The Spanish-Language website, Adelante La Fe (Advance the Faith) obtained an exclusive interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider, our favorite Catholic prelate in the world today, and a once (and hopefully future!) contributor to this website.
The interview covers some extremely heady subjects. Among these:
- The serious diminution of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist caused by the near-universal practice of communion in the hand
- His views on restoration of the liturgy and his love for the Traditional Latin Mass
- The role of Catholic Traditionalists in preserving the “democracy of the Saints,” and their plight as analogous to those who resisted the Arian heresy
- His opinion, as an official Vatican observer of the SSPX, that there are “no weighty reasons…to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition.”
This is a groundbreaking interview at an absolutely critical moment. We have reprinted it with permission, using the English translation provided. Please excuse the slight grammatical irregularities that appear at certain points in the text, which appear in the original translation. Please visit the website of Adelante La Fe for the the full text in both Spanish and English.
Adelante la Fe has had the chance of interviewing His Excellence Monsignor Athanasius Schneider, one of the most devoted to the defense of Catholic truth andand Traditional Mass among Catholic bishops. We would like to thank Monsignor Schneider for his deference to our website.
Adelante la Fe: As a secretary of Kazakhstan’s Bishops Conference, you took part in the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist. Your presentation centered around your childhood memories about the proper attitude towards Holy Communion, and you gave as an example the case of two priests, blessed Alexis Saritski, who was martyred, and Fr. Janis Pawlowski. What memories does Your Excellence have of your childhood and of the said priests?
Mons. Schneider: About Blessed Alexiy Saritski I have the witness of my parents who knew him personally. My mother told us often: “My children, I have never seen in my life a priest holier than Father Alexiy”. My parents often pointed out these his qualities: He was very meek and understanding, but at the same time taught he the people without compromising the full truth of the law of God. He was dedicated to the salvation of the souls up to the limits of his physical forces (sometimes he hadn’t eaten all the day because he heard continuously confessions). In his homilies Blessed Alexiy often said that we have to conserve the purity of the heart and the fidelity to our Catholic faith. Fr. Janis Pawlowski I knew personally, he was my parish priest in Estonia during four years. It was he who heard my first confession and who gave me the Frist Holy Communion. He celebrated the Holy Mass with such a devotion and reverence that it left in my soul a deep unforgettable impression. All his words and his gestures irradiated holiness. When I for the first time felt in my soul the attraction to the priesthood at the age of twelve, in my memory appeared suddenly the holy face of this priest. He was really a man of God. I received the great grace that I could meet him in Riga (Latvia) after I have not seen him during 27 years. He was already 86 years old, yet he conserved the same fresh and spiritually irradiating face. The three days I spent with him, were for me a kind of spiritual exercises. He helped me to put on the liturgical vestments and served me during my Mass with the simplicity and humility of a little altar boy.
Adelante la Fe: In your book Dominus est, put out by Libreria Editrice Vaticana in 2008, you reflect on your childhood under Communist persecution and offer some remarks on the history and liturgy of Holy Communion. In which ways has the practice of receiving Communion in the hand weakened faith in the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist?
Mons. Schneider: When in 1973 my family left Soviet Union and we said goodbye to Fr. Janis Pawlowski, he gave us this admonition: “When you come to Germany, please don’t go in the churches where Holy Communion is given in the hand”. When we heard these words, we all had a deep shock; we could not imagine that the Divine and Most Blessed Sacrament could be received in such a banal manner. It is now a proven fact that a considerable part of those who receive the Holy Communion habitually in hand, especially the younger generation which had not known the manner of receiving Communion kneeling and on the tongue, has not more the full Catholic faith in the Real Presence, because they treat the consecrated host almost in the same exterior manner as they take ordinary food. The exterior minimalistic gesture has a causal connection to the weakening or even loss of the faith in the Real Presence.
Adelante la Fe: On January 15, 2012 Your Excellence participated in the 4th Rencontre pour l’unité catholique in Paris, with a lecture on New Evangelization and Holy Liturgy. In this important dissertation you addressed the five wounds in Christ’s liturgical mystical body: the priest turned towards the congregation, Holy Communion taken in the hand, the new Offertory prayers, the disappearance of Latin in liturgical celebrations and the performing of some ministries, such as those of lector and acolyte, by women. How have these wounds been produced? What would the Church need for these wounds to heal and disappear?
Mons. Schneider: None of these liturgical wounds can even remotely be supported by “Sacrosanctum Concilium”, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy of the II Vatican Council. They have been introduced according to a specific agenda of a small group of liturgists who fatally occupied key positions in the Roman Curia in the immediate postconciliar period and who with cunning and tricks presented such radical changes (with the exception of the practice of Communion in hand) sometimes as the will of the Pope and sometimes as an almost unanimous decision of the members of the Commission of the Liturgical Reform. Such manipulations are documented e.g. in the book of Cardinal Fernando Antonelli “The Development of the Liturgical Reform” and in the book of Louis Bouyer “Mémoires”, both authors being members of the postconciliar Liturgical Commission and so eye and ear witnesses of the above mentioned manipulations. It is a mysterious permission of God that the good intentions of the Fathers of the II Vatican Council and their moderate dispositions on liturgical reform, fell into the hand of impious and revolutionary liturgical ideologues. They brought the sacred liturgy of the Holy Roman Church in a state of captivity, in a kind of liturgical “exile of Avignon”. In order to heal these wounds there could be made the following steps: 1) A thoroughly study of the history of the liturgy concerning the above mentioned five liturgical wounds. Such a study which will compel to admit with scientific honesty that the above mentioned liturgical practices in their concrete modern form never existed in the universal Church; they represent therefore a radical rupture with the perennial law of the prayer (lex orandi) and therefore also a rupture with the Apostolic tradition. 2) A careful study of the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium and particularly of the Acts of the conciliar discussions on this topic in order to know the real spirit of the conciliar Fathers (the “mens patrum”), being the Encyclical “Mediator Dei” the principal hermeneutic key of Sacrosanctum Concilium, 3) To avoid, if possible, some of these liturgical practices such as Communion in hand, celebration towards the congregation, total vernacularization, female lectors and acolytes. These four practices are not compulsory. The modern offertory prayers are however prescribed. 4) To ask the Holy See to issue a document, which will grant to the celebrant the freedom of choice between the modern and the traditional offertory prayers during the celebration of the Holy Mass in the ordinary form; the same document of the Holy See could encourage the celebration ad Dominum or ad orientem and dissuade and restrict the practice of Communion in hand. 5) To give catechetical and homiletical instructions about the ineffable Divine mystery of the Holy Eucharist, about the perennial and unchangeable Catholic theology of the sacred liturgy, about the spiritual meaning of the ritual details. 6) To organize specific liturgical scientific conferences and talks for seminarians, clergy and laity in order to show the perennial liturgical principles and the organic character of the sacred liturgy and also to unmask the modern liturgical myths. 7) To spread more the celebration of the liturgy in the ancient form and the teachings of the Motu Proprio”Summorum Pontificum” of Pope Benedict XVI.
Adelante la Fe: In 2014 Libreria Editrice Vaticana published another book by Your Excellence, entitled CORPUS CHRISTI. La Santa Comunione e il rinnovamento della Chiesa, where you address once more, and more in depth, the subject of Holy Communion. The book ends with a reflection worthy of taking into account: the preferential option for the Poorest One, the Most Helpless One: Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic species. With so much talk about the “option for the poor”, for the weak, why are we not aware of the presence of the Poorest among the poor in the Holy Eucharist? To what extent can we say protestant mentality has invaded the Catholic Church?
Mons. Schneider: The fact that Christ under the Eucharistic species became today really the most weak, vulnerable, defenseless and the most dishonored in midst of the Church, is a clear and sad indicator to what extent the love and the integrity of the Catholic faith in the Eucharist and in the Incarnation diminished. Indeed, the essence of Protestantism consists in the rejection of the fullness of the truth of Incarnation with all its implications and consequences: the visibility of the Church, of the sacramental life, of the concreteness and greatness of the Eucharistic Presence, of the incarnatorial characteristics of the liturgy. The current crisis of the Church manifests itself mainly in these two attitudes: a gnostic spiritualism and a horizontal naturalism, and the very root of them is the anthropocentrism, which on its part is a typical characteristic of Protestantism.
Adelante la Fe: Does Your Excellence think pre-Vatican II Church was isolated form the real world, full of privileges and closed in itself? Was the aim of Vatican II creating a different Church from that received by Tradition?
Mons. Schneider: The period before Vatican II, especially after the Council of Trent, was characterized by an amazingly great and dynamic missionary activity, comparable in its effects to some degree to the missionary period after Pentecost, so e.g. the missionary work of Saint Francis Xavier, especially the Jesuit Order as a whole, the admirable missionary work of several Religious Congregations in the African and Asian Continent in the ninetieth and the twentieth centuries. With her missionary work the Church contributed decisively also to a higher cultural, scientific and social-sanitary level of the life of many nations. In the period before Vatican II the Church made an epochal contribution to natural sciences even through her priests e.g. Gregor Mendel (genetics), George Lemaitre (astronomy and physics). For the most of the native peoples in America, Africa and Asia Catholic missionary priests wrote the first grammar books and the alphabet of their language. The Church made a decisive contribution for the abolition of slavery (beginning with Paul III and Las Casas in the 16th century until Leo XIII and the Catholic Princess Isabel of Brazil in the 19th century). With the encyclical ”Rerum novarum” Leo XIII gave universally recognized indications for the just treatment of the workers. Consequently, the Church before Vatican II was in no way closed in herself or isolated from the real world. Neither Pope John XXIII nor the vast majority of the Fathers of Vatican II aimed to create a different Church. All the documents and speeches of John XXIII, the preparatory documents of the Council (schemata) and the Acts of the Council itself demonstrate it well enough. The true relationship of the Church to the real world or to the temporal society has been always realized according to the theological principle “gratia supponit naturam”, i.e. the grace (Church) presupposes the nature (world), purifying, elevating and perfecting it. If the Church no more or not sufficiently enough influences the world and its realities with the supernatural gifts (grace, light of Divine truth) and instead deals predominantly with affaires of natural and temporal realities (e.g. social justice, ecology), than the Church closes herself in the temporal and deprives the world of the eternal, of heaven. The fact that the predominant activity of many of the official structures of the Catholic Church (associations, commissions etc.) is isolated from the supernatural, from heaven, and is immersed in the temporal and in the horizontal, represents the core problem of the current crisis of the Church.
Adelante la Fe: How does Your Excellence evaluate Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum motu proprio? Why do you think it finds so many obstacles in its implementation?
Mons. Schneider: The Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” is an act of the Supreme Magisterium with real epochal dimensions. It was absolutely necessary. It belongs to the very nature of the Church to hand over to the future generations integrally and without signs of rupture the treasures of the faith (lex credendi) and of the worship (lex orandi). A noticeable or revolutionary rupture in the manner of the public faith and worship contradicts the organicity of the Church’s nature, since the Church is an organic entity (Body of Christ, grapevine, Divine garden) and not a drawing board or a technical machine. The obstacles in the implementation of “Summorum Pontificum” are based on the fact, that a considerable part of the clergy has a disturbed relationship with the principle of organic tradition and manifests a spirit of rupture towards the liturgical inheritance of the Church. On other reason of their resistance and antipathy towards “Summorum Pontificum” is the lack of self-criticism regarding some obvious defects of the postconciliar liturgical reforms.
Adelante la Fe: Can Your Excellence explain what your feelings are when you officiate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form?
Mons. Schneider: When I officiate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form or to be more precise in the Traditional Form, I have the salutary and beneficial awareness and experience that I am not the owner and the boss of the sacred rite, but really only the servant, fulfilling the will and the commands of the Church, the Bride of Christ, praying in the spirit and even with the concrete formulas and gestures which belong to the catholic generations of a more than a millennial period. One has an awareness to carry out even in the smallest ritual details something which is not pure human and temporal, but eternal and heavenly, celebrating the supreme act of adoration of the ineffable majesty of the Triune God, who mercifully overwhelms us with the redeeming graces.
Adelante la Fe: What factors are responsible for the faith crisis we are currently immersed in, where some aspects of faith are being questioned that one could never imagine that could be questioned by the Church hierarchy itself? Is Catholic identity itself in crisis?
Mons. Schneider: The deepest root of the faith crisis is the anthropocentrism and naturalism, which manifest itself in an attitude of seeing and judging the truth of Divine revelation and of Divine worship predominantly with rationalist and pure humanistic criteria and with the criteria of the changeable human history. Such an attitude leads to a dogmatic, moral and liturgical relativism and ultimately a serious defect of faith and this is then no more far from apostasy and paganism. The words of our Divine Saviour refer in first place to all disciples of Christ and especially to the current crisis inside the Church: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Adelante la Fe: Can Your Excellence give some words of encouragement to those priests who, for being faithful to Church Tradition, are isolated and pushed into the background in their dioceses and not given temples where they can officiate Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form, as well as to those faithful who are deprived of Traditional Holy Mass?
Mons. Schneider: I would like to say to these priests, seminarians, young people and families: “It is an honor and a privilege to be faithful to the Divine truth and to the spiritual and liturgical traditions of our forefathers and of the saints and being therefore marginalized by those who currently occupy administrative power in the Church. This your fidelity and courage constitute the real power in the Church. You are the real ecclesiastical periphery, which with God’s power renews the Church. Living the true tradition of dogma, liturgy and holiness is a manifestation of the democracy of the Saints, because tradition is the democracy of the Saints. With Saint Athanasius I would like to tell you these words: Those in the Church who oppose, humiliate and marginalize you, have occupied the churches, while during this time you are outside; it is a fact that they have the premises – but you have the Apostolic Faith. They claim that they represent the Church, but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray (cf. Letter to his flock)”.
Adelante la Fe: Your Excellence has recently visited the SSPX Seminars in the United States and France. We know it was a “discreet” meeting but, can you make an evaluation for us of what you saw and talked with them about? What expectations do you have of a coming reconciliation and which would be the main obstacle for it?
Mons. Schneider: The Holy See asked me to visit the two Seminars of the SSPX in order to conduct a discussion on a specific theological topic with a group of theologians of the SSPX and with His Excellency Bishop Fellay. For me this fact shows that for the Holy See the SSSPX is not a negligible ecclesiastical reality and that it has to be taken seriously. I am keeping a good impression of my visits. I could observe a sound theological, spiritual and human reality in the two Seminars. The “sentire cum ecclesia” of the SSPX is shown by the fact that I was received as an envoy of the Holy See with true respect and with cordiality. Furthermore, I was glad to see in both places in the entrance area a photo of Pope Francis, the reigning Pontiff. In the sacristies there were plates with the name of Pope Francis and the local diocesan bishop. I was moved to assist the traditional chant for the Pope (“Oremus pro pontifice nostro Francisco…”) during the solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. To my knowledge there are no weighty reasons in order to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition, meanwhile they should be accepted as they are. This was in deed Archbishop Lefebvre’s petition to the Holy See: “Accept us as we are”. I think the issue of Vatican II should not be taken as the “condicio sine qua non”, since it was an assembly with primarily pastoral aims and characteristics. A part of the conciliar statements reflects only its time and possesses a temporary value, as disciplinary and pastoral documents do. When we look in a two millennia old perspective of the Church, we can state, that there is on both sides (Holy See and the SSPX) an over-evaluation and over-estimation of a pastoral reality in the Church, which is Vatican II. When the SSPX believes, worship and conducts a moral live as it was demanded and recognized by the Supreme Magisterium and was observed universally in the Church during a centuries long period and when the SSPX recognizes the legitimacy of the Pope and the diocesan bishops and prays for them publicly and recognizes also the validity of the sacraments according to the editio typica of the new liturgical books, this should suffice for a canonical recognition of the SSPX on behalf of the Holy See. Otherwise the often repeated pastoral and ecumenical openness in the Church of our days will manifestly loose its credibility and the history will one day reproach to the ecclesiastical authorities of our days that they have “laid on the brothers greater burden than required” (cf. Acts 15:28), which is contrary to the pastoral method of the Apostles.