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Paul Catalanotto: ‘Traditional’ Catholics

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Part of the beauty and mystery of the Church is that she can have the same Jesus in a 12th century gothic cathedral as in the 21st century assembly-hall spaceship-style Catholic church. PHOTO: CNS

Beware the false ‘traditional’ vs ‘non-traditional’ divide

People who call themselves “traditional Catholics” are on equal footing in my mind with those people who say things like “ATM machine” or “sweet sugar.” That is, they add nothing to what it means to be Catholic.

Yet, the self-named “traditionalist Catholics” are far from a mere redundancy.  Traditionalist Catholicism is often a flight from some supposed non-traditional Catholicism that developed during the twentieth century.  However, traditionalism v. non-traditionalism creates a false dichotomy in the Church: Pre-Vatican II versus Post-Vatican II, the social teaching of the Church versus philosophy and theology, the Latin Mass versus the Novus Ordo.

Theologically, there is no “traditional” v “non-traditional” Catholicism – there is only “Catholic”

Like with any false dichotomy, traditionalist Catholics present no middle ground.  For instance, traditionalist Catholics might pose a leading question like, “Do you want a beautiful liturgy with beautiful music, Latin chant, and celebrated by a faithful priest, or a clown Mass celebrated by Fr Luke Warm?” Both experiences foreign to the average Catholic.

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In reality, the Church in her vastness is neither “this or that”.  The Church isn’t Morpheus red pilling the laity.  She is, in her orthodoxy, both-and.  Latin in the Mass? Yup.  Vernacular in the Mass? Yup.  The Novus Ordo Mass in Latin with chant? That’s possible too! Let’s also toss in Greek and Hebrew! Can I get an AMEN! The social teaching of the Church and Eucharistic adoration?  You bet!  All the smells and bells?  Please!

Sadly, by wielding the term “traditional” as a kind of club with which to beat sense into the supposed non-traditionals, it not only chases people out of the Church but at the same time robs the mysterious beauty from Holy Mother Church, the Body of Christ.  Part of the beauty and mystery is that she can have the same Jesus in a twelfth-century gothic cathedral as in the twenty-first-century assembly-hall spaceship church that looks like it fell out of the ugly-tree and hit every branch on the way down.

A child holds a crucifix as Pope Francis leads an audience with members of the Neocatechumenal Way in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on 1 February 2014. PHOTO: CNS

In fairness, the traditionalists Catholics do have legitimate concerns.  Troubling, many of their questions fall on deaf ears and receive no reply. Why does my church look more like a cafeteria than a temple of worship; can’t we do better?  Why does my pastor celebrate Mass with the same enthusiasm as a visit to the dentist? Can we get better catechesis or any faith formation at all?

When the lay don’t have their concerns taken seriously, they begin to believe the local church doesn’t take them seriously, and they seek answers outside the local church and even outside the Church as a whole, or, worse, they shut down, become lukewarm, and merely exist in the Church and no longer participate in her evangelical efforts.

Theologically, there is no “traditional” v “non-traditional” Catholicism – there is only “Catholic” because to be Catholic is to be traditional and to be part of a nearly 2000-year long tradition.  The 10 Commandments haven’t changed; Scripture, Tradition, and the Sacraments haven’t changed.  Therefore the click bait false dichotomy presented by traditionalist Catholics isn’t making Catholicism any better, but only makes her narrow and reductive.


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