Rorate Caeli

Traditional Liturgy: How many Faithful in France? And in the World? "Many of today's Catholics are 'Hidden Traditionalists,' waiting for a Mass worthy of the name."-- An Interview

By Paix Liturgique

October 4, 2023

Although we haven't published a review of traditional liturgy in France and around the world since 2019... we felt it necessary to return to the question of the number of Catholic faithful who wish to live their faith to the rhythm of traditional liturgy. We asked Christian Marquant, who has been interested in this subject for many years, to return to this theme which, as we shall see, remains a burning issue.


Louis Renaudin - Dear Christian, why is it important to ask the question of the size and therefore the number of the Catholic faithful who are attached to the traditional Roman liturgy?

Christian Marquant - In theory, it doesn't matter... no one, apart from learned researchers, is going to be interested in the number of Syro-Malabar or Syro-Malankar faithful... nor in the number of priests and faithful who still participate in the Ambrosian (reformed) rite in Milan, or the Mozarabic (cobbled-together) rite in Toledo and Salamanca, because in all these cases there is no controversy or underlying problem. However, when we consider the number, and therefore implicitly the importance, of those who wish to remain attached to the usus antiquior, i.e., to the Mass that has been the Mass of all Latin Christendom for over 1,000 years, we immediately find ourselves in a polemical field whose stakes are quite considerable for a large number of pastors and for members of the "modern" lobby. We are touching on the great division that has afflicted the Church since Vatican II, and to which the Holy Father indirectly alluded at the last consistory in his appeal for unity. A pathetic appeal to an almost empty St. Peter's Square...

Louis Renaudin - What division are you referring to?

Christian Marquant - For more than half a century, Catholics have been led to believe that all the changes that have taken place in the life of the Church since the Second Vatican Council are good and, above all, have been enthusiastically accepted, if not desired, by all. As a result, the poor isolated Catholic who thinks differently, believing that he or she is the only one not to share this unanimity, has long remained silent. That's why these people have often been called the silent ones, allowing the proponents of the new developments to claim that those who oppose them don't exist. Or almost none at all.

Louis Renaudin - But isn't that right?

Christian Marquant - It's at the very least an exaggeration, and it will be easy for me to demonstrate that since the 1960s and 70s we have not only indications but evidence that many Catholics have not enthusiastically accepted all the reforms undertaken "in the spirit of the Council".

Louis Renaudin - Meaning what?

Christian Marquant - In other words, for almost 50 years we've known that at least a quarter of French Catholics, without assuming anything about the others, didn't find themselves [at home] in the crazy, violent turmoil in which they were plunged from the mid-1960s onwards. As a result, many of these faithful, without losing their Catholic faith, withdrew from their parishes and dioceses.

Louis Renaudin - Can you give us some illustrations of this withdrawal?

Christian Marquant - The most obvious one is undoubtedly the collapse of Sunday worship - although I'm willing to believe that the conciliar reforms were not the only reason for this - but also the vertical fall in the generosity of the faithful towards ecclesial institutions in which they didn't see themselves reflected.

Louis Renaudin - But there are many other reasons, as you say...

Christian Marquant - Absolutely, but the question of donations is particularly interesting, because it's easy to see that these donations have always been alive and well. But not in favor of the dioceses and parishes: without mentioning the Communauté Saint-Martin or other flourishing "classic" charities, you only have to look at the Barroux case before or the Lagrasse Abbey case today to see that the generosity of practicing Catholics still exists, even if not towards dioceses and parishes, which are often economically strapped - which is understandable, if you remember that in their time they drove recalcitrant parishioners from their midst.

Louis Renaudin - What are you talking about?

Christian Marquant - One day, we'll have to come back to the fact that, from 1965 onwards, parishes went on witch-hunts, sometimes violently excluding clerics and faithful who were not in lockstep with the reforms and who were not "in line", who were sometimes violently expelled from their parishes. Not to mention the good faithful, attached to their devotions and habits, for whom the conciliar clerics and laity had nothing but contempt. These parishes did not hesitate to accuse these same faithful of having left the Church of their own free will... The older generation remembers this, and there is still a story to be written here. A terrible story.

Louis Renaudin - Let's get back to the question of traditionalists, and to begin with, how would you define them?

Christian Marquant - Broadly speaking, as those who feel in harmony with the spirit, spirituality and forms of the usus antiquior and the Catholic faith they express.

Louis Renaudin - How many do you think there are?

Christian Marquant - Let me continue my reflection on the post-council era. Since it had to be assumed that all Catholics were enthusiastic about the new developments, the rule was to ignore those who didn't seem to be taking part in this "New Pentecost". But one day, the question of Archbishop Lefebvre arose...

Louis Renaudin - How does Archbishop Lefebvre show up in this history?

Christian Marquant - It's quite simple: by creating the Ecône seminary in 1970 and continuing along this path, Abp. Lefebvre, who was a bishop and had started ordaining priests, was far more dangerous than the simple parish priests who remained faithful to the old rite and catechism. The modernists then made a serious mistake.

Louis Renaudin - Which one?

Christian Marquant - By taking a violent interest in the subject, by attacking, mocking and ridiculing him, they gave him enormous publicity, made him known to Catholics the world over, and made him - partly in spite of himself, whose main idea was to re-establish a congregation to train priests - the spokesman for those silent faithful I mentioned a moment ago, who often thought they were alone, and who discovered that there were many of them among these perplexed Catholics. In a way, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre became their standard-bearer, representing their skepticism and concerns, and this continued to grow until the hot summer of 1976, when Archbishop Lefebvre ordained his first priests not incardinated in dioceses, as he had done previously for the first priests of his Society. But the Society was dissolved, and ordinations were forbidden. He overrode the order and was given a suspension a divinis (a ban on celebrating the sacraments).

Louis Renaudin - What are you getting at?

Christian Marquant - The Lefebvre Affair, as it was known in those days, became a major news item in France and the rest of the world in 1976. It was in this hyper-mediatized context - because in the fight against "Lefebvre", the entire Catholic press and many others were up in arms against the Prelate of Ecône (and let's not forget that at the time there weren't the counter-measures that social networks and the Internet are today). It was against this backdrop that, in August 1976, the daily Le Progrès, a Lyon-based newspaper totally unfamiliar with ecclesiastical issues, commissioned IFOP to carry out an opinion poll, to which we devoted four of our letters a few years ago, and which I can only advise you to reread carefully.

Louis Renaudin - Could you tell us the results?

Christian Marquant - Not easy, but in a few sentences, the information it provides can be summarized as follows:

1 - In 1976, 48% of practicing Catholics felt that the Church had gone too far in its reforms;

2 - In 1976, 42% of Catholics felt that the reforms had distanced the Church from its original doctrine;

3 - In 1976, 26% of practising Catholics approved of Archbishop Lefebvre's positions on the application of the Council's decisions;

And in conclusion :

4 - In 1976, 52% of practicing Catholics said they were "worried" about the Church's situation.

Louis Renaudin - Incredible...

Christian Marquant - Especially ten years after the Council, and after a huge media and psychological blitz that tried to make the whole world believe that everything was perfect and happy in the Catholic world. In fact, it was a real revelation of the depth of the malaise within the Catholic Church. The Christian people, at least half of them, "didn't follow along."

Louis Renaudin - A survey that means all was not well in the Church of France just 10 years after the Council...

Christian Marquant - At the very least, the pseudo-unanimous enthusiasm was called into question by highlighting the large number of those who "did not follow," and even who, for 26% of practicing Catholics, explicitly approved of Archbishop Lefebvre's positions.

Louis Renaudin - A revelation of manipulations, lies and impostures...

Christian Marquant - In the modern world, that's a classic theme. Generally, it has no effect. The ruling caste carries on unperturbed. But in the Church of the 1970s, the great depression in the number of practicing priests, seminarians, and ordinations was in full swing. Priest "departures" were multiplying. For people of good will, this was a terrible revelation.

Louis Renaudin - But what were the consequences?

Christian Marquant - What did the Church of France say to these 26% of practicing Catholics - that's a quarter of all practicing faithful - to calm the situation or provide them with a space? The only answer is denial: these people simply didn't exist. Our letter 701 touched on this subject, proposing a response: as it was no longer possible to deny reality, it was decided at the highest level, i.e. within the Conference of Bishops of France [CEF], to change strategy, i.e. to stop talking about this subject and with "these people", and to confine ourselves from now on to that of denialist silence.

Louis Renaudin - Meaning?

Christian Marquant - To pretend that these people, lay people and priests, don't exist.

Louis Renaudin - A denial of reality...

Christian Marquant - However, not only did reality continue to exist, but the great denial continued to grow in France and throughout the world. The day came when Archbishop Lefebvre, still intent on making priests, had to decide, in 1988, to give himself successors by consecrating bishops to succeed him and continue his work of safeguarding the Catholic priesthood

Louis Renaudin - Was this a good thing or a bad thing?

Christian Marquant - That's not for me to say. Only time will tell, when historians and pontiffs examine the subject. The fact remains that this situation had some happy consequences, notably Pope John Paul II's promulgation of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei.

Louis Renaudin - Which said...?

Christian Marquant - Which showed the understanding that, as things were becoming serious, it was necessary to change methods, in particular by giving an official place in the Church to those who until then "didn't exist." This led to the creation of the Ecclesia Dei commission, which was tasked with integrating into the Church and managing religious and priestly communities who wished to remain in official communion, thus becoming a legal flock for our pastors.

Louis Renaudin - What did this change?

Christian Marquant - A lot, because the bishops who, between 1976 and 1988, had been able to deny any "traditionalist" reality within the Church found themselves obliged overnight to recognize and integrate into their dioceses, willingly, unwillingly and sometimes very unwillingly, hundreds of priests and chapels that had to be accepted.

Louis Renaudin - That many?

Christian Marquant - In France alone, over 130 churches, chapels, and their faithful enjoyed official status within the Church of France overnight.

Louis Renaudin - Out of nothing?

Christian Marquant - Not at all! These were communities that had formed on the periphery or within the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre's work, and which did not follow his decision to consecrate bishops to succeed him, or at any rate were delighted to become "official".

Louis Renaudin - What consequences did this have for our question of measuring the number of traditionalists?

Christian Marquant - The obligation for the ecclesiastical authorities to finally admit the existence of a minimum number of traditionalists within the Church of France. This was something new, because until then, either the denialists would go so far as to say that traditionalists simply didn't exist, or, for the more malicious, they would see them as schismatics with no connection to the Catholic Church (and so much for the contradiction with ecumenism for the separated brothers: no ecumenism for the enemies of ecumenism!)

Louis Renaudin - How did this first concession to the existence of official Catholic traditionalists in the Church of France come about?

Christian Marquant - It was Mgr Michel Moutel, then bishop of Nevers, who was the bishop in charge of "traditionalists" within the French bishops' conference, who I think first worked out a system that is still used today by most of our pastors to count the traditionalist faithful.

Louis Renaudin - And what was that system?

Christian Marquant - As simple and logical as it was inaccurate. All he had to do was measure the number of churchgoers in the chapels where they met. As there were some 140 "traditional" chapels recognized by the bishops at the time, he measured the number of members and arrived at a figure of around 35,000, which allowed him to state that, "being broad and generous", there could be around 50,000 traditionalists in France.

Louis Renaudin - Was this accurate?

Christian Marquant - Absolutely not, but the method of calculation has endured.

Louis Renaudin - Within the CEF [Conference of Bishops of France]?

Christian Marquant - Within the CEF and even among some of our friends... For example, Christophe Geffroy in La Nef in 2021 falls into the same trap, using the same calculations. I summarize without malice his calculation published in his 2021 issue devoted to Traditionalists: in 2021, there were around 250 traditional places of worship in France, bringing together some 50,000 faithful, but given that some of them do not have access to Mass, "it does not seem unreasonable to estimate the total number of faithful Tradis in France at around 60,000". 10,000 more than Moutel: that's still something...

So sleep easy, My Lords and good people, the Tradis are not growing... But the most terrible thing is that our friend Christophe Geffroy's publication allows the enemies of peace to take his data at face value, based on his "inside" information.

Louis Renaudin - You think so?

Christian Marquant - La Croix quietly repeats this very comfortable figure of 60,000 (excluding Lefebvrists, all the same, which doubles it) in their issue of 27/01/2023.

Louis Renaudin - But others make more positive calculations...

Christian Marquant - Yes, first and foremost integrating the "Lefebvrists." "According to various studies and surveys, it is estimated that traditionalist Catholics only represent around 5% of all practicing French Catholics. If we take the estimated number of practicing Catholics (2.5 million) and look at what 5% of this population represents, we get the number of 125,000 traditionalist Catholics, or 0.18% of the French population." Jean-Benoît Poulle, associate professor of history, quoted by Céline Hussonnois-Alaya in "Ça s'insinue petit à à" : Les traditionalistes gagnent-ils du terrain dans l'Église" (BFMTV, April 9, 2023), estimates the number of French traditionalists at between 100,000 and 200,000.

Louis Renaudin - But I understand that you're not happy with this method of counting: why is that?

Christian Marquant - Imagine if we used only the number of practicing Catholics to determine the number of French Catholics... That would be ridiculous, because we know today that less than 5% of French Catholics are practicing... and we'd only come up with a figure of 2.5 to 3 million Catholics, which is completely wrong (the polls we'll talk about later give a fairly precise figure).

Louis Renaudin - But for traditionalists...

Christian Marquant - Don't forget that I've never defined traditionalists as practicing Catholics, but as people who recognize themselves as Catholics and are attached to the ancient and traditional forms of liturgy and faith.

Louis Renaudin - But not all of them are practicing Catholics.

Christian Marquant - They practice more than others, but not always according to their preference. In France, there are still some 4,500 parishes (I'm not talking about chapels, but parishes with 10, 20, 40 chapels, and in extreme cases even more), while the traditional liturgy is celebrated in just over 450 chapels (including, of course, those of the Society of Saint Pius X, which are sometimes the only ones in an entire diocese...), i.e. in less than 10% of the parish territories in France. It can therefore be said that 90% of traditionalist Catholics who would like to attend the traditional liturgy in their parish simply cannot.

Paix Liturgique: Which, if I'm listening to you and if we had the traditional Mass in 100% of parishes, means that we could increase the number of practicing traditionalists to 600,000 faithful?

Christian Marquant - This would be a reasonable figure for measuring traditionalists, and some sites, more honest than others, implicitly recognize this. If, for example, you consult the Swiss site ( ) you will see that, in order to measure the reality of traditionalist groups in the world, it reports on the number of chapels, by country and in the world, where traditionalists can access the usus antiquior. It explains that the small number of places available is undoubtedly one explanation for the inconsistency of the calculations made by "practitioners" of the traditional Mass alone. In a way, the large proportion of Chartres pilgrims who don't ordinarily practice the traditional form can also be largely explained by... the lack of chapels offering the usus antiquior to the faithful close to home.

Paix Liturgique: But why aren't there more chapels celebrating the traditional liturgy?

Christian Marquant - It's difficult and often very costly to set up new chapels, especially if our bishops are opposed or put on the brakes.

Louis Renaudin - But why do they do it?

Christian Marquant - Because, in spite of everything, they haven't changed in fifty years: either they don't grant us new celebrations under the fallacious pretext that we don't exist, or if they do grant us what we ask for, they realize, often to their horror, that there are far more of us than they said, or even thought.

Louis Renaudin - And yet even this figure of 600,000 traditionalists in France doesn't suit you...

Christian Marquant - No, because it doesn't reflect the number of potential churchgoers who would emerge in France if there were a period of peace.

Louis Renaudin - That is, in your opinion, if there were traditional Masses in France's 4,500 parishes.

Christian Marquant - I absolutely believe that if, for example, at the time of the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, traditional Masses had been gradually introduced in all French parishes, we would have reached this figure in two or three years. To start with, we could celebrate one Mass per deanery, as proposed by Mgr Patrick Chauvet, then Episcopal Vicar for the Extraordinary Form, at a GREC (Groupe de Rencontre entre Catholiques) meeting in Paris in 2009.

In fact, in my experience, whenever a traditional liturgy is introduced by a caring priest, at a family time, in a catchment area of at least 50,000 inhabitants, within two or three years the number of worshippers approaches or exceeds, and even more rapidly "in town", a hundred souls.

I can quote you this humorous yet serious conversation with a priest from a large city who had allowed a traditional Mass in his parish for a specific occasion: "What a pity, Father, that there isn't a Mass like this every Sunday in your parish." "Impossible, my good sir! After three weeks, the church would be packed and I'd be transferred by the chancery."

Louis Renaudin - But all the same, Christophe Geffroy only counts a hundred or so unsatisfied requests in France.

Christian Marquant - And he's right. There are only about a hundred unsatisfied requests. That is, in parishes where there are heroes, a kind of "watchmen" who, for 10 or 20 years or more, against all odds, insults and calumnies, continue to implore their pastors. BUT IN REALITY, THERE ARE IMPLICIT APPLICANTS IN EVERY PARISH IN FRANCE. I repeat, these implicit claimants are ordinary men and women, ordinary Catholics who still attend church.

Louis Renaudin - In fact, since 2000, Paix liturgique has been commissioning surveys...

Christian Marquant - Absolutely... The Paix liturgique surveys carried out in France have been magnificently enlightening for men of good will who have had the humility and courage to take an interest.

Louis Renaudin - What are these surveys?

Christian Marquant - Well, between 2001 and 2019, Paix liturgique commissioned 3 surveys from professional and independent organizations, covering the whole of France, and more than twenty diocesan and/or parish surveys, all of which gave more or less the same results.

Louis Renaudin - What are they?

Christian Marquant - Here's a short summary for a population that still considers itself to be 57% Catholic (i.e., in 2023, more than 38 million people out of a current population of 68 million French - which, as I said earlier, is quite different from the number of practicing French Catholics).

1 - between 25% and 35% of practicing Catholics say they would willingly go to a traditional Mass every Sunday and feast day if it were celebrated IN THEIR PARISH;

2 - 75% of practicing Catholics think it's normal for those who wish to do so to be able to do so;

3 - And only 10 to 15% of Catholics are opposed to what I would call a more peaceful situation.

Louis Renaudin - What lessons do you draw from this?

Christian Marquant - The first lesson is that our bishops, contrary to all their declarations, do not listen to the voice of the faithful, and even fear and despise it. Just as they do in political society, to which they show their allegiance at every opportunity, they apply their ideological program in a dictatorial fashion.

Louis Renaudin - And then...

Christian Marquant - That the faithful of the 21st century (that is, what is left of the faithful) think in much the same way as their predecessors since the Council, i.e. as those who expressed themselves in 1976 with the Progress poll in Lyon.

They think that the Church has gone too far in its changes, which has led many to tiptoe away, as they are no longer in tune with their pastors. The others, who continue to practice, are deeply dissatisfied.

Louis Renaudin - And do they express themselves in your surveys?

Christian Marquant - A bit like a protest. We know them. They are often subjected to empty catechesis and insipid liturgies. BUT THEY EXIST! And they are the ones who would gladly attend Mass celebrated according to the usus antiquior if it were celebrated in their parish tomorrow. Here they are, our 600,000 traditionalist churchgoers: the 25-30% of French churchgoers who would attend the usus antiquior every Sunday... PROVIDED IT WAS CELEBRATED IN THEIR PARISH!

Louis Renaudin - But is all this true only for France?

Christian Marquant - Ah dear Louis, you mean to tell me that Paix liturgique has extended its survey to more than 10 countries in Europe and beyond. In Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Great Britain, Portugal, ...

Louis Renaudin - And all over the world...

Christian Marquant - In the United States, Brazil, Korea, and even Angola.

Louis Renaudin - With what results?

Christian Marquant - Always more or less the same, i.e. 20 to 25% of the faithful expressing their desire to live their Catholic faith to the rhythm of the traditional liturgy. What's even more striking is that, in many cases, they haven't known it for a long time, and in the case of young people, they've never known it at all. But the world has become a village, an Internet village. This can be regrettable, but there are also positive effects. All over the world, people know that the Latin Mass exists, and that it's much better than the Mass we attend every Sunday, just as a cathedral is much better than a shed.

This is the case in Korea and Angola, for example. In fact, this liturgy corresponds profoundly to the sensus fidei of the Catholic people. Between 1630 and 1873, 30,000 Japanese "hidden Catholics" were without priests, waiting for priests. Many of today's Catholics are "hidden traditionalists", waiting for a Mass worthy of the name.

Louis Renaudin - So why Traditionis custodes?

Christian Marquant - Precisely because of that! Traditionis custodes is an unfortunate attempt to halt the 'contagion' of the return of the faithful to the Mass of yesteryear (and, by the same token, to the catechism of yesteryear), and of a not inconsiderable proportion of the clergy to the usus antiquior, which is a very pure illustration of the Catholic faith. This was especially true after Pope Benedict XVI, in 2007, for the sake of peace but also in the face of evidence of the reality of a return to traditional Catholic elements, published the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which removed - at least in theory, as many bishops opposed it - the last remaining obstacles to the return of traditional liturgy, and therefore traditional faith, to the Church. We know that it was a considerable and very promising success: in 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, the number of traditional Sunday Masses doubled worldwide. Once again, we have seen the Christian people on their knees at Mass, which is a true sacrifice, sacramentally renewing on the altar, at every Mass, the sacrifice of our God and Lord offering himself for the forgiveness of our sins on Golgotha.

Louis Renaudin - In conclusion?

Christian Marquant - I would take up the conclusion of my 2019 assessment of the situation of traditional liturgy in the world by stating that the number of faithful attached to traditional liturgy in the world cannot be less than that of 10% of Catholics, i.e. at least 130 million faithful, adding that at least two-thirds of the world's other Catholics see no harm in this.

Louis Renaudin - And...

Christian Marquant - ... our dhimmitude must end! Let's not be afraid! We're not a small remnant or a group of agitators, but the visible part of a huge people: there are millions of traditional Catholics in France, even if many are not only unable to practice today, but often even unable to enjoy a funeral as they would wish.

Basically, we're not asking for much: we're simply asking for the freedom to be Catholics in the Catholic Church.

[Source, en français]