Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

"The blessings of thy father are strengthened with the blessings of his fathers:
until the desire of the everlasting hills should come..." Genesis 49:26

On Traditional Catholics
by "WhollyRoamin'Catholic"

Newly arrived immigrants to America. I like to believe they're Italian, that they held fast to the Faith, and that their many descendants live lives in Christ...

Deuteronomy 32:6 "Remember the days of old, think upon every generation:
ask thy father, and he will declare to thee: thy elders and they will tell thee."



I was on the Catholic Answers forum the other day doing some intellectual mortification when I came across the question of defining a "traditional Catholic". The questioner writes:

Perhaps this has been covered somewhere else in this forum, but I couldn't find anything that dircetly addressed it. What is the defintion of a "Traditonal Catholic". Does this refer exclusively to practioners of a Latin Mass ,or does it encompass a set of values not believed to expressed in most of todays Catholic Churches?

It's a very good question that is hard to answer. Broadly speaking, it's a Catholic who goes to the Tridentine Latin Mass-- abbreviated here and elsewhere as the TLM. But it's really more than that, it's a cultural and theological point of view that goes hand-in-hand with the TLM but is not the same as a TLM-goer.

At this point, I'd like to make a note of capitalization: I refer here to traditional Catholics. It's an adjective. Tradition with a "Capital-T" is the magesterial teaching of the Church and, though important, is not the subject of this post. If you use a Capital-T to write Traditional Catholics, you've created a whole new religion. Which does not apply to traditional Catholics. People who are are traditional Catholics are 100% Roman Catholics, just like any other Roman Catholics. These little things matter-- there's a huge difference between being orthodox and Orthodox. Thankyouverymuch.

To that question, I gave a descriptive response that kind of skirted around the question:

A traditional Catholic is not a person who "prefers" the old Latin Mass. Neither are they people who simply passed Catechism class.

They are people who adhere to a type of spirituality that is largely lost in the 21st Century Catholic Church.

Truthfully, it's easier to describe their outward signs than their character: the old Latin Mass is the biggest identifier... though there are certainly traditional Catholics who are marooned in Novus Ordoland; there are likewise non-traditional Catholics who go to the TLM.

Trads are people who listen to Catholic Radio... skeptically. They might have a blog. They can list their "top-five" favorite Ecumenical Councils... none of which will rhyme with "Attican Shoe". Their friends think they're fuddy-duddys. They've got Holy Water fonts in all the bedrooms and by the front door. They quote the Douay Rheims bible. They have an opinion on offering Mass in baroque vestments while in a gothic chapel. They're tired of tinfoil hat jokes. They may not like Bishop Williamson, but concede that sometimes he's right, and when he's right, he's really right. They can tell you about Assisi. When they're at a Novus Ordo Mass, they've got their hands folded like a Catholic during the Our Father. The women have an extra mantilla in the van-- just in case. The men have an opinion on the best type of pipe tobacco for any occasion. The boys have their own cassock and surplice hanging in the closet. The girls know how to play Dies Irae on the organ. They wear a t-shirt while they go swimming so their brown scapular doesen't float away. They're willing to drive an hour to go to Mass... every Sunday. They know the confession times of at least 4 churches. They invite priests over to play cards and smoke cigars. They pray to saints that you think may not really exist. They ask you to finish the sentence when you say "John Paul the Great"... the great what? They might own a live chicken. When they're at a Novus Ordo Mass, everyone watches them to figure out why they're hitting themselves during the "Lamb of God". They're kneel after Mass to pray... and miss out on the fun gladhanding with Father by the parish gift shop. They scoff when they pass the Masonic Lodge. They cross themselves when they pass a Catholic church. They mutter something about the "poor souls" when they pass a cemetary. They mutter something about St. Michael when an ambulance passes them. Their girls' first names are Mary. Their boys' middle names are Mary. Cappa Magna doesn't sound like a drink at Starbucks to them. They'll tell you at length why being "charitable" isn't always being nice and friendly.

It's complicated. Trads are not easily defined. You just kind of know them when you see them.

I was trying to capture the asthetic of a stereotypical "trad" family-- kind of a conglomeration of a lot of trads that I know. But I didn't feel like I really answered the question.

Others gave better and more concrete answers than I did. One of the more "usable" definitions offered was this one:

A traditional Catholic - in the post-conciliar sense - is a Catholic who wants the Mass, all sacraments and rites, and catechesis, restored to how they were before Vatican II.

It could entail more depending on the individual, but, generally speaking and in a nutshell, I'd say that's it.

It's a better definition. You could put that in a Catholic dictionary and it'd answer the question. But it still leaves something out. In my experience, traditional Catholics are not just restorationists-- it's not like they are archeologists or re-enactors or something. Though my interest in traditional Catholicism was originally kind of an archeological one (as in: what did the Mass look like back then?), it kind of developed into a cultural interest and then a theological interest. I think it's a pretty typical story for people of my generation who are discovering tradition 40 years after the changes of Vatican II.

The most complete answer came from a poster that uses the handle "Johndigger" (I don't know if that's his real name, or if he's a latrine-builder. Wakka wakka wakka). He writes:

A traditional Catholic is someone that views the traditions of the Church not just as an optional extra to Catholicism but praciticing our faith and living our lives with the wisom passed on from our fathers in faith is a necessary and intrinsic part of Catholicism.

Of course, falling away from the infallible teachings of the Church is worse than falling away from the practices of the Church, but there is the idea that being a Catholic is not just about believing as the Church has believed but is also about worshipping God in the way the Church has passed down to us.

Tradition is a living thing that evoles, the way we practice our faith evolves but this evolution must take place with respect to what has gone before us and must build on it.


Read it again:

There is the idea that being a Catholic is not just about believing as the Church has believed but is also about worshipping God in the way the Church has passed down to us.

That's it. It's a matter of responsibility-- we're the guards of a certain tradition, a world-view, a philosophy and a culture that was given to us. In his blog "What Does the Prayer Really Say?", the incomperable Fr. Z. has called this our Patrimony-- a kind of ancestral inheretance, a legacy given to each new generation to guard and hold.

That's what a "traditional Catholic" does. It's not just that they go to the TLM. It's not just that they've got 8 children and a cargo van with a "I Love My German Shepherd" bumper sticker on the window. It's that they see their part in this life as a piece of a long thread rather than something totally new and different.

Being trad is a world view. It's about learning how to make your great-grandmother's recipe for tomato sauce because the recipe is a family heirloom, the way of letting it simmer and how to stir it is something that has been practiced and honed over generations. It's learning how to tell a old family story, learning how grandpa treated employees at the family store, how mom used to run the school bake sale, how the Irish learned to fight, why the Dutch actually "go Dutch" on their dates. They are family traditons. They are cultural traditions. It's our patrimony, what has been handed down to us and what we will hand down to our kids. They are real heirlooms-- and in my opinion they are more valuable than any old pocketwatch or china plate will ever be.

Traditional Catholics think the same way about their relationship with the Almighty. They do things the way Catholics do things-- it's not like they don't do new things, it's that new things don't have value just because it's new.

Another answerer excerpted his blog to give a long answer to the question of traditional Catholicism:

As I have pondered the difference between self-styled traditionalist Catholics and other orthodox Catholics I have concluded that the primary difference is in their respective attitude toward change. If one does any significant reading in the Church Fathers, Doctors, and Popes one consistently finds a truly conservative attitude. That is, one sees that the attitude of orthodox Catholics through the centuries has been to cling tenaciously to that which has been handed on, both in belief and observance. Change itself is looked upon with suspicion and change for the sake of change or even to "get with the times" is unthinkable. Now here I can sense anti-traditionalist apologists ready to pounce, so let me say up front that I don't in the least deny that there has been lots of legitimate development in the Catholic Church over the centuries, both doctrinal and practical. The Catholic Church is a living organism, animated by the Holy Spirit, and she has certainly developed and changed over the centuries while retaining in its fullness the deposit of revelation handed on to her by our Lord Jesus. This I readily grant.

What I am talking about instead is one's prevailing attitude toward change. The Fathers, Doctors, and Popes did not see themselves primarily as innovators, but as conservators. They saw the Faith and those practices by which it was expressed, passed on, and guarded as an inheritance to be passed on to the next generation intact and, indeed, inviolate. They were not anxious to update the Faith, or to change perennial and venerable practices. For the most part, they viewed change--whether doctrinal or practical--with grave suspicion. They knew both instinctively and often by hard experience that changes in religious matters--even if seemingly minor--frequently bring about considerable upheaval in the life of the Church. . . .

Put simply, a Catholic traditionalist wishes to believe as his fathers believed, to worship as his fathers worshipped, and to pass on this belief and worship intact to his children. He does not oppose legitimate and organic developments. But he sees what is perennial, venerable, and established as a treasury of godly and holy wisdom and he views attempts to change or "update" this treasury of belief and practice with guarded reserve, if not suspicion.

Yes! That's it, that's totally it!

My favorite line:

...the attitude of orthodox Catholics through the centuries has been to cling tenaciously to that which has been handed on, both in belief and observance.

We are the guards of the Faith. It's a kind of conservatism that, contrary to what politicians and talk-radio pundits do, actually conserves something.

Patrimony. A philosophical, theological and cultural inheretance.

That's tradition. Yes!

Back to For Catholics