What a difference a bishop can make.

From Chess.com today, the Daily Puzzle is from one of the 18th c. “Modenese Masters”, Domenico Ercole del Rio (+1802).  There is an elegant forced mate here in 3 but it requires a bold sacrifice.  White to move.

What a difference a bishop can make.

St. John Fisher was a lone bishop who stood up and said, “No”.   That was a Bishop’s Gambit, I guess, that didn’t in the end work for the Church in England, since they still wound up with the Church of England.  St. John Fisher now lives in the glory of the Trinity to intercede for us in this time when the State will be increasingly hostile to all things Christian.  Fisher, not Fischer.

Bl. Clemens von Galen wasn’t the only German bishop to stand up to Nazism in the 1930’s and 40’s (von Preysing, Frings), but he was a particularly visible prelate.  He led the Catholic protest against the euthanasia program.   Do you suppose von Gallen would have given Communion to baptized Catholic Josef Goebbles?  Hitler forbade Goebbles from abandoning the Church for tactical reasons.  That’s Galen, not Gallen.

We need some hard-identity Catholicism from bishops… not whatever the hell it is they are into.    Does it seem to you at all that when they deal with politicians who promote evils like abortion it’s always endless dialogue, soft words and nuanced phrases as if they had some chance to penetrate those obsidian hearts.

But that’s also the way the bishops talk to each other when they meet.

I’m all for decorum.  I don’t think we need constant belts in the chops à la St. Nicholas and Arius at the Council of Nicea.  After all, that belt in the face didn’t seem to change Arius mind.  Perhaps if he had hit him harder?  Twice?   I digress.

My point is that it seems like the bishops talk to each other in the same way that they talk to pro-abortion politicians.  Their yes is not really yes.  Their no is not really no.  Hence, they have no effect on the herd as they move closer to the cliff.

And just to get up on my lobby-horse again,  I submit that, as always, the role of our traditional sacred liturgical worship plays a critical part in the recovery of our Catholic identity, so enervated, so compromised from decades of debilitating attacks from within.  We need our traditional sacred liturgical worship to teach us who we are again.  We are our rites.   Cutting people off from their patrimony, traditional sacred liturgical worship, cuts them off from their very identity, leaving them to drift, rudderless, in the world’s ever-shifting currents.  To steer a boat within a strong current, you need a rudder, that which literally is still in touch with the past, where we have come from.

Celebration of the traditional Roman Mass is one of the most instructive things a priest or bishop can do, for the sake of his Catholic identity as a sacerdos.  You learn things from the rite that simply are not evidenced in the post-Conciliar form.

In the wake of Traditionis custodes, I implore, I beg bishops out there to learn and to celebrate the traditional Roman Rite.

First, you will be of help to yourself, because if you don’t know the traditional Rite, you don’t know your Rite.

Second, you will give immense comfort to the most marginalized members of your flock, something I should think you would want to do.

Here’s a tip, which I suspect is at the core of why many bishops hesitate to get involved with the TRADITIONAL Roman Rite.

Your Excellencies, you have been formed in a Novus Ordo liturgical practice.  With its constant options – left to you as priest and bishop – and with its exhortation to give extra little impromptu pep talks at certain points, and with its ubiquitous versus populum arrangement, the psychological pressure on you as celebrant is great.   Facing them, everyone looking at you to do the next thing, gives the Novus Ordo celebrant, priest or bishop, the overwhelming sense that the liturgical action, carrying it forward, depends entirely on YOU.

That is one of the terrible costs especially of versus populum celebration, perhaps the single most damaging thing to our Catholic identity that resulted after the Council.

Because your experience, Your Excellencies, is wholly steeped in this priest-centric ars celebrandi, I suspect that when you see the photos of traditional Pontifical Masses, or even see Solemn or Low Masses in the Traditional Roman Rite, you quail a bit inside.  You don’t know how to do those things and, as a bishop, you don’t like not knowing what to do.  You are loathe to have people see or think that you don’t know what to do because, in the way you were trained and then seasoned, it all depends on YOU to carry the action forward.   You see all those gestures, the language, the ad orientem posture, and you can’t get your head around how YOU are going to be the driving force to animate the liturgical action.

That’s the trap.

You are not the one who carries it forward.  The Rite itself takes care of that.  All you have to do is be docile and follow, rather than lead.  That’s where your freedom to pray is centered.  That’s where you discover yourself as victim along with being the priest who offers sacrifice.

If being celebrant for a Pontifical Mass looks intimidating, I can assure you that it is probably the easiest liturgical role you will ever have.

You are surrounded by ministers who play their parts.  There is an MC and Archpriest to lead you, literally by walking in front of you, and to point at every text you have to read.  Sure, it’s in Latin, but don’t you think you ought to be able to say prayers in Latin, as a bishop of the Latin Church?  And most of them are silent, anyway.    If you just let yourself be guided along, you will be in the right place at the right time to do the right thing.

It doesn’t depend on you to animate the liturgy.  Just let the sacred ministers do their job.  Just let it be.  Just be.

As far as getting you all gussied up with extra vestments and gloves and different miters and so forth, again, this is a demonstration that it really isn’t all about you.

That may seem counter intuitive, but it hearkens to the fact that the priest is also the victim being sacrificed.

Think of yourself as a lamb being raised for the Temple.  You are cared for very well so you don’t have flaws, pampered even, right up to the point that they open your throat with a blade.   When all the ministers gather around and literally undress and dress you, you are the priest being prepared to offer sacrifice and the victim about to be sacrificed.

What have we priests and bishops lost over the decades by not saying the vesting prayers?   Has this affected our identity and our ars celebrandi?

For example, Your Excellencies, when the ring is put back on your finger, you say: “Adorn with virtue, Lord, the fingers of my body and of my heart, and place upon them the sanctification of the sevenfold Spirit.” Fingers “of my heart”! Very poetic. Each object has its meaning.  The texts of the vesting prayers, carefully sculpted over centuries of spiritual experience and reflection, are dense in meaning. They breathe biblical images.   When you sit there and endure the ministers putting your shoes on, running against the American grain in particular, be patient and meditate on the prayer for the buskins, which cites Eph 6 and Ps 60: “Shod my feet, Lord, unto the preparation of the gospel of peace, and protect me under the cover of thy wings.”   The Enemy hates you and what you are about to do in saying Mass.  Do you pray for protection against diabolical attack?   That’s what you ask for in putting on the amice: “Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.”

You do believe in the Devil…. right?  Do you think there’s a chance that the Enemy is trying to undermine you?

Are you ever discouraged or sorrowful in your mandate?  The maniple prayer offers solace: “May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors.”

I go on at length because the riches available to you are so very great and we, the Catholic flock entrusted to you, need for you to be able to carry out your role so that we can carry out ours.  We don’t need half of it from you, we need all of it.  We need you to be traditional so that we also can be who we are supposed to be in our lives.

A bishop can make all the difference.  But it requires a bold sacrifice.

St. John Fisher, pray for us.
Bl. Clemens von Galen, pray for us.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Hard-Identity Catholicism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. This is a great essay. The main point seems to be that if a bishop has a good MC, all he has to do is say, “We’re going to offer a TLM and it’s your job to make sure we get it right.” That’s what a good bishop– a leader– is supposed to do: delegate. If the bishop needs any training, the MC provides it. Then he leads by following. What could be simpler?

  2. ReadingLad says:

    Meanwhile, let’s pray for all bishops – those who are bravely guarding tradition, that God will strengthen them in their exemplary leadership, and those who currently appear hostile to it, that God will enlighten them and show them the errors of their current position and how to lead and protect their flocks in these troubling times.

    In either case (and forever after…) our bishops need and deserve our prayers.

  3. JT says:

    Very nice. Hopefully many bishops will read it with a humble heart.

    I had occasion to be away from my parish the last three weeks and attended the NO at other parishes. Returning today I thanked God over and over for the Traditional Mass. So great to be back.

  4. Dear Father:

    I hope you will not mind my making this point, here:

    When I saw your headline, I thought of the following. That my bishop is trying to be conscientious about Traditiones Custodes. At the same time, I think he is trying not to disturb or harass priests who were, before TC, offering the Traditional Mass. I have been told I can offer it “privately,” and if people show up, that’s OK, and if they want to receive the Holy Eucharist, I can give it to them…

    So some slight change (I don’t publish my weekly, private, TLM in my bulletin, but…), yet things proceed.

    I might have been told not to pray the St. Michael’s prayer after Mass; instead, my bishop came to visit, and prayed it with all of us, after Mass.

  5. ex seaxe says:

    Thank you Father for an excellent, lucid post. It does not persuade me that I would prefer a 1962 Mass, I remember the spiritual benefits I received from the gradual move from 1962 to 1967. It does give very clear grounds for wanting the UA to inform the ars celebrandi of the NO.

  6. ThePapalCount says:

    A great piece FrZ and so true and so clear. I know bishops must read your blog and I encourage them to have courage and to let what you wrote sink in. It makes good sense. The church surely needs strong shepherds. Souls are at risk. Including the bishops’.

  7. mburduck says:

    Beautiful, Father, just beautiful! God Bless you always!

  8. mysticalrose says:

    This is absolutely beautiful, Father.

  9. teomatteo says:

    “Think of yourself as a lamb being raised for the Temple. You are cared for very well so you don’t have flaws, pampered even, right up to the point that they open your throat with a blade.”
    Nice that.

  10. Neal says:

    I need another hint for the puzzle.

  11. kurtmasur says:

    Speaking of bishops, Mons. Guido Marini, the master of papal liturgical ceremonies has been named bishop of Tortona. I wonder if this is a ploy to send him away from the Pope’s masses? Regardless, I would assume that the people of his diocese will be in good hands.

  12. Neal says:

    OK. 1 Ne6+ etc. Every response has a follow up check. I think.

  13. _Dan_ says:


    If Kg8, then Qh6 leads to the unstoppable Qg7# next move.

    If Kxf8, then Qb8+ will be mate after black stalls with Qd8. Qxd8# follows.

  14. _Dan_ says:

    Neal, I believe if Ne6+ then simply Qxe6 halts white’s attack.

  15. _Dan_ says:

    Neal, actually I believe you are correct. My Bf6+ is too slow after Kg8, Qh6. White’s king is too exposed and black has forcing checks to give.

  16. The first move is


    Black can capture with the queen or the pawn.

    If with the pawn, fxNe6, Qf7 mate.

    If black staves off death and captures with the queen, then white has the dramatic sacrifice of the white queen Qh6. Then KxQ. After that Bf8… mate.

    If the black King runs to g8 instead of capturing, then white Qf7 mate.

    In the end, white’s lone surviving piece, a bishop, delivers the coup de grâce.

  17. kurtmasur says:

    The first move is


    “Black can capture with the queen or the pawn.

    If with the pawn, fxNe6, Qf7 mate.

    If black staves off death and captures with the queen, then white has the dramatic sacrifice of the white queen Qh6. Then KxQ. After that Bf8… mate.

    If the black King runs to g8 instead of capturing, then white Qf7 mate”

    But Father, but Father! I’ve been reviewing the above scenarios (hopefully *carefully*), but I don’t quite follow the logic of white queen putting the black king in check at f7. What’s to stop the black king from capturing the queen? [Nothing! That’s the point. It’s a sacrifice of the queen. Then the bishop goes to f8. Checkmate.] The bishop would not offer any type of protection to the queen at f7. Or am I missing something here? In case I’ve overlooked something silly, my apologies in advance. [Look again.]

  18. TonyO says:

    @ Kurtmasur:

    I am no great shakes at chess – far, far from it – but I have the same problem. I think maybe (perhaps, possibly, tentatively), after black pawn takes knight fxNe6, the white move is Qf6+. That way the bishop protects her. Which is suggested by Fr. Z’s comments.

    But that still leaves a square open to the black king, g8. When the king is checked by the white queen at Qf6, Kg8 is safe. If Q were to then try Qf7, then the black king still captures white queen, as you suggested.

  19. kurtmasur says:

    @TonyO: “But that still leaves a square open to the black king, g8. When the king is checked by the white queen at Qf6, Kg8 is safe. If Q were to then try Qf7, then the black king still captures white queen, as you suggested.”

    Actually, the white queen doesn’t have to put the black king in check at Qf7. Instead, it can go all the way to Qf8. If I’m not mistake, that would even be a checkmate, but only under your scenario where the black king would have already escaped into Kg8. In reality, the black king would be better off escaping into Kh6 instead of Kg8. It could even provoke a stalemate with white queen going back and forth between Qf4 and Qf6 while the king going back and forth between Kh6 and Kg7.

    I’m definitely no expert either, but it’s just my take when viewing the above situation.

  20. kurtmasur says:

    Regarding my last comment about a potential stalemate, no, that wouldn’t be likely either. Once the black king escapes into Kh6, then the white bishop can check the black king at Bf8, which I *think* would be a checkmate.

  21. TonyO says:

    Yes, Qf8 seems to be the key.

  22. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    By the way, that Guido Guidi painting (which appears periodically) of Cardinals playing chess is delightful. I have probably not been paying enough attention to the paintings you show us, but I had not realized that there is a whole genre of ‘Cardinals playing chess’ until I set out to ses if I could identify the Guido Guidi. I wonder if anyone has figured out just what is on the board, there? – someone looking over my shoulder wondered aloud if they were turning all pawns into bishops rather than queens…

    On a serious note, I was struck by Bishop Rob Mutsaerts being reported in the 27 July NCRegister article on him as saying “that he had never celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass himself. ‘And I am not old enough to know it from my youth, so my comments have nothing to do with nostalgia or anything of that kind'”. I wonder if there is any implication he will learn to, now? I read an article by a learned and thoughtful priest who was old enough to have played TLM as a boy, but had only reverently celebrated the NO in Latin as priest, but was now stimulated by TC to learn to celebrate the TLM.

  23. RJR says:

    Five options for mate below:

    Pawn takes Knight
    Ne6 + P x N
    Qf8 mate

    Queen sacrifice
    Ne6 + Q x N
    Qh6 + K x Q
    Bf8 mate

    King runs after Queen x Knight
    Ne6 + Q x N
    Qh6 + Kg8 or Kh8
    Qf8 mate

    King runs to h8
    Ne6 + Kh8
    Qb8 + Qde8
    Q x Q Kg7
    Qf8 mate

    King runs to g8
    Ne6 + Kg8
    Qb8 + Qd8
    Q x Q Kg7
    Qf8 mate

  24. RJR: Thanks for those lines.

    Of course my point in this post is embedded in the title, thus my choice of Qh6! KxQ Bf8

  25. prayfatima says:

    Bishops should follow the boldness of Bishop Olson in mandating the St. Michael prayer after all Masses. Now that is an effective and worthwhile mandate. God bless him as he harnesses the horsepower of prayer that is available from the faithful in his diocese! Those kinds of mandates will help protect them collectively and allow them to speed down the highway of holiness together. What else can be done? There is no speed limit on the highway of holiness. We are all made for spiritual greatness! The rules of the road are the commandments of God and His church.

    The world needs an entirely new set of mandates from the ones that are currently floating around. We are both body and soul and the soul is more important than the body. God’s commandments instruct us in what we must do to become spiritually healthy. Think of how easy life would be if the commandments became the laws of the land.

    The world cries out: oh you teachers of the law of God, tell us what we must do to become spiritually healthy! We know our body will die someday, but you say we have a soul, too? This is the first I’m hearing of such a thing. A soul that will live forever? A soul that animates our body? Please give us your wisdom and the truth about the human condition and the moral laws that govern us all!

Comments are closed.