What is a Traditionalist?
Kevin M. Tierney
Traditionalism was unheard of before Vatican II for there were no such thing as conservative Catholics, traditional Catholics, or liberal Catholics - only Catholics. Of course, that is when we were all one before the Revolution.
"Another myth that needs to be debunked is that for taking this position, we are somehow out of communion with the Church, and the See of Peter. Though luckily as Traditionalist influence continues to grow in the Church today this myth has diminished greatly, it still holds the minds of many. The Traditionalist respects true Papal authority - always has, always will. Rather than being the Pope's greatest enemy, the Traditionalist is his greatest friend, for he appeals to the Pope to use his authority, rather than denying it or abusing it."
The date is September 29, 1969, the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. For the past 5 months, Paul VI's Missale Romanum, which promulgated what is known to many as the Novus Ordo Missae (New Order of Mass, the New Mass which most Catholics are today familar with) had been in place. On this date, two very well known Cardinals, and many other bishops, theologians, and pastors of souls collabrated to produce what is now known as the Ottaviani Intervention. It was a point by point critique of the finished product of the liturgical reform that became the New Mass. The two people who are most famous for this writing were Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and Cardinal Antonio Bacci. The former was, at that time, the prefect of the Holy Office (consider this as sort of Ratzinger's job today), and the latter a well-known, well-respected prince of the Church. Obviously, their opinions were more than just those of ordinary people. It is not my intention to give an examination of the Intervention or it's points, but just to give one quote:
"We are certain that these considerations, prompted by what we hear from the living voice of shepherds and the flock, cannot but find an echo in the heart of Your Holiness, always so profoundly solicitous for the spiritual needs of the children of the Church. The subjects for whose benefit a law is made have always had the right, nay the duty, to ask the legislator to abrogate the law, should it prove to be harmful."
It is that last sentence that defines the Traditionalist perfectly. While there is no doubt division amongst traditionalist, this central cause, to one degree or another, unites them. They believe that many of the policies and laws enacted have without a doubt been harmful, hence they have the right, and indeed the duty, to ask that law be overturned.
Why should that law be overturned? In short because the law goes against that which is already established, and such a break we feel cannot be justified based on the circumstances. For example on the liturgy, all the perceived and real problems that existed with the Roman Rite beforehand do not justify the massive changes we now have. We see no justification for stripping the Mass of so many of it's lovely prayers, and replacing them with nothing. These prayers if anything helped enforce the Catholic notions inherent in the Mass on the faithful.
Yet one could say we Traditionalists are backwards looking, always opposing themselves to change. Though I believe this problem has entrenched itself within certain circles nowadays of the Traditionalist movement, such a view should not be here. We are not opposed to change. Yet that change should always have several considerations in it. Is the change a predictable development? What are the problems that exist from that which is currently in place? Is there no other way to fix them? What will the new changes produce? How do they correlate with Divine Revelation and the sensus Catholicus of worship? How can we verify these changes are being effective? What will we do if they are not effective? Far be it from opposing change, the Traditionalist is the ardent supporter of organic change. These questions pass through the mind of the Traditionalist as ways to test such a change. In many instances, when we write critiques on what has occurred in the past 40 years, we approach it from one of these angles.
Another myth that needs to be debunked is that for taking this position, we are somehow out of communion with the Church, and the See of Peter. Though luckily as Traditionalist influence continues to grow in the Church today this myth has diminished greatly, it still holds the minds of many. The Traditionalist respects true Papal authority - always has, always will. Rather than being the Pope's greatest enemy, the Traditionalist is his greatest friend, for he appeals to the Pope to use his authority, rather than denying it or abusing it.
Yet what is respecting the Pope's authority, or how should it be? When the Pope rules upon manners, one's submission should be given. Yet that submission does not mean agreement necessarily or even obedience to that which harms the soul as the holy Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine emphasized in his masterful thesis De Romano Pontifice. Yet it does take into account the Pontiff's role and it respects the authority of the office which is more than the man and his personality, but the holy Petrine Office. The Pope represents Christ's Vicar on earth. Despite this respect for a Pope's authority to make decisions, we can disagree with the outcomes or believe it to be an abuse of said authority. For one cannot appeal to the Pope to remove something which has proven harmful, without first respecting his authority in the first place to make such decisions on certain manners. Therefore this makes the Traditionalist movement a loyalist movement in regards to the Holy Father, while respectfully stating their disagreements in some areas.
The majority of Traditionalist criticism appears also in how things are applied, not in the thing itself. It is mainly in approaches. Therefore, that is why Traditionalists should have their arguments and approach set and clearly enunciated when we write about how bad the current approach is. For if we are asking that a law be removed, the most logical question is "what shall we replace it with?" And as I pointed out in my previous writing, that is something we need to think about. Yet, Traditionalists believe in the age-old addage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Mass of All Ages was not broke and thus did not need fixing; unlike the total confusion brought on by the synthetic Novus Ordo. Traditionalists realize we already have a fail-safe system that has been in place for two millennia. It is called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as established by Christ and codified by Pope St. Pius V to be said "in perpetuity" in Latin. To Holy Mother Church the vernacular has always been vulgar.
Another misconception which, while finding it's way in certain areas, does not speak for the whole is the idea that Traditionalists are the end-all and be-all to all issues. In other words, what is said by the Traditional movement is the DEFINITIVE way to solve everything, and no other approach is acceptable. We are not the Magisterium, certainly not. Yet as loyal sons we do offer our complaints and criticisms, hoping they will be remedied. Understanding this perspective, we also make our views known to others. Always the Traditionalist abides by what the Living Magisterium has established. This Living Magisterium is comprised of all the Popes, Bishops, Fathers and Doctors of the Church from the time of St. Peter on. Many Traditionalists today find there are many contradiction between the Living Magisterium of the Church and those hierarchs advancing the Modernist agenda within the Church, and that very fact has motivated the Traditionalist to seek a return to the purity of Catholicism in preserving the Sacred Deposit of the Faith.
Now while there are some variances to one degree or another, this is the general standpoint from which the Traditionalist operates. Fallible human beings as we are, we at times fail to meet this standard, but that is not to say we should not elevate ourselves to this standard. This line of approach I do not deny I feel to be the best way to help overcome the crisis in the Church, and the strongest outlook to have. Yet I also think these are premises even those who aren't Traditionalists can agree upon. Working from there, future installments of these musings will touch upon various subjects, and offer constructive commentary and insight upon them. I hope God blesses us all richly.
Kevin M. Tierney