Recently Pope Francis upset some people with his comments about how he doesn't understand why some youth are attracted to the Latin Mass and whether this was demonstrating some kind of rigidness in their thinking. I wish to share my insight coming from someone who is familiar with the English-speaking Catholic world and its culture over recent decades that might give an insight to the Pope's query which is made by many in his age group in the Church. While some of these people may be rigid or choleric and wanting to cling to a fortress mentality of the church this is not the reason most young people are attracted to certain traditionalist customs and rituals. There are more idealist or romantic reasons rather than rigidity.
Pope Francis is of the generation who lived in the pre -Vatican II times and then went through the 60's and 70's and they saw a need for updating and focusing on the simplicity of Jesus revealed in the Gospels. However at the same time many abuses entered the Church and a rather hippy kitschness of style and a downplaying of the mysterious and mystical. However those who were influenced by the new Gothic or Romanticism of the 80's in youth culture found the 1970's kitsch painful and bland. These are the John Paul II Catholics who are now about 42-55. Then we have a group now 30-42 who were more influenced by rap and grunge. In those under 30 today we see a return of the romantic spirit and traditions.
The Pope is worried about those who are too idealist and rigid and moralistic and he sees the need to return to a realism rooted in a healthy Christian humanism. However I think that if we don't want young Catholics to retreat into a fortress form of Catholicism locked into the imagined idealist past then we need to propose a new romanticism of simplicity that takes the best of the past that with the best of the present moves into the best of the future. St Peter Julian Eymard seems to embody this idea of Romantic and spiritual simplicity that is rooted in Eucharistic Adoration, even though after his death his successor took his order away from this apostolic and romantic simplicity of style to one that was more ornate, baroque and monastic.
These romantic youth are seeking truth, beauty, meaning and purpose. They have grown up in a society of ugliness, broken families and the bland leading the bland into an ever increasing humourless, purposeless, utilitarian and dystopian nightmare. Is it any wonder they want to escape into the Tridentine Latin Mass fortress or into their ever present machines and its games and entertainments? If we want them to not be ensnared by the pomp and superficiality of a lavish and baroque form of romanticism that focuses more on laws and rituals than conversion of the heart, then we need to propose a romanticism rooted in the Bible and in Franciscan and Carmelite traditions of simplicity, poverty and mysticism.
The young religious are attracted to the romanticism of the habit not so they can look like a medieval prince but due to its power to witness to God and its link with all the religious who have gone before. It is also an outward sign of their inner consecration and to remind firstly themselves and then secondly for others that they are consecrated for the service of God and their fellow man. Certainly the habits should be simple and practical without taking away its symbolic traditional meanings. That all members of their community share a distinct habit reminds them of their vocation as a community not just as an individual. However it must be said that most of these habit wearing young consecrated and religious are not Latin Mass traditionalists but belong to communities who love Vatican II and the Mass in the vernacular when it is done with simplicity, joy and reverence. Even those who do prefer the Tridentine Mass (extraordinary form) does not necessarily mean they are opposed to the ordinary form or are anti-Vatican II or locked into the past. Though of course there is an element of traditionalists who are against any changes since Pius XII.
To develop a theology and spirituality of romantic simplicity will not necessarily be easy but I think if we look to the teaching of the Popes since Vatican II and integrate their teachings to an authentic balance this could be a way forward. However it will take much prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit for any such understanding to bear pastoral fruit that will bring a Biblical and Eucharistic transformation and renewal of the Church. This Church that treasures the best of both old and new will then become simple, little, poor, evangelical, apostolic and faithful to the Gospel of Jesus and prepare the Earth for the coming of the Kingdom when the Divine Will shall be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.