In the second of our three part look at Traditionis Custodes we will consider the options of the laity and the clergy regarding this motu proprio, like many of Francis's resolutions, an abuse of an ancient and venerable style of papal governance.
I had promised that part 2 would look at the future of the Church and test the veracity of the "biological solution" hypothesis. We will undertake this study in part 3. The faithful deserve to know their options, but also their duties in these confusing times.
Time is Greater than Space
What the hell does that mean? Generally, nothing at all. Upon further inspect, the critical thinker continues to find no meaning in it, but rings true in a vague, moody, Oprah Winfrey Show way. Essentially, it says the rapid action forces change such that people cannot keep up with it, undermining the need for consensus. Consequently, without consensus, the results of this Latin American mindset elicit unstable government and legacies which only last in their most nugatory aspects.
Some Traditionalists behave as if the self-evident rightness of our liturgical claims, the dishonesty around the reform process, or the falling away from the faith of Christendom since the mid-20th century makes our case. Surely, from an intellectual perspective it does, but a good willed person in a local parish or an average bishop who took a semester of Latin during seminary probably will not find this compelling. Despite all the lectures, arguments, articles, and blog posts, we are the recipients of magnanimity, not its givers. More than ever, Traditionalists are in need of friends, be it weak friends or strong friends.
This delicate necessity should frame every step we take. That is why making snide public comments about The Council, deriding "Novus Ordo" clergy (whoever they are), and signing onto anti-vaccine conspiracy theories will not help us make friends. These actions will play into Papa Bergoglio's claim that we are a derisive and divisive clan. Instead, we need to build bridges into the Church structures wherever we find them.
Is there a point to making friends, other than the immediate survival of the old Mass? Absolutely. Its eventual restoration is the reason. The progressives know this and see it as both an administrative and spiritual obstacle to their vision of the Church. In our last post I mentioned an old book called The Mass of the Future from 1948. Who asked for a "Mass of the Future" in 1948? Perhaps some Ultramontanists would say the Holy Spirit asked for it. Maybe, but only a handful or priests and even fewer seminarians wanted it at that time. In 2021, how many priests and seminarians desire greater liberty to pray the old Mass or to preach from an unabashedly Christocentric perspective, free of fear of reprisal? It certainly is not a majority, but it is certainly a much larger minority.
First, I would advise anyone living in a place with continued availability for the old Mass to drown his bishop with gratitude. Should we be genuinely grateful when the archbishop of Paris shut down some Latin Masses in his diocese, leaving only half a dozen options outside the two FSSPX parishes? Yes, because those Masses remain. When I lived in Connecticut ten years ago there were a dozen old rite Masses in our tiny state, but almost all of them were at horrible times in the afternoon in rundown churches and usually only on Sundays and the odd Holy Day. In Paris, excluding the FSSPX, there remain options daily for the availability of the old Mass, which means those communities and spheres of Tradition will not be going away. Bishops should be made aware of our gratitude, because it will do much more for us and for them than self-entitlement.
Moreover, invite your bishop to visit annually, even if he is not fond of the old liturgy and may decline the opportunity to pontificate. Do not give him a rosary-counting spiritual bouquet, for he will find it curious, but do make your sentiments know and ingratiate your parish to him. TC similarly demands that the ordinary appoint a representative to monitor Traditionalist communities. Why not invite him to celebrate Mass? Why not involve yourself with regular parish catechetical work or volunteer events? Make the old Mass and its attendees an inextricable part of the life of the local Church.
Be the Squeaky Wheel
If you lack access to a Mass, or have lost it, then make friends with other parishioners and start to become.... compelling.
I do not mean starting a Facebook page in denunciation of the bishop, but instead to be the "squeaky wheel which gets the grease". TC provides for the bishop to appoint one or several places in his diocese for the old Mass to be said, so remind him of that compulsively. Point out the inconvenience of travel, as some San Diegans did with effect on their pro-homosexual bishop when they did not want to travel to the ghetto parish run by the FSSP (I say that because the parish is in a ghetto). They were rewarded with Mass on an Indian Reservation, which may not be much, but it keeps the old Mass alive in two places rather than one.
If your bishop is not too keen on heeding these requests immediately, then take a high visibility approach. When he visits your parish, then during coffee hour make sure to ask him about the old Mass during the open mic time. Ditto for his annual fundraising dinner. If he gives you pushback, then go woke so he goes broke: "I don't appreciate that you are de-legitimizing my prayer" or "I feel like it's not safe to be a Catholic in this sort of diocese" or "I'm sorry, are you explaining to me how I feel?" Yes, it is prissy and ridiculous, but it is likely to be the language anti-traditional prelates speak. It is also the language which elicits a response unfortunately, in our day and age.
Effectively, get as many people to refuse to take no as an answer as possible. In this approach, it is best not to act collectively, because a bishop can say "no" to a group once and be done, but he will have much more difficulty say "no" many times a year to hundreds of different people. At that point, he will not have a request; he will have a problem.
Indeed, even if your bishop has retained the old Mass, this is still a good approach. Drown him in gratitude, of course, but the continued growth of the Traditional Mass and Traditionalist movement will ensure that the need for new old Masses will not abate.
Giving His Excellency Options
These are extreme, near-last resorts and not ones I happily recommend, but being innocent as doves is not useful unless we have the guile of serpents, too.
If you are without an old Mass anymore, why not sue? Seriously. Catholics who had made their spiritual home in a parish with the old Mass could reasonably ask for any large donations or money sent to their diocese back since they gave it with the understanding that their needs were being met. Have you donated vestments, given to the bishop's annual appeal, or funded youth catechism? Surely, you did so because you thought your diocese was doing something good for you without any expectation it would be taken away.
On its own, this might be frivolous, but there is normally a lawyer to be found in every parish and a class action suit never looks nice. Why would a bishop be eager to get rid of a case he would likely win? For one, because he could still lose. Another reason is that even if the defendant wins, lawsuits are very expensive and look bad in the press. Most bishops want to be archbishops; most archbishops want to be cardinals; most cardinals want their own dicastery in Rome. Hemorrhaging money and making one's diocese look negligent will not accelerate these aspirations. Setting up one or two Masses is a much cheaper, quicker, and better looking solution.
An even more extreme option, which I hesitate to recommend, would be to gather a large group of the faithful who have lost their Mass and request a meeting with either the bishop or his vicar general. Inform said prelate of your concern and offer to assist them in ministering to your party by inviting the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X into town on your own dime. Every penny and sixpence that would have gone to the local parish, Catholic school, Catholic hospital, or bishop's fund will now go to supporting a Fraternity priest who will visit a few times a month to gather the faithful in his diocese.
Pope Francis has given the FSSPX faculties for Confessions and, with consent of the ordinary, for marriages, which means there is little the ordinary can do as far as condemning faithful who would take this approach. Canon Law and papal decrees cannot apply to those outside the Church, so excommunication of FSSPX adherents is out of the question.
Resisting the FSSPX's Siren Call
I give remuneration of the FSSPX as a final option because the Church is a coherent institution and, as people in a position to play the "art of the possible", we should keep our minds focused on retaining the old Mass and a Christocentric mindset in normal Catholic environs. The FSSPX was founded at a time when the Church was in a state of perpetual revolution and with no refuges in sight. Despite the politics of Pope Francis, the current situation is not as dire as that of 1975. The FSSPX is a lifeboat, not a solution. Archbishop Lefebvre, in his sermon given prior to Mass during the 1988 episcopal consecrations, stated that
"This is why I sent a letter to the pope, saying to him very clearly: 'We simply cannot (accept this spirit and proposals), despite all the desires which we have to be in full union with you. Given this new spirit which now rules in Rome and which you wish to communicate to us, we prefer to continue in Tradition; to keep Tradition while waiting for Tradition to regain its place at Rome, while waiting for Tradition to re-assume its place in the Roman authorities, in their minds.' This will last for as long as the Good Lord has foreseen."
I will never condemn those who look to the FSSPX for spiritual guidance or as a refuge where normal Catholic life may be lived for their children, but it will never be a solution or an alternative to doing the work to restore Tradition and regular Catholic life as broadly as possible.
Neglected in all these discussions are priests. Francis has assumed total power, and shared it with the bishops who agree with him. Their enemies are enumerated as "rigid" seminarians" and laymen who deride Vatican II. What of clergy, who in great part have found their priesthood enriched by the ancient rite of Mass?
First, do not cease to celebrate the old Mass, even if that means privately. A bishop may call upon you, priest, to stop celebrating the old Mass in public and even pretend to have the authority to do so in private. This is utter nonsense. Guardians of Betrayal abrogates Summorum Pontificum, which is nonsense because SP merely recognizes a fact, it does not grant any permissions. When scientists discovered the cell in the 19th century and consigned the old Greek "elements" of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire to the dustbin, would it not have been ridiculous for a university to "abrogate" the paper of the discovering scientist, to claim that we had atoms for a while, but now we are back to the four Greek elements instead?
Second, remember that the Law of the Church is behind you. Quo primum tempore has principles enshrined in the current Canon Law, namely immemorial custom, meaning that even if something is abrogated, if it has the force of custom behind it then its use is legitimate. For a legal argument, look here. In the end, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the common teacher of the Catholic Church, writes that
"Wherefore by actions also, especially if they be repeated, so as to make a custom, law can be changed and expounded; and also something can be established which obtains force of law, in so far as by repeated external actions, the inward movement of the will, and concepts of reason are most effectually declared; for when a thing is done again and again, it seems to proceed from a deliberate judgment of reason. Accordingly, custom has the force of a law, abolishes law, and is the interpreter of law."
The Church is on your side, even if that means you need to bide your time and await better days.
These ideas are meant to meet people depending on where they find themselves in this current crisis, which I believe may last for a decade or more, and which represents a setback in the effort to restore worship, but only a setback. The disciples of modernity have power, but they have no intellectual tradition, they have spent the Church's moral capital, and they bear few sons. That said, they manage to survive from year to year.
In our last installment in this series, we will look at how Traditionis Custodes meets the the trajectory of the things and the future of the Latin Church. Stay tuned.