Saturday, January 28, 2017

What, then, should we do? Part 1: what is required.

They are coming... A procession at the St Catherine's Trust Family Retreat.

People keep asking this question; it is a fair question, and I want to try my hand at answering it. This is the first of a series of three posts on the subject.

The question refers to the current crisis in the Church. This may dissipate tomorrow by some intervention of Providence, but we must be prepared for the crisis to develop further according to its own logic. On this logic, we can expect priests and laity to come under increasing pressure to deny and to act contrary to the immemorial and irreformable teaching of the Church, the explicit teaching of Christ in the Gospels and of St Paul in the Epistles, about divorce and the sacraments.

We should not hope to escape all the bad consequences of the crisis while still giving witness to the Faith. We are called to give witness, and it is very likely that we will be called to confirm our witness with suffering. Many reading this will already have suffered greatly over this. Few, perhaps, will have escaped entirely unscathed. The question ‘what should we do?’ is not about finding a hole to hide in, but about finding a way to coordinate our work and provide mutual support and encouragement in such a way that, in human terms, this suffering will not be in vain. It is about avoiding a situation in which those who retain the Faith can be picked off one by one, quietly, and thereafter cease to be able to make any contribution to the cause. That, sadly, is what has been happening up to now.

Let us imagine what would serve us best in this crisis; it may be something we need to adapt ourselves to, but we should be prepared to make the necessary effort.

What is needed is a fairly close-knit network of both clergy and laity who are to the greatest extent possible committed to the Faith. They would be bound together not by a single, officially recognised, Catholic organisation, since such an organisation would quickly become a target and would be destroyed. Instead, just as the internet is supposed to be ‘robust’ (rugged) because it does not pass through a single, or even a few, central points, but consists of a diffuse and dense network, what we need is not a single organisation but a movement, which should nevertheless include organisations of a variety of types. Without a central organisation governing this movement, keeping entryists out of it, organising communication within it, and so forth, it would need to be bound together not only by a commitment to the Faith, but by something, which gives its members something deep and broad in common with each other, which keeps them in touch with each other, which obliges them regularly and relentlessly to work together on all sorts of projects, not only on things directly related to the crisis but a whole variety of public and private events which maintain contact and morale within the movement, which oblige its activists to maintain their presence on social media, and so on. This extra thing would act as a rallying point for supporters of the Faith, even if it is not itself absolutely essential to it.

To clarify what may seem puzzling, a mass movement to preserve orthodoxy cannot simply promote orthodoxy. Such a purpose would be too thin to bind it together. It would work for an elite group whose members can maintain personal relationships with each other. It would work for a formal organisation, which tied people together with a stable leadership, membership fees, newsletters, and regular events. It won't work for a movement which is diffuse, i.e. not centralised, and has a mass, not elite, membership. In a very vague sense there is already a 'movement to preserve orthodoxy' in the Church, but it is not remotely dense enough to provide systematic support for priests and laity who need it, and is riven with disagreement about what orthodoxy entails. What is needed for this particular job is a movement based around something which gives the notion of orthodoxy some more definite content, and at the same time gives its members something distinctive (distinctive from the heterodox, that is), in common. Something which can act as the movement's banner, or uniform.

The organisations within this movement would include officially recognised groups; however, were one of these to be destroyed, at least an important portion of its strength—in manpower, supporters, money and so on—could rapidly migrate to another, similar, organisation, or else find a role in the movement outside such an organisation. One reason for this is that all these organisations should ideally not rely on large endowments, long-established properties, or ancient privileges, but for the most part upon the generosity of their current, living supporters, as is the case for organisations which are fairly new. This would make them a less tempting target for suppression, and if the worst happened it would be much less of a disaster.

What would be best of all, were Providence to arrange such an extraordinary thing, is if, in a situation in which push really came to shove, and truly unjust measures were taken on a large scale against those upholding the teaching of the Church, those undertaking such measures would know that at least an important portion of the movement’s energies and resources would shift overnight into a well-established organisation which, though public and active all over the world, is effectively out of the reach of ecclesiastical sanctions, and is able to provide for the spiritual needs of its supporters. As I say, such a possibility seems too good to be true; what would be even more incredible is the possibility that such an organisation, while immune to sanctions, could by some paradox still be recognised officially, currently, as not being schismatic. Perhaps my imagination is running away with me here…

I think, however, that readers will have guessed by now that I am not talking about something which needs to be created, but of something which already exists. If not, then, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you the movement for the restoration of the Traditional Mass. My last paragraph refers of course to the Society of St Pius X (SSPX). The answer to the question ‘What should we do?’ is that we should devote our energy and resources to that network best able to defend orthodoxy, to support clergy and laity who are defending orthodoxy, and to provide a spiritual home for the orthodox, and that is the Traditional movement. This means you, dear reader, playing your part in the work of priests celebrating the Traditional Mass and those, whether clerical Institutes or lay Una Voce groups, websites, journals, conferences and so on, which stand behind them and help sustain a true community dedicated to the Traditional Mass and, by the same token, to orthodoxy.

I know that many non-Traditional readers will say that what we need is a movement which includes everyone of good will, and not just those who happen to prefer a particular, rather obscure, form of the liturgy. This is mistaken, because such a broad movement would not have the characteristics required, as set out above, notably of cohesion and of the reliability of its members. I have tried to explain why above, but tomorrow I will make the case, in a slightly different way and in more detail, for saying that the Traditional movement is what we need.

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  1. One of the first tasks we must devote ourselves to is to rigorously challenge the false notion of obedience that has seeped into Church life over the last two centuries: an obedience that has given prelates licence to as they please without reference to natural justice (unfortunately that will entail challenging certain bodies that promote it).

  2. What does it mean to say that our energies and resources would shift into the SSPX? What would be the moral implications of, e.g., switching over to an SSPX parish exclusively?

  3. I am with you in principle. I am looking forward to the subsequent parts of this post to see some more definite proposals.

  4. I started going to a SSPX mass some years ago, and am grateful for this approach. However it seems to rely on a conception of persecution that supposes oppression by the lawful authorities in the Church. The trouble with this conception is that in present circumstances the motive for persecution - viz. not accepting the claims on morals, divorce, and the reception of the Eucharist being advanced in statement by Pope Francis - is a motive that if openly awoved disqualifies the person avowing it from holding office in the Church, because it is heretical. We are not far from that disqualification applying to Pope Francis. If he refuses twice to accept a public correction on the above claims, he is a heretic, and is no longer Pope. The same applies to bishops, religious superiors etc. who follow him. It will then be a question of a full fledged institutional separation from the heretical group led by Jorge Bergoglio. That is unfortunately what we have to plan for.

  5. I see your point and thought of a possible takeover of the FSSP by Pope Francis. Would the FSSP believe some promise by the Pope to not change anything, while the Pope then turn around and slowly destroy the FSSP as he has done to the FFI, many bishops, priests and the knight of Malta. Or will the FSSP see the only response is to disobey in a similar way to the SPPX. If they didnt disobey, most parishioners would after say the removal or alteration to the TLM.

  6. Is this blogpost on the LMS website?

  7. I would say 'yes' it is LMS because our aim must be to preserve the EF Mass. If the only way is through the SSPX then so be it. Whilst preferring to maintain the FSSP & ICKSP we must also, after the FFI & Knights of Malta, wonder how long we can retain our parish Masses let alone those celebrated by the 2 traditional orders if Pope Francis descends on them!

  8. There is an interesting interview with Bishop Fellay on Rorate Coeli. Basically the position appears to be that they are very near to an agreement with Pope Francis but the SSPX has one essential condition: that they can carry on exactly as before without interference. Personally I cannot see Pope Francis agreeing to this but if he did we would effectively have a church within a church and this might be the beginning of more such churches within the Church so that it becomes like the Anglicans. Church unity would disappear.

    Looking at our dwindling congregations should we not be writing to our diocesan Bishop to protest at what PF is doing? If sufficient of us do this and the dwindling continues perhaps they might wake up?

    We should surely follow St Catherine of Siena in this writing of letters?

  9. Good idea, Nicholas. Do you have any ideas about the best way to persuade large numbers to begin writing? Could we use existing organisations?

  10. . . . the beginning of more such churches within the Church so that it becomes like the Anglicans. Church unity would disappear.

    Church unity as our forebears knew it, if it can be said to have survived the dissent and heresy energized by Vatican II, is in any case hideously disfigured. It can only validly be said to exist organically insofar as it is infused with our doctrinal and liturgical patrimony. And this is most fully the case—perhaps only the case—in our Traditional parishes and communities.

    The corollary, which 49 of 50 Catholics would be loath even to consider, is that the main stream of Catholicism over the past fifty-plus years has diverged dangerously from the narrow path to salvation. Flank attacks such as we see at present probably won't change that perception much in the short term. As parishes continue to shrivel (a matter about which it is certainly proper to express concern to one's Ordinary) the maintenance of Tradition will over the long term become more patently essential to the salvation of our souls and our neighbors', the furtherance of which is our mission as members of the Church Militant.