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In Catholicism, Trads Are Not The Problem

In North America and Europe, Catholicism is shrinking. Latin mass communities are growing. Why is the Pope eager to crush them?

From Facebook, this from a Catholic in the Diocese of Arlington, Va., which has a huge number of Traditional Latin Massgoers:

You are looking at the future of the Catholic Church in America in that photo. The TLM people are relatively tiny in number today, but let two or three more generations pass, and they will be in America as they are in France: a huge proportion of those who still go to mass; who still believe that stuff.

The late historian Robert Conquest had Three Laws of Politics. The second law was:

Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.

To which I add Dreher’s Religious Corollary To Conquest’s Second Law:

In this post-Christian age, any church not explicitly countercultural sooner or later dissolves.

Europe is America’s likely future in this regard. I think of what Father Cassian Folsom, then the prior of the Benedictines of Norcia, told me back in 2015, when we first met and I told him about the Benedict Option: that any family or Christian community that wants to survive what’s coming had better commit itself to doing some version of it. That is, some version of truly countercultural, disciplined Christian living. The powers of the anti-Christian culture are just too strong to resist by living as we have always done.

As I have said in this space many times, as a Catholic, I wasn’t part of a TLM community, but I was glad that they existed, because it was a blessing to have the old mass available to Catholics who preferred it. And they are some of those most committed to the faith — that is, counterculturally committed. If you’re a Latin mass Catholic, you are by definition countercultural. Yes, there’s some weirdness among the Trads, but there’s weirdness among all of us. Besides, ain’t nothin’ going on in a TLM community that can outdo the weird on display by this French Catholic priest:

I found this tweet about the power of TLM communities to transmit the substance of the Catholic faith to be interesting:

I’m an Orthodox Christian, but there are too few of us in the United States to be a significant force regarding the future of the country’s moral and spiritual health. That lies with Catholics and Evangelicals, the two largest Christian groupings. That the Catholic and Evangelical churches be healthy is is in my interest as an Orthodox Christian living as a tiny minority in a broader de-Christianizing culture. This is why it troubles me, as a non-Catholic, that Pope Francis has attacked the TLM and its adherents. It makes no sense at all, except as a spiteful last lash of the fiery whip of a destructive and dying generation of churchmen:

One of the reasons I was attracted to Catholicism as a young man was because of what I regarded as its stability. While the rest of the world was losing its mind, Catholicism was a solid rock, I thought. I was wrong, but that’s what I wanted to believe. I thought John Paul II was righting the ship. The fact that actual existing Catholicism in American parishes looked more like Mainline Protestantism than the Church I thought I had joined was something that bothered me, but I thought it could be avoided. And if things got too intolerable, there was always the TLM, somewhere. Anyway, things were looking up for the Catholic Church, after the near-miss of Vatican II.

Then came the scandal, which my faith didn’t survive. If it had, I doubt it would have been strong enough to withstand this pontificate. Catholicism is better off without me, I am certain, but I do hope and pray for reunification of the churches of East and West. I find that Catholics have an unrealistic idea of how likely that is; I did, as a Catholic, until I started seeing things from an Orthodox point of view, from within Orthodoxy. There are many more difficulties than I had imagined. One of them is liturgical instability. It is impossible to overstate how important this is to Orthodox Christians. The contempt Pope Francis demonstrates for the old mass — and therefore for venerable Christian traditions — is extremely off-putting to many Orthodox (even those who are more liberal on moral questions). I reckon that Francis’s move against the Latin mass is going to make the prospect of reunion with the East, already a long shot, less likely. Plus, at some point down the road, a pope who is today a young priest will reinstate the Tridentine rite, which will be a blessed event, but one that deals another blow to the stability of the Roman tradition.

All Francis had to do was to leave the old mass alone. If it had produced no fruit, it would have died out. If it produced good fruit — like in the photo above — well, why not allow it, especially in the West, where the faith is in such steep decline?

News broke as I was writing this that Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington has reversed his earlier banning of the Latin mass, and is now going to allow them to continue pending further study:

This is good news for the people of that diocese, including at St. Rita’s Church above. I hope for the sake of Catholicism, and for the long term good of Christianity in Europe and North America, that more bishops allow the TLM in their diocese. All of us Christians need to learn how to be robustly countercultural. Among the Catholics, Trads are doing it. True, they’re not always doing it with perfect charity — but then, who among us is in these polarizing times?