Rorate Caeli

Reply to Mgr Pope: Are Traditional Catholics doing enough?

Evangelising in difficult conditions (the rain): the LMS Walsingham Pilgrimage
Mgr Charles Pope has written a blog post about how those who love the Traditional Mass should make greater efforts to evangelise for it. He says this because he thinks, on the basis of anecdotal evidence, that attendance at the EF has stopped growing. He links this with the very lethargic attitude he once noticed, of Novus Ordo Catholics faced with the prospect of losing their parochial school. I confess I don't understand the parallel.

These Novus Ordo Catholics of a couple of decades ago, mostly older people (people, he says, with grown-up children and grandchildren), whom the young Fr Pope talked to about their school, were members of the first, or the beginnings of the second, generation of Catholics who failed to reproduce and failed to pass on the faith. They had typically been brought up in significantly larger families, been given systematic catechesis in the old style, and had been introduced to Catholic traditions of all kinds: grace before meals, daily prayers, dressing up for Sunday Mass, an expectation that Catholic boys and girls should marry other Catholics, and the Traditional Mass. Nearly all of them chucked it in, everything except going to Mass on Sundays. 'What I have received, I have not passed on': that was the motto of that generation. Sometimes with regret, sometimes with relief, sometimes with the fierce joy of the vandal. But by the end of their lives, there was very little left. Their children had mostly lapsed. About half of them had lapsed themselves. The young ones still turning up at church were sometimes clueless about the Faith. Catholics today don't even necessarily know that the Church teaches the Real Presence.

Mgr Pope thinks that the Traditional Catholics of today are like them?

Traditional Catholics, who have rediscovered the Faith and the liturgy and the traditions of the Church. Traditional Catholics, who have started saying grace at meals again, who have larger families, who make an effort at least not to attend Sunday Mass in beachwear, who catechise, and sometimes home-educate, their children: Traditional Catholics, who not only do these things, but are attacked for doing them. Mgr Pope, please explain, how does your experience from all those years ago with Novus Ordo Catholics give you an insight into the attitudes of Traditional Catholics today? Any why do you assume that ordinary Catholics in the pews at the Traditional Mass are not doing their bit to evangelise?

Is Mgr Pope talking about preaching on street corners? Or does he have in mind, in line with the normal expectations of Catholics down the ages, giving witness by a life of Faith? That would include a family life connected with the liturgical year, which observes feasts and days of abstinence; a home with religious images; a personal life in accordance with the teaching of the Church on sexuality and marriage; a refusal to go along with the demands of the new, pagan thought-police on issues like gender theory. A willingness, with appropriate caution, to give gentle witness to the apparently sincere enquirer at work or elsewhere, when such witness can cost you your job, or even a criminal conviction.

Perhaps he means that Catholics should have a role in the Pro-Life movement. That they should take part in public witnesses to the Faith such as Eucharistic processions and visible walking pilgrimages. That they should assist in the re-edification of historic churches in city centres, which can incarnate the Faith and draw in the curious passer-by.

Perhaps he thinks that Catholics should try to influence ecclesiastical policy, and encourage their bishops not to hide the faith, but rather give stronger witness to it. That they should support the priests who stand up to those who want to offend God and give scandal to the Faithful during the liturgy itself, by liturgical abuses or sacrilegious communions.

But if that is what Mgr Pope has in mind, it should be obvious that it is Traditional Catholics who are doing these things, and if he is right that we constitute only 2% of the Catholic population, then the contribution of the other 98% is woeful indeed. For I know very well, from my own anecdotal experience, that if I attend a pro-life event, I will recognise a large proportion of the participants from my work for the Traditional Mass. That if you found 100 representative Catholic families with more than 4 children, a lot more than 2 of of them would attend the Traditional Mass. That if you start an on-line petition for a Catholic cause, it can quickly become a roll-call of Traditional Catholics. That if a bishops wants to save a historic city-centre church from closure, he is likely to turn to the Traditional priestly institutes. That if you ask a roomful of children of Traditional Catholic families about the Faith, they will at least have some idea of what the Holy Trinity is.

Perhaps we could do more. I resist the idea, however, that the way forward for the Traditional movement is to attack its members for being lazy. I am sorry, Mgr, I think this is grossly unjust. Traditional Catholics routinely make sacrifices for the Faith, for the liturgy, for the salvation of their children, and for their priests, which other Catholics would simply not consider.

Why, then, is not attendance at the Traditional Mass growing? It is growing. Contrary to Mgr Pope's anecdotal observations, the number of Masses, which are easier to count than people, continues to grow, and the limits on growth are the limits on the number of priests able and willing to say the Masses. Masses in new locations gain congregations of people with no previous affiliation to the Traditional movement: this is what we mean by the Mass itself evangelising. People are converted by the Traditional Mass. People change their lives. And most visibly, it fosters vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.

It is unjust to lambast the Faithful for laziness in spreading the Traditional Mass, when priests who celebrate it are still treated, too often, as eccentrics, or even pariahs, by their dioceses. When lay people who attend it become persona non grata in many Catholic institutions. When attempts to restore the battered fabric of historic churches are still thwarted by ideologically-driven diocesan committees. I am sorry, Mgr Pope, bishops have a lot to do to channel the energy of the Traditional faithful into evangelisation: too much of this energy is still used up in overcoming obstacles within the Church.

Mgr Pope is right that the Traditional Mass is not an immediate hit with everyone who experiences it for the first time. Nor is the Novus Ordo. The Traditional Mass has a particular problem, however. Fruitful participation requires, at a deep level, an understanding and acceptance of the fact that God is transcendent and supremely worthy of worship; that Jesus Christ is Divine, and comes down upon the Altar at the Consecration; that there is such a thing as sin, and that sin makes you less worthy of receiving Holy Communion; that there are saints, who intercede for us. Yes, that is a problem, because emotionally, and frequently intellectually, many nominal, and even church-going Catholics, no longer believe these things. It is tough going to bring them to the Traditional Mass, because it is tough going bringing them back to the Faith.

The blame for that belongs to a lot of people over many years. But don't blame Traditional Catholics.