“we do NOT come down from the cross”

I enjoy the musings of The Sensible Bond.   He has a thoughtful entry which, in the lead up the Universae Ecclesiae seemed apposite to post… in part.  We jump into this in medias res.  He has been talking about the obedience of the FSSP during the nasty flu epidemic to adjust their manner of distribution of Communion. They obeyed, is the point, though it was hard.

We can make any number of hypotheses about this situation, which is now a fading memory, but my point is this: it would not have been good enough simply to defy the diocesan system. Some systems are arbitrary, but some systems are more than purely systematic. The truth is that when a system is God-given – and the attachment of individual Churches to bishops is God-given – it undoubtedly involves crosses that we are MEANT to carry. If we take ourselves out of the system, then we protect our sense of agency, but we miss out on potentially on what God wants to teach us. Some systems are not ideals, they are simply the reality in which we live, like fish in water or pigs in mud (I apply the last simile strictly to specimens like myself).

But my final point is this: we make a mistake when we act towards the Church as we might do towards bureaucracy (that is, rule by an office). The rule of Christ is that we do NOT come down from the cross. It is not that we come down from the cross and bash our enemies – or those we consider the enemies of Christ. Success is not our criterion; Christ is our criterion. Charity is not a hypothesis or a postulate. It is the life of God himself.

If I repeat these things, dear readers who remain, I repeat them above all so that I might not forget them.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. paulbailes says:

    Being the FSSP, they could not reasonably do any other, their raison d’etre being never (ever?) to disobey.

    But re “it was hard”, exactly what “it”? I would say hardest on the poor faithful denied the sacrament for the duration. A strange thing to praise.

    If ever there was a situation that underlined the craziness of the “always obey” position, then this is it.

    Dear Sensible Bond, what other episcopal mistakes would you write off as simply a cross that we have to bear, or rather ultimately be prepared to resist?

  2. cyejbv says:

    This. Is. Incredible. Moreover, it transcends the FSSP goings on.

    “If we take ourselves out of the system, then we protect our sense of agency, but we miss out on potentially on what God wants to teach us.”


  3. And what does God want to teach us? It is always, ever and again the way of the Cross– the way of charity. In all that we say, do and pray for, let us never forget 1 Corinthians 13. As the Lord Himself taught us and showed us, Love is the greatest witness to the truth.

  4. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Wow, that is great writing. And such a good portrayal of the royal road of the Cross. I am on that road now, thanks to people who want to use their position in the Church to bash their “enemies.”

    Thank you for posting this. I have to keep on the road. The issue of obedience is hard when it comes up against what we know to be right. Being forced to put up with a wrong is one of the hardest emotional crosses.

    People say Jesus overturned tables, etc. but we are not Jesus. We are to be obedient even unto death.

  5. The linked blog post makes it clear that the FSSP did not obey by distributing communion in the hand. Rather, they stopped distributing communion. [The point of the entry at the top isn’t primarily about the FSSP, and the flu, and Communion. Right?]

  6. thickmick says:

    Super rad. This is the kinda stuff people would die for.

  7. Not be a wet blanket, but… In this day and age of confusion and tumult, the faithful have been unjustly left to determine on their own what has been God-given and what are on the spot human creations. Now that time is ever more separating men from these merely human formulations foisted on the faithful as “God-given” by the “experts”, it’s becoming harder to make these distinctions without guidance. It is easy to blog about the ideal,[Oh?] no matter which “camp” you fall into. It is easy to wax eloquently on the proper hermeneutic from a keyboard. [Is that so?] It is something entirely different to be in the trenches and left without the guidance of those who are supposed to govern, teach and sanctify. [Not getting any guidance, anywhere?]

    I’m just saying…

  8. Jenice says:

    This post raises a question for me, and I am hoping for some opinions from others. My family has been attending a different parish this year because of many longstanding and seemingly intractable liturigcal abuses at the parish where we have been members for 13 years. But reading this post makes me think we should bear the cross of staying in our original parish. Any thoughts, opinions, helpful suggestions?

    Thanks so much.

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    If I still had young children, I would go to the better parish, regardless of territory.
    Territorial parishes are not much regarded around here, but we are officially in the territory of a small, very heterodox, liturgically loony (and dwindling) parish. When we converted, my kids were young teenagers, no way I was going to expose them to that, especially coming from a very reverent ‘high church’ Episcopal parish that we left precisely because of its bad theology and political meddling.
    I also think there is a difference between bearing a cross imposed by a bishop, and bearing a cross imposed by a parish priest . . . or worse a ‘parish administrator’, or a cabal of noisy complainers who wear the priest down.

  10. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I agree with americanmother. Stay in the parish that is good in the way that you most need it to be good. I stay in a parish with great liturgy but the priests are cold and uncaring except to their friends. I get my priestly caringness elsewhere.

  11. James Joseph says:

    I’m still waiting for the swine flu. Ever since it appeared on the news, I’ve been waiting 5-long years.

    The FSSP are excellent. I have nothing but good things to say about their example. In my experience, mentioning them does get certain Bishops high-tailing out of the room though. What is it about such a vibrant group that makes folks shake in their boots?

  12. William says:

    David Werling @ 6:10 above makes good argument.

  13. dcs says:

    The linked blog post makes it clear that the FSSP did not obey by distributing communion in the hand. Rather, they stopped distributing communion.

    Actually, that’s not quite what happened. If memory serves, the FSSP would have been willing to offer Mass with only the priest receiving Holy Communion. The bishop would not allow them to do that. So they did not offer Mass publicly at all.

  14. dcs says:

    Whoops, I thought this was a reference to the FSSP in Calgary last year during the swine flu “crisis”.

  15. Athelstan says:

    I also like Sensible Bond’s perspective on this, but dcs does have a point: Some ordinaries went further than the ones in England. Bishop Henry in Calgary would not even allow the option of a spiritual (non-distributed) communion, as Fr. Z discussed at length here: https://wdtprs.com/2009/12/the-calgary-communion-show-down/.

    Sometimes, the cross can be heavy to carry indeed.

  16. Jack Hughes says:

    I agree with Paulbalie when he said

    “Dear Sensible Bond, what other episcopal mistakes would you write off as simply a cross that we have to bear, or rather ultimately be prepared to resist?”

    Do I for example have to remain in a diocesan parish where the liturgy (apart from the weekly Sunday EF) is abysmal or (as Cardina Hoyes says I can) should I go back to the local SSPX chapel where I am free from the dreadful not–quite abuses even if the Priest is suspended.

  17. Brooklyn says:

    What an absolutely beautiful reminder that we are not in charge, but that our Lord is in charge and we need to let him lead. I think of the incident when King David was moving the Ark to Jerusalem, and everyone had been warned not to touch the Ark. When it began to fall, one man decided he knew better and put his hand out to save the Ark, and paid for it with his life. God’s church belongs to God, and if we feel it is faltering in any way, our duty is to pray and stand beside it, waiting for God to correct any wrongs. None of us will get to heaven without carrying the Cross given to us.

    The FSSP are a beautiful example for us to follow.

  18. Nathan says:

    This excellent discussion gets to the heart of the obedience issue for traditionally-minded Catholics. The gentleman at The Sensible Bond rightly points to obedience to lawful authority as being the way of the Cross. That is entirely true, and the case he points to (the FSSP in the UK) is instructive.

    Until recently, and perhaps in some dioceses now, the problem of obedience is a bit more pointed, especially as applied to the laity, since they do not make promises or vows of obedience to their ecclesastical superiors. What do we do when there ‘s conflict between what a legitmate authority wants us to do and a higher one not requiring it? Are we to stand, rather than kneel, for Holy Communion when our pastor or bishop wants us to even though the Holy See has told them we may kneel? What if a legitimate authority (say, up until a few weeks ago, we were in the diocese of Toowoomba, Australia) denies the faithful the ability to receive the Sacrament of Penance in the context of normal confession, but only in a communal penance service with a general absolution? Are we to simply say, “that is my cross” and go along reluctantly?

    In other words, it is very difficult to determine when, especially as a layperson, when we should to obey because it is a cross we ought to bear and when we should resist (or go against the system because of) an abuse of authority.

    In Christ,

  19. everett says:

    This issue of obedience really gets to the heart of the saintly life. Its the difference between a Martin Luther and a Saint Ignatius, or a Padre Pio and Lefebvre. Humility, submission and obedience are hard.

  20. benedetta says:

    “Ave Crux, Spes Unica”…
    I comprehend what people are saying about authority and legitimate versus not legitimate exercise, obedience, pastors, parishes, bishops…
    Yet I think that assenting to the cross can also be even greater still.

  21. Everett, have you heard of St. Athanasius?

  22. APX says:

    I agree with Nathan. Am I as a layperson to put up with my territorial parish’s priest’s (who is also the diocese’s Liturgical Director) blatant disregard for reverence during Mass, and his mocking that he is in persona Christi during Mass, while at the same time our diocese has a severe priest shortage that, as it is right now, not going to get any better if our Masses continue to take on this form? It’s painful to watch a your home parish of 23 years deteriorate so rapidly with one priest, whose duty it also is to direct the priests and laity in how the our liturgies are done throughout the diocese.

    Am I to just sit there and say, “this is my cross to bear” and do nothing but pray that things get better? I don’t think this is true, as it would contradict Summorum Pontificum’s directives to do all that is possible to “ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion.”

  23. Incensum says:

    James Joseph asks:
    The FSSP are excellent. I have nothing but good things to say about their example. In my experience, mentioning them does get certain Bishops high-tailing out of the room though. What is it about such a vibrant group that makes folks shake in their boots?

    I often wonder if moments such as these actually make them feel regret, or remorse for their own lack of spine.

    In my experience, confidence and solidity of doctrine evoke the most obstinate behavior out of some people. This is due to the fact that the individual is not willing to give up their position at ANY cost. Yet, they know they cannot refute the opposing side’s to appeal to logic, reason, and solid doctrine – they just don’t like things that way because they interfere with their own ideology. And so, they either persist in their argument by belittlement or violent anger, or they flee knowing there is no point in fighting a losing battle.

    I think the best we can do in some of these situations is pray for the conversion of the individuals in question. Pater, ignosce illis, non enim sciunt quod faciunt

  24. everett says:

    The issue of territorial parishes is a tricky one these days, in that parishes are less territorial than ever (ever closer to personal parishes). On one hand, if all the good Catholics leave, then the parish will be completely taken over. On the other hand, if you can’t get through mass without being angry or dumbfounded, then there are serious issues, particularly if you have children who are stuck thinking this is the way the Catholic Church is. When we bought a house 15 miles from where we previously lived, technically we changed parishes as far as boundaries go. However, given that the parish priest at the new parish (which meets once a week in the gym at the community center) thinks a good confession consists of “what are your general areas of sinfulness?” followed by immediate absolution with no act of contrition or penance, and that his approach to liturgy is even worse than his approach to reconciliation, we chose to remain at the parish we had been members of. All this, even though the “parish” is no more than 4 or 5 blocks from our house. I’d say that the issue of what to do as far as parishes go belongs in the area of good spiritual discernment.

  25. Brooklyn says:

    When I think of submission to the Church, I think in more in terms of the Magesterium. Yes, we have to be submissive to Church authority, and sometimes that can be a very heavy Cross, but we do not have to submit to any authority that is in conflict with the Magesterium, and that would certainly include liturgical abuse. None of us have to tolerate clown or puppet masses. The FSSP in this case were being submissive to their bishop, and they did it in such a beautiful way that they didn’t have to compromise their beliefs. It did mean a huge sacrifice, but that is what carrying the Cross is all about. It is a beautiful example.

  26. APX says:

    The issue I have is that an individual shouldn’t have to make the choice between giving up their parish community, which is literally is their community of family, friends, and neighbours, and attending a parish that is slightly more reverent, though not by much, so it really isn’t worth what you give up. Instead you feel like an outsider trying to fulfill your Sunday obligation.

    Added to that, there’s still the issue that is my understanding that, while I may choose whichever parish I wish to belong to, I’m still required to receive the sacraments, etc in my territorial parish, unless I have permission from the bishop and a sufficient reason.

  27. MichaelJ says:

    Whatever happened to “We may never do evil in the hopes that good will come of it”? If your parish is herterodox, irreverent, mocks Christ (although perhaps not intentionally) scandalous and frankly preaches heresy – and you know this – why would you even think of going?

    Attendance at a particular Parish is a public declaration of unity and approval of what happens there. Participation at such a hypothetical (or perhaps not so hypothetical) Mass is objectively wrong even if you happen to buy in tho the “Personally opposed but…” nonsense that politicians are constantly spouting.

  28. APX says:


    My parish priest doesn’t preach heresy. He’s just very irreverent at Mass, which flows down towards the congregation. It’s what’s plagued through the parishes in my diocese. I have attended other parishes in my diocese. It’s the same irreverence, and the same pain. The point I’m getting at is why are we supposed to be obedient to that priest, or go somewhere else? What’s wrong with calling a spade a spade and trying to implement a change?

  29. Jason Keener says:

    As Catholics, I think we should do what we can to work for better liturgies, better teaching from our bishops, etc.; however, there comes a point when we have done all that we can in a certain situation and then must leave the rest up to God. When things don’t go our way, we should offer it up in expiation for our own sins and the souls in purgatory. In the end, the Christian life is more about conforming oneself to the suffering and charity of Christ than working for the perfect liturgy at all costs. Easier said than done, but that’s what we must do. We should also content ourselves with the fact that this side of Heaven, no liturgy will be perfect in its outward accidentals.

  30. MichaelJ says:

    I take issue with your characterization of the dismay at irreverent liturgies as things “not going our way”. That being said, I recommend looking to Scripture for advice on what to do when you have done all that you can and desire to leave the rest up to God.

  31. EWTN Rocks says:

    APX, I agree with you. However, if I witnessed significant liturgical abuse (e.g. puppets, etc.) or felt compelled for any other reason to go to another parish, I would. Although, because other parishes within the diocese may show similar irreverence, I probably would be careful about choosing another parish. In other words, I wouldn’t want to jump from a frying pan into the fire.

  32. AnAmericanMother says:


    An earlier discussion of the territorial parish issue:


    Money quote:

    So, for all the liturgical nomads … there’s no reason to feel guilty for not attending one’s territorial parish, particularly if it is a locus of liturgical abuse. Yes, there can be heroism in suffering in silence, and there can be great virtue in being a leaven to bring about change in one’s territorial parish, but the canonical burden is upon the pastor – not the faithful (who are often guilted into feeling that they should stay worshiping in a parish that fails to provide for their legitimate spiritual needs). I think there can be a balance between a consumerist approach, wherein one shops for the parish that best fits one’s needs, and a martyr approach that says I need to stay put, even though I leave Mass every Sunday more angry and depressed than when I entered.

    I would think it a salubrious action to inform one’s territorial parish that one will be attending and participating in the parochial and sacramental life of St. Fidelissimus parish rather than St. Smileyhugs parish, and to give the specific reasons (more faithful liturgy, orthodox preaching, better catechetical programs for the kiddies, specific devotions), and maybe copy it to the bishop or vicar forane. The pastor should be aware of how many parishioners he’s losing out on by letting Sr. Go-Go Boots do liturgical dance. As always, letters should be carefully thought out and crafted, and not done with high emotion – scripta manent!

    (you had me worried there for a minute!)

  33. ScholaLady says:

    @ APX: All four of our children received Confirmation outside of our home diocese. My husband actually called the bishop’s office and asked if we needed permission for this. They responded as if they were puzzled as to why he was even bothering to ask. They told him to just register the certificates with our parish office. It can be difficult to follow the rules when even the diocesan staff doesn’t know what they are.

  34. Fr. Z says: “Oh?” and “Is that so?” I’m assuming these are sincere questions, and I thank you for giving me the kind opportunity to clarify my statement.

    Well, yes, it is easy for the chap over at the Sensible Bond to blog about the ideal so far removed from the circumstances, to wax eloquently from a keyboard with the advantage of hindsight, without having been the person on the ground to make those decisions. Those FSSP priests who obeyed without distributing Communion, we are told, “remained on the Cross”. I suppose the FSSP priests that came to different conclusion and obeyed by taking other actions (in Canada) came down off the Cross to bash their enemies? Really? No matter what you think they should have done with the perspective of hindsight, it seems a little unfair to characterize their actions with such a broad brush.

    Fr. Z asks: “Not getting any guidance, anywhere?” (emphasis dropped). Once again, I’m assuming this is a sincere question. Thanks again for kindly giving me the opportunity to clarify my statement.

    Given the situation as it stood there was no guidance, at for a very long time, from competent Church authority in the face of an order that conflicted with liturgical practice and law, not to mention the principles and rule of the FSSP. In the interim, traditionalists were left to their own devices whether or not to obey an order that was:

    (1) medically ridiculous and irrelevant in the prevention of the pandemic. There was a greater chance of infection from using the holy water fonts than receiving on the tongue.

    (2) an order that unlawfully proposed replacing the ordinary manner of receiving Holy Communion with the indult.

    (3) ordered by only a handful of relatively progressive minded bishops in dioceses where they knew that such an order would challenge traditional Catholics. Many suspected then that it was a trap from the very beginning.

    How are the faithful to interpret that? Like everything else that lacks precision and clarity in the post-Vatican II Church, I guess we are to apply the hermeneutic of continuity, and hope a year later the author of the Sensible Bond doesn’t accuse of us of coming down off the Cross.

    Just saying.

  35. cyejbv says:

    Ah, Mr. Werling I simply could not stand to not just say: please stop just saying.
    I’d like to take a turn. I have a few words, and not one has to do with the what you seem to cannot stand to not say: Ready?
    Here are my words:
    Diocese of Ningxia
    Fr Joseph Zhang
    (just as for examples but seem to be appropriate considering the whining below)

    Now here are your words:
    “It is something entirely different to be in the trenches and left without the guidance of those who are supposed to govern, teach and sanctify.”

    Here again are Fr Z’s words: [The point of the entry at the top isn’t primarily about the FSSP, and the flu, and Communion. Right?]

    Right, Father Z.

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