Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She and co-author of the children’s devotional book, Rise Up: Shining in Virtue. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota. Find her at her blog, Living With Lady Philosophy.
When I tried to fit myself into a few of the caricatures of the Catholic Tribes in American put together by Michael Warren Davis and Damian Thompson I somehow fell flat in the middle of nowhere. However, I know that there are American Catholics that think like I do since I know many of them personally, and perhaps, if I put this out there, I will find more of them.
A few years ago I wrote about a group of people that I called “Hipster Traditionalists”—people who love the Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but don’t quite fit in with other traditionalists. These days I think that the title Modern Traditionalist is a better fit.
A Modern Traditionalist is a lover of all things traditional, not out of a nostalgia for things pre-1965, but out of a real love of the beauty preserved in it. For them it is not just a preference, but the realization that the older liturgy is more beautiful and profound. In the fast-paced world, the Modern Traditionalist loves the contemplative silence of a low Mass and the smells and bells of high liturgy as alternatives to their digital social lives. They are either converts or Catholics raised attending the Novus Ordo Mass, probably of the Xennial or Millennial generations. They had never imagined the stunning beauty possible in the Roman liturgy until their first Solemn High Mass with polyphonic chant that left them in awe.
However, the Modern Traditionalist does not shy away from new things. The radical changes that happened with the New Mass were unfortunate. Honestly, they hope to see things change as far back as they can go, but are willing to let the two forms of the Roman Rite mutually enrich each other as Pope Benedict XVI hoped at a slow, natural pace similar to the traditional development of the liturgy. They love old devotions like celebrating Christmas until Candlemas Day and the apparition of the lactation of Our Lady to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but also are appreciative and participate in Charismatic prayer. Female Modern Traditionalists are known for wearing chapel veils while in skinny jeans to the Novus Ordo.
Their Catholicism was too shaped by Pope St. John Paul II for them to really fit in with the more radical Traditionalists. Personalism and phenomenology as well as the writings of Thomists influence their thinking. They want to find a way for the old traditions to fit with what is good and true in modern thinkers. But they are willing to critique these modern ideas whenever they do not fit in with Church Tradition.
Modern Traditionalists are conservatives in the tradition of Russell Kirk and Aristotle, and are therefore wary of big government and big business. They think that justice demands that the rich give to the poor and needy however they are able. The beauty of the natural world and realization of the goodness of preserving the Earth for future generations keeps them interested in protecting the environment.
The precepts of the Theology of the Body are essential to their Catholicism as they navigate using Natural Family Planning and discern the total self-gift they are called to give to the other. They agonize over what Pope Paul VI meant by “serious matter” in Humanae Vitae, and have come to the realization that discernment of when to use NFP to avoid pregnancy is better done with their spouse and not on social media or blogs.
When the Modern Traditionalist read The Benedict Option, they were not sure what was the big deal. Christians always have and always will have to have community separate from the mainstream society which always tends towards vice. Community is a top priority. They build it, search for it wherever they live, always looking for the best liturgies.
The McCarrick revelation and other abuse scandals have verified for the Modern Traditionalist that the hierarchy is just made up of men who are not invulnerable to temptations to power and pleasure. They are willing and ready to pray for our clergy, and make acts of reparation for healing in the Church. They want priests and bishops who are actively seeking holiness, and to realize that when St. Paul talks about the members of the body of Christ that administrators is second from the bottom of the list behind Apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, and helpers (1 Corinthians 12:27-30). Further, none of these roles are worth anything without charity that rejoices in right, not the wrong (1 Corinthians 13:6).
As for the current papacy, the Modern Traditionalist is well versed on what kind of statements from the Vatican are defined doctrine and what is not. They try not to read papal airplane interviews. They take the time to carefully research the whole of tradition on controversial topics, and are particularly interested in Blessed John Henry Newman’s understanding of tradition. They are quick to point out that doctrinal development and the Church’s living tradition are only authentic if they are consistent with the truths given in Divine Revelation. St. Catherine of Sienna is a big hero of theirs as well.