Members of the Youth Classical Schola of St. Louis Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va., sing a canticle before the start of a pontifical solemn high Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 24, 2010. It was the first time in 50 years that Mass in the extraordinary form had been celebrated in the shrine's upper church. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
Kenneth J. Wolfe is
an American Catholic writer who contributes to Rorate Caeli, the most-read Catholic traditionalist blog in the world. His
writing has appeared in the New York
Times, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, and The Remnant, among other publications. Mr.
Wolfe, who lives in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia with his wife, holds a BA
from West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
In October, I interviewed Mr. Wolfe by email about the
relationship between Pope Francis and Catholics who worship in the traditional
Sean Salai, SJ: What
is the “traditional Latin Mass” and why do you attend it?
Kenneth J. Wolfe:
The traditional Latin Mass is the sacrifice of the Mass dating back to at least
Pope Gregory the Great (hence, Gregorian chant) that most canonized saints
would recognize as their form of worship, as compared to the Vatican II liturgy
of the 1960s that is normative in parishes today. I attend it because I love
the universality, contemplation, beauty, and solemnity that is commonly
identifiedeven by childrenwith the traditional Latin Mass.
Salai: What does
the phrase “traditionalist Catholic” mean to you?
Wolfe: One who
attendsexclusivelythe traditional Latin Mass and sacraments, and adheres to
the corresponding disciplines, as they existed in 1962 or earlier.
Salai: What is
the difference between Catholics who attend the traditional Latin mass approved
by Rome and Catholics who attend similar masses celebrated by the schismatic
Society of St. Pius X?
the word “schismatic” has been repeatedly corrected by even bishops who have
mistakenly used it to describe the SSPX. And I say that as one who has only
attended about three or four Masses offered by the Society out of the last 20
years of exclusively attending traditional Latin Mass. “Irregular” is a much
more accurate adjective for a group of priests who offer valid sacraments, have
visitations conducted by bishops appointed by the Vatican, and have even been
explicitly granted faculties for the sacrament of penance during Pope Francis’
Year of Mercy. Having said that, the main difference between the two groups of
Catholics is pragmatism versus purity. Both have positives and negatives, and
both are fully Catholic in the eyes of the Church.
tensions have you experienced between Catholic traditionalists and Catholics
who are not traditionalists?
Wolfe: There is
often a tendency to defend the status quo
by conservatives who are not yet traditionalists, treating the pope like a
fourth person of God; the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Francis. Traditionalists err on the side of tradition,
which admittedly befuddles, at best, or irks, at worst, those who do not quite
grasp, accept, or even know about the first 1,900 years of the Catholic Church.
this Mass seems to be growing in places, primarily in the United States and
some parts of Europe, the growth is not explosive. How do you respond to the
reality that most Catholics, by and large, are pretty content with the current
form of the Roman Rite offered in the vernacular?
Wolfe: I don’t
think most Catholics are content with their typical novus ordo liturgy. When there is a traditional Latin Mass at an
accessible and beautiful parish, on a Sunday morning, it is usually
packed. The two strongest countries, it
seems, for the traditional Latin Mass are the United States and France. Both have an unusually high number of
traditional liturgies with young people and large families. In America, bishops
are turning failed parishes over to traditional orders. In France, which I had
the pleasure of visiting this spring, there will be more Catholics attending
the traditional Latin Mass than the novus
ordo liturgy in a couple decades if trends continue. The hierarchy of the
Church can’t help but notice this energy and momentum.
Salai: From your
perspective, what are US Catholic traditionalists doing right at this point in
and multiplying. Both are a lot of fun to accomplish, particularly in the
Salai: What are
some mistakes that traditionalist Catholics have made as a community in the
Wolfe: We can
all smile a little more and laugh a little harder with friends and family. Rorate Caeli made a wise decision
shortly after this papacy began to end comments on blog posts. I think we
should all shut off the computer for a few hours each night and weekend and
have good, old-fashioned cocktails and conversations instead of venting on the
Internet 24/7. Leave the online reporting to those who spend more than a few
seconds researching the issue of the day.
Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio that extended faculties for the old Latin Mass
to priests throughout the world, a permission that Pope Francis has continued,
but traditionalist Catholics often seem less enthusiastic about the current
pope. How would you describe the current attitude of Latin Mass-going Catholics
Jorge Bergoglio was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, even after Benedict’s 2007 motu
proprio, there was one location where a Latin Mass could be offered, and it was
a hybrid liturgy with novus ordo
novelties as mandated by the archbishop. After becoming pope in 2013, hedespite
the motu proprioprohibited priests in the Franciscans of the Immaculate from
offering the traditional Latin Mass and used several disparaging words to
describe pre-Vatican II sacraments and those who adhere to them. For his own
liturgies, this pope has rejected beautiful vestments in favor of 1970s
polyester. There is reason to be concerned what may be next, as the one
consistent thing with Pope Francis is no one ever knows what in the world he
will say or do tomorrow.
does Pope Francis connect most strongly with traditionalist Catholics?
Wolfe: His focus
on the Evil One. He recognizes the presence of the devil in our world.
Salai: When Pope
Francis criticizes empty ritual that lacks inner conviction, how do you
experience those words as a traditionalist Catholic?
Ignatius of Loyola was no fan of novelty, and anyone who has been fortunate enough
to make an Ignatian retreat based on his Exercises knows that repetition and
rhythm in prayer and devotion is the way the founder of the Jesuits preferred.
Pope Francis, even though a Jesuit, seems to dislike, and even mock, things
such as spiritual bouquets. That is sad, as the Catholic Church contains a
wealth of ritual that has helped so many saints and sinners alike gain
happiness and, ultimately, salvation.
many of the big public masses on his recent US visit, Pope Francis recited the
Eucharistic Prayer entirely in Latin, something that Pope St. John Paul II and
Pope Benedict XVI never did when they came to this country. What do you make of
Wolfe: This pope
doesn’t speak English very well, and Latin is closer to Spanish or Italian.
Salai: If you
could say one thing to Pope Francis about the traditional Latin Mass and people
who attend it, what would that be?
Holiness, please at least acknowledge that the sacraments and discipline we
adhere to was the universal norm of the Catholic Church for many, many
centuries until the rupture of the Second Vatican Council.
Salai: What is
distinctive about traditionalist Roman Catholicism and what is continuous about
it with the rest of the church?
calendar, language, orientation of the altar, dress, solemnity, and reverence
are much different than the average novus
ordo parish. We have the same Holy Ghost, the same pope, the same Scripture,
and the same doctrine. Even though it appears there are two (or more)
subfolders within the Catholic Church, there is not a doctrinal schism, and
traditionalists will continue to defend doctrine to ensure faith and morals are
guarded and maintained.
Salai: What’s your
favorite Scripture passage and why?
John’s Gospel, verses seven through eleven in the second chapter: “Jesus saith
to them: Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
And Jesus saith to them: Draw out now, and carry to the chief steward of the
feast. And they carried it. And when the chief steward had tasted the water
made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters knew who had drawn the
water; the chief steward calleth the bridegroom, and saith to him: Every man at
first setteth forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is
worse. But thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles
did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested his glory and his disciples
believed in him.”
This is the communion proper for the Second Sunday after
Epiphany. I always smile at those High Masses each January, as the music is
fairly routine until the mention of good wine, where the chant then skyrockets
in range. The monks who presumably wrote it many centuries ago knew our Lord’s
first miracle was an awesome one.
Salai: Who are
your role models in the Faith, either living or dead?
I most admire the priests in the Institute of Christ the King and the Priestly
Fraternity of Saint Peter. They never steer me wrong. In Washington, DC, I have
been blessed to make friends with dozens of fellow parishioners at Saint Mary,
Mother of God Churchkind of the epicenter for the traditional Latin Mass in
the capital region. For saints, Thomas More is one of my favorites.
Salai: How has
your own faith changed or evolved over the years?
college, I attended conservative novus
ordo liturgies with family through territorial luck; during college I got
wrapped up in the Newman Center and its folk scene; and immediately after
graduating I found the traditional Latin Mass. I’ve never been happier, 20
years after deciding to attend only the old sacraments.
Salai: How do
you pray? Any favorite prayers or intentions, or spiritual tradition?
nothing better than praying at Mass. I sing in our local Gregorian chant
schola, praying twice, as Saint Augustine of Hippo remarked. From the Rosary to
the Spiritual Exercises with a traditional retreat master, to daily prayers for
living and dead family and friends, there’s always some time in the day for the
Salai: How does
Catholicism influence your approach to being a husband?
comes first, then everything else. My wife and I love to travel, and some of
our favorite moments in a trip are at either Mass or a church in a different
city or country.
Salai: What are
your hopes for the future?
Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wisely wrote: “The Church stands and
falls with the Liturgy.” Falls? Imagine that horrible thought! I hope and pray
for a Pope Pius XIII who will bravely begin a counter-revolution, starting with
liturgy and sacraments. Start there, and all of the other important things will
Salai: Any final
Wolfe: I am
happy to see a growing number of smart, young Catholics enter religious life. A
new generation of priests, sisters, brothers, and bishops will determine the
direction of the Church. Know that there will be many prayersincluding
spiritual bouquetsfor good vocations and great work and leadership.