Trads: Plant your flags

Jared Johnson

Social Media Manager

It’s no secret that the mainstream of Franciscan University’s spiritual culture is charismatically inclined. It is common knowledge in the Catholic media world, and most certainly it is known here on campus.

In my parish, some people drive seven hours from the Chicago-land area to attend FOPs. Most of Franciscan’s Masses feature praise and worship music. The Born of the Spirit retreat is always a major feature of each semester. Many of our households are rooted in charismatic practice; there are prayer teams and acoustic guitars behind every corner.

Enter the traditionalists, and the tension ensues. Now, not every trad takes issue with every aspect of charismatic spirituality; no trad denies the workings of the Spirit. Traditionalists, believe it or not, are driven by love. They want to see themselves and all brothers and sisters make it to the heavenly reward.

Nor is traditionalism a cold practice; open a 1962 Missal and look at the Communion prayers you’ll never find a more impassioned series of love letters to the Lord. It’s just that the traditional understanding of love encompasses factors, such as piety, less emphasized than charismatics.

“All right, that’s beautiful,” a non-trad might say (certainly have said in my experience). “So why can’t they relate to God in their way, and me in mine?”

Therein lies one of the greatest sources of friction between these two camps: the misunderstanding of what traditionalism actually is. Charismatics see traditionalism as a different but valid spirituality with its own customs, so why on earth do they try to impose them onto everyone?

Well … that is not what traditionalism is. As understood by trads, the heritage of the Church is not a way of expressing the faith, it is the foundation of worship and theology, a foundation built upon for centuries. The Charismatic Renewal has place on that foundation, but it cannot be equated: it is not even in the same category.

Unfortunately, many don’t get that, trads have a hard time articulating it, and we all feel the fallout. One facet of that fallout is that trads always end up feeling rather left out.

Franciscan University, then, is a beautiful and frustrating place. Beautiful, because where else could you find a community of peers so vibrant and intellectual brilliance so readily abundant as in Egan and CoDa? No traditionalist takes that for granted. Yet frustrating, because traditional opportunities are limited.

The Juventutem Club does an excellent job of providing prayer sessions of Latin compline and rosary, and once a month we have the Tridentine high Mass offered by Christ the King Chapel. For the most part, however, trads seek a way to get off campus for a more regular Latin Mass at St. Peter’s in town or Precious Blood in Pittsburgh. What else can you do, if to you the traditional understandings of reverence, dignity and piety are non-negotiable?

Nonetheless, no traditionalist wants to abandon the effort to make campus more accommodating, and those in charge are usually willing to listen. But the misunderstandings, the tensions, the presuppositions … it can get ugly, and it can take a long time. Any great spark of traditionalist enthusiasm rubs somebody the wrong way. Sometimes, enthusiasm becomes force.

Remember the patens wildfire of last semester? I was somewhat involved in the whole affair. Traditionalists propelled the matter into the spotlight and cheered it along the whole way. But so many people didn’t even know what a paten was. So many people didn’t care. And some were even suspicious: if the friars are holding off on something, why not trust their judgement? Without enough people behind an initiative, the thing is bound to seem like one faction imposing its beliefs on the rest of campus.

The thing is, traditional practices are not opposed here. Incense fills the air, altar servers wear the dignified cassock and surplice, and every week chapel choir prepares chant and hymns for the 8 a.m. Mass. So where are the trads? Off campus. As I have argued, this weekly exodus is justifiable. But I believe that if traditionalists want to gain headway and win hearts and minds, they have to be here to do it. What is the point of getting patens at Mass for a crowd of peers who have been given little explanation and no reason to care, while trads go elsewhere until Franciscan catches up?

The only way it does “catch up” is if traditionalists make their presence and their support for campus liturgy known here on the hill. It is a prudential call for each to make in his or her own heart; it would be a sacrifice to give up frequenting the Latin Mass. But if it is so badly wanted, someone must stay here, plant the flag, and (in all charity) hold the line.