Over at The Week, my friend (and very occasional contributor to 1P5) Michael Dougherty offers one of the best explanations I’ve seen about what we’re facing and why we’re facing it. But first, he swings for the fences:
In the next three weeks, I fully expect the leadership of my own One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church to fall into apostasy, at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family that begins today in Rome. This is the outcome Pope Francis has shaped over the entirety of his pontificate, and particularly with his recent appointments. An event like this —heresy promulgated by the Pope and his bishops — is believed by most Catholics to be impossible. But they should be prepared for it anyway. This is not an ordinary religious conference, but one to be dreaded.
My prediction is that, after much fixing and machinations by its leaders, the Synod on the Family will declare that the Holy Spirit led them to a new understanding of the truth. The Synod’s leaders will adopt the position that those living in second marriages, irrespective of the status of their first marriage, should be admitted to Holy Communion. This is commonly called the “Kasper proposal” after its author, the German Cardinal Walter Kasper. The Synod will likely leave the details of a “penitential period of reflection” for these souls up to local bishops and parish priests The leading bishops will assure critics that in fact no doctrine has been changed, only a discipline — even if these will make no sense when considered together.
But make no mistake, the Synod will make the sacrilege of the Eucharist St. Paul warns against an official policy of the Roman Catholic Church. And in the process the Synod will encourage the breakup of more marriages.
Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, the fact remains that this dark thought lurks in the minds of many who are watching the Synod. Not knowing how God will allow this and being unsure of the way it will happen does very little to assuage the fears that it will happen. And while Dougherty begins with an uppercut that leaves you reeling, it’s vital to regain your focus and keep slogging. The rest of his analysis is indispensable:
The truth, if the prelates can shoulder it, is that the loss of Catholic faith we are witnessing in the Synod process should have been expected. At the Second Vatican Council and afterward, the church itself contributed to the worst spasm of iconoclasm in the history of Christendom. The past had to be destroyed. The council called for the revision of all the laws that governed the material objects of Catholic worship, from altars to images to tabernacles to baptistries. Shortly afterward the entire Mass — the central act of Catholic worship — was re-written according to shoddy, ideologically motivated scholarship.
Theologians like Karl Rahner substituted new theologies for the Mass that specifically suppressed any understanding of it as a propitiatory sacrifice. Across the world, altars and altar rails were smashed, statues and confessionals thrown in the dump. Thomas Cranmer, a leader of the English Reformation, must have laughed from his grave.
A novice student of religious studies can recognize what happened. If all the physical and verbal aspects of worship are changed, and the very rationale of the act is changed, then you are not reforming a people’s religion, you are substituting a new one in the old one’s place.
This act of substitution is in the language of Rahner’s writing on the Mass, where the priest becomes a mere “presider” — or worse, a “president” — and the church becomes an “assembly.” And so, quite naturally, most Masses in most modern churches have exactly the wan atmosphere of a high school assembly. The church now puts sanctimony in the place of sanctity, therapeutic self-acceptance in the place of holiness, “participation” in the place of devotion, and love of man where once was the love of God. Ultimately, man is substituted for God himself.
The “New Mass” of the Second Vatican Council, in a halting and incomplete way, expresses a completely new theology, one that is nearly the opposite of Catholicism. Instead of Christ dying on the cross to redeem sinners, he dies on the cross because man’s dignity demands that he does so. The recognition of this supreme dignity of man at the Mass is not a sacrifice, but a memorial gathering. And this gathering foreshadows the as-yet-unrealized unity of all men, not the heavenly feast. Thus after the moment of consecration, instead of allowing Catholics a moment to contemplate the mystery of the incarnation and the sacrifice of Calvary, they stand up and nervously shake hands. Because it is not just a new religion, but a banal one.
Kasper’s own writing evinces an entirely untraditional concept of God himself. God does not make the world in which we inhabit. Instead, reality is historically constructed by man and for man. Man discovers the “truth” by opening himself up to an experience of transcendence, and does so progressively throughout history, drawing ever forward to his ultimate historical realization. For all of his fondness for Hegel, Kasper’s theology amounts to a spiritualized Whig view of history. Naturally he concludes that the dogmas of the church must change, since “dogma never settles a theological issue once and for all.”
Some opponents of the Kasper proposal think they are facing a merely incoherent plan to change the discipline of the church. They think that it is a category error, that Kasper and his allies have confused things that are judged in prudence (like whether lay Catholics ought to abstain from meat on Friday) with those that are a logical consequence of unchangeable doctrine and the words of scripture (like the rule that those in mortal sin must abstain from Holy Communion). But it is not a question of discipline. For Kasper and for his confreres, the proposal is an attempt to realize the new religion more fully, the religion that is haltingly expressed not just in the imposition of a “New Mass” after the Second Vatican Council, but also in rite of the New Mass itself — the religion that ceaselessly evolves to accommodate (Western) man’s desires. (emphasis added)
This is the crux of it all. This is why so-called “traditionalist” writers focus so obsessively on liturgy. This is why we repeat the phrase, “Save the liturgy, save the world.” This is why then-Cardinal Ratzinger so famously lamented:
“I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter any more whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us.
“But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual substance?,” he asked.
Too often, Ratzinger lamented, “the community is only celebrating itself without its being worthwhile to do so.”
This is why Bishop Athanasius Schneider made it crystal clear last year that the heart of the crisis we face at the Synod has everything to do with how we worship:
I think this issue of the reception of Holy Communion by the remarried will blow up and show the real crisis in the Church. The real crisis of the Church is anthropocentrism, forgetting the Christocentrism. Indeed, this is the deepest evil, when man or the clergy are putting themselves in the centre when they are celebrating liturgy and when they are changing the revealed truth of God, e.g. concerning the Sixth Commandment and human sexuality.
‘The crisis reveals itself also in the manner in which the Eucharistic Lord is treated. The Eucharist is at the heart of the Church. When the heart is weak, the whole body is weak. So when the practice around the Eucharist is weak, then the heart and the life of the Church is weak. And when people have no more supernatural vision of God in the Eucharist then they will start the worship of man, and then also doctrine will change to the desire of man.
‘This crisis is when we place ourselves, including the priests, at the centre and when God is put in the corner and this is happening also materially. The Blessed Sacrament is sometimes in a cupboard away from the centre and the chair of the priest is in the centre. We have already been in this situation for 40 or 50 years and there is the real danger that God and his Commandments and laws will be put on the side and the human natural desiring in the centre. There is causal connection between the Eucharistic and the doctrinal crisis.
‘Our first duty as human beings is to adore God, not us, but Him. Unfortunately, the liturgical practice of the last 40 years has been very anthropocentric.
‘Participating in liturgy is firstly not about doing things but praying and worshipping, to love God with all your soul. This is true participation, to be united with God in your soul. Exterior participation is not essential.
‘The crisis is really this: we have not put Christ or God at the centre. And Christ is God incarnated. Our problem today is that we put away the incarnation. We have eclipsed it. If God remains in my mind only as an idea, this is Gnostic. In other religions e.g. Jews, Muslims, God is not incarnated. For them, God is in the book, but He is not concrete. Only in Christianity, and really in the Catholic Church, is the incarnation fully realised and this has to be stressed therefore also in every point of the liturgy. God is here and really present. So every detail has meaning.
‘We are living in an un-Christian society, in a new paganism. The temptation today for the clergy is to adapt to the new world to the new paganism, to be collaborationists. We are in a similar situation to the first centuries, when the majority of the society was pagan, and Christianity was discriminated against.’
The differences between the Novus Ordo and the Vetus Ordo are not simply matters of taste; there are fundamental theological and anthropological distinctions between the two forms of the Roman rite. The former is manifestly an anthropocentric endeavor, in its ecumenical aims, in its stripped-down prayers, in its orientation, and in its room for improvisation. Martin Mosebach lamented that while the Mass of Paul VI can be celebrated reverently, it is merely an option. To celebrate the older missal irreverently, one must make an effort to do so – breaking rubrics, rushing hurriedly through the prayers, failing to implement the beauty of sacred music or a properly adorned altar, etc. But the prayers of that liturgy themselves stand as a bulwark against true irreverence. There is no room within the ancient rubrics for a priest to go off on an ad-hoc soliloquy, and the prescription of where he is to stand and what he is to do and the direction he is supposed to face diminishes the possibility of him dominating the sanctuary by his presence. He is forced, whether he likes it or not, to decrease, so that Christ may increase. As one traditional priest of my acquaintance put it, “I am a slave of the liturgy. The Church tells me where to stand, where to place my hands, when to genuflect, when to kiss the altar…I dissappear, and it is Christ’s priesthood working through me.”
My gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI for Summorum Pontificum is real, but I worry that the Hegelian dialectic he established between the venerable Mass of the Ages and the “banal, on the spot product” that is the newer form (his words, not mine) is like “dialoguing” with the Devil. How can we find a compromise between what is sacred and what is profane? Meeting in the middle is, nonetheless, a diminution. We recognize this in the marriage debate, recognizing the absurdity of a “third way” between adultery and marital fidelity, so why are we so blind when it comes to the central act of worship that so deeply informs our approach to the entirety of our Faith?
Christ has been kicked out of the sanctuary in the post-conciliar liturgy to make room for us — often literally, depending upon the architecture of your parish — so why do we expect to find Him given a central place in the sacred union of spouses? We have taught our people that God is a means to our ends, and now we find ourselves confused that this perversion is reaching its logical terminus?
The facts we have to face about the enormous conflict between pre and post-conciliar sacramental and theological milieus are as stunning as the conclusions we’re all having to grapple with about what is happening at the Synod. They seem unthinkable, but it’s time to think it: Catholicism before the Second Vatican Council and Catholicism after are so manifestly different that they very nearly represent two different religions. This is a matter not just of externals, which are of course crucially important, but of beliefs, which take their cue from signs and symbols.
If we change the discipline around marriage in such a way as to give the impression that it is dissoluble, or at least annullable at will, so when we change the discipline of the sacraments we gave the impression that everything we once believed was not so important after all. The disaster that has followed makes clear the success of the latter program, and it is this very sea change in belief that has paved the way for our present moment. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi isn’t just a fun thing to say in Latin. It’s the blueprint for the entire infernal machine.
I don’t know to what degree Dougherty’s prediction will come true; it is clear that we are seeing apostolic apostasy writ large, and that the apostates have been given an unfair advantage by Christ’s own Vicar. I believe in the Church and in her indefectibility; I believe in Christ’s promise that she will not fall. But our understanding of what Our Lord means and the reality of how it will come to pass are often far different. I think often of the apostles, dumbfounded that Jesus actually died and was laid in the tomb. This had long been a stumbling-block for them, and He had only allowed those who had seen Him transfigured to be with Him in His moments of deepest agony, so certain was he of the scandal it would cause to the others. Even in keeping the faith on that first Holy Saturday, they must have been tempted with the worst doubts and fears. Was anything they believed in true? Was it all just a hoax that had come to a horrible end? Poor Thomas couldn’t believe that his Lord was back from the dead until he personally probed the wounds.
We can’t know how God’s plans will unfold, but we must have confidence that they will come to pass in exactly the way He desires. In the mean time, as we re-evaluate the trust we’ve placed in those who hold the highest places of leadership in the Church, we would do well to re-examine the meager fare that they have offered us for the last 50 years. It has not sustained the faith. We are here, in this moment of crisis, not by accident, but by design.
I hope you’ll pray with me for the restoration of the Church and her sacred liturgy according to God’s will and not our own. That may very well mean that things must get worse before they get better. If so, then let us not be sad: the beast must fully reveal itself before it can be put down.
Dougherty asks in his conclusion if these men fear God. The answer is: “Obviously not yet, but soon.”
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.