Youth Leader: Traditional Latin Mass is 'Progressive'

Bertalan Kiss says the extraordinary form of the Roman rite is not stuck in the past but rather draws on the treasures of the Church’s heritage and attracts young people because it ‘challenges them.’

Bertalan Kiss, president of the 'traditionalist' youth movement Foaederatio Internationalis Juventutem
Bertalan Kiss, president of the 'traditionalist' youth movement Foaederatio Internationalis Juventutem (photo: Bertalan Kiss)

For Bertalan Kiss, president of the youth movement Foaederatio Internationalis Juventutem, a devotion to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite (the Mass used before the Second Vatican Council) is not about going back, but going forward.

Speaking to the Register March 19 while attending this week’s pre-synodal meeting of young people in Rome ahead of the synod of bishops for young people in October, Kiss said that those who favor the Traditional Latin Mass prefer it because it is about using all of the Church’s treasures and patrimony to help save souls. He therefore believes it’s actually a “progressive” movement rather than a “conservative” one stuck in any particular era.

Kiss, a native of Hungary, also said the extraordinary form of the Roman rite attracts many vocations and draws young people in particular because it “raises the bar” and challenges them.

At the end of this week’s pre-synodal meeting, the fruit of the discussions among the 300 young people taking part will be presented to Pope Francis and included as part of the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) of the October synod, whose theme is: “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”


What did you think of the Pope’s speech today?

It was good to hear Pope Francis put an emphasis on “roots” and how, without a culture of roots, Christian roots, we can’t grow and go forward. So it’s really good to hear that, that he is putting such an emphasis on Tradition basically.


The Juventutem movement is about maintaining the Church’s Tradition ­­— could you tell us more about what it is and what you’re trying to do?

The Foederatio Internationalis Juventutem is basically a loose network of small communities for young people who are attached to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite — also known as the Traditional Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass — but I prefer to use the designation Pope Benedict XVI used in  Summorum Pontificum [his 2007 apostolic letter liberalizing the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal): the extraordinary form. We are present on all continents and basically we’re not advocating broader use of the extraordinary form, we just do it. So if there’s a stable group of young people or faithful who’d like to have the extraordinary form, we help them to grow, to develop it. Also our main emphasis is on young people.


Why is that?

It’s an interesting thing that the traditional form attracts a lot of young people and produces a lot of vocations.


Why do you believe that is?

It raises the bar. I’ve asked myself what’s happening when I hear that a lot of young people are attracted to the extraordinary form. I usually get asked: “Yes, but young people are also attracted by the charismatics.” I say, well, thank God we have something that attracts young people. My experience is that it’s not just about the form, though that is important, but that it raises the bar, because when you’re not part of the mainstream, you don’t have the required infrastructure, and you have to work and have to really want it. If you really want the community to work and be alive, then you really have to work day by day to do it, so it raises the bar and this attracts young people.


It challenges them.

Yes, it’s a challenge, and you have to give challenges to young people. This concept of dumbing down or sugar coating everything in the hope that it will be more accessible to young people — I don’t see the fruits of that. If you raise the bar, there are only about 2 out of 10 people who will accept the challenge, but they really accept it and start working towards it. No matter what kind of community or liturgy they prefer, they really accept the challenge, then others will come. But you have to be patient. We are only planting the seeds but the growth is coming from God, so we have to patient. You shouldn’t push for anything. If it becomes a self-centered thing, it doesn’t leave space for the Holy Spirit to work.


As someone in favor of Tradition, do you feel excluded in any way, including here, because of past antipathies among some in the Church to the “Old Mass”?

No I don’t feel excluded at all. Last year I had some really good conversations with Cardinal [Kevin] Farrell [now prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life] and also the youth director at the [then] Pontifical Council for the Laity. To be perfectly honest I believe that most of the difficulties among those who prefer the extraordinary form depends on bishops or priests who’ve had some personal bad impressions of this movement. But if we try to get closer and not to approach them only with the issue of the liturgy, but approach them on a personal level so they get to know us and they see we are here and participate and help and are hoping to tackle the issues that the Church faces — if they see this, they really get a different perception of the whole thing. So one of the things that has to be done  is to “depoliticize” the issue of the liturgy. Because of Summorum Pontificum, people can have the extraordinary form if they want it, priests can say it. The time has passed when these communities have to push, or advocate for the liturgy, because now there’s a law that provides this. So now I think we should put more emphasis on how to engage our parish, our diocese, and ask our bishops and priests how we can help, contribute, to be a part of the whole thing, so I think we should put more emphasis on that.


You’ve said in the past that you’re the “progressives.” What do you mean by that?

Yes, my position is that there’s this concept, or mindset, that those people who prefer the extraordinary form, traditional liturgical practices and all the theological and moral teachings that go with it, are somehow retrograde. They want to go back and so on. But I always argue that this is completely not the case, because if you look at the liturgical reform and look at how Pope Benedict interpreted the liturgical reform in light of continuity, this movement is the next logical step to make.

We have had 50 or so years of the liturgical reform being introduced. There were high hopes that it would attract new generations, that it would be more accessible, and so on, but the implementation and the fruits of it, well these are still being discussed. But the way Summorum Pontificum envisioned the use of the extraordinary form in parish life and in the life of the Church is just the next logical step to make. So I usually say we’re not the ones who want to go back, we are truly the progressives because we’re not afraid to use different elements of the Church’s treasures and patrimony. Also because we didn’t live in the times when the liturgical reforms happened, so we don’t have any sort of personal contact with the discussions going on at that time.  So for us it’s the next logical step to make.


Would you also say this is a push to recover what has been lost?

I wouldn’t put it that way, it’s more of an opportunity, and it all depends on us, especially the young people who prefer the traditional liturgy. It’s up to us to present all the richness and all the fruits that come from this spiritual life in a way that’s appealing and which shows that we don’t have to be afraid of going back to Latin because 50 or 60 years ago was a completely different world. Now everything is available on the internet, you can research all the Latin texts in just a snap. It’s not a hindrance anymore. So it’s not so much recovery as going forward and proposing something new to other generations as they’ve never encountered this which was going on in the 1950s. So although it’s considered to be old, it’s a new experience for younger generations. And as Summorum Pontificum said, if a group of faithful would like to have this, then every support should be given for them to have it.


With no obstructions.

Yes and if they face any difficulties either in their parish community or even with their bishops, just go over there and talk to them and try to elaborate why you think it’s important for you personally. Don’t try to reignite these discussions from the 1970s. No, just tell them why it’s important for you personally and then they’ll get a picture of people who actually prefer this. This should be the way to approach this whole issue, because when you think about it, all that happened in the 1970s and what’s still going on are just the symptoms. The reasons go much deeper. And as long as we are caught up with the symptoms, and caught up in discussions about the symptoms, then we can’t go and discuss with bishops the underlying problems and issues. So we have to break the ice and present ourselves as we are: as faithful, as Catholics without any adjectives — so not as “Traditional Catholics” and so on. We’re Catholics.


And you don’t reject the Second Vatican Council?

Of course not.


So if you’re the progressives, who are the conservatives?

Usually movements who prefer the extraordinary form get these statements that we’ve just selected and cherry picked a time in the Church’s life and we want to go back there, that we think that everything that happened at that time was good and we have to implement those things now, and so on.   So most of the time they say we’re caught up in one particular historical period of the Church. But I don’t think so. I think we’re just open to our heritage and we’re open to the patrimony of the Church. So conservatism, in terms of being only focusing on a specific period of time of the Church’s life, be it the 1970s or the Council of Trent, that’s not a good approach. We have to be progressive in the sense of not being afraid to use anything that has worth and to try to implement it in a way that reaches as many people as possible, because basically our mission is to save souls.