Friday, December 20, 2019

Converting a Novus Ordo Parish to Tradition

There are really a lot of excellent Catholic commentators right now. I love all of the other Catholic writers out there who are promoting Catholic Tradition, especially those who don't take themselves too seriously. These are serious times and the stakes are high, but if we can't laugh at ourselves and maintain some levity, how will we enjoy even the victories we do manage to win?

Yes, I love the crop of weird, eccentric Catholic writers, even if we disagree on a few things, sometimes vehemently. One thing I am constantly lambasted for by other traditionalist writers is my assertion that if traditional Catholics are serious about actually restoring the Church, then they ought to maintain some involvement in the Novus Ordo world. I would never say a Catholic must attend the Novus Ordo Mass, of course. But what I can't support is the model of traditionalism whereby we all just hunker down in our own little traditional chapels and oratories and have no meaningful, real life interactions with Novus Ordo Catholics. I mean, if you want the Church to change, how do you think it is going to change? Do you think our blogging is going to do it? Actual Novus Ordo Catholics need to see the beauty of tradition, be educated about the faith, and fight for it in their own parishes. That's the most likely way anything will ever change. This isn't about just making sure I have "my Mass", but rather restoring tradition in the Church at large.

Now, maybe you don't think such a thing can happen. If that's your position I can respect that, and I can understand your desire to just hunker down where you are at. But if, like me, you believe the reform should come to the Church universal, then my goodness, how can you ignore the Novus Ordo world? That's where 95% of our brethren are. That's where our people are at. How can we just ignore that?

For this reason, I will never support the idea that the Novus Ordo is "not really" the Church, and I refuse to call it the Novus Ordo "sect" or infer that Novus Ordo Catholics are not actually Catholic. To be sure, even in its best moments the Novus Ordo liturgy is only an imitation of the Traditional Latin Mass, and in its abuses and worst moments it is a monstrous caricature of actual Catholic practice. But even so, despite its corruptions and deformities, the Novus Ordo Church is the Church. The Novus Ordo Church is our Mother. It is our Mother in the thralls of the a crippling mid-life crisis—our drunk mother who has ran off with a lover she met online, gotten some tattoos, went to Vegas, developed a meth addiction, and started whoring around so she can temporarily feel pretty and wanted again. But she is still our Mother. Our Mother who has temporarily gone insane due to a bad acid trip, who is beating her head against the wall and tearing her own hair out by the roots—but still our Mother. And our duty is not to write her off or try to deny that she is our Mother, but to rather seek her out wherever she is and bring her home, whatever labor that might require. Wean her off of the meth. Send her lovers away. Buy her some clean garments. Pay for the tattoo removal procedures.

I have always been in favor of the idea of working from within Novus Ordo parishes to change things. For those of you who may have only recently started reading this blog, I would recommend a series of four articles to you that I wrote back in 2011. If you think the idea of converting or transforming a Novus Ordo parish into a traditional one is ridiculous, please read the story I chronicled below. These articles talk about how we got the Traditional Latin Mass at my Novus Ordo parish and indeed reoriented the entire parish back towards Catholic tradition. In 2005 there were rainbow vestments, liturgical dancing, and puppet masses—in 2010 we were celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass and even the Novus Ordo Masses were ad orientem, Latin Mass parts, and communion at the altar rail with Gregorian chant. In five years we went from puppet masses to the Traditional Latin Mass. These articles are not short, but they chronicle in great detail how we did this. They are very worth your time if you are interested in these sorts of parish dynamics. 

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 1)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 2)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 3)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 4)

I remember when all this was going on and we had just gotten the Traditional Latin Mass, a certain gentleman showed up at our parish. He was middle aged, very pleasant and intelligent. I soon saw him at the TLMs; every now and then I would see him at the Novus Ordo as well, but praying with a Latin Missal. He began showing up all over the parish. He volunteered to work at the parish fish fries. He was regularly seen helping at events when the pastor said he needed a few men to do this or that. He was always at coffee and donuts chatting with people. I had a few conversations with him. Super nice, down to earth guy. And he was very pleasant and straight forward in explaining to people why he loved the TLM. He was a model traditionalist, in my opinion. He was integrated into the parish and used his involvement in parish activities to get to know people, build meaningful relationships, and through those, evangelize for the Latin Mass in a way that was effective. If every traditional Catholic was willing to do this, we'd have a lot more tradition in our parishes.

Perhaps you may balk an disagree; I understand, and that's okay. This way I have sketched out is long and hard and depends on many factors beyond one's immediate control. And the outcome is very uncertain. It's slow, painstaking, and laborious. It's easier to just pray for change from the security of our traditional chapels and oratories while blogging about how awful the Novus Ordo world is. And it is awful out there. No doubt about it. But I think back to the example of St. Jean de Brebeuf. St.Jean's mission to the Huron did not begin with homilies to them about the true faith or baptisms; rather, it began with him sitting on a log straining to listen to the strange, guttural language of the Huron while he struggled to make out single consonant and vowel sounds, from which he could painstakingly transliterate the language so as to produce texts of the Scriptures and liturgical texts—a process which took him years. Years just to establish the framework to communicate the fundamentals of our faith. Is it too much to volunteer at a Novus Ordo parish fish fry or making some friends over coffee and donuts?

I'm not going to pontificate on how these relationships have to happen or in what context, but I will say that if we are serious about restoring tradition, we have to do the nitty-gritty, and we have to think in terms of years. And doing that sort of work is not ultimately about what's going on in the Vatican, although that is valuable information as well. It's more about working at the parish level. It's about building relationships with Catholics and spending months or years in discussion with them. It's volunteering to clean up the parish cemetery and sitting down for a break with the guy next to you and discussing traditional Catholics ideas about the dead and purgatory. It's about making friends with a Novus Ordo family and inviting them to attend a Traditional Latin Mass. It's about volunteering on parish committees and charitably working to build support for the introduction of more traditional devotions at your parish. Forget the Vatican. Forget the pope. Go be a good example for Catholic tradition in the places where you can make the most difference. And think in the long term. It took a long time for the Roman Empire to turn Christian. Think how many years it took St.Jean to sort out the Huron language. It takes a long time for trees to grow and blossom and to bear fruit. But whatsoever a man sows, that, too, shall he reap.


Anonymous said...

I've been recently having doubts wether I should attend a Novus Ordo parish with my children in the future. On one hand, I don't want to bring my children to NO, I'd rather have them grow up in the light of tradition. On the oder hand, if I retreat to an already existing TLM, I can never bring it to my parish. I don't see how can I have an impact on it and never attend Sunday mass there and have my children receive sacraments elsewhere. What is your opinion about it?

Peter Kwasniewski said...

I wrestled with this question for a long time, and what became the "kicker" for me was thinking about the effect on children of seeing the Novus Ordo as it is usually celebrated - with Father facing the people, EMHC's, crummy music, etc. If there are children involved, it may not be fair to them to make them suffer through years of Novus Ordo Masses while one tries at a painfully slow rate to nudge the parish in a better direction.

These articles might be helpful to your question:

Mona Lisa said...

We had a traditional priest at our Parish who followed a similar process to your priest at our Novus Ordo parish. Introduced Ad Orientam, the Old Mass albeit at 7am in the morning on a Sunday, but which had many people attending, and with two extra, 7 am Latin masses during the week. We had so many extra Solemn Traditional Latin masses on feast days, Holy hours, processions, blessing of Epiphany water, beautiful vestments, the purchase of an ombrellino, confession every day, and the list goes on. Many young families arriving due to our priest being traditional and doing the Novus Ordo mass reverently with Gregorian chant on a Sunday. Unfortunately something went wrong. It is a very large parish with some vociferous people complaining about the Latin, even though they had been taught the importance of it many times. I think our priest wasn't supported enough and as it's an extremely busy parish. Enough is enough it seems and he has decided to resign. This is a huge blow to the lovers of the old Mass. It is really tough on a traditional priest to bring in changes to a very large Novus Ordo parish. I think it can tear a traditionally trained priest apart saying the Novus Ordo every day, and the Old mass only once a week predominantly, and especially if you have a very large parish which have people programmed to the Novus Ordo consumer-like mentality. It's a huge battle and our priest was tough. No-one worked harder to bring in the beauty of the Traditional Catholic faith than our priest so it is unlikely that after 8 years of very, very hard, tough work that our parish will convert now.

Titus said...

Boniface is exactly correct. And I'll take it a step further: you can't make the attempt to introduce the Traditional Mass and Sacraments at (even a very traditional) N.O. parish a zero-sum game. Many Catholics view the Traditional Mass and Traditionalists with suspicion---some because they had bad interactions or experiences back in the days when Traditionalists were much farther outside the mainstream of American Catholicism. I have seen firsthand people who were happy to have their N.O. with lots of Latin and receive Holy Communion at an altar rail literally leave a parish in large numbers when their reverent Sunday Novus Ordo was converted to a TLM.

(It didn't help that the pastor was a buffoon who was not fit for the parish and was personally in favor neither of the reverent, traditionally oriented N.O. nor the TLM, which was a diocesan edict. All the same, the results of the affair were discouraging.)

A lot of younger Catholics may take a more latitudinarian approach even if they are not themselves in the Traditional party, but older Catholics are likely to suspect that you're a sedevacantist of some stripe if you are any manner of Traditionalist. If you want to get along with these people---and it's pretty inevitable to do so---you are going to have to be charitable to them.

As for children, it's not rocket science. We go to a TLM every week, but our children go to a school run by a traditional N.O. religious order, the Nashville Dominicans. So they go to Mass in English at school and learn, I presume, the congregational responses and rubrics of that form. That's culturally valuable, because as Boniface points out, that's Catholicism for 95+% of the world. We don't deprecate the new Mass or people who attend it, or talk about which form of the liturgy is "better" with them: none of that is constructive for a small child who needs to learn to get along in a world in which even as an observant Catholic of any kind she is already going to be outside the norm.

Peter Kwasniewski said...

Titus, I think this is a position one can hold only so long as one is not willing to look into the deeper issues with the liturgical reform, as I go into them here:

And then there is the cognitive dissonance between the two "forms," which admittedly wouldn't be AS MUCH of a problem at a Nashville Dominican school, but even so...

Boniface said...


That's a hard choice. I take my children to both forms about 50/50, sometimes at my parish, sometimes elsewhere. But also remember that the TLM isn't he entirety of Catholic tradition, only a part of it. There's many ways to continue to expose your children to the Catholic Tradition even if you are not attending the TLM 100% of the time.

Boniface said...

@Dr. K,

True that there is certainly an objective, structural dissonance between the two--even in (rare) cases where the NO is done strictly by the book. But also. just because there is a structural dissonance does not mean the worshiper will necessarily have an experiential dissonance. I know Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, etc. but sometimes I think we view this principle in a light that is too deterministic. I've studied the roots of this problem for over a decade and certain have followed the rabbit hole down as deep as it goes, and even though I acknowledge of course the superiority of the TLM, I don't think the NOs I have voluntarily attended have weakened my faith or damaged or led me to impiety. Perhaps this is different for other people.

Regarding your other comment about kids, absolutely. That's why I would never say "You have to drag you and your kids to an NO" but rather the argument was merely "We need to stay in touch with the NO world"

Peter Kwasniewski said...

"The TLM isn't the entirety of the Catholic tradition, only a part of it."

Correct, in the sense that the Church is made up of many valid, legitimate, organically developed historical rites, e.g., Roman, Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Byzantine, Coptic, etc.

Unfortunately, the Novus Ordo is not one of these. So of course we should be friendly towards Catholics who attend it, hang out with them, do Bible studies with them, but the goal, it seems to me, is to help Catholics rediscover the rite that is truly theirs.

Boniface said...

Dr. K

"Correct, in the sense that the Church is made up of many valid, legitimate, organically developed historical rites"

Very true, but that's not the sense in which I meant it. I mean that the Catholic Tradition is not equivalent with *any* liturgy or rite. The legitimate rites of the Church preserve the essence of the faith, but they are not the faith itself. The faith is bigger than the liturgy, and even if one does not have exclusive access to the TLM (to use a radical example, Catholics in Japan during the period when there was no priests), that does not mean one has zero access to the Catholic Tradition.

"the goal, it seems to me, is to help Catholics rediscover the rite that is truly theirs."

Absolutely. My point here is think that means having some sort of involvement in the parishes where 95% of them attend.

Peter Kwasniewski said...

Yes, I agree with what you're saying.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that some of the recently revealed abuses were committed prior to Vatican II and the resultant overthrow of the traditional rite. To this day, we have the witness of men and women whose faith in God remains despite their being imprisoned or forced underground and denied access to either form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Apostasy results when individuals choose darkness over light. But let God be true and every man a liar: a remnant will remain, and Holy God Almighty will claim His Bride.

Christoph Hagen said...

Very well said.