Does the Latin Mass movement need a “rebranding?”
If you ask the good folks responsible for the Mass of the Ages documentary series, the answer is a resounding “yes.” They love the traditional Latin Mass and lament the fact that less than 2% of Catholics attend that liturgy. They argue that one of the biggest reasons for that small number is the perception that surrounds regular attendees of the Latin Mass: that they are “mean” and “unwelcoming,” and overall have an insular attitude.
But if you ask many long-time Latin Mass attendees if the movement needs a rebranding, they will likely bristle at the suggestion. They defend the overall way Latin Mass goers comport themselves, and feel that an effort to rebrand is falling for stereotypes and even gaslighting from Church officials.
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It’s a battle between the Latin Mass New Guard (most of the Mass of the Ages team consist of younger and relatively more recent attendees of the old rite) and the Old Guard.
So, does the Latin Mass movement need a rebranding?
As a Latin Mass “Middle Guard”—I’ve attended the TLM for more than 11 years now, but I don’t date back to the pre-Summorum Pontificum days—I find myself caught in the middle of this debate. On the one hand, I recognize the negative perception many Catholics—and many Catholic leaders—have of Latin Mass attendees, but on the other hand, I also think much of this perception is set by those in power who fundamentally oppose the spread of the Latin Mass for reasons far deeper than “mean trads.”
First, I will admit that I’ve experienced negative influences within the “trad” world, particularly online. I’ve been labeled a “semi-trad” more times than I can count because I don’t always subscribe to the pure traditionalist line. I’ve seen faithful Novus Ordo-attending Catholics attacked by traditional Catholics for the slightest infraction of what certain traditionalists think is “true Catholicism.” So I won’t argue that there’s a problem there.
Yet I would also argue that there’s a problem everywhere, due to the Fall. I’ve seen nasty Catholics from every subgroup in the Church. Try to kneel and receive Communion on the tongue in a more liberal parish—then you’ll see mean and unwelcoming in spades. Or witness the nasty looks you get if you dare not hold hands during the Our Father (at least, in pre-Covid days). Or just see how nasty Catholics can be online talking about how nasty traditional Catholics are.
So while traditional Catholics should be more charitable and humble, so should all Catholics. I’m not convinced that it’s a problem specific to traditional Catholics.
Yet Pope Francis himself supports and endorses this negative perception of traditional Catholics every time he talks about them. In fact, he gave this perception as the reason he was restricting the Latin Mass in his motu proprio Traditionis Custodies. He also claimed that many bishops had complained to him about the attitude among traditionalists, which is why he felt he needed to curtail the TLM.
But to be blunt, this is gaslighting. First, Diane Montagna demonstrated that the bishops’ did not oppose the Latin Mass as Francis claimed. Second, it’s hard to believe that the pope would think contradicting his predecessor and causing massive headaches for bishops around the world would be the proper response to a few mean trad tweeters.
So if, as most regular Latin Mass attendees believe, the Latin Mass is superior to the Novus Ordo, why do so few Catholics actually attend it? Is it because of a negative perception that needs rebranding?
While I won’t argue that a rebranding on some levels wouldn’t help, I don’t think that’s the fundamental issue at play. My own experience working for a diocese leads me to believe it’s deeper than that.
From 2011-2016 I worked directly for a bishop as a diocesan director of evangelization. During that time I attended the Latin Mass, and I wasn’t the only chancery employee who attended the TLM. Our bishop had invited the FSSP into the diocese to celebrate Mass at three locations across the diocese. He celebrated the confirmation of two of my daughters in the traditional form. In other words, he was obviously friendly to the Latin Mass, and he had positive perceptions of Latin Mass attendees.
That being said, he would have never allowed more Latin Masses in his diocese. Why? Again, not because he had a negative impression of the Latin Mass movement, but because he, like almost every bishop, perceived Catholicism through a modern, post-Vatican II lens. He accepted as foundational the belief that the Novus Ordo is the Mass of the Church, and that the Latin Mass, for all its beauty and grandeur, is simply a relic that a few Catholics still cling to but will eventually fade away.
He didn’t think this out of animosity to anyone, but simply as the reality on the ground. Even if the Latin Masses grew in attendance (which they did), that would not dissuade him from his fundamental presuppositions.
No rebranding would likely change that bishop’s mind, nor the mind of most bishops and clerics. The issue is much deeper, and changing the minds of our Church leaders involve radically shifting their views about the purpose of the liturgy and even how Catholics live their faith. It’s not just convincing them that traditionalists are nice.
Again, I’m not opposed to the rebranding efforts of the Mass of the Ages team—anything to promote the Latin Mass to a larger audience is a good thing, in my mind. But it will take much more than a rebranding effort to get Church leaders to become more receptive to expanding the celebration of the Latin Mass.