Rorate Caeli

La Croix: "Exclusive Survey - Traditional Mass: a Rite that attracts Young Catholics"

 La Croix
May 25, 2023

Traditional Mass: a rite that attracts young Catholics

EXCLUSIVE SURVEY: between sacredness, tradition and identity, some young French Catholics are attracted to the Tridentine Mass. The 2023 edition of the Chartres pilgrimage is set to break attendance records, thanks in no small part to young people.


A first in living memory. The Chartres pilgrimage, organized by the Notre-Dame de Chrétienté association, is sold out this Pentecost weekend: a record 16,000 walkers are expected. And for the first time in the history of this pilgrimage, in which Mass is celebrated using pre-conciliar missals, the organizers have been forced to close registrations in the face of the influx of pilgrims, half of whom are under the age of 20.

Can we conclude from this that the "Trad" mass is really making an impression on young people? At the very least, some of them like it. According to a survey carried out by La Croix among participants at the WYD in Lisbon, 38% of them say they appreciate this liturgy: 8% say it's their favorite Mass, 11% say they like it as much as the French Mass, and 19% attend it occasionally. In many churches, 18-35 year-olds make up a large part of the congregation, "a good third, not counting the children", according to several of them in various French dioceses.

"A Sense of the sacred"

The first argument put forward by young people in favor of the Mass of Saint Pius V is that it emphasizes the "sense of the sacred". In the Tridentine liturgy (the result of the 16th-century reform of the Council of Trent), the celebrant faces the altar and recites the prayers in a low voice, in Latin. I have this feeling that I'm there first and foremost for Christ," says Jeanne, a 28-year-old Parisian mother from a family that attended the Vatican II mass. I forget who the priest is, his personality takes a back seat, and I'm focused on what's essential: the importance of the Holy Sacrifice."

Like her, Albane appreciates the rituality of the pre-conciliar Mass. I'm attentive to every gesture, down to the slightest genuflection, because they help me to understand the mystery of the Eucharist," agrees the 30-year-old Marseilles resident. And the large space given over to silence is conducive to prayer.

According to Jean de Tauriers, President of Notre-Dame de Chrétienté, the attachment to this rite is explained by its verticality. "Many people say they pray better in this mass, which emphasizes transcendence", explains the organizer of the Chartres pilgrimage. The fact that it has remained the same for five centuries also reassures some young Catholics in search of a sense of direction. I pray with my great-great-grandmother's missal," confides Élodie, in the diocese of Le Mans. I feel like I'm following in the footsteps of the Church and all the great saints who prayed with these same words.

A gradual opening?

This historical anchoring, important in traditionalist communities where the vast majority of the faithful are conservative, serves as a landmark in a French society marked by the decline of Catholicism. Cyprien, 22, is part of this tradition. This native of Versailles (Yvelines), a diocese where "Trads" are among the most numerous in France, has returned to the Catholic faith thanks to the Tridentine Mass. He also assumes a choice of identity "in the good sense of the word". "Modernism hurts the Church," he asserts, rejecting any link with a political approach. "With the Latin Mass, we're putting the church back in the middle of the village, reaffirming Catholic values and the teaching of the catechism."

"The interest of the Tridentine rite lies in the fact that it offers a complete package that appears to be effective," analyzes Paul Airiau, historian of Catholicism and specialist in traditionalism. Its musical and ritual coherence, with the guarantee of stability of form, whatever the location. And it works, because this ensemble is explained in relation to a certain vision of the Church and the world. There's a very structuring dimension to it, with political, spiritual, theological and philosophical training, and a dimension of absoluteness specific to youth."

Often described as composed of well-off families isolated from diocesan life, traditionalist communities seem to be opening up more and more to newcomers. This is all the more true given that the careful aesthetics of this liturgy, with its many ornaments, gilded chasubles and incense, attracts and fascinates some young people who are far removed from the Church, and who therefore have no prejudices about the Latin Mass. "The 'Trad' world tends to say that it attracts. We need to be cautious and see if this reality is confirmed over the long term," adds Paul Airiau. But it's true that it has been recruiting outside its usual space for several years. This is not a new trend, but one that has been underestimated. There is now a hybridization between traditional and non-traditional youth.

Of the ten or so young people interviewed by La Croix, very few claim to attend only Tridentine Masses. The vast majority attend ordinary Masses more or less regularly, for reasons of taste or geography. This liturgical fluidity can even be observed at ordinary Masses, where many young people kneel to receive the Eucharist, while the older generations remain more reticent to the practices advocated by the old missals.

[by Matthieu Lasserre]