I’ve seen a lot of attention given to the disruption that is caused by those pesky radical traditionalists, or rad-trads, in editorials, podcasts, and the like and I think it’s fair to say that they have a fairly bad reputation, especially, online for being intolerant, rude, cranky, and uncharitable.
And while I’d agree there are some high-profile personalities that have volunteered to be the standard bearers for traditional Catholicism, I’d want to suggest that they aren’t an accurate representation of traditional or even traditionalist Catholicism.
And since, by some estimates, I might be considered a traditionalist myself, I thought I’d share some thoughts that will hopefully shift or at least expand your perspective on those quarrelsome rad-trads.
A couple points of points of contention that I want to focus in on is the comparison to the pharisees in biblical times and the apparent intolerance and combativeness of traditionalists.
I myself was accused of acting like a Pharisee when I refused to continue attending a liturgical environment plagued with abuse and contempt for the Church’s instructions on liturgy, preferring, instead, to attend the Extraordinary Form or the Traditional Latin Mass where I knew those problems wouldn’t exist.
So, is that an apt comparison, traditional Catholics and the Pharisees, and if so, what was so bad about those Pharisees that we Christians might want to avoid?
For anyone reading the New Testament, it’s obvious that the Pharisees are the bad guys. They are the ones who collide with Jesus over his teaching ministry and they are among those who plot against him in order to have him silenced and eventually executed.
So obviously that’s not the kind of association that anyone is going to want to be branded with. But was everything about them rotten all the way through? because it seems to me that the comparison between the pharisees and traditional Catholics is often made on the grounds of their strict adherence to their beliefs and refusal to compromise.
But is that really such a bad thing? scripture, over and over again, admonishes us to keep the commandments and stand firm in our faith. Joshua 23:6 says, “Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses…”
1 Corinthians 15:58 says, "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." Ephesians 6:13 says, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…”
And John 2:17 summarized Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple from all profane things with the verse, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
So religious zeal and steadfastness, is definitely encouraged in scripture and our faith tradition. So what is it about the Pharisees that we should be critical of? It was their pride and hypocrisy.
Because the more serious you become about something, anything, the more pride you can take in it. The more accomplished I become in my career, the more I am tempted to let that massage my ego and compare myself to other people.
It’s no different with religion. It’s a good thing for us to grow in our understanding and practice of the faith. There’s no doubt about that, but as we do so the focus of temptations that afflict us will be less concerned with a lack of courage and discipline and shift towards a lack of humility.
Because the more disciplined and knowledgeable we become about our faith, the more prideful we are tempted to become and the enemy would gladly allow us to grow in certain virtues if it means he can secure our soul through pride.
And this same temptation is the great threat for traditional Catholics as they grow in their faith. Our calling is to grow both in the practice and understanding of our faith, which should inevitably be more grounded in tradition, but at the same time, more humble. Humility should always be among our highest priorities.
And yes, it’s not hard to encounter this kind of pride among traditional Catholics. But I think the impression that this is pervasive has more to do with those public personalities who like to brand themselves as standard bearers of traditionalism.
And of course, celebrity Catholics are going to be even more tempted by pride and hypocrisy so I wouldn’t use some of those louder voices to shape your perception of the average traditional Catholic.
Twitter is not an accurate metric for what most people who attend the Traditional Latin Mass are like. In fact, it seems to me that the majority of them are quite indifferent towards social media and the modern obsession with our devices. The few who are on Twitter are the exception and therefore not an accurate representation of Traditional Catholicism in my experience.
So what about the charge of being intolerant towards contemporary Catholicism? If we can be honest with ourselves, as Catholics on all sides, we need to admit that this factionalism and fighting isn’t going away and sweeping it under the rug isn’t going to magically bring about greater unity.
And because it is something akin to a fight or an internal struggle, if you want to cast certain groups with a measure of blame, maybe the place to start is by asking who shot first. Because in any conflict, according to Church teaching, self defence is permissible and just.
Well, what we now consider Traditional Catholicism in the Roman rite, was, for hundreds of years, just Catholicism. It was what everyone believed and practiced. Then, half a century ago, certain Church leaders decided that the practice of the faith, especially the sacred liturgy, was inadequate.
In other words, they rejected it as it was and sought to renovate it with contemporary sensibilities. They didn’t consult the vast majority of Catholics who cherished their faith. They just showed up to Mass one week and things had dramatically changed and many of those changes were at odds with well documented Catholic teachings which I’ll go into in an upcoming video.
And in response, those who wanted to retain the practice of the faith that they been raised in, that was the context of some of their most important memories including marriages, anointings, and funerals, not to mention their weekly if not daily reception of the Eucharist, they rejected the innovations that were being imposed on them and for that rejection were branded as rigid and intolerant.
But in the whole transaction, that rejection goes both ways. Remember it was the renovators and innovators that first rejected the traditions of the faith as they were and used that as a premise to reinvent them.
And then, the traditional practice was withheld from those who wanted to keep them until Pope Benedict XVI, several generations later, made a provision to allow the Latin Mass to be said, with much hysterical objection from the modernists.
So in my view, if we’re going to talk about Traditional Catholics as being intolerant, we should remember that it was the innovators who first expressed their intolerance for the traditional liturgy of the Church which means that the antagonism of traditionalists would be more accurately characterized as a measure of self defence rather than aggression.