- Once there was no rite of Mass rendered into the vulgar tongues of the world. There was only the universal liturgical language of a timeless Church as seen in the immemorial Roman Rite, whose organic development had proceeded almost imperceptibly since the 5th century, or in the venerable Eastern rites, almost as ancient, which have largely escaped the furious liturgical vandalism that has ravaged the Church’s principal liturgy.
- Once there were no Lutheran-style altar tables in our churches, but only high altars oriented to God, whose very appearance aroused one’s sense of awe and reverence.
- Once there were no lay lectors, lay “ministers of the Eucharist” or girls in the sanctuary, but only priests, deacons on the way to the priesthood, and the male altar servers who were a primary source of generation after generation of priestly vocations, filling the seminaries.
- Once there was no profane music during Mass, but only Gregorian chant or polyphony, arousing the soul to contemplation of the divine rather than foot-tapping, hand-clapping or mere boredom.
- Once there were no widespread liturgical abuses. At worst, there were priests who celebrated the traditional Mass diffidently but within a rubrical, textual and musical framework that nonetheless protected its central mystery from any possibility of profanation and maintained the supreme dignity of divine worship against human weakness.
- Once there was no “gay Mafia” in the seminaries, the chanceries and the Vatican itself, or clerical predators molesting boys all over the globe, because Church authorities enforced the rule that “religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty…”
- Once there were no empty seminaries, empty convents, abandoned parishes and shuttered Catholic schools. There were only seminaries, convents, parishes and schools filled with faithful Catholics from large families.
- Once there was no “ecumenism.” There was only the conviction that the Catholic Church is the one true Church outside of which no one is saved. Catholics followed the Church’s teaching that “[i]t is not lawful for the faithful in any way to assist actively at or to take part in the worship of non-Catholics,” and they understood, if only implicitly, what Pope Pius XI insisted upon: “Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it.”
- Once there was no “dialogue.” There was only evangelization by clergy and lay apologists with the aim of making converts to the true religion. And converts there were, entering the Church in numbers so great that it seemed even the United States was becoming a Catholic nation, as 30 million Americans tuned in to Bishop Sheen every Sunday.
- Once there were no mass defections from the priesthood, the religious orders, and the lay faithful, leading to “silent apostasy” in Europe and throughout the West. There was, rather, what a Father of Second Vatican Council described at the Council’s commencement: “the Church, notwithstanding the calamities that plague the world, is experiencing a glorious era, if you consider the Christian life of the clergy and of the faithful, the propagation of the faith, and the salutary universal influence possessed by the Church in the world today.”
- Once there were no “Catholic Charismatics,” “neo-Catecheumenals,” or other “ecclesial movements” promoting strange new modes of worship invented by their founders. There were only Catholics, worshipping in the same way as their forebears with unbroken continuity down the centuries.
- Once there were no traditionalists, because there was no need to describe any Catholic by that term. All Catholics accepted instinctively what a series of Popes had prescribed as part of the very profession of our faith: “I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church.”
That was the way it once was. And when was this bygone era of which I write? Not centuries ago, or even one century ago, or even a single lifetime ago, but a mere fifty years ago, within the living memory of many millions of Catholics today.
What, then, is a traditionalist? He is nothing more or less than a Catholic who has continued to practice the faith precisely as he learned it in his childhood, or who has received the same unreconstructed faith from his parents and will in turn pass it on to his own children. A traditionalist, in other words, is a Catholic who lives the faith as if the ecclesial calamities of the post-Vatican II epoch had never happened—indeed, as if Vatican II itself had never happened. And the astonishing truth about the traditionalist is that no doctrine or disciplinary rule of the Church whatsoever forbids him to believe and to worship God in just that way, even though the great preponderance of Catholics no longer does.
That Catholics who have simply gone on believing and worshiping as Catholics always did before the Council have come to be called traditionalists—quite suddenly in historical terms—that the very word tradition now distinguishes these relative few Catholics from the vast majority of the Church’s members, is the undeniable sign of a crisis like no other the Church has ever witnessed. Those who deny this would have to explain why it is only within that transformed vast majority, rightly described as neo-Catholic, that the faith has been steadily losing its grip on the people, with many falling away completely into the “silent apostasy” John Paul II lately lamented after hailing for so many years a “conciliar renewal” that was actually a massive collapse of faith and discipline.
In particular, they would have to explain why it is only within this vast majority of “Vatican II Catholics” that we find—
- more than a quarter of all marriages ending in divorce, with tens of millions of divorced and “remarried” Catholics worldwide whose continuing adultery Cardinal Kasper wishes to accommodate, with the seeming encouragement of the currently reigning Pope;
- births, baptisms, sacramental marriages, conversions, and Mass attendance declining relentlessly since the Council;
- a widespread rejection of the Church’s infallible teaching on fundamental matters of faith and morals;
- a sudden and dramatic loss of priestly vocations, leaving the Catholic priesthood slightly smaller today than it was in 1970, and a drastic decline in the number of religious since then, despite a doubling of the world’s population.
They would also have to explain why it is only among the tiny minority of Catholics now denominated traditionalists that not one of these signs of ecclesial decay is evident.
In recent days the ecclesial crisis that has been with us now for more than half a century appears to be reaching a depth from which there can be no rescue without a miraculous divine intervention. The world is singing hosannas to the new Pope, urging him on to a final completion, per impossibile, of the process of ecclesial auto-demolition Paul VI spent his last years decrying although he himself had unleashed it. Yet the neo-Catholic establishment continues its confident march past the point of no return, explaining away all evidence of disaster while patronizing traditionalists as diehard connoisseurs of nostalgia whose “sensibilities” might be accommodated even if they no longer matter for the future of the Church. But in truth traditionalists are the future of the Church, as the history of our time will record when it is written.
What exactly is a traditionalist? He is what every Catholic once was, and will be again when the crisis is over.
“Instruction on the Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders” )
Can. 1251, §1, CIC (1917),
Mortalium animos (1928), n. 10.
Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, p. 113 (quoting the Armenian Patriarch of Cilicia).
Pope Saint Pius X, Pascendi (1907), n. 42 (quoting and affirming the continuing validity of a profession of faith prescribed by Pius IV and Blessed Pius IX).
Cf. CARA statistical trends analysis, http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2010/08/there-will-likely-be-fewer-catholic.html
Cf. Pew Research Poll, March 18, 2013, http://www.pewforum.org/2013/03/18/us-catholics-happy-with-selection-of-pope-francis/.