A few weeks ago, our pastor informed us that the Bishop, who over a year ago had freed Catholics from their Sunday obligation, had pushed the on button and informed us that it was now a grave sin to fail to do what we did not have to do a week earlier.  What gives?

Now, there have certainly are circumstances that justify dispensation from the obligation: illness, mental incapacity, distance from a Church, and presumably plague and war.  But, no matter how seriously one takes the COVID panic, only a tiny fraction of the population contracted the disease and of that tiny fraction only a tiny fraction died.  I'm not going to play games with numbers--I'll leave that to "conservative" talk radio personalities who never passed General Science in High School--but there are dozens upon dozens of threats to human life that are more imminent than this particular cold virus.

We know why the bishops dispensed Catholics from the obligation:  The government told them to do it, and since churches enjoy tax benefits and religious charities receive government grants, they must do what their masters tell them to, in which case, how do we evaluate the Church's strong requirement--perhaps some 17 centuries old--to participate in Sunday Mass?

A strong papist position is that the Church can do no wrong, even when it is manifestly doing wrong, and the laity should simply shut up and follow orders.  If that is your position, you are welcome to it, but it puts the Church on a level with the Unification Church and the Democratic Party.

The opposite view is that the Church is no longer The Church, the Pope no longe Pope, but then we should have to apply a similar logic to all the periods in the history of the Church when Popes have been degenerates, skeptics, and heretics.

Of course a similar argument applies to the Church's on-again/off-again pronouncements on the Latin Mass. In the 16th century Catholics were told that the obligation to celebrate the Tridentine Mass was everlasting, and we know the vicissitudes since the Second Vatican Council.

If you have any sense, you will not be much interested in my opinion on these questions, but let us ask ourselves this:  What is the real opinion of Pope Francis and the American bishops?  I cannot help concluding that they regard the sacred Tradition much as Supreme Court justices regard the American Constitution:  It is whatever they feel like saying it is at this moment.

How Catholics turned into papolators is a long story that is bound up with the attempt of secular rulers to control or destroy the Church.  This reached a new height under the French Revolution and governments, e.g. the Kingdom of Italy,  that imitated its religious policies.  The more the Church was persecuted, the more obedient good Catholics were to the Vatican.  But--

Surely, we have reached the end game, when the current Pope has proved to be as great an enemy of the Church as Robespierre, Garibaldi, or the Emperor Joseph.

While I have no advice to give anyone else, I can tell you my own position:  I am a member of a Christian institution that goes back to the Disciples, whom Jesus called His brothers and His friends.  This institution and its traditions have produced Augustine and Jerome and Basil the Great, Gregory the Great and Thomas Aquinas, Dante and Péguy, Chesterton and Belloc.

I try to obey the rules established by Tradition and by Councils, and do my best to ignore the jackasseries of the current hierarchy.  To compare something great with something very tiny, I love Italian food, and my love is not diminished by my knowledge that there are meretricious corporations dishing out unspeakable food like The Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, and just about every Eye-talian restaurant in the USof A.  Here and there, even in America, some little Italian joint does something right.  That is a cause to celebrate, and the less we think about Domino's or the Vatican, the better off we shall be.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

17 Responses

  1. Robert Reavis says:

    Thank you, Tom. I actually needed the encouragement and the truth is often the best medicine for a mans soul.
    I only add that it is often said by those who know better that the “everlasting Mass” was restored by the last two Popes only to appease a certain religious order that began consecrating their own Bishops.
    . In the book, Last Testament in his own words, Pope Benedict XVI responded to this affirmation, “The reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass is often interpreted primarily as a concession to the Society of Saint Pius X, This is just absolutely false! It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now” (pp. 201-202).”
    At least in certain areas and on certain issues there have been a few who have tried and many who tell lies. I so much admire and appreciate your consistent effort over the years to speak honestly and to read the signs of the times. It was great to see everyone again in Rockford where, as Edna St Vincent Millay might have noticed, “”summer sang in me a little while that in me sings no more. “

  2. Dot says:

    Why did Jesus say, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church”? Surely, He must have known the western church would split into fragments beginning with Luther. Then the Church split into 5 different patriarchates, the head being Rome.
    The Roman church has been plagued by priests who have been accused of sexual improprieties and with the latest technology can have a private life of their own while preaching something else to the congregation. I personally think priests should be able to get married.
    Pope Benedict XVI was the best pope of the time when he was pope. Pope Francis is the best pope for the current time. There’s no point in changing what cannot be changed. The church will continue to evolve and change according to the times.

  3. Michael Strenk says:

    “the less we think about Domino’s or the Vatican, the better off we shall be.”

    Or Constantinople for that matter. What truly boggles my mind is the Herculean (Poirot that is, note his parlor room scene, or “synod”, which nobody of note attended, wherein he laid out his case for surrender) efforts of Black Bart the PC EP of C to finally and fully capitulate to Rome’s Great Bergoglio (nothing in my beanie, nothing up my sleeve). Why ever now? It’s enough to make one believe in freemasonic conspiracies.

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I prefer not to make conjectures on what our Lord might have thought or known. The Western Church, as much as the Eastern Church, has been subject to schisms. I need hardly mention monophysites, Nestorians, monothelites. It would be a comfort to think we have the Pope we need, when more often we have the Pope we deserve. The notion that times change and we change with them should lead to the conclusion that polyamorism, transgenderism, thuggery, and self-inflicted moronism are just a natural evolution we need to accept. Those who dissent from the latter proposition may find it harder to avoid censuring the Pope and his counterpart in Constantinople, with whom I once spent an hour .

  5. Frank DeRienzo says:

    From the title, I anticipated a critique of Kierkegaard rather than of the jackasseries of the current hierarchy.

    It was a pleasant surprise to be sure. I expect we will read a scathing critique from Vigano in short-order.

    The hierarchy allowed TLM as one experiential religious option on an ecumenical theme. Mixing and matching is encouraged to include even animist fertility icons, so why not a bit of cryptic antiquarian liturgy in the mix to boot?

    Of course the problem is that TLM-only types do not attend post-conciliar masonic V2 kitsch rituals and the Vatican inclusivists must exclude such exclusivism.

    Now that my former-Lutheran curiosity is invoked by your essay’s title however, I must ask what are your thoughts on SK’s Enten-Eller? Perhaps another essay is warranted for that question.

  6. Robert Reavis says:

    Nice Fish, Frank!!
    Archbishop Viganò simply recommended reading Massimo Viglione‘s philosophical reply to the most recent pronouncements rather than try to brief the issue or argue with fictional figures.
    It was good to see your post!

  7. Vince Cornell says:

    As one who found the Latin Mass and subsequently fell in love with it, I know many folks who were extremely distraught by the latest salvo from Francis. “This is the end!” they warbled. I’m not without some sympathy, but I think I must be part mule because my initial response was “Over my dead body.” Whether it’s in a garage, a shed, my living room, or miles away in the deep woods, I know that me and mine will do everything we can to keep the Latin Mass going regardless of the vitriol spewing out of Rome. There’s a reason I bought my own altar missal and altar cards last year – I didn’t buy the portable altar because those are too expensive and seem like they might almost be within my crude woodworking skills. Fortunately, so far, I’m blessed with one of the bishops who has at least had the sense to not change anything just yet, and perhaps the rumbling and grumbling and even outright stands being made by his brother bishops might inspire him to stand by his sheep and not give in to the barks of “Obey! Obey! Obey!” from the Bergoglio Gang.

    My rough understanding of Church history has been that, apart from being much sloppier than the average Christian likes to admit, the times of great upheaval usually coincide with the eventual better understanding of some aspect of the the nature of the Church or the Truth which she tries so hard to preserve. From the mess of Arianism and Nestorianism eventually arises the Hypostatic Union. From the Albigensian Crisis eventually comes a better understanding of Grace. It’s not that these problems ever fully go away, but like a body rocked by severe illness develops antibodies to keep the worst symptoms at bay the Church seems to get a handle on the bigger parts of such problems without letting their continued remnants do much damage.

    Since before Vatican I but definitely accelerated under John Paul II, the rise of the spiritual authority of the Papacy has been tremendous. It’s not that the Bishop of Rome didn’t have a significant role before, but now it’s grown into something akin to the Great Prophet of the Mormons where each new Pope can change, remove, or nullify the decrees of the previous Pope by simple fiat. God willing, the push back against such lunacy is finally beginning, and, after a few hundred more years perhaps folks can look back at this period and say, “And this is the period when the limits of Papal Power were defined.”

    Regardless, I don’t lose any sleep over any of this. I just keep trying to get better at praying my Rosary because I have the ability to focus as well as the average 3 year-old. What a great and incredibly humbling experience.

  8. Harry Colin says:

    The remarkable Monsignor Ronald Knox once said presciently, “He who travels in the Barque of Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room.” I find this reminder helpful as I navigate these turbulent waters. I think it also helpful to recall how many saints were tormented during their lives by prelates, chanceries and assorted bureaucrats in cassocks; the list is virtually endless. We can share in their suffering to our benefit. We can profit by more focus on Bede, Boethius and Benedict and less on Bergoglio.

  9. Frank Brownlow says:

    Well said. Writing to a friend, Franz Liszt repeated a joke of Pope Pius IX, who would visit him in his monastic lodging. “St. Peter’s boat is completely sound,” said the Pope, “but not the crew.”

  10. Frank DeRienzo says:

    The Latin Mass we attend is at 1PM and the last New Mass (I will not grace it with the Latin nomenclature of Novus Ordo) of the morning departs the Cathedral just prior to it. I generally avert my eyes from the exodus of masks and miniskirts from the New Mass, but on a recent occasion, I could help but notice a mask advertising support for Biden & Harris. That mask, I suggest, is a hallmark of the ape of the church. In stark contrast, the inbound TLM parishioners generally have their torsos and legs covered and their faces exposed; this ostensible difference, on the face of it, is indicative of two different churches.

  11. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I haven’t read Kierkegaard seriously in 50 years. I am probably doing him a serious injustice in lumping him in with Nietzsche as a romantic essayist who followed his perceptions without developing or accepting the sort of systematic approach the originates in the work of Parmenides. All I can say is that I found him all too ipse dixit, and, since he found the character of the “ipse” unappealingly earnest (if not preachy), I took no interest in him. Unfair, irrational? Absolutely. The very qualities I disliked in SK. But then I don’t find Scandinavian writers at all appealing, especially Ibsen. They remind me of New Englanders. It may have something to do with the climate. I do like Grieg’s lighter piano pieces–the music he really preferred to write–and perhaps that is a clue.

  12. Allen Wilson says:

    Spot on, it’s the tradition that counts. I’ll bet that when, in A Canticle for Liebowitz, that rocket took off for another planet in order to save and preserve the Catholic tradition, they didn’t take a pope with them.

  13. David says:

    In Canticle, they departed for the stars with families aboard, if i recall …

    It’s the Family
    The final frontier
    To conquer
    For tyranny’s sake

  14. Dot says:

    I grew up when the Mass was in Latin. I joined the choir when I was only 11 and stayed with it throughout the college years. To this day I can remember some of the Mass I used to sing in Latin. Those who attend a Latin Mass are very fortunate. It seems to me that the church can bring back some of the Latin such at the Agnus Dei or the Benedictus to be in English and alternating with the Latin. But I’m no expert on any of this. My life took a different tack.

  15. Dom says:

    There are numerous parishes that do various parts of the mass untranslated. In places where parishes feel the need to do bi-or trilingual masses, something like that might even be the answer to whatever problem they are trying to address. In fact, just doing the whole thing untranslated would seem to be far more intelligible than a polyglot of unrelated languages.

    In my diocese many parishes over the last several years took to performing the consecration ad orientem. I noticed a few weeks before this thing from the Pope that things went ad populum (just guessing on that one. . . is there even a term for it?… ad populos for trilingual masses?). Not sure if it had anything to do with the recent pronouncement. This is a generally tradition-friendly diocese, though.

  16. Dot says:

    I have been going to the RC Church in my town for reasons that has more to do with the new choir arrangement and loss of my choir book. in the church I attended for the past 20 years. Somebody has it and didn’t return it. As far as the arrangement goes, the pastor wanted the choir downstairs and not in the loft in order to accommodate more members. Well, the people who sing are very much members.

    We now sing downstairs with well more than half the space lost. This resulted in the loss of 1/2 of the choir members – from 14 down to 7. We don’t have benches. We sit on moveable stools with a choir stand in front of us.

    I went to a practice and with no book and choir members close together and with another surge in the Delta virus, I didn’t go back.

    I went instead to the Catholic Church which is just a few miles away.

    The Mass in the Catholic Church is done in English and on Saturday there is a Spanish Mass. I do like the new priest.

    For some reason, I think the Catholic Church is more Evangelical. Some seem to think the “other” is helpless. For instance, when I went to church last week, someone came to me and asked if he could bring me Communion. It could be that he didn’t recognize me. It didn’t sit will with me.

    Overall, the many changes in the Church are probably for the better because there is more congregational engagement and members can watch the Mass or Liturgy at home. It is a benefit for those who cannot attend for personal reasons.

  17. Robert Reavis says:

    Dear Dot,
    I think that is as good a reason as any other to decide where to go to Church these days.