Traditionalist Catholic

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"Traditional Catholic" is a term used by some to refer simply to those Catholics who would like to see the worship and customs of the Roman Catholic Church return to those in existence before the reforms of the 1960s. Catholics such as these who have no qualms about typical interpretations of Vatican II documents and who don't see the presentation of Catholic teaching as having changed attend traditional Masses offered by indult (permission of the local Bishop) inside ordinary diocesan structures.

The terms "traditional Catholic" and "traditionalist Catholic" are more commonly used -- and are used in this entry -- to refer to Catholics who not only would like to see the worship and customs of the Roman Catholic Church return to those in existence before the reforms of the 1960s, but who also want to preserve (and restore, where wanting) all the sacramental rites in use before the Second Vatican Council, who take issue with typical interpretations of Vatican II documents, who see the presentation of Catholic teaching as having changed since Vatican II, and who seek to preserve what they consider "true" Church teachings in a manner that more "mainstream" Catholics find objectionable.


Traditionalist beliefs

Traditional Catholics differ from other Catholics in not only believing that a veritable "revolution" has swept through the human element of the Church since the Second Vatican Council ("Vatican II"), but by resisting the changes. Traditional Catholics may differ, though, in their perceptions of recent Popes and Vatican II, and those differences divide them into two major groups.

One consists of those traditional Catholics who accept Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessors as true Popes and believe that the Second Vatican Council was a valid, albeit problematic, Council. In this group are included most of those who attend officially approved Masses (Masses offered by "indult" of the local Bishop) celebrated by the Fraternal Society of St Peter (F.S.S.P.), and most of those who attend Masses offered by the Priestly Society of St. Pius X ("S.S.P.X.") outside of ordinary diocesan structures.

The second major group consists of "sedevacantist" Catholics, that is Catholics who believe that the Catholic Church has not had a true Pope for some time (most consider Pope Pius XII as the last true Pope) and, depending on the time they see as the moment the "Chair of Peter" became empty, may or may not see Vatican II as a valid Council.

All traditional Catholics, though, are concerned with typical interpretations of Vatican II documents and decry some of the scandalous behaviors of many recent Bishops and Cardinals. They also have certain common beliefs which can be summarized by saying that mainstream Catholics accept what traditional Catholics believe would have been considered "Modernist" or "liberal" at the time of the Second Vatican Council, while traditional Catholics strive to remain consistent with what they believe was considered "conservative" or "traditional" at the time of the Vatican II. They unofficially take as their "motto":Citation needed

We are what you once were.
We believe what you once believed.
We worship as you once worshipped.
If you were right then, we are right now.
If we are wrong now, you were wrong then.

Traditional Catholics believe, though, that errors have crept into the presentation and understanding of Catholic teaching, either because of liberal interpretations of Vatican II documents, and/or because of post-conciliar pastoral decisions that they believe have harmed the Church, and/or, as is believed by some, because of the Council's documents themselves. Most traditional Catholics see the Second Vatican Council itself as a valid Council, but one which was pastoral and which produced no infallibly-given, solemn definitions that Catholics must accept as a part of the Faith. Support of this claim is found in Pope John XXIII's Opening Address to the Council, Pope Paul VI's closing address, the lack of formal definitions and anathemas in the Council's sixteen documents, and the ambiguity of the documents themselves which makes an "authentic" interpretation difficult to discern.

Foremost among the perceived errors they see as having crept into the presentation and understanding of Catholic teaching are:

  • A new understanding of collegiality which they claim has weakened the papacy and made bishops' conferences a veritable "second Vicar of Christ" for the Church. They see this as contradicting, among other documentss, Pope Leo XIII's Satis Cognitum and the Nota Praevia to Vatican II's Lumen Gentium.

  • A new ecclesiology that they claim doesn't equate the Catholic Church with the Church established by Jesus Christ, but treats the Church established by Jesus Christ as merely "subsisting in" the Catholic Church in an undefined way. They claim that the typical interpretation of this "subsistence" contradicts Pope Pius XII's Mystici Corporis Christi among other papal documents, and leads to false ideas of "ecumenism".

  • A new focus on the natural world coupled with a de-emphasizing of the supernatural and preternatural worlds. This, they say, leads to Deism, Pragmatism, and moral relativism.

  • A new pastoral orientation and attitude toward novelty that they claim was unheard of in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council. Some of them see this as contradicting the papal oath alleged to have been written by Pope St. Agatho in ca. 681 and to have been taken by all Popes from Pope St. Agatho himself to Pope Paul VI inclusive, Pope Pius X's Motu Proprio Sacrorum antistitum (an oath taken by all priests prior to the Council), Pope Gregory XVI's Mirari Vos, the Fourth Anathema of the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and other papal and conciliar documents.

  • An ignoring of the traditional belief that the Church and the world are at variance with one another to some degree, and that the Church has enemies. They believe that Pope Pius X's warnings in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Leo XIII's Humanum Genus, and other papal warnings against secret societies and enemies of Christendom have gone unheeded and that the enemy warned against has entered into the human element of the Church itself.

  • A new "Paschal theology", which they see as de-emphasizing the Sacrifice of the Mass and which they claim leads the faithful to believe that it is Christ's Resurrection alone, and not the Blood shed by His Sacrifice on the Cross, that saves. Traditional Catholics see the revision of the Mass liturgy under Pope Paul VI as a fruit of this "paschal theology," a theology they see as contradicting Scripture and Encyclicals such as Pope Pius XII's Mediator Dei. They also see this paschal theology as de-emphasizing the meaning of suffering, ignoring Christ's admonition to Christians to "take up their crosses" (Matthew 10:38), and forgetting St. Paul's admonitions to mortify the flesh (Galatians 5:18-25, Colossians 1:23-24).

  • A new Order of the Mass that they see as rooted in the aforementioned Paschal Theology and that, therefore, de-emphasizes traditional Catholic teaching on the Mass as a Sacrifice (the offering up of Jesus to his Father in a re-presentation of Calvary and for the remission of sins). They believe that the Novus Ordo Missae has been stripped of important Catholic prayers; is open to abuse because of the various options allowed; de-emphasizes the ordained priesthood; is divisive because of the eradiction of Latin which brought people of various nations together; is man-centered rather than God-centered; includes an order of readings that omits controversial things (Hell, Pharisaism, miracles, etc.); and is less beautiful, poetic, and able to act as a sign of Mystery, etc. (some of these problems are summarized in the Ottaviani Intervention). Different traditional Catholics have different views as to the validity of the Novus Ordo Missae ("the New Mass"):
    • Some see it as valid and as a viable option if necessary, though the traditional Mass should be attended when at all possible. This is believed by most priests who operate inside the ordinary diocesan structures (see below).

    • Some see it as valid if offered using valid matter, form, and intent, but that it should be avoided, nonetheless, because the changes are sacrilegious and harmful to the Catholic Faith, and because the actual use of valid matter and intent is often questionable in many parishes. The priests of the Society of St. Pius X (the S.S.P.X.) -- the largest priestly fraternity working outside of ordinary diocesan structures -- teaches this.

    • Some see it as not valid at all. Most sedevacantists fall into this category.

Places of worship

Traditional Catholics worship at the parishes and chapels of two main groups of priests:

  1. Priests who accept Benedict XVI and his recent predecessors as Popes and do not withdraw submission to them. Into this group fall:
    1. Priests who offer the traditional Mass by indult (with the permission of their local Bishop) in ordinary parishes within the ordinary diocesan structures (i.e., at regular Catholic parishes). The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, or "F.S.S.P.", is the largest priestly fraternity offering traditional Masses by indult.
    2. Priests who operate outside of ordinary diocesan structures and who offer Mass in chapels and oratories (the Society of St. Pius X, or "S.S.P.X.", is the largest priestly fraternity offering Masses outside of the normal structures). Priests and many traditional laymen who worship outside of ordinary diocesan structures tend to believe they must do so in order to ensure that they are able to offer or receive all of the Sacraments -- not just the Eucharist -- in the traditional way, and that they are able to give or hear sermons on controversial matters (e.g., ecumenism, evangelism, liberalism, sin, Purgatory, Hell, political issues, the recent sex scandals, etc.) without fear of political reprisal from disapproving Bishops. They see their situation as comparable to that of traditional Catholics during the Arian heresy when the majority of Bishops were heretics or condoned heresy, and Catholics like Saint Athanasius (who was excommunicated by Pope Liberius and exiled from his see) were vilified yet ultimately canonized.
  2. Sedevacantist priests who operate outside ordinary diocesan structures

Though there is certain level of dispute among these various groups at the official level, traditional Catholic laypeople amongst them generally tend to have good relations with each other (though often with some tension between sedevacantists and those who accept the acclaimed Pope). A given Catholic layman might have strong opinions for or against the advisabiliy of worshiping outside of diocesan structures, or he might worship at more than one of the above settings without qualm.

Relations with other Catholic groups

Traditional Catholic analysis is not widely shared by more mainstream Catholics, some of whom believe that traditional Catholics are merely "nostalgic," afraid of change, and disobedient. Traditional Catholics defend their beliefs to them by saying that conservative Catholics often lack subtlety in their understanding of what traditional Catholics believe and do and that they often respond to traditionalists' criticisms out of emotionalism, in reaction to misinformation, and out of a false understanding of Christian obedience and the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church). They encourage study and prayer to discern the issues involved.

With regard to the Holy See, different groups of traditional Catholics have different sorts of relations:

  • Traditional Catholics who worship at Masses allowed by indult through ordinary diocesan structures have little problem, though trying to obtain permission from local Bishops often involves working with local officials who may not appove of an Indult, who may allow the traditional Mass non-weekly and/or at inconvenient times, who may allow the traditional Mass but not the other traditional sacramental rites, and who may object to any preaching that disagrees with typical interpretations of Vatican II documents.

  • Traditional Catholics who operate outside of ordinary diocesan structures have a strained relationship with the Holy See. The Sacraments they offer are seen to be valid but illicit, but relations between the Holy See and some priestly societies (such as the S.S.P.X.) who operate outside of normal diocesan structures are considered by those officials to be "an internal matter" of the Church. A communique from the Ecclesia Dei Commission's Monsignor Perl (Protocol No. 539/99, September 28, 1999) advises that Catholics who attend Mass at S.S.P.X. chapels incur no penalty if they do so “because of the reverence and devotion which they find there, because of their attraction to the traditional Latin Mass and not because they refuse submission to the Roman Pontiff.”

  • Sedevacantist Catholics have no relationship with the Holy See and don't desire it for obvious reasons.

See also

External links




Books supportive of the traditional Catholic movement


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