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October 2005

Facta Non Verba


So, another year, another synod. For several decades they have come and gone like the four seasons, all seeking to patch up the gaping holes in that flimsy pastoral fabric cobbled together at Vatican II. This time the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is convening in Rome from 2-23 October to consider The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.

“The topic,” explains the Vatican’s Instrumentum Laboris (synodal working document), “explicitly alludes to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the Eucharist.”

One bristles reflexively at the thought. Yet the problem facing the Synod will lie not so much with the Council’s teachings on the Eucharist as with the Council per se, whose verbose documents the dissident periti deliberately laced with ambiguity and worldliness. Since all the bishops in attendance are, to a greater or lesser extent, willing slaves to that ill-fated pastoral project, the implemenation of any clear and uncompromising synodal recommendations is problematic from the outset, to say the very least.

One need only consider the emblematic day of liturgical shame described in Mr Sheridan’s letter which follows to comprehend the impossible state of affairs - the veritable anarchy - facing our Holy Father worldwide. The Walsingham experience he relates is replicated each day, to varying degrees of egregiousness, in the great majority of parishes in every diocese of the Western Church.

The Novus Ordo is not called the ‘Nervous Disorder’ for nothing. Having stripped the Holy Mass of its hitherto inbuilt defences against clerical caprice and ego, it really does leave those with any Catholic sensibility at all in a state of constant apprehension, if not teeth-grinding dismay. Almost single-handedly it has drained the joy out of Catholic life.

To take a random workaday example: on 28 July, a midday Mass at Westminster cathedral found a (presumably visiting) American priest fiddling here and there with the words of the Mass. Insufferable enough. But this included changing the words of consecration from “Do this in memory of me” to simply “Remember me.” A heinous abuse - underlined by this precise explanation in the synodal Instrumentum itself (emphases added):

The meaning of the Eucharist is entirely explained in Jesus’ words: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). Firstly, these words proclaim that Jesus Christ has brought eternity into time, giving it a definitive orientation and eliminating its destructive power. Secondly, these words highlight the fact that divine and human freedom meet in Jesus Christ, thereby establishing a communion which enables a person to conquer the Evil One. Finally, these words mean that Jesus Christ is the inexhaustible source of renewal for both people and the world, despite humanity’s limitations and sins.

Even postconciliar clergy who would never countenance such unspeakable disobedience, however, cannot tame the liturgical beast contrived by Bugnini’s Consilium.

One Novus Ordo offered in a beautiful church by an excellent priest of the Southwark archdiocese is as reverent as you would find anywhere outside the exceptional Brompton Oratory. Yet in this recent note to a friend I could only lament that:

Fr F... often has guitars at both morning Masses, mixing traditional hymns with the schmaltzy ‘pop’ pap. The kids are taken out to do their own thing and come back for the Offertory ‘parade’, distracting everyone and ruining any chance of prayerful recollection. The last straw was the bar lounge muzak, a ‘Morning Has Broken’ piano solo, during Holy Communion. On the positive side is the solid Catholic meat he feeds the congregation in his sermons, which is a blessed relief. The altar boys, properly attired and trained (and not a ‘serviette’ in sight) even wield the plate during Communion as everyone kneels along the altar rails. Regular Confession before Mass too. Father makes a real effort and does things according to the book, but the Novus Ordo is incorrigible. It allows him - a good-hearted neo-con product of his times with the very best intentions - to mix and match tradition and the postconciliar ‘spirit’ of caring-and-sharing in order to be all things to everyone. But because it isn’t one thing or the other it ends up as a liturgical pastiche which, despite many positives, soon grates. All paths lead back to the solemnity and peace - the predictability and rhythm - of the Old Mass.

Sadly, though, the synodal Instrumentum fails even to allude to the traditional Mass. Which is rather odd, since in large part it is a summary of both official responses and unsolicited contributions sent to Rome from around the world in answer to its widely disseminated questions on “various pastoral aspects related to the Eucharist.” Surely a number of the unsolicited rejoinders addressed the virtues, benefits and need for greater availability of the Old Mass? If so, we can only hope and pray that Pope Benedict has set them aside because he has other strategies for promotion of the traditional liturgy up his sleeve.

Meanwhile, we are left with an Instrumentum to be read, interpreted and implemented by bishops who not only tolerate abuses as a matter of course, but so often lead from the front in perverting the very Eucharistic Mystery they are assembling to discuss with such gravity in Rome.

During the recent Portsmouth Diocesan Assembly (21-23 July) where he declared that he sees no theological reason not to ordain women, Bishop Crispian Hollis blithely oversaw ‘liturgies’ and ‘re-education’ classes which, according to one clerical participant, “were essentially man-centred rather than God-centred, imposing a pseudo-charismatic, infantile and patronising spirituality on us.” His Lordship himself offered the Holy Sacrifice on a makeshift table in a marquee, consecrated wine in jugs, involved the congregation in a “dialogue” Eucharistic Prayer and, as a maverick pièce de résistance, used Extraordinary Ministers to distribute Holy Communion despite the presence of around 90 priests and 29 deacons, a number of whom were forced to receive Communion from the unconsecrated hands of these laymen. This clerical humiliation was all of a piece with the object of the Portsmouth Assembly: convened to further laicise, feminise, collectivise and corporatise an increasingly hellish diocese which is seeking to reduce its parishes from around “100 to about 30” [The Tablet, 30/7/05] as it pursues that suicidal Modernist course laid bare several years ago by Fr Martin Edwards [“Dissolving the Priesthood in Portsmouth,” CO, Jan. 2002].

Of course, rubrical nihilism is to be expected from arch-Modernist Hollis, who thinks nothing of leading several million TV viewers into error and endangering their souls and the lives of their unborn children by claiming they can contracept in good conscience [CO, Aug/Sept 2005, p.13]. What despicable treachery and salvific disregard! Yet he merely embodies the diabolic arrogance of the English episcopate as a whole. As revealed in this edition, the shocking disparities between Rome’s “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” and Celebrating the Mass, the episcopate’s guidelines supposedly based on the Instruction, confirm everything we already know about the non serviam spirit that informs England’s grinning hierarchy.

Not that this accursed spirit is in any way confined to the British Isles! Raucous laughter and chat from the back of a chapel before early morning Mass in Sydney last year disturbed and riled those in prayer, including the present writer. The din only ceased as the inconsiderate, irreverent culprits processed casually down the aisle to the sanctuary, many smiling or looking around. It turned out that they were not only priests, but none other than the Australian Bishops themselves, who were holding a conference at this suburban monastery.

This alien disposition is expressly condemned in the Vatican Instrumentum. It refers bluntly to “certain actions which challenge a sense of the sacred [such as] a lack of reverence before, during and after the celebration of Holy Mass, not only by the laity but also the celebrant.” How can bishops who embody such behaviour be relied upon to enforce the Instrumentum’s consequent corrective: “To foster due respect and reverence for the Eucharist, the sacred ministers should make a proper preparation in prayer before the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in which the Lord makes himself present through their hands.”

Episcopal complicity in actual liturgical abuse is symbiotically fed by indifference to the house of God itself, which, given Luke 19:46, demonstrates in a particularly grievous way that lack of holy filial fear of God the Father underlying the devil-may-care attitude of dissident prelates.

Among too many frightful examples to mention, one thinks immediately of Bishop Declan Lang’s ecumenical-cum-feminist desecration of the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in Clifton, Bristol, on 1 October 2002. As related at the outset of the detailed report in our December 2002 number [“Blasphemy in Bristol”], this sacrilegious spectacle simply “had to be seen to be believed.”

Also indicative was a recent incident in Sussex, where it took a front page report in the local press and appeals to Rome by a dutiful parishioner for Bishop Kieran Conry to be called to account for the agreement of the parish priest, a married Anglican convert, to host a concert by Campbell Burnap and His All Star Jazz Band in his church, as part of a village festival.

That such a scandal would ever arise speaks volumes for the liberal Protestant mindset of this notoriously profane prelate and his clergy - as does His Lordship’s response. He boasted of holding concerts in his own cathedral featuring music “far from what the Church would regard as sacred,” saw the protest as “a storm in teacup” and refused to rule out the possibility of future jazz concerts. He also allowed the sacrilegious event to go ahead as planned this year, despite the appropriate alternative of a nearby village hall, since he did not wish to be “disruptive” or “be seen as acting in such a heavy-handed and insensitive manner” - living proof, if any were needed, that without a holy fear of God, fear of upsetting His creatures soon outweighs angering Him. 

For what it’s worth to the likes of Bishop Conry (i.e. absolutely zilch) the October Instrumentum also includes among those specific actions which undermine the sense of the sacred: “the use of profane music in Church.” On the abuse of utilising the church building “for profane events, such as concerts and theatrical events which are not always religious in nature,” it further states: “The liturgy of the dedication of a Church recalls that the community offers the Church building entirely to the Lord. Therefore, it cannot be used for any other purpose apart from its consecration” [63]. And so it insists that churches, including great basilicas and cathedrals, “ought to remain places of prayer and adoration and not be transformed into museums” - nor, one might reasonably infer, into jazz joints.

On and on and on it all goes: episcopal attitudes and behaviour regularly condemned in Roman documents entrusted to the same bishops. Any wonder that after the best part of 40 years and a zillion self-defeating Vatican synods and directives, the liturgical/Eucharistic free-for-all continues apace.

Still, we can take some heart from the fact that, liturgically at least, Pope Benedict is under no illusions about the monumental and urgent task before him. He has been scathing in his assessment of the “claptrap and pastoral infantilism” that passes for modern liturgy; of its descent “to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of the popular newspaper.”

Accordingly, as one would expect of a Synod on the Most Holy Eucharist being overseen by such a Pope, we find that the Instrumentum Laboris itself reads like an appendix to Redemptionis Sacramentum, last year’s liturgical corrective treated at length in our August/September 2004 edition, whichmade all the right condemnatory noises about every kind of liturgical abuse. They are all raised and censured once more in the Instrumentum. As well as those already mentioned and among many others, they include:

... neglect by the celebrant and the ministers to use proper liturgical vestments and the participants’ lack of befitting dress for Mass; the tacit consent to eliminate certain liturgical gestures thought to be too traditional, such as genuflexion before the Blessed Sacrament; an inadequate catechesis for Communion in the hand and its improper distribution; the scant architectural and artistic quality of sacred buildings and sacred vessels; and instances of syncretism in integrating elements from other religions in the inculturation of liturgical forms. [33]

There are also many fine reflections on the various dimensions of the Holy Eucharist, and repeated emphases on the crucial importance of orthodox catechesis and the essential link between the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. It is reaffirmed, for example (in the face of contrary Modernist practice all over) that First Confession before First Communion “seems even more necessary [today] because many children attain the use of reason and are subject to dangers and temptations at an early age.” These extracts from section 22 highlight the refreshingly plain tenor of much of the document:

In many countries, persons have lost, or are gradually losing, an awareness that conversion is necessary for receiving the Eucharist. Its connection with the Sacrament of Penance is not always understood, e.g., the necessity of being in a state of grace before receiving Holy Communion. As a result, the obligation of confessing mortal sins is forgotten.

The idea of communion as “food for the journey” has also caused a minimization of the necessity of being in the state of grace. Instead, just as proper nourishment presupposes a healthy, living being, so the Eucharist requires that a person be in the state of grace so the Baptismal commitment can be re-enforced. How can a person be in the state of mortal sin and receive the One who is a “medicine” of immortality and an “antidote” to death.

[...] Another rather widespread problem is created by a lack of access to the Sacrament of Penance at convenient times. In some countries, individual confessions have been eliminated. At most, the Sacrament is celebrated twice a year, during a communal liturgy, resulting in a hybrid form of the Sacrament which draws from both the second and third rites provided in the ritual.

Certainly, thought needs to be given to the great disproportion between the many who receive Holy Communion and the few who go to confession. The faithful frequently receive Holy Communion, without even thinking that they might be in the state of mortal sin. As a result, the receiving of Holy Communion by those who are divorced and civilly remarried is a common occurrence in various countries. At funeral Masses, weddings or other celebrations, many receive Holy Communion only out of the generally-held, mistaken conviction that a person cannot participate at Mass without receiving Holy Communion.

But if these honest appraisals mirror the tone and content of Redemptionis Sacramentum, so do the compromising passages throughout the Instrumentum, which, like those in RS, fly in the face of the multifarious liturgical abuses it recounts. In fact, these are all but waved away at the outset: “Mention is also made of various insufficiencies and oversights in the celebration of the Eucharist which, thanks be to God, are rather contained” [Preface]. And again further on: “All these negative realities ... should not lead to great alarm, since they seem to be limited” [26].

It simply beggars belief that such wishful thinking should occupy the same document in which these “negative realities” are again confirmed as the ‘dominant realities’ of postconciliar Eucharistic life. Far from being “limited,” they are in fact unlimited, both in number and kind.

This perversity can only be explained in terms of the Conciliar Blame Game - that persistent effort to save Vatican II at all costs by reapportioning blame for its manifest failure to everyone and everything except the Council itself, all the while presenting revolution and dissolution as reform and renewal.

Thus, after the fashion of RS, in seeking to solve the errors provoked by the Council the Instrumentum foolishly seeks the solution from the same problematic source. Take the differentiation between Mass as meal and Mass as sacrifice. To solve this classic Vatican II-inspired dissension (or “pastoral situation” as the Instrumentum euphemistically prefers) we are told that “many Lineamenta responses want an effective, faithful application of the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council... ” [32] Why? Because “No one doubts the great effects resulting from the liturgical renewal prompted by the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the post-conciliar liturgy has greatly fostered the active, conscious and fruitful participation of the faithful in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar.” [33]

Truly, as the Instrumentum itself attests, this is epic self-delusion! Apart from anything else, far from having “greatly fostered the active, conscious and fruitful participation of the faithful” in the Holy Sacrifice, the Novus Ordo has simply conditioned the faithful to boisterous activity. Full stop.

Just recently, a few minutes after the end of Mass while making my thanksgiving prayers, a woman broke off from her participation in the rampant chatting in the church to ask me if I was “OK”. The mere sight of post-Mass repose and recollection clearly baffled and worried her. There is nothing remotely “fruitful” about that. Nor does it lend any support to the Instrumentum’s claim that “Oftentimes... [the] act of adoration continues after Holy Mass in various ways.” On the contrary, more often than not the act of adoration after Mass is rendered impossible by the ignorant and sacrilegious behaviour of noisy laymen now habituated to action over contemplation.

In this regard, charismatic-syncretic New Movements have been at the forefront of erasing the contemplative principle from Catholic worship. Yet the Instrumentum recommends them highly, only to caution later that “Oftentimes the universal norms, commonly maintained by the Church as an expression of her catholicity, stand in contrast to certain liturgical celebrations of some ecclesial movements” [12]. This encapsulates the exasperating, self-contradictory, two-bob each-way nature of the synodal working  paper. In the manner of all postconciliar band-aid treatments of the Novus Ordo, it is also intensely and needlessly masochistic.

Since every last one of the ongoing abuses the Instrumentum seeks to redress are conspicuous at the Old Mass by their complete absence, the refusal to acknowledge that fact and encourage its wider celebration is akin to self-harm: like punching oneself repeatedly in the face. Even more than masochistic, it is suicidal: part of that ecclesial “auto-destruction” to which Paul VI famously referred.

While rendering the Old Mass invisible obviously saves (Vatican II) face, as it were, it is made doubly galling by the fact that the Instrumentum does not hesitate to positively mention or recommend all manner of pre-conciliar practices and devotions that one automatically associates with the pre-conciliar liturgy, such as: “[H]earing confessions before Mass and during Mass”; “Re-establishing confraternities of the Most Blessed Sacrament”; “Restoring the practice of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament ... above all on Sunday afternoons”; “Forty Hours Devotion and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed”; “processions with the Blessed Sacrament, above all on the solemnity of Corpus Christi.” Even raised is “the question of the timeliness of returning to the three-hour Eucharistic fast.”

Alas, what chance a wholesale return to such precious piety with Rome forever pushing the party line: that the synodal “reflection will be fruitful” and the bishops will do the right thing “because the spirit of collegiality, characteristic of the synod, will foster consensus on the propositions which are destined for the Holy Father.”

Again, this smacks of delusion and despair. For, as sure as death and taxes, the bishops will simply give the Holy Father what he wants and then get back to dissident business as usual.

Clearly, we are living through an episcopally-led “abomination unto desolation” of the Holy Eucharist unprecedented in Church history. And it is sobering to recall that the Novus Ordo was still over 50 years away when God sent the Angel of Fatima to teach the three little seers to offer the Holy Trinity “the most precious Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ really and truly present in every tabernacle of the world, in reparation for the countless outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He Himself is offended.” If the Almighty was offended then, how full to overflowing must be the cup of His wrath today!

The situation gets more pressing by the month. Indeed, the Instrumentum calls for “An Urgent Pastoral Program.”Yet the long suffering faithful are nearly forty years overdue for more than just fine words on a synodal page. They do not need another “program” or bullet point manifesto. What they do need, quite simply, is a man in white wielding a big stick: a Pope, like St. Pius X, concerned with facta non verba - deeds not words!




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