This has been a time to step back and try to gain some perspective on the state of the Church as is to be discovered by anyone seeking the original Catholic Church and Faith. I must admit that without having read anything more than the Bible (and even that only through the sectarian eyes of various Protestant and Novus Ordo "bible study" groups and the like), I would not have been able to understand our devotion to the Latin (Catholic) Mass or to see it as anything more than like some hobby people might have such as collecting gilded age furniture or medieval farming implements. Of course the other factor in this (increasingly relevant as older generations who can remember pass away) is that I never got to see the Catholic Church in its true pre-Vatican II days of glory.
For some people, it was what they had seen when they were younger, for others the esthetic value of a full and properly done Solemn High Mass. A few older movies and television shows might well provide some glimpses, but only briefly and superficially, since the Faith was not the object of the movie or show but merely some incidental backdrop. But over time probably the strongest incentive for people to seek the traditional Catholic Faith will have to be the Ancient Church Fathers, the Doctors, the Popes and Councils, and the older (Pre-Vatican II) Catechisms, and so forth. Old books, that's where we can best see and know how to tell what is truly Catholic, and why we should be concerned with that as souls before God.
I will always be truly grateful to Sr. Mary Cecilia, formerly of the CMRI when it was under Francis Schuckardt's sway, who pointed me to the documents and catechism of the Council of Trent and many other good solid older Catholic books, to TAN Books and Publishers which reprinted so very many of them, and I am also grateful to Montague Rhodes James who provided the first translation I had the opportunity to read of the other writings ("Apocrypha") from the New Testament (and shortly thereafter) era. Despite the obvious doctrinal weaknesses of many of those ancient writers, what they wrote demonstrated the sheer scale of difference of the mind set of Christians of those former ages (and their friends, enemies, and even heretics).
I still remember from my Protestant days a time when I was called upon to speak to a small group of Protestants (filling in for the Protestant pastor at a midweek service). In one hand I held a "Christian romance" novel that had a cover, look, and feel that much approximated a Harlequin Romance. The story was along the lines of the marriageable young Christian lady meeting a wealthy and good-natured but worldly diamond in the rough of a man who, over the course of the story, discovers Christ and gets "saved" (in the Protestant sense) and then the two can happily marry and (presumably) live happily ever after. In the other hand I held a collection of translations of ancient Christian writings (romance stories of a sort) in which the love of God displaces all other loves, as, for example, the young woman who is desirable in every sense, and truly sought after by all men, but whose heart is fully taken by the Heavenly Bridegroom, and in Whose love all earthly love is renounced that she is free to be devoted utterly to Him alone. She could be Saint Agnes, or Saint Cecilia, or Saint Thecla, or Saint Philomena, or so many others like them, and not mere characters in a novel, but actual historical persons. I then put it to that little congregation: How far have we Christians fallen over the millennia?
How can one seek Christ without also seeking to belong, as much as possible, to that very first and most sacred congregation of the actual Biblical Apostles? And there is nothing like the ancient Fathers to make it abundantly clear which Church is that of Christ and what it is like and how to recognize it. But what like that could I find in my own time? No Protestant denomination came even close. The Eastern Orthodox did come a great deal closer; I could almost have accepted them. But in the questions that had separated East (schismatic Orthodox) from West (Roman Church), the West was clearly right and in accord with both Scripture and the ancient Fathers and the East not.
So, the Catholic Church, was it? Unfortunately, the "church" found in my town at that time behind the placard of "Catholic" was only Novus ordo, and had not the priest I found back then been an utter archconservative, I might well have been obliged to continue my search elsewhere for the Congregation that Jesus Christ founded. With some rather grudging reluctance, I went along with it, "I think this is it." With a few years I gradually settled in and resigned myself to the idea that this, such as it was, was about as much of that Congregation as anything could be, though I still hungered for something more. I did like the notion of getting on board a single large ocean liner which would be relatively stable in comparison to the tiny rafts and rowboats of my Protestant years which had been so thrown violently about by the storms and waves of confusion and disagreement.
When Sr. Cecilia introduced me to quite an array of truly Catholic books, it set me searching once more again. Though she herself was a home aloner, she finally did come to recommend my seeing a real Catholic Mass at Mount Saint Michael's in Spokane, in the town where she lived. After some months of correspondence and phone calls, I went to see her, and then I went to see the Mass. I also bought many of the books she recommended to me up there in their bookstore, at that time managed by Sr. Mary Gemma. This was the Faith, actually lived out in an actual congregation! If only my secular career did not root me to a spot far removed in another state, I would have moved straight up there.
In time I learned of other traditional organizations. The SSPX had a major priory for the Northeast US only 30 miles down the road in Post Falls. There were other traditional societies and in time I would hook up with them as well. That these traditional Catholics societies and congregations were one and the same, direct continuations of that one true Church which Jesus Christ founded, and truly and fully faithful to all of what that ancient Church had been about, could not be denied. We should approach the Church as pupils, to be taught by Her, not as teachers to tell Her how She should be, nor as judges to tell this or that part of Her why it cannot actually be any part of Her. The best and wisest course is that of the simple and sincere Faithful who find the Church in a traditional order or society or congregation and simply join. There is no good need to question it; in coming there you have come home.
Start from the corners and edges and work your way in
So, what were the parameters as I saw them once I had made these initial connections and read the relevant books? From memory, I attempt to itemize the list here:
- 1) God founded a particular Church with special promises attached to it.
- 2) That this Church must always exist.
- 3) That this Church must always be discoverable (visible).
- 4) That this Church must always be protected from teaching error.
- 5) That individuals can and often will fail in quite a myriad number of different ways, from their own moral failures to doctrinal errors to cognitive errors, and with a similarly wide variety of consequences, many of which may be unexpected.
- 6) That Vatican II had "loosened" things quite a bit, perhaps (at least) too much (I remember having a picture in my head at the time of Vatican II being something like a very loose coupling to connect one piece of pipe to the next, but so loose that the second pipe wouldn't even need to be in line with the first).
- 7) That there were a variety of traditional societies, of which the CMRI and SSPX I had come to know and see in person, and with which I was deeply impressed.
- 8) That these traditional societies and communities one and all held, with astonishing, nay miraculous, stability, to the Universal and Historic Magisterium of the Church, which is something impossible for "small schismatic groups."
- 9) That Vatican ecumenism had a most peculiar manner of extending to practically everyone, of every possible belief, except that of traditional Catholicism.
- 10) That recent and current Vatican "popes" and "bishops" and "priests" were teaching and mandating and staging in public a strange variety of teachings and actions that certainly at least severely tested the limits of what a Catholic pope and bishops could do or permit.
While aware of the claim that (then) John Paul II was not a real Catholic pope and being willing to entertain it as a valid or at least fully understandable opinion, I was still quite some distance from embracing such a conclusion. I do also remember being far more offended by the attacks of John Paul II and other Vatican apparatus representatives made on traditional Catholics than I was by their ecumenical outreaches to other sects and religions. Hold some joint session with some Protestants? What a nice guy! How could anyone be damned for being so charitable, perhaps admittedly, even to a fault? But then, where's Mr. nice guy when it comes to dealing with his own most faithful flocks? Does loving your enemy really mean having to hate your friends?
It also took some time for me to build up some trust of the traditional societies, despite what I had seen. After all, anyone can put on a happy faith and pretend all is well when in fact other strange things go on behind the scenes. Today, I almost have to laugh and look askance at the sheer trepidation with which I attended my first traditional Catholic conference. In my Protestant years I had studied much on the ways of cults and the psychological methods used in brainwashing and manipulating and isolating their followers so as to create little self-enclosed kingdoms and empires led by whatever clever person created the whole thing. I actually worried about such things as getting stranded or physically trapped, or having my luggage searched or confiscated.
But of course it wasn't anything like that at all. Instead, here was a whole society held together by God's grace and perfected thereby to a degree I had not imagined possible, and utterly without any of the sorts of force or psychological manipulation or other techniques used by the cults to enforce their view of what and how people ought to be and behave themselves. The simple power of God's grace, as commonly found in any Catholic church or parish in the pre-Vatican II days, is something old timers still remember (and always recognize when they see it), and which those of us who didn't get to see it back then can only marvel at with wonder.
Even attendance at a Mass doesn't really provide much of a glimpse of it since all is focused on the holy Eucharist and the Divine Mysteries, and before and after provides all too little time to get to know the people and the places and the schools and the students and the nuns and so forth which is where dwells the full glory of many lives of grace engendered by the traditional Faith. I had once again in more recent times yet another chance to enjoy this first-time wonder vicariously as I briefly got to know Fr. Michael Oswalt's mother. I had gone up to Mount Saint Michael's for his (and Fr. Brendan Legg's) ordination, and his mother had come as well. She had been totally rooted in the Novus Ordo and had been unable to understand what her son was doing by going to the seminary and being ordained (again, this time for real!), but had consented to come.
Seeing not only the ordination itself, but also having some several days before and after to get to know the priests (and bishop) and people and nuns, she fully came to understand and appreciate the stand her son was taking and why he is now a traditional priest. Having seen this, she remarked to me that "this is the most Catholic place I have ever seen since I was a little girl." And I don't think she meant merely the buildings (which ARE quite nice), but the people and the frankly and overtly Catholic culture they all live so vibrantly and devoutly.
So, what did these sorts of things mean? The more I learned about just how bad things were in the Novus Ordo, and also the more I learned what the Faith and Church was like in the pre-Vatican II days, the more it became obvious that traditional Catholic communities really must be the continuation of that Church into our era. At the very least, one could not regard their standing as being any the less than any ordinary approved congregation of the Church. If anything, their standing must in fact be superior to the standing of anything else commonly found today, as evidenced by the abundance of God's grace upon all the people.
Could I explain such a thing canonically at that time? Clearly not. I remember still being afraid to approach a traditional priest for confession, since the explanations for the source of his priestly faculties to hear confessions seemed rather weak and questionable to me. But in time I took the plunge and found that the grace of forgiveness was real; the absolution was real, and truly served as such before God and Man. Amazingly, even with all of this I was slow to convince.
I was extremely loath to depart from the ocean liner and return to what looked to me (from the outside) like just so many small boats, which I had had more than enough of in my Protestant days. But the Novus Ordo in my own particular area continued to decline, especially when the arch-Conservative pastor retired and was replaced with some young pup martinet who had been given the direction to erase all remaining traces of Catholic sentiment which the Conservative had preserved and respected.
By that time, I had already made some other discoveries, and had already come to see something of a much bigger and yet more stable ocean liner's stability in the traditionalist seeming "small boats," and had already come to rest more on them than on the Novus Ordo. And already, by that time, the grace of God had finally empowered me to overcome sins that had up to that time plagued me. The Protestants could not help me, much as some of them truly wished to help. The Novus Ordo could not help me, much as most of them wished. Only traditional Catholicism, once accepted at least as much as all else taken together at the time, could and did empower me to live a life of God's grace.
But back before any of the discoveries that most helped (such as Lumen Gentium), this much I could ascertain - that I believed then (and believe now):
- 1) That God made certain promises regarding His Church,
- 2) That the promises that God made to His Church are practical realities realized in actual ecclesial persons,
- 3) That such persons can be found (as expected) and are found,
- 4) In the traditional Catholic communities and orders and congregations.
It is therefore the basic dogmas of Faith which affirm that something at least very much along the lines of what I have since discovered absolutely has to be true. Puzzling out how my previous observations could be true was not much different from solving a simple puzzle. You've heard the old saying, "start on the corners and edges and work your way in."
The moral and doctrinal rectitude, the utter stability, the humble faithfulness, so utterly yielding to the command of God yet so inflexibly resistant to the wishes of Satan, and the abundance of God's grace, and even the power to overcome sin, all add up to the fact that the traditional societies must each be parts of the Church. Take that as one of the corners. I admit that at the time I made this conclusion I could not explain how it was that they were parts of the Church, or even why that would be so even despite the seeming rivalry or even, at times, animosity expressed between some of them.
All of that would follow in good time, of course. But in the meantime, the miraculous abundance of the power and grace of God, the same numinous quality that proved the claims of Jesus Christ to His disciples, and which proved the truth of the Christian Church to the pagan ancients among whom it expanded so rapidly in its opening few centuries, proved then and proves now to me that the traditional Catholic communities formally and directly belong to that one and the same Church today.
The erroneous teachings and scandalous examples of the Novus Ordo cannot be morally followed or permitted, and must therefore be ignored, resisted, opposed, fought, flouted, or indeed anything at all, rather than complied with. That is another corner piece. How it was that "the Church" could allow such things or fall to such a pass I still could not explain. Even my "loose coupling" mental picture was clearly inadequate to account for it all. And how could a pope stop being a pope? Did not the promises of God explicitly rule out that very prospect? Yet the men's behavior was truly hard to explain or understand. I would not and have not judged individuals, but it was unavoidably clear that as an organization, far too much of what went on within it was unjustifiable and obviously not to be followed, apart from the occasional worthy pronouncement (such as when John Paul II denounced the idea of priestesses) and of course the Indult (now superseded with the "Motu Proprio" and its "extraordinary forms" for the sacraments) which ironically, and alone of all "groups" within that organization, possessed something of the same Divine qualities of the other traditional communities.
For other good hard facts and puzzle pieces, there are all the many teachings of the Church, and also all the violently and flagrantly different teachings of the Novus Ordo. Among the doctrinal facts is the fact that the Church is indefectible and cannot be made to change any of its doctrines on Faith or Morals. But there is also the undeniable defection of the Vatican apparatus, a defection not only at variance with Church teachings in its particulars, but also with the doctrine of indefectibility itself. So while there was much to know and much that I knew, there still remained some number of facts which did not seem reconcilable to other facts.
Even with all those good hard facts to start out with, the idea of trying to get to "the bottom" of what had somehow failed with respect to the Church, seemed utterly daunting and hopelessly out of reach. Several scenarios, each inadequate in one way or another, had been proposed by various camps or schools of thought. One of them (heard from my initial contact, Sr. Mary Cecilia) even amounted to a claim that no legitimate locations could be found for the Mass or other ecclesial actions! How is one to know which (if any) is right, or who might be partially right and to what extent? Though many would have grasp of tiny little bits and pieces of the whole picture, who could put it all together, especially when so much of it all seemed to be at odds with so much else of it? Too much was needed by way of explanation, and who would provide it?
Even simpler than that, who was who, in all of this? Who and what were these various different groups and what driving observations made by each had driven them into their respective "positions" on this or that, on which so many seemed to disagree? Out of a simple wish merely to know that much, a desire welled up within me for there to be some sort of "Who's Who" of traditional Catholicism, but with much more detail on each of much fewer persons than found in the Marquis "Who's Who" volume (which my grandfather used to collect, since he was so proud to be among the illustrious group of those listed therein).
This goal soon morphed into the crude beginnings of a draft for a book in which I would attempt to document in as careful and thorough detail a great many individuals who are key to understanding all of this, discussing in particular what each brings to the table in attempting to understand the whole picture. I harbored no thoughts of being able to solve it myself, but hoped that such a volume might help lay some of the groundwork for whoever might one day be able to figure it out and put it all together, especially in view of the fact that so much about so many of those I intended to write about might become difficult or even impossible to come across in ages to come, so at least if only I could just gather that information for publication, that ought to be a help.
Enter Lumen Gentium
There the matter lay, while I began gathering my documentation, interviewing whoever I could, learning, reading, subscribing, meditating, praying, drafting this volume of documentation, and all the time endeavoring to remain in a state of grace for all researches and considerations. But if anyone had asked me whether I thought there could even be an answer to all this, or what it would be, I would have had to shrug my shoulders and say that I really hadn't a clue. I couldn't even be moderately certain that I would be capable of recognizing a definitive answer even if one were presented to me.
The one time I had even cracked any Vatican II books (during my Protestant days) did nothing but convince me that such writings should only be read by brilliant and trained experts who would already have to know practically everything about Catholicism there is to know. It was obvious that a tremendous knowledge base (none of which I had) would be needed merely to comprehend what the documents were saying. How much more still would be necessary to discern what in them might in any way have caused the problems? Thousands of leading Church prelates had all signed off on them without finding anything to complain about. Don't even think of asking ME to figure it all out! I would have felt better being expected to prove Fermat's Last Theorem with nothing more than Third Grade arithmetic.
I had resolved never to attempt to read Vatican II documents again until such time as I have been a Catholic for at least 50 years of good and devout solid practice and much reading and research in all the sources, scriptural, patristic, theological, saintly, and from all the popes and councils, and probably all in the original Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Come back to me then and probably I would finally understand them, but even then, no promise of discerning what might have gone wrong in them. So the volumes remained shelved, and could very probably have remained so indefinitely.
One day, while the local Novus Ordo "bishop" was in town for the Legion of Mary Acies (Spring of 1995?), I sat down with him and expressed my perplexity at what was going on, wondering what he would say. He listened to me patiently, smiling and nodding benignly in that way that always makes me wonder if he's even listening at all, and then he finally said, "You should read the documents of Vatican II."
"But your Excellency, do you really think I would be ready or able to understand them at this time?"
"Read the Constitution of the Church [Lumen Gentium]. Then things will be much more clear to you."
"I am sure that would be too much," I replied. "How about the one on Ecumenism [Unitatis Redintegratio]?"
"That would also be fine."
With humble fear and trepidation, but also with a sense of wanting to obey (it was as if it was more than merely the man telling me that the time had come and I must begin reading) that I did what I never expected to do this side of the age of 80. I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read. To my amazement I actually could follow pretty well. And then there came the "subsists in" statement.
I suppose you could call that an "epiphany" moment, for I saw immediately on first reading how this resolved one particularly knotty problem from the list above. The sharpest divide between the various societies and communities in which true membership in the Catholic Church had been exhibited was that between the Indultarians within the Vatican apparatus and the rest (SSPX, "independent," sedevacantist...) on the other. The Catholic Indultarians quite unjustly dismissed the other Catholics as illicit, schismatic, whatever. The remaining Catholic communities rejected the Indultarians and their approach as being seriously compromised by the Modernists under whose auspices they functioned.
To paraphrase: "The Mystical Body of Christ, His true Church, the real Catholic Church as a visible institution subsists in the Vatican apparatus, and yet also subsists outside its confines."
Ergo, both those who kept the Faith within the Vatican apparatus (under the terms of the Indult, or else of some as yet uncorrupted alternate Rites), and those who kept it outside that Vatican apparatus, truly belonged to the Church and each comprised legitimate portions of Her, hence explaining the abundance of Divine graces found on both sides of that divide. So here the official basis for each to recognize the other is positively identified. In comparison to this all other divides are relatively minor and at any rate all Catholic sides are legitimate and have a clear obligation to recognize each other, as befits saints, and a clear right to be recognized as such by all.
That had been the first and most important thing "subsists in" proved, or provided the means. Catholic must be reconciled with Catholic, or else the house divided against itself shall fall. Finding the declaratory basis for what I had already found to be true in fact and in deed was the primary goal, and seemed like enough. But serendipitously I also had right then discovered something else. Behind this there was also quite quickly observed yet another direct and simple finding, also of relevance towards resolving another one of the great mysteries or seeming contradictions of our present ecclesial circumstance.
It is also quite clear that the real Catholic Church would now only "subsist in" the Vatican apparatus, not "subsist as" it (implying absolute identity), nor even "subsisting throughout it" as if everything in the Vatican apparatus had to be Catholic, but merely "within it," just like others similarly subsist outside it. So "some members" of it could be Catholic while others need not be, and indeed as had already been found, in spades, as indeed many within the Vatican apparatus had already made quite a distinction for themselves as virulent anti-Catholics. How could the Vatican apparatus fall so dramatically, and in the face of the Church's indefectibility? By going from simply being the Church to being some other sort of organization within only some mere unspecified "portion" of which some mere "portion" of the real Church would henceforth be.
Everything else I have had to say about the nature of our present ecclesial circumstance follows naturally and logically from this one great "subsists in" breakthrough. Without having the thing in front of me I would not have thought it possible. But with it, puzzle piece after puzzle piece has fallen neatly and precisely into place and nothing has to be jammed in where it obviously doesn't fit. If one were barking up the wrong tree, such good and solid fitting together of the puzzle pieces would not continue very far but quickly be met with new and far stickier problems, until one ends up forced to erase the whole thing and go back to the drawing board.
In the nearly 18 years since that crucial epiphany, it continues to surprise and amaze me with the continued smoothness with which so many pieces, at that time altogether unknown to me, but discovered since, have all continued to fit in. As a direction for academic inquiry it has proven abundantly fertile, unearthing fact after fact, answering question after question, addressing problem after problem, definitively and authoritatively. From that moment to this I have the peace that comes from knowing, and again, afresh, and anew, I invite those who have read me here to see the truth of it for themselves and at last wield the key that unlocks the confusing mysteries that have baffled Catholics since the 1960s.
Perhaps, what I have written here will help you realize why I had to write Down the Yellow Brick Road to Apostasy: The Lumen Gentium Syndrome and the book The Resurrection of the Roman Catholic Church below.
Griff L. Ruby
Griff's book is available from iUniverse.com Books for $26.95 or can be read on-line at www.the-pope.com We at the DailyCatholic strongly urge you to share it with all you can for that could be the gentle shove that moves your friends back to where the True Faith resides forever, rooted in the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church as Christ intended and promised.