Rorate Caeli

National Geographic on Traditional Catholicism: Young People and the Latin Mass

These devout young Catholics are embracing the old ways

The movement embraces some Old World traditions that even the Church has referred to as backwards.

National Geographic
Matthew Teague 
(Photographs by Ryan Brady)
October 26, 2023



[Photographer Ryan] Brady had occasionally attended a Catholic church, and he had recently heard about a new movement among some Catholics who were rebelling against modernity by worshipping in old ways, ways that centuries ago defined the faith but had almost faded from existence. So he took up his camera and headed toward a nearby church that offered the ancient Latin Mass, or what traditionalists call the Extraordinary Form.


What he discovered as he made the photographs in this gallery often encouraged him, and sometimes unnerved him. But above all, he says, his experience was “otherworldly.”


In a counter-reformation of sorts, devout Americans are flocking to Old World traditions and beliefs. The shift seems to have surprised even the larger Catholic church itself. Last spring, Pope Francis privately told a group of Jesuits he worries the traditionalists’ “reaction against the modern” is indietrismo: backwardness.


Mainstream Catholics considered questions of backwardness and progress resolved after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Following its reforms, priests turned to face congregations, said the Mass in common languages, and some churches offered contemporary music. The new, more accessible style became so dominant that traditionalists now see their practices as emergent and subversive.


“It’s more of a mystery, and more that is veiled,” says Stephanie Wigton, a 32-year-old traditionalist who attends Transfiguration of Our Lord Parish in Syracuse. She means it in a literal sense; she and other women wear veils during services.


“We love Pope Francis. We continually pray for him,” she says. But, “We are benefiting from what we’ve learned from the past.”


[W]hen [Brady] first entered the sanctuary at Transfiguration, he felt awestruck. Only candles lit the room, and technology faded from view. The reverence for the Eucharist, the kneeling postures, the Latin intonations all felt solemn and enchanted in a way that brought him back to his childhood in the forest.

“It felt mystical,” he says. “It felt real.”