Sunday, May 28, 2023

A Pentecost Miscellany

[May 28, 2023] Happy Pentecost brethren! I have had so many things in my mind recently, but as I am sure I will not have time to flesh most of them out, today I am presenting you with a miscellany of my recent ruminations. I may develop these further in future posts, but who knows. Enjoy my brain dump!


Progress in the spiritual life isn't always linear; that is, it's not always a matter of acquiring virtues, obtaining greater knowledge, praying more, or sinning less. Sometimes the progress is rather one of depth: you may not acquire new virtues, but become more deeply rooted in the ones you already possess. You may not learn new things, but grow in certainty about insights you've alread had. You may not pray more, but your prayer may become more directed and fruitful. You may still struggle with the same sins, but you may grow in fortitude against other weaknesses. This is why we should never be despondent. Growth happens in many ways. Obviously we want to grow in the "linear" manner as well, but we should not let this be our sole criteria for measuring spiritual growth. Remember, God says "my ways are not your ways" (Is. 55:8).  The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but know neither whence it comes nor where it goes (cf. John 3:8).


If you hear news about a bishop doing something praiseworthy, and your response is to throw shade on it by kvetching about the shortcomings of the episcopate, what is wrong with you? We must rejoice in what is good, especially when things are bad. "Give honor to whom honor is due" (Rom. 13:7); "Do not withhold good to those whom it is due" (Prov. 3:27). Are you so jaded you can't recognize a good work? Honestly, if you can no longer rejoice in good news, your soul is in peril.


We are all poor travelers seeing through a glass darkly. We are not yet what we will become; everything is in a state of "not yet." God has enlightened some of us about some things, and others of us have not been given the grace to see. All of us are at various stages of spiritual maturation, and none of us can see all ends. We must be gracious with each other. Grant everyone the same consideration and leniency you’d hope to be granted. 


Regarding my recent post on my negative experiences with men's groups, some chap on Facebook said my problem was that I was taking a "Protestant approach" to the matter by "expecting to get something out of it" instead of thinking about what I can contribute. I did not realize there were specific Catholic and Protestant approaches to men's groups! This critique is goofy. We are not talking about something like divine worship or the sacrament of matrimony; we are talking about men's groups—completely manmade social conventions. Of course I expect to get something out of it. I don't go to the dentist out of the goodness of my heart; I expect to receive a cleaning. When I go to the movies, I expect (or at least hope) to see something I am going to enjoy. Similarly, if I am going to give of my time to go sit around with a bunch of guys, then, yeah, I expect to get something out of it, the "something" being an enriching social experience. This isn't a "Protestant approach"; this is just the basic principle of prudent resource allocation.


The older I get, the less I feel like I am competent to talk about anything at all. When I first started this blog (c. 2007), I used to talk about canon law, dogmatic theology, spirituality, history, parish matters, and all sorts of subjects. Over the years, as I have become more educated, I have paradoxically felt less educated—or rather, more aware of what I do not know. Some subjects I acknowledge I am simply too uninformed to speak competently about. It is a very liberating realization that I wished I had learned much earlier in life.


In that same vein, it is also evident that knowledge is extremely specialized and is not always translatable. How often have we seen someone who is a recognized authority in X start talking about Y and completely miss the mark? I think we often assume knowlegde is more transferrable than it really is; Dr. So-and-So is an erudite scholar of Widgets, but he decides to venture outside his area of expertise to voice his opinion on McGuffins. People assume since he is trustworthy about Widgets, he is competent to discuss McGuffins. But it becomes painfully clear he is not; despite his mastery of the former, he is a novice about the latter and falls prey to misunderstanding and misinformation with shocking ease. 


Today I was at a retreat and attended a Novus Ordo. It was one of those rare unicorn Novus Ordos: it was done ad orientem, ordinary parts of the Mass in Latin, Gregorian chant, the Pentecost sequence in Latin, altar boys, Roman Canon, communion kneeling at the rail, and everything one could ask for in a Novus Ordo. This was, of course, still inferior to the Traditional Latin Mass. And even if every Novus Ordo was done this way, there would still be a Traditionalist movement. But, had this been the Mass that we realistically got after the Council; had the Church insisted that this was what the Council intended and saw that this is what was celebrated in Catholic parishes, there would not be the level of mistrust and hostility towards the hierarchy we see today. There would still be desire for the Traditional Latin Mass, but there would be a much greater sense of trust, because we would take the hierarchy seriously when it spoke of reverence. (See also, "How Goodwill Was Squandered", USC, Aug. 2022)


Few things are more pretentious than a person who has never struggled with something trying to lecture a person who has about what they ought to be doing.


The internet is full of advice warning that it is a toxic trait if your partner tells you to "stop overreacting" when you are upset; some even say this is a sign of narcissism, because it invalidates your grievance by shifting attention away from what someone did to you to your reaction to what they did. It is widely considered a jerk move in a relationship to lecture your upset partner about overreacting. And yet this is the message doled out to Trads for decades now—that Traditionalist grievances about the way things are going constitute a gargantuan "overreaction" to Vatican II. The locus of the problem is shifted from the objective state of the Church to my reactions about the state of the Church. Is such an approach any less toxic?


Everybody seems to be in a hyper-critical mentality these days. All I see in the Trad-sphere is relentless back and forth criticism. It is almost as if people believe they have a moral obligation to correct people merely for being wrong. Instructing the ignorant is a work of mercy, and we are obliged to speak if we see our brother committing a sin or endangering his soul. But I have always assumed these commands pertain to grave matters. We have no obligation to correct someone because we think their intepretation of a passage from Suarez is a bit off, or because they spoke about a matter of liturgical history without being aware of some obscure book that makes a counterargument, or because we disagree with their prudential approach to some complicated issue. People act as though they must correct everything. Good heavens, if we spent the time overcoming our faults we spend trying to correct each other, we would all be saints. 


In that same vein, tough love is definitely a thing. But most of us do not possess the kind of relationships with people that enable us to use "tough love" fruitfully. Tough love requires love before it can be tough. Priding yourself on always boorishly "telling it like it is" is nothing to be proud of.  All it says is that you lack discretion and finesse.


I have never in my life been tempted to become Eastern Orthodox. Not even for a second. I know they have an old tradition, rich liturgy and all that, but the appeal for me has always been nil. I would just as soon become Mormon as go Orthodoxnot because I think Mormonism and Orthodoxy are equivalent, but because the affective draw of each is about the same, and one must love what one professes, or at least be interested in it. And it has never drawn my affections nor interested my intellect.


A great strategist is someone who knows how to entrap their opponent from multiple angles simultaneously. Have you ever played chess against someone who is really good? They win by getting you into these positions where no matter what you do, you lose. Often, they set up scenarios where you walk into defeat at the moment you think you are evading it. Great military tacticians do the same—they orchestrate complex movements where the enemy flees into disaster while attempting to avoid it, using ruses, false advances, feigned retreats, hidden reserves, and all manner of subterfuge. The Bible speaks of a "great deception" that will precede the end (cf. Matt. 24:24, 2 Thess. 2:11). The devil is a more masterful strategist than any chess player or general. His delusion won't be easy to spot; if it were, it would not confound so many of the elect, as Christ warned. We do not know what the devil's delusion will be, but if we draw a comparison from human strategems, we may assume that it will be something that our very attempts to evade cause us to plunge headlong into.


Praying for grace is good and praiseworthy. But sometimes this becomes a crutch; we pray for grace but make no concrete resolutions to change our behavior—we take no positive action to overcome our vices. Then we act mystified at our continued failings! What is the purpose of grace? Grace is divine empowerment; it is something that enables us to do specific things, whether that is live in heaven with God or put up with our co-worker's bad taste in music. If you are praying for grace to do the thing, you must make effort to actually do the thing. Otherwise, how will you use the graces you pray for? If we are merely praying for grace without taking concrete steps to actuate that grace, we are like a man laying on the bench inertly staring at the barbell while praying for gains.


It is frustrating to me that traditional religious orders seem to stop accepting novices after age 30. I have no interest in joining an order myself, but I have seen other good men dishertened and disqualified by this rule. I am sure the orders have their reasons, of which I am not privy, but it still saddens me. There is a long tradition of older persons who have had their kids, made their careers, and fought their battles going to the monastery at the twilight of their life to "die in the habit." I would love to see this custom reborn. Maybe we need a religious congregation that only accepts applicants over age 45: those who never found their way, whose life did not turn out as they'd hoped; the divorced, the widowed, those who wanted to marry but could never find a partner; those whose formative years were squandered in various ways but who now seek to make a good end. Anyone who wants merely to land the ship safely after a tumultuous voyage.


The explosion of Catholic educational materials that has emerged since the 1990s is due to the democratization of technology and information, not to the Second Vatican Council. The blogs, organizations, printing presses, websites, publications, podcasts, and the entire Catholic information infrastructure that exists today is not due to Apostolicam Actuositatem or Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium or Inter Mirifica. It is not due to lip service about the laity and the universal call to holiness. It is due to the advance of technology, which grew to the point where humans no longer needed nor tolerated gatekeepers of information. The Catholic information network we have today would have existed with or without Vatcian II. It's emphasis certainly would have looked different, but that it would have existed is unquestionable.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Response to Julian Kwasniewski & Rob Marco on Men's Groups

[May 20, 2023] Earlier this month, Mr. Rob Marco published an article at Crisis called "Why Your Catholic Men's Group Will Eventually Fold." It is an excellent piece that reflects the author's dissastisfaction with Catholic men's groups and speculates on why they seem to be characterized by shallowness, posturing, and ephemerality. Robert Greving wrote a follow up called "Why Your Catholic Men's Group Should Eventually Fold," building on the reflections of Mr. Marco with what I would call a more sociological approach, observing that men's groups reflect the modern tendency to try to programitize and officialize things that are meant to be organic. Both of these articles are thought-provoking and I recommend you read them both, especially before perusing the rest of my piece.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Newman's Development of Doctrine

[May 12, 2023] I was recently privileged to join Steve Cunningham on the Resistance Podcast on the Sensus Fidelium channel to talk about St. John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. It was an excellent discussion on a very timely subject. If you'd like to listen to the talk, you can do so here. The entire video is around 55 minutes long.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Losing Our Liturgical Innocence

[May 3, 2023] One of the most formative books in the development of my own thought on Catholic liturgy and tradition was The Heresy of Formlessness by German author Martin Mosebach (Ignatius Press, 2006). Though relatively unknown in America at the time, Mosebach is a well-known voice for Catholic Tradition in the German speaking world. After seventeen years, Heresy of Formlessness remains an illuminating book that puts the liturgical rupture of the past four decades in perspective from the point of view of the layman in the pew. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Bishop Huonder and the SSPX

[Apr. 29, 2023] The big news this week has been the revelations by Bishop Vitus Huonder, retired Bishop of Chur (Switzerland) that Pope Francis had told him privately that the Society of St. Pius X are not in schism. 

Traditional Catholic media sources have been abuzz with essays and podcasts jubilantly framing these revelations as a vindication for the position of the Society and traditional Catholic media, who have consistently maintained that the SSPX is not in a state of schism. 

I, on the other hand, believe this to be a nothingburger, for three very important reasons:

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Repetitions of the Sign of the Cross in the Mass

[Apr. 23, 2023] One of the changes made by the post-Vatican II reformers to the Mass was the elimination of many of the signs of the cross, which were seen as superfluous and repetitive.

Now, it is the case that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass contains abundantly more signs of the cross than does the Novus Ordo—forty-eight times! (I have also heard forty and fifty-two) But does the fact that this sacred gesture is repeated so often mean that it is superfluous? Is it a medieval "encrustation" that has been uselessly repeated and multiplied until it has lost all meaning?

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Three Types of Scandal

"Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal comes", our Lord tells us in the Gospel of Matthew (18:7). Scandal has been defined in the Church's tradition as an act or omission on our part that, through our bad example, leads another to commit sin or lose faith. Our Lord warns us in the above cited passage that to do such a thing is particularly heinous; as if it is not bad enough that we destroy our own souls, scandal causes us to drag others down with us into the mire of our sin, sometimes by actively leading others into sin, sometimes just by causing them to be shaken in their faith by our poor example. Jesus levels dire consequences against those who lead believers to sin, warning that it would be better to have a stone about our neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea than be guilty of scandal.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Statistics on Motu Proprios 1978 - Present

[Apr. 16, 2023] A few days ago I saw an interesting tweet by Matthew Hazell noting that in 2023 alone Pope Francis has already issued 50% more motu proprios than Pope Benedict had throughout his entire pontificate.

The point got me wondering what subjects have occasioned motu proprios in recent history. I began reviewing the motu proprios of the last three popes, comparing not only how many but their purpose. The following are some statistics my cursory research revealed. 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Pius VI and the Synod of Pistoia

]Apr. 15, 2023] One of the most brazen attempts to undermine the traditions of the Church prior to the post-Conciliar age occurred at the Synod of Pistoia in 1786, held in the region of Florence under the presidency of Bishop Scipio de Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia and Prato.

The Synod of Pistoia was the last gasp of the Gallican movement, which attempted to detract from the authority of the Holy See by transferring much of the governance of national churches over to their respective governments and synods of local bishops. It asserted radical innovations in Church governance and proposed sweeping reforms that touched on everything from monastic discipline to the sacramental theology to the order of the liturgy. In many places, the acts of Pistoia anticipate the thinking of the theologians of the Nouvelle théologie responsible for the calamities that followed the Second Vatican Council.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Are Traditionalists "Rebels of Korah"?

[Apr. 11, 2023] Bad biblical analogies are the bane of modern religious discourse, and those wielded by opponents of traditionalism are among the worst. Case in point is the comparison of trads to the rebels of Korah from the Old Testament Book of Numbers. Numbers 16 tells us that Korah was a Levite and relative of Moses who resisted Moses' authority. Korah and his partisans were smitten by the power of God as punishment for their rebellion; in the New Testament, certain "ungodly persons" who "reject authority" are compared to the rebels of Korah (cf. Jude 1:8, 11). 

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Four Reasons for the Resurrection of Jesus

[Apr 9, 2023] "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the centerpiece of the Faith, what St. Paul called the matter "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:4) in Christian preaching. In this article, we shall consider various reasons why, in God's infinite wisdom, He ordained the Resurrection of Christ in the grand plan of salvation history.

There are four principal reasons why Christ was Resurrected from the dead:

1. The Completion of Man's Justification

The first is the justification of the human race. We are, of course, familiar with Christ's sacrificial death on the cross, which made atonement for the sins of mankind. But the Resurrection, too, was part of our salvation. St. Paul says that Christ was "put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). While the Crucifixion is what atones for sin, the justification of man is completed with the Resurrection, for in the Resurrection humanity is glorified in the person of Christ. The human nature that Christ unites Himself to in the Incarnation is glorified with His Resurrection. Hence St. Paul says "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). Therefore the Resurrection of Christ is the completion of mankind's justification.

2. That the Scriptures Might Be Fulfilled

The second reason is the fulfillment of the Scriptures. The Creeds says that Jesus was raised "according to the Scriptures." When explaining disciples on the road to Emmaus express astonishment at rumors of Jesus's Resurrection, our Lord says, "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Then He proceeds to explain to them "in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (v. 27). In 1 Corinthians 15, when St. Paul recounts the fundamentals of the Gospel, he recalls that Christ "was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). This insistence that the Resurrection was a fulfillment of Scripture was central on Apostolic preaching of this miraculous event, for it definitively identified Jesus of Nazareth with the Messiah predicted in Jewish Scripture and thus an incentive for belief. Hence, on the day of Pentecost, when Peter is preaching to the Jews, he cites the Resurrection as the prophetic fulfillment of Psalm 16 (cf. Acts 2:25-28). This was a cornerstone the Apostolic message (especially to the Jews) to demonstrate that Christ was the Messiah.

3. Vindication of Christ's Words

The third reason is the vindication of Christ's own preaching. Jesus frequently predicts His own death and Resurrection in the Gospels as evidence that His words are true. He explains the details of His own Resurrection as if to say, "When these things occur exactly as I say, you will know assuredly that everything I have said about myself is true" (cf. Luke 18:31-34, Mark 9:30–32, Matt.17:22–23). Our Lord takes this approach with the Pharisees as well—after cleansing the Temple in John 2, the Jews then ask him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course, He was speaking of His body; in other words, the sign He had to show was the Resurrection. The passage notes that, "When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken" (John 2:22). Jesus tells the unbelieving, if they doubt His message, to at least believe because of His works (cf. John 10:38). The Resurrection, as the ultimate "work" of Christ, thus serves as a vindication of Jesus's words—and not only for those in Christ's own time, but for us today. The empty tomb confirms our hope and builds our faith.

4. A Promise of the General Resurrection

Finally, the Resurrection of Christ is said to be the "firstfruits" of those who have fallen asleep—that is, it serves as the first instance of the general resurrection that we will all undergo at the end of time. St. Paul explains the Resurrection of Christ as an anticipation of that of our own bodies. He says:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Cor. 15:20-24)

This aspect of the Resurrection was a frequent theme in patristic literature. For example, Tertullian, when arguing against those who scoffed at the bodily resurrection of believers, said:

The resurrection of the dead, you say, which was denied: [St. Paul] certainly wished it to be believed on the strength of the example which he adduced—the Lord's resurrection. Certainly, you say. Well now, is an example borrowed from different circumstances, or from like ones? From like ones, by all means, is your answer. How then did Christ rise again? In the flesh, or not? No doubt, since you are told that he "died according to the Scriptures," and that "he was buried according to the scriptures," no otherwise than in the flesh, you will also allow that it was in the flesh that he was raised from the dead. For the very same body which fell in death, and which lay in the sepulchre, did also rise again; and it was not so much Christ in the flesh as the flesh in Christ. If, therefore, we are to rise again after the example of Christ, who rose in the flesh, we shall certainly not rise according to that example unless we also shall ourselves rise in the flesh (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, XLVIII).

The rationale is from the particular to the general: we see from Christ's particular Resurrection that there will be a general resurrection at the end of time. This is an inference made by St. Paul and the Fathers.

Happy Easter everybody. May the Resurrection of Christ work powerfully in your own life that you, too, may experience the newness of life merited by His death and resurrection.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

It Is Not Wrong to Assume Someone Has Gone Straight to Heaven

We are all familiar with the modern spectacle of funerals as immediate canonizations rather than occasions for prayer and penitence for the deceased. Contemporary discomfort with the doctrines of hell and purgatory—and a profound lapse in catechesis on the gravity of sin—has transformed funeral masses into a "celebration of life," in such a way that the bereaved are not enjoined to pray for the dead. Everybody just seems certain that grandma is among the choirs of angels and doesn't give it a second thought.

This approach is woefully uncatholic. It is terribly sad when you have an occasion where everyone is gathered together in memory of the deceased and they fail to take the opportunity to pray for his soul, often with the complicity of the parish priest. It is another example of how modern theological errors have corrupted even our view of death.

That being said, I have noticed that traditional Catholics are prone to erring in the opposite way, by acting like we can never assume someone has made it to heaven. There seems to be this attitude that we can simply have no clue one way or another; that Christians are meant to have a disposition of complete uncertainty when it comes to the eternal destiny of our loved ones. Confronted with the holy life and abundant fruits of grace of the deceased, at most they will venture to say is a timid, "I hope they made it," quickly followed up with, "but I will pray for their soul," lest their hearer assume they have adopted the heresy of universalism.

This is not a Christian attitude either. While we admit that there's always the possibility of secret vices (e.g. that our pious Grandma Doris was secretly a mule for the cartels, or daily Mass-goer Uncle Randy had a hidden gay lover), in general, the historic attitude has been that we can be assured of the salvation of those whose lives clearly manifest the work of grace, as demonstrated through their piety and virtues. 

Church history is replete with such examples, not only among the saints, but among regular people whose lives manifested the fruits of a godliness. There are many written testimonies to this effect, but by way of example, I would like to present a letter written by Fr. Gaspar Meneses, Jesuit Superior at Vera Cruz, Mexico, addressed to his brethren in Spain announcing the death of one of their comrades, Fr. Juan Rogel, in January of 1619:

"At last good Father Rogel has reached the end of his labors and his temporal life, having spent sixty-five of his ninety years in the Society of Jesus. He entered two years before the death of our Blessed Father, St. Ignatius, being then at twenty-five a Master of Arts and a Bachelor of Medicine. From his entrance to his death he was an example to us all. Busied in ministrations to all sorts of people, his fervor and devotedness made him universally venerated and loved, and 'the saint' was the name thye gave him. He was a truly humble man; and from his humility, sprang a great spirit of obedience, even in an advanced age, which would ordinarily make it a burden...

Here in Vera Cruz since 1580, he was insatiable in his hunger for souls. Day and night he was in the confessional and teaching the children or the ignorant and visiting the needy and afflicted. Devoting himself especially to the poor and lowly and the Negroes, he attracted to his instructions people of the highest consequence, and he won the hearts of all, molding their lives for God.

...Chatting and smiling with his wonted joyousness at table, January 19, he abruptly rose from his chair with shining countenance, joined his hands, raised his eyes to heaven, and then turning smiling eyes upon his host as if to thank him for his charity, he closed them and was dead. His soul, we believe, had winged its flight to be at the Heavenly Table forever.

...His body was interred in a cedar coffin, the last offering of his honored host; his angel guardian, as we hold, had led his saintly soul to its Creator. I recalled what the Scripture said of Abraham, 'He died ina  good old age, and being full of days was gathered to his people.' Father Rogel was one of the ancients of the Society and a venerable servant of God, and his holy life assures us that he is enjoying the clear vision of the Divine Majesty."

Fr. Gaspar Meneses, SJ
Vera Cruz, Jan. 29, 1619*

Fr. Juan Rogel is not a saint or even a blessed; to my knowledge, he has never had a cause opened. Fr. Rogel was simply a Jesuit priest who fulfilled his duties and lived a life of virtue. Because of this, his companions assumed he was in heaven and had no scruple about saying so. 

Did Fr. Meneses and the other Jesuits pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Rogel? I am certain they did, and herein lies the difference between the attitude of Fr. Meneses and today's Catholics. There would have certainly been masses and prayers offered for the repose of Fr. Rogel, not only in the days after his death but likely on the anniversary of his passing for many years. He would have also been included in the prayers and masses of the Society for its deceased members and benefactors as well. Fr. Meneses assumed Fr. Rogel had gone to heaven, but he understood that this did not absolve him from his responsibility to due his duty and see to the well-being of the dead. He understood that, despit ehis assumption, Fr. Rogel could be in Purgatory and in need of prayers. Modern Catholics are not so wise; if they are assured their loved one is in heaven, it is taken as a sign that nothing further need be done. 

Modern Catholics also tend to assume a loved ones have gone to heaven regardless of what their external life was like. We see Fr. Meneses, on the other hand, grounds his assumption squarely on the incontrovertable, external evidence of piety demonstrated by Fr. Rogel. In other words, Fr. Meneses would not have made such claims about just anyone; he did so for Fr. Rogel because he had objective grounds for his assumption.

But the point is that it is not wrong to assume a pious deceased has gone to heaven, so long as it does not detract from our obligation to pray for them. If a person demonstrates all the external signs of living a life pleasing to God, we are right to assume he has received his reward. Christian virtue is not so interior, so secretive that it can't be observed. Faith blossoms into a great tree, so vast that "the birds of the air made nests in its branches" (Luke 13:19). In the case of Fr. Rogel, "his holy life assures us that he is enjoying the clear vision of the Divine Majesty." Such is it with anyone who lives and dies leaving such a wholesome example.

Is this ironclad logical certitude? No, of course not; but it is assurance—moral certainty. This is what the virtue of hope is supposed to give us. Hope is the virtue by which we desire heaven and expect to receive it; it anchors our faith to the expectation of reward. It is like proceeding down a road towards a destination: while we know it is possible to lose our way and go off the road, we also have assurance that, provided we stay on the road, we will reach our destination. Similarly, we can have confidence that, provided we sincerely avail ourselves of God's grace, we will reach our heavenly destination.  

So, when our loved ones die after a life of piety, let us pray and have Masses said for their soul, but let us also maintain confidence in our Lord's promise "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).


*The letter of Fr. Gaspar Meneses can be found in its entirety in Michael Kenny, The Romance of the Floridas (New York: AMS Press, 1970), pp. 303-305

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Some Nonsense from Cardinal Cupich

[Mar. 12, 2023] Back on February 27, Cardinal Blaise Cupich published an article in America Magazine entitled "Critics of Pope Francis' Latin Mass Restrictions Should Listen to JPII."  In this essay the good Cardinal accused traditional Catholics who resist Traditionis custodes of a plethora of faultsingratitude to the generosity of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, undermining the See of Peter, resistance to the Holy Spirit, and, that most tiresome canard, rejection of the Vatican II. He attempts to tie embrace of the Novus Ordo with acceptance of Vatican II.

It is an interesting piece that aptly demonstrates how out of touch with reality Cupich is about the entire liturgical question. The article is a lament for the refusal of traditional Catholics to accept Traditionis custodes with sufficient docility. Cupich not only says we must accept the suppression of the old Mass, but even thank God for it!—quoting John Paul II, he says, "We should give thanks to God for that movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents.” Obeying isn't even enough; the only appropriate response Cupich will countenance is "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

Cupich thus views trad resentment about the motu proprio as unfounded. He wants us to understand that it's for our own good, and most importantly, that we should not assume there is any ulterior motive in Francis' actions beyond the good of souls. Traditionalists should not feel like the pope is out to get them; he merely wants us to reap the rich fruits of the Conciliar reform. Cupich says:

My point is simply this; no one should now suggest that Pope Francis (or, for that matter, Cardinal Roche) has any motivation in issuing “Traditionis Custodes” and authorizing the “Rescriptum” other than the desire to remain faithful to the promptings of the Holy Spirit that gave rise to the teachings and reforms of the council.
According to Cupich, Francis' only motivation for issuing Traditionis custodes is a desire to be faithful to the Holy Spirit (the implication being that if you find fault with Traditionis custodes, you are finding fault with the Holy Spirit!). To refute this assertion we need look no further than the words of Pope Francis himself. In the accompanying letter to Traditionis custodes, Francis was very deliberate in explaining the rationale for his decision, which he returns to multiple times. He gives as his reasons: 

  • That the "pastoral objectives" of Benedict XVI and John Paul II had been "seriously disregarded" by traditionalists who were making a "distorted use" of the grants of the two pontiffs.
  • That the magnanimity of the popes was "exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division."
  • That the "words and attitudes" of traditional Catholics evidences a "close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions"; i.e., he thinks the TLM is a breeding ground for dissent, which is manifest in the "words and attitudes" of traditional Catholics.
It is beyond clear that Pope Francis intended his motu proprio to be punitive; he issued it to address what he perceived to be the bad faith of the traditional Catholic community. One need not agree with Francis' assessment to see that this is what Francis believes. Cupich is simply wrong when he asserts Francis had nothing but benign motives. His motives were punitive and he says so himself.

Of course, Cupich would probably argue that such punitive measures are simply part of the big picture of realizing the Council's vision, which Cupich admits still hasn't been accomplished after 60 years. Although (and this is rich!) he claims the failure of the Council is due to "pockets of resistance to the council’s teachings and reforms, especially the refusal to accept the restoration of the liturgy." It is traditional Catholics who have obstructed the Council's implementation! It was not the fault of the liberals who used the Council as a pretext for dismantling the entire Catholic heritage from the ground up. It was the fault of a statistically insignificant minority who refused to participate in said destruction. 

Speaking of the Council, Cupich habitually confounds the Councils and the Novus Ordo, as the chief proponents of the New Mass have been wont to do for decades now. (1) Quoting the ecclesiastical synod convened under John Paul II in 1985, Cupich says:
The liturgical renewal is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council...For many people the message of the Second Vatican Council has been experienced principally through the liturgical reform.
This is a remarkable statement that somehow manages to be true and false simultaneously. On the one hand, it is incorrect to equate the liturgy with the Council. The reformed Mass we eventually got was not envisioned by the Council Fathers; it was created by a bureaucratic organ that not established by the Council, incorporated elements never called for in Sacrosanctum concilium, and was not promulgated until five years after the Council's close. It is not only wrong but gaslighting to accuse Catholics of "rejecting the Council" when they criticize the Novus Ordo. Throughout the article Cupich cites Sacrosanctum concilium, implying traditional Catholics are dissenting from it when the Mass Paul VI gave the Church in 1970 was nothing like what Sacrosanctum concilium called for.

But, on the other hand, it is true that the Novus Ordo exemplifies the spirit of the Council. It was the upheavel of the Council that made the Novus Ordo possible. The New Mass truly does reflect the ecclesiology and priorities of the Second Vatican Council. It is the Spirit of Vatican II incarnate.

That the Novus Ordo is not the "Mass of the Council" is also disproven by the existenc of an actual Mass of the Council, the so-called "Missal of 1965." This Missal was a kind of modified 1962 Ordo Missae that incorporated the changes specifically called for in Sacrosanctum concilium. You can read about the Missal of 1965 in this article by Msgr. Charles Pope ("A Look at the 'Actual Mass' of Vatican II: the 1965 Missal," Jan. 2015). The Novus Ordo actually supplanted the real Mass of the Council.

Cupich again returns to his theme of the Novus Ordo as fidelity to the Holy Spirit:
Like St. John Paul II, Pope Francis takes seriously that the restoration of the liturgy was the result of the movement of the Holy Spirit. It was not about the imposition of an ideology on the church by any one person or group

This is simply unhistorical. As we known, Annibale Bugnini and his associates were deeply ideological about all things pertaining to the liturgy. The Novus Ordo Missae was crafted specifically to exemplify the anthropocentric and latitudinarian ideology of the reformers. Furthermore, it is wrong to say it was not imposed by any "one person or group" when it was literally the brainchild of Bugnini and the Consilium. The way Cupich speaks, you would think the Novus Ordo descended from heaven fully, leaping into the Council chambers to the universal acclimation of the bishops.  

He then calls for "acceptance of the restored liturgy" by all Catholics. This word acceptance is so meaningless, as it is never defined. What does it mean to "accept" the liturgy? To merely accept that it is valid? To accept that it is the unique expression of the Roman rite? To accept that it was necessary? To accept that it was a a good idea? To accept that it is the future of the Catholic liturgy? To accept that it is superior to the Traditional Latin Mass? To accept that the pope had authority to promulgate it? What exactly do you mean by "acceptance of the restored liturgy"? Of course, Cupich doesn't say. You see this all the time when normies discuss traditionalism; they speak of the need to "accept" the Mass and stop "rejecting" Vatican II but never seem to consider the variable meanings of these words. I think this is probably intentional. Were these words interpreted strictly, it would be plain that almost all trads already "accept" Vatican II, and hence the critique of trads as dissenters would be deflated; were these words intepreted broadly, however, it would impose a burden of assent so heavy as to be patently ridiculous. Hence, the words are never defined, with the result that even if trads cannot be proven disloyal, they can at least have the stench of disloyalty on them.

When arguing for the acceptance of the New Mass (whatever he means by that), Cardinal Cupich has the audacity to cite Propser of Aquitaine. The citation from Propser says:
Let us consider the sacraments of priestly prayers, which having been handed down by the apostles are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every Catholic church so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing (ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi).

I wonder at times whether men like Cupich are truly so unaware, or if these sorts of quotes are intentional. What irony in citing Propser's admonition to retain rites that have been "handed down by the apostles" as an argument to embrace the Novus Ordo, which was a rejection of what had been handed down! Its citation is positively Orwellian:

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. (1984, Part II, Chap. IX)
Cupich concludes his tirade by returning to the age-old staple of anti-traddism: traditional Catholics are disloyaly:
We should name it for what it is: resistance to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and the undermining of genuine fidelity to the See of Peter.
We cannot fail to be amused that only moments ago he was citing Prosper of Aquitaine's admonition to maintain the traditions of the apostles, while now he is accusing trads of resisting the Holy Spirit for refusing to embrace the liturgy that systematically discarded the traditions of the centuries. 

I have said before and will say again, the intellectual momentum is with traditionalists. The power is with the progressives. May the former continue to increase while the latter be found to decrease.


(1) While Sacrosanctum concilium did of course call for a revision of the liturgical books (SC 25), what the Council requested and what actually happened are a world apart. The rites were to be revised only "where necessary," and then "carefully in the light of sound tradition" (SC 4); Latin and Gregorian chant were to be retained (SC 36, 116). There is no call for new "Eucharistic Prayers." There is no mention of versus populum or communion in the hand, the two most notable elements of the Novus Ordo. The Novus Ordo Missae, as experienced in 95% of Catholic parishes around the world, is not the liturgy the Second Vatican Council called for. This is not to say the new Mass would have been acceptable had it stuck to the letter of Sacrosanctum concilium, but it is to say that the Mass we got is not what the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy envisioned nor what the Council fathers intended.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

The Church as a Barnacle Encrusted Ship

[Mar. 3, 2023] It has frequently been observed that the liturgical reform of the mid-twentieth century was founded upon false principles of archaeologism or antiquarianism, a fallacy whereby something is held to be better or purer the older it is. If you are not familiar with the concept of archaeologism, I humbly recommend my essay "What is Archaeologism?" on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website.

The premise that the Catholic liturgy is better to the degree that is approximates to (perceived) patristic custom depends largely upon an analogy of accretion and restoration—like the hull of a ship, the Church is conceived as something that accumulates barnacles over the passage of time. The accretion of these barnacles is a symbol for the way the Church amasses traditions over the centuries, the way a moving glacier picks up debris as it scrapes across the landscape. If the Church is to be restored to its original (i.e., superior) form, these accretions must be removed. The reformers are thus like seamen scraping barnacles from the sides of a ship to beautify her, returning her to her original splendor by making her "like new."

As well as this idea works for physical objects like ships, it is really not an appropriate analogy when dealing with something like religion. I would go so far as to say the validity of the reformer's historical views only work if one presumes this analogy. But once the analogy is abandoned, we see how errant the reformers ideas truly are, and why this comparison should not be made about the Catholic liturgy or religious ideals in general.

St. John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine addresses this issue when Newman treats of the development of ideas. Ideas have an entirely different sort of life cycle than a physical object like a ship. Unlike a car, which begins to depreciate the moment you drive it off the lot, an idea grows stronger with age. Its maturation unfolds new facets of the idea that were always latent within it but are only drawn forth by the vicissitudes of time. In addressing those who suggest primitive Christianity is the highest form of the religion, Newman observes:

It is indeed sometimes said that a stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and fall around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relation; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Ch. I, Sec. 1, § 7). 

If you have never read Newman's Essay, it is a fantastic work I highly recommend. Chapter I on the nature of how ideas develop in human society is particularly relevant to this discussion.

The Roman rite in its fully developed form—as codified by St. Pius V—is a mature expression of Catholicism, vastly richer than whatever rituals so-called experts fabricated from culling fragments of patristic parchment. [1] This is not to denigrate the role of the Fathers or the immense treasures of our patristic heritage, but it is to understand their proper place. The patristic era stands as the foundation of all that came later; the entire edifice of our faith rests upon like a house rests upon its foundations. Even so, I do not live in the basement of my house, but in the upper rooms the basement supports and makes possible. 

Similarly, we recognize that the perfection of the traditional liturgy is precisely in that it has developed over so many centuries. Where the reformers saw an accretion of barnacles, we see a grand and venerable oak, made splendorous by the passing of time. It is a much more organic view of the Church and its maturation, which is fully appropriate given St. Paul compares the Church to an organic body (cf. 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 1:23). We must cherish our Church's youth, to be sure. But there is a difference between cherishing our youth and trying to return to it. The former is a fitting sentiment for any mature adult; the latter is more akin to an embarassing midlife crisis.

For more related articles on this subject see these two pieces from New Liturgical Movement:

[1] The great irony of the reformer's archaeologism is that the product they created does not even accurately reflect patristic worship. It is not a return to ancient worship, but a modern construction based tenuously on fragments of patristic writing with the (considerable) gaps filled in by sheer innovation.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

"Preserve His Church from Falling Into Error" — The Canonization of St. Bonaventure

I was recently made aware of a fascinating text from the pontificate of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) with import to the infallibility of canonizations. The text in question is the 1482 Superna caelestis, the canonization bull for St. Bonaventure. 

After relating the virtues and miracles of the saint, Pope Sixtus relates how petitions had reached the Holy See from all orders of Christendom requesting the canonization; he specifically mentions Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, King Louis XI of France, and King Ferdinand of Sicily among the royal sponsors, as well as a host of Italian nobles. He also mentions petitions from the cities of Florence, Siena, Lyons, Paris, Venice, and Bagnoregio, places where the cultus of St. Bonaventure was thriving. The Bishop Protector of the Franciscans, as well as the Minister General, were also petitioning for canonization. Recognizing the existence of such widespread devotion to the saint from so many quarters, Sixtus said the Christian people "with such earnestness and such perseverance requested it [canonization] from Us that We would think it hard and impious to resist them in a thing so pious, which they even seemed to request as having been moved by God." (§13)

There was a slight complication, though. Pope Sixtus was himself a lifelong member of the Franciscan Order and expressed concern lest the canonization seem to be motivated from Franiscan partisanship rather than proper devotion. He therefore wished extra diligence to be taken in the inquiries of the saint's virtues and miracles. The pope says, "lest in this We seem more ably moved by our own affection than in due devotion, We applied that diligence and gravity, which the magnitude of the matter demanded. For We committed to three of Our venerable brothers, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, to order an inquiry into the truth of the miracles." (§14)

Pope Sixtus must have experienced some scruple on this point, because he relates that he was unhappy with the first report: "Nor content with this, when the process itself had already nearly been completed, and those who had been delegated had reported most faithfully; We however, to whom it did not seem that in proceeding such solemnity, as is required, was observed, ordered it to be begun anew." (§15) It is difficult to say what Sixtus meant that the report had not proceeded with appropriate solemnity; given the concerns stated in §14, we may presume the pope did not consider the report sufficiently thorough. Perhaps the cardinals treated the report as a mere formality, whereas Sixtus desired something more substantial. Whatever the case, the pope felt compelled to order the process to begin again, this time observing greater attentiveness.

The second report met the pope's expectations, and Sixtus reported that "it had been thoroughly proven from more abundant reporting and the faith of more worthy witnesses concerning this undertaking, that many and great miracles were worked by God through this Saint" (§16). The time was ready to move on to canonization.

We must pause to appreciate the balanced approach taken by the pope. In the first place, note that he takes care to point to a preexisting cultus for justification of the canonization, even listing the various centers where Bonaventure's cultus was flourishing. The cultus attested to the veneration of the saint, and the pope's canonization is the acknowledgement of a matter of fact. So well attested was the cultus that the pope thought "it hard and impious to resist" moving forward with the canonization. He was not interested in using canonization to fabricate a cultus, but rather as a means of affirming one that already existed.

Second, the pope's desire to avoid even the appearance of partisanship is praiseworthy. He was aware that the canonization could elicit gossip; perhaps the canonization of a Franciscan saint by a Francsican pope would constitute a conflict of interest? "But mindful, that We had entered in same Order of Minors by vow...[and] lest in this We seem more ably moved by our own affection than in due devotion," the pope ordered extra diligence in the investigation of Bonaventure's life, going so far as to command a second investigation when he found the first insufficiently solemn. Sixtus had a pastor's mind; he wished to avoid the mere appearance of impropriety, ensuring that the canonization proceedings were unassailable as far as human prudence was concerned.

But this was still not sufficient for Sixtus. Before canonization, Pope Sixtus summoned a public consistory of clergy and laymen and imposed a triduum of prayer and fasting to seek God's will on the matter. The rationale for this consistory is fascinating. We shall quote the pope at length:

And since one and the same had been the opinion of all, namely that he should be registered among the number of the Saints, We thereupon held a public consitory, in which, with a great multitude of bystanders, We publicly proclaimed a triduum of prayers and fasting, so that God might enlighten us as to the correct course to pursue, and preserve His Church from falling into error, who strove to conform Herself to that [Church] Triumphant. (§16-17)

From a plain reading of this text, it does not seem that Sixtus believed canonizations are infallible. Why pray and fast for three days in order to "preserve His Church from falling into error"? This language strongly implies that Pope Sixtus believed it was fully possible for the Church to err in canonizing Bonaventure. 

The case is not so cut and dry, however, for shortly thereafter, when Sixtus moves on to the actual decree of canonization, he says:

Confident that God will not allow us to fall into error in the canonization of this saint, by His divine authority and that of His holy apostles Peter and Paul, we decree that Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, of blessed memory, Professor of Theology, of the Order of Friars Minor, who was raised from the office of Minister-General to that of Bishop and Cardinal, is a saint, and is to be inscribed in the catalogue of saints, and joined and associated with them. (§19)

In this section Sixtus seems to be implying the opposite of what he stated prior, for here he expresses confidence that "God will not allow us to fall into error in the canonization of this saint." The inability to fall into error is infallibility. Yet immediately prior he stated that he ordered three days of prayer and fasting so that God might "preserve His Church from falling into error" in the matter of the canonization. 

What is the solution to this apparent contradiction?

There are several possibilities that come to mind:

(1) Sixtus's latter statement that the canonization could not be errant is seen as a consequent of the prayers and investigations carried out previously. Since it would be possible for the canonizationtmo be errant, Sixtus wished to ensure it wasn't by means of careful deliberation and prayer, essentially saying, "After all the public devotion, all the inquiries, all the prayer and fasting, God would not permit an error." 

(2) It is possible that Sixtus did not know or was not sure whether infallibility would extend to protect canonizations. That would not be incompatible with theologians later concluding with certainty that they do. His latter statement could then just express confidence that God has heard his prayer in the particular case.

(3) Pope Sixtus may have believed in the infallibility of canonizations and prayed for preservation from error anyways. It is not inappropriate to pray for what God has promised to grant, since God commands us to pray and desires to work through our prayers. For example, we know that the Mass, offered according to the Church's rite, is always pleasing to God, yet the rubrics contain prayers that it may be acceptable nonetheless.

As to which is correct, if any, I could not say. With age I have become keenly aware that I am not competent to speculate on the finer points of theology, so I must profess ignorance as to the correct solution. In this essay I mean only to bring this document to the attention of minds wiser than my own, who may perhaps shed light on the proper interpretation of this document. 

I want to thank my friend dom Noah Moerbeek, CPMO for drawing my attention to these passages. The official Latin text of Superna caelestis can be found in the Opera Omnia S. Bonaventurae, ed. by the College of St. Bonaventure, Ad Claras Aquas, Florence, 1882: vol. I, p. XXXIX-XLIV. I used the English translations of the relevant texts as found in Saint Bonaventure: The Serpahic Doctor and Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Cardinal Bishop of Albano, by Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. (Longman & Greens, 1911), pages 119-120, but the English document is also available on Papal, albeit with a slightly different rendering, though the meaning conveyed is the same.