In the wake on the motu proprio and the Responsa ad dubia, the eyes of the Church are fixed on those who attend the Latin Mass. This attention is coming at the same time as a book of mine is hitting the press, Ever Ancient, Ever New: Why Younger Generations Are Embracing Traditional Catholicism. It’s given me an opportunity to reflect on how well we are attracting others to Tradition.
Overall, we have many things to be grateful for. If anything, Traditionis Custodes drew more people to the Latin Mass. Serving as the proofreader for Benedictus, I know that we had an uptick in subscriptions once the document came out, and we received a huge amount of written support from subscribers. I heard of families with distressed Novus Ordo Catholics asking their traditional relatives why the Pope would be so cruel. It’s definitely caused people to reconsider the Old Mass.
But despite the increased interest in the Latin Mass and traditional Catholic practices, we still have the same issues as before. While the majority of us are simply people striving for holiness, there is a vocal minority who seeks to shine a bright light on the failures of Novus Ordo Catholicism with little reference to what we have in Tradition.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a time and place to call out scandal, refute heresy, and criticize opposition. People are waking up to the truth, goodness, and beauty of Tradition that way, but many are kept at a distance when this is the primary approach.
Though we know the many errors and tragedies of the post-Vatican II reform, we can fall into the trap of speaking only of those. When we do this, we come across as disenchanted and irate, speaking from a position of weakness. Our friends and family see disgruntled victims, rather than confident victors in Christ. All of these things are true of us, but sometimes we lead others to only see one side of the story.
I can’t speak for Pope Francis’ intentions, but the charitable interpretation is that he’s heard too much about bitter traditional Catholics and too little about the vast majority of us, who just want to serve the Lord and know that Tradition is the best way to do it. Clearly, he wants to eliminate the Latin Mass, and there doesn’t seem to be too much we can do to change his mind short of prayer and sacrifice. But because of angry, bitter, tactless Catholics, we need to do some rehabilitation of our own image. Many people are wondering what the draw is to traditional Catholicism but are turned off by their preconceptions, bad past experiences, or ideas of bitter traditional Catholics.
This is a perfect time for us to speak up and invite our families and friends to see the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Old Mass and of traditional Catholic devotions. People are hungry for something stable and holy, and we know where to find it. They are willing to have a conversation, but they do not want to get into polemics. Whether it’s the off-putting people or the poor Latin Masses that they may have encountered, something is keeping them from really listening with an open mind, even if they’re genuinely wondering why we attend the Latin Mass.
To really take advantage of this opportunity, we need to conduct ourselves with grace and charity, using honey to attract rather than vinegar to repel. We ought to be “wise as serpents and simple as doves” (Matt. 10:16). There is a time for polemics and heated discussion, especially with those who know our good intentions and our charity. But with those who haven’t heard us speak about our love for Tradition, honey is best.
To be specific, we can look for opportunities to elevate the conversation beyond the secular. If we have a decent knowledge of Tradition and the Latin Mass, this shouldn’t be difficult. For example, when gathering with family for Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc., the conversation usually turns to how you celebrated the holiday. It’s easy to mention that you went to Mass, and it’s still easy to take it further: “Have you been to a Latin Mass before?”
We might have to approach it more tangentially, if the conversation is about a political issue like abortion. Even then, we can be bold in tying it to an issue thought of as “more Catholic,” like contraception. Most people have heard that Catholics oppose abortion, but not as many have heard that abortion is contraception taken to its conclusion.
Ultimately, you know your friends and family best, and you know what they will listen to and what they will ignore. But many of them haven’t heard about the positives of the Latin Mass and Tradition rather than the negatives of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and they are waiting to hear them.
The Tradition of the Church is unfathomably rich. We ought to lead with its richness, bringing up the poverty of the alternative only when our listeners are ready to hear it. People are hungry for what the Church has always had to offer, and, please God, we can bring it to them.
David Dashiell is a freelance author and editor in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and two children. He has a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University, and is the editor of the anthology, Ever Ancient, Ever New: Why Younger Generations Are Embracing Traditional Catholicism.