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