A child enters the world through the struggle of pregnancy and the pains of labor.
Health is preserved and perfected through the efforts of a balanced diet and physical fitness.
True intellectual prowess is achieved after years of intensive study, reflection, and discussion.
And so on.
Good things usually take time and effort to achieve, and preserving them can be a never-ending battle.
I have felt this battle over the past several months, not because of this or that papal statement, or because of this or that renegade cleric, but because, after happily living in a “convert’s catechism bubble” overseas, my eyes have been opened to the larger pandemic of liturgical and doctrinal chaos which has been assailing the Church for some time now. Whatever issues I may have with Pope Francis, I have come to see that he’s more of a symptom, or a weather vane, rather than a first principle, of the Catholic Chaos.
Two years ago, I had no idea what the term “traditionalist” meant in a Catholic context, and “the liturgy wars” were just as obscure. Nor am I shy to admit that I had virtually no grasp of what “the Traditional Latin Mass” (or “the Tridentine Mass”) meant, nor why I should care. I took Vatican II for granted as simply one more Council among others, and I figured that saying the same ol’ Mass in the vernacular, as opposed to in Latin, was no big deal at all.
Beginning last August, catalyzed by numerous statements and actions of Pope Francis, I quickly came to see that the story was not so simple. The process of learning why there are liturgy wars at all–that is, of coming to see why an otherwise devout and well catechized Catholic like myself could regard “the Tridentine Mass” as a bygone obscurity, if not an alienating experience in its own right–naturally led me to become what many in the Church refer to as a “Rad Trad”. In many ways, it is a title I embrace, yet one that is ultimately politically futile. A radical love for Christ will naturally lead to a radical commitment to His Bride, the Church, and an equally ‘rooted’ zeal for her, so to speak, wedding vows to Christ (viz. Apostolic Tradition). Given the structure of Divine Revelation, and what submission to that Revelation entails, being a “traditionalist” Catholic is just as axiomatic as being a “biblical” Catholic.
And so I found myself rapidly becoming a Catholic traditionalist. I underwent what I call the Gattaca Growth Plan for Trads: it was fast, dirty, painful, and perilous. What’s more, it’s still ongoing. I have been challenged on numerous point in my traditionalism; I have been warned about embracing the trend, even so much as the title; on the other hand, I have been exhorted to make my traditionalism even more radical; and so on. In a word, I have been working out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) as I persist in holding fast to the traditions handed down to us for all time (2 Thessalonians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 11:2). There have been many growing pains and I have been “tweaking” my understanding of many things on a daily, and at times, hourly, basis. This blog post may be counted as one such “tweak”.
Recently, one issue in particular has caused me especial torment and confusion, to wit, the claim made by a number of my colleagues that “Novusordoism is a different religion” (a thesis I shall abbreviate as “NDR”). I shall spare you the long and tortu(r)ous tale of how I managed to achieve a measure of equanimity about NDR, and will just present the conclusions I reached which allowed me to keep my faith–which is to say, my sanity— intact.
- It’s not so much that Novusordoism is a different creed or faith, but that it is a radically defective expression of genuine Catholicism.
- Novusordoism can be understood as the systematic political agenda to exploit the ambiguity and flexibility of the Novus Ordo Missae in order to subvert the Social Kingship of Christ, and inculcate Modernist confusion on a parish level throughout the Roman rite.
The analogy that I will provide is the difference between the verb and noun forms of a word like “import”. Materially and apparently, there is only one word, but on a functional level, “IMport” is a noun while “imPORT” is a verb. They are, thus, two different realities. That seems to be what my colleagues mean by asserting NDR.
Nevertheless, be aware that I find this extreme analysis quite unpalatable, and even see in it a species of stealth sedevacantism.
- if Novusordoism is a systematic heresy and defection from the Catholic Faith,
- if the Novus Ordo Missae in and of itself (NOMi)–and not merely by virtue of the commonly observed liturgical abuses thereof (NOMa)–is the basis and essence of the Novusordoist heresy,
- and if the NOMi is an authentic expression of the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Magisterium (cf. Vatican II et sequalia),
- then the Magisterium itself is the efficient cause and morally responsible agent for establishing the Novusordoist heresy as a norm for the Church,
- and from that it follows that the Magisterial Church’s credibility (as infallible and indefectible) has been radically and irreparably compromised.
In a word, if none other that Rome and the past sixty years of Christ’s Vicariate have been directly and systematically promoting and imposing what is in essence a false religion, then why in the world should I remain in communion with Rome?
To speak even more bluntly, if the NOMi is a mutated fetus which threatens the life of Holy Mother Church, and of all her children, from the inside out, as it were, then it is none other than the Vicar of Christ who raped the Church to implant the wicked Novusordoist seed. In light of the alleged Novusordoist Apostasy, the only way to salvage the Church’s indefectibility is to deny that the post-Conciliar (or “Novusordoist”) Magisterium has simply lacked the proper authority to impose the changes which constitute Novusordoism–which is exactly the point of contemporary sedevacantism. Whatever Vatican II and the NOM are, they cannot be authentic expressions of the Catholic Faith, and therefore, whoever the prelates are that have been promulgating Novusordoism all these years cannot, in principle, be authentic vicars of Christ and pastors of the Church.
Thus, in my mind, agreeing or disagreeing with NDR is, to paraphrase Ron Burgundy, kind of a big deal! Recklessly hyperbolic and philosophically imprecise statements like NDR–which, I often suspect, is more of a useful slogan than a rational conclusion–are worse than unhelpful: they run every risk of being lethal to the Catholic soul. Just think of why so many believers are so upset by Pope Francis’s own penchant for imprecise and inflammatory sloganeering. Indeed, we might even see the sloganeering angst of some “rad trads” as the rhetorical foil of the slappy-happy ecumaniacal mush of clerics like Cdl. Kasper and Pope Francis.
In a nutshell, boys and girls, is how I found myself once more as a stranger in a strange land. I used to be a Good Neo-Catholic but now I may just be a defective Rad Trad. Well, shucks. Tribalism aside, the question is: How does one remain true to tradition without turning the Magisterium into one’s enemy? If the Church can err so seriously and so persistently about the NOMi–to say nothing of the fecklessnes with which NOMa has been handled–then how can I trust her on much, if anything, else?
If you did not already know, I am a fairly voracious reader, and for many years reading has been something like a form of prayer (à la lectio divina) for me. When I read, even if it’s not strictly devotional material, I perpetually seek the Word whispering into my soul by way of the words entering my eyes. And so it came to pass that yesterday I was making may way through some back issues of the New Oxford Review which my dad had sent me a while back. And lo, it came to pass that in the span of about half a dozen paragraphs I had my sanity restored in an almost prophetic way.
In the July-August issue of the NOR, there are a couple Notes about Universae Ecclesiae, which was the 2011 follow-up instruction to Benedict XVI’s 2008 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which universally liberalized access to what is commonly (though not quite accuratelty) referred to as “the Tridentine Mass”. Because Summoroum Pontificum had met with knee-jerk resistance in many pockets of the Church, the Vatican felt that a supplemental instruction was required in order to rebuff objections and clarify misunderstandings. As the NOR explains:
Universae Ecclesiae’s “specific norms” aim to “guarantee the proper interpretation and the correct application” of Summorum Pontificum. Hence, it clarifies the meaning of the term “qualified priest,” another of those singled out by the motu obstructionists: “Every Catholic priest who is not impeded by canon law is to be considered idoneus (‘qualified’) for the celebration of the holy Mass in the forma extraordinaria.” Moreover, the “faculty to celebrate” the Mass “is given by the motu proprio to all priests.” Every last one of them.
Here is where the cockles of traditionalist hearts are warmed all over again, and where it also might seem that the pendulum is swinging back to sanity and orthodoxy: the NOMi is on the decline as the TLM makes a fourth-quarter comeback!
Ah, but of course you knew nothing in the Church is ever that simple. To cite the passages which were a tremendous salve to my trouble radish-traddish soul (with emphasis added):
The instruction gives an incredible amount of latitude to the laity who love the Latin Mass to establish sites for its celebration. But amid the broad powers it bestows upon the people in the pew, the instruction also contains one significant restriction. It is worth quoting in full: “The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups that show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the holy Mass or the sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman pontiff as supreme pastor of the universal church.”
This stipulation not only safeguards parish churches against sedevacantist invasions, it fires a warning shot across the bow at the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), as a reminder that its irregular canonical situation persists (its priest are among those “impeded by canon law”) and that its followers have put themselves in an unfavorable position vis-à-vis the official Church. What is clear is that those Catholics who join — or merely sympathize with — the SSPX or other breakaway traditionalist groups have no part in the liturgical bounty being prepared for the faithful by Pope Benedict XVI. With this restriction, Universae Ecclesiae drives home — with surprising force — the Holy Father’s insistence in Summorum Pontificum that there is “no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal.” Rather, the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass are “two usages of the one Roman rite…. Both are expressions of the same lex orandi of the church.” This will no doubt be a hard pill for traditionalists to swallow. Further, the instruction states that the Latin Mass is to be “maintained with appropriate honor.” The qualifier appropriate cuts in both directions: The Latin Mass is to be afforded no less and, conversely, no more honor than it is due.
In the final analysis, Universae Ecclesiae represents a distinct rejection of liturgical absolutism, of either the New Mass or Latin Mass variety. It will serve as a test of the absolutists’ ultimate loyalty: Is it to a particular liturgical expression or to the living Magisterium, which regulates and orders all of the Church’s sacred liturgies?
The lesson of Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesia is one of unity in diversity: The old and new Masses are both valid and are both here to stay. The Latin Mass can’t be suppressed, but neither will the New Mass be tossed onto the trash heap. The Pope has already ruled out a rollback of the reforms of Vatican II; there is no going back. Moving forward, the two forms of the Mass must co-exist, “one alongside the other,” as Universae Ecclesiae has it, in cooperation rather than in competition, for the good of the entire Church.
As you can imagine, I have a great many other related issues bubbling in the codgitator these days, in particular the issue of authority and obedience–both on the part of our superiors to Tradition and on our part to our superiors–but for now, I will simply ask you to reflect upon the “bitter pill” of Catholic balance and what it would mean to sacrifice the bonds of Catholic unity in favor of the golden calf of “liturgical absolutism.” Does reducing contemporary Catholicism to a soi-disant “anti-Novusordoism” not amount to pitting oneself “against the Roman pontiff as supreme pastor of the universal Church” precisely by virtue of denouncing the “legitimacy of the … holy Mass … in the forma ordinaria“?
Despite appearances, I have no easy answers. I just know that there’s no place like Rome, so I have no interest in pitting my wee little self against at least six decades of Magisterial guidance. I will not deny that I think the NOM Project was a very bad idea, that its implementation has caused massive confusion in the Church, and that the current liturgical schizophrenia of the Roman rite is not sustainable, but I am grappling with the limits of recognizing-and-resisting this, whilst maintaining the bonds of unity as an act of reparation and salvation.
Which is funny because, while there are those who love to mock traditionalist Catholics as “Recognize & Resist Catholics,” I prefer to think of them–and thus of myself–as “Suffer & Submit Catholics.”
Pray for me, and stay tuned.