On the Credibility of the Catholic Church
Doubt has taken hold of Western thought. Intellectuals and politicians alike describe the same impression of collapse. Faced with the breakdown of solidarity and the disintegration of identities, some turn to the Catholic Church. [If there were ever a time for the Church to be coherent in her messaging….] They ask her to give a reason to live together to individuals who have forgotten what unites them as one people. They beg her to provide a little more soul to make the cold harshness of consumer society bearable. When a priest is murdered, everyone is touched and many feel stricken to the core. [If you didn’t know, a priest in France was recently murdered by an (illegal?) immigrant who also set fire to the Cathedral of Nantes last year.]
But is the Church capable of responding to these calls? Certainly, she has already played this role of guardian and transmitter of civilization. At the twilight of the Roman Empire, she knew how to pass on the flame that the barbarians were threatening to extinguish. But does she still have the means and the will to do so today? [It’s not looking good. Not when people like Jeffrey Sachs are on the Vatican short list and the body of Chinese Catholics have been sacrificed to Mammon.]
At the foundation of a civilization, there can only be one reality that surpasses it: a sacred invariant. Malraux noted this with realism: “The nature of a civilization is what gathers around a religion. Our civilization is incapable of building a temple or a tomb. It will either be forced to find its fundamental value, or it will decay.”
Without a sacred foundation, protective and insuperable boundaries are abolished. An entirely profane world becomes a vast expanse of quicksand. [This is why there cannot be a “state Church”.] Everything is sadly open to the winds of arbitrariness. In the absence of the stability of a foundation that escapes man, peace and joy — the signs of a long-lasting civilization — are constantly swallowed up by a sense of precariousness. The anguish of imminent danger is the seal of barbaric times. Without a sacred foundation, every bond becomes fragile and fickle. [At this point you should be chanting Lex Orandi… Lex Credendi… Lex Orandi… Lex Credendi…. Save The Liturgy… Save The World…Save The Liturgy… Save The World….]
Some ask the Catholic Church to play this solid foundation role. They would like to see her assume a social function, namely to be a coherent system of values, a cultural and aesthetic matrix. But the Church has no other sacred reality to offer than her faith in Jesus, God made man. Her sole goal is to make possible the encounter of men with the person of Jesus. Moral and dogmatic teaching, as well as mystical and liturgical patrimony, are the setting and the means of this fundamental and sacred encounter. Christian civilization is born of this encounter. Beauty and culture are its fruits. [Change the setting and you change the encounter.]
In order to respond to the world’s expectations, the Church must therefore find the way back to herself and take up the words of Saint Paul: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Jesus crucified.” She must stop thinking of herself as a substitute for humanism or ecology. These realities, although good and just, are for her but consequences of her unique treasure: faith in Jesus Christ.
What is sacred for the Church, then, is the unbroken chain that links her with certainty to Jesus. A chain of faith without rupture or contradiction, a chain of prayer and liturgy without breakage or disavowal. [What was that, again?] Without this radical continuity, what credibility could the Church still claim? In her, there is no turning back, but an organic and continuous development that we call the living tradition. The sacred cannot be decreed, it is received from God and passed on.
This is undoubtedly the reason for which Benedict XVI could authoritatively affirm:
“In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”
At a time when some theologians are seeking to reopen the liturgy wars by pitting the missal revised by the Council of Trent against the one in use since 1970, it is urgent to recall this. If the Church is not capable of preserving the peaceful continuity of her link with Christ, she will be unable to offer the world “the sacred which unites souls,” according to the words of Goethe.
Beyond the quarrel over rites, the credibility of the Church is at stake. If she affirms the continuity between what is commonly called the Mass of St. Pius V and the Mass of Paul VI, then the Church must be able to organize their peaceful cohabitation and their mutual enrichment. If one were to radically exclude one in favor of the other, if one were to declare them irreconcilable, one would implicitly recognize a rupture and a change of orientation. [NB] But then the Church could no longer offer the world that sacred continuity, which alone can give her peace. By keeping alive a liturgical war within herself, the Church loses her credibility and becomes deaf to the call of men. Liturgical peace is the sign of the peace that the Church can bring to the world.
What is at stake is therefore much more serious than a simple question of discipline. If she were to claim a reversal of her faith or of her liturgy, in what name would the Church dare address the world? Her only legitimacy is her consistency in her continuity.
Moreover, if the bishops, who are in charge of the cohabitation and mutual enrichment of the two liturgical forms, do not exercise their authority to this effect, they run the risk of no longer appearing as shepherds, guardians of the faith they have received and of the sheep entrusted to them, but as political leaders: commissars of the ideology of the moment rather than guardians of the perennial tradition. They risk losing the trust of men of good will.
A father cannot introduce mistrust and division among his faithful children. He cannot humiliate some by setting them against others. He cannot ostracize some of his priests. The peace and unity that the Church claims to offer to the world must first be lived within the Church.
In liturgical matters, neither pastoral violence nor partisan ideology has ever produced fruits of unity. The suffering of the faithful and the expectations of the world are too great to engage in these dead-end paths. No one is too much in the Church of God!
There is great depth here.
Card. Sarah gives voice to something I have written about for many years now, in the wake of Benedict XVI’s “Emancipation Proclamation” Summorum Pontificum.
I think Benedict had a Marshall Plan for the Church in the “modern world”. (BTW… the young Ratzinger was a critic of Gaudium et spes).
After the devastation WWII these USA helped to rebuild Europe in order to foster trade and support a bulwark against Communism. In the wake of the devastation caused by a hermeneutic of discontinuity after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict tried to revitalize our Catholic identity as a bulwark against the dictatorship of relativism.
The renewal of our Catholic identity requires a realigning of the Roman Rite. How we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe. This realignment requires the Traditional Roman Rite. There is no way around it. We have to renew our liturgical worship in order to be who we are within Holy Church, so that we can have an impact, as Catholic disciples of the Lord, on the world around us.
The Traditional Roman Rite is an antidote to the secularization of the Church.
Find a bishop or priest who resists, forbids the Traditional Rite, and you find a priest or bishop for whom the Church is an NGO.
If we don’t know who we are, no one will pay attention to us or what we might have to offer in the public square. If we are incoherent, for example giving Communion to radically pro-abortion Catholics, why should anyone pay attention to anything we have to say on any other issue? Bishops have squandered out moral capital for decades.
Given the demographic disaster that we face, the sinkhole opening up under the Church, we have to face the fact that changes are necessary. Great swathes of “Catholics” will soon disappear. Those left will be of a traditional leaning together with converts from Evangelical backgrounds and well-rooted charismatics who are enthusiastic about their Faith. There will be some frictions, but these groups will find each other out of need. The result, I predict, will be amazing.
The Traditional Latin Mass is the key to the future.
It must become widespread and frequent and beautifully executed. All attempts to sideline or repress it must be met with firm, humble resolve and resistance.
We need all the devotions and other rites as well.
WE ARE OUR RITES.
With the latest attack on the roots of our Catholic identity, Traditionis custodes, the Church is one step, one giant leap, closer to becoming a punchline.
The revitalization for the Church through a restoration of our Catholic identity will require nearly heroic courage from priests. An alarmed Enemy is fighting back and fighting hard.
Priests will need to work harder than ever to acquire tools that they were systematically cheated out of in their formation. They will be intimidated. They will fear that they can’t do it. At first they may have to quietly seek out instruction and then lock their doors to practice. Samizdat. They can do it, but it will take hard work and support from others. Graces will be given in this undertaking, because the connection of the priest and the altar is fundamental to the Church’s life. No other thing that the priest does is more important.
Priests must also be willing to suffer attacks from libs, many of whom are not malicious but who are blinkered and nearly brainwashed. There is a parallel, I think, between the way some people in the Church perceive every wafting word from the Umbilicus Mundi in Rome and the way some people wear their COVID masks while riding alone in their cars or riding bicycles. There is a parallel between the way some people would jail those who don’t want “the jab” and the animus of some in the Church for the Traditional Mass.
It all goes to demonstrate how important it is that we shed unhealthy papalotry and preserve our liturgical worship.
The near future is going to require nearly heroic courage and a spirit of sacrifice from lay people who must support their priests and encourage them in projects that they will be reluctant to undertake. Lay people must also be ready to engage in their parishes and with their priests on a new level. Remember what Fulton Sheen said:
“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops.”
Remember, friends, that we are our rites. As the Church prays, so do we believe and live.
Be a CUSTOS. HERE