“We ought to obey God, rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
“An illicit chapel doesn’t magically become licit after A) 25 years in operation B) getting their 200th parishioner, C) reaching a bank balance of $100,000 or D) acquiring a dedicated building for Mass. These growth milestones are important for any chapel, and a cause for celebration, but they are quite accidental to a chapel’s fundamental status in the Catholic Church.”
PART I: The Crisis in the Church and the Justification for Traditional Catholicism
Vatican II was the worst disaster in the history of the Catholic Church, even when considering the Arian heresy, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Revolt (“Reformation”). Never before has the Catholic Church embarked on a process of self-destruction, from the Papacy down. Traditional Catholics call this the Crisis in the Church.
Since the 1970’s, Catholics aware of this Crisis in the Church have been anxious to preserve their own Faith, and that of their loved ones. As part of their prudent reaction, they left their local parish churches to attend “Traditional” Catholic chapels, set up without the permission of Rome, which offer the Tridentine Mass exclusively. These Traditional parishes have no canonical standing in the (Conciliar) Catholic Church, but the state of necessity caused by the Crisis in the Church justifies their establishment, as well as the attendance of the Faithful at these locales.
The priests at these Traditional Catholic chapels are committed to the Tridentine Mass, and a staunch opposition to Modernism (a heresy condemned by Pope St. Pius X) and the errors and novelties which overwhelmed the Church after Vatican II. Furthermore, these priests promote the entire package of Catholicism as it was handed down to them: Not only is the Mass said in its pre-Vatican II form, but everything else is pre-Vatican II as well: belief in all Catholic dogmas, the content of sermons, advice in the confessional, morality, practices of piety (Rosary, Stations of the Cross, devotion to the Saints, etc.), attitude towards the World, dress, behavior, and many others.
1. The Faithful have a right and a duty to preserve their Faith
2. But there is an unprecedented Crisis in the Church: The Novus Ordo Missae destroys the Faith in Catholics, as proven over the past 45 years
3. Therefore, Catholics must extract themselves from the danger of the Novus Ordo Missae, and nourish their Faith in a Traditional Catholic parish where the Faith is taught and practiced as it was for centuries.
A Traditional Catholic is a Catholic who knows the danger posed by Vatican II, Modernism, and the Novus Ordo Missae, and who rejects all of these in favor of Catholic Tradition. What is meant by Catholic Tradition? The Tridentine Mass (canonized by St. Pius V in 1570), traditional doctrine, theology, philosophy, morality, liturgy, music, art, architecture, culture, and everything the Catholic Church has always held sacred. In short, Traditional Catholics cling to everything associated with the Catholic Church before the revolution of the 1970’s. They also believe, as a tenet not open for discussion, in the right of every Catholic to receive certain (doubt-free) Mass and Sacraments from certain (doubt-free) priests, by right of their Baptism. Traditional Catholics are extremely wary of all things Conciliar, including the New Mass, and the new Rite of ordination (which is at least doubtful)
Traditional Catholics are justified by several Church documents and principles:
Salus animarum suprema lex. “The highest law is the salvation of souls.”
Lex orandi, lex credendi. “the law of praying [is] the law of believing” – this means that the way we pray (liturgy) helps form our beliefs (theology). If our liturgy is basically protestant, we will inevitably take up protestant theology and beliefs.
Quo Primum – a papal bull from St. Pius V in 1570 canonized the Tridentine Mass to be used for all time. By this document, we do not need anyone’s permission to say (priests) or attend (faithful) this Mass.
Part II: Which Traditional Catholic venue should Catholics attend?
Many Traditional Catholic groups have been formed over the years: SSPX, SSPV, CMRI, as well as many independent chapels run by one or two priests. All of these groups have one thing in common: they do not have the approval of the Conciliar Church, a.k.a. Modernist Rome. They are technically “illicit” with no canonical status. They are operating independently of, and without the permission of, the Church authorities. They are all operating under supplied jurisdiction, due to the Crisis in the Church. Even if a given chapel is part of a worldwide Traditional organization with hundreds of priests, it does not thereby gain any special jurisdiction or legitimacy. A traditional priest operating under a worldwide Traditional organization with 500 priests, saying Mass for 500 faithful at a beautiful altar in a Gothic church specially built (or purchased) is fundamentally the same as an independent traditional priest saying Mass for 1 family of 6 in a hotel room with meager equipment. The accidentals are different (number of parishioners, chapel wealth, years in operation) but the fundamentals are identical.
An illicit chapel doesn’t magically become licit after A) 25 years in operation B) getting their 200th parishioner, C) reaching a bank balance of $100,000 or D) acquiring a dedicated building for Mass. These growth milestones are important for any chapel, and a cause for celebration, but they are quite accidental to a chapel’s fundamental status in the Catholic Church.
NOTE: The appearance or “feeling” of legitimacy or “being the real deal” does not equate to actual legitimacy. A man could fake being a priest for 15 years (from 2000 to 2015), and the youngest of his parishioners in 2000, who started attending his simulated “masses” at 5 years old, would certainly (at age 20) feel like this man is the most “real” priest they know! Nevertheless, every “mass” they attended would be just as invalid. Feelings don’t determine reality.
A Traditional Catholic will insist on 3 things from the place they attend Mass:
1. Validly ordained priest (priests ordained in the New Rite of Ordination should be conditionally ordained by a Traditional bishop)
2. Saying the Tridentine Mass (using a Missale Romanum from before the Vatican II changes began to be implemented, which was around 1964)
3. The priest has adequate training to be a Traditional priest – Either a full Traditional seminary formation, or at least a supplemental education after he discovered Tradition.
There are other things people look for in a Traditional chapel, which are quite optional: an association or connection with a large Traditional organization, a long-established location, a kind priest, a lot of friendly parishioners, a large number of parishioners, lots of eligible bachelors, lots of eligible maidens, a priest of your own nationality, a priest without an accent, a priest good with children, a priest with careful attention to Liturgical detail, a priest with a good singing voice, a priest with good sermons, a priest who is hard/easy on you in the confessional, a good choir, a vibrant parish life, presence of cry room, convenient to where you live, a beautiful building, close to shopping, close to a grocery store, location in the beautiful countryside, convenient location in the city, playground or swings for the kids to play, delicious donuts every Sunday, a de-facto petting zoo for parishioners’ children, free Wifi, guest cages in which to place livestock you bought on the way to Mass, etc.
Catholics must stubbornly insist on those 3 numbered points above (valid priest, valid Mass, Traditional formation) while being quite flexible about the other things. Staying home from a valid Mass every Sunday because the priest has an accent, or because a chapel is located in the city or the country, is not sufficient reason in God’s eyes.
When a Catholic has choices, he should exercise the virtue of prudence: gather as much information as possible, and choose the chapel which is most likely overall to help him (and his family) to keep the Faith and grow in holiness. Each person will have different priorities, and each chapel/priest is different. There is no universal or “hard and fast” rule, which is why it is a question of prudence. The only universal rules are those 3 points above: if the priest or Mass is not valid, you are wasting your time.
APPENDIX A: What about groups that have the approval of Rome to say the Tridentine Mass?
There are also several groups that have the permission of the Conciliar Church to say the “Latin Mass” (Institute of Christ the King, Fraternity of St. Peter, the Good Shepherd Institute, Campos Brazil, etc.), but they have issues which can’t be ignored:
1. They are, strictly speaking, not “Traditional Catholic” since a central tenet of Traditional Catholics is the belief that Catholics have a right, by virtue of their Baptism, to seek out doubt-free priests and sacraments — they don’t require Rome’s permission.
2. They offer the Latin Mass, but fall short in other areas: the priests don’t receive a specifically Traditional formation with Thomistic philosophy and theology, so the priest’s sermons and confessional advice will be somewhat defective. Because of this defective formation, many other consequences will flow: the rejection of the World is usually somewhat incomplete, certain practices are hit-and-miss (i.e., how the Faithful dress at Mass, use of chapel veils during Mass, etc.), and sometimes the other Sacraments are not given using pre-Vatican II rites.
3. Since these groups are “approved by Rome” they always refrain from criticizing the Conciliar Church, often going to absurd lengths to defend it. The compromised nature of these groups necessarily causes a straying from the objective truth, as they are biased in favor of their benefactors who “graciously” gave them canonical recognition. They will not soon bite the hand that feeds them.
4. Furthermore, some of these groups have to share facilities with Novus Ordo priests, and this is a grave problem. Either the Novus Ordo Masses are valid and you are stepping on Sacred Particles on the ground during your Tridentine Masses, or the Novus Ordo Masses are invalid and the priest could give you mere bread during the Mass, if you receive from the ciborium in the tabernacle (“consecrated” during the last Novus Ordo Mass). So any Indult Mass in a shared facility is a no-go, whether or not you believe the Novus Ordo Mass to be valid. Cathedrals are beautiful of course, but stepping on Our Lord is not acceptable, neither is receiving bread in place of Our Lord.
5. Another point of compromise: the Conciliar authorities are usually pretty strict about not allowing “strictly anti-Novus Ordo” groups to exist. They might approve certain Latin Mass-favoring groups, but these priests must at least agree that the Novus Ordo or “Ordinary Form of Mass” used by the Catholic Church is not bad. At most, they are allowed to say that the Novus Ordo is “not their cup of tea”. Priests are also required to say the Novus Ordo Mass on occasion, to consummate the compromise and weed out any die-hard, truly Traditional, anti-Novus Ordo dissenters.
6. The local bishop can take away the “privilege” of the Latin Mass at any time. Sometimes this happens when a new bishop is appointed in the diocese. This happened on a worldwide scale in 2013 when Pope Francis forbid the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate to say the Tridentine Mass any longer, after a small minority of friars complained to him.
These “approved by Rome” groups are Catholic, but defective insofar as they are compromised and neutered. You will get some good, but not the full package. But at any rate, Catholics should only consider these groups if they have their own Church to operate in (see point #4).