Pope St. Pius X foresaw it. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen saw the signs of its imminent arrival. Michael Davies experienced it and documented its early attacks on the liturgy. Ross Douthat has chronicled its continued progress. Elizabeth Yore has put it into global context.
Put on it whatever label you want, but the fact of it is undeniable. “It” is the destruction of the institutional Roman Catholic Church from within, now proclaimed by the current papacy. If you doubt that this is the case, you have only to view the video that was projected onto the façade of the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, at the conclusion of the Synod on the Youth, which depicted the crumbling of that church and, by extension, of the whole institutional Church.
How could this have happened? The successors of St. Peter were endowed with unerring authority by Christ to lead and govern his Church. Most answers come back to something like “diabolical infiltration.” Really? So the gates of Hell have prevailed, despite the promise made by Jesus Christ himself? Has the latest successor of Peter been sifted and found destined for the fire? Are all faithful Catholics now obliged to follow him to their ultimate destruction?
The sedevacantists have an attractive answer: Satan has not prevailed. Francis is not the pope. There has not been a valid pope since 1958 with the death of Pope Pius XII. Thus, Francis may be safely ignored. With this argument, they bludgeon those who hold that Pope Francis is the valid pope, but his manifest errors can and must be resisted.
Personally, I do not find compelling the notion that the Barque of Peter has been steering itself for 60 years with no captain. It is difficult even for a loyal crew to stay on course without a captain when the wind shifts or a pirate vessel approaches. And, as Dr. Peter Kwasniewski has recently asked, how will we know the authority of the new captain if and when he takes command?
Equally unappealing is the notion that the passengers and crew of the Barque of Peter must obey without questioning when the captain gives orders to steer for the rocks. I never thought of myself as a mutineer, with all of the attendant consequences of being one. Yet must I participate in the mutiny in order to be saved?
This debacle has been decades, if not centuries, in the making. My generation has no time to figure out how it happened in spite of the Church’s divine protection, nor what the true state of affairs in the papacy has been for the last 60 years. We will not live to see the restoration of the Church as we once knew it. All we can do is live the faith that is ingrained in us. Leave the present conundrum for scholars and theologians to solve. For us, the only thing that matters is to prepare for our own particular judgment as best we can.
My strategy starts with Mass and the sacraments. With the Mass and the sacraments, particularly Holy Eucharist, Confession, and Extreme Unction, we have the best chance of achieving Heaven and avoiding Hell. But it gets tricky right off the bat. Because to avail ourselves of these means of grace, we need priests. Validly ordained priests. Priests who understand and believe what it means to be an authentic Catholic priest.
Are Novus Ordo diocesan priests validly ordained? Are SSPX priests validly ordained? Are FSSP priests validly ordained? Does being in communion with the Holy See validate or invalidate a priest’s orders? You can find sincere, well reasoned, and well supported arguments on both sides of these questions. But that’s the problem: they are arguments. I have read the arguments, and, with my darkened intellect, I have assented to some and rejected others.
A diocesan priest of the Novus Ordo, a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter – all, I believe, are validly ordained. I do not have the means (or time) to vet the orders of each individual priest. So if they are wearing a Roman collar, that’s a start on determining whether they are what I regard as an authentic Catholic priest.
The next step is not so easy. I must find out if a particular priest truly believes in the Real Presence and understands that the Mass is a sacrifice. At one time, this would have been taken for granted. Now we are learning that two generations of priests were malformed in their seminaries. Ordination is not sufficient assurance, therefore, that this is an authentic Catholic priest. This is why I have the temerity to judge for myself.
I know one of those malformed priests. We went to school together. He became a diocesan priest. I have attended some of his Masses. He believes that the Missal – and I am talking about the new Missal – contains only suggested words and actions. Say the black and do the red! I silently scream. I left his Masses wondering if I had really fulfilled my Sunday obligation.
Then a trusted person told me that this priest has even attempted to consecrate coffee and doughnuts. Was he absent from seminary the day they covered matter and form? I can safely conclude that Father Freelance and priests like him do not meet my criteria.
Michael Voris refers to the post-Vatican II church as the “Church of Nice.” I call it the “Church of Nothing Special.” That church understands that the biggest impediment to universal membership is belief in the divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and His Real Presence on the altar. And so the Eucharist is a “symbol” and the Mass is a “meal.” Priests who view the Eucharist and the Mass this way do not meet my criteria.
Priests like these can be of no help to me because I am sure that their liturgical innovations and doctrinal misconceptions mirror their similarly distorted moral views. I do not need or want their accompaniment on this final leg of my journey. Do not join me on my path; show me instead the better path.
So I use a priest’s liturgical style, his comportment during Mass, and the content of his homilies as outward signs of his inward beliefs. (This applies especially to Novus Ordo diocesan priests.) Does he reverently say the words of consecration without additions, subtractions, or changes? Does he bow? Does he elevate the host and chalice? Does he genuflect? Does he reverently consume the Body and Blood of Christ? Does he remind the congregation that only those in the state of grace may approach for Communion? Does he preach on theological matters? Does he preach on life, death, Heaven, and Hell? Is this the priest I would want my family to call when it comes time for my own last anointing?
If the answers are “yes,” I have probably found a fantastic priest.
Fortunately, there are some shortcuts for identifying a fantastic priest. A priest who can and does offer Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal is almost guaranteed to believe in the Real Presence and the Mass as sacrifice. So I look for a priest who wears a biretta. It is the ultimate in virtue-signaling.
Raymond Kowalski is from Rochester, New York. He is a product of parochial elementary schools and The Aquinas Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University and a law degree from The George Washington University. After a forty-year career in communications law, he is retired and living with his wife in Gainesville, Virginia. They are the parents of three and grandparents of five.