A friend alerted me to this article in the most recent issue of The Economist entitled “A traditionalist avant-garde” where the author points out that “It’s trendy to be a traditionalist in the Catholic church.”
Props to The Economist for noticing, and props to them for quoting Fr. John Zuhlsdorf who runs the What Does The Prayer Really Say blog and is an excellent source for quotes on this movement.
I would tweak, of course, a good deal of what The Economist claims is driving this resurgence in traditional liturgical expression among Catholic young adults. But these two paragraphs are good:
The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, started in 1965, now has over 5,000 members. The weekly number of Latin masses is up from 26 in 2007 to 157 now. In America it is up from 60 in 1991 to 420. At Brompton Oratory, a hotspot of London traditionalism, 440 flock to the main Sunday Latin mass. That is twice the figure for the main English one. Women sport mantillas (lace headscarves). Men wear tweeds.
But it is not a fogeys’ hangout: the congregation is young and international. Like evangelical Christianity, traditional Catholicism is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the church. Traditionalist groups have members in 34 countries, including Hong Kong, South Africa and Belarus. Juventutem, a movement for young Catholics who like the old ways, boasts scores of activists in a dozen countries. Traditionalists use blogs, websites and social media to spread the word—and to highlight recalcitrant liberal dioceses and church administrators, who have long seen the Latinists as a self-indulgent, anachronistic and affected minority. In Colombia 500 people wanting a traditional mass had to use a community hall (they later found a church).
Count me among those who regularly get updates from friends on Facebook about when there is an opportunity to attend a nearby Mass in the extraordinary form. And maybe young Catholics in England wear tweed but I’ve spotted plenty of hoodies and sneakers in extraordinary form liturgies here in the States.
As I said, the article gets into trouble when it tries to explain what sort of factors are driving this resurgence (and renewal):
“The return of the old rite causes quiet consternation among more modernist Catholics. Timothy Radcliffe, once head of Britain’s Dominicans, sees in it “a sort of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ nostalgia”. The traditionalist revival, he thinks, is a reaction against the “trendy liberalism” of his generation. Some swings of pendulums may be inevitable. But for a church hierarchy in Western countries beset by scandal and decline, the rise of a traditionalist avant-garde is unsettling. Is it merely an outcrop of eccentricity, or a sign that the church took a wrong turn 50 years ago?”
Certainly there are “eccentrics” who love the extraordinary form, and certainly there are some who prefer it because they disagree with some of the things that happened in the Church post-Vatican II, but I’d like to suggest the real reason so many young people are flocking to these liturgies is very simple: they want the beauty, truth and tradition perserved in the extraordinary form because it is infinitely more satisfying and refreshing than the shallowness offered by modernity.
Still, I’m glad The Economist has taken note. May this spur others to do the same.