Theme from Herrens Veje (English: The Lord’s Ways), entitled Ride Upon the Storm in the English-language subtitled version, is a 2017 Danish drama television series.
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain. -Light Shining out of Darkness, William Cowper (1731–1800), his last before attempting suicide.
The Church has always made progress through crisis, it seems never through its own inertia, or in spite of its own inertia. Perhaps the Holy Spirit uses crises to its own ends. Who is to say how God works in mystery. His ways are not our ways. That’s why there are prophets, and always will be until the end, when He comes to take the Church Militant to Himself. Lord, have mercy.
-by Christopher R. Altieri, is a journalist who worked for more than a dozen years on Vatican Radio’s English newsdesk, and afterward as Rome bureau chief and international editor (later executive editor) of the Catholic Herald, where he is now editor-at-large. He is contributing editor to the Catholic World Report and has written for leading Catholic publications from America to The Catholic Thing. He holds a Ph.D. from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is author of three books.
“Not too long ago, I published a piece in the Catholic Herald on the reform effort—such as it is—in the Church. I was frustrated with the experience of leadership’s entrenched institutional and operational opacity. I still am. Leaders’ persistent failure even to appear to care about putting up a halfway credible show of concern for transparency exasperated me. It still does. I wondered aloud—not for the first time—whether legal reforms in the Vatican and at the highest levels of Church government are designed not to work.
Reform is necessary—the great reformers are gifts from heaven—but even their successful efforts cannot get us heaven on earth. That’s no reason not to be about the work of reform, though. In fact, it is the source of the task’s urgency.
Ecclesia semper reformanda is the pretty-sounding Latin phrase we use to describe the Church as always in need of reform. It means the Church is more like an old relic of a machine that needs to keep working and can’t be kept in working order for more than a few hours at a time. You need it for a job, so you can’t have it up on blocks or sitting on hydraulic ramp lifts all day. Old mechanics and machinists would love to have it for a few weeks or even a couple of months to study and tinker and figure it out and replace all the parts that need it and refurbish the ones that can take it and maybe tweak the design so it doesn’t break down again—not as it did the last time or two—but you have an order to fill, and you need the machine to fill it.
When it comes to Church reform, in other words, the practically achievable “good” is closer to “good enough” than it is to “mint” or “excellent” or even “very good” condition.
Is real reform even possible? If so, what does successful reform look like?
Those are reasonable questions, which happen to admit of valid—even if not entirely satisfactory—answers.
Church reform is possible. We know it is possible, because it has happened. Because it has happened, we know what Church reform looks like.
But here’s where the gloss begins to come off the business. You’re not going to like what it looks like. It looks like bishops residing in the jurisdictions they govern.
Not many folks realize it today, but for hundreds of years before the Council of Trent, bishops frequently did not live in their dioceses. Church jurisdictions were sees-in-gift, which princes used to placate rivals, shore up alliances, take care of relatives, and frequently just make sure they had a friend in the job. The state of affairs was one of Luther’s (and other reformers’) chief complaints.
The Council of Trent worked on changing Church law so that it required bishops to be resident in their dioceses. Trent took maybe a half-century to call—there were lots of half-hearted, half-baked, and more desultory attempts at Church reform in the bottom of the fifteenth century and into the top of the sixteenth—then almost eighteen years to conclude, and then it took another century and a half to get the paper reforms requiring bishops to live where they nominally ruled to stick, but bishops eventually did begin sticking to their sees as a matter of course.
The problem didn’t disappear entirely. Today, Pope Francis complains about “airport bishops,” and rightly so. In the main, however, people take it for granted that their bishops live somewhere inside their jurisdiction. Reform happened—it didn’t just happen, but it happened—and bishops mostly living in their dioceses is what reform looks like.
In short, there is no golden age just over the horizon—not in either direction—no better age to which we can return and nothing close to perfect in the future. That’s not to say reform isn’t worth the trouble. The point is that we’re never really done working, but also that we never really begin.
The hope of heaven is real and true—we know this with a hope that cannot disappoint—but as long as we’re on this side of the celestial Jerusalem, our business is muddling. It’s a truth of pilgrim life—institutional and personal—and there’s more than a little comfort to be had in that view of the matter.
On the other hand, it’s also a lot like the view of the guy whose car is always in the shop. It’s fine if he’s a tinkering collector. If he relies on his vehicle for his daily bread, it’s another story.
The Church Militant was a favorite image of Catholic progress in ages past. Militancy means marching and bivouacking and campfire cooking, and all of that means lots of mud and lots that’s worse than mud. The pilgrim Church is another old image, recently returned to vogue. Pilgrimage is muddy business, too. Until very recently, if you were on a soldier’s campaign or a pilgrim’s path, you were more likely to die of disease or starvation or exposure or by a cutthroat bandit’s dagger than by an enemy’s arms or of old age.
There will always be bandits on the road, and there will always be cutthroats in the camps, and there will always be disease abroad in the world, and anyone who tells you different is a fool or worse.
We have a right to expect our leaders not to be bandits and cutthroats, not to be in cahoots with them who are. We have a right to know what they’re doing—really doing—to keep us safe as can be while we’re under the colors or underway. We have a right to know when their recklessness, negligence, or downright stupidity endangers us needlessly. We have a right to clean camps—in the old days, that meant laundries and latrines (but you might be amazed at how long those were in coming)—and hostels and hospitals served by competent staff and subject to reasonable inspection.
It’s dangerous enough out there already. That’s no reason not to be on the march. It also gives us every reason we need to get cracking on reform. Only we need to know what kind of work we’re in for, and what we can reasonably expect from the “best case” result of our efforts.”
-Pavia, Italy. “Et Verbum caro factum est” meaning “And the Word became flesh” in Duomo di Pavia (Pavia Cathedral)
[I am always the Catholic docent on business trips with colleagues. When diversion takes us into Catholic spaces, I am called upon by colleagues to translate/interpret both art and letter in said spaces. I do what I can. I try to be helpful. It is said when Pope BXVI wanted to communicate something difficult, like his resignation, he would speak it in Latin to the Curia listening to him during a meeting. It would take a moment to process and sink in, which is why he did that way is supposed.]
“From an early date, the Church in the West has used Latin—not only for administration, study, and communication, but for prayer. This was natural for regions where Latin was the majority language, but as the centuries passed, the Western Church persisted with a Latin liturgy in evangelizing peoples on and beyond the edges of the Roman Empire not conversant with it, such as the North African speakers of Punic and the speakers of Celtic and Germanic languages in western and central Europe. By contrast, the Eastern Churches sometimes made use of the languages of their new converts, even when these had to be specially developed in their written forms for this to be possible, as with Ethiopia’s Ge’ez and Russia’s Church Slavonic.
There is thus a close association between the Western Church and the Latin language. Even today, when the liturgy can be celebrated in a huge range of languages, this relationship has left its mark, and Latin remains an option for both public and private prayer—not only in celebrations of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, but also for the reformed Mass.
Why has the Church been so attached to Latin? The answer is that liturgical Latin is not just a convenient language, but a sacred language. Many religions have sacred languages, or a sacred register of an ordinary language, for use in their liturgies. Islam has classical Arabic, a language not widely understood by its many millions of non-Arabic believers, and some distance from the Arabic spoken today in the Arab world. Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Jain religion share the very ancient sacred language of Sanskrit. Judaism has biblical Hebrew, and the languages of many Eastern churches today are specialized sacred languages: the Church Slavonic and Ge’ez already mentioned, and the koine Greek of the Greek churches.
Sacred languages, like sacred garments, sacred forms of music, and the styles associated with sacred buildings and sacred art, may derive from the non-sacred, but even in their origins, they often have distinguishing features. Koine Greek and Church Slavonic were literary creations rather than natural languages. No one ever spoke the sacred English created by Anglicanism and found in the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible: it includes archaisms and deliberately exotic syntax to mimic Hebrew and Greek. The High German of Luther’s Bible and liturgy was the language of the imperial court, not the language of most German-speakers. Similarly, the form of Latin found, first in the early Latin translations of the Bible and then in liturgical texts, is distinct from ordinary Latin. No Roman ever said, “Amen amen dico vobis”: “Truly, truly, I say to you.” The first word of many Latin prayers, “quaesumus,” “we beseech,” was already archaic when it was first used in them.
There is a powerful religious instinct to have special, separate words, things, buildings, and music for worship. These are intended not to exclude worshippers, but rather to draw them in to something supernatural, to introduce them into a sacred zone for communication with the divine, a communication that transcends mere words. Hearing a sacred language, like entering a sacred building, is a clear signal that we are leaving the ordinary world behind. In common with other religions, the Church still insists on special vestments; sacred vessels not to be used for anything else; and distinctive furnishings, artistic styles, and language, even in the context of the vernacular liturgy.
Latin is the Church’s superlative means of creating a sense that we are communicating with God and not with human beings. Even in the act of announcing the liturgical reform that would largely displace Latin with vernacular languages, Pope St. Paul VI described Latin as “sacred utterance” and “the language of the angels”. The effect of Latin on the worshipper was noted by Pope St. John Paul II, who remarked on the sense of worldwide unity it inspired and also “the profound sense of the Eucharistic mystery” it elicited.
There is a parallel with the use of silence in the liturgy. This has a place in the reformed Missal of 1970 (for example, for the “priestly prayers”), and its importance was emphasized by John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In silence, nothing is communicated by words, but when worshippers are united in an act of adoration, a period of silent prayer can communicate at a deep level, both horizontally, in terms of a sense of solidarity, and vertically, to and from the object of worship, God. Latin does something similar in creating a meaningful frame for prayer.
It is relevant, therefore, that Latin prayers are meaningful. The liturgical formation that all adult Catholics should have should equip us to understand in general terms what is going on in Mass regardless of the language. Even people without formal Latin education know what gloria in excelsis, agnus dei, and the like mean. The Church has always encouraged the study of Latin, and this can provide us with a dimension of liturgical participation that goes beyond what we get in a vernacular translation, since (at least with prayers of ancient origin) it puts us in touch with the words used by our predecessors in the Faith, often from the time of the Fathers of the Church. We can, however, choose to focus on the words, or on the general thrust of the liturgy, just as someone praying the rosary can focus on the words of the Hail Mary or instead on the mystery being considered in that decade. Liturgy in the vernacular tends to be more insistent and demanding of our attention, word by word, particularly when we have to make responses and change our bodily posture.
The Latin of the liturgy has something special to offer those with a knowledge of Latin, since they can understand it better and be directed in their engagement with the liturgy in a more detailed way. Paradoxically, it also has something special to offer those with limited knowledge of the vernacular used in the liturgy they happen to attend. These include the speakers of minority languages and migrants. Many tens of millions of Catholics are obliged to worship not in their mother-tongue, but in a second language: in Africa, usually the old colonial language; in China, the “standard Chinese” favored by the State. The use of a vernacular inevitably favors those most at home in it, and also those who prefer verbal communication over non-verbal communication: adults over children, the more educated middle class over the working class, and even women over men.
In this way, Latin can be a leveler, like silence. As Pope St. John XXIII expressed it, Latin belongs to no one in particular, but is “gracious and friendly to all.” The experience of the sacred that Latin makes possible has been appreciated by saints and scholars, soldiers, peasants, and sinners, and even small children, since the Church’s early centuries. It remains available to us today.”
Latin is still the official language of the Church. All documents are first carefully crafted in the Latin. The Vatican is the master of the written word in any language. Colloquial languages are then carefully translated. All this work, whether Latin or vernacular are painstakingly done as language is the one foil of the Holy See and the Church in the present age.
“There is an amusing video on YouTube showing an American Latinist engaging priests in the Vatican in spoken Latin. He remarks that he spoke to a dozen priests, but only three were brave enough to go on camera with him and use Latin in actual dialogue.
Spoken Latin might sound like the preserve of hobbyists, like spoken Elvish or Klingon, but being able to speak a language is the ultimate test of fluency, and for the Church, Latin isn’t just any other language. As well as being the sacred language of the liturgy, it is an indispensable key to the Church’s theology, history, law, philosophy, and poetry. As Pope Benedict XVI described it, it is the language the Church considers as her own.
It is for this reason that Latin has always formed an essential part of the education of the clergy. The Second Vatican Council’s decree on Priestly Training, Optatam Totius, says seminarians “are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church” (13). This means a serious grasp of the language: being able to sit down and read St. Augustine, for example—not as a homework exercise, but because you want to know what he says about something.
It is quite an irony that some in the Church who like to align themselves with Vatican II, in contrast to the practice of the Church before the Council, seem less comfortable with something that has been entirely consistent before, during, and after it: the importance of Latin in the education of future priests.
In very year of the opening of the Council, Pope St. John XXIII reaffirmed the importance of Latin for seminarians in his apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia. Pope St. Paul VI kept up the pressure with a whole series of documents, including the 1970 Ratio fundamentalis on seminary education. The revised versions of this document said the same thing, in 1980 under Pope St. John Paul II and in 2016 under Pope Francis . It is also reiterated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canon 249).
One does not need to argue about hermeneutics of reform or of rupture in relation to these documents. They are consistent, repeating over and over again what had been said before the Council: that priests should be comfortable reading Latin, not just for the liturgy (for which a more basic Latin education would be sufficient), but for their studies. These documents do reveal a little weariness: their authors were conscious that their instructions were not being universally obeyed. But if one wishes to know what the Church desires, there can be no ambiguity about it. (More about these documents can be read here.)
Why is Latin regarded as so important? The documents often refer to the Fathers of the Church, but the use of Latin for important documents has continued up to the present day. Not all of this material has been translated, and even when it has been, to read a translation is always second best. You can’t fully engage with a thinker or an artist if there is a translator standing between you.
The problem is more serious still when one considers the Church’s universal nature. To make a document available in the vernacular for the Church around the world, it is not enough for it to exist in Italian. Italian is only the world’s thirteenth most widely spoken language. Few people learn it as second language at school. It is perfectly natural for the Roman Curia to use a lot of Italian, but this language is not well suited to getting a message across to the world’s two billion Catholics. English might seem the obvious alternative, but while it dominates the worlds of business and popular culture, it has much less weight in the Church, where Spanish is more widely spoken, more important modern theological texts have been composed in German, and major regions can be reached only in French or Portuguese. This raises the question: just how many languages does a cleric engaged in the Church’s international debates and administration need to know?
The days when every educated person, including every priest, knew Latin were simple by comparison. That made possible communication not only with the past, but with people in the present. When the Fathers of Vatican II gathered, it was possible for them to use Latin as a medium for the exchange of ideas. In the Synods of Bishops that have taken place in recent decades, bishops have found themselves able to communicate directly only with people from their own language groups. The proposals of each language group have to be translated into Italian, and back out into all the other languages, to be considered by others. It is a process more reminiscent of the Tower of Babel than Pentecost.
Moreover, not only does the need for multiple translations slow down the exchange of thoughts and inevitably introduce inaccuracies, but it gives immense power to the translators, whether they exercise this power deliberately or not. Studying the Church’s documents with an eye to the different language versions reveals systematic biases, though not always in the same direction. When documents composed in a vernacular language are put into Latin, they are often tightened up—made more theologically precise and, often, conservative. A famous example of this was definition of lying in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: editions based on the original French had to be corrected by reference to the Latin into which the French was translated, because although the Latin was later in time, it was the official version.
On the other hand, when Latin documents are turned into English, they are often made to appear more liberal. The liturgy is one well trodden example; the documents of Vatican II have been another battleground for translators. An endemic problem with the latter was the use of the English word reform, often used to translate Latin words such as instauratio, which means not “reform,” but “restore.” In this complexity, those without Latin are at a severe disadvantage.
As the video mentioned above makes clear, it is still possible to communicate in Latin; it just requires effort. English-speaking Catholics without Latin should reflect that they have many co-religionists with whom they have no common language, including many untranslated thinkers of the past. Just as C.S. Lewis was able to carry on a correspondence in Latin with the Italian priest, later canonized, Don Giovanni Calabria, so we open up enormous possibilities of communication by improving our Latin. This is an obligation particularly incumbent on priests.
In the words of Pope St. John Paul II on Latin, the Church has “always reckoned it to be a bond of unity, a visible sign of stability, and an instrument of mutual friendship” .”
-by Rev Brian Harrison, OS, the Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., a priest of the Society of the Oblates of Wisdom, is a retired Associate Professor of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, P.R. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in Systematic Theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum of the Holy Cross in Rome. Since 2007 Fr. Harrison has been scholar-in-residence at the Oblates of Wisdom Study Center in St. Louis, Missouri, is well-known as a speaker and writer. He is the author of three books and over 130 articles in Catholic books, magazines and journals in the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, France, Spain and Puerto Rico. He is also parochial vicar of the parish of Saint Joseph the Worker in the city of Ponce, and a ‘Defender of the Bond’ for the island’s marriage tribunals.
He was born in Australia and, after being raised as a Presbyterian, converted to the Catholic faith in 1972. In 1979 he began studies for the priesthood in the major seminary of Sydney, and after completing his Licentiate in Theology at Rome’s Angelicum university was ordained as a priest in Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1985 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in Systematic Theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum of the Holy Cross in Rome.
Fr. Harrison, who has lived in Puerto Rico since 1989, is well-known as a speaker and writer. He is the author of two books and over 120 articles in Catholic magazines and journals in the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, France, Spain and Puerto Rico. His special interest in theological and liturgical matters, in keeping with the charism of the Oblates of Wisdom, is upholding a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ between the teachings of Vatican Council II and the bi-millennial heritage of Catholic Tradition.
It is now fifty years since Pope St. Paul VI, in the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969), promulgated the revised Roman-rite Missal in response to Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy). And although the Holy Eucharist is meant to be our central sacramental bond of unity and love, it has in this half-century become—tragically—the occasion of serious confusion and dissension.
I respect and, in fact, share, the concern of tradition-conscious Catholics about certain features of the liturgical reform, but in this article I’d like to issue a call for fairness and moderation in the expression of such concerns. The unity of the Church surely requires this.
Fair to call them “dissident”
Some traditionalists, while celebrating and attending the classical Latin Roman-rite Mass (dubbed the “Extraordinary Form” by Pope Benedict XVI) whenever possible, refrain from attacking the post-conciliar Novus Ordo rite (the “Ordinary Form”) as bad and unacceptable in itself. Others, however, do precisely that. I think it fair to call them “dissident” traditionalists, because they openly dissent from certain official positions of the post-Vatican II Church on liturgy and doctrine.
Their flagship organization is undoubtedly the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), but they find a strident voice in many publications and websites, and some of these hold views that are outright sedevacantist (the belief that there have been no true popes since Vatican II). Their central claim is that the Novus Ordo Mass, even if valid in itself, reeks so strongly of Protestantism and modernism as to be downright illegitimate—simply unacceptable for Catholic worship.
In their utter loathing for what the Church now prescribes as the normative way of celebrating our most sacred act of worship, dissidents claim it expresses a different, non-Catholic religion so that it’s objectively immoral—forbidden by God!—to celebrate or attend Ordinary Form Masses.
And, yes, they really do go that far. The OnePeterFive.com website recently ran an article including this peremptory summons: “Laity: If you still belong to a Novus Ordo parish, it’s time to leave. . . . Nothing supersedes man’s duty to render God that worship proper to His Majesty, and the Novus Ordo just ain’t it.” And in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section of the official SSPX website, we read (accessed Jan. 1, 2019):
“The Novus Ordo Missae assumes. . . heterodox elements alongside the Catholic ones to form a liturgy for a modernist religion which would marry the Church and the world, Catholicism and Protestantism, light and darkness. . . . [This] render[s] it a danger to our faith, and, as such, evil. . . . Even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules, . . . [the Novus Ordo] is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith.”
Then, to the question, “Are we obliged in conscience to attend the Novus Ordo Missae?”, the website not only answers no but asserts that Catholics have no objective right to attend it for Sunday worship:
“If the Novus Ordo Missae is not truly Catholic, then it cannot oblige for one’s Sunday obligation. Many Catholics who do assist at it are unaware of its all-pervasive degree of serious innovation and are exempt from guilt. However, any Catholic who is aware of its harm does not have the right to participate. He could only then assist at it by a mere physical presence without positively taking part in it, and then only for major family reasons (weddings, funerals, etc.).”
Since the last sentence here expresses the stringent conditions laid down by pre-conciliar church legislation for attendance at non-Catholic services, the message the SSPX is sending is all too clear: the Novus Ordo Mass, as such, is to be regarded as a non-Catholic form of worship. That would leave hundreds of millions of the faithful without access to any legitimate Mass, because in most of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, traditional Latin Masses are very few and far between. Has Christ, then, abandoned all these brethren, leaving them with nothing more than an impious simulacrum of genuine Catholic worship?
So why do these dissidents reject the new rite so totally and implacably? They insist it’s quintessentially a matter of doctrine, not merely of aesthetic preference for the old rites. Fr. Anthony Cekada sums up their common position at the beginning of his book, Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI. The book’s “principal thesis,” he tells us, is that the new rite
“(a) destroys Catholic doctrine in the minds of the faithful, and in particular, Catholic doctrine concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priesthood, and the Real Presence; and (b) permits or prescribes grave irreverence (p. 7, italics in original).”
The space available in this article will allow me to consider only (and far from exhaustively) the first and more fundamental of these objections. As regards (b), I will simply register my view that a couple of newly permitted (i.e., optional) liturgical practices—Communion in the hand and the sign of peace just before Communion—are indeed open to abuse and can become the occasion of irreverence. However, they are not in themselves irreverent. Much less can I find anything gravely irreverent “prescribed” (i.e., obligatory) in the text of the new Roman Missal or its accompanying General Instruction.
Let’s turn to dissidents’ doctrinal objections to the Novus Ordo. First and foremost is the charge that it undermines faith in the sacrificial character of the Mass. According to the SSPX website, the new missal is marked by “the almost complete deletion of references to sacrifice.” And the OnePeterFive article cited above even makes the incredible assertion that in the Novus Ordo “the Catholic Mass has been stripped of prayers expressing Catholic doctrine.”
It’s true that some sacrifice-expressing prayers added during medieval times have been dropped from the Offertory; but far from “almost complete[ly] deleti[ng]” such prayers, every Novus Ordo Mass expresses the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice at least five times:
The priest’s secret offertory prayer, praying that our sacrifice will be pleasing to God.
His invitation to the people, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.”
The people’s response, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory . . .”
In the Roman Canon and each of the new eucharistic prayers, the sacrificial character of the Mass is clearly expressed in the texts following the consecration.
The very words of consecration of the bread in the Novus Ordo actually restore an explicit expression of the sacrificial purpose of what is being done: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” The words italicized here (or equivalent expressions) were found in a number of ancient liturgies but are absent from the Tridentine formula.
On top of all that, there is a sixth expression of this doctrine in many Masses, found in the offertory prayer over the gifts.
It should also be noted that all the above texts except the first are pronounced out loud in the language of the people. Indeed, in the case of the third text, the people pronounce it themselves. So, it seems likely that the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, far from being “destroy[ed] . . . in the minds of the people,” is actually impressed in their minds more clearly by the Novus Ordo prayers than was the case in pre-conciliar days, when every single one of the prayers expressing this doctrine was pronounced silently, in Latin, by the priest alone.
Why the erosion of belief?
How about worshippers’ belief in the priesthood and Real Presence, which Fr. Cekada also claims the Novus Ordo “destroys”? It’s true that the role of the priest celebrant in some secondary rubrics is no longer distinguished so sharply from that of the laity as it was in the traditional rite, but it seems to me obvious that his unique and irreplaceable prominence in the celebration of Mass remains clear and unmistakable to all participants in the Pauline liturgy (see sidebar, below).
Yes, surveys do consistently show a marked decline in Catholic belief in this doctrine since Vatican II, and to a limited extent this may have been a side effect of official changes such as the elimination, in the interests of “noble simplicity,” of some liturgical signs of reverence that “reform-of-the-reformers” such as myself would like to see restored. But the lion’s share of blame for this deplorable weakening of faith surely rests with more direct and obvious causes: heterodox theology taught in seminaries, the resulting bad (or nonexistent) preaching and catechesis about eucharistic doctrine, the sharp decline in Mass attendance, widespread liturgical disobedience (often called “creativity”), and sloppy, irreverent celebrations.
Also, the preposterous claim that the Pauline Mass is “stripped of prayers expressing Catholic doctrine” ignores all the changing (“proper”) feasts and prayers in the new missal. In fact, all Catholic doctrines distinguishing Catholic from Protestant belief that were in the old Missal are also in the new one (see sidebar, far below).
A number of other talking-points continue to do the rounds of hardline traditionalist media outlets as supposed evidence of the Novus Ordo’s heterodox and illegitimate character. Most of them are not as telling as their purveyors suppose them to be. Let’s look at a few.
Exhibit 1: The “Ottaviani Intervention”
In September 1969, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, retired prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed a letter to Pope Paul VI presenting a short critical study of Paul’s recently promulgated rite of Mass. This could be considered the Bible of dissident traditionalism. The main author of the study was the Dominican theologian M. L. Guérard des Lauriers, who shortly afterward lapsed into schism as a founding father of sedevacantism.
Soon Ottaviani’s intervention, another French priest, Fr. Gerard Lafond, published a facsimile of a signed letter dated February 17, 1970, that he’d received from Ottaviani, in which the cardinal said his previous hesitations about the new Mass had now been “put to rest” by explanations coming from Fr. Lafond and Paul VI himself. More often than not, dissidents don’t mention this retraction, which undermines their appeal to the authority and prestige of the longtime head of the Holy Office. Some of them suggest that Ottaviani’s trusted secretary, Msgr. Gilberto Agustoni, fabricated this letter and deceived the near-blind cardinal into signing it.
This of course implausibly assumes not only that Agustoni was corrupt but that he would have risked his career by publishing an outright lie. Ottaviani lived on for years, receiving visitors and retaining all his faculties other than vision. He would quickly have learned that his letter retracting his intervention was published in the widely read Documentation Catholique and would surely have publicly denounced it as a forgery, if indeed it was. His permanent silence, therefore, is eloquent.
Exhibit 2: Pope Paul VI’s ‘heretical’ instruction
Well, this Protestant-friendly, ecumenically flavored text was heretical (if that’s the right word for error by omission) only in what it left out of its description of the Mass, not by what it actually affirmed or denied. And not all traditionalists who point accusing fingers at this defective instruction are candid enough to acknowledge that at least it was very short-lived.
Pope Paul, on scrutinizing this introduction more attentively, quickly withdrew it and replaced it in the 1970 Missal by a new “premium” that not only unambiguously reaffirms the Tridentine doctrines of eucharistic sacrifice, the Real Presence, and the ordained priesthood but emphasizes that these doctrines are consistently shown forth in the actual texts and rubrics of the new Missal. (See especially articles 2, 3, and 4 in the “Introduction to the General Instruction” at the beginning of the current Roman Missal)
Exhibit 3: Jean Guitton’s testimony
This French philosopher stated in a 1993 radio interview with a Lutheran pastor, “I can only repeat that Paul VI did all that he could to bring the Catholic Mass away from the tradition of the Council of Trent towards the Protestant Lord’s Supper.” But Guitton’s off-the-cuff, anecdotal, secondhand testimony scarcely counts as an authoritative and adequate guide to the mind of Paul VI, especially when we take into account the pontiff’s emphatic reassertion of the doctrinal “tradition of the Council Trent” (see previous paragraph) as well as his many formal teachings on these matters, especially his splendid 1965 eucharistic encyclical, Mysterium Fidei.
A more balanced appraisal of St. Paul VI’s intentions would, I think, conclude that while he indeed wanted a liturgical reform that would help smooth the way back to Catholic unity for Protestants by adopting some of their doctrinally unobjectionable liturgical practices—e.g., using the vernacular and adding more Scripture readings—he insisted on retaining strict fidelity to the Church’s dogmatic teaching in both texts and rubrics of the revised Missal.
The extent to which these ecumenically oriented reforms have succeeded or failed in promoting genuine unity among Christians is of course a very different question.
Exhibit 4: The six Protestant advisers
In view of what has just been said, the ecumenical input of some non-Catholic liturgists to the reform in the 1960s is not too surprising; but even though the prudence of having them there seems debatable, these gentlemen had no voting rights on the Vatican liturgical Consilium that was revising the Roman Missal, and nobody can point to any feature of the resulting Novus Ordo that was not already promoted independently by its Catholic authors.
Exhibit 5: Max Thurian
Traditionalist hardliners love to cite this Protestant theologian (one of the six just mentioned) who was prominent in the ecumenical Taizé community. OnePeterFive quotes him as making the following comment soon after Paul VI promulgated the Novus Ordo: “It is now theologically possible for Protestants to use the same Mass as Catholics” (bold type in original). Such traditionalists take this to vindicate “out of the horse’s mouth” their own claim that the Novus Ordo expresses Protestant rather than integrally Catholic doctrine.
But they never point out that Thurian was by no means a typical Protestant and certainly didn’t speak for Protestants in general. Just as not all professing Catholics adhere faithfully to Catholic doctrine, not all Protestants adhere to the doctrines of Luther and Calvin.
Thurian and quite a few ecumenically minded Protestants these days entertain ideas that approximate the Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice (and for this they are roundly denounced as traitors to the Reformation by traditional Protestants).
The relevant takeaway here is that no Protestant who takes seriously the thoroughly Catholic texts of the post-Vatican II Missal and who adheres to the classic Reformation rejection of the doctrines they express could possibly feel comfortable in “us[ing] the same Mass as Catholics.”
Harmful to Catholic unity
Let’s sum up. I’m pleading here that Catholics who prefer the ancient Latin rite (I myself celebrate it on weekdays) respect the wise provision of popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
In their documents restoring its use in the Church, these popes insist, in the interests of Church unity, that those celebrating and attending the Extraordinary Form must also acknowledge the doctrinal correctness and legitimacy of the Ordinary Form.
Unfortunately, the SSPX does not comply with that condition; nor does the OnePeterFive article cited, which even endorses the calumny that our post-conciliar rite of Holy Mass is “barely recognizable as a Catholic rite” and says, “It’s debatable whether this form of worship can even be called ‘Catholic’ in any meaningful sense.”
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s rhetoric, in another OnePeterFive post, is similarly disdainful. After scornfully branding the new rite “a shell, a simulacrum, a substitute,” he says, “[E]ven at its best, the Novus Ordo . . . is still a starvation diet compared with the riches in the preconciliar liturgical tradition. God can sanctify prisoners in jail fed on stale crusts and standing water, but this is not the manner in which He would sanctify most of us.”
It’s sad to see this skilled writer using his eloquence in a passionate effort to arouse contempt for our approved ordinary form of worship in Catholic hearts and minds.
Please, dear brethren! These intemperate excoriations of the Novus Ordo are manifestly harmful to Catholic unity and can even lead in a schismatic direction. Please God, the next half-century will see our inevitable disagreements carried out more in the tranquil spirit of the Holy Thursday liturgy: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Sidebar 1: What of the Eucharist?
What of the Real Presence? Consider:
The priest’s required bow to the bread and chalice prior to their consecration, which is then marked by his genuflections and elevations of the host and chalice
The recommended bell-ringing and incensation for each consecration; the priest’s dramatic presentation of the host and chalice to the people proclaiming the Baptist’s immortal words, “Behold the Lamb of God . . . ”
The required kneeling of ministers and congregation for the consecration
The solemn eucharistic processions on Holy Thursday evening and Corpus Christi (a holy day of obligation that specifically honors the reality of Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist)
The highly recommended services of eucharistic adoration and benediction outside of Mass
All these features of the Pauline liturgy demonstrate the falsity of the charge that it “destroys” the faith of Catholics in transubstantiation and the Real Presence.
Sidebar 2: Doctrines in the New Mass
In the current Missal we find clearly expressed not only the sacrificial character of the Mass but also:
The primacy of Peter and his successors (praying for the pope in every Mass, feasts of the Chair of Peter on Feb. 22 and Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29)
All the privileges of Our Blessed Lady (Immaculate Conception, Assumption, divine maternity, and her perpetual virginity proclaimed at the beginning of most Masses)
Our devotion to the other saints (with scores of their feast days celebrated throughout the year)
Transubstantiation (see above)
Prayers for the dead implying purgatory (briefly in every Eucharistic Prayer and more abundantly in funeral Masses and the Masses for All Souls Day (Nov. 2nd).
-by Thomas Cole, ‘Destruction’, Cole’s 1833 painting of five around Luman Reed’s, his patron, for Reed’s 13 Greenwich Street, New York City mansion fireplace: the sketch also shows above the paintings three aspects of the sun: left (rising); center (zenith); right (setting), oil on canvas, 1836, 39+1⁄2 × 63+1⁄2 in, please click on the image for greater image.
“Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one man depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. Influenced by such a variety of complexities, many of our contemporaries are kept from accurately identifying permanent values and adjusting them properly to fresh discoveries. As a result, buffeted between hope and anxiety and pressing one another with questions about the present course of events, they are burdened down with uneasiness. This same course of events leads men to look for answers; indeed, it forces them to do so.” -Gaudium et Spes 4
A decade into the fifth century, Alaric the Goth sacked the city of Rome. The event caused consternation throughout the world and people searched for explanations for how something previously unthinkable became reality. When news reached an irascible translator of Scripture in Bethlehem named Jerome, he wept bitterly. The scholar struggled to comprehend how an army of Visigoths, warriors who had recently fought for the Roman Empire, could sack the historic city.
Although Jerome’s reaction was understandable, the city’s sacking should not have been a surprise. A review of imperial actions toward the Germanic tribes on the borders in the recent past would have equipped Jerome to predict the destruction of Rome. However, Jerome was focused on the present and could not anticipate it—or at least not fail to be surprised by it. But if he had been equipped with historical perspective and context, he could have been spared much the anguish caused by the devastating news of Rome’s ruin.
An historical perspective of Roman relations with the Germanic tribes on the frontier would have helped Jerome remember, for example, the annihilation of three Roman army legions at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9. Arminius, a chief of the Germanic Cherusci tribe, who had been a hostage in the imperial capital as a boy, served the empire in the Roman army. He was ordered to Germania to help the Romans subdue the populace but did not forget his origins; so instead, he secretly planned the defeat of the legions. Arminius’s victory ended Roman plans for conquest east of the Rhine River, which became the natural border between the empire and the northern Germanic hordes. The Romans built forts and outposts along the Rhine, which later became major European cities, to control the Germans and guard the empire against invasion.
Over the centuries, Germanic tribes along the border grew restless and desired admittance into the empire in order to enjoy its economic, political, and military benefits. Many were allowed entrance in the later fourth and early fifth centuries, as Rome turned to these warriors to provide needed manpower to staff the army. Roman anxiety concerning the Germanic peoples remained, however, and the barbarian warriors were usually treated as auxiliary troops attached to imperial units rather than as regular army units. This arrangement worked for a time until Alaric, a Romanized commander of Gothic auxiliary troops, demanded greater recognition for his troops’ courage and sacrifice. When Roman officials refused, Alaric unleashed his warriors on the majestic imperial city.
Alaric’s sack produced different reactions throughout the empire. While Jerome wept in Bethlehem, others turned to anger. Despite the legalization of the Catholic Church nearly a century prior and its recognition as the official religion of the empire thirty years before, paganism still existed in the Roman world. As they had in the Church’s early centuries, pagans again placed blame on Christians for the destruction of the imperial capital, claiming that nothing so catastrophic had happened to Rome when the empire worshipped the old gods.
The false idea that the empire flourished only until it embraced the Christian faith gained favor in public discourse and demanded a response. St. Augustine (354-430) addressed these criticisms in his influential work “The City of God.””
“Purity is the fruit of prayer.” — Saint Teresa of Calcutta, quoted from the book Purity 365
Chastity as a Virtue
“The Catholic Church wants YOU to have AWESOME SEX!!!!”
Chastity is not a teeth-gritting ability to avoid violating the sexual rules. Rather, chastity is a habit of reverence for oneself and others that enables us to use our sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.
“Those who are chaste are fully at peace with their bodies and their sexuality. Chastity is not best seen as the ability to keep oneself from violating the sexual “rules”; rather, it is “a dynamic principle enabling one to use one’s sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.”
If chastity is a virtue, it is an aspect of character that a person can aspire to, achieve, stray from, regain. Notice that when the virtue at the top of this spectrum is chastity, there are three different ways of being unchaste—continence, incontinence and the vice of lustfulness.”
-Caroline J. Simon
“The virtue of chastity calls us, as sexual beings, to revere ourselves as creatures made in the image of God and made to honor God through our actions—through how we do have sex and do not have sex,” Matt Fradd writes. “And it calls us to revere other persons for the sake of the other person’s good and ultimate happiness. When we think about it, this loving reverence for ourselves and others is what we deeply desire.”
However, these truths about the virtue of chastity are easily forgotten today. There are some reasons for our amnesia.
We are unfamiliar with the language of “virtue.” Caroline Simon notes above that chastity (like other virtues that temper human desire for pleasure) is actually an ideal trait, a settled and comfortable “peace” with our well-ordered desires and pleasures—in this case, our desires for and pleasures regarding sex. Chastity is neither mere continence (a difficult, but successful struggle against disordered desires) nor incontinence (a losing struggle); chastity is not a struggle at all. Of course, many of us continue to struggle with wayward sexual desires. But this suggests that we are not yet chaste and not yet at peace with proper sexual desire, as we want to be.
We experience some resentment toward morality generally and toward specific ideals like chastity. The emotion-stance of resentment “involves disparaging and rejecting what is good and strong because we feel unable to attain it,” Fradd explains. We long to be at peace with sexual desire in relationships that “accord with our human dignity and…weave into the happiness that God intends for us in this life.” But this ideal seems unattainable. “All around us we see marriages that are impermanent, personal loyalties that are problematically divided, and spouses and friends who are unfaithful. Sexuality is misused, within marriages and in singleness, in ways that are selfish, in ways that are abusive, and in ways that do not honor God,” he notes. “So, we end up despising the ideal. We call chastity ‘oppressive’; we call it ‘naïve.’Lacking the strength in ourselves and having little community support to obtain the ideal we desire, we end up resenting it.”
We mistakenly think chastity revolves around not having sex. Yes, during singleness and at times in marriage it is appropriate to not have sex. But abstinence is not the heart of this virtue. “Simply put, chastity is a sort of reverence: a chaste person reveres and respects the other person by making sure that before they have sex, both are united in a common aim—namely, a marriage commitment whose mutual goal is the gift of self to the other,” Fradd writes. “When people will the good for one another in this way, they do not act solely on passing desires and feelings, but rather on their commitment to help the other person attain the good and honor God.”
We mistakenly think chastity revolves around repressing sexual desire and not thinking about sex. This is “almost exactly backwards,” Fradd notes. Chastity has no interest
in eliminating true sexual desire, which says, “This is my body given for you,” but it would like to rid our lives of the lust that says, “This is your body taken for me.” Furthermore, chastity has no interest in stopping our thinking about sex, but it would like for us to think carefully and well about sex. Fradd says, “The place to start is with the telos for which God created us, and why God made the other creatures and us sexual beings: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:22, 28). This tells us that sex, sexual desire, and orgasms are good. Chastity wants us to think about what good it is that they were created for. How do they fit within God’s plan for us to love one another and honor God?”
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” — Mt 22:36-39
“By the eleventh century, the Church found itself in great need of reform, especially the clergy, and the Holy Spirit provided a series of reform-minded popes. These popes began their ecclesial careers as monks, and many of them had spent time at the famous reformed Benedictine monastery at Cluny in France. When Bruno of Alsace was elected pope in 1049, taking the name Leo IX, he initiated one of the most comprehensive reforms in Church history.
Leo (r. 1049-1054) recognized that simply issuing reform decrees from Rome would not change clerical behavior and restore the Church, so he decided to go on one of the most important road trips in papal history. During his five-year pontificate, he spent only six months in Rome, taking his reform road show to France, Italy, and Germany. Wherever he went, Leo deposed immoral bishops and punished clerics who were guilty of simony. Although those actions were necessary, the pope recognized that the major problem with clerical behavior was infidelity to the promise of celibacy.
In the first three centuries of Church history, there was no law prohibiting the ordination of married men, and many priests were married; however, marriage was never permitted after ordination. Moreover, all priests—married, single, or widowed—practiced sexual abstinence after ordination. The first recorded Church legislation concerning clerical celibacy in the West was decreed at the Synod of Elvira in Spain around the year 300, and in 385, Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) mandated celibacy for all clergy in the West.
But despite the longstanding practice of the Church, clergy in the early medieval Church often did not live celibacy faithfully. Many priests were not properly trained or formed, and they flouted their vow of celibacy, taking mistresses and concubines who bore them children, causing great scandal. Other priests engaged in homosexual acts. All the while, bishops and abbots seemed hesitant to act and restore virtue to the priesthood and monasteries.
But one monk was not afraid, and he wrote a book in which he called for Leo IX to remove this stain of clerical immorality. His name was Peter Damian, and today (Feb 21) is his feast day.
Peter was born in Ravenna seven years into the eleventh century. His early life was marked by suffering; both his parents died when he was an infant. An older, abusive brother and his concubine took Peter into their home, where he was beaten, starved, and sent to work as a swineherd. In the midst of this tribulation, Peter took solace in Christ and developed deep piety. When he found a gold coin in the mud while tending the pigs, for example, instead of spending it on himself, Peter ran to the parish priest and paid a stipend for a Mass to be celebrated for the repose of his father’s soul.
Eventually, Peter was rescued from his horrible conditions by another brother who recognized Peter’s intellectual gifts and ensured he received an education in the liberal arts. This brother’s love and generosity influenced Peter to add his brother’s name, Damian, to his own and he henceforth was known as Peter Damian.
Peter’s devoted his life to growing closer to God, and he performed many acts of mortification to drive away temptations of the flesh. His spirituality was focused on the Cross, and he wrote, “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ” (Sermo XVIII, 11). He incorporated this focus into his life to such a degree that he came to describe himself as “Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ.”
In his late twenties, Peter joined a monastery, where he committed himself to personal reform and to pursuing reform within his community. He knew that reform in the larger Church and even in secular society was impossible without first focusing on the individual. Peter was appalled by the immoral behavior of the diocesan clergy and monks and endeavored to return his brother priests to virtuous living. During the time of Leo’s reign, he composed a book critical of clerical sexual immorality.
Addressed to the pope, the book (given the title The Book of Gomorrah centuries later) was not just a diatribe against sin but was also an exhortation to personal penance and a return to virtue and was written in a firm yet compassionate tone. He exhorted fellow priests who were tempted by the devil toward carnal pleasures to orient “your mind to the grave.” Even as he offered a chapter on “a weeping lamentation over souls surrendered to the dregs of impurity,” he provided also “an exhortation to the man who has fallen into sin, that he might rise again.”
He also noted that the “cancer of sodomitic impurity” was raging through the clergy “like a cruel beast,” decrying that “degenerate men do not fear to perpetuate an act that even brute animals abhor.”
Pope Leo IX favorably responded to Peter’s book and adopted many of his recommendations. Over time this work became an important part of the eleventh-century reform movement.
A few years after completing his manuscript, Peter was ordained a bishop and later created a cardinal. Peter wrote extensive letters, sometimes signing them as “Peter the Sinner” or “Peter the Sinner-Monk,” which provide a window into the soul of this important saint in the life of the Church. The life of St. Peter Damian is a model of virtue to Catholic clergy, and his words provide an exhortation and a warning for all Catholics not to let sexual vice taint the life and mission of the Church.”
On July 16, 2021, Pope Francis released a new document regulating the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy.
The document is titled Traditionis Custodes (Latin, “Guardians of the Tradition”), and it narrows the situations in which the traditional Latin liturgy is permitted.
There is much more to say about the document than can be covered here, but this will be an overview of some of the key points that have the most immediate impact.
Under the provisions of Benedict XVI’s 2007 document Summorum Pontificum, the individual priest was the primary decision-maker concerning when Mass would be celebrated according to the older form. Under the new document, the bishop has this responsibility.
Although rumors had been circulating that Pope Francis was likely to release a new document narrowing the situations in which the older liturgy could be celebrated, the document came more quickly than many suspected and took a large number by surprise. Reactions were quick in coming, with many on the internet expressing shock and outrage.
To correctly understand the document, it is important to get the facts and to try to understand why the pope made the decisions he did. A good starting point is reading the motu proprio itself.
To start with, although there are not as many opportunities to celebrate the traditional liturgy as when every individual priest could decide to perform it, there is no sudden end to its celebration. Instead, bishops whose dioceses have groups of faithful for whom the 1962 liturgy is celebrated are “to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration” according to the older form. In these “celebrations,” the document prescribes, “the readings”—presumably the single epistle reading, often but not always taken from the apostles’ New Testament letters, and the Gospel reading—“are proclaimed in the vernacular language, using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective Episcopal Conferences.”
The new locations specified in Traditionis Custodes aren’t to be in ordinary parish churches, but they may be in “personal parishes” already erected for this purpose. Although no new personal parishes are to be erected, the existing ones have not been suppressed (though it is up to the bishop whether to continue them).
Bishops in dioceses with the traditional liturgy also are directed “to appoint a priest who, as delegate of the bishop, is entrusted with these celebrations and with the pastoral care of these groups of the faithful. . . . This priest should have at heart not only the correct celebration of the liturgy, but also the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful.”
The pope is thus not stopping the celebration of the traditional liturgy, but mandating a space for it separate from the parish churches and addressing the pastoral care of the faithful who prefer it.
There are other details to the current regulations, but these are the ones that have the most immediate impact on the ordinary faithful who prefer the traditional liturgy.
When it comes to understanding the pope’s reasoning behind these decisions, the best source of information is a letter that Pope Francis wrote to the world’s bishops explaining them. When reading the letter, we should remember the Catechism’s exhortation: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (2478).
In the letter, the pope seeks to enter the minds of his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the minds of those who are disappointed with poorly celebrated liturgies.
He writes: “I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that ‘in many places the prescriptions of the new missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.’”
Francis notes that the bishops must “provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II.” In prescribing how to go about this, he concludes by asking the bishops “to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books.”
The pontiff traces the origin of Traditionis Custodes to a survey the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted of the world’s bishops to ask how successfully Summorum Pontificum was being implemented in their dioceses.
He writes, “The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene. Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my predecessors, who had intended ‘to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew,’ has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI . . . was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”
Specifically, the pope claims in his letter, attitudes had developed that were “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”
The extent to which these attitudes are present among attendees of the traditional liturgy can be debated. Nevertheless, the pope says he felt it necessary to intervene with the new regulations, lest these attitudes continue to grow and divisions in the body of Christ become even worse. The motu proprio thus directs local bishops with groups that celebrate the traditional liturgy “to determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the magisterium of the supreme pontiffs.”
It should be borne in mind that each of the recent pontificates has seen significant shifts on the role of the traditional liturgy in the life of the Church. This is likely to continue in the future, and future popes may again choose to broaden the circumstances under which the traditional liturgy is permitted.
-please click on the image for greater detail -altar bells used at the elevation of the the Eucharistic, both species to draw the attention, practically, of large congregations who may be in a cathedral so large they may have trouble seeing the elevation or knowing the exact moment the bread and wine are changed into the Eucharist, to mark that special moment. This is a very minimalist modern design, some current and older versions are quite ornate.
-the crotalus. It can take many forms but is usually always wooden and must make a loud sound, similar to the volume of altar bells. In the Roman Rite, altar bells are not supposed to be rung after the Gloria in the liturgy on the evening of Holy Thursday, and are supposed to remain unused until the Gloria on Holy Saturday. This is supposed to make things more somber as we remember the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But, during this short period of time, is anything supposed to take its place? That’s where the crotalus comes in. The Church’s liturgical rubrics don’t prescribe a replacement for altar bells, but there is a long-standing tradition of using a wooden clapper or noise-maker in its place. This serves to both mark the same events as the altar bells, but in a less “sweet” way and thus maintain the somber tone.
The term “crotalus” is a Latin term that comes from the Greek word “krotalon” (κροταλον), which means “rattle.” (As a result, “crotalus” is also the name of a genus of rattlesnakes.) Crotaluses can come in many different designs (see the pictures and videos at the end of this article for examples).
The crotalus used to be universally used, but fell out of use in the last few decades. It seems, however, to have made a little bit of a comeback lately due to an increase of interest in traditional liturgy.
(“Smells *& bells is has been used by progressive Catholics derisively post Vatican II to mock the use of pre-conciliar liturgical practices. Too cool for school.)
“I was debating the leader of a ministry that tried to lure Catholics into “real” Christianity. In the question period a young woman raised her hand. She looked angry and, turning to me, said, “My grandmother lives in Mexico. She is a pious Catholic. She goes to Mass every week and prays the rosary every day. Under her bed she keeps a glass jar with a hairball in it, and she worships the hairball. Why does your church promote such idolatry?”
I replied that worshiping hairballs is no part of Catholic practice, that Church authorities would disapprove of the practice if they knew about it, and that she should consider asking her grandmother’s priest to intervene and set the pious but confused woman straight. The questioner seemed to accept my plea of innocence. She seemed to recognize that we shouldn’t be blamed for something we would condemn if we only knew about it.
Then questions turned to real, not imagined, Catholic practices, ones that many Fundamentalists find repellent. These are the “smells and bells” of Catholicism: actions that mark Catholics as Catholics, things we do that make us stand out.
We have sacraments
Fundamentalists dislike peculiarly Catholic customs because they think they’re non-scriptural, even anti-scriptural. This attitude can be overcome, but it takes patience. First, we must explain what we mean by a particular practice (many Fundamentalists don’t know, say, what the sign of the cross is—they don’t know the motions, and they don’t know the words).
Then we must explain why we do these things (because they bring to mind our Lord’s redemptive work, for instance). Third, we must question Fundamentalists closely to see if they harbor some unusual misunderstanding of our practices. Many of them do.
We need to impress upon them that Catholicism is a sacramental religion. (Ed. In ancient Roman religion and law, the sacramentum was an oath or vow that rendered the swearer sacer, “given to the gods,” in the negative sense if he violated it. Sacramentum also referred to a thing that was pledged as a sacred bond, and consequently forfeit if the oath were violated. Both instances imply an underlying sacratio, act of consecration.)
Sacraments are visible signs of God’s grace; they are actions that not only signify the transmittal of grace to us but also really do transmit grace. They are a natural consequence of the Incarnation. God took on flesh (matter) to save us, and he left behind actions that use matter (such as water, oil, and wine) to continue to give us his saving grace.
Unlike Catholicism, Fundamentalism is not a sacramental religion. It’s one thing, Fundamentalists say, for God to take flesh and to use material things during his sojourn on Earth. It’s something else for him to set up a Church that encourages the continued use of material things. God is too great, too “wholly other,” to use matter as a vehicle of grace.
For the Fundamentalist, it gets worse.
Sacramentals more troubling
Aside from the seven sacraments, Catholics have sacramentals, and in some ways sacramentals are more off-putting for “Bible Christians” than are the seven sacraments themselves. After all, even Fundamentalists have the “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, although they don’t think these “ordinances” do what our sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist do, such as remit sins and convey grace. But Fundamentalists have nothing like sacramentals—or so they think.
The Code of Canon Law explains, “[S]acramentals are sacred signs by which spiritual effects are signified and are obtained by the intercession of the Church” (can. 1166). They aren’t the ordinary means of grace established by Christ—that is, they aren’t sacraments as such—but they are related to sacraments.
With sacramentals we consecrate our daily lives and keep thoughts of God ever in our minds. There are seven sacraments but countless sacramentals. Any action or thing put to a sacred purpose may be considered a sacramental.
Fundamentalists use sacramentals, but they don’t realize it. Consider the Protestant wedding ceremony. The bride wears white and, perhaps, a veil. She carries a bouquet. She and the groom exchange vows and rings. Each of these actions and things has a religious significance: purity in the white garments, the beauty of married life in the bouquet, fidelity in the vows, permanence in the circularity of the rings. Each is a sign of the holiness of matrimony. Each is a sacramental, if the word is used in a wide sense.
Borrowing from paganism?
If spoken to gently, most Fundamentalists can come to accept the fact that they too use sacramentals, even if they reject the word. They are especially uncomfortable, though, when told that many of these sacramentals originated in pagan religions. After all, a standard Fundamentalist charge against Catholicism is that its distinctive customs and beliefs are of pagan origin.
Fundamentalists don’t want to admit that they too have borrowed from paganism, but that is exactly what they have done. After all, their churches are offshoots of offshoots from the Catholic Church, even if they won’t admit the fact. (Fundamentalists believe their brand of Christianity goes straight back to New Testament times. It actually goes back only to the nineteenth century.)
Let’s look at a few Catholic practices that most irk Fundamentalists.
When they pass the Blessed Sacrament, Catholics go down on one knee to honor the Real Presence. This posture of subservience makes perfect sense, since Christ is really present in the tabernacle. Fundamentalists don’t believe he’s there, of course (they believe instead in a Real Absence), but they can be made to acknowledge the sensibleness of genuflecting through analogy.
Ask them to imagine themselves at Buckingham Palace, at an audience with the Queen of England. She enters the room and walks up to a woman. Under court protocol, what is the woman supposed to do? She is supposed to curtsy as a sign of respect for the Queen.
Another analogy. A soldier meets an officer on the street. What does the soldier do? He salutes. Again, a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of a superior.
Who is more superior to us than God? Which Fundamentalist, transported back to first-century Palestine, would not throw himself prostrate at the sight of Jesus? If that would be proper, then why not genuflect where Jesus is sacramentally present? Once you accept the actual presence of Christ in the tabernacle, genuflection makes perfect sense. Leaving out the genuflection would be a bit of an effrontery, like refusing to curtsy to the Queen.
At Mass we stand when the Gospel is read, out of respect for the very words of Jesus, and we sit to listen attentively to the other scriptural readings. At the consecration we kneel, kneeling being the posture of adoration. What we are doing is praying with our bodies, not just with our minds, and praying that way makes perfect sense for a creature composed of both body and soul. The postures we use during Mass show us—and those around us—what we believe and what we take seriously.
Sign of the cross
Every Fundamentalist knows Catholics cross themselves when praying in church, when hiding in foxholes, and when stepping into the batter’s box. They don’t, as a rule, know that Eastern Orthodox Christians also cross themselves (although they do it “backward”), so Fundamentalists think the sign of the cross is something that distinguishes Catholics from “real” Christians.
They don’t know that “real” Christians began making the sign of the cross at an early date. The theologian Tertullian, writing in 211, said, “We furrow our forehead with the sign [of the cross].” Making the sign was already an old custom when he wrote. It may have been common even when the apostles were alive.
True, the practice is not mentioned in the New Testament, but neither are peculiarly Fundamentalist practices such as the altar call, in which people march to the front of a church to announce publicly that, because of the preaching, they have just decided to “make a commitment to Christ.” This Fundamentalist practice—we can call it a Fundamentalist sacramental—is nowhere alluded to in Scripture, but it is not contrary to any scriptural teaching.
Catholics’ sign of the cross signifies two things at once: our redemption through the death of Jesus on the cross and the Trinity as the central truth of Christianity. When we make the sign we trace the cross on ourselves, and we recite the holy invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We affirm what Christ came down to do for us (to redeem us by his voluntary death), and we affirm his chief revelation to us: that God is simultaneously one and three.
Not used as often in our liturgies as it once was, incense symbolizes the pleasant odor of Christian virtue and our prayers rising to God. It is the first part of the “smells and bells,” and most Fundamentalists think only Catholics use incense. But incense is not peculiar to Catholics. The ancients, both Jews and Gentiles, used it. Incense accompanied prayers at the Temple (Luke 1:10), and one of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi was frankincense (Matt. 2:11).
But all that was before Christianity began, say Fundamentalists. Okay, but the book of Revelation deals with what happens afterward, and there we find that “the smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hands of an angel” (Rev. 8:4). If there’s incense in heaven, why not in churches here below?
Our church towers commonly have bells, often consisting of large sets, known as carillons, that can be rung from a keyboard. Small handbells are rung during Mass. Bells have been used for centuries to call people to Mass and to sanctify certain times of the day—for instance, it once was the custom, in Catholic countries, to ring church bells at noon so workers in the fields could pause and recite the Angelus. During Mass bells are rung at the consecration, partly to focus our attention, partly to echo the hosannahs of the heavenly choirs.
Fundamentalists disapprove of bells being used in Christian worship. Why they disapprove isn’t often clear. Some say bells are of pagan origin and thus should be forbidden; but pagans also sang hymns, and no Fundamentalist thinks Christian hymns should be forbidden.
Other Fundamentalists are more straightforward: they don’t like bells simply because, in their minds, bells are identified with the Catholic Church. Of course, Protestant churches often have bell towers, even if those towers contain no bells, but that’s overlooked by these Fundamentalists. For them, opposition to bells hardly rises above mere prejudice.
The usual complaint about the rosary is that it violates Matthew 6:7, which reads this way in the King James Version: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do.”
“See,” say Fundamentalists, “you Catholics repeat prayers, and Jesus told us not to do that!” Did he really? Then how does one account for what happened in the garden of Gethsemane? There Jesus prayed the same prayer three times—that is, he repeated the prayer.
Did he violate his own injunction? Was he a hypocrite? No, that’s impossible—which means Fundamentalists are wrong when they claim Jesus condemned repeated prayers. They should read Matthew 6:7 again. The operative word isn’t repetitions. It’s vain. Jesus condemned vain prayers, such as those to pagan gods.
Those gods sported multiple titles. Worshipers thought the gods would decline to hear their petitions unless they were addressed by the titles they wished to be addressed by at a particular moment. Having no way to know the titles of the day, worshipers started their prayers with a litany of titles, to make sure they hit upon the correct ones. Such a habit was vain not because it was repetitious but because it was futile: those gods didn’t even exist.
The rosary is an intensely biblical prayer. It contains not just the Our Father, which Jesus himself taught us, but also the Hail Mary, which is built of verses lifted from the Bible: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42).
The meditations associated with each decade (Catholics call them “mysteries”) are also straight out of the Bible, but most Fundamentalists don’t realize this. They think Catholics just rattle off Hail Marys without giving a thought to what they’re doing. In fact, when we pray the rosary we meditate on incidents in salvation history, such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection—each a prominent scriptural event.
What are uniforms for? To single out people for a particular function. The soldier’s uniform tells us his vocation, the police officer’s uniform helps him be identified by someone looking for help, and the Roman collar marks the priest. Vestments—a sacred “uniform”—are used at Mass.
In this the Church follows the example of the Old Testament liturgy, in which the priests were dressed in special clothes (Ex. 40:13-14, Lev. 8:7-9), and of the New Testament, which tells us that John the Baptist “wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matt. 3:4).
Water covers most of the Earth, and it is absolutely necessary for life. No wonder this marvelous liquid is used in sacraments and sacramentals. Sacred uses of water are found throughout the Old Testament: the saving of the Israelites by the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:15-22), the miraculous flow from the rock touched by Moses’ staff (Ex. 17:6-7), the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land (Jos. 3:14-17), Ezekiel’s vision of life-giving water flowing from the Temple (Ezek. 47:1-12).
In the New Testament we find the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17), the healing water of the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9), and the water brought forth from Jesus’ side by the spear thrust (John 19:34). We’re told by our Lord that to enter the kingdom of God we must be born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
With all these holy uses of water, is it any wonder we find it at baptisms, in exorcisms, and in the stoups at the door of Catholic churches? With it we bless ourselves (there’s the sign of the cross again!), not because the water itself has any special powers—it’s ordinary tap water with a pinch of salt added—but because its pious use brings to mind the truths of our faith.
If we take the time, we can help Fundamentalists see that “smells and bells” flow naturally from the Incarnation, but it takes work. Fundamentalists tend to be hereditary anti-Catholics; their anti-Catholic feelings were learned in the home or at the foot of the pulpit. If something is Catholic, they reflexively don’t like it. They operate from prejudice, not from dispassionate thinking. Yet even the most prejudiced can come to appreciate the sensibleness of sacramentals if they have sacramentals explained to them by a patient Catholic.”
-Most Reverend Robert Barron, Auxilliary Bishop of Los Angeles April 12, 2020
“Here’s the first thing I want you to know about the Resurrection: it happened. Why do I say it that way? This has been around for a long time, but many people today, way too many, will say, well, the Resurrection is a nice story. It’s a nice myth, like many other myths of dying and rising gods. We can find these in different cultures and religions all over the world. It’s just one more iteration of this ancient story. Maybe has a moral meaning to it. Now, I’d be willing to bet if there were some young Catholics, young Christians listening to me, I bet you’ve heard some version of that in your college or university classroom.
It’s a very common view and kind of a cultural elite. Well, whenever I hear this, I think of a saying of C.S. Lewis, the great writer. Lewis, one of whose academic specialties was the study of mythic literature. Lewis said, “Those who say the Gospels are mythic haven’t read many myths.” Now, here’s what he meant, I think. A myth, and I love the myth, by the way. I remember vividly I was in seventh grade when I was kind of introduced to the Greek and Roman myth. I had to do a report on them. I’ve loved those stories from that day to this day.
Myths are stories with a symbolic importance. They speak of great general truths about the world, about nature, about society, about the psyche. Think, for example, of the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome. Well, they’re personifications, if you want, of the natural necessities. Think of Poseidon of the sea, and Zeus of the air, and Demeter of the earth, et cetera, et cetera. Wonderful myths. They convey great general truths, which is why, by the way, myths are always set in some kind of indefinite, distant time.
We say once upon a time. Or bring it up to date: a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. See, Star Wars is a very good example of a modern myth. A very effective one, I must say. It’s captured the minds of people all over the world. That’s because it taps into this sort of mythic consciousness. As I say, great. I like the myths. But we’re not dealing here in Christianity with a myth. The Resurrection is not one more iteration of this ancient story. Now, here’s the clue. You heard it in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
Listen. This is St. Peter, by the way, speaking. “You know what’s happened all over Judea, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. We are witnesses of all that he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” As I say, myths are set once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away. No one ever wonders, hmm, who was the political leader when Hercules was around? Or you know when Osiris rose from the dead? Who was the pharaoh at that time? I mean, no one’s gonna ask a question like that because those are inappropriate questions.
But listen to this man. You know what happened in Judea and about this Jesus from Nazareth. You know Nazareth, where that is. And the country of the Jews, that means the area around Jerusalem, and things that happened in the city of – you people know all this. This is for my Southern California friends. But apply it now in your own situation. If I were to begin a story this way, I met this guy first in Oxnard, and then I saw him again in Montecito, and then just last week, he was here in Santa Barbara, would you think for a second that I was about to tell you a mythic story?
No. You’d say he’s telling me something that really happened to him. He’s naming times and places. Can you hear now how Peter’s language is much more like that than it is like mythic language? Now, listen to how this thing ends, how Peter’s oration ends. Again, not some generic myth. “This man God raised on the third day and granted that He be seen, not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.” Now, I suggest you can spend the rest of the Easter season with that last line. In fact, you can spend the rest of your life with that last line. We, who ate and drank with him, this Jesus from Nazareth, whom you saw, that one. We ate and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. Takes your breath away the realism of it.
Here’s something else. When you read a myth or you read, let’s say, a writing by a spiritual teacher, there’s something very serene about it. It’s conveying important truths, sure. But it’s told using a kind of detached, serene manner. Pick up the New Testament. Now, maybe a lot of you haven’t been reading much of the New Testament recently.
Pick it up, any page, Matthew through Revelation. What you find there is not serene, detached reflection on abstract spiritual truths. What you find on every page of it is what I would call a grab you by the lapels quality. See, something happened to these people. Myths can be made up in the privacy of your home or in a faculty lounge. You know what I’m saying? But these people aren’t talking that way. Something happened to them that was like an explosion. And the after effects are being felt to this moment. They wanted to go all over the world and tell everyone they possibly could that this Jesus rose from the dead.
Here’s something else. How many missionaries of Hercules are there? The answer? None. How many martyrs for Osiris are there? Answer? None. Because those are mythic figures. People don’t become missionaries and martyrs on behalf of mythic characters. Of Jesus? Missionaries? Are you kidding? These people went careering around the world with this urgent sense of mission to tell the whole world. Martyrs? Yep. Every single one of His most intimate followers, with the exception of John, met a martyr’s death.
Well, you can’t fly right now because of this coronavirus. But the minute that’s over, you can get on a plane if you want. You can fly to Rome. You can visit the grave of the man who said these words, “We who ate and drank with Him after His resurrection from the dead.” I’ll show exactly where he’s buried because it’s the biggest, most beautiful grave marker in the whole world. It’s called Saint Peter’s Basilica. And that’s where the man who said these words is buried, who was crucified upside down, rather than to deny the truth of what he saw. Myths? Give me a break, myths.
And again, young people listening to me, if you hear that in your college classrooms, or university, or you read it, don’t you believe it. That’s not what these people are talking about. And the explosive power of the Resurrection message felt to this day. Okay. I wanna tell you now three things. We got a little time. It’s the coronavirus. You’re not going anywhere. So, I’m gonna give you three implications, once we accept the fact of the Resurrection. Here’s the first one; the first implication of the Resurrection. Jesus is who He said He was. Think about Jesus, he’s always a great spiritual teacher.
Well, yeah. You could distill spiritual teachings from Jesus, sure. What was really interesting about Jesus was that He spoke and acted in the very person of God. Unless you love Me more than your mother and father, more than your very life, you are not worthy of Me. Can you imagine any other spiritual teacher saying that? That’d be the height of arrogance unless He in person is the highest good. You’ve heard it said in the Torah, but I say, for a first-century Jew, that was outrageous speech. Torah, highest law possible. The law that God gave to Moses.
Who could claim authority over it, except the author of the Torah himself? My son, your sins are forgiven you. And the people say, well, who does this man think he is? Only God can forgive sins. Quite right. Heaven and Earth will pass away. My words will never pass away. Who could say that except the eternal word of God? Now, what was the reaction to Jesus? Well, you can see it in the Gospel. Some, sure, they were fascinated and they followed Him. Others were kinda puzzled, and wondered about it. Others hated Him and hounded Him to His death because of it.
What did the first witnesses of the Resurrection realize? Huh. He is who He said He was. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the ratification of his claim to speak and act in the very person of God. Now, listen. If Jesus is not just one spiritual teacher among many, one philosopher among many, but rather, if Jesus is Himself God made flesh, then we have to give our whole life to Him, right? If He is who He says He is, well then, I have to surrender my whole life to Him. There’s the first implication of the Resurrection. Here’s the second one: our sins are forgiven.
The resurrected Christ always does two things. Look at all the accounts of the Resurrection appearances. First, He shows His wounds, and then He says, “Shalom.” Now, the showing of the wounds. Why is that important? Don’t forget what you did. The author of life came, and we killed Him. There’s that stark message. I preached on it the other day. The author of life came, and we killed Him. I’m okay and you’re okay. Come on. Everything’s just fine with me. Give me a break. The wounds of Jesus are the sign of our own spiritual dysfunction, and don’t forget it, is what the risen Lord is saying.
That’s a salutary move that we are aware of our sinfulness. But then what follows the showing of the wounds? Not vengeance. Now, you’d expect that in any Hollywood movie, and actually, in many of the myths of the world. What would you expect? This poor man, who had been betrayed and denied, abandoned him at the moment of truth. And now, he’s back from the dead. What would you expect if you’re watching a Hollywood movie? Well, he’s gonna visit his vengeance upon them. But the risen Jesus says, “Shalom.” Peace.
And that’s a word, everybody, that is basic in the Bible. It sums up what God wants for His people, what God has wanted from the beginning. What sin has interrupted is shalom, peace. That means well-being at every level. But here’s the thing: to those who had denied, betrayed, run from him, abandoned him, he says a word of forgiveness and peace. We killed God, and God returned in forgiving love. You see what that means? Do you see what that means? We killed God, and God returned in forgiving love. That means there’s no sin that God can’t, in principle, forgive. There’s nothing that can finally separate us from the love of God.
And doesn’t Paul say exactly that in Romans? “I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither height or death, or any other creature could ever separate us from the love of God.” Paul knows that because he met the risen Jesus, who showed his wounds and said, “Shalom.” The second great implication of the Resurrection is our sins are forgiven. Third and final implication: the Resurrection shows who is our king and what our mission ought to be. You remember Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, puts a mocking sign over the cross, this pathetic figure crucified, and over the cross, the sign, “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum,” Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.
And just so no one would miss it, Pilate put it in Hebrew and Greek, as well. So, everybody could see. It was meant as a joke. Look at this poor, pathetic man, who claimed to be the king of the Jews. What do they sense now after the Resurrection? That the joke was on Pilate because this risen Christ is, in fact, the king of the Jews, therefore, the king of all nations. And, deliciously, Pilate thereby became the first great Evangelist, announcing to all the nations in all the relevant languages, “You’ve got a new king.” Now, that’s the message of the first Christians.
Pick up your New Testament. Open up to any of the letters from Saint Paul. What will you find? Like a refrain, Jesus kurios, Jesus kurios, Jesus Christos, Jesus Christos. Jesus, the Lord. Jesus, the Messiah. Who was lord in that world? Well, there was a watchword: Kaiser kurios. Caesar’s lord. Caesar’s king. He’s the one to whom your allegiance is due. What’s Paul saying? How revolutionary it was. Not Kaiser, but rather someone whom Kaiser put to death, but whom God raised from the dead. Jesus kurios. Jesus is the lord. He’s the one now to whom your allegiance is due. See, and here’s the point. I’ll close everybody with this.
Here’s the point: stop messing around with Caesar and all of his successors to the present day. I mean, all these phony kings, all these false claimants to ultimate allegiance. Don’t give your life, and heart, and mind to them. Their day is over. Who’s the real king? Well, Pilate told us. Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum. Jesus of Nazareth, He’s the king. He’s the one now to Whom we should give our hearts, we should give our minds, we should give our energy, we should give our bodies and souls. He’s the one to Whom final allegiance is due. So, everybody, on this Easter day, rejoice because Jesus is Lord. Rejoice because our sins have been forgiven. Rejoice because we know who’s the king, and we have our mission.”
“I argued that John’s phrase “the day of preparation of Passover” (John 18:28) doesn’t refer to the day on which Jews prepare for Passover, but the Friday of Passover week. This resolves what some have said is a contradiction between John and the Synoptics concerning whether Jesus died before the Passover meal or after.
But some argue against this solution. Let’s consider some of their counters.
Oneis that Jews would not have held an execution on such an important Jewish feast day as Passover. However, it was not Jews who performed the execution, but Romans. The Jewish authorities had not been able to arrest Jesus until after the Passover meal, and then they brought him to Pilate, who determined when the Crucifixion took place.
He could have kept Jesus in prison awaiting execution, as he was doing with the rebel Barabbas. However, it was expedient for Pilate to conduct public crucifixions in conjunction with Passover, when a large number of Jewish pilgrims would be in Jerusalem and thus able to witness what happened to those who defied the Roman state. Thus, he was likely holding Barabbas for execution at Passover, as well as the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus. He then substituted Jesus for Barabbas at the demand of the Jewish leaders and the crowd.
The Tosefta, a second-century collection of Jewish legal traditions, records that, when they had control of their land, Jewish leaders also practiced executions in conjunction with major feasts:
A rebellious and incorrigible son, a defiant elder, one who leads people astray to worship idols, one who leads a town to apostasy, a false prophet, and perjured witnesses—they do not kill them immediately. But they bring them up to the court in Jerusalem and keep them until the festival, and then they put them to death on the festival, as it is said, ‘And all the people shall hear and fear, and no more do presumptuously (Deut. 17:13),’ (Sanhedrin 11:7 cf. m. Sanh. 11:4-5; b. Sanh. 89a; Sifre on Deut. 17:3 [105a]).
The “festival” refers to any of the three Jewish pilgrimage feasts, when adult males were required to go to Jerusalem. These were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
The above Tosefta passage also provides a possible answer to the objection that the Jews wouldn’t have held a trial on the Passover feast. If the Jews would have executed Jesus on the Passover had the Romans not had control over their land, then surely they would not have seen a problem with holding a trial for him, which is something they could do even under Roman rule.
Similar to the above counter, somehave argued that Friday can’t be the Passover because Mark says Joseph of Arimathea “bought a linen shroud” on that day (Mark 15:46) and Luke tells us the women “prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 23:56), activities both of which would have be forbidden by the Law’s requirements to do no work on the first day of the Passover festival (Exod. 12:16). There are a few things we can say in response.
First, the verb for “bought” is an aorist participle, and so it does not definitely indicate when the shroud was bought. The phrase can also be translated “having bought fine linen . . . [Joseph] wrapped him in the linen” (Young’s Literal Translation). It is possible that Mark does not intend for us to understand that Joseph bought the linen that day. It may have been fine linen that he had bought previously, perhaps for a different purpose.
And even if we suppose Joseph bought the linen that day, the Mishnah indicates that there were provisions for “buying” needed things on the Sabbath (e.g., jugs of wine, oil, and loaves of bread), whereby one left a cloak in trust and then paid for them later (Shabbat 23:1). If such provisions were made for those who required things on the Sabbath, then similar provisions could be made for buying things on Jewish feast days.
Second, when referring to the rest that must be observed on the first day of the seven-day Passover festival, Leviticus specifies that everyone must refrain from “laborious work” (Lev. 23:7). This is different from the prohibition of work on the Sabbath: “on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work” (Lev. 23:3; emphasis added).
The meaning of “laborious work” is debated, but many scholars have suggested that it is meant to allow certain types of work to be done on the first day of Passover—work that was not allowed on the Sabbath, when all work was prohibited.
As Bible scholar Brant Pitre argues in his book Jesus and the Last Supper, this distinction between “laborious work” and “no work” provides a plausible explanation as to why Joseph of Arimathea and the women viewed their activities as permissible on the Friday of Passover but not on the Sabbath.
Luke specifically tells us that the women prepared spices and ointments late Friday afternoon because “the Sabbath was beginning” and they didn’t want to violate the Sabbath rest (Luke 23:54, cf. 55-56).
Third, even if someone doesn’t accept the above distinction between “laborious work” and “no work,” the Law of Moses required Jesus’ immediate burial:
[I]f a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
The Torah expressly forbade leaving a body hanging overnight, so if the Romans crucified Jesus on Passover, he had to be taken down and hurriedly buried before night.
Furthermore, even though this passage speaks only of a condemned person, the rabbinical interpretation derives from it that “no corpse is to remain unburied overnight” (Sanh. 6.4, 46a, b; Maimonides, “Abel,” 4.8; emphasis added). According to the Tosefta, “To keep the dead overnight was not permitted in the city of Jerusalem” (Tosef., Neg. 6.2).
This is consistent with what Josephus reports concerning Jewish burial: “[T]he Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun” (The Jewish War 4.317).
Given this Jewish sense of urgency for burial, both in the first century and in later rabbinical tradition, Joseph of Arimathea and the women would have interpreted the circumstances of Jesus’ death as overriding the general rules governing work on the first day of Passover, that is if they were forbidden from all work.
Since we have plausible explanations as how to reconcile the view that Good Friday is Passover and the activities involving Jesus’ execution and burial, these counters don’t succeed in undermining the view that John and the Synoptics are working with the same chronology of Jesus’ passion.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP