I think Clare's encapsulation is a very good one, as well.
The important thing to remember is that laity have always been all across the spectrum -some have been very pious, (read: very rigorous) and some have been very mediocre, (read: very lax.) Religious are much the same.
However, the rub is that our standard is not "whatever is just good enough to get by" or "just aiming for not walking around in a state of mortal sin." Rather, our standards should be to emulate the greatest saints. We should always strive to sanctify our lives more, and sometimes that entails painful sacrifices away from the innocent pleasures which laity aren't forbidden.
Most of the Saints were religious, and the laity are not called to that standard. It's just the way it is. If an unmarried celibate living in a monastery wants to wear hairshirts, then fine, but I doubt a spouse would like rubbing up against one of those things at night. If you know what I mean. It is obvious that the laity are called to offer up their sufferings, make penance, and everything else, but some of the standards held by some trads are completely nuts.
Remember, people are different. I hate to say that some are "more advanced spiritually" or something, because that's not true -they might be, but certainly not always -but I'm not sure what words to use to express what I'm saying. The thing is, though, some people are prepared to make big sacrifices, whether they are making them now, or whether they'll be prepared in a week, a month, or a year to make these. They begin to give up television, for example, and listen to gregorian chant instead of folk, (or sing it rather than buy lots of CDs and listen passively) or Glenn Miller, or what have you. (I'd like to point out here that I like Glenn Miller, so I'm not trying to come off as self-righteous or something!)
Eric, here is the thing: you grew up in the suburbs (I am guessing, or maybe in the country), in a pretty sheltered life (I do NOT mean this as an insult at all!), with an older mother, etc. You are of a certain psychological type, the sort who is bookish, able to amuse himself, etc. But I hung out on the streets when I was 16, OK? And it perturbs me to hear certain trads talk about the alleged great virtues of giving up watching Hogan's Heroes once in a while when I know that real people in the real world would do well to just lay down the crack pipe. Going on (and on and on) about, for ex., not wearing pants to some 16-year old "Who My Baby Daddy?" girl who's been raised in a Britney culture is simply ineffective and ludicrous. That is the world I live in. It's the world we all live in when we're not hermetically sealed off from it all in whatever enclave it is we've made for ourselves, whether it's one's own house or a place like St. Mary's. There are people in this world who are sex addicts, drug addicts, alcoholics, kleptomaniacs, struggling with same-sex attractions, not knowing they should struggle against same-sex attractions, etc. There are people who were raised without fathers, who were emotionally or physically or sexually abused as children, who've been bullied all their lives, who have serious mental or emotional disorders, who are not that bright and for whom reading Pascendi Dominici Gregis would be like reading Greek, etc. The trad world seems to made mostly of a group of scholarly types who are able to exhibit (ahem, at least sometimes) some semblance of reason. Most people are not like that, and I don't believe for one minute that Our Lord Jesus Christ set up a Church just for freakin' eggheads. I see "the trad world" as one that needs to be -- like all of the Church -- open to ALL men, which needs to spread the Gospel in the manner of St. Paul. And getting hung up on nonsense
like skirt-wearing, or "forcing" people to not pretend to not enjoy music they, by hell, actually do enjoy and which doesn't make them want to go out and rut like hogs -- well, it's silliness.
Others, on the other hand, have an attitude of "I'm a layman, by gum, and I have a perfect right to listen to my rock music, just so long as I don't commit a mortal sin and the song isn't clearly dealing with fornication and murder, and I think I'll go veg out in front of the television too!"
"Love and do what thou wilt." You don't like rock and roll or television, fine. Good. But to raise that up to "Church law" is erroneous. People who give those things up can post about it all day, about how it's benefited them personally, but if they raise it to the level of holy writ -- I can't tolerate it.
It is indeed true, the layman does have a right to listen to his rock music, enjoy his air conditioning (I can't live without it!!!) and watch his television, so long as his spiritual life and temporal obligations do not suffer. However, just because we laity have this right does not mean that it is an ideal. It's merely permissible, and not intrinsically evil, which is the distinction which must be made.
Well, the Church has made no statements at all as to whether having the thermostat set at 68 or 70 degrees or not at all leads to allowing our temporal obligations to suffer. If So-and-So thinks it serves God and his spiritual life to not have A/C, then power to him. But that's where it ends. (and if So-and-So is married, he might want to think about his wife and children before imposing his own personal callings on them, too).
For some individuals, who have achieved a high level of self-denial, and don't watch television, don't listen to rock, etc., it might well be an objectively bad thing for them to "backslide." The religious life, denial of self, and the acetic ideal are objectively the higher way of living in God's service, and it is natural to strive for this as much as we can. "Anima humana naturaliter Christiana," as St. Augustine says. On the other hand, it's also very natural for us to not want to give up everything, which is why there are laity, and why there are certainly far more laity than there are religious. What we must keep in mind is that we should always be striving not for mediocrity, not for "merely purgatory," but for heaven. Heaven requires sanctity, and on a more temporal level, it requires a lot of penance and expiation of punishment due for sin. Sacrifice is a natural part of the Catholic life.
The homeless drunk who struggles every day to give up booze but who still watches "Family Ties" and dresses in dirty pants has done more for his sanctity than the arrogant, blustering, blowhard of a rigorist who shows off his "wisdom" and "holiness" by going on about how he doesn't watch "Family Ties" -- a show he probably never watched to begin with.
I think these truths go a long way to explain the tendency in Traditional Catholics towards "rigorism" or "puritanism" or "Jansenism" or whatever one might wish to call it. We trads realize that there is a crisis, and that things are really bad in the Church, and positively filthy in the world today. You can't get by in our times as a "Sunday Catholic," and the letter of the law which will often get one by and keep them practicing the faith when they would otherwise fall away completely is not enough, in our times, to keep the flames of charity, virtue, and faith buring brightly. We're all called to be saints, and we must strive earnestly for that. They, with their very high and strict standards, are our examples, our role-models, and our "measuring sticks." Given this, it's not unreasonable or unexplainable to see people advocating and suggesting "higher standards" than might otherwise be strictly necessary, especially in a time when the Church is more visible and temporally influential, and when "the world" is consequently not as vicious.
The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a social club for the perfect. People should do their best, do what they believe God is telling them to do, lay off judging other people, and have some semblance of a clue as to how to relate the Gospel without coming off looking like freaks. Jesus walked among the poor, the whores, the tax collectors.
[Just to clarify, we must always fight "the world," and the worldly spirit is always present, but it's not always there to the same acute degree. Our society and culture is .0001% practicing "trad" Catholic, instead of 50, 80, or 98% as in other eras. Therefore, it stands to reason that "the world's" effects are going to be felt considerably more sharply in our time than in others. -Eric]
Remember, the material comforts which a lot of trads advocate abstinence from today were unknown 50 or 100 years ago... Nothing is chance, it's no coincidence that they are ubiquitous and have risen to prominence in the exact same era in which our society has ascended to a new plateau in the rejection of Christ the King... It's also not unreasonable to see people advocating abstinence from these pleasures, when one considers things from a purely temporal standpoint. Most things which are frequently condemned are things which ostensibly make life easier or add pleasure in some way. From all indications, the economy will tank sometime in the not-so-distant future, and who knows what will happen. Either way, even if things remain "the same," we don't want to be too pampered, and it's very telling that we don't possess the overall average strength and stamina which our grandparents and great-grandparents did.
Whether they were in existence 50 or 100 years ago is moot. They are what we grew up with, unless we grew up in a barn somewhere. And people can relate to others their personal experiences of giving up eating with plastic forks, and how it has benefited them. I just can't have it all related as what "the Church" demands of all Catholics, in all places, and in all times, because that is "what 'Tradition' is."
Another facet to the issue is that most Traditional Catholics take their faith very seriously -they're forced to, if they want to keep it in our Church and our World today. They have to know it, and they have to practice it; as said before, 1950's-esque "Sunday Catholic" freewheeling is pretty much out of the question. This will naturally lead to more austere and strict practice than will a more "easygoing" approach to the faith. The "issues" seem more prominent in America than other places for one main reason. America was and is a predominantly Protestant country. Before Vatican II, Catholicism was the largest single religious body, this is true. However, that was not borne out in effect and practice -most Catholics pre-Vatican II were Sunday Catholics, which is why they acceded to the changes so readily, and most of them tended to keep rather quiet about their faith due to a desire to fit in, especially with the Americanist ideas being advocated by most of the prominent hierarchy, etc.
I don't think it was a desire to fit in; I think it was born of the same mindset seen in, er, some places today: "these priests can do no wrong. Turn off your minds and follow along!"
Consequently, America never became "Catholic" in any sense -it's very telling that the first and only Catholic president was not elected until the 1960s, and this was only after he explicitly stated that he would "relegate his faith to the personal sphere when running the country" or something to that effect. Thus, American Traditional Catholics, if they are traditional, are traditional because they almost always have had to explicitly will and fight to be traditional Catholics. They are, as a whole, always attempting to Catholicize their lives as much as possible, and to assert Catholicism temporally (manifesting itself in the wearing of skirts, the giving up of television, not listening to modern music, etc.) This phenomenon is more uncommon in Europe, where most of the traditionalists are traditionalists not because they thought "I will keep the faith against these heresies," but because they decided that they'd rather have the Old Mass, their family has always been Catholic, and therefore their militant faith has gradually been instilled in them by pulpit orations and passive TLM attendence, with the intellectual light that's often shed after the TLM in friendly conversation, etc. than by a concerted and deliberate effort on their part. I have talked to several Europeans who are visiting the states to tour SSPX chapels, and they have almost all remarked on how much more dedicated and zealous the American traditionalists as a whole act, when compared with their European confreres as a whole.
I think it is because American-style "traditional Catholicism" is often informed by American fundamentalism and Puritanism.