Sunday, March 31, 2013

Traditionalists, the Mandatum, and the Way Forward

Various thoughts on Pope Francis "disregarding" (In the words of the Vatican's spokesman) the liturgical laws on Holy Thursday:

Anyone who spent their Good Friday screaming on comboxes or whining about how the liturgical reform is dead, yup, shame on you all.  Instead of reflecting on our Lord's death, how our personal sins led to him being nailed to the cross, you were whining about the perceived shortcomings of others, just as Adam did Eve.  There was a time and place for all of this stuff.  The Triduum (especially Good Friday) was not that freaking place or time.

That being said, there's nothing wrong with a little bit of discomfort.  We are already seeing it, as priests took the advantage to tell their congregation "Benedict only washed the feet of priests, whereas Francis does for the poor, which is far better."  Others are openly flouting liturgical laws, and claiming the Pope as their model.  That one can easily defend this from a theological standpoint doesn't change the fact that there is unnecessary confusion in Catholic circles.  If you think some of those traditionalists need to shut up and grow up, you are probably right.  Just as the one making that accusation probably needs to shut up and grow up from whatever spiritual flaw they have.  There's nothing cheaper than the "pox on both houses" shtick, but in this case, it does hold.  Some traditionalists really couldn't wait to bash the Pope, and others couldn't wait to bash the bashers.

I'm going to ignore the whole debate of whether the Pope does or doesn't have the authority to do what he just did.  Men who are real canonists (such as Dr. Edward Peters and Pete Vere, JCL) are of the opinion that the Pope probably isn't bound at least from a canonical standpoint, whereas from a prudential standpoint, Dr. Peters shares his misgivings.  Let's just say in theory the Pope is bound canonically, and he has flagrantly violated liturgical laws which every priest is bound to uphold.  Traditionalists hate when someone says "are you going to put the Pope on trial?"  You can hate it, but they have a point.  There's really precious little that can be done.  Maybe people think that by typing on some blog they can start a public grassroots outcry to have the Pope change his mind.  Remember, they also think this Pope is the outright enemy of tradition, who goes out of his way to spit in the face of traditionalists.  I don't think the Pope is that in the slightest.  Yet I do think everyone needs to ask themselves before saying anything in public:  what's your endgame?  What do you hope to accomplish, other than letting off steam?  Far better to blow off steam at the gym, an adoration chapel, or a video game, preferably a first person shooter.

The Internet SSPX'ers have an endgame, and that's to fill their chapels.  They are the ones most giddy about the Pope "disregarding" liturgical disciplines the SSPX claims to love.  That should tell you all you need to know about their Internet trolls.

Now that out of the way, my thoughts.  I can understand the symbolism the Pope wished to convey.  I don't think he meant anything ill by what he did.  Yet I think that in the end, this style of governance is going to cause more harm than good.  While we do need to focus on evangelizing and going outward, there will be a time the Church needs to focus inward.  All reforms start from within. All great reform movements start with humble obedience to laws, even ones you don't care for.  So even if one has the authority to disregard those laws, it normally doesn't do any good unless there is a real special circumstance.  How are we going to get a lot of liberal prelates and the Curia to be obedient in carrying out reforms when the rules are set aside constantly at the top.  Now people will respond "But Kevin, this was a one time thing!"  Indeed it has been, and let's hope it doesn't become too common.

Answering my own question above, what's my endgame here?  My endgame is a lot smaller.  We believe that this method of governance leads to more problems than it will solve.  Yet there's also little we can do about it, other than what we should already be doing:  Get to Confession.  Live holy lives, and draw more people to the traditionalist movement.  This move caused a lot more controversy than Rome anticipated.  (When the Vatican spokesman has to come out and speak during Good Friday about why this happened, there were more people concerned than a few angry Internet traditionalists.)  There will be a lot of good Catholics and priests who don't like this, and they can be informed that here in the Extraordinary Form, all these issues are moot.  Fr. Z was right, this is an opportunity.

It would be nice if the Internet would tone down their snark and rhetoric, but this being the Internet, that's not likely to happen.  We aren't going to take advantage of that opportunity if our logical allies and converts to the cause see us as bitter and angry.  The traditionalist movement flourished over the past 5 years in the Church because people saw as happy warriors in the fight for holiness.  We've got the motu proprio now, and we've got a lot more organization.  Time to make use of it.


  1. The degree to which anyone would spend Holy Week in general (and from Good Friday to Easter in particular!) bitching about stuff said or done by the pope or anyone else instead of focusing on their own shortcomings and prayers for forgiveness shows the degree to which they are more the righteous Pharisee than the repentant publican.

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  3. Hello Dave,

    Thanks for the kind words, and I hope your Easter was blessed as well. Unfortunately I really haven't been able to do that much in regards to the reading dept over the past month, and my invovlement in comboxes is sporadic at best. Main reason is wedding plans, the wedding in June takes precedence. There's something to say about what you've said here, but a blog comment box (especially one as irrelevant as mine!) probably isn't the place to say it. Don't have any contact info for you, so feel free to email me at if you want to discuss matters further. Or just look for the facebook/google+ link here on the blog.

    We can be civil. :)

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