Mosebach is the author of The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy and wrote the forward for Peter Kwasniewski's Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages.
By Maike Hickson, PhD
'Whoever wants to resist must be prepared to pay a price for it.'
(LifeSiteNews) — Since the publication of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes in the middle of July, several developments show us that the Pope is serious about his plan essentially to abolish the traditional Latin liturgy and all the communities attached to it. Tradition has to go.
LifeSite has reached out to the prominent Catholic German author Martin Mosebach, a strong defender of the traditional Latin Mass and Tradition in general, asking him to help us discern this new situation and how Catholics should react to it. We also raised our concern with regard to the increasingly harsh language of Pope Francis with which he discusses the work of such conservative outlets as EWTN, as well as tradition in general.
In his responses, as we shall see, Mosebach takes the stance that cooperation or compromise with Pope Francis’ regime is not advisable. Instead, he calls us to loyal fidelity to our faith, at all costs, seeing that Catholic obedience is not “blind obedience,” but includes “the use of reason.”
Speaking about the situation of the traditional Carmelite nuns in Fairfield, Pennsylvannia, — who have recently been subject to an Apostolic Visitation — Martin Mosebach counsels them not to let the delegation come in:
According to my conviction, these nuns have the full moral right to show the visitators the door and to return to sender, unopened, the Roman correspondences that are expected to be sent subsequently. They should only take care of one thing: to keep their property safe so that it cannot be confiscated in case of a possible Roman dissolution of the Order, suspension of the Mother Superior, etc. Then they must hold out for a few years in a legitimate illegality, but certainly not as long as the SSPX has held out.
When speaking about Traditionis Custodes, the German author points out that his own sources confirm that the questionnaire among bishops about the traditional Latin Mass communities — which Pope Francis claimed showed these communities are posing a problem — actually had the opposite result, that is to say that the Pope is misrepresenting its results.
“The papal decision is probably based on incorrect premises,” Mosebach said. “There exists a persistent rumor, based on people who claim to have seen the relevant papers, that the survey among the bishops regarding their experience with the Old Rite came to exactly the opposite result than claimed in the papal document. Since the survey is kept secret, this rumor cannot be dispelled.”
But more importantly, the German author insisted that “the traditional liturgy was never forbidden because it cannot be forbidden,” referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s words on this matter.
“It is only now becoming clear that perhaps the most historically significant initiative of his [Benedict’s] pontificate was to cautiously revise a papolatry that was contrary to Tradition and that had emerged after Vatican I,” he said. “The most important word that a Pope can speak is ‘Non possumus,’ the designation of the insurmountable limits that the papal office has received by Tradition.”
Discussing the problem of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) which is exclusively celebrating the traditional Latin Mass and which is now being pressured into accepting the Novus Ordo Mass as the norm, Mosebach expects resilience from such priests.
Young men who were willing to take the most uncomfortable path to the priesthood, who are excluded from all ecclesiastical careers from the outset, due to their vocation, who are only allowed to work in very few places in the dioceses and who are under the general suspicion of society of being backward and obscurantist, but who nevertheless want to remain faithful to the Old Rite, will not be able to be prevented from doing so with a legal-positivist ban based on false premises [such as diocesan decrees].
Mosebach also spoke positively of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s earlier resistance to the suppression of the traditional Mass and way of life, and he essentially told the Fraternity now to do the same.
When asked whether the FSSP now should go the way of Lefebvre or accept the infringements upon the traditional rite, the German authors responded: “They should not accept this at all! It is an injustice what happens to us and we must not accept it.”
Further explaining his position, he continued:
Canon law does not know positivism in essential questions — no “Hoc volo, sic iubeo!” Only whoever resists [Traditionis Custodes] must expect that the church building will be taken away from the parish and that the priests will be suspended. It may also happen that some parishioners, for whom the Pope’s threatening gesture is still of spiritual significance, no longer dare to attend a ‘forbidden’ Mass. Whoever wants to resist must be prepared to pay a price for it. In my estimation, the price will not be too high — the left wing of the Church has long since stopped following instructions from Rome without having to fear even the slightest sanction. This does not apply to Tradition, however, but the weapons have become blunt — who takes the Church’s penal code seriously anymore?
Martin Mosebach said it’s time for the FSSP to make amends regarding Lefebvre:
The Fraternity of St. Peter must now learn a bitter lesson: it believed that by seceding from the Society of St. Pius X and by submitting to the dictates of reform, it would be rewarded with security and recognition; now it may be time for some of the priests of St. Peter, mainly German, to make amends to Archbishop Lefebvre. The hostility of the present ruling circles in the Church against Tradition is unconditional — they will not rest until Tradition is completely destroyed. Pope Francis apparently said the other day: “Tradition is killing us.” He does not know how right he is: Yes, Tradition will sit in judgment over him sooner or later, because it is the essence of the Church, because it is also the basis of the papacy, which does not exist without Tradition.
Facing the possible future for many of us that we might be punished or excluded for standing up to the papal fury against Tradition, our German author reassures us that we are not alone. We should trust God’s Providence and then rely on the authority of the Church’s 2,000-year-old Tradition.
“We possess not only the Sacred Scriptures,” Mosebach said, “but a ‘cloud of witnesses,’ the martyrs and Fathers of the Church, let us mention from more recent times only Card. Newman and Josef Pieper.”
“These are the standard to which every innovation in the Church must live up,” he continued. “Each Pope can only develop his maximum authority as long as he does not put himself in opposition to these eloquent and silent witnesses of tradition. One could say after 2,000 years of church history: The authority is there even without a pope — perhaps it is this fear that secretly drives the present ruler to indignation.”
Full interview with Martin Mosebach
LifeSite: First of all, would you sum up for our readers your initial response to Traditionis Custodes and its accompanying letter?
Mosebach: By now, the Motu proprio Traditionis Custodes (TC) has been analyzed by so many important voices that it is unnecessary to go into it again in detail. Therefore, I would like to emphasize only two points, which represent a problem that a canon lawyer would have to solve — I lack the prerequisites in canon law for this.
First, the papal decision is probably based on incorrect premises. There exists a persistent rumor, based on people who claim to have seen the relevant papers, that the survey among the bishops regarding their experience with the Old Rite came to exactly the opposite result than claimed in the papal document. Since the survey is kept secret, this rumor cannot be dispelled.
Secondly, the facts claimed in TC are incorrect: The rite promulgated by Pope Paul VI, after all, is not the only rite of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis claims for himself an alleged right, according to which Pope Pius V purportedly created the Roman rite. The problem is that Pius V did not create a new rite, but he merely introduced universally a rite that was already more than 1,000 years old at that time: The rite of Gregory the Great, which was the rite of the popes, which in turn was in no way created by Gregory, but only put into order.
Furthermore, Pope Francis accuses many adherents of the Ancient Rite of attacking Vatican II, whereas the opposite is true: The vast majority of the adherents of the Ancient Rite complain that Paul VI’s reform of the Mass did not follow the guidelines of Vatican II, which has long been proven in a wide range of writings.
Moreover, it is misleading to always refer to Vatican II, which does not represent the last state of doctrine, but which has long since been further developed by the magisterium of the Church, where clarification was needed. I refer here, for example, to the Instruction “Dominus Jesus” — in this respect Vatican II is already historical.
Furthermore, a liturgy must not be judged according to whether its adherents, who celebrate it in the present, hold agreeable political convictions. As is well known, the “Our Father” is prayed even by heretics and is nevertheless binding for Catholics.
The Pope claims that Pope Benedict’s motu proprio was written in order to bring the members of the Society of St. Pius X back into full communion with the Church, but this, too, is demonstrably false. Pope Benedict issued his motu proprio because he was convinced of the high spiritual value of the Ancient Rite — he called it a “buried treasure” that had to be brought back to light; the reconciliation of the Pius Society [SSPX] played only a subordinate role in this context.
The most important omission of Pope Francis, however, is that he does not mention his predecessor’s teaching that the traditional liturgy was never forbidden because it cannot be forbidden, limiting papal authority. This teaching is still valid regardless of the document in which it was published; Pope Benedict has repeatedly expressed himself in this sense.
It is only now becoming clear that perhaps the most historically significant initiative of his pontificate was to cautiously revise a papolatry that was contrary to tradition and that had emerged after Vatican I.
The most important word that a pope can speak is “Non possumus”, the designation of the insurmountable limits that the papal office has received by tradition.
Personally, I deplore the tone of the motu proprio TC. A Pope does not have to be a gentleman, but it is sad when mockery of the inferiors finds its way into a legislative act of the Church. To call a decree that contains an attack on Tradition, Traditionis custodes, has something of schadenfreude, the expression of which is incompatible with this high office.
LifeSite: In light of Traditionis Custodes, there have been several bishops who have taken steps to reduce the presence of Traditional Latin Masses in their diocese. Most prominently, the Archdiocese of Guadalajara has issued a decree suppressing a quasi-parish of the Fraternity of St. Peter, as well as demanding from their priests to sign a document declaring the Novus Ordo liturgy as the “unique” expression of the Roman rite and declaring that they are willing to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass at times. For now, the FSSP may continue its regular Mass schedule, but it will be reviewed by the archdiocese at the end of the COVID crisis. This decree is a heavy blow for their apostolate.
What is your response to such a decree? Should the FSSP priests accept the cancelation of a thriving and growing quasi-parish, or should they find alternative ways of serving these faithful?
Mosebach: I do not know what the superiors of the Fraternity of St. Peter will decide to do. But one thing is clear: Young men who were willing to take the most uncomfortable path to the priesthood, who are excluded from all ecclesiastical careers from the outset, due to their vocation, who are only allowed to work in very few places in the dioceses and who are under the general suspicion of society of being backward and obscurantist, but who nevertheless want to remain faithful to the Old Rite, will not be able to be prevented from doing so with a legal-positivist ban based on false premises.
I don’t know the situation in Guadalajara, but it seems to me that the archbishop there has created the emergency brake of not wanting to make a new decision until after the end of the COVID crisis — but that will probably take some time in Mexico …
LifeSite: In your estimation, should a traditional Catholic priest sign any document that declares the
Mass of all Ages to be essentially non-existent and the Novus Ordo liturgy to be the “only” expression of the Roman rite?
Mosebach: I don’t know what a moral theologian would say about this. In my opinion, someone does not commit a lie when he confirms an obviously nonsensical statement under duress — for example, that a cow has three horns or that the Mass of Paul VI is the only Roman rite.
But it is to be feared that there are bishops for whom such a signature is not an annoying formality and who, after signing, will immediately ask: “And why do you want to celebrate a liturgy which, according to your own opinion, does not exist?”
Cunning will only help here in cases where there is a winking agreement with the bishop. But that may exist in some cases.
LifeSite: Do you think any priest who has been ordained in the traditional Roman rite and who has been celebrating the traditional Mass exclusively should accept to offer at times the Novus Ordo Mass?
Mosebach: This question is not so easy to answer. I know excellent priests who have always celebrated the Old and the New Rite side by side — they fulfill an important apostolic task, because they bring people into contact with the Old Rite who otherwise would never have known it. These priests do not make it easy for themselves; the longer they celebrate the Old Rite alongside the New, the more they often suffer from the mutilation of the new Mass, which they become more and more aware of.
For the priests who have celebrated exclusively in the Old Rite from the beginning, however, a change between the rites is unbearable. Here, of course, a problem arises: As long as one basically holds — which most adherents of the tradition still do at present — that the local bishop is a real bishop of the Church and that the reformed Masses are valid Mass celebrations, one will hardly be able as a cleric to refuse to participate in the bishop’s Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday.
Robert Spaemann said that in order to show unity with the bishop, it is enough to go to Holy Communion at this Mass, which makes sense to me. He who really has reason to believe that the bishop no longer validly consecrates, of course, may not communicate, but not even the SPPX priests go so far.
LifeSite: Is this diocesan demand not a way of preparing these traditional priests to abandon soon the traditional liturgy altogether?
Mosebach: As long as the demand is limited to taking Holy Communion at the Mass of Holy Thursday (consecration of the Holy Oil), I would not think so. It would be different if the bishop would demand from a traditional priest to “help out” occasionally or regularly also in the Novus Ordo.
Pope Francis undoubtedly pursues such strategies; one has to see how many bishops will follow him there. Let us not forget that even Summorum Pontificum was never implemented in many places! In general, it is a serious attack on a person’s spiritual integrity to force him to shuttle back and forth between rites. But for people who do not know what a rite is — which in the West, is the case with the majority of Church members — this is a completely incomprehensible point of view.
LifeSite: A similar event seems to be taking place in Le Havre, France, where a decree has been leaked, according to which the local bishop ruled that the FSSP may not administer baptisms and weddings in the traditional rite. This would, should it finally be promulgated, also be a heavy blow to the FSSP apostolate in France.
Do you have a comment on this diocesan decision? Should traditional Catholics accept that they be refused to have their children baptized in the traditional rite? Should traditional Catholic priests accept the ban of these Sacraments?
Mosebach: I do not know enough about the Le Havre case either, but the point is striking here that the SSPX priests are allowed to baptize and marry in the Old Rite, but the same is forbidden to the priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter, although they have taken a sacrificial path in order to remain in unity with the Pope.
The bad thing of course is that the consequence of this decree — the followers of the Old Rite go to the SSPX for Baptisms and Marriages — is expressly desired by the Pope: away with such people, just do not hold on to anyone who is connected with the Old Church, they are only an obstacle in the implementation of the revolution within the Church! By the way, I would advise everyone to have their children baptized in the Old Rite — the new rite of Baptism is highly deficient!
LifeSite: What should the Fraternity of St. Peter do he? Should they follow the example of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and resist unjust orders that are infringing upon the practice of the traditional Catholic faith as it has been handed down to us?
Mosebach: They should not accept this at all! It is an injustice what happens to us and we must not accept it. Canon law does not know positivism in essential questions — no “Hoc volo, sic iubeo!” Only whoever resists TC must expect that the church building will be taken away from the parish and that the priests will be suspended. It may also happen that some parishioners, for whom the Pope’s threatening gesture is still of spiritual significance, no longer dare to attend a “forbidden” Mass.
Whoever wants to resist must be prepared to pay a price for it. In my estimation, the price will not be too high — the left wing of the Church has long since stopped following instructions from Rome without having to fear even the slightest sanction. This does not apply to tradition, however, but the weapons have become blunt — who takes the Church’s penal code seriously anymore?
The Fraternity of St. Peter must now learn a bitter lesson: It had believed that by seceding from the Society of St. Pius X and by submitting to the dictates of reform, it would be rewarded with security and recognition; now it may be time for some of the priests of St. Peter, mainly German, to make amends with Archbishop Lefebvre.
The hostility of the present ruling circles in the Church against tradition is unconditional — they will not rest until tradition is completely destroyed. Pope Francis apparently said the other day: “Tradition is killing us.” He does not know how right he is: Yes, tradition will sit in judgment over him sooner or later, because it is the essence of the Church, because it is also the basis of the papacy, which does not exist without Tradition.
LifeSite: The Situation of a traditional Catholic community of Carmelites in the United States is currently undergoing a very painful situation, after Rome has sent an Apostolic Visitation. It seems that the plan is to infringe upon this order, which has houses in Fairfield (Pennsylvania) and in Valparaiso (Nebraska), the mother house, and elsewhere.
The visitation is being conducted under the auspices of Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who was behind the destruction of the work of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Should it come to it, should these nuns accept an order from Rome either to dissolve their monastery or to change their way of life, adapting to more modern ways and abandoning the traditional Carmelite ways?
Mosebach: According to my conviction, these nuns have the full moral right to show the visitators the door and to return to sender, unopened, the Roman correspondences that are expected to be sent subsequently.
They should only take care of one thing: to keep their property safe so that it cannot be confiscated in case of a possible Roman dissolution of the Order, suspension of the Mother Superior, etc. Then they must hold out for a few years in a legitimate illegality, but certainly not as long as the SSPX has held out.
LifeSite: These different examples of Bergoglian attempts at suppressing tradition goes along with Pope Francis’ recent words, according to which the attempt to “restore the past” “will kill everyone.” He now even calls the work of EWTN “the work of the devil.” How would you interpret Pope Francis’ words, what is his aim?
Mosebach: What I like most about Pope Francis is that he occasionally mentions the devil. But the devil should refuse to tolerate that the Pope blames him for everything that does not suit him. The fact that the criticism of him is so ungracious is caused by himself: On the one hand he constantly calls for dialogue, and at the same time he resolutely refuses any dialogue. Just think of the treatment of the dubia cardinals. This way he can hardly influence the intellectual debate.
LifeSite: Is Pope Francis right when he says that in the Traditional Latin Mass communities people come together who are critical of the Second Vatican Council?
Mosebach: The documents of Vatican II are in reality hardly of any special importance — the post-conciliar developments divorced from them, however, are important in the highest degree. Whoever goes to the Old Mass is deeply unhappy about this post-conciliar development; he sees with sadness and despair how the “house full of glory” has turned into a neglected hut in the vineyard and he does not agree with the post-conciliar development and refuses to talk it up against all evidence. If this is what the Pope means, then he sees it correctly.
LifeSite: Should we hide this fact, so as not to give more reason for Pope Francis to suppress us, or should we stand tall and upright, for the truth of our faith and resist, trusting that God will help us?
Mosebach: Who is “we”? I have been living since about 1980 in a small circle of people who have never done anything other than profess the Tradition. And this for the longest time without the slightest hope of being heard, not to mention any “offers of dialogue.”
Priests must sometimes be more cautious, especially when they have taken on responsibility. A priest who, full of the courage to confess his position, is then sent away, deprived of the church and cut off from its possibilities of action, may consider how long he can remain silent and at which point this has become pointless.
During the persecution of the Catholics under Elizabeth I of England, the Jesuits developed a model which they called “equivocation” — concealing the truth without lying. This technique usually did not save them from death on the gallows: There comes a point at which one can no longer cleverly wriggle out of it, but cannot avoid confessing the naked truth.
Those who, as superiors, have taken responsibility for seminarians, students, religious, may often be faced with the difficult consideration of how much of their apostolate is at stake if they clearly tell the progressive inquisitors what they think of their model of the Church. I would not then want to condemn an apparent compliance, only to point out that it will never satisfy the modernists.
In general, I think that one should not be afraid: The official Church is deeply weakened. The harshness that it was still capable of under Paul VI is no longer at her disposal — whoever is not economically dependent on it is no longer reachable by its punishments and coercive measures — if one has the courage not to fear a suspension and is willing to simply ignore it. TC is wrong; one does not have to bow to it.
LifeSite: What is your prediction for the near future? Will there be more and more of this suppression and these attacks on traditional Catholic communities?
Mosebach: No one can say at this time what will happen. Will the Congregation for Religious Orders take coercive measures against the traditional orders? Will the traditional institutes and convents submit or dare to open dissent, following the example of Archbishop Lefebvre?
Do not forget: the “disobedience” was a much greater risk for the archbishop than it is today, when the authority of the hierarchs has been delegitimized and collapsed through their own fault. He, on the other hand, has been de facto rehabilitated.
It seems to me important for the future that all those who bear responsibility in the Tradition should be clear, without blinkers, about what they are prepared to do in the extreme case of conflict. We must not wait in fear, but we must know what to do in the extreme case.
This extreme case — the attempt of a brutal and radical eradication of Tradition … — may not have to happen, and perhaps it will not, because there are too many bishops who would be uncomfortable with it. But follow the old motto: “Si vis pacem, para bellum — if you want peace, prepare for war.”
LifeSite: How do we Catholics who do not wish to go along with Pope Francis’ new ecological, ecumenical, LGBT church deal with the question of obedience? Will we have to accept to live for a while as outcasts, “schismatics,” “disobedient Catholics,” for the sake of the truth?
Mosebach: Obedience is one of the supreme virtues of Christianity — even the bad master is to be obeyed, “for this is grace”. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice, “obedient to the Will of the Father.” So the Holy Eucharist in its core is connected with obedience.
One understands the discomfort, if precisely the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is now to be accompanied by an act of disobedience against the Pope. One will not arrive at general solutions in this regard. I know of a convent in which one is convinced of the superior value of the Old Rite, but sacrifices this conviction at great suffering to the unity of the Congregation, praying that one day the whole Congregation will go over to the Old Rite.
Of course, I have respect for this attitude, but it would be impossible for me to adopt it. The unfortunate situation of the post-conciliar Church is precisely that its highest values — obedience — have been used to undermine it and promote its decline.
We find ourselves in an emergency situation, so to speak, not foreseen in the system of the Church, in which she can no longer use her forces for a real reform, but where with every measure she only slides deeper and deeper into the abyss.
When Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of the bishops of SSPX, he basically recognized this emergency and freed the opposition from the odium of disobedience. Whoever, recognizing the treasure that the Old Mass represents, has to educate children, for example, and denies them a share in this treasure because the Pope, overreaching his powers, wants it that way, would have to act continually against his conscience.
Yes, we know: A Catholic conscience is only conditionally the last instance; but in such a blatant case of arbitrariness, as TC represents it, it shows that Catholic obedience is not blind obedience, but may go along with the use of reason. To the usages of the Jesuits always belonged also to test the obedience of the members of the order by all kinds of harassment — but such questionable leadership methods are probably not binding for the whole church.
LifeSite: And, finally, how do we live without proper authority, should we be excluded, due to our loyalty to Christ? Should we just trust God’s Providence?
Mosebach: Trusting in God’s providence, more importantly, trusting in God’s presence is always indicated, even in happy hours. But we do not have to live without authority.
On the contrary, we are surrounded by the testimonies of ecclesiastical authority. Even when we enter one of the ancient cathedrals, when we contemplate the works of art of the Middle Ages, when we listen to the Gregorian chant and the polyphony of Palestrina, we receive expressions of authority. We possess not only the Sacred Scriptures, but a “cloud of witnesses”, the martyrs and Fathers of the Church, let us mention from more recent times only Card. Newman and Josef Pieper.
These are the standards to which every innovation in the Church must live up. Each Pope can only develop his maximum authority as long as he does not put himself in opposition to these eloquent and silent witnesses of Tradition. One could say after 2,000 years of church history: The authority is there even without a Pope — perhaps it is this fear that secretly drives the present ruler to indignation.