The pull of tradition

The pull of tradition

Rod Dreher recently wrote in the Dallas Morning News about the growing attraction to tradition, especially traditional worship, many Americans. It’s not just Catholics who prefer the Tridentine rite, but Orthodox Jews and Eastern Orthodox and Protestants.

The curious thing about enthusiasm for the traditional Mass is how many young people—Catholics who were not brought up hearing the Mass in Latin—hunger for it. Here in Dallas, Father Paul Weinberger’s celebration of the new Mass in Latin—which he popularized at Blessed Sacrament, his former Oak Cliff parish, and which he continues at St. William parish in Greenville – showed how breathtaking and exalting the Mass can be when said reverently, using the ancient liturgical language of the church. To witness a Latin Mass—whether the old Mass or the new Mass said in Latin—is to experience something both old and startlingly new.

Like he said, even Protestants are getting into it. He notes an Anglican convert who left his nondenominational evangelical church for one of the Anglican churches that have broken away from the Episcopal Church. He says that his old church was so focused on being hip and happening and contemporary that he didn’t learn anything about the history of his faith until he encountered it in a Western civilization class in high school.

In a world bereft of absolute meaning and mired in relativity, some people are looking for a rootedness in Truth.

It’s no longer an original thought to say that one element of this may be typical young rebellion against parental stereotypes—in this case against liberal Baby Boomers—but I think it’s a simplistic analysis and predicated on a rebellion phenomenon that only goes back a couple of generations. (As usual, Baby Boomers tend to universalize their own experiences.)

Instead, I think that in a world bereft of absolute meaning and mired in relativity, some people are looking for a rootedness in Truth, not just a truth but something (or Someone) that transcends mere personal preference.

The question of truth cannot be separated from an authentic quest for tradition. Without a genuine desire for truth, traditionalism becomes merely an exercise in aesthetics and emotional gratification. If it is to have any weight, tradition must be viewed as the most trustworthy conveyor of religious truth.


Traditionalists of any religion fundamentally differ from modernists in that they see truth as objective and delivered within the rules, rituals and teachings of the tradition. Truth, so considered, is something around which individuals must shape their lives. The modernist sees religious truth as subjective, something that can be shaped to fit the lives of individuals in different times and places. If they’re right, there’s nothing regressive about reclaiming attractive and useful elements of tradition within a modernist context.

Except that it’s a dead-end. Orthodoxy (right belief) cannot be severed from orthopraxy (right practice); both inform and reinforce the other, beholding the truth and embodying it in the rites and pious practices of individuals and communities.

What does it mean to be a Catholic traditionalist?

Technorati Tags: | | | |

  • If we kept the best of what our traditions have had to offer, instead of constantly throwing out the baby with the bathwater in favor of the “newest, newfangled new thing” there would be no need to look backwards wistfully, longing for something we no longer have.

  • I agree completely.  I have some friends that scream and shout Tridentine Mass and are so un-compromising about it that even when they have an indult for it they still say it illicitly because they follow the 1958 not 1962 form. 

    I love the Old Mass, particularly in its “Higher” variants, and it is for this reason that I am willing to concede that Vatican II was right, the Mass needed, and needs some updating if it is to continue to be a living breathing thing.

    Many Traditionalists look at you as if you were the devil for even suggesting that you could have a “Traditional” Mass using some venacular. Or that a few aspects of the Old Mass might be modified to correct abuses that have crept in.

    Personally I know that the 1968 Mass celebrated in Latin, by someone who has a sense of the Tradition, can be a hundred times more beautiful than the old Mass celebrated badly.  The fact remains, though that the Old Mass celebrated well, is much more rich than the New Mass, even when celebrated well.  Why can we have the best of both worlds and starting with the Old work toward a New New MAss that will be ever old and ever new?

    The Benedictine Mass?  Has a nice ring to it.