Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

She Confronted the Pope About the Latin Mass

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Was she the cause of the 1984 Indult?

At OnePeterFive we promote what we term the “godfathers of Tradition” – those men and women who fought for the ancient Roman Rite and the Faith since the Iconoclastic revolution of the 1960s. As younger generations provide fresh energy to the Trad movement, it is not only an obligation of justice and piety to give our Trad godparents their due, but it is also a spiritual necessity in the new period of iconoclasm which was inaugurated by Traditionis Custodes.

The figures of Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand loom large in the history of the Trad movement not only in these United States, but also in Europe. Dietrich von Hildebrand, among of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century according to Joseph Ratzinger (and, apparently, Pius XII), was the founder of an important Traditionalist institution, The Roman Forum, which still holds their summer symposium every year in Gardone, Italy. We have published some of these lectures here at OnePeterFive, and we will be publishing more in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.

Dietrich von Hildebrand died in 1977. Shortly after this his widow, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, made one of her own first great acts for the traditionalist movement: confronting St. John Paul II about the Latin Mass. She writes about this in the new text from the Hildebrand Project, Remnant of Paradise: Selected Essays:

In 1980, I was granted the extraordinary privilege of a private audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II. Knowing that John Paul had a great admiration for my late husband, I dared make the request. It was granted so fast, I could hardly believe it.[1]

After she entered into the presence of the Vicar of Christ, she began the audience by numbering a few things on her mind – she thanked him for his audience, his acts against Küng, and lamented the state of Catholic seminaries. “His Holiness listened carefully and seemed to express his approval,” she remembers.

The thing that struck me most was his presence. I truly had the impression that this man—who carried the whole burden of the Church on his shoulders—was giving me his full attention and could have repeated back my every word. He was fully there, as if my modest message mattered to him.

This accords with the testimony of many different voices, including Bishop Schneider[2] in Christus Vincit that, despite faults of various kinds in the person and papacy of Karol Wojtyła, he was indeed a man of great holiness and prayer, a “Pope for All Seasons.” To his great credit Papa Wojtyła, despite being firmly in the zealous camp of Communio, having led a Catholic revival against Communism as bishop of Kraków in the name of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo,[3] opened his ear to the most controversial comment from the humble yet bold widow:

My main concern, however, was the fact that the Tridentine Mass had been prohibited. Indeed, some bishops declared that if a person attended the so-called Old Mass on Sunday, he would not thereby fulfill his Sunday obligations. I introduced the question as follows: “Your Holiness, in the last years of his life, my husband was much concerned about an ethical question, namely, whether it is ever legitimate to prohibit a holy tradition. Should not formal prohibitions be limited to what is evil or harmful? The Tridentine Mass has been a precious heritage for centuries, said by all priests until a few years ago. One thing was to introduce a new, valid liturgy, quite another was to prohibit one that all the fathers of Vatican II had prayed during the council.” The pope was silent for a brief moment, and then say, “Your husband is no doubt one of the very great ethical thinkers of the twentieth century.” I knew that the pope would consider this seriously. Soon afterwards he gave the indult [of 1984].

It is unclear how much this indult was a direct result of Alice von Hildebrand’s intervention, or was more due to the influence of the then-newly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, or both. In any event, the pious boldness of this great Trad godmother, Alice von Hildebrand, should be remembered and praised in the history of our movement, along with all the other contributions of the Hildebrands. Alice von Hildebrand’s action was imitated by the French Trad godmothers who confronted Pope Francis in a similar, yet grander way, as depicted in Mass of the Ages, episode III.

It was because of our Trad godfathers fighting for the Roman Rite and the Faith in darker times than these, that the Trad movement is what it is today. Let us honour our Trad godfathers and godmothers. Thank God for them, and may we imitate our French Trad godmothers who themselves imitated the godmothers who came before them. This is the Marian element in the Trad movement, without which our cause will fail.

[1] Alice Von Hildebrand, Remnant of Paradise: Selected Essays (Hildebrand Project, 2023), 85ff.

[2] Athanasius Schneider, Christus Vincit (Angelico Press, 2019), 37.

[3] On Wojtyła’s fight against Nazism and Communism before and after Vatican II, see T. S. Flanders, City of God vs. City of Man (Our Lady of Victory Press, 2021), 397, 400, 416-417, 421-423, 447-451.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...