Friday, August 27, 2021

The new war on tradition

It's been about five weeks since Pope Francis issued Traditiones Custodes, his motu proprio greatly restricting the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), and everything, apparently, associated with it.

This decision hit me so hard that I barely talked about it, to anyone, for a week or two. I made only the briefest mention of it at Mass. Meanwhile, I contacted Archbishop Schnurr almost instantly to ask for whatever permissions were possible. Via the priest he designated as his "delegate" to handle these matters, I received permission to offer the Traditional Latin Mass "privately." No permission to celebrate any of the other sacraments in the traditional form; nor, it seems, for me to use the older forms of blessings. The Archbishop gave permission for two parishes in Cincinnati to continue offering the TLM, a parish in Dayton, and he indicated he would designate a site up north as well; that hasn't happened yet.

An aside: some want to fault Archbishop Schnurr for not being generous enough in applying, or even in sidestepping, the pope's edict. I am not a canon lawyer, so I am in no position to fault how Father Ruiz, the designated delegate, or the Archbishop himself, are construing things. But I do know they both are trying to act in accord with their consciences, as is right. And I know the following to be true: prior to Traditiones Custodes, Schnurr could not have been more generous toward those interested in traditional rites. Every priest was welcome to offer the TLM; training was generously made available; he made no problems whatsoever. The Archbishop takes seriously his moral duty to be obedient and I think he is trying to do that. Second, the choice of Father Ruiz was entirely suitable and irenic. He, too, has been supportive, and will do everything he can, conscientiously, to assist those interested in traditional forms.

So, to put it simply, even if you think Archbishop Schnurr could handle this differently, remember he is not the author of this new reality, and he is trying to navigate this with the long-term in view.

After a week, I did start writing about this situation in the parish bulletin, and I did work out how I would handle things at St. Remy. I have permission to offer the TLM privately; I have permission to allow a layperson to assist as an altar server; I have permission to do this in the church; no one told me to lock the doors or kick the faithful out of church; and I was told that if people wished to receive Holy Communion, I could give them the Eucharist. So these are the things I am doing. What, then, does offering Mass "privately" mean? It means that such a Mass cannot be on the parish schedule, nor can it be "announced." So, I regularly offer the TLM privately, without any announcement; but I do it the same time each week. If people figure it out and show up, what shall I do?

I am supremely confident that Archbishop Schnurr is entirely fine with people being present when I offer such a private Mass, but I can readily imagine it being otherwise. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the bishop has forbidden priests from any private Traditional Latin Mass. Meanwhile, in other places, even those things that might be suggestive of traditional things are being banned. In Costa Rica, vestments that savor of tradition are banned -- from use with the 1970 Mass -- as is Latin! A priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago has been told that he and the people must cease praying the St. Michael Prayer, and the Hail Mary, at the conclusion of Mass! Permission was graciously granted for them to do so silently.

All this is supremely silly and petty, and only serves to reflect badly on those who issue such edicts. What in the world does it even mean to say, you can't pray a prayer "after Mass"? Is the public recitation of the St. Michael Prayer forbidden entirely? No? Then how much time must elapse between the conclusion of Mass and the licit recitation of this prayer? 

It may be hard to see it, but there will be good that comes from all this, although I doubt it will be what those who support this war on tradition hope for. But good will come, because it always does. 

Meanwhile, there will be bad fruit as well; the instances I cited above are some of that bad fruit. There will be many who are discouraged -- I am discouraged! There will be further divisions as people take this opportunity to treat others badly, especially when they have the power to do so.

Also meanwhile, there are those counseling disobedience. I cannot assess the conscience of others, but I cannot endorse that. 

It is one of the oldest and most seductive temptations: to justify disobedience out of an inflated sense of "necessity" and because some aspect of the obedience demanded is unfair or unjust. I will not say that there are never grounds for disobedience, but that option must be saved for last. However unfair it would be for the bishop to tell me (which he has not done, let me stress) that I may not offer the TLM at all, in my judgment, I would not be justified in defying him. If he directs me to offer the 1970 Mass only, then that is what I would do. 

After all, whenever I reach the point that I think my only option is to disobey the bishop (or the pope), there still remains one other option: to resign -- i.e., from a pastoral assignment. Sure, I hear you say, "but that's exactly what these bishops want!" They may want this or that problem priest to go away, but they do need someone to staff parishes. Resignation is an entirely ethical way to refuse to obey; and it is a witness.

Remember, the battle is always the Lord's; and deciding to trust him is a powerful message, and a blameless one. 

Meanwhile, we must simply wait for the contradictions that have been set in motion to grind away on each other. At Where Peter is, a gentlemen tries gamely to defend the pope's edict by arguing that the reason the TLM must be chucked out the window, in favor of the 1970 Missal, is because the new Mass is simply "better"; then to show the manifest inferiority of the old Mass, he cites several features that -- oops -- are likewise features of liturgy in non-Roman Catholic rites. Thus raising the question of whether these non-Roman rites must also be extirpated? The author tries to wave away the implication of his argument with a footnote: "Nothing I am saying here is meant to indicate any disunity between the Rites nor is it meant to indicate any inferiority of the other Catholic Rites." Well, you may not have "meant" to indicate inferiority, just as a poor driver doesn't mean to run the car into a telephone pole; but the mess remains.

The drift of these arguments -- and when arguments fail, naked impositions of power -- is to argue that no more debate may be tolerated about the 1970 Missal -- it's better, don't you see, so shut up! -- and for that matter, about anything that has followed the Second Vatican Council; and, for that matter, the Council itself. The basic approach here is simply to demand silence. 

Not only won't that work; it is positively corrosive. 

Many of us have long maintained that Vatican II was badly served by the implementation that followed, and I still take that view. But, if you keep insisting that people must accept it all -- the Council, plus the 1970 Missal AS-IS, plus all the rest of the decisions about religious life and architecture and catechesis -- as a package deal, while being told that if they question or wonder, they're schismatics and they "sadden" the Holy Father...

Well, people will stop asking their questions openly; but they won't stop wondering; and if they believe you that it's all a package deal, then at some point, people who previously did not question the Council itself may find themselves doing so. They will find themselves searching online for discussions of this subject; to learn more about an event that happened before they were born, and about which, they haven't really learned a whole lot. And if those in communion with Rome are forbidden to discuss openly these questions, then whose articles and websites do you suppose these inquisitive minds will land?

This all takes me back to when I entered the seminary. I had no particular interest in the the Traditional Latin Mass at the time; I had almost no experience with it and it was opaque to me. I had, however, familiarized myself with the documents of Vatican II before entering the seminary; that seemed common-sensical to do while waiting. But then I noticed something about the seminary (this was 1997): certain subjects and certain interests were verboten; any discussion was entered into furtively, while no faculty were around, and indeed, only with seminarians who one felt could be trusted. 

What subjects and interests? Anything savoring of tradition! One was extremely careful about even expressing the slightest interest in the rites and forms of liturgy prior to 1970. Indeed, even expressing interest in clerical attire would get unfavorable notice from the "formators" -- because that might suggest a certain fetish about having a clerical identity: very unhealthy! 

Guess what? This very climate of suppression and fear piqued my interest. Oh, I was quite careful myself; but all this seemed awfully curious to me: what was so dangerous about tradition? I naively thought of the Catholic Church as all about tradition; one of the things I had to wrestle with in my return to the Faith was understanding how tradition fit into the whole picture. And then I found myself asking: do these folks who are teaching us, or whose materials we are studying, imagine that Vatican II represented a break with the tradition? I knew in my bones that if there were two Churches (pre- and post-VII), then there is NO Church. The Church is one, and therefore, there must be continuity.

Thankfully, the seminary I attended is no longer subject to this repressive climate, but I suspect this sort of fearfulness is going to make a come-back in many places. It won't work, as it didn't work in my case and in the case of many with whom I attended the seminary; it will only serve to expose the fragility of the positions those who impose this sort of thought-control.

So, yes, this is all bad, but keep of good cheer. This new war on tradition will not be successful.

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