Opening up Twit-deck today reveals that the worst is still going on.
The canonical status of the SSPX and the various issues connected to it, cannot be hashed out on Twitter, on Fakebook, in rambling partially-informed vlogs, etc.
The situation of the SSPX is anomalous and difficult.
Even the office of the Roman Curia that was set up in 1988 to handle matters related to the SSPX, inter alia, made careful and guarded comments about their status. (I know, I wrote some of them.) Since then there have been various backings and forthings which have helped and have harmed the dialogue between the Holy See and SSPX. Mistakes have been made and advances have been made. It is a difficult process because of the exceptional nature of the Society.
In the anglophone sphere there is a problem which often blinds dilettantes when it comes to matters of law and discipline and praxis and interpretation of Church matters. People with an American formation, especially, tend to like cut and dried, sharply defined edges and neat little boxes into which they can sort things. But that’s not how things work in the Church when it comes to law.
I am reminded of a certain kind of priest who, because of inflexibility and not a little scrupulosity had to… simply had to… make signs of the Cross during the Canon exactly between the syllables of the words in which the marking was printed. This nearly Jansenist rigidity contributed to the maniac modernist war on our liturgical tradition, discipline and doctrine. This same thing can be found in lay people of a strongly traditional stripe, for whom all priests must conform in their manner of saying Mass to how they recall old Fr. Sven O’Brian used to do it, ’cause he used to wiggle his pinky finger at the same point in Mass as followed in their ol’ St. Joseph Missal.
Some people don’t know what they don’t know.
I know quite a lot about the SSPX situation, as it turns out, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next. All along the way, just as I thought I had things worked out, I’d get thrown a wicked changeup. The priests of the SSPX are clearly suspended a divinis. Welllll… not so much, since they can now receive faculties to witness marriages. Priests of the SSPX clearly don’t have faculties to absolve penitents in regular auricular confession. Welllll… not so much, since now they do. What’s next?
The priests of the SSPX obviously don’t have faculties to preach or to say Mass. Oh, yeah? I’m waiting for another changeup.
I can’t predict what will come next, but I have learned to be patient at the plate and not grip the bat too tightly. My view has had to evolve as the situation evolves. One day this is going to get sorted out. I hope soon.
The fact is, the SSPX is a what the ancient Latin writer Juvenal in his Satires would call “rara avis in terris nigro simillima cygno… a bird as rare on earth as a black swan”. They didn’t think black swans existed. They were wrong, but that’s not the point. That’s where we get the phrase rara avis, a “rare bird”, something unique or hardly to be imagined. There’s nothing else out there quite like the SSPX.
Notwithstanding, some hard-headed and clearly hard-hearted folks out there are absolutely determined that the SSPX must be definitively categorized and confined to a precise cubbyhole otherwise… OTHERWISE!! … as Dr. Peter Venkman predicted: “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”
They just can’t stand that the SSPX does not conform to their paradigm of how the Church ought to work… on their planet.
Since I’m on a quoting roll, back in seminary in Rome there were guys from way up in Piemonte who had their own indecipherable ways and dialect. Sometimes when talks or sermons got a little long one of them would mutter, “gavte la nata”, which was eventually explained to me as meaning, “pull the cork out”. In other words, let the pressure out and let’s get on with things.
Will you allow me to digress into a personal anecdote? It’s about one of the most important things that ever happened to me in Rome and it has to do with the traditional Mass and with rigid positions.
When I was at “Ecclesia Dei“, early on, we had a really strained correspondence with an intractable American bishop, an infamous über-lib, who had a deadly feud going on with people in his diocese who wanted the traditional Mass. The people got us involved, the bishop got angry. It was awful.
Finally, the bishop wrote to us a letter that was seriously rude, even insulting. I had had it. “Basta!” I drafted a response for the Cardinal that was going to END the issue by bringing in the weight of the office.
My dear late mentor and boss, Card. Mayer, the holiest man I’ve ever known, called me to his office, as usual, to go over various drafts of correspondence. He had saved The Draft – my hammer on the bishop – until the end. He said that what I had written was correct and proper. “This is what we should write, of course.” Then he asked about the first sentence,
“Here you wrote, X. Do you think perhaps we could write Y instead?”
“Of course, Your Eminence! It’s your letter”.
Changes were made in his carefully microscopic writing.
“And in this place, you wrote X. Could Y work here?”
“Yes, Eminenza!”, I responded.
We continued that way until there was literally nothing remaining of my Draft – the hammer – but a couple of “ands” and “thes”. We were actually laughing as my composition relentlessly disappeared under the black ink spiderweb of the Cardinal’s emendations, each one carefully and politely framed as a question, asking permission.
At last I said, “I obviously don’t have the right view of this. Help me out. Help me to understand how you want me to approach this.”
He paused a bit and looked at the crucifix on the wall of his office and said, “At a certain point, we have to stop fighting and try to open up their hearts.”
With that, I went back to my desk and stared at the keys of the typewriter… yes, typewriter… and pondered.
“How do I open this bishop’s heart after all the bitter bridge burning? One of us has to give, and clearly it has to be us. Get off your high horse and keep it simple.”
I flashed out another draft and was back in the Cardinal’s office a few minutes later. He looked at my new version, approved it, and out it went in the evening mail bag.
What, you might be asking, did I write in that second draft to that bishop? It was not long. It was not complicated.
I apologized to him for our part in making the correspondence so difficult and then said along this line,
“Your Excellency, so many good people in your diocese simply want to have access to Holy Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum. Will you please, Your Excellency, not open your heart for them and give them what they want? They would be so happy. Sending prayerful best wishes for, etc. etc.”
Some time later we received a note from one of the faithful in that bishop’s diocese who had been involved in the feud and tension. He thanked us for what we did, and related that, not only had this über-lib, tradition-hating bishop given the required permission for the Traditional Mass, but he came to them and he said it himself.
I was stunned, but I don’t think the Cardinal was.
To this day, my heart gets chilly and I often fail in charity. But I am, I trust, a work in progress. But that was was an important life lesson. I learned that, in the matter especially of the dynamics of tradition, the heart is an important lens through which to view complicated conflicts. This is because, I am convinced, the Enemy knows that he cannot succeed if we succeed in renewing the life of the Church through a recovery of our traditional liturgical rites. So the Devil is going to fuel feuds, create strife, harden hearts. Moreover, Old Scratch and demons are the ultimate lawyers. If they can keep us quibbling and mired in the details, we are rendered ineffective.
Recovery of our identity is just as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of stuff we can grind about in our heads.
I could tell story after story like the one above. I also have many tales about the zeal of good SSPX priests whom we helped out at Ecclesia Dei, and whom I personally got to know. What a lot of people today don’t understand is what the atmosphere of those times was like, especially in certain countries. The hostility and vindictiveness of bishops and priests in positions of power was nothing short of diabolical. It was far worse in Europe than it was in these USA back then. And, these days, especially in these USA, the situation is now very much improved.
Hence, it is really hard, especially for the young who haven’t been in the trenches, newcomers, as it were, to take in all these matters, and especially for lay people, to understand these matters from within.
This is why I think that some whippersnappers out there should put a sock in it for a little while and… please… open their hearts to the matter.
I urge every one just to unclench about the SSPX. Could you, please?
The situation of the SSPX is complicated. It is anomalous. It is evolving.
The moderation queue is ON.