In a recent series of blog posts, Joseph Shaw has been musing over what to do in the Church in this current crisis. I am not about to do a Jim Callaghan and say ‘crisis what crisis?’, I admit that things are somewhat tricky right now. However, I firmly believe that the Church is permanently in a state of crisis. The barque of Peter has always been a leaky vessel, indeed left to the laws of buoyancy, it probably shouldn’t float.
I am writing to wholeheartedly reject his idea that in order to protect orthodoxy in the Church (something that must be protected at all costs), we must make the Traditional Latin Mass the focus. There are several points that I wish to make.
Firstly, the older Rites of the Church are to my mind, profoundly more beautiful, edifying, metaphysically more satisfying and closer to heaven than the Novus Ordo. My arguments are not for or against the Older Rites per se. I am writing because I see something distasteful and also several dangers in doing as he suggest.
I will turn my attention first to what I consider to be distasteful. No matter how he dresses up his arguments they politicise attendance at the TLM and that is simply wrong. Rallying behind a political flag is no guarantee of orthodoxy to what the flag signifies. To see the TLM as something to rally around is distasteful. Indeed it is almost Protestant in its assertions of independence from those within the Body of Christ that they consider to be less than orthodox than themselves. I will admit that given half a chance I would dearly love to introduce the TLM in places where is has not been seen for nearly 50 years. How many for a ‘stable group’? 2? A husband and wife who know their Mass and know their chant and are good at befriending priests; missionaries for the TLM in some Novus Ordo stronghold? Oh yes! People have a right to experience it and come to know its beauty. However, using the TLM to proclaim orthodoxy or to be a bastion of orthodoxy seems to me to be to deliberately setting it up as ‘other’ and not ‘integral’ to the Church. This is to my mind abhorrent.
The dangers in his way of thinking follow on from this. The TLM has enough enemies as it is. We deserve what happens to us if we are ever see to use the Mass for such political ends, or even be percieved to be using the Mass for these ends. What I fear is that perfectly within the power of Church would be the ability to supress the older calendar, she has done smething similar before. [Someone with more knowledge of such matters, tell me I'm wrong, please!] Nobody would dare supress the Older Rite but supressing the calendar is possible, cruel and very detrimental to the re-propagation of the Old Rite.
The second danger is to believe that orthodoxy only has one stripe; the Traditional one. However, orthodoxy isn’t what people do or even what they profess to believe. You can fast with pride in your heart, you can be pro-life without charity. Orthodoxy is being truly “slain in the Spirit”. Orthodoxy is “putting on Christ” and being dead to the world. Orthodoxy can not be known apart from its fruits. Orthodoxy is not a thing or even a creed. It is Christ. None of us can claim to be perfectly orthodox.
There is one simple test for orthodoxy. It relates to the promises we make at Confirmation. Can we, do we make the Devil flee? When he obsesses with us because we are doing good, do we know what to do to repulse him? When he wears us down and when we can see his power to cripple others, do we instincively know how to respond? Not by our own strength, no we can never do it alone. But is our love of God and whole company of heaven such that we know how to call on Them to repulse the attacks of the Enemy. Heck, we are soldiers for goodness sake! Do we REALLY know how to fight? Do we really know the Enemy? Are we really fearless as Scripture implores us to be? Do we really see him or just the smoke and mirrors he puts up to stoke our fears and prejudices; splintering the Church and breeding discontent? Do we really root out sin in our own lives? Being in a state of grace is not an optional extra, it is the only way to be fit for duty. Its fruits are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
There are many, many orthodox souls for whom the TLM means nothing. Vast swathes of the globe are without the TLM and many humble souls therein are orthodox. Some of the most powerfully prayerful people I know are charismatics, but there is no antagonism towards me and my more traditional tendencies, there is a common sense of purpose and a quiet ability to get on with fighting the good fight, in Communion. If we are to “bring forth Christ” as One Body, then we must go out and look for Him and be prepared to see Him in unexpected places. We can’t do this if we are unsighted through hiding under the shield of a particular Rite. Also, this argument applies just as much to the proponents of the Novus Ordo as it does the to the TLM brigade. It isn't one rule for them and one for us.