The Dear Bishop now walks with a cane, plots his movements carefully, his battle word face surveying the landscape in bifocal glasses.
Fr. Professor responded to an email I sent - just hoping to check in, really. He revealed that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's and retired from active teaching over the summer. He presses on withe last of the PhD theses he advises and is gradually clearing out his office.
Both of these men have two things in common.
Both men demonstrated great fidelity to the Latin liturgy as it was revised after the Second Vatican Council. This was not shallow emotive "love" for the liturgy or a celebration of the liturgy as "creative" play. Rather, this was the commitment to the new liturgy in all the contours of is Latin form and firm adherence to its law of prayer as the law of faith. In brief, they were rare examples of men who accepted the Pauline liturgy as a the liturgical tradition to be received, without seeking to amend it in conformance with "particular" interests. Both men devotedly observe the divine office via the Liturgia Horarum and can make even the most ardent critic of the Pauline liturgy appreciate the corpus of hymns.
Both men, and I don't think this is coincidence, are also examples of that last generation or so of priests who may be said to have had a pre-Vatican II formation. They both have a living memory of the Roman Church before Vatican II and their formation before, during, and in the immediate years after the Council was still defined by pre-Vatican II discipline and practice, even though the Roman liturgy was substantially recast.
The Dear Bishop and Fr. Professor are instances of the journey that generation is making towards the great transitus. There is an enormity to this event that appears when pause if given for consideration. As that generation enters its twilight years, they bring pre-Vatican II formation with them into the sunset of age.
The influence of Vatican II upon formation in the Roman Church is ubiquitous - there is no corner of said church that does not bear the influence of the Council. Traditionalists may object and point to their own orders. They may also point to the relative youth of their priests (and in some cases bishops). At which point it is reasonable to ask, how many among them have an actual memory of formation before the Council? What percentage of Traditionalists under the Roman umbrella have the real experience of formation before the Council? How much of today's Traditionalist formation is artificial or fabricated and as a consequence ill-reflective of formation prior to the Council? And where does one find a credible conduit for pre-Vatican II formation in the modern world?
Contextually speaking, pre-Vatican II formation is impossible. Vatican II, whatever one thinks of it, was a watershed moment in the Roman Church and perhaps Western culture as whole. There is no facet of Roman Catholicism that has not been formed by this Council. Even the Traditionalist orders that view the Council with suspicion developed their identity, agenda and "charism" in reaction to the Council. As such, even in terms of content it is not a guarantee that Traditionalist Catholicism necessarily provides pre-Vatican II formation in virtue of its content being defined and conveyed under the influence of the Council.
If pre-Vatican II formation still exists, it exists in a more piecemeal fashion as opposed to in the well defined contours of an institutional entity. It is found here and there, scattered in the wind, in the living memory of those who experienced it in the original context and offer to impart some this same experience.
I have seen the ethos of the original liturgical movement conveyed best by priests who lived it, such as the late Fr. Bernard Gilgun, as opposed to those who self-consciously try to recapitulate it. I have seen a total application of lex orandi, lex credenti in persons such as the Dear Bishop and Fr. Professor, as opposed to a number of rank and file men (my age or younger) who never experienced pre-Vatican II Catholicism and are obsessed with a faux scholasticism. I have found Tanquerey's The Spiritual Life implemented as praxis among monasteries that give scarcely a thought to their old liturgical books.
This is not to say the Roman Church is not in a state of crisis or otherwise decline. Like the West as a whole, the Roman Church is waging an internal war between adherence to principles that were once considered immovable and increased secularization. It is to say, however, that if one truly believes the Western Tradition is of importance, merit, and benefit, one must seek it out with utmost honesty, recognizing that there are no easy answers to difficult questions, nor comprehensive cures for complex maladies.
Formation is everything. Spend enough time with the ancient monastic literature and one sees how that principle is foundational to Christian praxis. The problem of contemporary Christian formation (particularly Vatican II inspired formation) is a known problem. What is less known is whether or not elements of pre-Vatican II formation are capable providing some perspective on account of the issues raised above. Traditionalist Catholicism scarcely recognizes the degree to which it was formed by Vatican II, and how much of its content is largely formed by persons with limited or no experience of pre-Vatican II formation. The window for rediscovering pre-Vatican II formation grows ever more narrow. The best way to find it, is to find the priests an religious that lived it and an coherently impart its content to another generation, however piecemeal the content may be.