New Liturgical Movement: The Last Stand of the Brezhnev Papacy

Merry Christmas, traddyland! Your present, which you knew was coming in one form or another, came early this year. The Congregation for Divine Worship has issued a series of clarifications to Traditionis Custodes, and they are, sadly, but not surprisingly, no less thoroughly, relentlessly and unapologetically specious and disingenuous as the original.

New Liturgical Movement: The Last Stand of the Brezhnev Papacy

Far be it from me to suggest that the timing of this document could not be better calculated to let the faithful who love the traditional worship of the Roman Church know that mercy and accompaniment are not for them. The document does that all by itself, not least when, in the process of ruthlessly marginalizing them, it declares that “There is no intention in these provisions to marginalise the faithful who are rooted in the previous form (sic) of celebration.”

To add insult to injury, it is presented in the form of responses to “dubia” submitted by various bishops, so it turns out that the highest authorities of the Church have not forgotten how to answer a simple direct question after all. Far be it from me to suggest that these “dubia” happen to correspond fairly well (but not, thank God, completely) to the unnecessarily harsh interpretations of Traditionis Custodes which certain liturgists have been pushing for since July. In the end, it hardly matters where they come from, any more than the survey of bishops about the effects of Summorum Pontificum in the life of the Church mattered. The intent to erase the Roman Rite is stated clearly and unmistakably, and the question of whether they intend to do it by hook or by crook is something of an academic one.

The specific details of what this new decree means will be hashed out over time by canonists and others much more competent to do so than myself. For the time being, there are two things which I think particularly noteworthy.

Before Summorum Pontificum, when many followers of the traditional rite had to beg and plead for permission to do anything, and were often denied even the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters, their communities were often described as ghettos. The new instruction is nowhere near so generous as to leave us in the relative peace of a ghetto; it explicitly states that it wants to send us to a gulag for re-education. “This provision is intended to underline the need to clearly affirm the direction indicated by (TC)… In implementing these provisions, care should be taken to accompany all those rooted in the previous form (sic) of celebration towards a full understanding of the value of the celebration in the ritual form given to us (sic) by the reform of the Second Vatican Council. This should take place through an appropriate formation that makes it possible to discover how the reformed liturgy is the witness to an unchanged faith, the expression of a renewed ecclesiology, and the primary source of spirituality for Christian life.” (This is especially hilarious, given that it effectively admits that the post-Conciliar rite does not do any of these things on its own, and given that almost no such effort has been made to help that majority of the faithful who follow the post-Conciliar rite in a similar process of discovery.)

Like many Latin words, “traditio” (of which “traditionis” is the possessive singular form), and “custos” (of which “custodes” is the plural subject form), have several meanings. The verb “tradere” means “to hand down”, but also “to hand over”, hence “to betray”, the sense in which it is used more than once in the Gospels in reference to Judas. “Traditio” can therefore mean both “tradition” and “treachery.” And likewise, “custos” can mean “a guardian”, the sense in which it is used to refer to St Joseph in the Divine Office (“custos Domini sui – guardian of his own Lord”), but also “prison-guard”, the meaning it has several times in the Acts of the Apostles. “Traditionis Custodes” can therefore mean either “guardians of the tradition”, or “prison-guards of treachery.”

Traditionis Custodes itself already falsely imputed unsavory and counter-revolutionary motives to those of the Christian flock who love the traditional rite, and gave the bishops fairly broad permission to acquire their smell by wading into their midst and giving them a solid thrashing. The new instruction clearly seeks to drive an even wider wedge between the bishops and their flocks by making them their “prison-guards” and not their “guardians.” The freedom of the “guardians of the tradition” to guard the tradition is severely hampered. They are not free to authorize their own priests and deacons ordained after July 16 to celebrate the Roman Rite; they must obtain further authorization from Rome, which will, of course, be denied as a matter of course, in accord with the intention to slowly strangle the rite. They are also not free to use a liturgical book proper to their station, the Pontifical, not even to bless a bell, much less to confirm or ordain. (This is particularly noteworthy, given that they can, within limitations, authorize the use of the old Rituale, and are thus less free than the priests they will authorize to use it.) Their freedom to administer churches for the benefit of tradition-minded faithful is also hampered, and they are made responsible for the unenviable task of re-educating them about the riches of the post-Conciliar Rite. In short, every effort is made to reduce their dealings with such faithful to the purely administrative, until such time as the gulag is closed, and the liturgists’ paradise established upon the earth. So much for the smell of the sheep…

Fortunately, there are many bishops who have been generous and kind to the faithful who love the traditional rite. If any such bishop happens to read this, I make bold to plead with you that you continue to exercise the same pastoral charity to the faithful that you have in the past, and encourage your brother bishops to do the same. The Church is burning down around our heads, and there is nothing to be gained from acts which can have no effect other than to engender discouragement and sadness among the faithful, and destroy vocations in your diocese. The Pope has denounced “rigidity” constantly for over eight years now, so do not be rigid. Just last month, he stated at a Sunday Angelus, “Today we see clericalism in many places; this being above the humble, exploiting and beating them, feeling perfect. This is the evil of clericalism. It’s a warning for all times, Church and society: never take advantage of your position to crush others.” Do not take advantage of your position to crush others. Take these exhortations to heart, and turn a blind eye to these unjust provisions, or if you feel that you cannot, be as generous as you can to the faithful, remembering that Canon 87 is still a thing, and you don’t actually have to do any of these things. Be a guardian, and not a jailer.

And likewise, take to heart these words rightly said by a young priest on Twitter: “The people harmed by Traditiones Custodes are not sede-vacantists and ‘rad trads’, but the great numbers of Catholic faithful who, desiring the salvation of their souls and that of their family, lovingly adore Our Lord in the same manner that Christians have for nearly 2K years. The attempt to reduce this document to a mere move to quell radical fringe groups is a blatant denial of the truth of the situation, and an offense to God Himself.”

Secondly, with permission, I share a reflection written by an Italian friend, followed by an elaboration of my own.“

The pontificate of John Paul II produced a generation of Wojtylian priests, that of Benedict XVI a generation of Ratzingerian priests. The current pontificate has inspired no such school or movement. Gentlemen of a certain age, who had already taken hold of positions of power, have consolidated their power, but there is no ‘Bergoglio generation.’ This pontificate, with all its hangers-on, must recur to the use of force as its solution to the traditionalist ‘problem’, a force which conquers, but does not convince (vince ma non convince): repression and censure. Does the new rite as understood by Pope Francis, Abp Roche or Andrea Grillo inspire art, the spiritual life, or vocations? No? Fine, then we shall forbid the old one, and Ratzinger’s whole understanding of the problem. A senile, Brezhnevian Church, paralyzed and sterile, which continues to repeat the slogans of the 1970s ever more tiredly, will end like the power of the Soviet Union ended.

”Does this seem overly harsh? Within a bit more than 3300 words, Abp Roche (who is, after all, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and is supposed to know this stuff) refers more than ten times to the post-Conciliar rite in one way or another as the fulfillment of the will of the Second Vatican Council. It is as if even the most cursory reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium did not reveal the post-Conciliar rite to be the complete overthrow of that document. It is as if no further research had been done on the liturgy in fifty years, revealing the scholarly premises of the reform to be erroneous at best, and its methods fraudulent. It is as if the reform had borne any of the fruits looked for in the first paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Far be it from me to suggest that it is also as if he were trying to convince himself of something which he knows in his heart of hearts not to be true.

It is easy to be discouraged in circumstances such as these. Do not be discouraged. Before many of you were even born, “aggiornamento”, the “updating” of the Church, had degenerated into a desperate, exhausted attachment to the childish novelties of the 1970s, and “collegiality” into heavy-handed papal crushing of an ecumenical council. The appointment of the bishops as “guardians of the tradition” has met the same pathetic fate in less than six months. The post-Conciliar revolution is dying and afraid, and so it has struck out and done harm. It will continue to strike out and do harm, but every time it does so, it confesses its own failure, weakness, and fear. When it is gone, by the grace of God, you will still be here, and so will the most authentic expression of the Roman Church’s lex orandi.

Do, then, as my Italian friend suggests: “Have patience and trust in God, and put a good bottle of champagne in storage, to be opened on the day of liberation.” It will come, later than we hope for, but sooner than we expect.

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