The Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians, Liturgy and the End Times. Wherein Fr. Z speculates and rants.

Here’s something to chew on for this Ember Saturday.

Earlier, I posted a video about the Traditional Latin Mass in a parish setting. The presence of that Mass in the schedule has exerted a huge influence on the worship of the whole parish.  The older, traditional forms have a knock-on effect on many levels.

On a related note, there is a Carmel in Pennsylvania which has spun off from a previous Carmel, where there were too many nuns, too many vocations.  Well… “too many” is a good problem. Vocations are rising in traditional monasteries. In ten years their mother house has made FIVE new foundations. They use the Traditional Roman Rite and women are knocking on the door.

This new Carmel community is building. The video shows what they are building.

One of the intriguing points that comes up in the video is the comment by the superior that were these communities of traditional nuns, contemplatives, to collapse, so to the Faith in the Church and in the world would collapse. I have long written here on this blog about this point using the slogan Save The Liturgy – Save The World.

Can we doubt this? I think we are teetering on the brink of this now, which is one reason why certain powers that be attack, specifically, newly forming traditional communities.

More on this, below.

PREFACE: I need to ramble a little. Think aloud, as it were.  There is a line of thought here, which I am developing.

St. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2 about an eschatological concept, “the restrainer”.

According to Paul, before the “Day of the Lord” comes the “Son of Perdition” or “Antichrist” must show up. Hence, if we haven’t seen the Son of Perdition, then the end is not upon us. Therefore, we must conduct ourselves not as if the world is about to end, but rather as if we are in it for the long haul.

But wait, there’s more. Paul says that before the Son of Perdition comes, that which restrains him must be removed. The word Paul uses for this “restrainer” is katechon. Paul uses this in two forms, masculine and neuter.

Alas, Paul doesn’t describe the katechon. We are left to speculate. What is “that which restrains” or “the restrainer”?

Through history some have thought the Restrainer to be a person and others some kind of force or world power. Various theories have been forwarded.

For my part, in harmony with what I have written in the past and also with the comments of the nun in the video, above, it seems to me that The Restrainer might not be a person, but rather a force or activity in the Church. Traditional liturgical worship.

I wrote, inter alia

Do we believe the consecration [during Holy Mass] really does something? Or, do we believe what is said and how, what the gestures are and the attitude in which they made are entirely indifferent? For example, will a choice not to kneel before Christ the King and Judge truly present in each sacred Host, produce a wider effect?

If you throw a stone, even a pebble, into a pool it produces ripples which expand to its edge. The way we celebrate Mass must create spiritual ripples in the Church and the world.

Think of how, once, there were far more celebrations of Mass and far more contemplative religious praying, praying, doing reparation for sins, asking for intercession according to God’s will. No more. The numbers of Masses – reverent or otherwise – has fallen off dramatically since the Council. The numbers of religious in general have declined massively, not to point specifically to numbers of contemplatives. However, where Tradition is applied, vocations seem to flourish, thus drawing fire from the present powers that be. Think, for example, of that recent case in France where women religious formed to take care of the infirm. They wanted to wear traditional habits and pray in a traditional way and the local bishop crushed them. Think of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Think of the last round of legislation from the Congregation in Rome about religious life, which, while having some positive points, really could be a new hammer with which to smite traditional efforts.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians surely because someone was saying that “the day of the Lord” has come, or they are misrepresenting his teaching.  Paul wants to get them back on track.  He explains, as in Matthew 24, first, “rebellion” must come, Greek apostasia. Not just any apostasia but an eschatological apostasia, THE apostasia. The rebellion will come and the Son of Perdition will appear. He will seat himself in the temple (the Second Temple is no more!) and proclaim himself as divine, teaching falsehoods and working wonders. Paul says, “Hey! Remember? I told you this.” Would that we had Paul’s fuller description! We only have the hints at what he more fully told them in another venue.

Question: How many Catholics are well catechized in the Four Last Things and Eschatology? We have to have our eyes on the eschatological realities of our Faith. In the Creed we say that we believe that Christ will return to judge the quick and the dead. Shouldn’t we drill into that?

Think about this. If we don’t know where we are headed… then we are wandering around in the dark. Why bother? One of the things I say that alarms some people – especially those are new to, or don’t know, traditional worship – is that the End of Mass that over-arches and gives shape to the classic Four Ends (adoration, thanksgiving, atonement, petition) is the fact that we are all going to die and go before our Judge. There isn’t really any other over-arching reason to go to Mass: we are going to die. It is a mystery that even though Christ defeated death once and for all time, we still must pass through death to come to the perfection of what has already been completed. This is all tied into my writing about the importance of the Virtue of Religion and how we actively and intentionally fulfill it.

So, the Enemy, the Lawless one, is working working working. And there is a “restraint/restrainer”. There must be a great “falling away” from the Faith and the removal of the restraint that holds back the coming of the Antichrist, Son of Perdition, who will make claims about divinity in the “temple”. Ultimately, Christ will slay him “with the breath of His mouth” when He comes again, at the parousia.  Let’s read Paul:

And you know what is restraining [to katechon – τὸ κατέχον] him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains [ho katechonὁ κατέχων] it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth [cf Isaiah 11 – the word of judgment] and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, 12 so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thess 2)

That doesn’t at all sound like our times, does it.

Before the Second Coming the Church herself must pass through a kind of Passion, a time of trial, during which many will fall away from the Faith.  If Christ had His Passion, the Church and we members must have our Passion.  True iniquity will be unveiled in that time in the form of religious deception, as the CCC puts it, which leads to apostasia from the Truth.  There will be a pseudo-messianic movement born of the Antichrist which is anthropocentric, glorifying man, reducing the supernatural to the natural, the transcendent to the immanent (modernism).  A political utopianism might be a manifestation of that, such as a “one world government” which would supplant the Church’s claims about Christ as King over all, even this earthly realm.

  1. The apostasia (cf. Matthew 24), which leads to a final period of tribulation (cf. Daniel 12 – cf. CCC 675-7).
  2. The “Restraint/Restrainer” is removed.
  3. The coming of the “man of Lawlessness”, “Son of Perdition” (cf 1 John 2:18 – BTW… Judas was described as “son of perdition”.)

It will be an HONOR to be in that time.

God could have called any one of us into existence at any point.  But he chose this time for us.  This time and not another is where God wants us to be, with all its attendant cares, according to His providential plan for salvation.  If we are true to our Faith and our vocations, God will give us every actual grace that we need to fulfill our part in His plan.  If we are in the End Times, or approaching, God is showing us a great honor and offering us great graces.  More will be given, because more will be expected.

There are lots of theories about The Restrainer.  Some thought that it was the Roman Emperor.  Some think it is “the Church” in general.  Some think that it is the hand of God, the Holy Spirit.  Luther thought the Pope was the Antichrist and that the Church is the Whore of Babylon.  This became an article of faith for Protestants.  Hence, the mystery of iniquity unleashed was the Jesuits… maybe they were onto something.  Remember that Protestantism is founded on attacks on the priesthood and the Mass.  Remember that Protestants thought the Pope was the Antichrist because he arrogated to himself nearly divine authority over souls, commanding them to worship bread in idolatry.  Interestingly enough, some Jesuits today diminish transubstantiation and say that there is no Hell and promote homosexualism.  Where is the ecclesiastical “restrainer” who restrains them?

A great Pauline theologian, Prat, suggests that the Restrainer is St. Michael the Archangel.  Look at Daniel 12 on the time of distress or tribulation followed by resurrection.  Michael figures big time.  In Revelation Michael fights the ancient serpent.

Ponder, please, the fact that at a pivotal moment, on the cusp of societal upheaval, 1964, the obligation to recite after Mass the Leonine Prayers, with the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel, was removed. Removed? Nay, they were, rather, suppressed! Coincidence?  1965, first new Missal.  Whether the Leonine Prayers were, at different moments, prayed for different intentions (for the Papal States or prerogatives of the Church v state, for conversion of Russia) is not really that important.    From 1884 onward, St. Michael was invoked.  Exactly 100 years later, Quattuor abhinc annos was issued.

For a key century, from about the time of the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, we had, in conjunction with Low Mass, the Prayer to St. Michael, concerning restraint of the Enemy.

In the medieval period there were speculations that the “False Prophet” of the End Times, was Mohammed, and therefore, Islam. Since I’ve gone this far, note that big problems started in places like Lebanon in about 1975, a few years after the imposition of the Novus Ordo (yes, that’s Maronite region).

I’m making some thin connections.  I know. But lots of leaves in the wind make patterns. Lots of birds on the wing make murmurations.  Both reveal patterns. Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, indeed!

What sorts of things have risen since the brutal imposition of an artificially created rite of Mass in the name (not the mandate) of the Council?  In the West, lawlessness and perversity, the exaltation of man at the expense of the divine, a massive falling away of the faithful.  In the East, the rise of radical Islam.  I’m just sayin’.

So… what about the NEW Evangelization?  What about carrying on, in our time and place, the mission Christ imposed on the whole Church, clerical and lay vocations alike?

If there is going to be a SUCCESSFUL new evangelization, it will be founded on what it was founded on in the first place.

Sacred liturgical worship.

The Blood of Martyrs.

Regarding martyrdom, there are different forms, as described by great saints and doctors, such as Gregory the Great, red, blue/green, white.

Regarding worship, as St. Padre Pio put it, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.”

As I reflect on these eschatological notes and the present state of affairs, I wonder if The Restraint/The Restrainer is not our sacred liturgical worship, by which we, first and foremost, fulfill the duties of the virtue of religion, which leads to a radical renewal of personal lives of faith in specific vocations.

Traditional worship is fueling the very thing that I suggested, above, and sends great spiritual ripples through the Church and the world.  How much woe and perhaps the End Time have been held in check by prayer according to the Ends of Mass, with greater appreciation of the Four Last Things, and contemplative vocations who commit, inter alia, to propitiatory prayer and penance in reparation for sins.  Is our sacred worship the Restraint/Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2?

While we might not now be in THE apostasia that leads to the lifting of the Restraint and the coming of the Antichrist, the Lawless one, the Son of Perdition, the opposite of Christ who will work “wonders” but teach falshood, we are surely in AN apostasia, and, as John wrote, there have been many antichrists.  There will eventually be THE Antichrist. If that is the case, then perhaps there are different “restraints”. Worship need not exclude, for example, St. Michael as possibly being THE Restrainer.

It might not be a bad strategy, friends, to embrace traditional sacred worship and return to the recitation of the Prayer to St. Michael.  Called the Restrainer’s Wager. Just a thought.  Meanwhile, it seems to be working in those communities where it is active.

Anticipating questions, let me spin that out. Pascal proposed that we are making a wager about our eternal destiny by accepted or rejecting the existance of God. If you bet on God, and God doesn’t exist, you haven’t lost a thing. You will have lived a virtuous life, had finite rewards, etc. If you bet against God, and God does exist, then you lose, and lose huge, including eternal rewards. What you wager is finite versus infinite. It is, therefore, probably better to go with God than against.

Similarly, why not go with traditional worship rather than modern? First, the Usus Antiquior has a track record and is clearly something that the Church maintained and bore fruits in the form God’s subcreation with man, namely, saints (animate beauty) and art (inanimate beauty). It worked and it works. The Novus Ordo has no such track record. So far the fruits we have seen since its imposition are… well… are there any? Statistics suggest the opposite of fruits, by which trees are known. The visible Church is imploding.

Is it necessary to chose between the two? Perhaps not at this very minute. And yet that are indications that time is pressing. I foresee a time when, as the apostasia continues, there is an amazing merging of tradition with some charismatic verve. The beige middle won’t be in the picture any longer.

There is nothing to be lost in embracing sacred worship in the traditional Roman Rite and there is a lot to be lost. Is there something to be lost by rejecting traditional worship in favor of the Novus Ordo? Yes, I think there is. You still have benefits and rewards, but not what you could have otherwise. Is there something to be gained in the Novus Ordo that can’t be provided for in the traditional Rite? Not really, no, once you get past the canards about “active participation” and “understanding what’s being said”, etc. A preacher can bring in, and should bring in, riches of Scripture no matter which form is used. Moreover, the Church’s Divine Office ought to be cultivated, which had, of course, deep Scripture pericopes.

We have to have serious conversations about these matters founded on both …

1) a deeper liturgical catechesis and
2) a deeper eschatological catechesis.

The two are strictly interconnected because…

a) we are our rites, and
b) the best reason for participating at Mass is that we are going to die.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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15 Responses to The Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians, Liturgy and the End Times. Wherein Fr. Z speculates and rants.

  1. Richard_amdg says:

    Fr Z, it seems that in our very day, there is a prominent global religious leader who recently called for a new & universal humanism, religious submission to the UN; a man who routinely & authoritatively rejects the teachings of our Blessed Lord, has the love & admiration of the world & the media, whose closest collaborators constantly point to him as something of a divine oracle not constrained by the authority of tradition or Sacred Scripture. And he even seems to delight in opposing the saints of God with a battle cry “hagan lio” or some such thing. Hmmm…

  2. Lurker 59 says:

    If you look at the question across religions (at least those that I have studied) the “restrainer” is always pious one — specifically the contemplative mystic, and acts of pious contemplation is always seen as holding back the dark one, the darkness, the end of all things, the wrath of the gods. (This is a large part of why the Romans were freaked out over what they saw to be Christians’ “atheism” — that their undermining of Roman piety would lead directly to the end of Roman society.)

    You can see this with Sodom and Gamora. That which was looked for to hold back the wrath of the Lord was the righteous man. The righteous man is not simplistically man who does good works to other men but the man who seeks after the internal life of God, the oikonomía of the Trinity, and from this contemplative action come forth all of his actions in the world.

    You can see this in Christ in how, before he acts to combat the darkness in the world, He first retreats into contemplative action. You can see this in Christ’s teaching regarding spiritual warfare — prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — the way of the contemplative.

    You can see this in history that the darkest periods are always precipitated by the destruction of the contemplative orders. When evil men come to power, they go after the monasteries very quickly though there is often little strategic value to doing so.

    Let me tie this into what Fr. Z said regarding the Liturgy, which is very important. The difference between the OF and EF is not that the OF is different or manufactured, it is that the OF has removed contemplative action and can be done, and is often largely done, in a way that is non-contemplative. It is not just that the OF tends towards the horizontal and being anthropocentric. Consider how hard it is to enter into contemplation during a typical OF liturgy. It is very difficult and, let me be very blunt, if you are not engaged in contemplative action, you are not engaging in active participation in the liturgy.

    The liturgical action at the core of the Mass is Christ’s own action, which is inherently contemplative being that He is the Son of the Father. Consider for a moment how the Son, being the Only Begotten One, is eternally engaged solely in contemplation of the Father.

    It is this precise life that we are call and chosen to be partakers in. Eternal contemplation of the Father is reward and eternal life. From this, all things flow.

    The Mass is where we enter into the Eschaton — were we enter into the action of the Son, through the Spirit, directed in contemplation of and towards the Father. It is this hight of contemplative action that is restraint and The Restrainer is the one who so contemplatively acts.

  3. I’ve never thought of the Restrainer being traditional worship, but it does make sense. I have long thought the existence of the August Sacrifice, even in a mutilated form, must be the thing that has kept the whole world from being totally incinerated amidst a level of moral insanity that would put the old pagans to shame. But, if we completely restored traditional worship, I believe we would stop merely surviving and begin to thrive again. We would be giving God our best again. Also, we would resume actually asking God to protect us from the devil, and priests and bishops would remember and resume their power to beat back the forces of hell.

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    You know Fr. Z there is so much in this post to ponder, I will keep it to refer to it. Most interesting, in fact, what could be more interesting! I wish I could express how much this resonates. This is a confoundedly hard topic to discuss or about which to ask questions. So much of this is of course speculation and nobody knows the answers, but there are clues and possibilities, and these are without doubt times that have many of us sensing things and seeing patterns and evidence of frankly, apocalyptic events inside and outside the church.
    We absolutely believe even the briefest prayer has effect, so more and deeper prayer by communities must be even more protection for the world, but that positive impact has been lost because those communities have been disbanded. The Holy Mass has the most effect, and those of us who attend the Latin Mass can’t help but believe it is the Mass as God intended it. We need more TLM’s in the world. Frankly I don’t see how any Catholic is surviving in this culture without the Traditional Latin Mass. It has become an oasis we rely on. Having it makes all the difference to us now, there is no going back. We’re very grateful to have it in these wonderfully dreadful times when things look so black but yet supernatural and you know even though it’s horrible God has it all under control, and in the fullness of time, He will act. Every day we wonder, is this the day.
    Great commentary Fr. Z., please continue to think aloud. We should thank God for you more often, but yours is usually the first name of faithful priests we think to pray for.

  5. Kerry says:

    Anita Moore, Oh yes, thrive again!

  6. Liz says:

    Thank you for the video about the Carmelites, Father. It’s much appreciated!

  7. SanSan says:

    Thank you Father. A thought provoking piece. I’m with you. The EF of the Mass is powerful worship and possibly a “restrainer”. Praying for all our clergy and religious and an increase in their numbers.

    St. Michael prayer, everyday. Yes, once again, lets say it at the end of Mass.

  8. Sandy says:

    Father, this is quite a thought provoking and excellent essay. (I love Pascal’s wager, for one thing.) All of the points you have made are very real and pertinent for our times. I believe you are right on target. Yes, we were purposely made by God for these times, but I often wonder exactly what I am to do. Setting a good example and praying for my family is one big focus for me. With God’s grace, I will do whatever He asks of me next.

  9. Glennonite says:

    Wow. Yes. Outstanding.

  10. chantgirl says:

    A few thoughts:

    I have often wondered about the chaplet of Divine Mercy, because the way it is worded, the laity basically offer the sacrifice of Christ on the cross to the Father. Christ also told St. Faustina that the time of Mercy was preceding the time of Justice. Could it be possible that the Lord gave the Church a prayer which offers Christ’ sacrifice to the Father in a spiritual way because the physical sacrifice would be removed before Christ returns in glory? Is this prayer a way for the laity to still offer something to the Father if all priests were hunted down, or all Masses suppressed? Obviously the laity cannot consecrate the physical Eucharist, but perhaps the Lord has given us a prayer for when “all other lights go out”?

    When the Christ triumphed and the Church was born, the old Jewish temple sacrifice ceased. Will it be that in the process of the creation of the new heavens and a new earth, our earthly sacrifice of the Eucharist will also cease?

    Our Lady has made dire predictions about our time, and many have materialized. Our Lady has also described trying to hold back the hand of punishment.

    For the first time in history, the technology exists to restrict the buying and selling of goods. More and more of our transactions are handled electronically and we see more of a push toward a cashless society. The book of Revelation speaks of the control of buying and selling, and that those who are not willing to take the Mark of the Beast ( whatever that is) will be unable to buy and sell.

    I have read some speculate that the restrainer could be the papacy. During Christ’ Passion, the shepherd was struck down. During the Church’s Passion, will our shepherd be struck down?

  11. JesusFreak84 says:

    Say what you will about Fr. Corapi, but I can remember both him and Fr. Calloway {sp?} opining that contemplative nuns (and priests/brothers) in their cloisters are darned near the only thing besides Our Lady holding back the Wrath of God.

  12. oledocfarmer says:

    Beautifully “processed,” Fr. Z! Fellow convert hat-tip!

    It has always confounded me that folks can’t see a big picture even when it is obviously staring them in the face! How could a true REVOLUTION in the heart of the world’s most conservative (in the sense of maintaining/PRESERVING) cultural force NOT have an effect on society as a whole?!

    Let’s compare two years: 1959 (when VII was announced, supposedly on the spur of the moment) and 1969. Ten years (a blink of a temporal eye) separate them. But culturally….WOW. Culturally, 1959 resembles 1859 or 1759 or 1659 than 1969. 1969 was a completely new cultural world.

    OF COURSE, the revolution in the Church provoked other cultural revolutions. And these other revolutions aren’t yet done. The principal question is: when will God be done with THEM? As St Alphonsus reminds us, there is an actual endpoint to the forebearance of God.

  13. Extremely thought provoking rant, Father.

    I was digging through boxes of past books and writing from my college days trying to clean out ‘stuff’ so I can finish moving to FR from PA…and came up with a thesis that I had to submit to complete my theo cycle at Fordham in the late 70s that dealt with the societal changes (secular/ecclesial) since the close of the Council in ’65 as compared to the relative stability (world wars and such notwithstanding; I was examining trends and attitudes) of pre-1960s American life, especially as it had an impact on the beliefs we profess.

    You expressed a lot more clearly than what my 21-year-old mind was struggling to frame: it’s interesting that your use of the term “restrainer” condenses, into a easily remembered framework, what it took me 20 pages to (badly) expound on.

    I’ve no doubt that, my Jesuit professor’s protestations to the contrary (an additional inkling that the Company was, if not off the rails, had a couple wheels not on the track), your image of many rustling leaves don’t necessarily, in and of themselves, prove that there is a wind moving…but when all of them are taken as a whole, you can make some pretty solid assumptions that a storm is moving in.

    FWIW, having met Fr. Calloway, I’ve no doubt that it’s the efforts of orders such as the MICs and others who are Marian and intensely Eucharistic in their charism which are, for now, staying His mighty hand.

  14. FrAnt says:

    I heard it said that one of the Popes informed the faithful that, “All of the evil in the world is because of lukewarm Catholics.” Why do we see the level of evil in our country and around the world? It’s because Catholics are not living the faith; we fear the world rather than fearing the Lord.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, I generally agree with this, although the presence of saints and faithful worship can also result in bad stuff happening. (For example, St. Bernadette’s chats with Mary and the surge of local piety were followed for a while by a frightening surge in nasty demonic activity in the area. Jesus certainly ran into a lot of possessed people, too, when you would think demons would flee before being forced to confront Him.) But yes, legends of the 36 righteous people keeping God from smiting the world are probably not totally wrong!

    However, the Septuagint uses “katechon” in the context of God holding or restraining stuff, or even sitting on stuff. (As in Isaiah 40:22 — “He sits enthroned” is katechon.) So ultimately it’s God’s Hand that allows or restrains; but certainly Jesus allows us and wants us to be His co-workers.