so much prior to the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae that, by the time the New Mass was officially promulgated, no one really noticed much of a change, at least aesthetically speaking.

    Where I’m originally from (suburb of a major midwest city in the U.S.), the local parish stopped using the Communion rail in 1966/67. Mass was offered facing the people at a freestanding altar.

    By 1968, it was 100% vernacular, with some false translations (“for you and for all men” at the consecration; the word “men” was dropped several years later, as it was considered “sexist”), Protestant or “modern” hymns, four “Eucharistic prayers” were being used, almost no veils on women.

    The parish in the next city was hit by a tornado during what became known as “the Palm Sunday Outbreak” in 1965. Shortly thereafter, they built a new church. It had a freestanding altar, and the tabernacle was off in a side chapel. This was before the New Mass arrived.

    In fact, all these things were in place before there ever was a “New Mass” for most people.

    By 1971, we had females on the altar, “bidding prayers,” lay people giving out Holy Communion, et cetera.

    While there would be more changes coming down the pike (we didn’t have Communion in the hand in the U.S., legally at least, until the late 70s), the overwhelming majority of the changes had already occurred by the time that letter was penned.

    Of course, some places were slower in implementing the changes, but other places were quite progressive about it.

    That said, you’re correct about the nomenclature, except to the extent that non Roman Rite Catholics would generally differentiate.

    No one used the term “traditional Catholic,” but you would hear someone say, “I’m Greek Catholic” when discussing their religion.

  10. Very good Steve. Vatican II arrived for me at the age of 30 in the Archdiocese of Detroit, the very epicenter of the evil spirit of Vatican II. Basically, my wife and I spent our time withdrawing from the devastation which meant withdrawing ourselves and children from nearly all that Vatican II touched. The reason was not the liturgical changes but rather the doctrinal ones. Basically, Vatican II signaled the loss of faith in Christ and His mission; He was no longer needed. Social Justice was the goal and we certainly didn’t need Him to get in the way. And so forth.

    Now with Pope Francis, it would appear, the end may be near, a day of reckoning, an intervention by God. Our Lady of Fatima gave the Church an opportunity for salvation of itself and the World. Unfortunately, it was rejected. Now, we are paying the consequences.

    What can we do? Stick together in on-line communities like this. Pray and do penance. Find the most orthodox Catholic Church you can and try to go to Mass and Confession as often as you can. The Lord will not abandon His people. Assume what is happening to you now is the very best thing that could happen. It is your opportunity for salvation.

    • Agreed. Things appear to be coming to a head.

      Detroit certainly became a hotbed for interesting characters (think CTA), but you can thank your next door neighbor for that.

      It was Cleveland that gave Detroit its “red cardinal,” as Cleveland’s then bishop was considered a “kingmaker” along with Cardinal Spellman.

      If a man wanted to advance in the hierarchy, Archbishop Hoban was the man to know.

      I don’t know how that came to be, but it would make a fascinating research project.

      I believe Archbishop Hoban was a good man, but some of his proteges ended up less than desirable.

      Unfortunately for you, Detroit ended up with one of them.

      Then as a result of that mistake, all of you in and around Motown were treated to such delightful personalities as Kenneth Untener and Thomas Gumbleton.

      How nice.

      Later, Detroit returned the favor and sent Bishop Hickey to Cleveland, but he turned out much better than what you ended up with.

      • Cardinal John Dearden is the one I’m referring. He came from the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

        Dearden drew the attention of the national media for “his innovative approach to the new liturgy and teachings.”[7] He was characterized as a “progressive”[7] and a “liberal”[7] and was even condemned by The Wanderer as “a major heretic, one of the worst the Catholic Church has ever suffered from.” Source: Wikipedia

        • Yes. Dearden came to Detroit from Pittsburgh, but he basically grew up in Cleveland for the most part, began seminary there, and was ordained there. After he was ordained, he was assigned to a parish on Cleveland’s east side.

          It is Dearden’s relationship with Cleveland’s bishop that got him into the episcopate, and he became an auxiliary of Pittsburgh. After Pittsburgh, he came to you.

          There’s an old article written by Father Miceli, S.J., regarding the 1976 Call to Action meeting in Detroit, where a group of valiant young guys confronted the whole assembly, holding a banner that said, “”When you leave this city, take our red cardinal with you.”

          You can read it online:

  11. Pope Francis is the final player in the demonic drama to which Vatican II was designed and always was pointed, the minister of it’s final fruits – Catholi-Schism. Choose the Word not the World.

      • The last pope to voluntarily “retire” (the actual correct term is “abdicate” ) was Pope Celestine V in 1294. He was a terrible selection for Pope, and he ruled (“incompetently misruled” would probably be a better term) for only five months. He was indirectly responsible for the situation in Rome that brought about the Papal “exile” at Avignon from 1309 to 1378. Dante places Pope Celestine in the antechamber of Hell in his work The Divine Comedy,

        • Hi Paul – What do you think about Francis’ Papacy? I think he is more worried about offending man than offending God, what say you?

          • Pope Francis is the end result of 50 years of misdirection from the post- Vatican II Novus Ordo Church. His pontificate is a symptom of the heterodoxy and confusion that has run rampant in a Church that has become man centered rather than God centered. Francis will do anything to get attention, and nothing is too sacred not to be trivialized for the sake of “novelty”…. We will have another performance of Francis and “the God of surprises” at Lund, Sweden during the Martin Luther shindig at the end of this month. Brace yourself, we may have a new saint (St Martin of Wittenberg) before Pope Francis is done.

          • Francis is the hired man earning his wage. He was hired to bring disorder into the One Holy and Catholic Church, and undermine the Sacraments which are the sources of Saving Grace. In other words his goal is the establishment of Catholi-Schism, and every day of his pontificate draws us nearer to that unhappy day. God is giving those who have chosen the path of Apostasy, the unholy leader they deserve. It is as it must be in the days leading up to the final fulfillment of these consequential Catholic times.

          • One thing he has done is cause rancor between faithful Catholics who can see the handwriting on the wall (like you and me) and those Catholics who have delusions that this Pope is harmless, out of some sort of misplaced sense of loyalty. I have actually lost friends because they are offended by any criticism of Francis, who they fanatically defend. It has gotten to the point that these hysterical Ultramontanists refuse to even talk about current events in the Church. So sad……
            I believe that Pope Francis (and yes, he is the Pope, I’m not a sedevacantist) is consciously doing exactly what you say he is doing. There will be a schism. Heck, we already have a schism in Germany, to be honest. I believe that Francis is auditioning to be the head of the One World Government pseudo-religion . Could he be the False Prophet of the Apocalypse of St John??? He is definitely a manifestation of Divine Chastisement.

          • Hi Paul – The warnings our Blessed Mother gave at Fatima are being fulfilled in these evil days. I think the canonization of John XXlll just about fills the cup of God’s Wrath to overflowing. The first reading today is very interesting in view of this being John XXlll’s feast day. “stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery”. If only John had stood firm……….but he didn’t.

          • Hmmm…. Pope John XXIII, the pope who announced the formation of a new Church council on 25 January 1959, about two months after his election. The supreme irony is that he was supposed to be a short term “place holder”, while more capable papabile Cardinals jockeyed for position in preparation of the next conclave. Pope John XXIII consulted no one before making the announcement, much to the shock of the assembled cardinals. Pope John XXIII sold the Eastern European Catholics down the river by cutting a deal with Russian Orthodox churchmen (who were also KGB officers) so that Communism would not be condemned at the upcoming council as a precondition for schismatic representatives at the council. The height of folly was his persistence in still convening the Council in October 1962 although he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and only had about six months to live.
            Don’t you think it’s strange that Pope Francis has ignored the anniversary of the miracle of the sun at Fatima, but is raring to go to Lund to hobnob with a bunch of gals who think that they are Lutheran “bishops”? When is Francis going to celebrate John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and John Knox????

          • Hi Paul – Francis is sealing his own fate with each and every one of the many acts which offend Jesus. Disrespecting His Mother is high on the list, which grows lengthier and ever the more disgusting with each passing day.

    • The invention of the printing press in 1450, the rise of an emerging middle class of commoners, social chaos brought on by large scale peasant revolts, dynastic wars in England and France, and a corrupt and dissolute Church hierarchy all contributed to the Reformation.

        • Yes, the “Reformation” was in fact a socioeconomic and political movement that operated under the shadow of theological “reform”.

          If Martin Luther had been born 50 fifty years earlier, he would have ended up just Like Jan Hus or Savonarola, two other theological revolutionaries who were executed. The bottom line is that the Reformation (AKA Protestant Revolt) did not happen in a vacuum. If the Elector of Saxony and the Elector of Hesse did not give safe haven to Luther, and protect him by force of arms, Luther would be a mere footnote in history books.

    • The Eastern Schism had been brewing for centuries prior to the official break in 1054. It began when Pope St Victor I changed the Roman liturgy from Greek to Latin around the year 198. It is interesting to note that just about all the great heresies of the early Church originated in the Eastern Roman Empire (AKA Byzantine Empire). There were in fact a number of times that the Eastern Orthodox Church (at least the Greek Orthodox Church) reconciled with Rome, but the re-unifications were short in duration due to political and military factors….like the Turks conquering Constantinople in 1453.

      Orthodox Christians often hide behind theological disputes like the Filoque. The bottom line is that the Byzantine Emperors controlled the Eastern Christian clergy, whereas in the west the Pope and the Church avoided becoming tools of the secular state.

  12. A few months ago, I started going to the Latin Mass, partly because I found out that I was supposed to make a thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion (forty years a convert, and it was never mentioned once – finally read about it in a biography of St. Bernadette).

    This was impossible to do with all the hymn singing going on, so off to a Latin Mass I went. Wow. I was actually, really able to pray more deeply than I ever had at the NO.

    But my usual TLM parish is a long drive, and sometimes I’m too tired, and go to a TLM that is closer. Guess what. They sing hymns (although better ones) during and after Holy Communion.

    I emailed them, explaining the problems, and was told that the rubrics for the TLM permitted singing during Communion. Usually choir singing, but congregational singing was okay too.

    Does anyone know if this is true or not, and if so, where I can find the information to back it up? At least they took my question seriously. It is nearly impossible to make a thanksgiving when everyone around you is singing hymns, and you are all too consciously refusing to join in.

    Help would be appreciated.

    • Here is a link to a link to the Instruction on Sacred Music and the Liturgy (De musica sacra et sacra liturgia) that is still in force for all Masses celebrated in the traditional Rite:

      To try and answer your question briefly:

      At low Mass, it is permissible for music to be utilized after (and even during the distribution of) Communion (cf. De musica sacra nos. 30 & 33). Theoretically, the congregation is permitted to sing at almost any time during the Mass (cf. no. 14b)—and in the vernacular, to boot, as the actual text of the document does not place limits on when the congregation is forbidden to sing hymns. However, no. 29 does legislate specific points when the organ is forbidden to be played (e.g., from the Preface to the Consecration), so any congregational singing during such times would have to be unaccompanied.

      The legislation leaves a great deal of room for local custom, but these are the general norms in place. Some locations (and countries) are known for having “four hymn sandwich” Masses at low Mass, while others have almost no congregational singing. Again, I assume you are inquiring about low Mass; sung Mass is a completely different animal.

    • “A few months ago, I started going to the Latin Mass, partly because I found out that I was supposed to make a thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion (forty years a convert, and it was never mentioned once – finally read about it in a biography of St. Bernadette)”

      LOL, sorry for laughing, no mal intent but this is just classic, I had a similar experience discovering all the things stolen from me by Vatican 2. Born in 1970, I arrived just in time for the denouement of modernism. Yayy! So basically I feel like Pius X gave me my personal marching orders (once I discovered of course the true mass, true Church) to help tear down Vatican2 and the Novus ordo every chance I get.

  13. “The rise of communism in early 1917 gave rise to warnings about the dangers it presented to the Church and the world by Our Lady of Fatima in July of the same year”.

    I hate to nitpick an excellent essay, but the Bolshevik Revolution took place after Fatima, in October 1917. There were two Russian revolutions in 1917; the February Revolution led by moderate socialists, and the later October Revolution which Lenin and Trotsky led.

  14. Catholic is Catholic. For years there has been an overwhelming division of traditional v progressive where as in reality we believe and practice our faith to the best of our ability, we try to abide in the truth. To the progressives they cannot understand why we are not grabbing onto all of their deceitful ideals.

    We used to live in a society that spoke about morals now it’s all about values.

    Today’s release of emails from hillary’s campaign via the online leaks service implies that observant Catholics are living in the past. They state in their “progressive emails” that more should be done to destroy the truth of our faith, they speak about us as if we are stuck in the past, not the truth.

    Not making any predictions, not a visionary etc but it would not be a surprise if there is some kind of serious global problem if clinton does not succeed in becoming president of the USA.


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