In Defense of Traditional Catholics

They are traditional Catholics, lovers of everything laden with Latin, incense and chant. Their expressive piety within the sanctuary earns them the label “holier than thou”. Their fine attention to liturgy earns their reputation as sticklers. Their study of the Church’s ancient practices makes them “medieval.” They don’t tend to smile at Mass or greet everyone, which makes them seem aloof.  They are not like the atheist, the prodigal the homosexual or the addict who can be safely welcomed with open arms. No, these are Pharisaical agitators stuck in the past. They threaten everything previous generations have fought so hard for.

Yet we fail to realize people are made differently, with different personalities, talents and needs and that they worship in different ways.  For a traditional, Mass is about an intense encounter with a transcendent God. It is a mystery that leaves them silent and somber. What is underneath the somber exterior is a person reaching out for love. How we react can make all the difference.

I firmly believe that the average parish doesn’t do enough to welcome these folks. Most indifferently watch them bristle against sentimental hymns and forced hand-holding. They could care less if a casual, socialized liturgy sends them running out the door. This is sad because each person has gifts to offer. It is sad because our hearts remained closed. “They are not like us, they can’t get with the program” we say and thus, we turn them away. Traditional Catholics have different spiritual needs. The parish church accounts for the needs of different cultures, different age-groups and but not the needs of traditionals. Most of all, the contemporary Mass which doesn’t speak to them, is usually the only option available. If they do so much as ask for a pinch of incense, a line of chant or even proper rubrics, they are dismissed as arrogant. I have heard countless horror stories of people who received harsh admonishment for asking a priest to stop abuses in the Mass. As stated in the document, Redemptionis Sacrementum, we all have a right to liturgy that is authentic and faithful (chapter 1, 18).

Most people won’t complain about abuses, let alone notice them. Again traditional Catholics have different needs and they are often punished for expressing those needs. Feeling unwelcome, they go off in search of an elusive Byzantine Divine Liturgy or Tridentine Latin Mass. If they can find a parish that offers these, the traditional Catholic may quickly find a home amidst the sacredness and quiet. But what if no such options exist? In the worst case, they find ways into schismatic groups that breed bitterness towards the Church. The stronger ones are back at the diocesan parish, remembering the scoldings, misunderstandings and pain. Either way, they have been alienated.

Since the needs of traditional Catholics are seemingly hidden away, I will reveal them. There are three main drives or needs for these Catholics who are more attached to older liturgical expressions. We do well to recognize them as they are in reality, quite natural human needs.
The first need says: “Give me a heritage.”

We see this in those who grew up worshiping a certain way, were comfortable, and see no need to change anything. They are pragmatists who stick to what works. Changes in the liturgy left them confused and feeling somewhat betrayed because what they did before suddenly wasn’t good enough. When told their way is wrong or “backwards” their temperament becomes stubborn and argumentative. They are often called “Hard-heads”.

Retaining traditions is a way for people to retain their identity. Ingrained customs, rules and ritual helps them make sense of who they are and of the world around them. Pragmatism makes them feel grounded, as if their way of life has meaning. It also is apparent in younger generations who feel root-less and long for a connection with other human beings. The disconnectedness caused by modern technology is remedied by a sense of heritage. Chanting in Latin or some other sacred language unifies them with myriad ancestors. It helps them to know thousands of people have sung the same song or said the same prayer. For them the faith is like a torch carried through history. They belong more at home in traditional liturgy.

People with pragmatic needs are usually very loyal. People of community, they can offer great dedication to any parish endeavor. They are likely to join councils and clubs such as the Knights of Columbus or family ministry. Acceptance and appreciation are very important for this lover of traditional values. Their influence offers strength and stability to the parish church.

The second need says: “Give me mystery.”

Some want to love God and express that love as boldly as possible by means of ritualized worship. They are the Idealists. In more derogatory terms they are called “ritualists”.  More modern ways of worship make them feel constricted, barren and sterilized. Conformity with current fashions makes them bristle and even act out when pressured. Those who want to wear chapel veils and kneel for communion are often called “Rebels”. People see their actions as ostentatious and they will reply that love is ostentatious.

Some people desire a certain freedom and love the ritual because it allows us to come as they are, ditch the world and become immersed in worship. Rituals and high liturgy makes them feel as if there is something special and mysterious in our faith that can oppose the abuses, something that won’t change or slip away.

Not everyone has the same life experiences and we should consider this. Mystery and ceremony breaks one out of the banal, 9 to 5 workday. Some people need liturgy to give them a retreat into God. Younger people realize this and tend to shy away from liturgical innovations that come off as sappy or fake. They have been bombarded all day with noise and chatter and do not want more of it when they come into church. For them and many other, mystery is the real deal.

People with idealistic needs offer a liveliness and love of beauty to the parish church. These people are lovers of art and liturgical symbolism, keen to recognize the meaning of each prayer and gesture. They usually excel at contemplative prayer and will join prayer groups, music ministry or any activity that enriches the liturgy. Being able to express themselves, nourish genuine friendships and engage in traditional devotions is very important to these pious souls. Their gifts can be aimed towards the spiritual renewal of a parish.

The third need says: “Give me order”.

Yes this is what makes traditionals so ill reputed as “rigorists” and “legalists”. The modern environment often leaves people feeling bereft of control. Unable to make sense of who they are, they may experience unworthiness. Too many changes in the liturgy leave them confused and scared. Any incident of abuse scandalizes them deeply. Mastering and following the rules is a way they can gain some control over the environment which has changed so much. It is a way for them to feel worthy. Confronted with casual Catholicism, their temperament becomes scrupulous, hyper vigilant and judging. When they worry about rubrics, they are called “Pharisees”. Yet these people believe rubrics exist for a reason and for the betterment of the church community. Legal observance isn’t just about conformity, it is about ordering a deeply broken humanity. A higher order is sought, which will arm them against the flesh and the devil.

This need for order is often felt by converts who studied and prepared for the faith. Some of these deserted a former life for Christ and wonder why everyone else wants it easy. Easy doesn’t work for them. They crave challenges. Traditional liturgy addresses this challenge. They have to be quiet. They have to focus. They have to honor God. This rigidity may upset older generations who once again, felt constrained by traditional ways.

Thus, the new generation is different. Younger priests often pay more attention to the rubrics. They show concern for things like formation, reverence and continuity. This reflects a need acutely felt by the growing generation. Rather than insist young priests only care about rules, we should realize Christ provides for the needs of His Church in every age.

People with law-observing needs have a keen eye for detail. They are superb learners and teachers of the faith and despite their apparent rigor, they can be very conscientious people with big hearts. They like joining Bible studies and RCIA teams. Being able to address real issues, have questions answered and give input are important to these folks. Their gifts can help  empower catechesis in the parish church.

Younger Catholics with traditional leanings are often drawn to the disciplines of altar serving and the Liturgy of the Hours. If you teach them how to chant, they’ll love you. They view priests and authority figures as role-models and thus are deeply scandalized when a minister scolds them for being “too extreme”. Their zeal can be reigned in by gentle guidance and simply allowing them to become members of the community. Treating them as outcasts who need to get with the times will usually result in acts of rebellion. Their strong emotions make them especially vulnerable to schismatic groups. It is important we listen to them and understand why traditional observances benefit them.

There are many facets to the traditional Catholic. Some will not fit definitively not have all the needs mentioned here. Naming them as rebels and legalists is very unfair and doesn’t address the person’s real needs. Each wants to love and serve God the best way they can. Each believes they are doing what they can to stay Catholic amidst a tide of baffling changes and currents. No matter how progressive you are, it’s best to see traditionalists as people who want to love and follow the Church. Even those who go into schism honestly believe what they do is out of love. It is love marred by sins which we all can fall victim to.

We should try to reach out and understand those who are strongly attached to tradtitional liturgy rather than judge them. Beneath it all is a deep hunger for God which they feel the modern age has not met or even worse deprived them. There will always be “holier than thou” folks in every camp. Pride is no respecter of persons. It affects the guitar Mass devotee as much as the Latin lover. It is time we change our views. It’s time we stop pushing these people away. Let us view the love of tradition, mystery and ritual not as a weakness or superiority complex- but as a unique gift of personal faith and strong convictions.


I recommend that all those interested in what the Church teaches about the liturgy read these documents.

Redemptionis Sacramentum– deals with what is legitimate liturgical abuse and what is not.

Sacrosanctum Concillium– Vatican II document about liturgical reforms.
Summorum Pontificum– Concerns the legitimacy of the Tridentine Latin Mass.


23 thoughts on “In Defense of Traditional Catholics

  1. If it isn’t broke… don’t try and fix it. The church I grew up with has changed and treats me with disdain, but I would never turn my back on my faith, my bible and My Lord.


    • Umm, why would I be condescending? Many of the things I spoke of are things I experienced myself, being ostracized and scolded, being called a pharisee and a rebel. I was trying to explain that people in the church need to stop treating traditional Catholics like lepers and realize they have needs too.


      • It seems condescending because it talks about what the traditionalists”need” and how they have “needs.” As though they are children who need coddled, or lost souls who are in need of rescuing. The fact of the matter is, the traditionalists are true lovers of God, and true followers of Him, and thus are persecuted. All the ways in which we are treated are truly persecutions by the spirit of Vatican II folk who truly fear nothing more than a young conservative. Unfortunately, they are in power now, they have the majority (after driving the other traditionalists away over the past decades) and positions of power, both officially and unofficially, and with their power they chose to persecute the traditionalists. So, did Christ need anything from those who arrested him, mocked him, scourged him, crowned him with thorns, condemned him to death, and crucified him? No. Did Paul need anything from those who cut his head off, or did Peter have needs from those who crucified him upside-down? Did Thomas More need anything from Henry? No. Likewise, all we traditionalists need is God, and for God to be at our side, and for us to faithfully continue to love and serve Him, and continue to do holy work to restore our lost heritage and to restore the right form of worship of God and rid His Church of the mockery that now stands in the place of that true and holy worship.


      • Everyone is really taking this out of context and I’m not going to sit here and defend myself. Take from it what you can. If you don’t like it move on.


      • RaeMarie – The tone you used, though perfect for what you were trying to do, will actually be read as sarcastic and condescending to traditional lol. I laugh because I had to get most of the way through myself before I could decide, I am after all a nutty traditional myself.

        One point of criticism, I would wager there are far more young traditionals than older ones, particularly in the camp that prefer Latin. It is important to remember it was the older (now) generation that threw out tradition in favor of the spirit of Vatican II and keeps looking for ways to regrasp that spirit (sort of like the spirit of Woodstock).

        Don’t be offended when some (many?) read this wrong. Just understand it will be easy to read this wrong if one doesn’t put on their critical thinking hat. Personally I think this does a good job introduction the concept of a “traditional” to a hyper liberal church goer.


      • I do mention young people, though maybe not as much as I should. This is because I already covered it in my article “What Young Catholics Truly Want” which is on my old blog: Catholic With A Vengeance. And you rightly understand this as being aimed at the more liberal folks who just can’t understand traditionalists. That is precisely who this is addressed to.


    • I get a hint of both. The author seems to try to look at things objectively, yet implies that both the Novus Ordo Liturgy and the Tridentine Liturgy are equally valid; That we can choose based on our feelings. The Novus Ordo and Tridentine Litugies are not compatible and hardly alike in any way, therefore they cannot co-habitate peacefully, nor be used interchangeably. I am a “Traditionalist” and frankly, I could care less what the “Novus Ordo Catholics” think of me and the way I worship God. I only hope to bring them closer to him by example.


  2. Redemptionis Sacramentum- deals with what is legitimate liturgical abuse and what is not
    Interesting, I never knew there was an instruction on legitimate abuse. 🙂


  3. I’m a traditionalist, and this sums it up well, except for I also believe that something went horribly wrong at Vatican Two…there has been a great change in what Catholic means, and for some reason, people are listening to dissenting theologians and not to the Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church.


    • I too believe something went wrong because what is said in the documents of Vatican II is nothing like what was put into practice. People let their greed for popularity and their own selfishness take precedence.


  4. What a great article in calling everyone to see or understand the beauty of devotion and piety that exists in our heritage. Faithful Catholics have been marginalized for too long!


  5. I would fall into the convert group that would be giddy at the thought of a TLM being said within 2 hours of my home. I shy away from the lady wanting to hold my hand during the “Our Father”. I am secretly praying that my husband buys my the Liturgy of the Hours for my birthday. I wear a chapel veil well actually I veil almost always in addition to a chapel veil in Mass. I wish others would be just a little excited at the opportunity to be in Christ’s real presence! I would rather be sitting in an adult classroom during religious education but instead I teach classes so that these children, my brothers and sisters in Christ, have an opportunity to know someone excited about our Faith, other than the Priest, and learn the importance of our Faith, the Dogma of the Church and the beautiful reasons for all of it. I should have crazy traditionalist Catholic with Pentecostal exuberance tattooed on my forehead. Nothing could ever drag me from the True Church.


  6. This article is ironic. It uses precisely the same structure of every pro-gay and progressive or “liberal” Catholic article I have read regarding the Church’s stance toward their own respective agendas. First, the article opens with a sarcastic straw man description of it’s own identity. Next, it creates empathy in the reader by describing the humanity of the group (really we are all just looking for love). And then urges the Church to be more “open-armed” about accepting people who have different “needs” that the church is not meeting, and that that the Church has abandoned them.

    I think the article illustrates that the difference between “conservative” Catholics and “liberal” Catholics is really not so great. It lies merely in a different moral agenda that is not being validated by Church teaching. In other words, both are “cafeteria” Catholics–to use a tired term. In truth, the Church is a living organism, one that dynamically grows and moves forward never ceasing to remain statically rooted in tradition. Likewise, it also uses tradition to in order to grow healthily and faithfully (and please no one lecture me on Tradition vs. tradition). Traditionalists forget that the Tridentine Rite itself was not universally practiced by the Church until after the invention of the printing press (enabling standardization), and was before that time, merely the Rite that was celebrated by the college of cardinals in Rome. The suppression of the other Rites, and the emergence of a standard Latin Rite, occurred over the course of the Protestant Reformation, during which time the Church feared that unless it standardized its liturgy, clear lines between Protestant worship and Catholic worship could not be established. A legitimate concern but a pragmatic one, not a sacred one. For most of Church history in the middle ages, countless Rites existed within the Church that reflected local traditions and customs. In fact, in the middle ages, subtle differences between Rites would have been found within every single parish, as low communication and the rarity of books would have made standardization impossible.

    The biggest problem I have had when welcoming traditionalists is that they are not the friendliest people. They refuse to participate in the Novus Ordo, which necessarily segregates them from their larger parish community. They often struggle with moralism, which is a great impediment to authentic relationships with the outside world (I know, because I have struggled with it). And finally, they tend to be more focused on the tenants of being traditional (and are painfully outspoken on these topics) then they are of having a genuine encounter with another struggling, sinful Catholic of a different background. Remind you of anyone? Perhaps the outspoken liberal Catholic is not so different a creature.

    PS – there are plenty of Medievalists who are not also “Traditionalists”


    • I really don’t think I have time to go into all that. But understand most of the traditionals I know realize there were different rites and appreciate them. They have studied deeply the history of the church and most prefer the Tridentine Rite because it;’s the only thing around which reflects the sense of reverence they seek. A close friend I have actually likes the Byzantine Rite better.
      Yes I could run through the sins and shortcomings of a traditional view. I myself have encountered many traditional Catholics with nasty, elitist attitudes- and many liberal ones as well. I’ve met many unfriendly traditional Catholics and have been ostracized by both liberal and traditional folks as well. Did I ever say traditionalist views were perfect? Again I know many traditionals who are willing to struggle alongside fellow Catholics. I am one of them. Your comment that tradtitionals care more about tradition than encounters with other people is hurtful to be honest because I try hard to make genuine connections at my Novus Ordo Parish.
      I’m sorry you haven’t encountered the better ones but it’s no reason to go on a long rant.


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