A guest op-ed by Tomás Rodríguez (pen name)
A priest recently revealed his belief that the Latin Liturgy prayed ad orientem focuses upon God and not the priest/people. He’s right, but revealing his belief was dangerous because it invited a question. He was asked if he would institute ad orientem worship in his parish. Sadly, he said no, citing lack of catechesis, that it will be poorly received, etc. in defense of this decision. When we know what is right, are we not supposed to do it?
There is a simple fact about catechesis: passing on the Faith requires the utmost care and precision. An ancillary fact is the oft quoted (and hardly ever cited) alleged statement of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary use words.” If it is truly a question of catechesis and preparing the people for necessary changes, when can we expect to see some action? We do not see much, and when we do there often follows a significant backlash.
This apparent lack of action is a symptom of a much larger problem, namely that priests are being forced to compromise not only their consciences but the Faith itself. Long-winded background explanations about various issues present within the Church today are not necessary. Others have written better and more eloquently on the subject. It suffices to say that one issue in particular is very relevant to the present discussion and that is priestly formation.
There is a famous saying among seminarians, “until the alb and stole hang loose.” In other words, seminarians are told to keep their heads down and their mouths shut until they are ordained. Why would they need to observe such silence? They witness or are part and privy to various abuses and heterodoxy. An environment of fear, not unlike a Communist dictatorship, exists in seminaries that forces otherwise “orthodox” seminarians underground for fear that they will be targeted and not be ordained.
Speaking only within the context of the United States, the system of priestly formation is broken. A man with same-sex attraction and who acted upon these feelings but was thinking about the priesthood once asked a priest about pursuing seminary. The priest instructed this man, “lie.” In other words, the system of formation is so broken that you can take full advantage of it by concealing the truth and get ordained.
Another true story involves a seminarian that left the seminary, in part, because he was persecuted owing to his “pious tendencies” (i.e. kneeling to receive Holy Communion). Why the persecution? “Kneeling is not the norm in the parishes and you have to be obedient to the local Ordinary and Diocesan rules.” The Ordinary’s adherence to the liturgical norms of the Latin Church is never questioned. Bishops hold all power in their Dioceses and whether it is admitted or not, those subject to his authority will not dare to cross him. They fear what will happen to their careers. This rule, however, does not necessarily apply if it is an orthodox Bishop.
It is said that the John Paul II/Benedict XVI generation of priests will “save” the Church from the straits in which she finds herself. This belief presents an untenable myopic vision of the future. The current generation of younger priests has largely been formed by the previous generation that contributed to the dire straits in the first place. What formation has thus been imparted to our newer generation? It would not be wise to do a happy dance and wave our pompoms while singing “the crisis is over” as Ross Douthat recently indicated.
The fact is that new priests get ordained and find the Communistic environment of fear and silence continues in parish life, albeit modified. Now, instead of seminary formators watching them, they have their secret police parish pastor keeping a sharp eye on them. Do not think for a moment these pastors are not keeping tabs on the “young pups” and making reports to authorities at the Diocesan chancery office(s).
A young priest wearing the cassock or a biretta will be a conversation piece at the rectory dining room table, followed by such epithets as “rigid,” “overly conservative,” and the like. Moreover, if he likes to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form, you might as well put the straitjacket on him. In the parlance, these men need to be “broken.” If such tendencies are noted in seminary, they will most likely be assigned to work with a parish priest entrusted (tacitly or overtly) with the task of “breaking” the spirit of the newly-minted priest.
Another form of fear that is used by the pastor is a morbid fear of their comrades the people. In other words, “we do not do ‘X’ here in this parish because it will not go over well with the people” (Read: they will not like me and take their money/resources elsewhere). This line of thinking is based upon human respect, which is a condemned practice in the spiritual life, for “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Human respect has a vicious tendency to neglect the saving truths (and pursuant ways of action) of Christ that lead us to heaven. In the case at hand, a practice (ad orientem) that directs people specifically to the worship of God as opposed to focusing upon man is being neglected because “the people” will not tolerate it. Who is the custodian of the Truths of God and His holy Church here, the priest or the people?
One can certainly understand in the light of the current state of affairs that restoring ad orientem worship of Almighty God would be an uphill battle, one that requires the greatest of caution and care. Few priests, however, are climbing that hill and we need to pray for them. They are horribly brutalized by their respective Dioceses and this is an understatement. In seminary formation, they are socialized or conditioned to fear things like Latin and tradition.
In one case known to this writer, a group of women ran a priest out of a parish by complaining to his Diocese using the right key words to the authorities. This priest did nothing except what he was supposed to be doing as a priest, bring the tradition to the people (Latin, Chant, etc.). He now serves in a parish out in the boonies that is usually assigned to priests who experience troubles with the bottle or pornography. It is unjust, and while such atrocities make saints and are a sign of God’s favor, we must never think that it is acceptable for Ordinaries to persecute their priests as such (i.e. to do evil that good may come about).
Priests are forced to compromise their mission because they do not want to “jeopardize their priesthood” (to use their expression). Let us remember that a priest is a priest. One’s priesthood (in se) is not necessarily jeopardized. It is his ability to exercise the ministry which is at stake. His Ordinary can restrict the priest’s faculties by making him have as little an influence as the Ordinary is canonically able to do (nursing homes and boonie-parishes being likely options).
Priests are charged with the care of souls. It is by their hand that a person will experience heaven or hell. At the priest’s own judgment, he will stand before the Rex tremendae maiestatis—the King of tremendous majesty—where there are no excuses. Only the truth of his life and how he served Christ the King are what matters. Those dreaded words ought to give pause, namely “Depart from Me, ye accursed, for I knew ye not...” (Matthew 7:23).
The above fact of the priesthood ought to instill the deepest of fear and dread in priests and the bishops who shepherd them. Sadly, it does not. Many priests know what transpires in their respective chancery offices and among their brother priests. They live in fear of what will happen to them should they speak out. Those who do are made martyrs and the fullest extent of the law, abuse and scare tactics are applied to them by the authorities. Meanwhile, fornicating priests, porn-addicts and sodomites are all protected or given passes.
There is a very real dark and satanic subculture among the presbyterate and episcopacy in the United States. We need to pray for our priests, especially those for whom God has chosen to give the special grace of suffering persecution for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. These priests may not be recognized by the powers that be for the good priests that they are, but they are true pastors of the Church. To these priests, know that you are not overlooked. While people may not know and recognize you en masse in this life, God sees and His grace will be your comfort.