As someone who has identified as a “traditional Catholic” for some time now, I must admit that the label has always made me cringe. In no small part, this is because there is some confusion regarding what it means, and that confusion is used to foment division.
The label in recent years has come to refer to those who attend the Mass of the Ages, or “the Traditional Latin Mass,” exclusively. They live by the old calendar of the Church and their families are animated by old traditions in the home. The men still wear suits to Mass, even daily Mass. And yes, the women often veil.
On the one hand, this label sometimes alienates those Catholics who are traditional in many aspects of their lives but who are unfamiliar with the Mass of the Ages. As a cradle Catholic growing up in the Novus Ordo, I had thought traditional Catholics were those families who were the backbone of our parish life.
We all know the type. They go to church every Sunday in a passenger van full of kids, actually pray their rosaries every day, and when you are sick or have a new baby, there they are on your front doorstep with a hot meal.
By the world’s standards, they live very traditional lives. Imagine their surprise in recent years to find out that they fall short of the label “traditional Catholic.”
On the other hand, the term is also used to marginalize those who attend the Mass of the Ages. Some use the term “traditional Catholic” to clump us in with sedevacantists or loud, boorish characters on Twitter—that is, with those who reject the pope and Vatican II.
We see this even in the once-conservative-leaning Bishop Robert Barron’s remarks last March, accusing “radically traditional Catholics” or “arch-traditionalist Catholics” of a “self-devouring Catholicism.”
There was a backlash of course, but it was mixed with some charitable—or rather, naïve—defenses that went something like this: “No, surely Bishop Barron is not referring to those who love the Latin Mass, but to those extremists who reject the pope and Vatican II.”
Yes, a confusion of terms to foment our division, as subsequent comments by Bishop Barron and recent actions from the Vatican have made clear—anyone who participates in the Mass of the Ages is immediately held suspect as an extremist.
But it is not just some within the Church hierarchy who would like to, as Eric Sammons said, “push traditional Catholics more and more into a ghetto, with a match at the ready to light the whole neighborhood on fire.” The secular Left loves to see this marginalization by terms, and they will ever expand what it means to be a “traditional Catholic” in order to chase all Catholics out of the public square.
Take, for example, this Washington Times piece, which sounds the alarm on the Biden administration’s efforts to expand definitions of extremism to include pro-life advocates. The well-meaning author uses the label “traditional Catholics” to refer to Catholics who are simply pro-life. The consequence of this sort of rhetoric, even when well-intended, paints pro-abortion Catholic politicians, such as Biden and Pelosi, as ordinary, devout, or even “deeply Catholic” Catholics, as if belief in the sanctity of life were somehow optional. Meanwhile, those pro-life Catholics, they are just traditionalists (read: extremists).
What is the result of this rhetoric? Division. “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). All Catholics—regardless of what Mass they attend—ought to defend the Church’s traditions and teachings, lest they also find themselves in the ghetto just in time to feel the flames.
We ought to refuse to label the unchanging core beliefs of the Church as if they were somehow not the eternal roots for all of us. We ought to refuse to label the practices of the vast majority of ordinary Catholics, Saints, and martyrs for well over a thousand years as something somehow fringe or unordinary within the Church herself. It obscures the fact that the Church’s teachings and the Roman Rite belong to Roman Catholics simply.
The Vatican cries for unity within the Roman Rite. If it is unity that we want, it is time to dig down even deeper to our Roman roots. For it is Romanitas, the Roman spirit—not traditional this or progressive that—that unites us Roman Catholics in Christ.
[Photo Credit: Public Domain]