32:6 "Remember the days of old, think upon every generation:
ask thy father, and he will declare to thee: thy elders and they will
I was on the
Catholic Answers forum
the other day doing some intellectual mortification when I came across
the question of defining a "traditional Catholic". The questioner
Perhaps this has
been covered somewhere else in this forum, but I couldn't find anything
that dircetly addressed it. What is the defintion of a "Traditonal
Catholic". Does this refer exclusively to practioners of a Latin Mass
,or does it encompass a set of values not believed to expressed in most
of todays Catholic Churches?
It's a very
good question that is hard to answer. Broadly speaking, it's a Catholic
who goes to the Tridentine Latin Mass-- abbreviated here and elsewhere
as the TLM. But it's really more than that, it's a cultural and
theological point of view that goes hand-in-hand with the TLM but is
not the same as a TLM-goer.
At this point, I'd like to make a note of capitalization: I refer here
to traditional Catholics. It's an adjective. Tradition with a
"Capital-T" is the magesterial teaching of the Church and, though
important, is not the subject of this post. If you use a Capital-T to
write Traditional Catholics, you've created a whole new religion. Which
does not apply to traditional Catholics. People who are are traditional
Catholics are 100% Roman Catholics, just like any other Roman
Catholics. These little things matter-- there's a huge difference
between being orthodox and Orthodox. Thankyouverymuch.
To that question, I gave a descriptive response that kind of skirted
Catholic is not a person who "prefers" the old Latin Mass. Neither are
they people who simply passed Catechism class.
They are people who adhere to a type of spirituality that is largely
lost in the 21st Century Catholic Church.
Truthfully, it's easier to describe their outward signs than their
character: the old Latin Mass is the biggest identifier... though there
are certainly traditional Catholics who are marooned in Novus Ordoland;
there are likewise non-traditional Catholics who go to the TLM.
Trads are people who listen to Catholic Radio... skeptically. They
might have a blog. They can list their "top-five" favorite Ecumenical
Councils... none of which will rhyme with "Attican Shoe". Their friends
think they're fuddy-duddys. They've got Holy Water fonts in all the
bedrooms and by the front door. They quote the Douay Rheims bible. They
have an opinion on offering Mass in baroque vestments while in a gothic
chapel. They're tired of tinfoil hat jokes. They may not like Bishop
Williamson, but concede that sometimes he's right, and when he's right,
he's really right. They can tell you about Assisi. When they're at a
Novus Ordo Mass, they've got their hands folded like a Catholic during
the Our Father. The women have an extra mantilla in the van-- just in
case. The men have an opinion on the best type of pipe tobacco for any
occasion. The boys have their own cassock and surplice hanging in the
closet. The girls know how to play Dies Irae on the organ. They wear a
t-shirt while they go swimming so their brown scapular doesen't float
away. They're willing to drive an hour to go to Mass... every Sunday.
They know the confession times of at least 4 churches. They invite
priests over to play cards and smoke cigars. They pray to saints that
you think may not really exist. They ask you to finish the sentence
when you say "John Paul the Great"... the great what? They might own a
live chicken. When they're at a Novus Ordo Mass, everyone watches them
to figure out why they're hitting themselves during the "Lamb of God".
They're kneel after Mass to pray... and miss out on the fun gladhanding
with Father by the parish gift shop. They scoff when they pass the
Masonic Lodge. They cross themselves when they pass a Catholic church.
They mutter something about the "poor souls" when they pass a cemetary.
They mutter something about St. Michael when an ambulance passes them.
Their girls' first names are Mary. Their boys' middle names are Mary.
Cappa Magna doesn't sound like a drink at Starbucks to them. They'll
tell you at length why being "charitable" isn't always being nice and
It's complicated. Trads are not easily defined. You just kind of know
them when you see them.
I was trying to
capture the asthetic of a stereotypical "trad" family-- kind of a
conglomeration of a lot of trads that I know. But I didn't feel like I
really answered the question.
Others gave better and more concrete answers than I did. One of the
more "usable" definitions offered was this one:
Catholic - in the post-conciliar sense - is a Catholic who wants the
Mass, all sacraments and rites, and catechesis, restored to how they
were before Vatican II.
It could entail more depending on the individual, but, generally
speaking and in a nutshell, I'd say that's it.
It's a better
definition. You could put that in a Catholic dictionary and it'd answer
the question. But it still leaves something out. In my experience,
traditional Catholics are not just restorationists-- it's not like they
are archeologists or re-enactors or something. Though my interest in
traditional Catholicism was originally kind of an archeological one (as
in: what did the Mass look like back then?), it kind of developed
into a cultural interest and then a theological interest. I think it's
a pretty typical story for people of my generation who are discovering
tradition 40 years after the changes of Vatican II.
The most complete answer came from a poster that
uses the handle "Johndigger" (I don't know if that's his real name, or
if he's a latrine-builder. Wakka wakka wakka). He writes:
Catholic is someone that views the traditions of the Church not just as
an optional extra to Catholicism but praciticing our faith and living
our lives with the wisom passed on from our fathers in faith is a
necessary and intrinsic part of Catholicism.
Of course, falling away from the infallible teachings of the Church is
worse than falling away from the practices of the Church, but there is
the idea that being a Catholic is not just about believing as the
Church has believed but is also about worshipping God in the way the
Church has passed down to us.
Tradition is a living thing that evoles, the way we practice our faith
evolves but this evolution must take place with respect to what has
gone before us and must build on it.
Read it again:
There is the
idea that being a Catholic is not just about believing as the Church
has believed but is also about worshipping God in the way the Church
has passed down to us.
That's it. It's
a matter of responsibility-- we're the guards of a certain tradition, a
world-view, a philosophy and a culture that was given to us. In his
blog "What Does the Prayer Really Say?", the incomperable Fr.
Z. has called this our Patrimony-- a kind of
ancestral inheretance, a legacy given to each new generation to guard
That's what a "traditional Catholic" does. It's not just that they go
to the TLM. It's not just that they've got 8 children and a cargo van
with a "I Love My German Shepherd" bumper sticker on
the window. It's that they see their part in this life as a piece of a
long thread rather than something totally new and different.
Being trad is a world view. It's about learning how to make your
great-grandmother's recipe for tomato sauce because the recipe is a
family heirloom, the way of letting it simmer and how to stir it is
something that has been practiced and honed over generations. It's
learning how to tell a old family story, learning how grandpa treated
employees at the family store, how mom used to run the school bake
sale, how the Irish learned to fight, why the Dutch actually "go Dutch"
on their dates. They are family traditons. They are cultural
traditions. It's our patrimony, what has been handed down to us and
what we will hand down to our kids. They are real heirlooms-- and in my
opinion they are more valuable than any old pocketwatch or china plate
will ever be.
Traditional Catholics think the same way about their relationship with
the Almighty. They do things the way Catholics do things-- it's not
like they don't do new things, it's that new things don't have value just
because it's new.
Another answerer excerpted his blog to give a long answer to
the question of traditional Catholicism:
As I have
pondered the difference between self-styled traditionalist Catholics
and other orthodox Catholics I have concluded that the primary
difference is in their respective attitude toward change. If one does
any significant reading in the Church Fathers, Doctors, and Popes one
consistently finds a truly conservative attitude. That is, one sees
that the attitude of orthodox Catholics through the centuries has been
to cling tenaciously to that which has been handed on, both in belief
and observance. Change itself is looked upon with suspicion and change
for the sake of change or even to "get with the times" is unthinkable.
Now here I can sense anti-traditionalist apologists ready to pounce, so
let me say up front that I don't in the least deny that there has been
lots of legitimate development in the Catholic Church over the
centuries, both doctrinal and practical. The Catholic Church is a
living organism, animated by the Holy Spirit, and she has certainly
developed and changed over the centuries while retaining in its
fullness the deposit of revelation handed on to her by our Lord Jesus.
This I readily grant.
What I am talking about instead is one's prevailing attitude toward
change. The Fathers, Doctors, and Popes did not see themselves
primarily as innovators, but as conservators. They saw the Faith and
those practices by which it was expressed, passed on, and guarded as an
inheritance to be passed on to the next generation intact and, indeed,
inviolate. They were not anxious to update the Faith, or to change
perennial and venerable practices. For the most part, they viewed
change--whether doctrinal or practical--with grave suspicion. They knew
both instinctively and often by hard experience that changes in
religious matters--even if seemingly minor--frequently bring about
considerable upheaval in the life of the Church. . . .
Put simply, a Catholic traditionalist wishes to believe as his fathers
believed, to worship as his fathers worshipped, and to pass on this
belief and worship intact to his children. He does not oppose
legitimate and organic developments. But he sees what is perennial,
venerable, and established as a treasury of godly and holy wisdom and
he views attempts to change or "update" this treasury of belief and
practice with guarded reserve, if not suspicion.
Yes! That's it,
that's totally it!
My favorite line:
of orthodox Catholics through the centuries has been to cling
tenaciously to that which has been handed on, both in belief and
We are the
guards of the Faith. It's a kind of conservatism that, contrary to what
politicians and talk-radio pundits do, actually conserves
Patrimony. A philosophical, theological and cultural inheretance.
That's tradition. Yes!