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February 2002

The Second Reformation engulfs New Zealand.

Protestantism at the Coal-face

DAVID SELBY

A Mission in our parish? Good heavens! "What," I thought, "has come over our Parish Spiritual Enrichment Team (I kid you not!)?" But there it was in our Sunday Bulletin - which never lies (apart from the occasional heretical statement, of course). Half-remembered visions from my youth floated past - early morning Mass and then Devotions, Rosary, Sermon, Confession, Benediction, every night for a week. Sermons on such topics as Grace, Our Lady, Suffering, the Four Last Things - death, judgement, heaven and hell. My wifeís mother used to reminisce about the old missions and how at times she could almost feel the flames licking round her feet.

Did that put people off in those days? Not a bit; the Church used to be packed every night and many of my mother-in-lawís contemporaries are no doubt grateful now for those ardent missioners who pulled them back into line - better to scrape into heaven through fear of damnation rather than to slide into hell through ignorance of its reality or of the broad road that leads there. Not that the emphasis was on the Divine Judgement - there was a proper balance between Mercy and Judgement and an awareness that both are necessary expressions of His Love. But God was not to be seen as a pushover!

Well, I missed the first night. My wife went while I baby-sat. She returned fuming, and I gathered from her muttered exclamations of which the more printable were "Heretics!", "Bunch of Protestants!", that the fumes had not emanated from the flames under her seat but from the Missioner himself - a Father Eddie Condra, a priest apparently in good standing in this Archdiocese of Wellington since he is in charge of one of its parishes.

The next night was my turn. "Donít waste your time, youíll only get steamed up!" advised my wife as I set off armed with pencil and paper and my rosary beads in my pocket. I have the notes I took in front of me as I write this and they are as depressing now as they were those few years ago. More depressing, really, for nothing has changed in the interim.

Confronting the Enemies Within

My first difficulty was in recognising Fr. Condra. There was no recognisable priest in the sanctuary nor in the seats (we lost our comfortable wooden pews when our beautiful historic wooden church was "modernised"). However, after a short introduction by our parish priest the bearded gentleman in the open-necked shirt who had been sitting near me wandered up to the front and introduced himself.

I will not go into the details of what he said as it would be all too familiar to CO readers, but the following examples from my notes are a good indication of his line of thought;
  • The pre-Vatican II Church was all about laws, structures with clearly defined dogmas - but Christ broke the law (ha ha) when he healed on the Sabbath.
  • Sacraments are not important - the Sacramental system is part of the pre-Vatican II Church - baptism, for example, can be done in hundreds of different ways, the Catholic way is just one. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness of sins. Power comes from Community.
  • We believed in indulgences then - ha ha. Visits to Church on All Souls day. When was a visit not a visit? - ha ha.
  • Catholics did not have to think.
  • The validity of the Mass depended on correct words, correct procedure, a rubrical exactitude. "Irrespective of whether you felt it was valid."
  • In confession "you were forgiven irrespective of how you felt."
  • Todayís culture (approvingly) is "looking for experience" and thus we have "a good Mass" or "a boring Mass."
  • It is not the same Mass - it has lost its mystery (true).
  • "People who have left the Church have not lost the Faith."
Doubtless, he had a lot more to say but, rather foolishly I thought, he had opened his talk by encouraging questions from his audience. Presumably he was banking on the notorious ignorance of Catholics about their faith and their reluctance to discuss it openly. I called his bluff and took up his offer. This had the effect both of curtailing the time he had available for peddling his "snake oil" while at the same time exposing the audience to some basic Catholic Doctrine which was without doubt a novelty for many.

I asked, for example, what he understood by the "Real Presence" and received the standard Modernist reply: "God is present wherever people gather in His name - you in front of me. We are the Kingdom of God." When I pointed out that I was not referring, as he well knew, to this form of presence but to the fact that Christ in the Eucharist was bodily present in His physical reality as Paul VI, a post-Vatican II Pope, had written in Mysterium Fidei, there was much jeering in the "audience" and cries of "What has the Pope got to do with this?" A good question I thought in retrospect. Challenged on whether, in the light of what he was saying, there was any real difference between Catholics and Protestants he replied that he could only distinguish between them "with great difficulty." This was greeted with loud applause from which I concluded that he was not alone in his difficulty.

Thankfully the session finished prematurely and in some disarray due to the interruptions. My Parish Priest concluded by calling Fr. Condra a prophet and stating that although he personally did not agree with everything Fr. Condra had said it was "a position he validly holds." Interestingly, at least three priests other than Fr. Condra were in attendance but none objected publicly to his views.

Pseudo-Catholics

Defending the Catholic Faith alone, without any real support, from attack by hostile neo-Protestant parishioners in your own parish church in front of your own parish priests is not a pleasant experience, nor is the verbal abuse to which I was subjected both during and immediately after the episode. One parishioner reviled me for setting back local ecumenism. Didnít I know that the local Baptist Minister was present by special invitation? To which I retorted: "No, but he was probably the only person present who knew what I was talking about." He then abused me for the way I was bringing up my children (home-schooled) though I was somewhat non-plussed by the supposed connection with the mission.

I was told some days later that the parish was split roughly 80:20, only 20% supporting me. Does that mean that 80% of the parishioners of a typical New Zealand parish cannot see any real difference between Catholicism and Protestantism? I suppose I had committed the cardinal sins of the modern Church - being divisive and unecumenical in pointing out the obvious, making people feel uncomfortable, but that does not explain the ignorance of basic Catholic teaching nor the antipathy towards orthodoxy or those expressing it. Oh, by the way, the Spiritual Enrichment Team did remember to schedule an early morning Mass during the mission. Unfortunately, Fr. Condra did not see it as part of his job to say that Mass.

This was not an isolated incident. My mother in the neighbouring diocese of Christchurch showed me the notes handed out at a mission given by the Passionist Fathers - the same Modernist message, but with a more slick presentation and even more corrosive content. There is no space here to go into details but a couple of direct quotations will suffice to give the flavour:

  • On Divorce - "The church ... offers the internal forum solution. .... If the person, after becoming informed, ... is satisfied that his or her marriage was never valid, and is unable to undertake the process required by the marriage tribunal, he/she is free to remain in a subsequent marriage and celebrate the sacraments..."
  • The priest does not have the power to forgive sins, "God is the forgiver; the priest is the minister communicating the reality to the penitent."

Whatís going on here? Why are our churches full of Protestant ministers calling themselves Catholic priests, and Protestant congregations calling themselves Catholic? Harsh words you may say, but what would Luther, Calvin or Cranmer recognise them as - Catholics or Protestants?

Are those people really Catholic who donít genuflect in front of the Blessed Sacrament; who never even visit Him in His own chapel except to deposit their guitar cases before the 10 oíclock "Family Mass"; who never go to Confession except perhaps the 2nd rite; who stand when the Priest enters to say Mass and for the Word of God, but sit, yes sit, for the rest of Mass even when Christ arrives in Person at the Consecration; who chat loudly to their neighbour before Mass and leave without any thanksgiving; who see nothing disrespectful in seeing their Church being used for band competitions, concerts, plays or school break-ups; who consider Our Lady and the Rosary as outmoded; who blithely sing Protestant hymns expressing a Protestant theology and as often as not written by men who hated the Catholic Church and all She stood for; who expect and get eulogies at funeral services. Christians they may be - but Catholic?

DEATH OF THE CATHOLIC FUNERAL

Did I mention funerals? The Protestantising of Catholics is no more evident than in our funerals. We no longer pray for the dead that they may be released from their sins and be freed from purgatory. How judgemental and uncharitable that is! How pre-Vatican II! We now celebrate their life and console the living by "canonising Uncle Fred" and inviting all and sundry whether Protestant or Catholic, Moslem or Hindu, in a state of Grace or not, to come to Holy Communion. When I politely drew the attention of my local bishop to this last scandal I was accused of Jansenist tendencies!

And what can be more Protestant than a eulogy? Or more uncharitable for that matter? What do you do in those cases when either:

  1. The deceased was an out and out rotter? or
  2. Nobody has a good word to say for him? or
  3. The Priest has never set eyes on him before today? or
  4. He hasn't darkened the door of the Church for 30 years? or
  5. His last "live-in" is in the front pew?

In true Modernist fashion you either deny reality by lying through your teeth, or say nothing and have the whole congregation wondering whyyyyyy?? And, as for the deceased, the greatest act of charity you can render him is to pray for his release from Purgatory where we must assume that he is. The demise of Purgatory from the Catholic consciousness must be one of Satanís greatest triumphs. As a priest friend recently wrote to me: "The devil is not an atheist anymore as he used to be in the 19th century. Now, he is a defender of God's 'mercy' and 'love'."

You think I overstate the case? Well I have in front of me the October 2001 edition of the Clergy Gazette published by the Archdiocese of Wellington for the priests of the diocese. This contains a new "Pastoral Guide to the Order of Christian Funerals." Revealingly it is called the "Ministry of Consolation" and that is the thrust of the 5 page document - consoling the living, not praying for the dead. Admittedly, lip-service is paid in the opening paragraphs to praying for the dead with two traditional statements - "We pray for the person who has died asking for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of everlasting life," and "The Church calls each member of Christís Body to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn." Thereafter the emphasis is on comforting the mourner. Priests are told to "take into consideration the spiritual and psychological needs of the family and friends of the deceased and their sense of loss." ... "The ministry of the Church is one of gently accompanying the mourners" ... "In the Archdiocese of Wellington we wish all to experience a Church who carries out its ministry of consolation to the full, irrespective of whether or not the family has much evident connection with the Church community." ... "In making initial contact with the family, get a 'feel' for what may be more appropriate or comfortable for them" ... "It is the policy of this Archdiocese to ensure there is no more than one eulogy at the funeral Mass, and that other tributes be given at the Vigil Service." All very well intentioned to be sure, but is it Catholic? What happened to Purgatory, Judgement, Hell, or Heaven for that matter - none rate a mention. As Romano Amerio states in his masterly work Iota Unum: "In short the Four Last Things ...seem to be reduced to two; death and heaven" - or, in this case, death and consolation.

A CASE-STUDY

Certainly, at the parish level, there has been a fundamental change: from the traditional Catholic view, as defined by the Council of Trent, that while we should have a lively hope in our salvation we cannot be certain of it, to the Protestant view as expressed by both Luther and Calvin of full certainty if one has but faith. The extent to which this heresy has infiltrated grass roots Catholicism was sadly brought home to me only recently on the occasion of the funeral of a good friend, a 34-year-old mother of four young children.

Although a convert, Rachel (not her real name) loved the traditional Latin Mass, attending it wherever possible and once a month having a retired diocesan priest, Fr. X, stay over for the weekend. It was natural, therefore, that before she died she asked Fr. X to say her Requiem Mass, and specifically requested that he preach on the Four Last Things. Permission was granted by the bishop and the parish priest for the Latin Requiem to be said in the parish church. The small church was packed. To help those unfamiliar with the Latin Mass I had prepared a small booklet with both the English and Latin texts with short notes on the priestís actions, and most visitors made full use of these.

Fr. X began by pointing out that within the traditional Latin Mass there were variations between the ceremonies of the Ordinary and Requiem Masses. For example the psalm Judica Me at the beginning of the Ordinary Mass was omitted as it was a prayer of joy in him who prayed. And in contrast to the Ordinary, all the sacrificial fruits of the Requiem Mass were reserved for the benefit of the departed. The whole liturgy would be concentrated on Rachel and the Souls in Purgatory. Father also made clear who was entitled to receive Holy Communion and why it was restricted to Catholics in a state of Grace.

The Sermon

In his sermon Father spoke as requested on the Four Last Things. He stated plainly that the Judgement - heaven or hell for eternity - is Divine Justice ratifying our own decision and that nobody goes to hell except through their own choice. We have the choice of ĎSelfí to the exclusion of God or of God to the exclusion of "Self." The choice of 'Self' implies the total exclusion of God. That renders the ĎSelfí incapable of God and Heaven. However, Father went on, the choice is more often than not imperfect . The 'Self' is still chosen but not to the total exclusion of God. This is why God in His Infinite Mercy provides Purgatory, a process or state of purification for the real impurity of our self-centredness.

Father compared the choice of 'Self' in our lives to the growth of cataracts which he himself had experienced. Cataracts gradually cover the eyes, progressively impairing sight until in the extreme case all vision is lost. Surgery can remove the cataract but the vision is still limited. Today new 'lenses' can be inserted which once again render the eyes capable of seeing perfectly. Godís plan was that man would be able to see God face to face, but through original sin, that original choice of 'Self' by Adam and Eve, man lost that ability. It is restored by Baptism but in the same way that skin can grow over the implanted lenses of cataract surgery so our own personal sin can obscure the baptismal lenses of Faith. Personal sin leads to a diminution of faith and even to spiritual blindness. But all is not lost. In the same way that laser surgery can remove the new growth so Absolution in Confession can remove the spiritual darkening and blindness.

But after death the spiritual laser beam of Absolution is ineffective. For those in Hell there can be no forgiveness for they are incapable of sorrow. In contrast, the Souls in Purgatory are full of sorrow; they are saints but cannot see God face to face until they have undergone the spiritual surgery of Purgatory, a surgery "without anaesthetic." They cannot help themselves for it is the constant teaching of the Church that with death the possibility of meriting, demeriting or conversion ceases. However the Church taught, without error, at the Council of Trent, that the living faithful can come to the assistance of the Souls in Purgatory by their intercessions... that is through "prayers, alms and works of mercy and above all by the Sacrifice of the Mass which is pleasing to God."

"The Sacrifice of the Mass," Father continued with his laser analogy, "is the Spiritual Super Laser Beam that reaches beyond time and beyond death, for it is the greatest, purest act of choosing God to the exclusion of Self. This act of choosing is activated on the altar and by our Will is beamed into the Souls in Purgatory to clear away the remaining blinding skin of Self. In a few moment," he concluded, "we are going to 'beam' this Sacrifice of Christ into the Soul of Rachel."

The Reaction

So what was the reaction to this plain exposition of de fide Catholic doctrine and to Fatherís reminder that we all must die one day and face the personal judgement? Very enlightening. I could tell from the shuffling in the pews and the odd murmurings that there was some dissent. But was it coming from the Protestants, the lapsed Catholics, the atheists, the agnostics or the 'donít careís'? No, they probably thought it was just ordinary everyday Catholic teaching appropriate to a funeral (would that it were so) but they listened. No, the shuffling and murmuring appeared to be coming from many of the Catholics, such as the two young women in front of me. At least I assumed they were Catholics by the fact that they still knew how to make the Sign of the Cross even if they did sit through the entire Canon of the Mass. Typical of the comments which I, or others, heard or overheard, included;

  • "Now I understand why Catholics pray for the dead" - Convert sister-in-law of Rachel.
  • "My lapsed husband was listening intently."
  • "There was no doubt to Whom and for whom the service was directed" - Anglican funeral director.
  • "A very moving service" - 'born again' Christian.
  • "I suppose you went to that Black Mass" - one Catholic overheard talking to another.
  • "Oh! We gave all that up 50 years ago!" - parish priest in reply to a visitor commenting on the dignity of the service. The parish priest did attend the Requiem but not in the Sanctuary as invited and in non-clerical dress. (For fear of contamination by association?)
  • "He made Rachel out to be a sinner." - Nun
  • "I hear Fr. X went a bit over the top." - Bishop of a neighbouring diocese.

But the saddest reaction was a letter sent anonymously to Fr. X immediately afterwards. It is reproduced here though I have erased the names for obvious reasons.

Dear Father

Excuse me but I think that the word "Dear" has no meaning at all. I am just expressing my disgust at the way the Catholic Faith has been presented to the people of the parish of St. ___ . The Funeral that you conducted this morning is a disgrace to us all. You have presented in what was a "mime" a total lack of sympathy and may I say a misrepresentation of the God of Love. Maybe YOUR Cateract has been the biggest problem in your loveless life, but you have left a big number of people who are filled with love and concern for ____ and the four lovely children with nowhere to seek any sort of meaning in the death of [Rachel] . A self-centred rendition of what you hold dear which is of no relevance to real life, has been an insult to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am deeply hurt by what you aver in the guise of "faith" destroyed the hopes and dreams of a little daughter who believed that her Mother was in Heaven. This ____ family may grieve, if it is shielded by devotion to whatever, because you say that is the way it is. Then I thank God, that most of us here in this Parish of St. ____ have been in situations, much worse than your tunnelled-visioned eyes, can call on the reserves of a God Given gift of belief which is a source of strength. I am told that you are in retirement. That is something we can be thankful for. I am not going to sign my name because to me you mean nothing. I think maybe another look at religion may be called for. At least we do have a priest in this area who will listen. Thank you for reading this far. I am saddened. Prayers for you are needed.

The Protestantising Process

What has happened to Catholics? Why is it that they are not just ignorant of fundamental Catholic doctrines such as Purgatory but also hate orthodoxy and anyone who reminds them of it. Orthodoxy demands acceptance of hard, uncompromising, unambiguous truths. They like the cosy, comfortable, nice, caring, tolerant community which they can share with our Protestant friends. They do not like the cold steel of orthodoxy! And yet didnít Christ say "Make your way in by the narrow gate. It is a broad gate and a wide road that leads on to perdition, and those who go in that way are many indeed; but how small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life, and how few there are that find it." (Matt. 7, 13,14) Is it uncharitable to remind people of this?

How, then, has this Protestantisation of Catholics come about? No doubt there are many causes but the liturgy is a good place to begin. As Fr. Hugh Thwaites and John Vennari pointed out in CO (Nov. 2001), and Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci before them with their famous "Intervention" of September 1969, we have a Protestantised liturgy. As Fr. Thwaites postulates: "maybe ...it has brought [Catholics] to think and believe and behave like Protestants." Spot on. But why the tentative "maybe"? And as for drawing Protestants to the Church it has had the opposite effect. Take for example, some good Protestant friends of mine who, fully comprehending the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence, pointed out to me after a visit to our parish: "Why should we believe such a doctrine when it is obvious from their disrespectful behaviour (no genuflecting, sitting throughout Mass, talking etc.) that most Catholics donít believe it either." These same friends also summed up the problem with our "Catholic" schools. They send their children to our local parish school, for, as they say, "They get a good secular education with some Christian values but there is no chance of them becoming Catholics!" And the results of this "Catholic" education can be summed up 'out of the mouths of babes' or rather my friend's young son speaking to his Presbyterian grandad: "You donít go to Church do you grandpa?" "Well, no, grandson." "Why not, Grandpa? Are you a Catholic?"

If Catholics donít learn their faith at school, they certainly wonít learn it at their parish church if they bother to go. Quite apart from missions such as that described above I have heard attacks on the Mass from the pulpit: "The Mass is not a sacrifice. We come to give thanks to the Lord and be nourished at His table"; on the perpetual virginity of Our Lady; on devotions of any kind; on those who spend their time in prayer rather than helping their neighbour; on the divinity of Christ - Jesus being lost in the temple was "just a typical adolescent boy having an identity crisis," on Grace - "it just means we are a graced people" and so on ad nauseam. And where do well-meaning Protestantised Catholics learn their faith? Why in small home groups studying the bible just like any Protestant sect. And who interprets the bible for them - why the Holy Spirit will guide them of course!

And then what has happened to our Catholic ambience - our Catholic support system. Our Churches have been so gutted that they are indistinguishable from Protestant halls - seats without kneelers, Blessed Sacrament out of sight and out of mind, slogans and banners in the place of statues, the Sanctuary stripped of its holy nature and turned into little more than a thoroughfare or a stage where all have to perform or feel they are not "participating." One could go on and on - all but two (Christmas and New Zealandís patronal feast day - the Assumption) of our Holydays of Obligation transferred to Sundays; Protestant Bibles on sale in the Church on Bible Sunday and seen at times on the altar; illicit inclusive language lectionaries and psalters in daily use for the Mass even after they have been condemned by Rome; healing services where participants anoint one another......

As for the corrosive effects of ecumenism, well just read recent editions of CO.

The Denouement: Joint Ordinations?

The miracle (and it can only be a miracle) is that we are not all Protestantised Catholics (Roman Prostestants). It frightens me to realise how England turned Protestant within a generation once the Liturgy and the Catholic ambience was destroyed and at how quickly love for the old religion turned into hatred. Where we differ from that first Reformation, of course, is that we still have a valid Mass and valid Sacraments but one has to wonder how long it will be before we share Churches and Ministers with Protestants. Far fetched? Already we have here Catholic Bishops receiving the ashes on Ash Wednesday from Anglican "bishops," parishioners who alternate between the Elim Church and St. Mary's, and the possibility of joint ordination services with the Anglicans to avoid the "problem" of Orders.

The parallels with the first Reformation are frightening but there is one difference. The Protestants of the first Reformation hated us because they thought we were wrong, those of the new Reformation because they know we are right.