Inevitably, all men pass on to their creator. Every movement or cause is handed to a new generation who is given the choice of how to proceed with it. With Latin Mass “traditionalism” this is already happening and the next several years will define the direction the broad (and often contradictory) cause will take.
The saintly Archbishop Lefebrve, without a doubt the most prominent figure, died before the Vigilante was even born. “Independent” priests (whether retired like Fr. Frederick Schell or in whatever situation Fr. James Wathen was in) unattached to any semblance of control from the SSPX, Ecclesia Dei, or a diocese are a thing of the past. Over the years we have seen many of the men who spoke loudest for traditionalism meet their eternal reward: the intellectual and well read if not always precise Michael Davies, the untouchable humorous wine guzzler Gregory Hesse, and the affable and kindly Nicholas Gruner (whose death seems to have deprived the Fatima Center of its very heart and soul). The balding Christopher Ferarra is a far cry from the energetic firebrand he used to be, Richard Williamson (discredited and mocked in the mainstream due to his extremist views) has broken from the SSPX and formed his rump alt-SSPX, the sedevacantists are a laughing stock, the ever-smiling and youthful Bernard Fellay is fast becoming an old man, the apocalyptic language that used to be all too common and was slightly alleviated during the rule of Benedict XVI has resumed under Frankie (the greatest antidote to right-wing ultramontanism that God has ever blessed us with). Men and Women who remembered the “good old days” before Vatican II are well into their old age and leave either nothing or a fanciful romantic view of those times to their descendants.
The question is, however, what path will those descendants take? Those who remain committed to the cause or the “new blood” who enter it from other sectors of Catholicism have no memory of the 1940’s or 50’s. Will they create Amish style communities to play dress-up and remain forever locked in that state (as some FSSP/SSPX adherents the Vigilante knows have done)? Will they answer the call of Bp. Fellay and Fr. Pfluger to look forward and not remain perpetually stuck in the 1970’s, the 1950’s, or the 19th century? Will they look deeper into their tradition and see that there is so much more that was before Trent or Pius IX? Only history will tell.
The one thing that stood out to the Vigilante about the “old guard” of traditionalists was their genuine sincerity. Fr. Gruner truly seemed to believe that devotion to Fatima was all that was needed to save the world, Frederick Schell (according to anyone whoever met him) was a pure no-nonsense man with a German practicality, Lefebrve was a man torn between the way things used to be and how they turned out, and even good old Richie Williamson appears to believe everything he says. What stands out among all these men, whether dead or aging, is that there is no hint of hypocrisy among them. No matter how much the Vigilante has matured to agree or disagree with their various positions, he has always admired their conviction.
Whatever path the younger crowd of traditionalists takes is not in the hands of the Vigilante. He has crossed the Eastern frontiers of Galicia into an entirely different liturgical landscape, but can only hope that they look deeper into the traditions of their Church and not content themselves with simplistic and ahistorical explanations.
Their valiant forbears often lacked the ability or time to have a comprehensive understanding of Church Tradition, but they have no such excuse. Should they become complacent and worry themselves with 1950’s “culture” that they have no way of truly understanding, dresses that dare go a millimeter above the kneecap, devotional fads that offer a “golden ticket” to paradise or out of purgatory, or an obsession with “modernism” in the most imprecise or broad terms, then the movement will become a fossil that dwindles and decays into the dustbin of history alongside the Cathars or the Hussites.
May God bless them with the strength and judgement to use their talents to best benefit the Church.