If Thou Desert My People I Shall Go To Rome To Be Crucified A Second Time
By Griff Ruby
In one of the great scenes of the movie Quo Vadis, Peter is leaving Rome, only to be told by Jesus that "My people in Rome have need of thee. If thou desert My people I shall go to Rome to be crucified a second time." Just as it was Peter's role to die in Rome, being crucified upside down (per his own request), so is it also the role of the Church to seek to overcome the present disarray and restore unity and faith within Herself. It is not enough to merely continue some sort of "holding operation" until better times just mysteriously come along "someday." The present situation has to be resolved formally, legally, and canonically, for otherwise God really would have to come down again and be crucified again so as to restart the Church as the monolithic and hierarchical organization He originally instituted.
Before getting to the particulars of the essay The Grain of Incense: Sedevacantists and Una Cum Masses by Father Anthony Cekada that I wish to comment on, please allow me to start with a somewhat roundabout approach based on other writings by Fr. Cekada (and others with whom he is associated of like mind) as I want first to establish some worthy and significant points from these previous writings before addressing the situation of his latest monograph regarding attendance and "una cum" Masses.
In addressing the Fr. Feeney issue in Baptism of Desire: An Exchange, Fr. Cekada affirms the point that "The unanimous teaching of theologians in matters of faith and morals establishes certitude for the proof of a dogma." Father had cited a list of 25 theologians who unanimously supported the teaching of Baptisms of Blood and Desire, and a lay writer, wishing to contest that, mentioned that St. Francis Xavier and Fr. Feeney were also "card-carrying theologians" who did not support the teaching of Baptisms of Blood and Desire, so if only 25 out of 27 theologians support Baptisms of Blood and Desire, "Is the teaching still 'unanimous'?"
Father's wise and brilliant response to that lay writer could be summed up as saying that "there are theologians and there are theologians." On the one hand there are those courses in theology that every priest must take in the course of his seminary training, or even what he might take if, while in seminary he chooses specifically to major in Theology, versus on the other hand those truly great and significant theologians of the sort who qualify for that elite list of the 25 originally cited in support of Baptisms of Blood and Desire. It is a difference comparable to that between some "Geek Squad" workers in your local department store who fix your computer, versus Bill Gates and those with him who practically invented the computer systems as we have them today.
Father points out that "As I explained in Section II of my original article, the term 'theologian' connotes extensive research work, a distinguished teaching career at a Pontifical University, publication of multi-volume theological treatises, etc. As far as I know, St. Francis Xavier would not meet these criteria. His writings, as I recall, were limited to letters. Nor would Fr. Feeney. His earlier writings were popular religious works. And his later works would not meet the fourth criteria Salaverri lays down: 'orthodoxy in doctrine acknowledged by the Church, at least insofar as [his] writings are used by the faithful and students knowingly and without reproof by the Magisterium of the Church.'"
But having raised this point about different levels of theologians, this is the key item applicable to the present situation. Today, there are no such qualified theologians anywhere in the world! Where could they be, if there were some? In today's Vatican? There they have all been taught nothing but Teilhardism, Phenomenalism, Existentialism, and heresy. This appears to be a situation that has been brewing throughout much of the latter half of the twentieth century. Even such a great as Dietrich von Hildebrand was notably weak in his knowledge of St. Thomas Aquinas and Scholasticism, preferring Platonism over Aristotelianism. Then, when the condemned "theologians" were suddenly instead "recognized" and pretty much placed in charge of writing the Vatican II documents, true theology as a science essentially died. All we have now are the writings left behind by these "Greats" and it may well be a very long, long time before any other such "Great" should ever appear and be recognized.
I remember Michael Davies once mentioning in passing in an article of his that he had "four theologians" whom he consulted for his works. He never named any of them, but I am 80% sure that one of them was Count Neri Capponi. That, I suspect, represented the "best" available by the time he was writing his books and articles, and now even that, such as it was, hardly has the simple availability it had while Michael Davies was still alive.
And don't get the idea that someday someone can just read a bunch of theology books written by all the great theologians and thereby become one such themselves. There is so much that a person can only learn from interaction with a live person as their teacher and instructor, and that is what no longer exists. It is going to take a great many brilliant persons all reading all the greatest theological works and spending many long years arguing among themselves their meanings to perhaps, gradually grow this sort of thing back (to whatever extent it could ever be restored). And finally there needs to be a community of such theologians capable of recognizing each other and of sifting out the chaff of pretenders, egomaniacs, and charlatans.
While I readily admit that Fr. Cekada's theological stature may well be at least some increment above that of either St. Francis Xavier or Fr. Feeney (or even both of them taken together), I would also hope and do assume that he would be humble enough to be the first to admit that even he comes nowhere near the caliber of the 25 theologians he cited in favor of Baptisms of Blood and Desire, or any others comparable to them. Truth to tell, no one does today. And far removed from such stature as Fr. himself no doubt is, the fact is that he is probably the nearest thing to such alive anywhere on the face of the earth today.
This places upon him a truly great burden of responsibility, quite a bit more than he ever wanted to bear, and one must always be mindful of this in addressing anything he has written, and respectful of his knowledge and training and wisdom. But even great minds can make mistakes, more about that later.
In the course of addressing the question regarding Catholics attending una cum Masses, Father takes an extraordinary step of actually taking a stand on a question that heretofore has never been addressed, one way or the other, by any previous theologian or even mere Catholic writer of any kind at any time. Had his thesis been able to stand, it would actually constitute a tiny advance in total theological knowledge. This is the sort of thing a person has to do in order to gain a Th.D. (Doctor of Theology). While I disagree with his thesis, I must admit that I do believe that, in principle, such progress is essential to overcoming the present crisis, and that furthermore it must be possible, for otherwise the Church has failed and God has not kept his promises and Jesus really would have to have come to be crucified a second time (and I haven't seen that happen anywhere, have you?). And for that matter, and despite my disagreement with his thesis (and also with the thrust of his recent article), I can think of no one more qualified to do this.
On page two of his article, he states "Moreover, there is a vast amount of material in the writings of the popes, dogmatic theologians, canonists, moral theologians, Vatican decrees and liturgical scholars that, taken together, provides us with a very clear answer to this question." Excuse me Father, but I beg to differ.
Before bringing in all the stuff that follows from finding a man guilty of murder, as to how he must be sentenced, treated, confined, what rights he has for appeal and what not, does it not behoove us to ascertain first that the defendant is actually the murderer? He assumes some classical category applies to the situation of una cum Masses and then brings in all of admittedly quite a welter of material pertaining to that classical category. However, that classical category cannot be applied until one has come to understand the full nature of the present situation. And it still won't apply even then since the present situation really is something quite different. Whether you understand the present situation and know that it is different, or merely cannot be sure, either way you cannot presume it to be the same, just as whether you know the defendant to be innocent, or simply cannot be certain of his guilt, you are bound to acquit him.
If some known and blatant heretic (whether explicitly named as such by the Church (vitandus) or not - doesn't matter) were to seize the Vatican by force, oust a known and universally recognized valid pope, claim a papacy for himself, and then teach obvious heresies as "pope," and any priest to say Masses "una cum" with this obvious impostor and usurper, then indeed all of that wonderful material he has brought in would indeed apply and attendance at any such Mass without grave reason would be a sacrilege. That is the sort and scope and scale of the sort of scenario that all of those great theologians he quotes have taken as "assumed" for the principles they are being quoted on.
Instead, we have something manifestly different. We have a man recognized as "pope" by all "cardinals" (or even true licit cardinals, if you subscribe to the materialiter-formaliter position as taken by Bishop Donald Sanborn and others), nearly all bishops and "bishops," same for priests, same for nuns, same for monks, and something like 99.99% of all who regard themselves as "Catholics," and furthermore is so taken by all of the non-Catholic secular world, despite his documented heresies. You have a man that by all apparent procedures, seems to have been elected lawfully and validly to the papacy, and finally you have a man whose heresies can, if one is willing to use enough mental gymnastics anyway, probably be at least mostly explained away.
Furthermore, you have a great many priests and even some bishops (I speak here of only truly traditional Catholic bishops, principally the SSPX bishops, though there are a few others) who have therefore accepted such a man as "pope" despite his evident heresies, and not through mere negligence and certainly not through malice, and who are not unlearned (though they do appear to be ignorant of at least some relevant fact that once realized, would promptly make sedevacantists of them all). And even some sedevacantists still take the man as being a material pope, though plainly not a formal one.
In short, you have an altogether unprecedented situation in the Church. Regarding THAT, there is no such "vast amount of material" written at all. What is there that DOES exist (written prior to Vatican II)? Well you have a chapter or two of some treatise by St. Robert Bellarmine, you have the occasional passing mentions (brief quotes) of roughly similar situations by various other canonists and theologians, the sum total of which, if gathered up and taken together, would not add up to even a quarter of St. Bellarmine's most relevant chapter in terms of simple length, as measured in word or letter counts in the original Latin.
But rather than address (or even investigate) that mystery of "what happened" Father Cekada devotes his time to exploring a new question, and positing something never before claimed. It is this which I wish to address first since this is academically the most interesting part of his essay. On page 5 he sums up his new thesis thus:
Traditional Catholics tend to look upon a sacrament as primarily something the priest gives and the layman receives. The priest is active, the layman passive. The priest confers the sacrament; the lay recipient cooperates and consents to receive it.
This paradigm does not hold, though, for assistance at Mass. You are not meant merely to consent and to receive something passively (grace, Holy Communion, "credit" for fulfilling your Sunday obligation, etc.), but to participate and to give something. What are you meant to give? Active worship of God, because as a result of your baptism, you are both privileged and obliged to participate, according to your state, in offering up the Holy Sacrifice.
Please note the verb: participate.
In an even tighter nutshell he is claiming a special and unique level of participation and involvement on the part of the receiving laity in the Mass, as above that level of his participation and involvement in receiving the other sacraments. Such a question has never been studied before. It is a good question, one that could have made a good topic for some Th.D. thesis back in the days we had real theology still alive as a science. For an academician to take the time to address such a new question implies that perhaps someone does now have the time to engage in such purely academic research, and to begin re-growing the science of theology. Would that it were so!
Before embarking upon such an advance of academic theological knowledge, it behooves the author to engage in certain procedures that all the great theologians from bygone days that he has quoted all followed. It is not that they were all just such brilliant and utterly orthodox men (they were), but also certain procedures they followed so as to avoid the kinds of mistakes that can easily be made by a lone academic coming up with conclusions of his own. In particular I refer to that process known as Peer Review. All academic and scientific journals and publications of any real stature are peer reviewed. That is to say that a person who writes a document purporting to advance knowledge takes the time to allow others to review it for any mistakes or errors. Ideally such others would be those of similar education - that is to say here, fellow theologians of comparable caliber - of which there were many in those bygone days. Failing that, other intelligent and qualified individuals, e. g. great canonists or moralists, etc. could serve in that capacity. At the furthest extreme (least helpful, but still far better than nothing) intelligent and concerned individuals who have the capacity to understand the content and respond to it intelligently would have to do, especially now when little better is to be obtained anywhere.
Most important however is that those who serve as peer review members should be of different perspectives, even disagreeing about issues wherein legitimate areas of disagreement are permitted (but not disagreeing with anything the Church has yea verily affirmed to be what we are to believe with any theological note above that of "probable"). If Fr. Cekada let Bishop Daniel Dolan glance at it and say "looks fine to me" that does not qualify. Would that some several others including myself had a chance to review it before publication for then we could have spared Father a significant amount of embarrassment.
I would have been content to address this thing quietly, discreetly, but as it is now already published and out in the open, and furthermore already causing quite some significant harm to the Body of Christ I am obliged to address it in public. Father's writings carry great weight among Catholics today, if only because it is he who wrote them, and many Catholics, feeling that they should have been able to trust him, have engaged in openly schismatic and uncharitable actions. This must not be permitted to continue. Far be it from me to have to debate one who is so much my superior in theological knowledge and training, but someone has to do it, and as it happens, the fallacies of his argument are quite easy to see, even for a rank amateur like me. So now, what is wrong with his thesis? Once we identify this, the rest of his whole article falls apart.
He starts by pointing out that many of the laity seem to assume that as laity they are merely passive recipients of the sacraments, so of what concern is it if the priest mentions some non-pope as pope, or for that matter has any other problem in his personal life? That the laity should be so ignorant and must be set straight about it is a correct and valid concern, so far so good. He then points out that one's presence at the Mass implies a far greater level of participation than that, through various means appropriate to the laity, e. g. singing, receiving communion, playing an instrument, following along attentively in the Missal, and so forth, effectively making each member of the attending laity active participants of the Mass, and as such sharers in the guilt of the priest for uniting his prayers and Mass to a fake pope. He then goes on to cite a great many great theologians in support of this.
In trying to talk of this shared guilt for the priest's saying Mass in union with a heretic "pope," already the theologians so quoted are speaking of a more clear and unambiguous situation. As I mentioned above, they are addressing the scenario in which practically the whole Church and world know that "Pope Hokeybus" is a usurper, an impostor, and a heretic. So already some of these great quotes are inapplicable. But others still are and it is a sound and salutary point that the attending laity are indeed participants (appropriate to their level) in the Mass. Still so far, so good, other than the point I just mentioned.
Without quite saying as much, regarding that mistaken assumption made by the laity about their level of participation in the sacraments, he corrects that assumption only in regards to their attendance at the Mass, but leaves in place that same erroneous assumption with regards to all the other sacraments. It is as if (though he doesn't quite say it at this point) attendance at the Mass involves a qualitatively higher level of participation and involvement than reception of any other sacrament. I contest that claim. Reception of ANY sacrament from a priest consists of participation and involvement of the same degree (or actually more, in the case of Marriage wherein the Laity themselves are the Ministers of the Sacrament) as that which attendance at his Mass consists of. If Father's alignment with a false pope makes attendance at his Mass a sin, then it similarly makes reception of absolution or baptism or ANY other sacrament from him similarly a sin. And I invite Father himself to go back and read all these theologians again and see for himself that what they have said in the quotes given regarding the Mass also goes (in other quotes not given) for all other sacraments. (It does.)
This is not a mere accident or oversight on his part. Fr. Cekada is greatly concerned that certain members of his congregation might get tired of traveling 200 miles every Sunday to his Mass when they can instead attend "Monsignor McGeezer's" Motu Mass in their local Novus Ordo "parish." Perhaps some regular parishioners have already left, and others may yet follow. It is an understandable concern. But it does mean that his exploration of this great academic question is not motivated by a love of disinterested research and the quest for knowledge and truth, but rather by a clear and immediate purpose.
Father well knows (and knows that we know) that the Church has always carved out an interesting exception for receiving the Last Rites in immediate danger of death. In particular, at such a point if no more qualified cleric is available, any cleric who meets only the most basic criteria can perform the Last Rites for a dying soul. The only things required are three: 1) The priest must be validly ordained, 2) The priest must be willing and able to perform the Last Rites in accordance with the Catholic Rite for such, and 3) The priest must be willing to do this with the intention of assisting the soul in question in his passage into the next life. That is all. It is all right if he happens to be laicized, a child molester, a convicted felon, a heretic, a schismatic, an apostate, an Old Catholic (so long as the validity of his Holy Orders can be verified), an excommunicate, or even an excommunicate vitandus.
In other words, in a soul's dying moment, the most crucial moment of anyone's lifetime, the time that has made or broken the salvation of many, when saints and devils compete by far most strenuously over a soul, the Church has nevertheless always permitted the soul in that moment to turn to a heretical and schismatic (or worse) priest for the Last Rites. If reception of a schismatic or heretical priest's sacraments were intrinsically evil this could never be permitted even ad extremis, if anything in fact especially ad extremis, since what worse thing could a soul do but even risk turning away from the Faith and Church at the last hour.
But it is even more obvious than that. Look again at the ways the laity participate in the Mass as itemized on page 5. One of them is "by receiving Holy Communion during the Mass." Actually and literally that is not quite correct. If Abbé Fromage-Legrande of the SSPX reserves some consecrated Hosts after his Mass in a pyx and brings them to certain shut-in parishioners of his, and they receive, they are on this basis fully as much participants in his Mass as anyone who was physically present at it. That they will have received Communion after the Mass instead of "during" it is altogether immaterial. (Otherwise, Father would have to say it is all right for sedevacantists to receive Communion from una cum priests who bring them Communion after the Mass.)
So now suppose SSPX Abbé Fromage-Legrande goes to give the Last Rites to a dying sedevacantist. In the course of the Last Rites, the recipient will receive three sacraments: Confession (absolution), Extreme Unction, and the Viaticum, which is Holy Communion. Let's look at each of these in turn. One cannot be a passive recipient of absolution (unless they are unconscious, and even then it is counted the same, dogmatically speaking), for one must confess their sins and also recite certain prayers in response to the actions of the priest hearing his confession (the Act of Contrition, a few other scripted responses the penitent is expected to say, plus any prayer(s) the priest may impose as a penance). I don't see how that could be described as anything but active participation. In Extreme Unction there are again certain prayers and certain responses, and the saying of "Amen" by the recipient. And the Viaticum is simply Holy Communion. Now unless the Abbé stole that Consecrated Host he used for Viaticum from someone else, he consecrated it himself at his Mass said in union with Benedict XVI (or whoever), and by receiving it the dying soul becomes an active participant in that Mass.
These actions are "official" and "public" because the Church does them officially, registering such actions in a permanent record, and openly and exteriorly, for that is what being a Visible Church is all about. And of course every Sacrament requires an exterior sign, the sacramentum tantum of the sacrament itself, again making it "official" and "public." And they are all "worship" since they are done in adoration of and service to the one True God. So there are indeed substantial reasons to affirm (with the mind of the Church) that the reception of any sacrament involves a unity of prayer and active participation fully as much as does assistance at the holy Mass.
And the Church HAS always permitted recourse to excommunicated clerics (whether due to heresy, schism, or something else, and whether excommunicated by name or not) for "the sacraments" (all of them, including the Mass) under certain carefully defined circumstances. Ergo the fact of one's active participation at the Mass is no reason of itself to affect the rightness of attending it when the circumstances warrant. On Page 16, in a mere response to some supposed "objection" (poorly stated; I am sure that the advocates of this objection would be far more articulate than portrayed here), we begin to approach the nearest thing to a formal statement of his unique thesis: "(1) The appeal to canon 2261 (made in good faith, no doubt) is in fact an apples-and-oranges argument. None of the arguments I have adduced against assisting at an una cum Mass are based on the notion that the clergy who offer it have incurred the ecclesiastical censure of excommunication."
Well excuse me, but it seems to me that ecclesiastical censure and excommunication is precisely what we are talking about here. If the heinous crimes of heresy and schism do not merit excommunication, then what is the big deal here? For every mortal sin is a kind of "excommunication," in a manner of speaking. If a pregnant teenager allows herself to be pressured into getting an abortion, that constitutes an "excommunication," albeit of the mildest kind. Is he intending to say that a priest who knowingly and willfully said Mass in union with a man he knows to be a heretic and not a pope has not sinned mortally nor excommunicated himself? That being the case, how can it possibly be said that those who attend his Mass are all excommunicated, or even sinning mortally, while he himself is not?
And now the formal statement itself:
"(2) Canon 2261, in any case, treats exclusively of the reception of a sacrament. It is indeed sometimes permissible to receive a sacrament (e.g., penance) not only from a priest who is an excommunicate, but also, under certain restricted conditions, even from a heretic or a schismatic. (3) The issue of the reception of a sacrament, however, is distinct from the one I have addressed above: active participation in common public worship, specifically, the Mass."
And here again is the problem. The reception of a sacrament is fully as much an active participation in common publish worship as is attendance at the Mass. Notice that Father does not cite any authorities and theologians for this extraordinary new distinction he has invented, for there are none who can be thus cited. He simply treats it as "proved" (And where precisely did that ever happen? Nowhere!) and goes on.
Furthermore, if attendance at Mass were to be set apart from all other sacraments as being not the lawful permission granted by Canon 2261, how is it that so important an exception is in no way hinted at in the Canon itself, for it reads (in full):
"§ 1. One excommunicated is prohibited from confecting and administering licitly the Sacraments and Sacramentals, except for the exceptions that follow.
§ 2. The faithful, with due regard for the prescription of § 3, can for any just cause seek the Sacraments and Sacramentals from one excommunicated, especially if other ministers are lacking, and then the one who is excommunicate and approached can administer these and is under no obligation of inquiring the reasons from the one requesting.
§ 3. But from a banned excommunicate and from others excommunicated after a condemnatory or declaratory sentence has come, only the faithful in danger of death can ask for sacramental absolution according to the norm of Canon 882 and 2252 and even, if other ministers are lacking, other Sacraments and Sacramentals."
And by the way, Canons 882 and 2252 change nothing to the point here. 882 obligates any cleric to provide to the faithful what is needed when requested, and 2252 specifies that even serious excommunications reserves to a bishop, or even to the Holy See itself (e. g. that incurred if a priest violates the seal of the confessional by blabbing to others what he heard there) can be absolved by any valid cleric, even an illegitimate and excommunicated one, at the moment of death, but that more is required afterwards if the person does not die after all.
Without even having to look it up I can tell you right now that not even the ten volume Canon Law Digest, in addressing this Canon, has anything to say about distinguishing the Mass from the other sacraments in terms of what is or is not licit to receive (participate in) from the excommunicate cleric, or for the cleric himself to administer lawfully if the faithful request it. [Annotation: Since writing that sentence, I have since procured the relevant volume of the Canon Law Digest and my guess was correct in that what few and limited comments it had about this Canon contained nothing about setting apart the Mass.] The whole idea of this distinction is purely Fr. Cekada's invention, and it is for him to try to prove from scratch, and also to explain away all the many times that various theologians, canonists, and moralists have discussed the various issues associated with the principle expressed in this Canon without ever once even thinking of setting apart the Mass as distinct from receiving any other sacrament from them. Father will have to claim that none of them ever thought of that (it would take a pretty exhaustive search to prove that), and if by any chance any of them did think of the question, I am quite certain that Father would find his thesis explicitly contradicted. Now we can turn to the remainder of the article. Unfortunately it contains other errors.
On page 2 we are given four possible interpretations of the una cum phrase said in the Mass. The last one pertains to praying FOR the man, rather than WITH him. He rejects the acceptability of that one on the claim that Benedict XVI is outside the Church, and only a person inside the Church can be prayed for at this point. After all, the man IS a heretic, right? But Fr. Cekada knows better than this. There is a distinction between formal and material heresy which he has consistently ignored throughout his article. How can he have forgotten this?
Material heresy, especially when imposed and promulgated through every official organ at one's disposal, and especially over a protracted period of time with persistence and repetition, is clearly enough to establish positively that the man so doing is not a Roman Catholic Pope (Successor of Peter). For if it were possible for a true pope to do that then the doctrine of Papal Infallibility would have no meaning, no force, either of Law, or of Divine Intervention. In short, the doctrine would be false. However the situation of a man so teaching material heresy is NOT enough to prove that he is outside the Church. For that, the man must be guilty of formal heresy. No matter how unlikely it is in all probability, one must concede that formal heresy on the part of Benedict XVI has never been proven, only suspected or surmised. It is just possible that he really might be so deceived, so misled, so confused, so addled and befuddled as to really believe that his material heresies are consistent with Catholic doctrine. As such, it cannot be forbidden to believe the best of him in all charity and pray FOR him as a member of the Church, and as a famulus (see Page 3) (and also as Head of State, in his purely secular capacity of material ruler of Vatican City, see footnote 49, page 10).
As to the other three meanings, the above actually applies here too. But also by my observation, those SSPX and "independent" and "Motu" priests who happen to be valid and say the true Catholic Mass una cum do not unite with the man's errors. They unite with what the man, as commonly perceived and nominally would seem to represent, however poorly in practice, the office of the papacy itself. Think of the Church uniting its Masses with the wicked and corrupt Alexander VI. Those priests who named him in Mass were not uniting themselves (nor their congregations) to his murders, his adulteries, his nepotism, and what not, but to what he nominally represented, namely the papacy which he received by virtue of a lawful and unchallenged election thereto.
Picture the following scenario. Faithful Fr. Smith way out in Unga Bunga prays in union with his Pope Paschal III. What he doesn't know is that Pope Paschal III just had himself baptized into the Mormon Church (That's what a real papal resignation by heresy would look like, by the bye, nothing so subtle and sneaky and invisible as many sedevacantists claim). Clearly, Paschal III is no longer a pope, not even a Catholic, and now in many ways a heretic, believing all the unusual teachings of the Mormon Church. But Fr. Smith has heard nothing of this. Or even if someone has told him, it all just sounds so incredible that he cannot bring himself to believe it. Either way, he decides to continue saying his Masses una cum "Pope" Paschal III. Does that make him and his congregation Mormons? By Fr. Cekada's reasoning it would, even though not a single Mormon doctrine is being taught there.
"More than that, however, the laymen who actively assist at the traditional Mass through one of the methods we have described above do not simply approve of what the priest does at the altar; they actually join with him in offering it."
And what exactly is the priest doing? Saying the authentic Catholic Mass. He is not teaching the errors of Vatican II, he is not teaching ecumenism or religious liberty or modernism or what not. In fact, if anything he is decrying all the modernism and heresy that has been going around. Since when is that wrong? In what does a Catholic attending his traditional Tridentine Catholic Mass "deny the Faith exteriorly - whether expressly or tacitly, whether by word sign or deed (e. g. silence) - or to profess or to simulate a false faith"? I don't see it, and neither should anyone else.
If he attended a Novus Ordo, and participated as they direct, then that would be different. For there you have a patently non-Catholic ceremony taking place, intrinsically not in communion with the Church, and participating there would indeed be formal and public approval of error. OK, I admit that the una cum-saying priest is wrong. He thinks Benedict XVI is a pope, but then again, there are people who think the earth is flat. Does that make him or them heretics, let alone member of his congregation? Again, I don't see it, and neither should anyone else.
"In the case of the Mass, moreover, their prayers have no efficacy, because they do not offer it in the person of the Church." (Page 12)
"As regards depriving yourself of the graces of the Mass, I will be blunt: there are none to be had for you at a Mass where you actively and knowingly participate in a sacrilegious lie." (Page 17)
Then how does one explain the rich and abundant flow of Divine Graces found at just any typical SSPX or "independent" chapel, and even some "Motu" sites? One has but to visit the chapel and get to know the people and see the work of God in their lives to know that God has smiled upon them despite their priest's mistake. Obviously, there is more to the story as to what is really going on, the true state of the Church today, and treating the sedevacantist finding as though it were some sort of keystone and central article of the Faith instead of some mere material fact of relatively minor importance (as it in fact is, in comparison to all the great truths enunciated in the Church's holy Creeds) is clearly not a valid approach.
And about the SSPX, I notice that Father was unable to rise above taking a side dig at them which contributes nothing of value to his piece and only goes to show that he has utterly forgotten what it was to be once a "card-carrying" member priest of the SSPX, or else still carrying a grudge for being expulsed from it. He cites four "points" on page 13, "forgetting" that once upon a time he himself knew better. Regarding each of these points, 1) it was not the SSPX that withdrew its communion from the Vatican, but the Vatican that schismatically withdrew its communion from the SSPX (and in the corporate "person" of the SSPX, from the Church as well), 2) all obstinacy and rebellion has been on the side of the Vatican who persist in schismatically separating themselves from the Church, not only in the SSPX but many other traditional Catholics as well, and none at all on the side of the SSPX, indeed some are concerned that the SSPX, and especially Bishop Bernard Fellay their Superior General, might not be firm enough in standing against the errors of today's Vatican, 3) It is the Church that set up the SSPX and all of its ministries, for the SSPX has acted in the Church's name and with the Church's authority, so they have every right and duty to be doing what the Church has always been doing from the very beginning (as do the sedevacantist orders and "independent" clergy), 4) this is the one area where the SSPX errs, and as I stated above this is a mere material error, on par with believing that the earth is flat, not heresy nor schism.
The first objection dealt with certain events and documents issued at the time of the First Great Western Schism. (Pages 14 and 15) Without getting into the more technical details regarding Ad Evitanda, a more basic discussion of the period is warranted here. For several decades, there were two, then three papal claimants, each with credible claims that were accepted by appreciable portions of the faithful, and their priests and bishops and religious as well. The situation was complex and ambiguous. Great saints were to be found on all sides. Everyone knew that there could only be one pope, and yet the claims for each were sufficient to canonically establish each of them as popes, except for the strange condition of the existence of the other two.
And as now, denunciations and excommunications flew in all directions, each pope excommunicating the others and all who follow them. How dare those other people set up parallel hierarchies and excommunicate us! How dare they deny the true papacy of OUR pope and follow some usurper! And as such truly schismatic denunciations and condemnations and excommunications were worse than useless then, so are they worse than useless now.
In those days, the Church had much more power, and an excommunication meant a lot more than it does today. Back then, one could not even buy a loaf of bread from an excommunicate, nor sell one to him. You couldn't talk with him, meet with him, pray with him, live under the same roof with him, and so forth. So you essentially had three different and separate economies, following the partisan lines of which pope each person followed. In this context, one can see the necessity of such a document as Ad Evitanda. A single pope had been elected and accepted by all three factions, and it was now time to begin healing the wounds.
At last it was being officially recognized that to be "guilty" of association of any kind to those who were not of one's own faction is indeed not to be guilty of anything at all, though of course anyone guilty of other things would still be guilty of those other things. So it must be today when we again have an ambiguous and complicated situation, and where serious, sober, intelligent, devout, and pious experts and leaders of all sorts disagree with each other, taking significantly different sides of the questions that divide the Visible Body of Christ today. Despite all the unconstructive negativity going on back then, the three factions still somehow found it in themselves to come together and resolve their problem and elect a single pope.
If Father Cekada's policies given in his article were to be followed back then, each faction would have to say that all cardinals of the other two factions are illegitimate, along with all bishops, priests, religious, and lay faithful, and the three-way split would have had to remain a three-way split or even perhaps split in more ways, and so it would have been clear to this day.
Father makes a big song and dance about putting "truth" first, even ahead of charity. It is easy to imagine what sort of person would result from following this type of advice. Imagine someone who knows everybody’s faults and does not hesitate to announce them to anyone, even to their face. And I allow that the faults he sees in others are all "true," that is they really do possess the faults this person accuses them of having. So in his obsession for truth over and against all charity he can say to anyone he meets, "You are flawed, for you have this problem and that problem and so forth (enumerating all faults whatever they may be), and so therefore I will have nothing to do with you." The Church was not built by perfectionists and it is not going to be rebuilt by perfectionists either.
Regarding a second objection to the effect that Benedict XVI (or the priest who names him as pope in the Canon of the Mass) has never been declared a heretic, Father writes "The various Vatican pronouncements quoted above, moreover, made no distinction between "declared" and "undeclared" heretics." Correct, but unimportant. The various Vatican pronouncements quoted "above" aren't even concerned with "'undeclared' heretics" at all, only declared heretics, whether declared by the Church (whether by excommunication or by other censure, and if in the former, whether the excommunication is vitandus or not), or by themselves in publicly renouncing the Church or announcing their membership in some other church (think of a man taking the British Coronation Oath declaring himself to be "a faithful Protestant," or my example above of Pope Paschal III being baptized into the Mormon Church, or even dear old "Methodist" Uncle Wesley…).
The remaining objections are either irrelevant or covered above. What all of this really gets down to is the real issue. What exactly does it mean to be a sedevacantist, in today's ecclesial circumstance? If I may be so bold as to venture a guess as to what it means to Fr. to be a sedevacantist, from what I have seen (there is nothing in all his writings that I have seen to contradict this impression I have, so listen-up Father, if I see you and nearly all other sedevacantists cleric and lay to be this way, then it stands to reason that others do too), it appears to be the following chain of reasoning:
"Papal infallibility only means that if a pope teaches an error or heresy, the Church is excused from following him, and indeed from counting him as pope. So, if this happens the Church is just supposed to say 'Oops, the pope said a heresy, so that means he is not pope anymore, so now we are all just supposed to carry on from now on without one, and woe to those who refuse to recognize the truth of our reasoning.'"
Have I missed anything?
Imagine going to medical school and taking a class in Human Anatomy. The class has been presented with the cadaver of someone who in his will signed his body over to science and medical advance and training. But the professor has a peculiar obsession. It seems that the man whose body is the cadaver died of a heart attack. The professor goes on and on about the heart attack. And he can go on and on about it excruciating detail as to precisely what pile of guck got stuck in which artery, where it had been up until the moment of its movement to the place that caused the heart attack, what it was made of, what the man had been eating and where it was all grown and processed and how it was cooked, and so forth, all well and good and true so far as that goes. But by the end of the semester, absolutely nothing has been said of the cadaver's lungs, spleen, stomach, liver, kidneys, eyes, muscles, intestines, or even how many chambers his heart had. One does not emerge from such a class with the faintest idea how a normal and healthy human body functions.
From what I have seen, the typical sedevacantist's knowledge, or at least presentation, of ecclesiology, follows the lines of this peculiar professor's Human Anatomy course all too closely. Whole amounts of standard ecclesiology are just ignored, disparaged, denied or even just thrown out the window in order to focus on just one single issue. I find it interesting that everyone from the most watered-down conciliarist to the most extreme sedevacantist, (and apparently almost everyone in between) all equally seem unable to integrate what I call the "sedevacantist finding" into a cohesive understanding of the doctrines of ecclesiology as they would apply today.
The conciliarist just sees the sedevacantist finding as some sort of wild data point which does not seem to fit within their understanding of ecclesiology and therefore reject it as though it were mere bad data to be ignored, like a bad pixel on a computer screen that just doesn't light up. "It just can't be true," and so therefore it isn't. "I just can't believe that Pope Paschal III would actually have himself baptized by the Mormons." Or even, "I just can't bring myself to throw out all ecclesiology and from now on replace it with conspiracy theories, and end-of-the-world speculations."
The sedevacantist just focuses on his one great finding and evolves a whole new "ecclesiology" based on it, consisting of all manner of end time prophecies, conspiracy theories, political shenanigans, secret and undocumented successions (e. g. Siri), and what not. What a dead end! No wonder so few Catholics want to be sedevacantists. And now with articles like Fr.'s on record there is just all the more reason for people not to become sedevacantists. Just look at what bitter, disgruntled, and downright mean persons people become when they are sedevacantists!
Christmas day, my family and I had the blessing of attending Mass with a truly venerable and holy "independent" priest, who as it happens, is not a sedevacantist. This priest (who shall remain nameless, unless he himself tells me he wishes otherwise) was ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, served in the SSPX for some number of years, but then ceased that affiliation and has been an "independent" priest ever since. I had known of him for years, and had some idea of his story, but I asked him about his departure from the SSPX. I noted that I had not heard that he had become an Indultarian…
…did not sign up with the Fraternity of Peter or suchlike…
"Oh, that. No, I didn't."
…and also noted that. I had not heard that he had become a sedevacantist…
"Oh goodness NO, thank God!"
…and at that I recoiled within myself. "Whoa!"
What had been his reason for such an extreme attitude? Not that I would require him to become a sedevacantist, but couldn't he at least be a bit more respectful about those who are? With considerable trepidation I asked him about his opinion of the sedevacantists. He was happy to express himself and I hope my spreading here of what he said then would be a further expression of his. He said that he once had a number of parishioners who were sedevacantists. They were among the most devout, pious, and even generous parishioners a priest could ever wish for. But then one day they turned on him, left, and proceeded to make life difficult for him in ways he seemed uninterested in detailing.
At the time, I was as yet unaware of Father's article, and I then assumed that this priest was referring to some past event. I could picture it easily (and did picture it thus within my mind at the time): He decides to make his departure from the SSPX and become an "independent." Some sedevacantist parishioners of his, now realizing that he will no longer be bound to follow the SSPX party line, hope that he might now announce his sedevacantism. Instead, he disappoints them, for he believes no such thing, and so they then turn on him. It struck me as odd however that his anger should be so hot and fresh after all these years. He really didn't strike me as the sort to hold a grudge, and especially over such a long period of time.
A few days later I learned of Father Cekada's essay, and only later still did it dawn on me that what must have happened is that this ungraceful departure of the sedevacantist parishioners of his was not some "years ago" event nor slow trickle over the years, but something that had happened within the past month or so before my visit to him and his parish, and that would explain the freshness of his anger. I can see it now. Up until this time the sedevacantist parishioners had gratefully attended his una cum Masses and supported his parish generously with their time and money. Then they read Father Cekada's article and not only withdrew from the parish, but also did all in their power to discourage others from attending, no doubt by disseminating copies of the article, and perhaps by other means as well.
No wonder his anger. I share it. And picture this terrible scene repeated in many traditional chapels all around the world. Does Fr. Cekada have any idea the terrible damage his article has worked? Some of these parishioners no longer have Mass where there is no good reason for them not to. And in the meantime they have been maneuvered into doing such a horrible thing. If any should later return to this priest in contrition, may he be blessed greatly for forgiving so great a crime against him and receiving them back.
We Catholics need to sit down together and sort out the present situation. We need to find and all come to understand that way that the "sedevacantist finding" indeed fits within a proper ecclesiology, once the true nature of the present situation can be discovered. Instead, Fr. just hurls a giant stink bomb over the wall, impeding the very chances of this ever happening, and squandering his own significant talent on spreading hate and schism instead of turning to this great question. It is established that Benedict XVI is no actual Catholic pope, and that the organization he leads is not the Roman Catholic Church. Where IS that Church today? It is not enough to say that scattered private individuals are that Church. Where is it legally, canonically, visibly, hierarchically? That too must exist today for such could never rise from mere scattered private individuals, and if indeed it were truly gone, then God’s promises truly have proved to be null and void. Therefore it does stand to reason that it does exist. The Barque of Peter has not gone down, for it cannot.
Let Father Cekada instead seek this visible Church, hiding, as it were, right under his own nose, and let him trace the history of where and how, legally, visibly, and canonically, the true Church and the Vatican came to be separated from each other. Once he has done that, only then will he know, and only then will he be competent to speak on these issues with the authority he rightly bears as one of the Church’s greatest living theologians and as a lawful and duly-appointed priest of Holy Mother Church. And once he does this I am confident that he will gladly renounce the "follow me or die" malosophy of his recent article.
Some suppose that Peter and Paul will just come out of the sky one day and restart the Church. But that wouldn’t be enough. Who would believe them, even if they did so arrive? Jesus Christ Himself must come again. Are we so anxious to force Jesus Christ to have to come and be crucified again, just so we can all watch something all that dramatic and miraculous happen? Have we no fear of God? "Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test."
The question of the "sedevacantist finding" and how it is to be integrated into a full and orthodox ecclesiology is something that very few sedevacantists seem to have faced. And clearly Fr. Cekada himself has never faced this. Perhaps he (and the others) all fear that studying ecclesiology as a whole might point them to the Vatican institution as though it still had some claim to being the visible and/or institutional Church today. And there is no warrant for any such fear. A valid and careful and fully orthodox ecclesiology does not point there at all, so there is no need to fear. Instead of fleeing this science we should embrace it, for then we will far better understand what is happening, and at last be able to move forward corporately and visibly as the true Church we traditional Catholics all truly are.
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