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Friday, July 16, 2021

Traditionis Custodes: The New Atom Bomb

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Traditionis Custodes: The New Atom Bomb

Seventy-six years ago, on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated in a lonely desert 210 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Today, on July 16, 2021, Pope Francis has dropped an atom bomb on the Catholic Church that will harm not just those who “adhere to the Latin liturgical tradition” but everyone who values continuity and coherence, reverence and beauty, our heritage and our future.

The document is dripping with condescension and heartlessness, designed like a Swiss Army knife to equip bishops with as many ways of inconveniencing or hounding tradition-loving Catholics as possible.

As I opened up Traditionis Custodes this morning, my eyebrows rose at the improbable title (Traditionis Perditores, “Destroyers of Tradition,” would have been far more accurate), and then my incredulity rose with each paragraph. By the time I had finished the accompanying letter, I was deep into the ideological fantasy-world inhabited by Pope Francis and other enemies of the traditional liturgy in today’s Church. It felt as if a budding George Orwell had been commissioned to compose the text. The document is dripping with condescension and heartlessness, designed like a Swiss Army knife to equip bishops with as many ways of inconveniencing or hounding tradition-loving Catholics as possible.

And the contents were declared to be effective immediately, all other “norms, instructions, permissions, and customs” be damned.

The language of the motu proprio suggests that the traditional Latin Mass is being regarded very much like an ecclesiastical version of COVID-19.

It’s as if—for all the world—as if we are dealing with a global pandemic of traditionalism that must be stopped by any and every method. The language of the motu proprio suggests that the traditional Latin Mass is being regarded very much like an ecclesiastical version of COVID-19: it is a disease which must be carefully quarantined, monitored, and limited by whatever social engineering is deemed necessary by central authority. Indeed, since the Latin Mass is supposed to be removed from parishes and no more personal parishes are to be set up for it, those who attend might as well wear yellow stars and ring a bell as they walk around. The ghettoization that Benedict XVI labored mightily to overcome has not only returned but received a ringing endorsement.

It is, needless to say, the antithesis of the highly-touted “pastoral” approach, the warm inclusiveness that accompanies everyone on their journey (even if that means they dissent from Catholic teaching on any number of major matters), the romanticized “peripheries” to which the shepherds are to show “mercy”—all the political rhetoric with which this pontificate has festooned itself. In the new motu proprio, it is not the shepherd who comes to smell like the sheep, but the sheep who are told how they must smell in order to be shepherded—or else.

This is a declaration of total war, and must be courageously resisted every step of the way.

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Was it naivety on my part, or just a misplaced belief that simple respect for human beings and for fellow Catholics might still animate this Peronist pope’s heart, that led me to be unprepared for the monstrous and mendaciously-named Traditionis Custodes? It is far worse than I had expected: a text that drips with contempt, miserliness, and vindictiveness, lacking even a rhetorical attempt to provide a context or (however insincerely) cushion the blow: a lack of rudimentary grace that has never been seen in a document of such magnitude, affecting so many Catholics. It is a historic slap in the face to Francis’s pontifical predecessors, from St. Gregory the Great to St. Pius V, even to all the popes after the Second Vatican Council who, seeing that the love for the traditional liturgy had not and would not die out, made provisions for meeting the spiritual needs of Catholics nourished by these venerable rites. For countless souls this great liturgy has become a new motivation to live the demands of the Gospel, a sturdy foundation for family and community life, a source of precious priestly and religious vocations.

Francis cares for none of that. All he cares about is an artificial “unity” that ought to be called uniformity, or better, ideology. A uniformity characterized by every diversion and aberration (in spite of effete calls for reining in the party now running for over five decades), but intolerant of the seriousness, sobriety, and transcendence of an ageless act of worship.

Francis’s anti-TLM motu proprio has all the charm of a decree by Stalin ordering the purge of Ukrainian dissidents.

Let’s not mince words: this is a declaration of total war, and must be courageously resisted every step of the way, “anything else to the contrary notwithstanding.” The true “guardians of tradition” will be the clergy, religious, and laity who carry on with the traditional liturgy in the face of the infernal hatred directed against it. If Francis wants war, I hope and pray there will be enough men ready to enlist, and enough men capable of leading them. And by the latter, I mean priests ready to give themselves 100% to the needs of the faithful who rightly adhere to tradition—come what may. There are souls at stake, including the priest’s own soul; for he cannot “unknow” what he has come to know, cannot “unlove” what he has come to love. It is too high a price to pay for obedience to a soul-crushing regime, whatever trappings of authority it claims to wear.

This new motu proprio is as bad as it seems only if we allow ourselves to think and act as if we are bound by it, as if its provisions are licit. If, however, we recognize that it is inherently anti-Catholic, and that no pope can rightfully trample on the members of the Church and on her venerable rites as Francis is attempting to do, then we will see it more as an external burden, like a plague, a war, a famine, or an evil government to be overthrown or borne with until its demise. Does the pope have the authority to issue such a diktat? No. It is worth even less than the paper on which it is written.

Those who love the traditional liturgy and recognize in it the focal point of the Church’s inheritance will carry on as best they can. They will not beg for permission to offer the immemorial Mass. They will not do the readings in the vernacular, with “approved editions” (New American Bible, anyone?). They would rather perish as martyrs than die in the ignominy of lapsation.

The ghettoization that Benedict XVI labored mightily to overcome has not only returned but received a ringing endorsement.

I believe at least some bishops will be non-plussed by how cold, harsh, and foolish is Francis’s anti-TLM motu proprio, which has all the charm of a decree by Stalin ordering the purge of Ukrainian dissidents. Of course, there are others who will run with it, but I can’t imagine that bishops who have seen the many good fruits of Summorum Pontificum—not least, the steady and often generous financial contributions that flow in from traditional groups—and who enjoy good relationships with priests and parishes that peacefully celebrate the TLM will want to disturb them for the sake of falling in line with a temporary tyrant. Any bishop who genuinely loves the Catholic Faith, any bishop aware of the burgeoning love of tradition among the young and its power to revitalize the Church after the doldrums (not to say freefall) of recent decades, will quietly set aside this painful document and proceed as if nothing has changed—or rather, proceed in the certain knowledge that, as Rorate Caeli tweeted, “Francis will die and the traditional Mass will live on.”

On the pragmatic side, most bishops do not have a superabundance of clergy such that they could afford to alienate a sizeable number of their presbyterate. If enough priests in the more conservative dioceses stick to the Latin Masses to which they have an inalienable and unabrogatable right, what are the bishops going to do — throw them all out? Where will they get pastors? Where will they get future vocations? Do bishops need another huge headache on their hands, a civil war, a smouldering discontent that saps time and energy on all sides? Benedict XVI brokered a fragile peace, one under which a certain measure of non-polemical normalcy was possible. Many will want to keep that peace, such as it is, in preference to renewed hostilities.

The “logic” of Traditionis Custodes is tortured, to say the least. Guardians of tradition . . . who attack the Roman tradition of divine worship spanning the centuries. Bishop are empowered . . . but only to limit and suppress; they may not invite, support, and multiply places of growth. The pope promotes unity . . . by doing one of the most unity-destroying actions imaginable. The pope praises his predecessor . . . by utterly and completely contradicting his teaching and revoking what he did. And since you have received from Catholic tradition the truth that the pope is in charge, remember that you must unconditionally obey him when he commands you to reject whatever traditions he personally dislikes, no matter how much they have been sustained by his predecessors whose authority is no less than his, and whose cumulative endorsement is vastly greater than his.

In the new motu proprio, it is not the shepherd who comes to smell like the sheep, but the sheep who are told how they must smell in order to be shepherded—or else.

Recall that the Pope was once asked point blank about the possibility of the salvation of a man who gave every evidence that he went to his grave denying God as an atheist. The Pope replied in positive terms about the salvation of this man. By contrast, the Pope commented in his letter about Catholics attached to the Holy Tradition of the Church. He invokes unconditional obedience to his person when he commands that their attachment to the Church’s Tradition be severed.

And should they fail to obey him, he reminds them that salvation is not possible unless one is a Catholic who submits to obedience to his person, including his command they sever their attachment to the Church’s Tradition. They are not, in other words, to be attached to the Church’s Tradition, but to submit in obedience to his person. Let’s juxtapose the scenarios. If people deny God altogether and die as atheists, we have nothing but hopeful words; in fact, let’s just admit they are saved because “mercy.” But if people have the temerity to be attached to the Church’s Tradition in spite of being told to sever that attachment, they are prospective schismatics on their way out of the Church and on the road of perdition. Can we not see here the utter breakdown of the hyperpapalism that makes the pope a mortal god, a divine oracle, who gets to rewrite liturgy, theology, morals, and even the record of history in pursuit of ideology?

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Pope Francis reminds one of modern architects like Le Corbusier who build from ideology and are surprised when everything leaks, stains, buckles, and falls apart. The residents reasonably want to move back to the elegant, sturdy, tranquil old buildings.

Is there any silver lining on the menacing cloud? Perhaps it is this: the final stripping-away of all pretense about the deadly game the modernists wish to play.

The contrast between the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the detonation of the most destructive weapon ever invented by man—one that harms the guilty and the innocent alike, and sows sickness for years after—gives us a key to understanding today’s significance. The sign of the Virgin, the one who received the Word and magnified God, stands opposed the sign of the Serpent, the one who proudly disdains God’s gifts and exalts his own will. The primoridal non serviam echoes in the voice of one who refuses to be the servus servorum Dei.

The document is dripping with condescendion and heartlessness.

“By their fruits ye shall know them”: this was the message of the Gospel this past Sunday, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in the quondam Extraordinary Form, better known as the Mass of Ages. The fruits of this new motu proprio will be widespread confusion and increased division; temptations to bitterness, discouragement, and despair; tensions and headaches for bishops across the globe; crippling hesitations in the minds of young men who had considered becoming seminarians under the provisions of Summorum Pontificum; a large migration of Catholics to the Society of St. Pius X (for which I judge no one!) and to sedevacantist groups (which, on the contrary, is nothing other than tragic), simply because ordinary Catholics cannot—and should not have to be able to—understand how a pope can act against the Church, her tradition, and her common good as Francis does and has done, again and again. All this, and more, will Jorge Bergoglio be called upon to answer for at the dread judgment seat of Christ.

Let us not only call upon Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this dark day and wear her brown scapular, but also see in that scapular a reminder of her protecting mantle that covers all her children and all things Catholic, including the traditions that unite us to one another and to all generations of believers, stretching back to Our Lady. For it was she who said, in words we must cling to in faithful perseverance: “He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.”

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Last modified on Friday, July 23, 2021
Peter Kwasniewski, PhD

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He has taught for the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. He writes regularly for blogs, magazines, and newspapers, and has published nine books, four of which concern traditional Catholicism. Visit his website at www.peterkwasniewski.com.

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