Who Are the Guardians of Tradition?

The third and final episode in the “Mass of the Ages” documentary trilogy traces the renewed interest in—and renewed attacks against—the traditional Latin Mass.

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March saw the YouTube release of Guardians of Tradition, the third and final episode in the Mass of the Ages trilogywhich chronicles the liturgical changes since Vatican II and shows the appeal of the traditional Latin Mass (TLM). I have two slight criticisms of this episode, but it concludes a valuable mission and should be seen by anyone interested in the state of the Church.

The first episode in the series, Discover the Traditional Latin Mass, shows why many clergy and laity are drawn to the TLM and find it more theologically sound. As the TLM had been the norm for hundreds of years, it needs no justification, but those who wonder what it is all about will find compelling, if not convincing, reasons for its use.

The second episode, entitled The Perfect Storm, recounts the composition of the Novus Ordo. It shows that the Novus Ordo, as engineered by Bishop Bugnini, was not what the Council intended and that its promulgation was more an effect of wanting to save face and blind obedience during the upheavals of the time than for any pastoral or theological reasons. The footage of how the Mass and liturgical settings were twisted into the zeitgeist brought back nightmares of my youth, leaving no wonder as to why many either went to Protestant churches or left the Faith altogether. The effect was like that of watching a movie of the sinking of the Titanic: this should not have happened. 

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The final piece, Guardians of Tradition, is a sort of “Where We Are Now.” It traces the gradual resurgence of interest in and blossoming of the TLM under the pontificates of St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict until its arrest with Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes. If The Perfect Storm was the sinking of the Titanic, Guardians of Tradition has us treading water.  If The Perfect Storm was the sinking of the Titanic, Guardians of Tradition has us treading water. Tweet This

And where are we? There are sad scenes reflecting the decline of the Church—for example, once-beautiful churches now being used as hotels or bars. We have lost ground. These, though, are set off with moving vignettes of persons devoted to the TLM: mothers of priests walking from Paris to Rome to present a petition to Pope Francis in support of the TLM; a Mexican family driving two hours each way every week to attend the TLM; an American family initially put off by the TLM but gradually finding in it a haven from current culture; an African community finding in the TLM a connection to the Church universal both in time and geography. It shows that the TLM does, as it has for hundreds of years, reach Catholics of all ages and cultures. 

Those demographics are noteworthy. Forty or fifty years ago, desire for the TLM was often dismissed as nostalgia. That is not the case now. Most attending the TLM are too young to remember the days before Vatican II and seek the TLM for its own merit. This is compelling and troublesome. Compelling because it shows the desire for the TLM does not come from a craving to “go back” but as a thirst to go forward. Troublesome because it makes you wonder why the Church would deny something legitimate to those she most needs to attract—young Catholics living the Faith, often with large families. 

In the era of the “new evangelization,” here is a proven vehicle for it. Why is it being held back? For the “new” evangelization is essentially the same as the old: living the Faith. Why not allow something which nourished and sustained such great evangelizers as St. Francis Xavier, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Katharine Drexel, and Blessed Miguel Pro? Why deny something which drew such converts as St. John Henry Newman, Ronald Knox, G.K. Chesterton, and Evelyn Waugh? As Pope Benedict said, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us, too.”

This is where I would have liked to have seen an interview with, say, Cardinal Cupich, asking why he closed the vibrant parish of The Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest which had been run by the Institute of Christ the King, established by St. Pope John Paul II specifically for the continuation of the TLM? Or perhaps with Cardinal Gregory asking why he ended the TLM at St. Mary Mother of God in Chinatown which had been rejuvenated by the TLM, a move decried even by, of all institutions, The Washington Post? If “by your fruits you shall know them,” it seems fair to ask those abandoning such fruitful vineyards why they are doing so.  

Their answer may be, “Because this is what the pope wanted,” and Pope Francis, in turn, would say he based his actions on a survey he conducted. The producers question the legitimacy of that survey and reveal the existence of a second, secret, report—completed even before the survey was concluded—that was used for his reasoning. At the same time, though, they seem to suggest that Pope Francis was just going along with what was told to him without much personal bias in the matter. This seems to me overly charitable. 


  • Robert B. Greving

    Robert B. Greving teaches Latin and English grammar at a Maryland high school. Mr. Greving served five years in the U.S. Army J.A.G. Corps following his graduation from the Dickinson School of Law.

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