Super Bowl Sunday is a day of great tradition for many Americans, but for Super Bowl champion Harrison Butker, the tradition he wanted to bring attention to that day was one of eternal significance: the Traditional Latin Mass and his frustration with new Vatican rules restricting its use.
Butker, 26, is the starting placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. His 2020 Super Bowl ring is a symbol of great accomplishment. But during CNA’s exclusive interview with the NFL star on Feb. 13, it was his wedding ring that he was twisting and turning as he thought about his wife, Isabelle, and their two young children and what their future might be if he is no longer able to take them to the Traditional Latin Mass.
Butker hasn't been shy about discussing his Catholic faith. In a 2019 interview with EWTN, he spoke about how the reverence and rigor he found in the Traditional Latin Mass played an instrumental role in his "re-version" to Catholicism while in college at Georgia Tech. You can watch the segment in the video below.
More recently, Butker's faith has been put to the test. In July 2021, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio called Traditionis custodes that imposed new curbs on when and where the "extraordinary" form of the Mass, using the pre-Vatican II Roman Missal of 1962, may be used. The pope cited his desire to unify the Church as one of the main reasons for his edict. A subsequent Vatican document issued further restrictions on using the old Latin missal for baptisms, confirmations, and other sacraments.
Butker spoke to CNA prior to a Super Bowl celebration hosted by the NOVUS Clothing Company in Saratoga, New York. Butker, who has a partnership with the brand, was the center of attention for much of the night at Saratoga National Golf Club. Instead of talking about football or clothing, though, Butker preferred to focus on the Latin Mass restrictions.
Why are you speaking out about the restrictions to the Traditional Latin Mass?
I think God has definitely given me a platform. He's given me a voice for a lot of people that aren't able to voice their opinions. I put so much into being the best kicker I can possibly be and for whatever reason, God has allowed me to continue to be successful as a kicker. I'm so thankful for that. … My success in football has given me a pedestal and I feel a responsibility to raise awareness to different issues that I think God wants me to bring to the forefront. And the Traditional Latin Mass is definitely one of them. It’s an issue that I'm passionate about, and again, I feel I need to bring a voice to a lot of people who are frustrated, who feel like they're outcasted, and who don't have the outlet to say anything. I feel like I can be a voice for all those who feel like they're being persecuted for their love of the traditional sacraments.
You used the word “persecuted.” Is that really how you feel?
I do. I feel like I'm almost not welcome in the Church for wanting to go to the Latin Mass and for wanting to have a traditional confirmation for my children. I feel like I'm a lesser-than Catholic and not part of the Church because I want to attend the traditional rite. But that’s not the reality at all. I want to be obedient to the Church. I want to stay within the Church. It seems like I'm getting persecuted just because I have a love for the traditional rite. And that rite is getting taken away, unfortunately, which is very sad.
If you could have a private, one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis about the new restrictions, what would you want to say to him?
I would say, “Holy Father, all the Catholics that I've been around that have a devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass and the traditional sacraments, they want to be saints. They want to get their children to heaven. They're not trying to have this big revolt against the Church. They're not denying the papacy. They love being Catholic and they want to be saints and they're doing it to the best of their ability. And now it’s being brought into question whether Catholics who prefer the traditional sacraments for the means of their salvation are even good Catholics at all. And I think that really isolates a lot of traditional Catholics.
"It makes them feel like they're outcasted and like they're being persecuted. And from my experience, these are just people that understand they are sinners. They want to have access to the sacraments. They want to be connected to the sacraments that have fed so many countless saints. And it seems like they're getting punished for their love and devotion to the faith and to the Eucharist and all of the church's sacraments.”
When Traditionis custodes was issued, what was your reaction?
The first thing I thought was that I could still go to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest for the traditional sacraments. I hoped the motu proprio wouldn't affect those two communities. I also had to completely rethink extraordinary form, ordinary form, mutual enrichment — everything that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI taught about that I read and I accepted has been like that's not the case anymore. So, I've had to completely rethink that.
But now as a father with children, I'm thinking, how do I make sure my kids have access to the sacraments in the traditional rite? How will they have access to confirmation as they get older? You're just in a tough place. Like where am I going to access these sacraments? And do I believe that they should be allowed to be taken away. Of course not, because the Novus Ordo sacraments are so new and they are so different and so many things have been taken out.…
So take baptism, for instance. In the traditional rite during baptism, there's so many exorcism prayers, tons of saints are invoked. It's very beautiful and it does make it seem like there is a devil. There is evil in the world. There is original sin. What’s happening here is important. It's not just, “Oh wow, it's great our child is now kind of part of our faith community at our Church.” No, this is real. They're getting baptized. They're getting their original sin washed away. And I think you can go down the line with all the traditional rite sacraments and you will see beauty in that it's unapologetically Catholic.
What attracted you to the Latin Mass?
At my alma mater, Georgia Tech, we had a very reverent Novus Ordo liturgy and I loved it. It was my first time being exposed to reverent liturgy. I was looking for something that showed the glory of worshiping God, that showed the glory of the sacraments, and of the Eucharist. I was looking for something that made me feel privileged to be Catholic. And it wasn't until I had seen the reverent liturgy, seen a priest that was preaching the faith wholeheartedly up on the pulpit, that I really embraced the faith. I saw the beauty of it. And then as I kept searching for more reverence, more beauty, and asking where did all this stuff come from, it took me to the Latin Mass. And then that's when I started seeing all the other traditional sacraments. So, that was kind of my journey down the line.
But you know, if we believe this is the church that Jesus Christ established for us to be able to have access to forgiveness through the sacraments to get our way to heaven through all of these means of receiving grace, then it should be recognizable. And I just, I didn’t really recognize it during the Novus Ordo Mass. Even when it was celebrated reverently, you just still see the differences between the two, especially with the prayers that have been taken out, the saints that have been taken out, the priests' mannerisms and how they celebrate, all these things were just removed. And it doesn't seem like it was an organic development at all. It just seems like a complete rupture of what the Roman rite was able to develop into.
You believe that the Latin Mass is bringing young people back to the Church. How so?
I wholeheartedly do. I think we live in confusing times. I think the culture is changing rapidly and the Traditional Latin Mass is so countercultural that I think it really entices a lot of young people who are looking for answers. They're looking for happiness. And for me, I found happiness in embracing the faith offered in the Catholic Church. I felt like I wasn't able to embrace it until I saw it completely exposed in the light. I knew that I had discovered authentic Catholicism. And I found that at the Traditional Latin Mass, in the traditional sacraments, and I think a lot of young people have found that, as well. Young people are looking for answers and they want to be confident and excited about their Catholic faith. They just need to know what the faith is. And it's so clear for them to see that in the Traditional Latin Mass, and with the traditional sacraments, and with traditional resources — all these things that are unapologetically Catholic, that aren't afraid to say things that are countercultural, but that express what we truly believe as Catholics.
How did you get into altar serving at the Latin Mass What's the difference between altar service at the TLM and at the Novus Ordo?
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I got into altar serving when I was in Kansas City and I was at a parish attending the Latin Mass, and there were no servers. So I decided, having an engineering background, that I could probably pick up all of the different details that are involved with serving the Traditional Latin Mass, and then maybe some more boys would want to learn. I absolutely fell in love with it. I had a great priest friend of mine help teach me and give me different resources to learn how to serve. And then we had a lot of boys that started serving. It was a ton of fun. After we were done with the training, my experience was that all the boys didn't want to serve the Novus Ordo Mass anymore because they loved the rigor that was involved with serving the Latin Mass and enjoyed how many different processes had to be followed. They loved the discipline. They loved the challenge of it. They really fell in love with it.
I served in the Novus Ordo when I was growing up and there's some rules and guidelines, but for the most part it's different in every parish. And there really isn't that much responsibility. To me, it seemed like you were just kind of out there to look nice and help out when the priests kind of needed it. But to serve the Latin Mass, I can YouTube a random video and watch the way they're serving. I can study that and see how they're serving. It's the same Mass across the whole world. And it's very beautiful. And it is kind of, I guess, militaristic in the sense that you have to be very regimented in your movements and in everything that you're doing. So I fell in love with it and all the boys loved doing that.
What is your message to devotees of the Latin Mass across the world?
We need to be saints. We can't jump ship. We can't leave the Church. We are Roman Catholics. I think we need to stand up for truth. We need to stand up for the Church. But at the same time we have to have charity. We still have to respect the positions that these men hold. But we have to recognize what's going on. We have to become saints and we have to let our voice be heard the best we can.
Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency. Joe has prior experience working in state and federal government, in non-profits, and Catholic education. He has contributed to an array of publications and his reporting has been cited by leading news sources, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is based out of the Boston area.
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