It’s commonly trumpeted by aficionados of the Traditional Latin Mass that young people are flocking to it.
I am in favor of the Traditional Latin Mass and regret the recent restrictions imposed on those who treasure it. My own view is that the Novus Ordo is best celebrated in a traditional manner informed by the Traditional Latin Mass. In my book Letters on Liturgy I suggested that all seminarians ought to learn how to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, if for no other reason than that it is the best way to learn the history of liturgy and to understand the development of the Mass at the second Vatican Council. Even if they do not go into parishes to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass it would seem that it should be part of their education as priests–rather as a musician must study music history and music theory or an artist, art history and the basics of drawing, color and composition–or for that matter how a philosopher or historian ought to do a course in basic philosophy and the principles of historical studies.
Are young people flocking to the Traditional Latin Mass? There are two ways to look at this question. First to look at a typical TLM or a traditionally celebrated Novus Ordo. My own parish in Greenville, South Carolina is bursting at the seams. We’ve just added a fourth weekend Mass. Our classical parish school has a waiting list in most grades, the church enrollment has tripled in the last few years and the finances of both parish and school are healthy. When you attend our Sunday morning Mass (which is a traditionally celebrated Novus Ordo) the place is packed with yes, young people–young families, young singles and plenty of little children. The same is true of other parishes here in our city where the Mass is traditional. The same is true across the country.
So, from that point of view it is true to say that traditionally celebrated Masses are popular among young Catholics. However, from a broader perspective the number of Catholics leaving regular mass attendance continues to plummet drastically, and the number of young people in the general population who are attending church continues to fall dramatically. In that respect, no, young people are not flocking to the Traditional Latin Mass. They’re not flocking to Mass at all and they’re not flocking to church in great numbers.
What we can say is that, among Catholics, those who go to Mass are increasingly attracted to traditional worship and many of those who are attracted to traditional worship are young. However, in the overall population, and the overall Catholic population these numbers are not large. It is all too easy to project outward from one’s own local experience and miss the big picture. In a particular city the parish that offers traditional worship may indeed be packed with young families, and it may also be true that the neighboring parishes have congregations that are struggling. It’s easy, therefore to conclude that traditional parishes are the big success stories. But there may be one traditional parish with 500 families in a town with seven other Catholic parishes with 1000 families each. The traditional parish may be packed with two masses on the weekend in a church building that only seats 750. The seven other parishes may seem empty, but their buildings seat 1200 and they have four masses with double or triple the total number of worshippers.
I don’t write this in any sense to disparage those who are enthusiastic about traditional Catholic worship. I am among their number. I’m thrilled that our traditional Novus Ordo parish is thriving. I’m also aware, however that the reasons for this “success” are also connected to the attractive part of the country we live in, the beneficial demographics and a whole range of other conditions and circumstances–political, economic, cultural, etc. that influence our life together.
What I feel certain about is that it is a mistake to attempt to legislate church choice and to force a particular prayer preference or liturgical ideology on to people. In this age of cultural and liturgical diversity perhaps “full participation” means people make intentional choices about the faith community they wish to belong to, and within the prescribed norms and permissions, we let market forces determine the way things go. Then time will tell which liturgical decisions are most long lasting and beneficial.
I realize my opinion is biased, but I can’t help but conclude that traditional Catholic worship will prosper in the long run while trendy Catholic worship will wither. Why? Because of the old maxim that “he who marries the spirit of the age will soon be a widower”. To be Catholic is to be traditional. We’re the two thousand year old church remember? Our strength is our traditional beliefs and worship. We’re meant to be built on the solid rock, not the shifting sands of an ephemeral culture and the whims of woke liturgists.
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