The recent session of the Synod on the Family has been likened not a few times by commentators as an attempt at a mini-Vatican III. And this appellation has some validity, for the past year or more has seen the re-appearance of such personages as Hans Küng (albeit not in vigorous form), Gustavo Gutierrez, and, at least in spirit, Karl Rahner, and, in the flesh, the indefagitable Cardinal Kasper, all examples of those who seemed to be disappointed that Vatican III did not follow closely after Vatican II to accomplish unfinished business: to get the Church firmly on the same tracks as the choo-choo train of post-Enlightenment, modern, and post-modern secularism, whose fuel is anti-dogmatism and radical individualism.
It would seem that Kasper and his cohorts—and Kasper certainly believed that the Pope supported them—thought that while there might have been some bumps in the road, what they wanted in terms of changing pastoral practice with respect to divorced and remarried Catholics and with respect to civil unions and gay unions would in the end win over the day. On what did they base their optimism? Perhaps their cockeyed optimism was based to some extent on their belief that they had Pope Francis behind them. But even if this were not true, they were banking on the tactics used at the Second Vatican Council where the major fruits of that Council were brought about by the cleverness of the “stage-managers”, those in charge of procedural matters, who gleefully spoke about their accomplishments after the Council. And once those fruits had been incorporated into official documents with built-in ambiguity, they were disseminated through a press that at that time—like the press of every time—rejoices in the thought that the Catholic Church has seen the light of the modern liberal world. Those of us who are of a certain age remember the series of articles in the New Yorker during Vatican II that were written by a priest who signed himself as Xavier Rynne, a classy pseudonym for a Redemptorist priest who carefully filtered what was going on at the Council through his own lens, a lens that would refract the facts in a way he knew would please the readership of that sophisticated and worldly periodical. He is credited with first using the terms “conservative” and ”liberal” to define those opposing forces in the Church that were evident in the debates. That is not a good legacy to leave behind.
So it seemed evident to Kasper et al. that they could do the same sort of thing with the Synod. They had the stage-managers, but they turned out not to be as zealous and crafty as those at what Cardinal Marx called “the Council”. But there are three important differences between the Church and the world of 1968 and that of 2014, that they did not take into account, and they did not do so because of their severe myopia that shuts out reality, even within the Church.
The first differentiating factor is that most of the bishops and Cardinals present at the Synod were the offspring of St. John Paul II. They were molded in the image of the Polish Pope who was determined to return, after the post-conciliar confusion, to doctrinal continuity and to clear teaching, at least on the part of the Papacy, within the Church, a task that was co-shouldered by his Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Joseph Ratzinger. The stage-managers and Kasper himself, through their peculiar vision of reality, assumed that the bishops were all chafing under the stern hands of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and were just waiting for an opportunity to show their true Council Colors and finish what Vatican II had started. But in many cases, perhaps even most cases, that was obviously not true. Many of these men really believe in the teaching of the Church as embodied in her Tradition. And they pushed back, and hard. But, as has been correctly pointed out by a number of commentators on the Synod, there remains the depressing fact that over 50 percent of the bishops did not stand up to the attempt to change Church teaching by the pastoral back door.
The second factor that the managers failed to take account of is the ubiquitous presence today of the Internet. Gone are the days when secrecy could be strictly imposed by edict, when information could be meted out in carefully controlled dribbles, when one had to wait for days or even weeks to find out what is going on. We certainly know that the Internet is used all too often negatively for reprehensible purposes. But it is also the source of instantaneous information and seemingly endless debate about every issue under the sun. We did not have to wait for the next issue of the New Yorker to let sophisticated men and women know, even Catholics, what is really going on at Councils and Synods. The Internet is also making the Vatican Press Office more and more irrelevant except as where one hears the particular spin that those in charge want to put on a piece of information.
The other differentiating factor is less obvious to many Catholics, for most Catholics live in a post-conciliar world that assumes that whatever happened in the years after “the Council”, including and especially the liturgical life of the Church, must be the will of God, an attitude engendered by the ever-encroaching growth of hyper-papalism that exceeds even the Ultramontanist dreams of Cardinal Manning in the 19th century, and by the long standing tradition of a non-thinking laity. This second factor is that most young priests and most young men who are in seminary today, and most young women and men who are in the Religious Orders that are growing, want to know and love the Tradition ever more deeply. They are quite different from the priests who were ready to adopt every (non-Council-mandated) liturgical change of the post-conciliar era. They would never tear down reredoses and high altars. They would never rip out communion rails. They long for something to sing at Mass that is not some sappy retread of 1970s sacro-pop. And—this is the heart of the matter—so many of them have discovered the Traditional Roman Rite of Mass, a.k.a. the Extraordinary Form. Bugnini says somewhere that to complete the liturgical revolution the Traditional Mass had to be blotted out for two whole generations. That did not happen, thanks to Benedict XVI.
The rediscovery of Catholic Tradition by young priests and by young men and women as a whole especially by means of the Traditional Mass and by the beauty in art, architecture and music that it gave birth to has gone nearly unnoticed by not only those of Kasper’s generation and their contemporary stage-managers but also by the great majority of ordinary Catholics, who have been kept in a time bubble for the past fifty years. But it is real, and it is there, and this despite opposition from bishops who are willfully blind to the power of the Traditional Mass and its necessary role in the New Evangelization of the Church and of the world. This is not, as detractors would have us believe, mere aestheticism or romanticism or conservatism. For a love for the Tradition always gets down to the bed-rock of doctrine, praxis and faith, gets down to a real love for the person of Jesus Christ that then enables the person, priest or lay, to practice his faith with love and mercy towards his neighbor.
Cardinal Burke celebrated a Pontifical Solemn Mass in the Traditional Latin Rite in St. Peter’s just last week on October 25 as part of the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage. There are photos of the Mass on many sites on the Internet. I suggest that everyone look at those photos. You will see so many young priests and seminarians present, some serving the Mass. The choir that sang the chant for the Mass was made up of seminarians from the North American College, which is quasi-amazing. These priests and seminarians have found a pearl of great price and, with the help of God, they will give all that they have to make that pearl their own in their ministry in the Catholic Church.
The Traditional Mass cannot be stage-managed. This is the heart of the opposition to it among bishops, especially in Europe. It is Tradition itself that manages the Mass of the Ages, and whoever celebrates this Mass, Cardinal, bishop or priest, must submit himself to the Mass, must submit himself to the Sacrifice that he is offering, and in that submission realizes his ministry as a priest of God.
Fr. Richard G. Cipolla, DPhil