Over the course of the seven years I’ve been writing on Catholic topics, I made no attempt to hide that I was flirting with, then later became, a “traditionalist” Catholic. The process was, for me, a surprising one, since despite my liturgically conservative tastes, my first few exposures to the Gregorian liturgy left me cold.
To be fair, I also didn’t like beer or coffee until I’d tried them countless times, and I used to think Livingston Cellars’ Red Rosé was good wine. As we mature, our tastes evolve, and we come to appreciate the complexity and subtlety of the finer things in life. From a personal standpoint, I’ve always been the sort who likes to share these epiphanies, introducing anyone I can to a favorite bottle of wine, a favorite cheese, the most impressive beer, or the best coffee I can find.
It’s the same with the liturgy. When I stumbled on this ancient and venerable form of Mass of the Roman Rite and saw it with new eyes, I shared it every chance I had. I argued for it, defended it, got angry at those who sought to demean or suppress it, and generally kept my verbal sword at the ready for any challenge to this newly discovered ecclesial treasure. I even blogged for a time (tongue-in-cheek) as “The Evil Traditionalist,” poking fun at those who painted the Traditional Latin Mass crowd with a broad, derogatory brush.
Over time, the arguments grew old. You can only spend so many hours in comment boxes, or start so many heated debates at family gatherings. The pope liberated the Traditional Latin Mass from the false shackles with which it had been kept from the faithful, and my life became simpler and less concerned with “traditional apologetics.” The heady days of doing battle for the Faith faded from memory, and I focused more on being a Catholic husband and father than developing my reputation as a liturgical pugilist. However, as I settled down and sheathed my blade, I became gradually and uncomfortably aware of something: A lot of traditionalists really are jerks.
In a way, I was lucky. As someone who came to tradition shortly before it was cool again, I was able to soften my stance before the bad habits became too deeply ingrained. But for those who had suffered being abused and marginalized for decades, the transition must be hard. Can you imagine having the Mass that you grew up with taken away and replaced with something alien and unfamiliar? How do you think it would feel to be treated as though you are schismatic for simply clinging to the Catholicism of your youth? Would you appreciate being called a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a Pharisee for holding to your traditions and devotional practices? And how would you like to be marginalized, forced to drive 50 miles just to get to a Mass held at 1:30 in the afternoon in a parish that doesn’t want you there, and where it’s impossible to build real community because it’s local to none of the attendees? It’s as if everything these people knew about Catholicism was suddenly gone and replaced by a cheap imitation, and when they expressed their dismay, they were met by smug replies that Vatican II “did away with all that.”
Many, shellshocked by such treatment, had become hardened veterans of GIRM warfare by the time Pope Benedict freed the old Mass. And so, young advocates of traditional liturgy like me found ourselves heading to worship God every Sunday in the company of individuals who, as often as not, seemed dour and judgmental. They spoke in effusive terms when they described their Mass, but appeared pained when they actually attended it. No smiles ever seemed to touch their lips, and they would glare at women (like my wife) who would at times forget their chapel veils, or wear makeup, or fail to provide some means of instant corporal punishment at the first sign of a squirming toddler. In short, they had become terrified of novelty, and accustomed to betrayal, they had seemingly lost the capacity for joy.
That joylessness became the traditionalist brand, and they spread it everywhere they went. From the condemning, anonymous masses who pass judgment on all things Catholic on forums like Angelqueen to the rantings of The Remnant; from propositions that the solar system is Geocentric to the pamphleteering Fatima Crusaders to the seemingly endless discussions on whether it’s ever appropriate for women to wear pants, the attitude of many of the “trads” we encounter is often petty, conspiratorial, uncharitable, or out of touch with reality. Sometimes, it’s all of the above.
Years ago, when I first became enamored of the traditional Catholic liturgy, a friend of mine who enjoyed going to the Extraordinary Form (but wasn’t committed to it) asked me a pointed question: “If traditional Catholics have this great treasure, as they say they do, shouldn’t it make them the happiest people you know? Shouldn’t their joy over so beautiful a liturgy be overflowing, and thereby draw others in to find out what they have that’s so great?”
That’s an important point. I do believe that those of us who have been drawn to the majesty and solemnity of the ancient liturgy have a pearl of great price that should make us excited to be Catholic, and to share the goodness we’ve found with others. We should be happy at Mass, friendly to our fellow parishioners, welcoming to those who are new, and understanding to those who don’t yet see why we make so much effort to be a part of something so outside the norm.
Condemnations, judgments, specious arguments, and morose dispositions do no favors for our cause, or its future. We’ve got something great going on, and it’s about time we acted like it.