A Catholic is supposed to understand the connection between faith and reason. That is, a Catholic is supposed to know that we do not suspend the use of our reason when using the faith to judge the words and actions of those in the hierarchy who are entrusted with our pastoral care unto eternity. As Thomas Woods and Christopher Ferrara point out in their superb book, The Great Facade, there was far greater openness in the Middle Ages about such matters than is considered acceptable today. The actions and words of popes in the Middle Ages came in for careful review. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux even warned a pope in his day that he, that pope, risked the fires of hell for not removing bad bishops. For anyone to speak in such terms today, however, carries the risk that he will be labeled as one who believes that the See of Peter, which has been occupied since October 16, 1978, by the former Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, is vacant.
To wit, some recent articles of mine that have called into question the judgments, actions, and words of Pope John Paul II have led some well-meaning to conclude that I am either a Pope-basher and/or a sede vacante devotee. That last conclusion is truly amazing. If I believed that the See of Peter was vacant, then why in the world would I plead with Pope John Paul II to erect an Apostolic Administration to provide the Traditional Latin Mass a canonical protection it does not have at present? That is, if I did not recognize the legitimacy of Pope John Paul II, why in the world would I appeal to his authority as Pope to help traditionally-minded Catholics to realize the sort of stability and permanency that might very well wind up renewing the life of the Church in these troubled times?
Well, it turns out that some people have not read The Great Facade, no less have a true understanding of Catholic history and tradition. There are some very well-intentioned people who believe that everything a pope says and does is received from the hand of God, something that is not part of Catholic tradition whatsoever. If everything a pope says and does is beyond question, then some of the great saints of the Church were just plain wrong to reprimand popes who were judged to be weak or incompetent. Although the Church is not a democracy and the Vicar of Christ is indeed the visible head of the true Church on earth, the history of the Church teaches us that there have been more than a handful of circumstances when it was necessary for Catholics, whether lay or religious, to exhort their spiritual father to do his duty and to reassess the way in which he exercises his duties as the chief pastor of souls on earth.
Unlike times past, however, we are living in the midst of an ecclesiastical situation in which the entire patrimony of the Church is under attack. Recent statements carried on Zenit, which will be the subject of two sustained analyses of mine, have more or less rejected the approach of every Pope prior to 1958 as being inappropriate for the modern world. The very propositions condemned by Blessed Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors and by Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi Domenici Gregis are embraced by curial cardinals who have created as cardinals by Pope John Paul II. This is nothing less than a revolution against everything about the past, including the Sacred Liturgy, which for nearly 1500 was the bulwark against heresy and against the secularizing influences of the world. It is not to be a disloyal or disrespectful Catholic to point this out.
Indeed, Pope Pius XII warned quite specifically in 1947 about the sort of liturgical reforms that wound up being implemented by Pope Paul VI in 1969. Just sixteen years after the issuance of his Mediator Dei, the wisdom of Pope Pius XII was rejected by the first document issued by the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which we now know was based on the false historical assumptions of the Augustinian Canon of the
Abbey of Klosterneuburg and
liturgist Pius Parsch. Is it to be a disloyal Catholic to point out that the evidence used to support the antiquarian suppositions of Sacrosanctum Concilium have now been disproved as totally without foundation? Is it to be a pope-basher to point out, as the late Monsignor Klaus Gamber did in his masterful The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, that the true facts about liturgical development? Is it to undermine the faith of Catholics to point out how solid historical research provides not one bit of support for the claims made by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, the Secretary of the Consilium that planned the Novus Ordo, that the new Mass enshrines the principles of the "pure" Roman liturgy of the first centuries of the Church? Is it to place one's self in the camp of those who believe that the See of Peter is vacant to point out the simple fact that no liturgical rite, whether of the East or the West, of the Roman Catholic Church, was ever "planned" by any sort of committee, no less one that was composed of Protestants and headed by a Freemason? Facts are what they are. Truth is what it is. The presentation of truth should never shake the faith of any Catholic.
There are a growing number of Catholics around the world who believe that the best way to glorify God and to thus sanctify their souls in a secure environment is to promote the spread of the Traditional Latin Mass. There are those, however, who universalize from their own particular experiences, believing that anyone who is devoted to the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass is what they call "a trad," who is, in se, a person who believes that the See of Peter is vacant and that it is a mortal sin to attend a Novus Ordo Mass. This is nothing other than a self-serving caricature of the Traditional Latin Mass movement, one that flies in the face of the scholarship of the many Catholics who are working within the Church for the establishment of an Apostolic Administration to provide a permanent protection for the Mass that formed the faith lives of practically every canonized saint in the Latin rite of the Church, including, for example, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Therese of Lisieux, Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Thomas More, and countless scores of others.
The absurdity of the caricature implied by the use of the term "trad" is mind-boggling. The scholars who present the truth about genuine liturgical development in the pages of The Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture would all have to be mindless idiots seeking to impose their own "opinions" on the Church for this caricature to be true, never mind the scholarship of their work. Some interesting questions are therefore raised. The roster of people whose serious scholarship has to be dismissed entirely for those who are unwilling to look dispassionately at the truth of our Catholic past is quite remarkable. Among the Catholics whose scholarship and erudition have to be overlooked in order to justify an uncritical acceptance of the new order of things are: Alfons Cardinal Stickler, the late Silvio Cardinal Oddi, the late Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, the late Dietrich von Hilderbrand, the late Father Vincent Miceli, the late Dr. William A. Marra, as well as Dr. Alice Jourdain von Hildebrand, Father James McLucas, Father Chad Ripperger, Monsignor Charles Moss, Father Kenneth Baker, Dr. John C. Rao, Dr. Ronald McArthur, Father John Perricone, Father James Buckley, Michael Davies, Christopher Ferrara, Thomas Woods, and a veritable litany of others. Are all of these people mindless, brainless "trads" who simply have a nostalgic attachment to the past? Indeed, The great works of the late Father Adrian Fortesque have to be consigned to the trash heap as his scholarly presentation of the truth about the development of the Roman Rite does not conform with the positivism that passes for true history from many quarters of the Holy See today.
The Latin Mass is making a very important contribution to presenting Catholics with a treasury concerning authentic liturgical development. It is must reading for any serious Catholic. Sadly, though, a lot of well-meaning people who do not read this great journal of Catholic culture think they know what it is contained in its pages by reading slanted reports about articles contained therein. One man told me recently that The Latin Mass had the audacity to run an article critical of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae. The article in question, which caused a lot of controversy about six months ago now, took issue with Pope Paul's belief that there was a population crisis that made it necessary for Catholics to look to "natural" ways to space the conception of children. However, what this man, whose hackles were raised by the mere publication of the article, did not want to consider was the fact that Father McLucas had prefaced that article with an introduction explaining the reason why he published it (to generate thought and reflection) or to consider the fact that rebuttal articles were run in the same issue of The Latin Mass by Dr. McArthur and Dr. Janet Smith. It is not right to presume to speak intelligently about a matter before having read a particular article, no less understanding the context in which it was published.
Part of the reason that some Catholics are very sensitive to any discussion of the importance of the Traditional Latin Mass is that they take a criticism of the Novus Ordo personally. A dispassionate critique of the instability and impermanency communicated by the new Mass leads some people to think, quite narcissistically, it should be pointed out, that something is wrong with them. This is true both of priests and lay Catholics. A criticism of the new Mass means that they are not good Catholics, that they are not serious about the sanctification of their souls and the glorification of the Blessed Trinity. While I handle this issue at length in the conclusion of my analysis of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, which we hope to have published by sometime early next year, suffice it at this point to note that an exhortation addressed to all Catholics to discover the beauty of our living liturgical tradition is not an attack upon them personally. It is, rather, to point out that I have not met one Catholic who attends the Traditional Latin Mass every Sunday, if not more regularly in those places where it is offered, who does not report experiencing a profound change in his interior life as a result. Why is it considered to be a personal attack to exhort people to discover the beauty of that which formed the lives of practically every saint in the Western church over a period of 1500 years?
The particular circumstances in which we find ourselves today finds some Catholics, though, reacting defensively and emotionally when the simple facts of Catholic history and liturgical development are pointed out to them. Furthermore, many of these same Catholics condemn out of hand those validly ordained priests who recognize the legitimacy of the Successor of Saint Peter who have offered the Mass of our fathers to the faithful in a canonically irregular situation. If these priests are so bad, however, why then is the subject of an Apostolic Administration even under consideration by the Holy See? If these priests are such terrible renegades, why did the Holy See seek to reach a working agreement with a nationwide community of traditional Catholics in Brazil earlier this year? There are people in the curia who realize full well that no pope has any authority to abrogate the Mass of our fathers and that that Mass was never abrogated. No priest needs "permission" to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass. This has been expressed many times in private conversations over the years. It is this recognition of the truth of the matter that is responsible for the efforts to do justice to the priests and laity who have sought the refuge provided by the Traditional Latin Mass by the establishment of an Apostolic Administration. It is not to be a "trad" to plead with our ecclesiastical authorities to give the faithful access to the Mass that even Pope John Paul II admitted in September of last year contained prayers that are more beautiful than those found in the current liturgical discipline of the Roman Church.
If the promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass is such a horrible thing and such an affront to the fragile egos of some priests and members of the laity, then why has the Holy See erected nearly 100 religious communities since 1988 who are dedicated to it? Indeed, those who criticize traditional Catholics for an alleged disloyalty to the Pope find themselves in quite a self-made dilemma. Are they being disloyal to the Pope when they criticize those who are seeking the implementation of the expressed wishes of the Holy Father himself in his Ecclesia Dei motu proprio of 1988 for a "wide and generous" application of the indults he has granted for the Traditional Latin Mass? To turn the neoconservative argument against the neoconservatives, if the Latin Mass is good enough for the Pope, why isn't it good enough for them?
The situation we face in the Church today is partly the result, as Monsingor Gamber pointed out, of the new Mass, of a liturgical construct that is synthetic, one that is so fungible that it depends excessively on who offers it and where it is offered, making it subject to the whims of individuals and of the endless options provided by it. This produces instability and uncertainty, the very opposite of what a genuine liturgical rite is supposed to provide for the faithful. Before anyone starts shooting off his mouth in a sloganistic manner about the Traditional Mass and traditional Catholics, he should start by reading Monsignor Gamber's book. He can then work his way back to Mediator Dei, back still further to Adrian Fortesque before moving ahead to The Great Facade.
More importantly than anything else, however, is to take up the challenge my dear wife Sharon gives to people who attend my lecture programs: shut your mouth and attend only the Traditional Latin Mass on Sundays for a year and then we can talk about what is more pleasing to God and more efficacious for the sanctification and salvation of souls. Unless people are willing to experience the Mass of our fathers on a sustained basis, they will continue to come to amazing and unjustified conclusions about traditional Catholics and the reason they are devoted to the Mass that begins with a priest greeting God at the foot of the altar and concludes with the Last Gospel to remind us of the importance of the Incarnation both in the Mass and in our own daily lives.
Invoking the intercession of Pope Saint Pius V, we plead once more with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who is our spiritual father, to provide Catholics worldwide with unlimited access to the closest thing to Heaven imaginable: the Traditional Latin Mass by means of an Apostolic Administration.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
Editor's Note: If you agree with Tom, go to Petition for Traditional Apostolic Administrations and sign it. It is a petition to the Pope for canonical protection so that priests may freely say the Mass that was never abrogated - the Traditional Latin Mass - without reprisal from their local bishops. A strong response to this petition could go a long way in the faithful being assured of assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass universally without being deprived of the Gregorian Rite, which, for nearly a millennium and a half, was the approved rite of Holy Mother Church and which has produced the fruits of so many conversions; something the Novus Ordo after 33 years of novelty and innovation after innovation, has failed to do. One is a fruitful tree yielding abundant fruit; the latter a barren tree that needs to be cast into the fire as Our Lord affirms in Matthew vii: 15-20.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives