As the year commences, let us look back a moment in order to look ahead together in Christian hope.
The talks of the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) stand, humanly speaking, to come to nothing. It’s not that they are about ‘too little’, even though they do come ‘too late’: about 10 — some would say more like 35 — years too late. It’s also that they are conducted now on the wrong basis. (See the post of November 29, below, for the reasoning.) Positions have hardened around the same kinds of exculpatory justifications for past actions as have been given by both sides of the Bosophorus & the Tiber since 1054.
Whatever the Holy Father does now about the Liturgy itself (or even the Society) cannot allow us to lose sight of the ultimate goal. Too many, even traditional Catholics, think that a material event such as the broadened authorization for the Mass or the reconciliation of the Society has already or will yet of itself resolve the crisis. This is a manifestation of the liberal error by which one confuses the supernatural and natural orders, weakening the notion of the former by attempting to replace it with the latter.
The Naturalism which bites at many in the western world especially weakens the notion of the power of divine grace and, therefore, awakens a defeatist attitude before the challenges of the Church and world. If one has little or no concept and belief in the power of God’s grace, it will seem perfectly normal to fail to teach truth or pursue the good rather than complain that others do not know it. And, therefore, one will sit around between events complaining that the world or churchmen do not heed the message of truth which in fact is all but hidden.
That may be why Divine Providence permits the current crisis. As Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis indicates, Catholics were too perfunctory in their notion and practice of the faith. God therefore tests us by allowing it to appear as though the fundamentals of the faith (e.g. the traditional Liturgy or parish life) have been taken away.
This is an axiom of the spiritual life. Often when the soul becomes overly confident in what it possesses or possesses it in the wrong way (e.g. spiritual gluttony) Divine Providence will withdraw or appear to withdraw the thing from us.
This should make us see and re-approach the thing with a more supernatural spirit. That is why the Risen Savior forbade Mary Magdalene to touch Him. As the spiritual masters remind, the long “nights” of the purification of the senses and of spirit by which the powers of the soul (intellect, will and memory) are cleansed, were experienced by the Apostles and St. Mary Magdalene as if in a flash due to the special graces with which Christ had endowed their souls.
For that reason, if Our Divine Lord (appeared to) deprive The Twelve and The Magdalene of the sensory awareness of His presence – to better lead them to the awareness by faith of His presence – we must seek and re-approach Him in the traditional Liturgies with a deeper supernatural spirit.
That is why the broadened authorization for the Latin Mass is only a beginning, and somewhat tenuous at that. If entire Church structures are not reformed traditionally – e.g. by an apostolic administration – we will slide right back into the perfunctory practice of the Catholic Faith. Perhaps, as happened in 2001, the Holy See will again offer a Personal Apostolic Administration to the SSPX, and now they will accept it. Time will tell. But it is hardly reasonable to spend the rest of one’s Catholic life holding one’s breath.
One thing is certain. No matter how broadened the usage of the Latin Mass may become, it still can easily be reversed in the next Paul VI-like pontificate.
However, since particular Churches are perpetual and apostolic administrations are particular Churches, even a pope would be hard pressed to rescind the erection of an apostolic administration, or its reason for existence – tradition.
Therefore, those Catholics who wax lyrical at the prospects for Masses in Latin in every parish are unwittingly dancing to the liberal tune.
Do not misunderstand. We should all, one hopes, rejoice at the new-found freedom for the Mass. But it is ‘only’ a first step. For even now are not the same liberal clergy still preaching liberal sermons, teaching liberal doctrines in liberal schools, joining liberal religious orders, being formed in liberal seminaries under the same liberal bishops, who still by and large haven’t a clue why anybody wants to pray and follow the disciplines of those ‘old-fashioned’ ways?
We must beware a naïveté that is unfamiliar with either Vatican politics or the immemorial praxis of the Holy See. Instead, to quote St. Ignatius of Loyola, let us pray as though everything depends on God, and act as though everything depends on us. Thus, with God’s grace, we will avoid both extremes of relying exclusively on natural solutions and abandoning ourselves to infantile fideism or quietism.
For the ordeal which the Church is undergoing can be ended only by a rehabilitation of the principles which make her continuous & everlasting.
If the idea of a traditional, personal Apostolic Administration interests you, please feel free to contact NCCL directly to learn more about it.
Meanwhile, let us redouble our prayers for His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, on whom the steady governance of Christ’s holy Church depends in the present storm.