are Roman Catholics
, or people who identify as Roman Catholics, who believe that there should be a restoration of many or all of the liturgical
forms, public and private devotions and presentation of Catholic teachings which prevailed in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council
Traditionalist Catholics should not be confused with mainstream Catholics who have a broadly "traditional" or conservative outlook. While these latter "conservative Catholics" resemble traditionalists in their concern for Catholic orthodoxy, they tend to accept in general terms the legitimacy and appropriateness of the changes associated with the Council, in what Pope Benedict XVI has approvingly called the "hermeneutic of continuity", as opposed to the "hermeneutic of discontinuity" of traditionalists.
Traditionalist Catholics generally prefer to be referred to either simply as Catholics
or, if a distinction must be made, as "traditional Catholics" (with a lower-case T). However, since Roman Catholics in general consider themselves to be "traditional" in the sense of being faithful to historical Catholic teaching, the term "traditionalist Catholics" is used in this article simply as a means of clearly distinguishing them from other Roman Catholics, not as a formal title or name.
Different types of traditionalists
Traditionalist Catholics may be divided into four broad groups.
- Traditionalists enjoying the favour of the Holy See and of the "official" hierarchy of the Church. Several officially-approved societies of traditionalist priests exist, most notably the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICRSS), the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer and the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney (PAASJV). Traditionalists of this sort tend to regard the changes in the Church that followed the Second Vatican Council as being at least tolerable, though they may disapprove of them and wish them to be reversed.
- Traditionalists not enjoying the favour of the Holy See and who practise their faith outside the official structures of the Church, though they affirm their loyalty to the Church and to the papacy. The largest priestly society of this tendency is the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), which was established in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a founding figure of Catholic traditionalism. Members of this category view the post-Conciliar changes as being doctrinally and pastorally unacceptable. The fact that they recognise the official Church hierarchy while rejecting its decisions draws accusations of disloyalty and disobedience from the preceding group - whom this group in turn accuse of blind, un-Catholic obedience. There have been various phases of dialogue between the "official" Church and priests within this category, which continue at the present time.
- Sedevacantists, who regard the Pope and the bishops of the "official" Church as having fallen into heresy and having therefore forfeited their authority. Such people neither possess nor seek the approval of the Church hierarchy. The terms sedevacantist and sedevacantism derive from the Latin phrase sede vacante: "while the chair [of Peter] is vacant", a term which is normally applied to the period between the death of one Pope and the election of his successor. Sedevacantists usually date the vacancy of the papacy from the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, though some regard Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) as a true pope. Sedevacantist groups include the Society of St. Pius V (SSPV) and the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI).
- Conclavists: priests and laypeople stemming from the sedevacantist movement who have given recognition to a nominee of their own as the true Pope. Since they hold that the see of Rome is no longer vacant, they are not, strictly speaking, sedevacantists, but they are often classified as such, since they reject the official papal succession (and do so for the same reasons as sedevacantists). Conclavist groups include the true Catholic Church, the Palmarian Catholic Church, and the followers of David Bawden ("Pope Michael").
There is some tension between the different groups at the official level - the SSPX, for example, condemns the FSSP and attendance at its Masses - but the divisions are sometimes less pronounced at the lay level, with some happily attending Masses celebrated by priests of any group. Divisions between sedevacantists and other traditionalists are generally somewhat more pronounced.
Many traditionalist Catholics associate themselves with a particular priestly society. Other small groups of traditionalists sometimes form around an individual "independent" priest who has no ties with any particular organisation. Other Catholics again, known as "Home Aloners" do not associate themselves with any priests, and attempt to practise their faith individually in the privacy of their own homes.
Some leaders of Independent Catholic Churches also claim to be traditionalist Catholics and to be preserving the Tridentine Mass and ancient traditions.
Validity of holy orders of traditionalist clergy
Catholic doctrine holds that any validly ordained bishop can, with the required intention and using an ordination liturgy which fulfils Catholic doctrinal requirements, ordain any baptised man (or boy) to the priesthood or the episcopacy. This remains the case whether or not the ordination is performed with official permission or approval, and even if the individuals involved are not Catholics.
Traditionalist seminarians in good standing with Rome are naturally ordained with official approval and in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Canon Law. However, other traditionalists, particularly sedevacantists, consider that ordinations conferred using the revised rites of ordination promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968 are invalid or of doubtful validity. Some therefore take the view that there are now very few validly ordained bishops and priests left in the world: the revised rites are in almost universal use in the "official" Church, though the older ones are in use among officially-approved traditionalist societies of priests. Conversely, the validity of the orders of some sedevacantist priests, many of whom have been ordained by episcopi vagantes, is questioned by others.
The Holy See rarely comments on the validity of the orders of traditionalist clergymen who operate outside of the "official" Church. However, it recognizes the validity of the controversial episcopal consecrations that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre performed in 1988, while regarding the ceremony itself as canonically illegal and entailing excommunication for the clerics involved. It likewise views ordinations performed by the bishops of Lefebvre's SSPX as being valid but illicit, and it sees those involved as being automatically suspended from exercising their orders.
Traditionalist Catholics believe that they are preserving Catholic orthodoxy by not accepting certain changes officially introduced since the Second Vatican Council
, changes which have been described as amounting to a "veritable revolution". They claim that the positions now taken by mainstream Catholics - even conservative mainstream Catholics - would have been considered "modernist" or "liberal" at the time of the Council, and that they themselves hold positions that were then considered "conservative" or "traditional".
Pope Benedict XVI has contrasted the "interpretation of discontinuity and rupture" which many traditionalists apply to the Council with the interpretation of "reform and continuity" put forward by the Church authorities. After quoting Pope John XXIII's statement that the Council was intended to "transmit [Catholic] doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion", he continued:
"Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary, Pope John XXIII said, that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message.
Traditionalists, however, believe that errors have crept into the presentation and understanding of Catholic teaching since Pope John XXIII spoke those words. They attribute the blame for this to liberal interpretations of the Conciliar documents, to harmful post-Conciliar pastoral decisions, to the text of the Conciliar documents themselves, or to some combination of these.
Most traditionalist Catholics view the Second Vatican Council as a valid, albeit problematic, Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, though most sedevacantists regard it as wholly invalid. It is common for traditionalists in dispute with Rome to affirm that the Council was "pastoral", and hence that its decrees were not absolutely binding on Catholics in the same way as the dogmatic decrees of other Ecumenical Councils. Support for this view is sought in Pope John XXIII's Opening Address to the Council, Pope Paul VI's closing address, and the lack of formal dogmatic definitions in the Conciliar documents. On the other hand, Paul VI subsequently emphasised the authoritative nature of the Council's teachings.
Traditionalists' claims of "discontinuity and rupture"
Traditionalists' claims that substantive changes have taken place in Catholic teaching and practice since the Council often crystallise around the following specific alleged examples:
- A new ecclesiology which they claim fails to recognise the Catholic Church as the one true church established by Jesus Christ, and instead holds that the true church "subsists in" the Catholic Church in an unclear way. They claim that this contradicts Pope Pius XII's Mystici Corporis Christi and other papal documents.
- A new ecumenism which they see as aiming at a false pan-Christian religious unity which does not require non-Catholics to convert to the Catholic faith. They see this as contradicting the teachings of the Bible, Pope Pius XI's Mortalium Animos, Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis and other documents.
- Acceptance of the principle of religious liberty, based on their interpretation of Second Vatican Council's decree Dignitatis Humanae, allegedly in contradiction to Pope Pius IX's teachings in Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors.
- A revision of the Mass liturgy of the Roman rite. They affirm that this de-emphasizes the central Catholic doctrines that the Mass is a true sacrifice and that the bread and wine are changed through transubstantiation into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that it has been stripped of important prayers, that it is centered on the congregation rather than on God, that it is less beautiful and spiritually edifying, and that it omits certain Bible readings that mention subjects such as hell, miracles and sin. Traditionalists hold differing opinions on the validity and acceptability of the revised rite of Mass:
- Some see it as valid, and as acceptable when necessary, though the older rite should be attended when possible.
- Some, including the leadership of the Society of St. Pius X, hold that it is in principle valid as a sacramental rite but maintain that the revisions in the liturgy are displeasing to God, and that it is often celebrated improperly to the extent of being sacramentally invalid. They therefore generally refuse to attend it.
- Some, including many sedevacantists, see it as categorically invalid in principle and entirely unacceptable.
- An inappropriate emphasis on the "dignity of man", which they claim ignores original sin and the need for supernatural grace, and which they also claim has led to a utopianism that sees world peace as possible without recognizing the kingship of Christ. They see this orientation as contradicting Pope Pius XI's Quas Primas, Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, and other papal and conciliar documents.
- A teaching on collegiality that attributes to the bishops of the world a share, with the Pope, of responsibility for the Church's governance in a way that they claim is destructive of the authority of the Pope over the other bishops as the final arbiter of Catholic issues of faith and morals and which is alleged to encourage a "national" church mentality that undermines the authority of the Holy See. They also claim that national bishops' conferences, whose influence was greatly increased following the Council, "diminish the personal responsibility of bishop[s]" within their dioceses, leading them to be "bound in all matters of importance by majority decisions of the conference."
- A new and critical attitude towards Sacred Scripture that, they say, contradicts Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus and Benedict XV's Spiritus Paraclitus, among other documents.
- A departure from the traditional belief that the Church and the world are at variance with one another to some degree, and that the Church has enemies. They believe that Pope Pius X's warnings in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Leo XIII's Humanum Genus and other papal warnings against secret societies and enemies of Christianity have gone unheeded.
Mainstream Catholics' criticism of traditionalists' claims
Mainstream Catholics responding to claims of "discontinuity and rupture" have made the following points:
- Such claims are stated to be false, exaggerated, or lacking appreciation of the organic character of Tradition. They argue, for example, that Dignitatis Humanae does not in fact contradict the Church's earlier teaching on religious liberty, and that the revised rite of Mass represents a prudent development of the earlier liturgy.
- Traditionalists are said not to distinguish properly between changeable pastoral practices (such as the liturgy of the Mass) and the unchangeable principles of the Catholic faith (such as the dogmas surrounding the Mass). Traditionalists deny this claim.
- Traditionalists who declare the decisions of Church authorities to be incompatible with the Church's unchanging Tradition are said to be acting against the teaching of Pope Pius XII that to "the Teaching Authority of the Church ... has been entrusted by Christ Our Lord the whole deposit of faith - Sacred Scripture and divine Tradition - to be preserved, guarded and interpreted" (emphases added). Traditionalists reply with the words of the First Vatican Council: "The Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine" (emphases added).
Sedevacantists' claim that mainstream criticisms do not apply to them
Sedevacantists claim that they avoid much of the mainstream Catholic critique of traditionalism because they believe that there is at present no Pope or body of bishops whose teaching must be accepted. They also criticise non-sedevacantists for recognising the recent Popes, on grounds such as the following:
- By declaring that the revised liturgy of the Mass promulgated and defended by these Popes is evil, they teach that the Church can and has decreed evil.
- By declaring that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council contradict the Church's Tradition, they either repudiate the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the infallibility of even the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Pope and the bishops or they implicitly deny that the Pope and bishops at the Second Vatican Council were truly the Pope and truly Catholic bishops.
- By refusing subjection to a supposedly legitimate Pope, they contravene the famous Bull Unam sanctam in which Pope Boniface VIII stated: "... we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."
The rite of Mass
The best-known and most visible sign of Catholic traditionalism is an attachment to the form that the Roman Rite
liturgy of the Mass
had before the liturgical reform
of 1969-1970. This form is generally known as the Tridentine Mass
, though traditionalists usually prefer to call it the Traditional Mass
. Many refer to it as the Latin Mass
, though the Mass of Paul VI
that replaced it can also be celebrated in Latin.
Different traditionalist priests use different editions of the Roman Missal to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. Most use that of 1962, the last before the post-Conciliar reform and the only one for which the Holy See gives authorisation. Since this edition was promulgated by Pope John XXIII, sedevacantists reject it and generally use the 1920 Missal, with some modifications. A series of modifications to the 1962 liturgy introduced in 1965 are used by some traditionalists in good standing with Rome. This version of the liturgy is sometimes referred to as that of the "1965 Missal", though no new edition of the Roman Missal was in fact published in that year.
Linked with the celebration of the Tridentine Mass is the observance of the liturgical calendar of saints' days as it existed before the revision of 1969. Some also ignore the revisions of 1960 (by Pope John XXIII) and 1955 (by Pope Pius XII), preferring the General Roman Calendar as in 1954.
Individual and private devotions
Traditionalist Catholics lay stress on strict following of customs prevailing immediately before the Second Vatican Council, such as the following:
- Abstaining from meat on Fridays. Present discipline maintains Fridays and Lent as days and times of penance, declares that abstinence from meat or some other food as determined by the local episcopal conference is to be observed on all Fridays (excluding solemnities) and on Ash Wednesday, and allows episcopal conferences to permit other practices of personal penance to take the place of abstinence from meat.
- Fasting from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. This discipline was modified in 1953 by Pope Pius XII, who reduced the fast period to three hours, and this modification is accepted by many traditionalists. Few accept the one-hour rule promulgated by John XXIII, which remains in place.
- Kneeling to receive Communion directly in the mouth, in the form of consecrated bread alone, and from the hand of a cleric rather than a layperson. Some would refuse to receive even from deacons, who, before the reforms of Pope Paul VI, were allowed to give Holy Communion only if there were a serious reason for permitting them to do so.
- Women wearing a headcovering in church. Canon 1262 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law mandated that, in church, women should cover their heads and men should uncover theirs "unless this is in contrast with approved customs of peoples" (a practice that was not universal even before the Second Vatican Council).
- Frequent confession, a practice that grew in the first half of the twentieth century, when increasingly frequent Communion led to more frequent confession.
- Prayers such as the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary in the form in use before the late twentieth century, and so without the alterations in the number and identity of the Stations that became common in the time of Pope Paul VI and without the addition of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary recommended, without imposing them, by Pope John Paul II.
These practices are of course not confined to traditionalists: many mainstream Catholics also follow them.
Traditionalism and the Eastern Catholic Churches
The Second Vatican Council's decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum
encouraged the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches
to return to their own past traditions and practices, which in some cases had been overlaid with elements taken from the Latin Church
. Subsequent Vatican documents reinforced this tendency. Some of the Latinizing modifications to be undone date back decades or even centuries, and the process of reviving older traditions is ongoing. This process is has been opposed by some, perhaps most notably by the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat
which claims to be part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
and which has close links with the Society of St. Pius X
(SSPX). In some other Eastern Catholic Church too, there are small numbers who, like the Latin-Rite traditionalist Catholics, try to hold to practices as they were at the time of Pius XII's death (1958).
Number of traditionalist Catholics
According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the Catholic Church's worldwide recorded membership at the end of 2005 was 1,114,966,000. Estimates of the total number of traditionalists within this population have ranged from 1 million to 7 million. It has also been claimed that there are upwards of 2 million traditionalists in dispute with Rome, and a similar number in good standing with Rome. Estimates of the number of supporters of the SSPX range from 600,000 to 1 million.
There are roughly 500,000 Catholic priests in the world. The two most prominent traditionalist organisations are the SSPX and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP); the SSPX has around 500 priests, and the FSSP has roughly 200.
For purposes of comparison with mainstream Catholic organisations, the Knights of Columbus in the United States are stated to have 1.7 million members, the Neocatechumenal Way is reported to have around 1 million members, and Opus Dei is claimed to have 87,000 members.
Forms of worship
Some traditionalist Catholics celebrate or attend Mass in the form in use before the Second Vatican Council, particularly that of 1962, whose continued use Pope Benedict XVI sanctioned as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite
in the Motu Proprio Summorum pontificum
of 7 July 2007
. The 1962 form is used by traditionalist priests in good standing with the Vatican. Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos
, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
, occasionally celebrates Mass in that form in public, and other cardinals have also done so, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI
, but not since he become pope in 2005.
Many traditionalist priests not in good standing with the Vatican, in particular members of the Society of St. Pius X, also celebrate Mass in the 1962 form. Others, especially those who deny or at least express doubts about whether there has been any true Pope since Pope Pius XII, and therefore reject the edition of the Roman Missal issued under the authority of Pope John XXIII on 23 June 1962, shortly before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, in application of the changes he had made with his motu proprio Rubricarum instructum of 23 July 1960. Some traditionalist clergy even reject the changes made by Pope Pius XII in 1955.
Relations with the Holy See
The Holy See recognises as fully legitimate the preference that many Catholics have for the earlier forms of worship. This was apparent in Pope John Paul II's 1988 apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei
and Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum
. Naturally, however, the Holy See does not extend its approval to those who take a stand against the present-day Church leadership.
A fiercely debated question is whether traditionalists who operate outside the ordinary structures of the Church and in dispute with the Church authorities are schismatic and excommunicated.
The clearest cases of schism are provided by sedevacantists and conclavists, who openly refuse communion with Pope Benedict XVI and his bishops. Many other traditionalists are also regarded by the Holy See as schismatic, though their schismatic status derives, on a case-by-case basis, from their attitudes and conduct as individuals rather than from their association with any particular group (such as the SSPX). The situation of the SSPX has been described as a "situation of separation ... even if it was not a formal schism". With regard to the 1988 episcopal consecrations that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer performed for the SSPX against the orders of Pope John Paul II, the Holy See recognizes their validity, but sees the bishops involved as automatically excommunicated. It views the priests of the SSPX whom these bishops ordain as validly ordained, but, in accordance with canon 1383 of the Code of Canon Law, prohibited from exercising their priestly functions. The Ecclesia Dei Commission has stated that attendance at Masses offered by such priests is "morally illicit" for Catholics in normal circumstances, though attendance is not, of itself, an act subject to ecclesiastical penalties such as excommunication.
The Ecclesia Dei Commission
The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
was founded in July 1988 in the wake of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei
. Pope Benedict XVI was a member of the Commission during his tenure as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Speaking on 16 May 2007 to the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Cardinal Castrillón, the current head of the Commission, stated that his department had been founded for the care of those "traditionalist Catholics" who, while discontented with the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, had broken with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, "because they disagreed with his schismatic action in ordaining Bishops without the required papal mandate". He added that at present the Commission's activity is not limited to the service of those Catholics, nor to "the efforts undertaken to end the regrettable schismatic situation and secure the return of those brethren belonging to the Fraternity of Saint Pius X to full communion." It extends also, he said, to "satisfying the just aspirations of people, unrelated to the two aforementioned groups, who, because of their specific sensitiveness, wish to keep alive the earlier Latin liturgy in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
While Cardinal Castrillón has indicated that it is intended to make the Commission an organ of the Holy See for the purpose of preserving and maintaining the traditional liturgy, he has stated that this is not with the purpose of "going backward, of returning to the times before the 1970 reform.... The Holy Father wishes to preserve the immense spiritual, cultural and aesthetic treasure linked with the old liturgy. Recovery of these riches goes together with the no less precious riches of the Church's present liturgy."
Following months of rumour and speculation, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum
in July 2007. The Pope ruled that priests of the Latin Rite
can freely choose between the 1962 Roman Missal and the later edition
"in Masses celebrated without the people". Such celebrations may be attended by those who spontaneously ask to be allowed. Priests in charge of churches can permit stable groups of laypeople attached to the earlier form to have Mass celebrated for them in that form, provided that the celebrating priest is "qualified to [celebrate] and not juridically impeded (this would exclude traditionalist priests not in good standing with Rome).
The document, as well as being welcomed by the traditionalist groups that have been in good relations with Rome, has been considered by groups such as the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, which have been in dispute with Rome, to be sufficient grounds for seeking an agreement. The Society of Saint Pius X welcomed the document, but referred to "difficulties that still remain", including "disputed doctrinal issues" and the notice of excommunication that still affects its bishops. Sedevacantists of course consider all documents issued by Benedict XVI to be devoid of canonical force.
Doctrinal and liturgical issues
Notable Traditionalist Catholics
Canonically recognized traditionalist groups
Traditionalist organizations that the Catholic Church considers irregular