Rorate Caeli

"Do we have a breathing space?": Article by Michael Charlier

"Do we have a breathing space?": Article by Michael Charlier

Published on March 30, 2022 on the author's German website.

At first glance, one might think that the attack on the traditional liturgy, carried out under the banner of Traditionis Custodes, has come to a halt. The fact that our attention is currently occupied by matters considered more important reinforces this impression. With the papal edict that allows the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to use the preconciliar books, at least for internal use, has the danger for the ancient rite communities been averted? Does the fact that a great many—as far as we can see, the great majority—of the bishops worldwide have granted (or denied!) to the traditional liturgy, even after Custodes Traditionis, roughly the same latitude as before, mean that the motu proprio is fizzling out into ineffectiveness?

We should not rely on this. The numerous opponents of the traditional liturgy are still active, and they find support even in liturgically less interested circles of the Church among all those who claim that with the Second Vatican Council a kind of fundamental reorientation of the Church took place, which made everything that went before "incompatible" and therefore deserving of strict rejection. How deep the rupture claimed and aggressively advanced here goes can perhaps be observed most drastically in the German "Synodal Way," which literally leaves no stone unturned in the edifice that Christ endowed as His Church, His instrument, His offer to mediate salvation in the world.

One should not rely on the "tolerance" of those who are carrying out this reconstruction, or in reality, this demolition. The merciless majoritarianism of the contributors to the Synodal Way and the series of "shot-down" faithful bishops like Mixa or Tebartz van Eltz and the continuous fire against Cardinals Woelki and Müller show what to think of it. If the actual leadership of the German Catholic Church, namely the representation of the interests of Church employees, is not currently taking more aggressive action against the adherents of traditional doctrine and liturgy, the reason lies primarily in the fact that they do not regard these congregations as serious competitors for their place at the feeding troughs of Church income.

That could change. It is not because the tradition-oriented congregations want to dispute their spoils—they have experience in getting by without access to the institutionally secured income. And if need be, they can be kept quiet with appeals to obedience and, if necessary, a few disciplinary measures... at least for a while.

Rather, the danger for the countless holders of sinecures or "project positions" in dioceses, associations, and academic chairs—i.e., the main drivers of the synodal way—which have never been evaluated for any success, lies elsewhere. It is far from clear whether the restructuring of Church structures in the direction of a conciliar system dominated by its functionaries and the dismantling of the (still existing) sacramental and transcendental realities, which is being pushed forward with the goal of a permanent synod, is as popular with the remaining people of the Church as the rebuilders claim.

Will the "events" and socio-cultural playgrounds offered at churches really be able to compete with what an industry that has been working for decades to perfect their own playgrounds offers 24 hours a day, on all screens? Will the increasingly sparse younger generation of worshippers really burst into cries of enthusiasm when their parents are soon to be buried by "commissioned lay people" and their children baptized by the same ones? Will they really appreciate it if, instead of Sunday Mass, they are offered a "service of the Word" celebrated by a deaconess with a leftist-Green sermon of the kind that can be heard and read more catchily somewhere else?

The danger for the reformers lies in the fact that those who really want to give their life a meaning that goes beyond its inevitable end and who are filled with longing for the other world will see through the surrogate character of these "new-church" institutions and will look for competing sources of supply on the abundantly occupied market of offers of meaning. The "danger"—from the point of view of the bureaucratic apparatus—that part of it will end up with the FSSP or with the SSPX is quite real, and this could call into question the position of this apparatus as a privileged and financially preferred institution of state-licensed mediation of meaning.

This possibility, then, must be countered. The "legalist bludgeon"—preferably used against the SSPX, but often deployed also against other forces of tradition—is a tool that is readily taken up. The ideology-guided distortions of liturgical history, to which Traditionis Custodes wants to give quasi-magisterial status, offer a rich fund of measures for restricting or preventing traditional activities, or for pushing them out of the Church altogether. One will know how to make use of this tool if necessary.

Now it is of little use to stare like a rabbit at a snake and wait to see what tortures the rulers will come up with next to prevent us from living and proclaiming the faith as it has been handed down since time immemorial. It is more productive to take the fears of the secularists seriously, to take them as an impetus to make this tradition become so alive that it actually becomes attractive for people who are no longer satisfied or do not want to be satisfied with the surrogates offered by the authorities. The New Evangelization should not be a slogan without content, as it is for the bishops who, year in and year out, acknowledge the decline in church attendance and the reception of the sacraments without batting an eyelid; instead it should be taken seriously by traditionalists. In preaching, in the means of communication, in parish life, in the liturgy!

This will require efforts that go far beyond expressions of indignation against heretical bishops. It will also require self-criticism—for example, in weighing up whether expressing our indignation serves a good purpose or whether it merely functions as a release for one's own state of mind. Or in the question of whether we really convey the "beauty of faith," which we gladly invoke but perhaps too rarely make tangible in the way that would be necessary to convince even those people who are not yet convinced of the rightness of tradition. In many areas, a kind of frugality has spread that is already content as long as one's own Sunday Mass in the traditional rite is not disturbed. This settling for the minimum could prove to be insufficient in the long run for the prospering of our cause.

We should use the time of relative (inner-church) calm, which is unexpectedly granted to us after the promulgation of TC, not only to consider these problems, but also to tackle them energetically in the life of the parishes and communities.