H/T to Richard Collins at http://linenonthehedgerow.blogspot.co.uk for this reasoned blogpost.
I posted last night, on the decision to outright suppress, or severely restrict, the use of the EF Mass by the Franciscans of the Immaculate.
Naturally some have sought to explain the force of this decision away.
I thought I’d offer a few rebuttals to those comments.
But more importantly, I thought I should talk about what I think we can and should do in response to this and other things that have the potential to impact on our practice of the faith, such as the abuse scandal, that can cause us to doubt our Church, and even consider leaving it.
And the bottom line is that no matter how damaged the Church is, we must cling to it, for to leave is to risk hell.
The Franciscans of the Immaculate: nothing to worry about?!
Some, such as Fr Z, have attempted to offer some ‘tough love’ to traddies, and argue that the suppression of the EF for the Franciscans of the Immaculate should not be taken as a sign of things to come.
I’m not in the least bit convinced.
One line of argument offered by some is that they were not specifically founded with the intention of using the traditional Mass, and so it is not part of their charism. Really?
On that logic, all those orders that were founded before Vatican II should be forced to revert to the EF, because clearly the Novus Ordo is not part of their charism!
It is true that some religious orders and secular institutes do arguably have a particular rite, use or form of the liturgy as part of their charism. But the fact that a particular order didn’t start out using both or either form specifically surely doesn’t mean that a particular shape of the liturgy isn’t particularly appropriate for them. And if you look at everything else about the Franciscans of the Immaculate, such as their commit to penance, you can see why their now deposed founder sought to move in the direction of tradition!
Secondly, Fr Z and others have suggested that some within the order sought to impose the EF on those who didn’t want it with undue zeal. But there is absolutely no evidence in the public domain to support this. And experience suggests that some people will oppose the use of the Extraordinary Form regardless of whether or not other options are open to them.
In fact all the evidence – such as the fact that the use of the traditional liturgy by them is the result of the vote of their chapter – suggests that a small minority of dissenters within the order are trying, and now succeeding, in dictating their preferences to the majority.
And if there really was a problem, why not just specify that both options have to be available rather than outright prohibit one form?
Those who oppose the EF have a pretty consistent modus operandi. It is not enough for them that they don’t have to attend it; rather they want to stop anyone else attending it too. Consider by way of example, the case of blogger Fr Tim Finigan’s parish. By all accounts he was extremely careful when introducing a more reverent liturgy and the option of attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form, engaging in extensive catechesis to his parish. He continued to offer Mass in both Forms, offering a choice of times for parishioners. But that didn’t stop a disgruntled group of parishioners complaining about the EF Mass being offered to the pseudo-Catholic media resulting in a beat up job on him. Luckily, he had the support of his bishop.
Thirdly, Fr Z urges us to devote ourselves visibly to good works in response, to ‘out Francis Francis’ as some have put it. I do support a greater, visible focus on the works of corporal mercy on the part of EF communities. But let’s not pretend that will in any way protect us – hard, after all, to be more visible about the works of charity than the Franciscans of the Immaculate.
Finally, Fr Z urges us to keep our heads down and stop criticising Pope Francis and/or Vatican II. Yet Vatican II itself, and the Code of Canon Law that reflects it enshrines our rights in this regard. We need to be appropriately respectful of those in authority (though there are obviously limits: if you put on a clown mask, or do fitness exercises at Mass, you bring it on yourselves!) , and we do need to consider the common good when we speak. We need to ensure our criticisms and questions are considered, not just ill-informed rants. But we do have a right, even a duty to speak up at times.
Cultivate righteous anger
More fundamentally, decisions like this – and other wacky comments and actions by Popes and others – will simply compound, for many, our anger and sense of despair at the Church’s hierarchy.
Our anger at the continued inability of the hierarchy to understand why the laity are so angry about the abuse crisis.
Our anger at the refusal of those who make serious errors of judgment or worse to resign and do penance.
Our anger at the continuing liturgical abuses we suffer when we go to Mass, and persecution we face when we try to do anything about it.
Our anger at the denial of access to the genuine spiritual treasury of the Church.
Our anger at the continuing indifference to the Holy Eucharist manifested almost every time one enters a Church.
There is nothing wrong with righteous anger. It was righteous anger that made Christ cleanse the Temple. It was righteous anger that made Christ denounce the Pharisees and Scribes in the most direct terms possible.
We shouldn’t delude ourselves that expressing our anger will lead to any change of heart: Christ, after all, died as a result of the revenge plots of the Pharisees and priests.
The challenge for us, though, is to ensure our anger stays righteous, and directed at forcing positive change, and not turn to a more negative form, and to recall also Christ’s perfect obedience.
The devil lurks…
So what can we do? There are, I think five things to consider.
1. Remember the devil is seeking to seduce you away from God
It is natural to have problems when things happen that are enormous breaches of our trust. Many waited years for the EF Mass to be regularised, and reacted with joy when it was. For things to go backwards now seems a horror scenario. Similarly, the appalling decisions made on the abuse crisis on the part of the hierarchy that we keep hearing about, and the continued lack of self-awareness on the part of many of them hardly serves to rebuild trust.
Remember, though, that the devil will always seize on such opportunities to attempt to seduce us away from the truth; whispering in our ear in an attempt to undermine our chance of happiness in heaven.
This life is short; our hope is for an eternity in heaven. But as St Peter warns us, “your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some to devour.”
The solution is grace. If we ask for it, God will always gives us enough grace so that we can “resist him [the devil], firm in your faith…”
Let us, then, as St Benedict urges, when evil thoughts come into our heart’s, dash them at once on the rock of Christ. He also urges us to manifest our thoughts to our spiritual father – so if you have a spiritual director or priest you can trust, try seeking his advice.
2. Remember you are not alone: pray for each other, and ask for the aid of the saints
All too often though, it can seem that there is no help for us. Too often we are faced with a leprous hierarchy, arrogant Pharisee-like priests, parishes and communities that can seem more intent on driving us out than inviting us in.
We can gain strength though from each other. Social media provides a way of linking up with others of a like mind. And, too, we are part of a Church that spans time and space.
However fallible its individual members in the here and now, the Church struggling here on earth remains the body of Christ, and we too are united with the saints in heaven.
Let us therefore pray for each other to God, and implore the saints to aid us as well.
3. Remember that God always brings good out of evil
Our sufferings and those of others do not have to be negative experiences: rather they can help bring us and others to perfection.
It is worth remembering that many of the great saints suffered at the hands of their superiors. But what makes them saints is their embrace of obedience and willing suffering, even in the face of unjust accusations and unfair punishments, a sign of their obedience to God and offered up for the redemption of others.
What we do have to constantly remind ourselves is that God always brings good out of evil.
The Emperor Julian, for example, apostatized from the faith and persecuted the early Church. But as the bishops of the time were virtually all Arian, his persecution in fact served to cleanse the Church of heresy.
In our time, the Australian Royal Commission on child abuse may well end up promoting a similar cleansing not so much of heresy as of unorthodox practice and morality.
Where the current threat to the traditional liturgy will lead, it is hard to see at the moment, but all the same, we can be confident in God’s care for us!
4. Pray for the gift of discernment
When we consider our possible actions and reactions, we need to pray for the gift of proper discernment. There are always three possibilities: something comes from God, the devil, or ourselves. Be sure to know the signs of which is which.
Whatever the answer is, our first instinct, I think, should always be to seek to obey proper authority, not to reject it, lest we merely be following our own desires, or worse.
All the same, the saints did not always passively accept what was done to them: proper discernment of what the Spirit is asking of us is essential in such circumstances and there are no general, immutable rules I think.
St Mary McKillop, for example, received Holy Communion, courtesy of some Jesuits, even after she had been unjustly excommunicated; St Athanasius fled from heretics rather than accede to their views; yet other saints accepted the authority of superiors to act even when their decisions were licit, albeit harsh.
And for those who love the EF, the Eastern Rite Catholic Church is always a fallback option…
5. Remember that God is just
When injustice and even outright evil seems to triumph – such as when we read the outrageously delusional self-justifications offered up for immoral and outright illegal behaviour in the abuse cover up, or when those who seek a more reverent Mass find it suddenly prohibited to them, – we are shocked and appalled.
Justice may yet prevail.
And we should certainly do everything in our power to bring that justice about, not least by shouting out in horror.
But even if we don’t see justice prevail in this world, remember that those responsible will be held accountable in the next.
In another place quite unconnected, I just stumbled across this poem, source unknown, and thought I’d share it because of its possible appositeness:
“The soul perishes not of dark
But of cold.
The soul in deep distress
Seeks not light but warmth,
Not counsel but understanding.”