Monday, April 29, 2013

Talking to two conservative Novus Ordo Catholics

Nice people, very JP2 and EWTN. He’s part of a lay apostolate a lot like Frank Sheed and the Catholic Evidence Guild at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park in the good old days; she’s a sweet recent convert from Lutheranism.

My opener: A sign of the disaster of the council is nuns’ virtual disappearance from American Catholic life. The big orders destroyed themselves with liberalism; there are small, local conservative orders doing well but the damage to Catholic life is done.

He: The council documents are sound. It is the bad Catholics who tried to run a progressive agenda. Thankfully that is being undone bishop by bishop.

The church can’t change its doctrine so of course the council isn’t heretical but that doesn’t mean it wasn't a mistake. By its fruits you know it.

She: The Church did not err. The documents are beautiful and true and when you actually read them you see just how grossly misinterpreted they were by dissidents.

He: Brother Beeler, I think you would agree that the Fat Lady hasn't sung the last song just yet.

She: Amen.

He: 50 years is a blink of an eye in the course of things. It has been pointed out that such turbulence followed many councils. Let us have faith and not lose hope. Let us stay on the Barque of Peter.

In essentials of course the church can’t err. The council was policy, not doctrine; buying into the besetting sin of what was otherwise a golden era culturally: the liberal faith in progress. We ended up with a wrecked church and a larger society still hostile if not more so.

She: The Church is not wrecked. Far from it. As a convert perhaps I appreciate it more than some others.

If people start thinking they constitute a small group of faithful that is holier than the Church then they are as Protestant as those who would twist the Council's documents to suit an overly liberal agenda. Left or right you are off the boat.

Not exactly. Groups with credal orthodoxy, real bishops and a real Mass may be outside the church but are not Protestants: the Orthodox and the tiny Polish National Catholic Church in America (century-old immigrant schism), for example. We never defined false doctrine in order to become a separate church in principle, so ‘trads are outside the church; they’re Protestants’ is false.

You don't know what the council destroyed. In the ’50s, the American Northeast was ours. The Sixties and the council basically neutralized and assimilated America’s big Catholic minority just like many Protestant Americans long wanted. I used to know someone who was a seminarian then and ended up in a mental hospital getting electroshocked for depression because of that council: it destroyed his world. I’m not trying to take away your faith or your joy being in the church, but what happened, happened.

She: That doesn't mean the gates of hell prevailed against The Church. That will never happen and has not happened.

You’re preaching to the proverbial choir. True of the church per se. That doesn’t mean people in the church can't make big mistakes or that the church in one part of the world can’t diminish or disappear.

She: People can err, yes. The Church cannot teach error and has not.

Right; the council didn’t teach heresy because, thanks to the church by its nature, it couldn’t. That doesn’t mean the council wasn’t a case of bad judgement.

He: We have work to do, in faith hope and love to build up the Body of Christ. Blaming the Council isn't going to bear good fruit.

She: I respectfully disagree having read the documents.

Confession is good for the soul, and we won’t move forward until we own up to this blunder.

She (to him): Of course not.

I'm sorry I cannot say words I don't believe. I do not believe the Council was error, bad judgment, mistake, or blunder.

Whatever good the council tried to do could have been done with little or no damage by about three papal pronouncements: let’s translate the services, and religious liberty and ecumenism rightly understood are fine, so America’s got the right idea and sure, let’s try having talks with Protestants (to teach them the truth). The neighborhoods around my parish just lost their parishes; closed and merged. So how’s that ‘renewal’ of the council working out?

He: I for one am not going to question the Holy Spirit in what he chose to do with the Council. I think we have our work cut out for us with the New Evangelization — talking with Protestants and fallen-away Catholics.

Those were decisions of prudential judgement nothing to do with the Holy Spirit and the church’s charism of infallibility. If you want to evangelize, resume what the liturgical movement tried to do, teaching Catholics the traditional Mass and office (don’t forget the office), and bring back the old catechisms, made to reach as wide a readership as possible (both the smart and the dumb kids in the class). Sure, the Holy Spirit is still in the church; even Paul VI held the line on contraception because he could not do otherwise.

She: Oh John please don't tell me this is an anti-Novus Ordo thing. Yikes.

He: I think we'll do great if we can get Catholics back to Mass, whatever form it is in. John I am not sure what your beef is, but it sounds like you're alienated from the Church in some way. All I can do is offer my prayers, since I haven't walked in your shoes. Peace be with you.

If believing the traditional Mass is better is anti-Novus and being ‘alienated from the church’, then yes. Thanks to Pope Benedict’s reform I have no conscience problem with the new Mass in English. But the old is still better (and it doesn't have to be in Latin).

He: There is no problem with anyone preferring the traditional Latin Mass. In fact I hope to attend one myself one day. The problem comes when it becomes a position from which rocks are thrown at the Ordinary Form of the Mass and the practices of the Church. We must remain united in Christ, whether the form is Ordinary, Extraordinary/Traditional Latin, Byzantine, Carmelite, or whatever. The same Eucharist — the same Heavenly Liturgy to which we connect.

She: I think I understand you better now, John. I hope you can find a way to fall in love with the whole of Church teaching again. Again, as a convert I am just so grateful to be in the one true Church that I can't pause to swat at gnats.

Thanks but maybe you can’t really understand unless/until you experience pre-/non-conciliar Catholicism at the traditional Mass. That the new Mass in itself is not heretical doesn't mean it’s above criticism. Regarding being united on essentials, I get it. Again, criticizing the council is not rejecting the teachings of the church. Because the council didn’t define any doctrine. Great to have you in the church. Not everybody is called to post your kind of posts but spreading your joy seems to be your calling.

He: Pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Catholicism is the same Catholicism just as much as Catholicism in 33 AD is the same Church as the Church in 1534. I understand the sense of a loss of such a beautiful form. However it isn't lost is it? The council is infallible, whether or not it is doctrinal. It is a work of the Holy Spirit promulgated by a valid Pope. I think your criticism is more accurately placed with those who implemented the council, rather than the council. And really the point of that is quite moot since the water is under the bridge. We have to consider the effect that this discussion has on converts and on those who look at us from the outside. Seriously our time is better spent building up the church from where we are now.

I am 43 and all I have ever known is the Church since 1969. My daughter has only known it since 2005. Let us keep that in mind that an entire generation or two is in play here.

It’s the Mass that would not die, thanks to the saintly Archbishop Lefebvre (fact: we have this Mass in the official church because of him), the silent-majority generation of Catholics who kept the memory of it for 40+ years (part of my parish along with Anglo-Catholic alumni, young trad families, and of course West Philly locals), and the young trads discovering it. I appreciate the strict-constructionist argument about the council ( ‘it’s not the council but the implementation that’s the problem’), and again actually I don’t have a problem with its main points (the vernacular, religious liberty and ecumenism). But to deny the harm it did to the church is foolish. Again, churchmen should man up and admit it, and move on. ‘The council is infallible, whether or not it is doctrinal.’ That doesn't make sense. I’m hopeful about the next generations. Because trads have kids and liberals don’t, or the kids liberals have tend to drop out rather than do liberal religion. So of course, build up the church, but to do so, we have to admit we goofed.

(To her:) I remembered you’ve only been in the church since 2010. As a Catholic you’ve only known Benedict the Great and his church recovering from Modernism. Which is great, but again it’s hard for someone in your shoes to understand what pre-conciliar and other trad Catholics have gone through. I mentioned my old friend who was in seminary during and right after the council and had his mind and heart broken by it. He never really recovered; he still has depression. You didn’t have your Mass taken away; you didn’t show up on Sunday expecting our Mass and finding a hootenanny or Woodstock in the sanctuary, and relativist garbage from the pulpit. You didn’t have a priest, a pastor, shouting in your face 25 years ago about your wanting a church that no longer exists, his words to me exactly. Again, your joy at joining us is great and I’m glad you’re sharing it. But that conflict’s part of our story along with the joy of being able to bring the old religion back in some places in the official church. By the way, which brand of Lutheran were you? Mainline ELCA or the very different LCMS or WELS?

She: I attended both ELCA and MS. I also dabbled in both Episcopal churches and evangelical ones. You know it's funny; every Catholic I've met who is far left of the Magisterium says the same thing you just said, that I'm only adherent because I haven't been in The Church long enough to know better. So you may be more alike than you think.

Thanks. Not surprising you were both ELCA and LCMS since there’s a spectrum in ELCA including relative conservatives. As you know, Episcopal is ethnic-English ELCA basically, only more liberal. I was born Episcopal because of a marriage conversion in my family. Ironically, they taught me pre-conciliar liturgy back when the official church wanted nothing to do with it anymore. They’re semi-congregational, which is why they had relative conservatives including would-be Catholics (Anglo-Catholics). Here’s my defense against being lumped with liberal dissenters: unlike them I don’t dissent from doctrine (again, we’re talking about policy, not doctrine; doctrine can’t change but policy can), and I've never said you’d do so if you knew better/were in the church longer. Quite the opposite; I hope your joy from being here lasts forever! That joy and knowing our story, the trad odyssey, aren’t mutually exclusive.

She: It has looked like a pretty sour population to me thus far. That's why I was surprised to hear you identify with that mindset.

I freely confess: some of us are jerks! The sourness is understandable based on what we’ve been through, if not excusable. But like all Novus Ordo Catholics aren’t alike, neither are we. For example, some people are big on apparitions and/or conspiracy theories, or extreme right-wing politics (fascism, monarchism), or are huge on Marian devotion or folk piety (novenas to your favorite saint, etc.). From my Anglo-Catholic background (I’m also a quarter Hispanic), I’m a ‘Mass-and-office’ Catholic, the ‘high and dry’ churchmanship in the spectrum of pre-conciliar Catholicism. Big on the liturgy and on theology (Christ-centered, Eucharist-centered) but devotionally moderate so devotions to saints and apparitions don’t crowd out the essentials. Actually a lot like conservative Novus but with a more formal, theologically tighter liturgy. I’m politically moderate too, a classic American, republican and libertarian, believing in our freedom of religion without giving up our one-true-church claim. Just like American Catholics in 1963. We didn’t need the council. We had arrived in American society, then we had to go and squander that. The liberal dissenters want to change the church essentially, to go along with secular American culture; we don’t.

She: Well we have much in common and you'd probably love my Novus Ordo parish. Maybe. ; )

Yeah, maybe. :) My parish has only one traditional Mass (I think the archdiocese made that rule even though Pope Benedict said no more restrictions) but the parish is high-church, so the Novus Ordo there has nice music (organ, chant, Anglican hymns and old Catholic devotional hymns) and mostly traditional vestments, and always uses the altar rail. (The parish is a West Philly neighborhood one but also a trad and conservative magnet.) I only wish the Novus Ordo there was eastward-facing (‘priest’s back to the people’). Again, thanks to Benedict’s reform, I have no conscience problem with that Mass, so on holy days and on Sundays when there are summer flea markets, I do what conservative Catholics have done in the official church for over 40 years: go to the lowest Novus Ordo being offered. No attempt at music, please; Father, just read it out of the book and get it over with; no funny business. I’m not a charismatic but I like seeing them at those Masses holding up their hands during the Our Father. It’s not disruptive; perfectly welcome at our Mass, in my opinion.


  1. There are parts of the documents of VII that are neither sound nor beautiful but fallible, as razor-sharp theologian Mons. Brunero Gherardini shows.

  2. Only two plus years in the Church and already a gatekeeper. YF, your're right, Rome should have just allowed an optional translation of the Tridentine Mass (preferably pre-1962, but I'm not picky) into hieratic vernacular, where available. No council needed for that. VII opened a Pandora's box where every post-modern impulse in the visual arts, music, and architecture was indulged to the fullest.

    Paul VI didn't even get Humanae Vitae right. It ignored pastritics by giving a green light to NFP, which the Fathers would have found gross, especially in its current highly medicalized and sacrelized practice.

  3. "She: The Church did not err. The documents are beautiful and true and when you actually read them you see just how grossly misinterpreted they were by dissidents."

    I read the documents over a one year time period more than 35 years ago. I don't remember much if only because there is so much there, even though as part of a correspondence course series about 10 years ago I had to "dip into" the V-II documents here and there. What I do remember most strongly is that the documents are very prolix and loosely written. It is thus IMHO possible to misinterpret them wrongly even while trying read them in the light of the teachings of the CC. I don't ever recall Rome publishing documents so prolix; instead Rome's documents, while lengthy as the need arises, were written tightly. Of course perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part.

    V-II is the case of the Church opening its mouth and inserting its foot.

    1. Right; holes big enough to drive a coach and four through is how Bishop Williamson puts it.

      Similarly the Novus Ordo isn't heretical but isn't theologically tight like the Tridentine. That seems to have been intentional: written by heretics (Bugnini). Why, as my friend John B. says, when you know about that intent so you can see it in the text, you can't stand that Mass, even in Pope Benedict's tightened form. No bad intent or ambiguity in our Mass, in the text or ceremonial. That's the issue. It’s Not About Latin™ as I say.


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