Two years ago, on October 14, 2018, Pope Francis undertook to canonize several people, including his predecessor, Pope Paul VI. Of course, it is a pope’s prerogative to beatify or canonize anyone he thinks fit to be beatified or canonized. But this does not mean that, in every single case, there is no room for doubts or difficulties in the matter. In this column I will offer seven points that Catholics deserve to know.
First, it is an open theological question whether canonizations must be considered infallible acts of the papal magisterium. While theological consensus has favored infallibility, the Church herself has never made a binding determination on the matter, such that the opposite position would be ruled out in principle. There may be grave reasons for which it would not be unreasonable for Catholics to question a particular canonization.
Second, canonizations have always been understood to be an official response to a popular cultus or devotion. In recent times, however, certain beatifications and canonizations seem to have been driven by political motivations, in order to legitimize a certain “program.” A little comparison may help: the Church canonized only two popes from a span of 700 years (Pius V and Pius X), but now three popes from a span of 50 years (John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II) have been canonized. Commentators have spoken of the real intention, which was to “canonize Vatican II.”
Third, the process by which beatifications and canonizations occur is not without significance. The traditional rigorous process, instituted by Pope Urban VIII (1623–1644) and brought to perfection by Prosper Lambertini (1734–1738, later Pope Benedict XIV, 1740–1758), was followed until 1969. Between 1969 and 1983 the process was in flux, until John Paul II established a new set of much-simplified procedures to speed up the making of saints. In particular, the role of the “devil’s advocate” was minimized, the total number of miracles required for canonization was halved from four to two (i.e., one each for beatification and canonization), and the “magnitude” of miracle expected has also been relaxed. These changes, taken together, increase the probability—even if it generally remains small—that a beatification or a canonization will be mistaken.
The cause for Giovanni Battista Montini in particular shows worrisome features. A source in the Vatican confirmed to me that the process was pushed ahead at such speed that the copious documentation from and about Paul VI in the Vatican archives was not exhaustively reviewed. An archive of such magnitude could still turn up problematic material—especially since, as historians know, Montini was involved in clandestine dealings with the Communists as part of the Vatican’s failed Ostpolitik.
Fourth, contrary to well-meaning attempts to downplay the difficulties, canonization does not mean simply that “a person’s soul is in heaven.” If such were the case, it would be possible to proceed forthwith to the canonization of thousands of individual Catholics who died devoutly receiving the Church’s last rites. (Indeed, this is the kind of “canonization” that routinely happens at modern funeral Masses, with or without evidence of the devout reception of last rites.) In truth, canonization has always meant that the saint is exemplary in the heroic exercise of the Christian virtues, and is therefore held up to the universal Church as a model to venerate and imitate, particularly by those who are in the same or similar positions or states of life. This, of course, is the fundamental reason why, historically, so few Christians have been named saints! Many people exercise some virtues sometimes, but very few exercise the panoply of virtues to an heroic degree. While saints need not be “flawless,” they are still genuine “giants” of the supernatural life. When it comes to Paul VI, unfortunately, there is abundant evidence that he not only failed to exercise certain virtues heroically, but also that he displayed the absence of certain virtues in his discharge of the papal office—above all in regard to the unprecedented magnitude and violence of the liturgical reform in the period 1964–1974, which he acted not as a servant of tradition but as its master and possessor.
Fifth, if some Catholics have doubts about Paul VI’s canonization, are they committed to thinking him a criminal and a villain? By no means. Paul VI did much that can be admired, or at least respected as compatible with his papal duties: his encyclical Mysterium Fidei of 1965, which reiterated traditional Eucharistic doctrine; his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus of 1967, which defends clerical celibacy; his Credo of the People of God of 1968, a resounding reaffirmation of the Catholic Faith; and most famously, his encyclical Humanae Vitae of 1968, which repeated the Church’s teaching that any deliberate attempt to thwart the procreative end of the marital act is sinful. Nevertheless, the fact that a person (be he a layman, religious, or cleric) has done many great things for Christ and His Church does not constitute, in and of itself, a reason to beatify or canonize him. There are dozens of popes from history who have done as much good as Montini did, or rather, far more good—and without the blemishes that mark his papal record and disqualify him from public veneration.
Sixth, even in the case of legitimate beatifications and canonizations, Catholics are not required to have a personal devotion to any particular saint or to invoke him or her as part of their own prayer life, nor would the elevation of someone to the standing of public veneration endow his every action with normative value or his every opinion with indubitable truth. As others have pointed out, the policies of canonized popes—including their liturgical decisions—have been questioned or overturned by later popes.
Seventh, we cannot go wrong venerating and imitating the great saints of the past whose heroic virtue is beyond any reasonable doubt, by objective standards and by the witness of generations of devotees. We also cannot go wrong approving and lauding any Catholic whose words and deeds obviously harmonize with the well-known doctrine, discipline, and tradition of the Church. On the other hand, we would be wise to refrain from venerating or imitating anyone whose heroic virtue there are objective reasons to doubt, or whose opinions on matters of grave importance, such as the sacred liturgy, are saturated with erroneous philosophical theories such as rationalism or utilitarianism.
Two years later, then, we can frankly say: the case for Montini has gained no strength, nor has a robust cultus on the part of the faithful shown any hints of existence. Rather, this “canonization,” like others, has merged into the general dystopian mess of this pontificate, the Augean stables that a future Roman pontiff will have the unenviable job of cleaning out.
 For a fuller treatment, see my article “Why We Need Not (and Should Not) Call Paul VI ‘Saint.’”
A friend sent me the following note.
Dear Dr. Kwasniewski:
In our State of ———, masks were recently mandated in public places. Failure to comply with the new order can result in a petty misdemeanor or fine. Even at Holy Mass, all are supposed to wear masks.
On August 4, LifeSite News reported that Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, caught up in the global fear of contagion, has ordered the traditionally-minded Birmingham Oratory—founded by John Henry Newman himself, who, as a Catholic priest, celebrated exclusively the traditional Latin Mass and would always have given communion to the faithful on the tongue—to cease and desist giving Our Lord to the congregation in this manner. For now, the Oratorian Fathers are complying with the directive, but expressed distress and sadness and a keen desire to see this order “rescinded as soon as possible.”
The Oratory thus becomes the latest city to fall to its enemies in the ongoing siege against tradition, in the name of spurious science and arbitrary determinations of hygiene.
Some readers have asked me why I am so adamant about the manner of distributing the Most Blessed Sacrament. In this brief article, I wish to point out the gravity of the situation.
When it comes to the nature and aims of the international, quasi-religious society known as Freemasonry, disagreement has been the rule, not the exception. For every book that emphasizes the law-abidingness, philanthropy, and tolerant universalism of masonic organizations, another book condemns them for their hidden role in political upheavels or the Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church, while still others extol, or mock, their esoteric doctrine and elaborate ritualism.
Research is complicated by the fact that Freemasonry is not a single entity, but a conceptual whole made up of regional networks of lodges and sister organizations, each with rituals, doctrines, and enterprises more or less similar to those of others—rather as we speak of “Protestantism” when there are scores of independent sects with more or less overlapping beliefs and practices.
True to his fearless patron St. Athanasius, Bishop Schneider has proved a champion of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the authentic Magisterium of the Church. He has, moreover, given the most important example of all: that of a Christian, a priest, and a successor of the apostles who makes the Sacred Liturgy the font and apex of his life and ministry, and, in a special way, who keeps calling us back to the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, where our God and Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, substantially present, ready to receive the homage of men and angels, and full of power to sanctify those who approach Him rightly.
The story of how the words of consecration spoken over the chalice were changed for the Novus Ordo Missae is a potent exhibition of many interrelated problems characteristic of the liturgical reform in general: false antiquarianism; a defective understanding of participatio actuosa; an infatuation with Eastern praxis coupled with a contempt for what is uniquely Western; disdain for medieval piety and doctrine; a lack of humility in the face of that which we cannot fully understand and a lack of reverence for that which is mysterious; a mechanistic reduction of liturgy to material that we can shape as it pleases us (as we try to do with the natural world using our modern technology); and an itch to construct new forms due to boredom or discomfort with old ones. This example, therefore, serves as a crystal-clear illustration of the errors and vices that permeate the reform as a whole.
When I was in high school and college, I wrote a good deal of poetry. It started off free-form, in that lazy way moderns have, but soon, inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc (a fine poet!), Francis Thompson, T.S. Eliot, and like representatives of “The Other Modern,” I turned to more traditional forms, especially sonnets. The high point was a one-act play, written in heroic couplets, about the destruction of a monastery by French revolutionaries, written at Georgetown University in the fall of 1989, a bicentennial opportunity that could not be missed.
Then, in a sort of puritanical phase, I destroyed all of this verse—a foolish act I now regret. But one sonnet somehow escaped the purge. It’s not my best, but it has sentimental value… and it is relevant to my story.
The coronavirus crisis—to whatever extent real or exaggerated—seems, as with all crises, to be bringing out the best and the worst in people.
Unfortunately, with a few exceptions like Bishop Strickland, it seems to be bringing out the worst in our bishops. The Catholic world is moving day by day into a growing sacramental blackout that includes not only suspension of public Masses and Holy Communion, but also suspension of baptisms, confessions, and—most appallingly, given the dangers faced by the elderly and the sick—extreme unction. (In these circumstances, calling it “anointing of the sick” would seem almost quaint; if people on death’s door, in extremis, no longer count as candidates, a fortiori the gravely ill don’t make the cut, either.)
Long-time followers of the liturgical scene may recognize the name of Andrea Grillo, a liturgy professor at Sant’Anselmo in Rome, seedbed of much evil in the realm of the cultus divinus. The two new decrees from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith—Cum Sanctissima (which makes possible the offering of Mass in honor of more recently canonized saints like St. Padre Pio or St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, not to mention countless other devotees of the traditional Latin Mass) and Quo Magis (which adds to the 1962 Missale Romanum seven new Prefaces based on older liturgical texts)—has got him and his confreres up in arms.
In an amusingly self-pitying two-page protest letter, signed (as of March 30) by 134 liturgists, Grillo wrings his hands about how the 1962 missal is now being treated as—horror of horrors!—a living reality in the Church, parallel to the new Mass desired by The Council. For the author, it is nothing less than two churches, two faiths, two Catholicisms. One must admire the clarity and honesty with which he admits that there is no possible reconciliation between the two leges orandi and their leges credendi:
The greatest distortion of the initial intentions of the motu proprio [Summorum Pontificum] can be seen today in those diocesan seminaries where it is expected that the future ministers will be trained at the same time in two different rites: the conciliar rite and the one that denies it… [The CDF] seems to ignore, precisely on the dogmatic level, a grave conflict between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, since it is inevitable that a dual, conflictual ritual form will lead to a significant division in the faith; it seems to underestimate the disruptive effect this “exception” will have on the ecclesial level, by immunizing a part of the community from the “school of prayer” that the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reform have providentially given to the common ecclesial journey.
Fr. Anthony Ruff, presiding archon of the progressivist blog “PrayTell,” concurs with Grillo’s basic claim:
The problem with these [CDF] decrees, of course, is that they treat the rite which the Second Vatican Council made obsolete—with its decision that it be superseded by a reformed rite—as if it is still living and developing.... I hope that at some point Church officials at all levels will address the question of whether Summorum Pontificum is in any sense compatible with Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is not. Once this is recognized, it will be necessary to begin the exceedingly difficult work of winding it down and gradually bringing all the faithful around to the ecclesiology and liturgical-sacramental theology of the Second Vatican Council. This will likely take generations. Our shepherds will need a wise and generous spirit, great sensitivity, and patience.
Oddly enough, the progressives already had generations in which to inaugurate and consolidate their Brave New World, but in spite of every papal and episcopal muscle being exercised continuously for the past fifty years to promote their program and to marginalize, if not stomp out, the minority opposition, the results are in: the movement for restoring Catholic tradition is not vanishing but growing, as the fine work of Paix Liturgique once more demonstrates in their “2019 Status Report on the Situation of the Traditional Mass in the World.“ The author of the report, Christian Marquant, concludes on an optimistic note:
Last year we said that after our many survey polls conducted in the whole world, it was possible, if one weights the results of these surveys (the answers in favor of the traditional Mass are probably, for a certain number of Catholics, a sort of “protest vote” against the form of religion the clergy has been imposing on them), to think that at least 10% of Catholics on the planet, i.e., 130 million laymen, wished to live their Catholic faith within the traditional liturgy of the Latin Church. This percentage is more plausible if one takes into account that, in a country like France, the statistical floor of Catholics who always attend the traditional Mass, irrespective of accessibility, is 6%.
The same applies to priests as to the laity. Our claims were founded not on statistics but on opinion polls, although the consensus among sociologists is that they are, when all is said and done, a very good indication. It turns out that our most recent survey polls, which were conducted in 2019 in Korea and in the USA, give even higher results than the survey polls we had conducted for Europe and Latin America. We can therefore at least say that last year’s estimate has been reinforced: over 130 million Catholics in the world aspire to live their Catholicism according to the traditional liturgy.
I have a pretty serene outlook for the future, actually, despite the difficulties that opponents of liturgical peace tirelessly cause their traditional brethren. This liturgical peace is the first condition of true peace in the Church. People often worry that what one pope—Benedict XVI—has done, another may undo. I’ll first point out that the motu proprio of Benedict XVI and the texts before it merely legitimized a situation that had come into being through the will of traditional laymen. And it is clear today that the usus antiquior and all that comes with it and all that it undergirds, especially as far as concerns the teaching of the catechism, can no longer be buried or set aside. The Tridentine liturgical family henceforth constitutes an unavoidable group within the Catholic universe, today and tomorrow.
Let us return now to El Grillo, who claims: “It no longer makes sense to enact decrees to ‘reform’ a rite that is closed in the historical past, inert and crystallized, lifeless and without vigor. There can be no resuscitation for it.”
In light of decades of attending the Latin Mass myself, traveling widely for speaking engagements, reading avidly, and taking seriously the statistics, I have three reactions to these desperate claims.
My definitive response, however, may be found in the form of eight limericks.
Would it not be a magnificent irony if the coronavirus led to a significant swell in the number of TLMs and in the access of the faithful to them?
IN MY ARTICLE “Restoring Liturgical Tradition after the Pandemic” at New Liturgical Movement (March 19, 2020), I have suggested that priests should take advantage of this God-given opportunity to enrich and redirect parish life along more traditional lines. This would include, inter alia, (a) learning the TLM if they do not already know it, (b) practicing it well if they are new to it, (c) offering it daily, if possible, during the time of shutdown, (d) always offering the Mass ad orientem and then transferring this custom into the public liturgies at the time of starting up again, (e) modifying post-crisis parish Mass schedules to insert, improve, or expand TLM access, (f) abolish liturgical abuses and bad customs, which have already been suspended de facto in recent weeks, (g) rework the parish music program, starting afresh with better “music ministers.”
This is obviously a large and ambitious list, but it is unified by the centrality of the worthy offering of the Mass and made realistic by the drastic dislocations we have experienced. After some weeks of downtime, the faithful who still believe will be eager to get back to Mass, and will be grateful for the opening of the parishes. Priests will have an ideal opportunity to invoke “pastoral exigencies and reprioritization”; they can insert into their homilies various moments of catechesis that may have seemed awkward in the past but now seem appropriate. In so many ways, it’s like being given a blank slate or a blank cheque. Even bishops will have their attention so taken up with the fallout that a concerted move by many priests would be difficult for them to block. (For this reason, I strongly recommend that like-minded, tradition-loving priests coordinate with one another and make a plan.)
Meanwhile, we are in lockdown for an unspecified amount of time. Some epidemiologists, in view of the extreme infectiousness of the virus and the impossibility of preventing its communication, are predicting a sharp rise in cases in the coming weeks. For all we know, it may be a month before public access to the sacraments is opened up again.
To the extent practicable, I would urge priests to keep their churches unlocked, at least when they are personally present, and to allow the faithful to “discover”—without announcements or advertisements—that the priests happen to be saying Mass at this or that time of day. (I hear that this is already happening to some extent.) Technically, it corresponds to the requirements: there is no public schedule of public Masses, but no member of the faithful is turned away or prevented from entering and praying. If the number of faithful who start to come surpasses a certain established limit, the priest could ask the laity to remain outside, or to take turns, “if they must come…”
Obviously a bishop could get wind of this happening and try to clamp down, but the priest would not be guilty of any wrongdoing in simply saying his private Mass, and discovering (unbeknownst to him if he’s saying Mass ad orientem!) that some faithful have shown up.
In a book soon to be published by Angelico Press, Michael Fiedrowicz’s The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite, we read the following about the private Mass:
This form of the celebration of the Mass [i.e., the Low Mass] had become much more prevalent ever since the second half of the seventh century, after the number of priests in the monasteries had greatly increased, while secular priests practiced daily celebration, even when no congregation was present, and Mass stipends were increasingly given for the private concerns of the faithful, especially for the benefit of the dead. The term often used in this context, Missa Privata, should not be mistaken to mean that this celebration of the Mass is not a public and communal act of worship of the Church. Due to certain circles of the Liturgical Movement having rejected such celebrations of the Mass, Pope Pius XII expressly defended its legitimacy in his liturgical encyclical (1947). To serve as a reminder that even this form of the Mass is a public act of the worship of God, done in the name of Christ and the Church, the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the Instruction on Sacred Music (1958) desired that the expression ‘private Mass’ not be used in the future.18 The Catechism of the Council of Trent had already rejected this usage for similar reasons. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the so-called ‘private Mass’ was never synonymous with the Missa sine populo [Mass without people], at which only an acolyte is present. It is much more a question of a Mass that the priest celebrates from personal devotion or by reason of a private Mass stipend and that is not a public Mass (Missa publica), i.e., not a parish or convent Mass.
The reason this is so important is simply that the distinction between a public Mass (which is what bishops are canceling or forbidding) and private Mass (which is always within the rights of an individual priest by canon law) is NOT the difference between people being present and people not being present, but has everything to do with the nature of the event: is it a scheduled parish or convent Mass, or a priest’s personal act of devotion when he has no other obligation?
This is why Summorum Pontificum says—using the somewhat less precise language of postconciliar documents:
in Masses celebrated “without the people,” each Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular regular, may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum. For such celebrations, with either one Missal or the other, the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary” (Art. 2).
Then, in Art. 4:
Celebrations of Mass as mentioned above in art. 2 may—observing all the norms of law—also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted.
There is no indication that this “asking” must be verbalized or done ahead of time; it can take the simple form of showing up, entering, kneeling, and beginning to assist at Mass.
The upshot of all this is as follows:
Would it not be a magnificent irony if the coronavirus led to a significant swell in the number of TLMs and in the access of the faithful to them?
Certainly, we can say without hesitation that in the domain of televised Masses, there is a disproportionate presence of the TLM as compared with the numerically much more dominant Novus Ordo. For reasons that should surprise no one, the TLM is more sought-after for its beauty and reverence, and practically no televised Novus Ordo can hold a candle up to it. A similar phenomenon explains why searching online for photos of Mass turns up the TLM again and again (to the chagrin of progressivists). The current crisis will likely lead still more Catholics to rediscover their own heritage and to take hold of it when and as they can. We know that God used the terrible Sack of Rome to bring about deep and lasting reform. It looks like He may already be using this wild situation to reintroduce some order into the Church.