My original plan was to write nothing today and simply make sure that some “pre-set” posts went live around the appropriate time. Then The Remnant decided to publish online a 1973 letter by the great French Catholic social thinker Jean Ousset. As the newspaper’s editor Michael Matt makes clear in his introduction, the blasphemies and scandals we are witnessing today were probably never conceived of in 1973. On the day when we especially remember the wounds inflicted upon Christ’s body during the Passion, we should not forget the wounds that are daily inflicted upon Christ’s Mystical Body, the Holy Catholic Church, and the mystery of her suffering at this present time. Ousset’s letter is firm in its admonition that no Catholic has any right to despair, regardless of how dark the sky grows. It is a crucial message which, in more recent times, has been delivered forcefully by Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X. Regardless of what you may think about the Society as a whole, Bishop Fellay is neither playing ecclesial politics nor advancing an ideology when he cautions the faithful against the temptation to forego charity for bitterness or lose their souls in a state of panic because these days, these often confusing and tumultuous days, do not seem to align with an abstract, perhaps romantic, image of how the Church ought to look, feel, act, and so forth.
The late Archbishop Job of the Diocese of the Midwest (Orthodox Church in America) chanting his haunting setting of the 15th Antiphon of Holy Friday Matins in 2009. That Holy Week would prove to be the good bishop’s last here on earth as God called him home in December. Of all of the priests and bishops I met during my time in Eastern Orthodoxy, he was one of the most kind, sincere, and dedicated to his calling. On this most holy and sorrowful day I pray for his soul and hope in turn that he will pray for mine.
Behold him in chains, dragged from the garden, in the midst of a tumultuous crowd, and brought in haste before the high priest! And where are his disciples? What do they do? If they are unable to liberate him from the hands of enemies, they surely accompany him in order to defend his innocence before the judges, or at least to console him by their presence. But no, the Gospel says, Then his disciples leaving him, all fled away. How great was the pain which Jesus Christ felt at seeing himself forsaken and abandoned by his beloved disciples. Alas! Jesus then saw all those who, after having been specially favored by him, would afterwards abandon him, and ungratefully turn their back upon him. Ah, my Lord, I have been one of these unhappy souls, who having received so many graces, lights and calls, have ungratefully forgotten and forsaken Thee. Accept me for the sake of Thy mercy, now that I return to Thee with a penitent and sorrowful heart, never again to leave Thee. O treasure of life, O love of my soul!
– St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, chapter VI
In his definitive biography of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais takes time to discuss “The Nine,” a band of former Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) priests who went on to form the Society of St. Pius V (SSPV) before eventually splitting apart. The SSPV, contrary to the SSPX, entertains the idea of sedevacantism while remaining loyal to the liturgical books in use prior to Pope Pius XII’s mid-to-late 1950s reforms. “The Nine,” according to Bishop Tissier, demonstrated a typically Anglophone tendency to ground the Faith in ritual, perhaps due to a lack of strong Catholic cultural roots. It is said that Bishop Tissier, like his predecessor Archbishop Lefebvre, has little patience for liturgical minutiae. Another way to frame this is to hold that the SSPX, or at least a significant number of its clerical members, avoids liturgical absolutism, preferring instead to take a broad view of what the fight for Catholic tradition entails. The Tridentine Mass is central; how many Collects are said on this-or-that Sunday during the liturgical year is not. Central, too, are the complicated and contentions issues that emerged out of the Second Vatican Council, including—but not necessarily limited to—collegiality, ecumenism, and religious liberty. For a relatively small but unhealthy number of Catholic traditionalists, doctrine matters little. Maybe it matters not. What does matter, however, is that the priest’s vestments be immaculately tailored, the servers be positioned just right during each liturgical movement, and that their living, breathing wax museum of ritual be left unsullied by the burdens of reality.
July is three months away, which means it may be a bit premature to start writing about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” (FFF). However, ongoing events in and outside of Indiana concerning that state’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” have accelerated interest in the topic of religious freedom and its apparent clash with “gay rights.” After writing several posts on the FFF last year (see here, here, here, here, and here), I resigned myself to the dismal fact that the two-week long event was here to stay. Now that the Supreme Court of the United States appears poised to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide and is likely to uphold the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) against the bill’s last credible legal challenge, is there even a point to staging the FFF this year? Some might still opine that there is for the simple fact that things can always get worse. Perhaps we have not yet reached “Persecution Level” when it comes to American secularism’s assault on religion, specifically the Catholic religion, but it’s not hard to imagine further action being taken in the near future. There are interest groups and individuals holding the reins of power who will not rest until Christians are, by law, forced to change both the nature of their beliefs and, more importantly, the manner in which they live out those beliefs. Granted, it’s not inevitable that the radical secularists will win, but there is very little standing in their way at this moment. Another year of the FFF won’t change that.