THERE are serious seismic changes occurring in the world and our culture almost on an hourly basis. It doesn’t take a keen eye to recognize that the prophetic warnings foretold over many centuries are unfolding now in real time. So why have I focused on the radical conservatism in the Church this week (not to mention radical liberalism through abortion)? Because one of the foretold events is a coming schism. “A house divided against itself will fall,” Jesus warned.
Some feel they are defenders of the truth when, really, they are doing it great harm. For love and truth can never be separated. The so-called “left” tend to over-emphasize love at the expense of truth; the “right” tend to over-emphasize truth at the expense of love. Both feel they’re right. Both wound the Gospel because God is both.
Thus, among others, the one thing that should unite us—the Holy Mass—is the very thing that is dividing…
The Mass is the single most incredible daily event that happens on earth. It is foremost there that the promise of Jesus to remain with us “until the end of the age” is actualized:Matt 28:20
The Eucharist is Jesus who gives himself entirely to us… the Eucharist “is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual experience”… it is a “memorial, namely, a gesture that actualizes and makes present the event of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus: the bread is truly his Body given, the wine is truly his Blood poured out.” —POPE FRANCIS, Angelus August 16th, 2015; Catholic News Agency
The Eucharist, Vatican II affirmed, is therefore “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Lumen Gentium n. 11 Thus the liturgy “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows.”Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1074
So, if I were Satan, I would attack three things: belief in the Eucharist; the Holy Priesthood; and the liturgy that makes Christ present, thus, cutting off as much as possible “the font” from which all the Church’s power flows.
VATICAN II — A PASTORAL RESPONSE
The idea that the life of the Church was all rosy before Vatican II is false. Modernism was already well underway. Many women stopped wearing veils to the Latin Mass long before the Council was even invoked.cf. “How Women Came to Be Bare-headed in Church”, catholic.com Pews were more or less full, but hearts were increasingly disconnected. The sexual revolution was exploding and its tendrils taking root in the family. Radical feminism was emerging. Television and the cinema were beginning to challenge moral norms. And unbeknownst to the faithful, predator priests were closing in on their children. More subtly, though no less serious, many went to Mass simply “because that’s what their parents did.” One priest recounted that he had to pay his altar boys a nickel just to show up.
One man foresaw that all this spelled disaster for the flock. Pope St. John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council with his famous words:
I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in!
The Council Fathers saw that the Church needed to reform her pastoral approach to further stave off the growing tide of laxity and rebellion, and this included reforming the Mass. What they intended, and what followed, are two different things. As one observer wrote:
…In sober truth, by empowering the liturgical radicals to do their worst, Paul VI, wittingly or unwittingly, empowered the revolution. —from The Desolate City, Revolution in the Catholic Church, Anne Roche Muggeridge, p. 127
A REVOLUTION… NOT A REFORM
It became a liturgical “revolution” instead of a mere “reform.” In many places, the Mass became a vehicle to promote a modernist agenda that much later would contribute to a mass exodus of Catholics from the pews, the closure and amalgamation of parishes, and far worse, the relativizing of the Gospel and steep moral decline.
In some parishes, statues were smashed, icons removed, high altars chainsawed, Communion rails yanked, incense snuffed out, ornate vestments mothballed, and sacred music secularized. “What the Communists did in our churches by force,” some immigrants from Russia and Poland observed, “is what you’re doing yourselves!” Several priests have also recounted how rampant homosexuality in their seminaries, liberal theology, and hostility toward traditional teaching caused many zealous young men to lose their faith altogether. In a word, everything surrounding, and including the liturgy, was being undermined.
But the “new” Mass, impoverished as it was, remained valid. The Word of God was still proclaimed. The Word made flesh was still made present to His Bride. That’s why I stayed with it all those years. Jesus was still there, and that’s ultimately all that mattered.
There is an understandable, yet, unjustifiable reaction to the apostasy that has all but shipwrecked the Church. It too has caused damage to the hull of the Barque of Peter. And the spirit behind it is gaining traction.
Let me say out right… I love candles, incense, icons, bells, cassocks, albs, Gregorian Chant, polyphony, high altars, Communion rails… I love it all! It is indeed sad, a real tragedy, that some of these things were so carelessly discarded as if they were somehow “in the way.” What they were, in fact, was a silent language that communicated the Mystery of God, of the Holy Eucharist, of the Communion of Saints and so on. The liturgical revolution didn’t update the Mass so much as erase much of its mystical language and beauty borne on the transcendent wings of sacred symbols. It’s okay to not only grieve that, but work to recover it.
In order for the liturgy to fulfil its formative and transforming function, it is necessary that the pastors and the laity be introduced to their meaning and symbolic language, including art, song and music in the service of the mystery celebrated, even silence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself adopts the mystagogical way to illustrate the liturgy, valuing its prayers and signs. Mystagogy: this is a suitable way to enter the mystery of the liturgy, in the living encounter with the crucified and risen Lord. Mystagogy means discovering the new life we have received in the People of God through the Sacraments, and continually rediscovering the beauty of renewing it. —POPE FRANCIS, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, February 14th, 2019; vatican.va
However, there has been another response that has been no less damaging to the life of the Church. That has been to blame the Second Vatican Council (instead of individual apostates and heretics) for everything. And secondly, to declare the new Ordinary form of the Mass to be invalid—and then to mock it, the clergy, and the hundreds of millions of laity who participate in it. “We are the ‘remant,'” these fundamentalists say. The rest of us? It’s implied, if not made explicit, that we are on the wide road that leads to hell.
It’s not uncommon to see photos on social media of priests wearing a clown nose or dancers prancing about in the sanctuary. Yes, these are unsanctioned liturgical “practices.” But these photos are presented as if this is the norm in Catholic parishes. It’s not. Not even close. It is dishonest and incredibly scandalous and divisive to suggest it is. It is an attack on millions of faithful Catholics and thousands of bishops and priests who faithfully, lovingly, and reverently participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Ordo Missae. The fact that many of us have remained in our churches for decades, perhaps enduring at times a less than “beautiful” liturgical experience (out of obedience) in order to bring whatever life and renewal we can to our shrinking parishes, is laudible—not a compromise. We didn’t abandon ship.
Moreover, the Latin or Tridentine rite is only one of many.
In fact, there are seven families of liturgical expression in the Church: Latin, Byzantine, Alexandrian, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean. There are many beautiful and diverse ways to celebrate and make present the Sacrifice of Calvary throughout the world. But, in truth, all of them pale compared to the “Divine Liturgy” taking place in Heaven:
Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Rev 4:9-11)
To fight over whose liturgy is the most beautiful is like two children squabbling in front of their parents over who’s coloring is the best. Sure, the “older” brother’s is nicer… but they’re both the “art” of little children in the eyes of God. What the Father sees is the love with which we pray, not necessarily how precise we color within the lines.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
NOT JUST THE LIBERALS NEED CORRECTION
Thus, Pope Francis, as head of our household, was right to correct…
…those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past [and a] supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline [that] leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism… —Evangelii Gaudium, n. 94
That is, there are those on the other end of the spectrum from the “liberals” who also weaponize the Mass.
I have spoken to several people lately who have been deeply affected by the manipulation and use of the beautiful Tridentine Mass to fear-monger and threaten others with guilt-trips or the charge of heresy and even hell-fire. Says one reader:
We are healing after leaving the Latin church, because of the laity. I loved the priests so dearly and Tridentine Mass. But people were judged that went to the Ordinary Mass, kids were hurting from the strictness, etc.. I could not take anymore and it felt like I left a cult. I felt I did damage to my kids. But, it was a great lesson. We now don’t run to every event at church but slow down and live our lives infusing our faith when we can. I now listen to our adult kids and try not to shove their religion at ’em at every turn… I let them grow. I pray more, not worrying about what I am suppose to do according to other families. I try now to walk the walk not talk it all the time. I love my kids and pray to Our Mother to protect and guide them.
Yes Mark, we are the Church. Losing our brethren from the inside hurts. I don’t want that and do gently speak of wrongs within, building our Church, not tearing her apart.
This is not everyone’s experience, of course. Other readers have written of very positive experiences in the Latin Mass, which is very much part of our Tradition. But it is terrible when faithful Catholics are being treated as second-class citizens for remaining in their parishes and attending the so-called “Novus Ordo.” Or being told that they are blind, unfaithful, and deceived for defending Vatican II and subsequent popes. Take for example these quotes lifted from a Catholic blogger who presents himself on the Internet as a faithful “Traditionalist” as he addresses the clergy:
“Sniveling coward… Pathetic excuse for a shepherd…”
“…pervert protecting and pervert priests are going down… Filthy clericalist sodomite scum.”
“Bergoglio [Pope Francis] is a liar… pompous, arrogant, heretic… a sick mind… a disgrace to the faith, a walking, breathing scandal… pompous, hypocritical, pervert-protector.”
“Damn them all….”
It’s hard to know who is doing more damage: the modernist’s chainsaw or the fundamentalist’s tongue?
In his meeting with the Central American Bishops, Pope Francis again highlighted the damaging vitriol and negativity that is driving some in the Catholic press:
I am worried about how the compassion of Christ has lost a central place in the Church, even among Catholic groups, or is being lost – not to be so pessimistic. Even in the Catholic media there is a lack of compassion. There is schism, condemnation, cruelty, exaggerated self-praise, the denouncing of heresy… May compassion never be lost in our Church and may the centrality of compassion never be lost in the life of a bishop. Christ’s kenosis is the supreme expression of the Father’s compassion. Christ’s Church is the Church of compassion, and that begins at home. —Pope Francis, January 24th, 2019; Vatican.va
I and many other lay leaders and theologians who used to support “conservative” Catholic media are disgusted with the antipapal tone and divisive rhetoric that masquerades as orthodoxy.
They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. —POPE PIUS XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ), June 29, 1943; n. 41; vatican.va
Remaining loyal to the pope does not mean remaining silent when he missteps; rather, responding and acting like sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, so that he may fulfill his ministry better.
We must help the Pope. We must stand with him just as we would stand with our own father. —Cardinal Sarah, May 16th, 2016, Letters from the Journal of Robert Moynihan
Says another reader regarding the fundamentalism that is re-emerging:
In my own reflections on the response to Pope Francis, and similarly to JPII, Paul VI and all, I keep coming down to the reality of fear. Christ’s teaching and actions became a source of fear, particularly to those who were quite sure they knew the way things ‘should be’. Those most open were those who deeply knew their need for healing and forgiveness and they did not make any attempt to assess how Christ approached them or if he was observant or not.
Love and truth. If progressivism has diluted the Word of God, rigid “traditionalism” has suppressed it. If progressives exaggerate the importance of spontaneity and freedom, fear has often muzzled it. Satan is working from both ends to divide and conquer. Indeed, the Roman pagans crucified Jesus—but the high priests were the ones who brought him to trial.
People are fed up. They have had enough of modernism, compromise, lukewarmness, the culture of cover-up, silence, and perceived waffling of the clergy while the world burns. They are angry with Pope Francis because they expected him to come out swinging harder at the culture of death and to, at every step, blast the Left, blast the globalists, blast the pagans, blast the abortionists, blast the pornographers, and last, blast liberal bishops and cardinals—not appoint them.
But not only did Jesus not blast the pagans and sinners in His time, He appointed Judas to his side. But did you notice in the Garden that Jesus condemned both the sword of Peter and the kiss of Judas, that is, rigid fundamentalism and false compassion? So did Pope Francis in a profound speech to the entire Church (see The Five Corrections).
Those who use the Mass as a weapon to bludgeon others, silence their opponents, justify their personal agenda, or promote the “kiss” of a false Gospel… What are you doing? Those who insult millions of Catholics, belittle priests, and mock a Mass where Jesus becomes present in the Eucharist… What are you thinking? You are crucifying Christ all over again, and often, in your very brother.
Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness… he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9, 11)
May God help all of us to treasure again the great gift that the Holy Mass is, in whatever legitimate form it takes. And if we really want to love Jesus and show it to Him, let us love one another in our strengths and weaknesses, diversity and differences.
This is Mass: entering in this Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension of Jesus, and when we go to Mass, it is as if we go to Calvary. Now imagine if we went to Calvary—using our imagination—in that moment, knowing that that man there is Jesus. Would we dare to chit-chat, take pictures, make a little scene? No! Because it’s Jesus! We would surely be in silence, in tears, and in the joy of being saved… Mass is experiencing Calvary, it’s not a show. —POPE FRANCIS, General Audience, Crux, Nov. 22nd, 2017
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Mark & Lea Mallett