A teacher is taking his class on a tour of a grand art gallery. The students are fluttering with excitement at the chance to view some of the world’s most cherished pieces. As they pass through security, the voice of their teacher halts them from advancing further.
“Ok, everyone needs to stay with me. No exceptions! I can’t trust you here alone. Now, we’re going to go over to a painting on loan to the gallery: Dali’s The Persistence of Memory.”
The students oblige. They are quite familiar with Salvador Dali’s work, and are curious to see the impression it has on them.
After a good while of staring at the painting, the students begin to grow restless. One of them pipes up, “Teacher? Can we please, perhaps, move on? We would like to check out the works by Michelangelo and Fra Angelico.”
“Why?” snaps the teacher, aggravated to his core by the student’s question. “What’s wrong with The Persistence of Memory?”
“Well, it’s nice and all,” adds another pupil, “but the longer we look at it, the more we notice the melting clocks, ants, and hidden monster. It’s just… not impressing us like we thought it might.”
“How dare you say this! You’re just not understanding its genius!” the teacher shouts in anger.
“No, it’s good. Really,” tries another student, attempting to calm the situation. “We just think that Fra Angelico’s artwork is quite inspiring and…”
“Enough!” the teacher bawls. “We are not going anywhere until every single student here tells me this is the best painting in the art gallery! Do you hear? The best! No other piece will be viewed until this is done. Got it?”
A few students murmur sheepishly that Dali’s work is the best they’ve ever seen. Immediately the teacher, awakening some inner trust, gives these favored students permission to browse the rest of the gallery.
A loud crashing noise soon emanates from a nearby exhibit. No doubt one of the select students got carried away with his newfound freedom. The teacher ignores this, and glares at the remaining students. Unsurprisingly, the remnant of pupils cannot bring themselves to vocalize anything but the truth regarding Dali’s work. And so, the surreal standoff continues. The teacher holds the students hostage over The Persistence of Memory. Time slowly droops away. Like a clock melting in the sun.
* * *
I had hoped, perhaps beyond hope, that I was done with writing about Vatican II. The Council happened. It said some things that seem clear. It said some things that are not clear. And, if we are to be honest, it said some things that are downright puzzling.
Despite the disastrous “fruits” in the Catholic Church since Vatican II, I will give the benefit of the doubt and say simply it was a valid pastoral Council which, at least officially, was not intended to change Church doctrine (though Bugnini had other ideas on this). Vatican II was no Michelangelo or Fra Angelico masterpiece; it was more like a surreal portrait of Dali’s melting clocks. Forgive myself and others for wanting to move on to bigger and more beautiful things.
But we are not allowed to move on. How many homilies and articles have I heard in recent years trumpeting the need to embrace this Council. Some have even suggested my eternal salvation depends upon the championing of the Council’s vision. Often these words are said with an attitude of talking down to people like myself, as though I haven’t read the documents numerous times, nor a plethora of books and commentaries on them, nor still written hundreds of pages of university essays examining all aspects of the Council (I say this not to brag, but rather to my shame, for God knows the time wasted). Instead, it is reiterated that I simply do not understand the Council, and that I am needlessly acting as a difficult and entitled child. If everyone could just say, “I love you,” to the Council, all would be well.
Yet I, and many other Catholics, have not said those three little words. And now the consequences have come, thanks to Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes. The traditional Latin Mass (TLM) is to be taken away—or at least an attempt will be made—from those upstart Catholics. Pope Francis says that he is “saddened by an instrumental use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, increasingly characterized by a growing rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council, with the unfounded and unsustainable assertion that it has betrayed Tradition and ‘true Church.’”
In other words, he is warning that one must abandon the traditional Latin Mass in favor of Vatican II, for the Council is, apparently, “the only expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” I’m not sure how this action will help me love Vatican II, but I digress.
One could examine the envy, fear, and malice towards the TLM which caused Pope Francis to write this motu proprio. However, if we simply take the pope on his word, he essentially is punishing traditional Catholics for critiquing, questioning, and raising eyebrows towards Vatican II. Like the teacher in the art gallery, the pope is saying, “Sit here and don’t move until you tell me that Vatican II is the best. Only then are you free to roam.” This is the pope’s way of controlling the fast-spreading virus called the TLM. I call it the Vatican II passport.
What does the Vatican II passport get you? Whatever you want. The German bishops promote heresy daily, yet they are still free to teach, preach, and charge money for sacraments as they please. James Martin, S.J., is the darling at the Vatican right now, despite consistently promoting teachings at odds with the Catholic Church. As for all those monsters at the Vatican busy using their Grindr app, the pope seems in no rush to oust them from their positions. Why? They all have the Vatican II passport.
Now imagine if, say, Fr. James Martin came out tomorrow and publicly questioned why Gaudium et Spes sounds more like an enlightenment manifesto than an official Catholic proclamation. He would learn, within hours, that the Vatican does not build bridges towards such criticisms. But Martin knows better. He does not question Gaudium et Spes (just Catholic morality in general), and so he is a free man. The game is simple: Love Vatican II, and then do what you will.
But what happens if you do not have your Vatican II passport? You become a second-class citizen in need of re-education. Failing that, as we are seeing now, you will lose your holy Mass. You will lose your physical church building. You will lose your priests. You will lose your positions at universities and dioceses. You will lose your rights. You will lose your voice. You will be designated as unsafe to the wider Catholic population, for you will represent disunity. You will be mocked, punished, and sent to the confines of lowly basements and barns and told you are in schism for praying the Mass of Saints Padre Pio, Maximillian Kolbe, and countless others. No Vatican II passport means no active participation in the Church.
I will conclude simply by stating that Pope Francis’ draconian measures issued in Traditionis Custodes argue against themselves. If Vatican II is so necessary, lively, and fruitful, perhaps it would hold up on its own, and bear real fruit. But it does not, and thus it requires bitter enforcement. For now, the message is clear: Stop ignoring the Council. Get your Vatican II passport, or face the consequences. Do so before it is too late. The clock is melting away into a languid and blithering existence. Time is fading.
Or at least it is for Pope Francis.
[Image: The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí]
Dan Millette is a husband and father of four. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.