"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Google+ Badge

Thursday, 17 October 2013


Below is the greater part of a post written by the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society in a series which is well worth reading.

   Although I love plainchant and know that the present misa nova needs improvement, I have never been tempted to join the Latin Mass Society.   I fully accept Pope Benedict's theology of Tradition which made it necessary for him to permit the "old Mass" for those who wish to celebrate it.   However, if, after Vatican II, we wished to have the liturgy as the real centre of Catholic life and spirituality, there had to be a drastic change from what went on before. 

  How many saints in the last five hundred years have had a sanctity really formed by the liturgy?   How many popular devotions were integrated into the liturgy as our participation in the Christian Mystery?   When so many liturgical treasures went up in smoke with the changes after the Council, how many people mourned?   And, when priests and religious set about implementing the changes with enthusiasm, how many efforts ended with disaster because these priests and religious, who had been formed before the Council, had no real liturgical foundations or sense and hence read the Vatican II documents out of context?

   Nevertheless, in spite of all the anomalies and mistakes, in spite of the Liturgical Commission's own failure to incarnate all of Vatican II's insights into the changes it made - perhaps too much to expect to take place in only one generation - the Liturgy really is at the centre of our lives, even if it is impoverished; so the Commission succeeded in what it set out to do.   There is still more to be done; and only part of it is recuperating some of what has been lost.   I also guess that it will not be this Pope who will preside over the process.   Everyone, including popes, has his gift from God, and Pope Francis has a different task, quite big enough to fill his whole pontificate.

This leaves people like me seemingly at odds  with members of the Latin Mass Society.   I look forward to more changes: they look back with nostalgia to the time before change began.   Yet posts like those in this series from the pen of the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society reveal, I believe, that we are searching for the same thing.   If they can accept the legitimacy of the changes that have been made, and we can accept the necessity for the conservation and celebration of the old Mass, we can, perhaps, collaborate to reach the same goal, even if, perchance, when it is all over, they return to their Latin Mass, and we, with the majority of Catholics, return to the New Mass, which, by then, will be a liturgy greatly enriched by their participation.

I believe this possibility is illustrated in a vocational video of the English Dominicans.   It shows English Dominicans processing from point "A" to point "B" for no apparent reason to the sound of Latin plainchant.  If this were a factual illustration of their life, it wouldn't make much sense; but as a dramatic presentation of the contemplative foundation of Dominican life, it is exactly what is needed.   It is an excellent video and gives the impression that a Dominican life is a liturgical life, a life of prayer, which is expressed in their active, apostolic lives for the benefit of all.

However, I am old enough to remember the scene before Vatican II.    No one was less liturgical than the Dominicans except, perhaps, for the Franciscans.   They were experts in getting through the liturgy in double quick time.   Nothing has shown the influence of Vatican II  more than the way they now celebrate Mass, even when it is a Latin Mass.    Anyone who knew the Dominicans before the Council will know that, unlike their spiritual ancestors, their spirituality is now centred on the Liturgy, both as source and goal of their spiritual lives, just as the Council wanted it.   That is what is illustrated in the vocational video.

 Catholics who differ widely in their liturgical convictions and tastes,  nevertheless, share the same faith and convictions about Catholicism.   The "cowboys and Indians" approach to the Church, "conservatives" against "progressives", much beloved by the media because it allows journalists to write about subjects they do not really understand, is very misleading because "conservative" and "progressive" are words without theological content and mean different things to different people.   According to the press at the time of the Council, Father Joseph Ratzinger was a "progressive" because he wanted change.   As Pope, he was deemed "conservative" for supporting exactly the same things that he advocated at the Council.   There were even articles about when and why he changed from being "progressive" to ""conservative", by journalists who were prisoners of their own vocabulary, unaware that he was being entirely consistent. It was the meaning of "conservative" and "progressive" that had changed.

Even during the Council, I did not like to call myself either "conservative" or "progressive", and I thought long and hard on what to call my theological position.   Eventually, I called myself a "radical traditionalist", though I never told anyone, and I have had no  reason to change  it since then.   Three very different kinds of theology influenced my thinking: there was an American school of thought called "Process Theology", and there was the theology of Father George Florovsky , and the Paris-based group of Orthodox theologians; however, I read both from the perspective of Henri de Lubac, Louis Bouyer, Yves Congar and other French theologians whose articles etc I read avidly.

   For that reason, I was completely at home with the theology of of Pope Benedict XVI, even if I did not share his liturgical tastes.  Both he and I put Tradition at the very centre of our theological thought. Even the Scriptures were composed and chosen from among others as word of God, and are read, interpreted and prayed within a living Tradition.  

For me, Tradition is a process, uninterrupted in the apostolic churches and principally expressed in their liturgical life, but also in the lives and teachings of their saints, in the ordinary belief of the people, and in what Rome calls "the extraordinary magisterium".   This Tradition is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, with the Church humbly obeying (being the Church) and the Holy Spirit enabling it to manifest the mind of Christ as it participates in Christ's Mystery through humility.

As Tradition is being continually renewed, in spite of our sins, by the constant celebration of the Eucharist, which is the Church's participation in the eternal Liturgy of heaven (Ep. Hebrews, ch 8, 10 and 12), it has a continual identity with Christ, and no age is more filled with the Holy Spirit than any other age, and there are no radical beginnings other than the one that is continually on offer down the ages.   

As Tradition is nothing less than the life of the Church, it is a process, and process implies change.   The pope who decreed that the version of the Mass that he was publishing could never be changed is just like King Canute who tried to hold back the tides by decree.   Nevertheless, as the Mass is, by its very nature, heaven on earth, Mass down the ages is identical by the very fact that the same Church is celebrating it, whatever people may say about what is happening.

Where I and the chairman of the Latin Mass Society are in accord is that we both agree about Tradition, and so does the Pope. It is what Pope Francis means when he calls himself a "son of the Church"  The chairman thus reads and understands the Pope's words and actions within the context of Tradition, which means he understands him, which is more than many commentators do who still use the hermeneutic of conservatives versus progressives. 

What I find particularly exciting is that Pope Francis, in his reform of Church structures according to the mind of Vatican II, is ready to learn from what the Holy Spirit has taught the Orthodox and Oriental churches in the Tradition alive in their churches.   He is "son of the Church" indeed.

A Response to Pope Francis (Part III)
by Joseph Shaw

my source:LMS Chairman
In my last post I argued that the views of Catholics attached to the Traditional Liturgy are in many ways closer to Pope Francis' preferences than those of many 'Conservative' Catholic writers. Pope Francis doesn't like centralisation in the Church: nor do we, but they do. Pope Francis condemns legalism: so do we, but they don't. Pope Francis wants a Church open to the Spirit, not concerned above all with rule-keeping and discipline: so do we, but again, Neo-Con writers too often give the impression that they do not.

This actually fits in with a certain well-worn Neo-Con argument which says that Liberals and Traditionalists are the same in their disrespect for proper authority and discipline. The people who used to make that argument are really hoist by their own petard now, and I hope they are enjoying the experience. But things are a lot more complicated than that; as I argued here, Traditionalists like the Latin Mass Society and the Traditional Orders have always gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the rules, and do so even when putting forward an argument that the rule in question wasn't really a rule at all. In the case of the obligation to ask permission for the celebration of the Traditional Mass, this argument of ours was vindicated in spectacular fashion by Pope Benedict, who wrote in Summorum Pontificum in 2007 that we'd never needed permission after all.

Another problem with applying that old Neo-Con argument here, is that it implies Pope Francis is a liberal. Again, things are more complicated than that, and this is what this post is about. What Pope Francis wants, remember, is a Church conformed to Christ. Liberals like to use that kind of phrase when they want to deny a teaching of the Church or commit some liturgical abuse, but Pope Francis actually means it. As I quoted him before, in Brazil he said

 "We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord."

In another sermon, he told newly ordained priests:

"Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ. You are pastors, not functionaries. Be mediators, not intermediaries."

What does this mean?

The key thing to keep in mind is the notion of conforming oneself to Christ: the concerns of Christ, not those of an organisation, however enlightened; the Church as the Bride of Christ, not an NGO. Pope Francis is talking about the Church having a spiritual identity and a spiritual mission. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about the poor - far from it. But it does mean we shouldn't conform ourselves to the World, even in order (as we might imagine) to serve the poor more effectively.

Making the streets of an English country town resound to the sound of prayer: Walsingham 2013

This is a critique of the secularisation of the Church. It is a critique of the classic liberal argument that we must stop being Catholic in any meaningful sense in order to advance justice in the world. The liberal nuns, to take an extreme example, have 'moved beyond Christ' while working for social justice.

And here's something else. Pope Francis wants us to be open to the world, not closed in on ourselves, looking inwards to an organisation which is concerned only with its own workings. This is a critique of a bureaucratic tendency in the Church which is today at its apogee, and it is liberal Catholics who are in charge of this bureaucracy  Liberals love committees: this is true across all areas of life. They flourish on comfy chairs with little plates of biscuits and matters arising from the minutes of the last meeting. This the antithesis of a bishop or parish priest taking real responsibility for his diocese or parish, being a father to it; it is the antithesis of the encounter between a pastor and Christ found in the poor and in those wounded by sin. 'Oh no, I'm not going to answer your question, that's for the liturgy committee!' 

The attitude of defending the Church as an institution, rather than doing what is called for by the Church's supernatural reality, is at issue in the paedophile crisis. When bishops and superiors cover up, deny the truth, move problem priests around, fight unjust legal battles and refuse to pay compensation, they are defending the Church conceived of purely as a human organisation, a bureaucracy. Such actions have been done by prelates of a range of views, but it happened at a time when liberals had a massive domination of the levers of power.

It would be a tragedy indeed if Pope Francis' desire for decentralisation led only to the morbid growth of Bishops' Conference bureaucracies, where these attitudes could continue to flourish.

In sum, Pope Francis is opposing the invasion of the Church by secular attitudes and secular goals. The point was expressed with great lucidity by Dietrich von Hildebrand, one of the founders of the Traditional movement:

It is easy to feel oneself alive and free if one forgets about the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary, and directs all one’s powers toward secular endeavors. It is easy to feel oneself bursting with energy if, for example, the clearance of slums concerns one more than transformation in Christ. What the progressives call “leaving the Catholic ghetto” is in reality giving up the Catholic and keeping the ghetto. They would replace the universal Church with the ghetto of secularism, with imprisonment in a stifling immanentism, with isolation in a world that sits in umbra mortis, in the shadow of death. To achieve a unity of religion and life by adapting religion to the saeculum does not result in a union of religion with our daily life, but reduces religion to the pursuit of purely mundane goals. 
The fallacy in the progressivist approach is obvious. If we assert that religion should permeate our lives, the implication is that we should break through to the realization of the primary vocation, the very meaning of our lives, which is our re-creation in Christ. We should then no longer be exclusively absorbed by the immanent logic of our professional lives or by everyday preoccupations, but should see them and all things in the light of Christ. Indeed, the echo of our self-donation to Christ should resound through all the scenes of our lives.

It is the very opposite of uniting true religion with everyday life to believe that all that is demanded from a Christian is to fulfill the duties prescribed by the logic of his secular life. This would mean the absorption of religion by secular activities, so that we would be satisfied that in fulfilling the requirements of these we were doing everything that God could ask of us. In reality this is to avoid the confrontation with Christ. Those who act in this way are Christians in name only. The decisive question for the vivification of religion today is whether through the light of Christ our everyday lives will become deeply changed and adapted to Him, or whether the Christian religion is to be adapted to the immanent logic of mundane concerns.

Thinking about von Hildebrand's characterisation of the alternatives, which is Pope Francis putting forward: the progressive theory that only secular concerns are real, that (for example) in a Catholic school exam results are the only thing to think about, or, instead, the idea that even what we do in secular contexts should be suffused with the Christian spirit and give witness to the Faith? The latter approach fills liberals with horror, but it is clearly what Pope Francis is talking about.

Dietrich von Hildebrand's analysis, in his great book Trojan Horse in the City of God (1967), is so useful in this context that I've had ten pages retyped in order to make it available to a wider public. You can download the text of the chapter 'Vivification of Religion' here.

In these three posts I have not been arguing that Pope Francis is really a Trad in a false flag operation, and that tomorrow he is going to celebrate the Old Mass and do all sorts of other things we'd like. No, he is coming from a very different place. Nor is my point that his words can be twisted around to suit a traddy agenda. I'm not concerned with taking stray phrases out of context, but of the underlying argument.

Rather, my point is that if you look at the underlying argument, what he is saying is not so easily categorisable in terms of liberalism or conservatism; he recognises problems with both, even while (as it would seem) associating Traditional Catholics with problems as well. The object of my discussion has been to suggest a way in which Traditional Catholics can respond to his analysis of the problems in the Church, an analysis which represents a genuine insight, to show that we can be part of the solution, and not only part of the problem. I don't suppose we will make ourselves heard by the Holy Father directly, we don't have a loud enough voice for that, but we will have plenty of opportunity to engage with people officially directed to apply his policies, and to people impressed with his general orientation. It is to them, therefore, that we need to explain that Traditional Catholics are not hyper-conservatives with all the baggage of Ultramontanism and legalism, and that we recognise the need to conform ourselves, and the world, to Christ, and not the Church, and ourselves, to the World.

Post a Comment

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive