Sunday, 31 January 2021

Preparing Now for What the Future May Hold

Dr Kwasniewski looks at possible scenarios of the future and offers advice for the worst case. 

From One Peter Five

By Dr Peter Kwasniewski

In my article “Have There Been Worse Crises Than This One?,” I explained why I believe the Church is in a crisis second to none in her history—a crisis of unique gravity. The question on the minds of many is this: What might happen next—in the near future, in ten years, in twenty years, in fifty years? What might the Church look like if the “new paradigm” of Bergoglio succeeds? It is a question well worth asking in this “Year of Amoris Laetitia.”

As I like to say, when Pope Francis was elected, my crystal ball exploded. I am fully aware that Church history includes many surprises, good and bad. I see two probable scenarios, and we must be prepared for either of them.

One scenario would be a kind of replay of the sixteenth century, when the Church was facing the Protestant Revolt. We could have a series of popes who go back and forth, see-saw-like, between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, reform and corruption. In the sixteenth century, worldly or ineffective or clueless popes alternated with strong reformatory characters. Our next conclave might by some prodigious miracle produce a Leo XIV or a Benedict XVII who would tilt things back in a traditional direction; but then the conclave after could produce a Francis II who would, like a new liberal pastor at the local parish, undo much of his predecessor’s legacy as quickly as possible; and this tug of war could last for fifty or seventy years. In this case, we have to be ready to take advantage of the good moments and stand strong during the evil ones. If we have been paying attention during the Francis pontificate, we have been well and duly warned.

From a strictly human point of view, a second scenario seems more likely: that we will have a Francis II, a Francis III, and a Francis IV. They will continue to foster violations of the Ten Commandments, the rejection of established dogmas, and the sacredness of the liturgy, using the tools of ambiguity, winks and nudges, speeches and documents of minimal authority, committees and conferences, and lower-level appointees who will do the heavy lifting. They will attempt to abolish the traditional Latin Mass, eradicate religious communities that use it, suspend priests who continue to say it, and close hitherto flourishing churches and chapels.

In such a case, we will have no choice but to resist all such abuses of authority and work around them, as did our predecessors in the traditional movement from the mid-1960s onward. Stratford Caldecott remarks that the beatitude “Blessed are they that mourn” includes “those who remember the dead, and who remain faithful to tradition.”[1] We will refuse to cooperate, as did the Catholics in the fourth century when Arian heretics took over episcopal offices and church buildings. As St. Athanasius famously wrote to his faithful flock under persecution:

May God console you!… What saddens you…is the fact that others have occupied the churches by violence, while during this time you are on the outside. It is a fact that they have the premises─but you have the apostolic Faith. They can occupy our churches, but they are outside the true Faith. You remain outside the places of worship, but the Faith dwells within you. Let us consider: what is more important, the place or the Faith? The true Faith, obviously. Who has lost and who has won in this struggle—the one who keeps the premises or the one who keeps the Faith?

True, the premises are good when the apostolic Faith is preached there; they are holy if everything takes place there in a holy way… You are the ones who are happy: you who remain within the church by your faith, who hold firmly to the foundations of the Faith which has come down to you from apostolic Tradition. And if an execrable jealousy has tried to shake it on a number of occasions, it has not succeeded. They are the ones who have broken away from it in the present crisis.

No one, ever, will prevail against your faith, beloved brothers. And we believe that God will give us our churches back some day.

Thus, the more violently they try to occupy the places of worship, the more they separate themselves from the Church. They claim that they represent the Church; but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray.[2]

We may have to go into hiding, as the early Christians were sometimes forced to do, or as English Catholics did under Queen Elizabeth. We will welcome fugitive priests into our homes. Masses will be offered once again in living rooms, basements, attics, hotels, under tents, in forests, open fields, and caves. To this end, I recommend that families build an altar for home use and, if they have room for it, create a chapel. Even if no persecution comes to your corner of the world, the chapel will still be valuable as a place dedicated solely to prayer, and a reminder of the need to place Our Lord at the center of our lives.

In the wonderful interview entitled Christus Vincit, Bishop Athanasius Schneider talks about his childhood in the Soviet Union, where the Catholics would be without Mass or Confession for months, even as long as a year, because no clandestine priest could reach them. Then a priest would suddenly come, and everyone would go to Confession and Communion, not knowing the next time they would get the chance. He speaks of the many holy men and women in his family who died holy deaths without the sacraments, but full of faith and love.

The same is true in the world today: so many Christians in China and in the Middle East have no access to the sacraments, but they are being deeply sanctified in their life of prayer and their practice of the virtues. Pope Pius XII asked the world to pray to the “King of Martyrs” for the Chinese Catholics in an indulgenced prayer he promulgated on July 16, 1957.[3] It is a prayer we may find increasingly applicable to ourselves:

To those who must suffer torment and violence, hunger and fatigue, be Thou the invincible strength sustaining them in their trials and assuring them of the rewards pledged by Thee to those who persevere to the end.

Many, on the other hand, are exposed to moral constraints, which oftentimes prove much more dangerous inasmuch as they are more deceitful; to such, then, be Thou the light to enlighten their mind, so that they may clearly see the straight path of truth; be Thou also to them a source of strength for the support of their will, so that they may triumph in every crisis and never yield to any vacillation or weakness.

Finally, there are those who find it impossible to profess their faith openly, to lead a normal Christian life, to receive the holy sacraments frequently, and to converse familiarly with their spiritual guides. To such, be Thou Thyself a hidden altar, an invisible temple, a plenitude of grace and a fatherly voice, helping and encouraging them, providing a remedy for their aching hearts and filling them with joy and peace.

Sacramental access has been (relatively speaking) so easy for such a long time in the Western world that we have forgotten about the eras in which a certain deprivation was normal. In its entry on “aliturgical days,” the old Catholic Encyclopedia describes how the holy mysteries, i.e., the Mass or Divine Liturgy inclusive of the consecration of the bread and wine, was, once upon a time, not celebrated every day of the week:

Although we do not possess much which can be regarded as direct and clear evidence, there is every reason to believe that in early centuries of the Church aliturgical days were numerous both in East and West. In the beginning of things Mass seems to have been said only on Sundays and on the very few festivals then recognized, or perhaps on the anniversaries of the martyrs, the bishop himself officiating. To these occasions we have to add certain days of “stations” which seem to have coincided with the Wednesday and Friday fast then kept regularly throughout the Church. Dom Germain Morin has shown that at Capua, in the sixth century, and also in Spain, Mass was celebrated during Lent only on the Wednesday and the Friday. It is probable that a similar rule, but including the Monday also, obtained in England in the days of Bede or even later (see Revue Benedictine, 1891, VIII, 529). At Rome we also know that down to the time of Pope Gregory II (715–731), the liturgy was not celebrated on Thursdays.

As Gregory DiPippo notes: “A similar custom prevails to this day in the Ambrosian and Byzantine Rites, the former abstaining from the Eucharistic Sacrifice on all the Fridays in Lent, the latter on all the weekdays.”[4] This ancient praxis, which remains alive among Byzantine Catholics, has a fresh application in our times, when many days of the year must be “aliturgical” for Latin-rite Catholics who adhere to the usus antiquior, the authentic liturgy of the Church of Rome. On those days, we can pray a “dry Mass” with our missals, make a spiritual communion, and/or pray some part of the Divine Office (e.g., Prime), which is a nourishing feast for the soul. We should try to think of the times when we are deprived of public liturgy or of the reception of sacraments as purgative and preparative periods in which we can cultivate interior longing for Christ, which is the dry kindling needed for a blazing fire!

What did St. Paul mean when he said: “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2)? The Eucharist, as St. Thomas teaches, is ipse Christus passus—Christ Himself, as having suffered for our salvation. But all of the sacraments are, in a way, Christ crucified, since they apply to our souls the fruits of His redemptive Passion. The very structure of the Church, purchased with His Blood, is Christ crucified in His mystical members; the principal action of the Church is the renewal of Christ crucified upon the altar; the entire Christian life is Christ crucified, as we die to self and live for God; heaven itself is nothing other than Christ crucified, reigning and rejoicing in glory with His life-giving wounds, “a Lamb standing as though slain” (Rev 5:6). Could I only know “Christ Jesus, and Him crucified,” everything else worth knowing would grow out of that as from a mustard seed.

It seems that our times are summoning us in a unique way to a participation in the mystery of the Lord’s passion and death:

We should take consolation from our irrelevance. God knows what we do, and its importance is not measured in human terms but in those of divine love. We can sing, dance, do penance and what you will, in the full knowledge that the value of our actions is beyond calculation, as long as they belong to Christ. Most of what we say will be a dead footnote in history. It is our child raising and prayer muttering that threaten to make a difference, if not on this earth, then at least in Purgatory or Heaven…. Find your consolations other than in the “human health” of the Church. We are not wrong to be so scandalised by the current management. We just have to take the pain. It’s our cross. We have to bear it. Our love is love unknown. And there is nothing particularly new in that.[5]

Cardinal Sarah, Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Viganò, and Bishop Schneider—men who preach the same doctrine as their Master, with the calm, credible, and instantly recognizable authority of Successors of the Apostles—have frequently reminded us that we cannot endure and overcome evils of the magnitude we are now seeing in the world and in the Church except by striving to be saints, the “just men” of Abraham’s bargain with the Lord (see Gen. 18:16–33). During the Arian controversy, St. Hilary of Poitiers, one of a very few unequivocally Catholic bishops at the time, wrote: “In this consists the particular nature of the Church: that she triumphs when she is defeated, that she is better understood when attacked, that she rises up when her unfaithful members desert her.”

As for those unfaithful members, their “getting away with murder” does not have to be our paralysis. We are assured in Scripture, again and again, that the Lord will take care of them—either bringing about their conversion or punishing their wickedness. The words of the Psalmist ring out:

O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked triumph?
They prate, they speak arrogantly:
all the workers of iniquity boast themselves.
They break in pieces thy people, O Lord, and afflict thy heritage….
The Lord will not cast off his people,
neither will he forsake his inheritance.
For judgment shall return unto righteousness;
and all the upright in heart shall follow it.…
Shall the throne of wickedness have fellowship with thee,
which frameth mischief by statute?…
He hath brought upon them their own iniquity,
and will cut them off in their own wickedness;
the Lord our God will cut them off.[6]

We do not have to run the universe (thank God!). Our job is to pray for deliverance, for perseverance, for a love that never dies. Our daily exercise is to let go of anger, bitterness, impatience, and despondency, to push it away with a holy stubbornness, and to put ourselves, our Church, and our world, in God’s hands, in His wounded and glorified Heart—a Heart greater than all evil, greater than all our fears, greater than all our deserts and desires, greater than any of the victories of the past, the present, or the future.

NOTES

[1] Stratford Caldecott, Not as the World Give: The Way of Creative Justice (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014), 13.

[2] This translation is taken from here; an alternative from the series Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, may be found here (see pp. 961–62).

[3] The indulgence for this prayers was, tellingly, not renewed in the 1968 Enchiridion Indulgentiarum and its later editions. See Joseph Shaw, The Case for Liturgical Restoration (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2019), 263–64.

[4] “The Raising of Lazarus in the Liturgy of Lent,” New Liturgical Movement, March 16, 2018.

[5] Written years ago by a blogger, “The Sensible Bond,” who subsequently left the internet and took down his writings. I have saved some of them.

[6] Ps 94 ESV; cf. Ps 93 DRA.

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