When Pope Francis released the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, he dropped what Dr. Peter Kwasniewski calls an “atom bomb” on the traditional Latin Mass. Now, as the fallout accumulates and the rubble builds up, Kwasniewski has edited and released From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War, a collection of brilliant, clarifying essays on Francis’s militant act.
“Stunning, sad, weird, baffling, vengeful, and crazy barely begin to describe this situation,” says contributor Michael Brendan Dougherty regarding Traditionis Custodes (84). But in an emergency situation that still leaves the mind reeling, Kwasniewski’s volume offers some much-needed lucidity. While it’s impossible to do justice to these seventy pieces in one short essay, here are six key takeaways from this razor-sharp book.
- We need to be precise about what Pope Francis does and doesn’t say in Traditionis Custodes.
Pope Francis is, as always, very careful about how he words his subversion of tradition. As Kwasniewski notes:
It would be impossible in principle for a pope to abolish the venerable Roman rite, the Mass of Ages. …Francis in this motu proprio never dares to say ‘the rite in force before the liturgical form is abrogated,’ as neither did Paul VI before him. Rather, he abrogates Summorum Pontificum, and attempts to exclude the old Roman rite from being a legitimate lex orandi of the Catholic Faith. This is bizarre, untenable, and ultimately incoherent. The document is full of contradictions and mental fog (90).
Here Kwasniewski stresses the difference between abolishing something in principle and abolishing it in practice. To borrow a favorite formulation from historian Roberto de Mattei, Francis is a man of praxis, concerned chiefly with making things happen in practice. Thus, what matters to the revolutionaries is what Traditionis Custodes effects in reality.
And Traditionis Custodes is, for all its muddled logic, expertly programmed to make the on-the-ground reality hostile to the traditional Latin Mass. As Kwasniewski puts it, the papal text is “designed like a Swiss Army knife to equip bishops with as many ways of inconveniencing or hounding tradition-loving Catholics as possible” (17).
- We are in an elaborately planned game of chess.
As Traditionis Custodes presses inexorably forward and groups such as the FSSP come under increasing pressure, it’s hard not to think of what contributor Christophe Geffroy writes:
[T]he stage is set for a future in which the traditional Mass will be celebrated only by the Society of Pius X and its satellites. The pope’s strategy seems to be to push the resistance toward the Society of St. Pius X so that the whole traditional world concentrates there, where they will be isolated and controlled on their little reservation, cut off from Rome and the dioceses, maintaining just enough connection to avoid formal schism. This explains why the pope is not seeking full reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, but has shown great generosity toward them by recognizing the full validity of their marriages and confessions… (29).
In other words, Pope Francis’s benevolent gestures towards the SSPX make sense if the point all along has been to shunt traditionalists into the society and then “isolate” and “control” them. When I asked fellow Catholics for their thoughts on this theory on Twitter, one prominent account pointed out the incredible amount of “careful planning” required to pull off this papal maneuver.
“They are playing chess,” the user said.
- We are officially in the “zero-sum Church.”
“For the last decade the Francis pontificate has moved back and forth between accelerationism and stalemate,” says Ross Douthat (213). Now, as actors have “become less inclined to play the long game and more inclined to take truly reckless steps,” Pope Francis’s “fear-driven crackdown on the TLM” has pushed “a decadent system toward a crisis” (213-214).
This is an important point. In my book The St. Gallen Mafia, I thematize the tension between, on the one hand, Pope Francis’s preference for acting patiently and, on the other hand, the pressures of some mysterious timer ticking in the background. Now, with Traditionis Custodes, an end game is clearly in play.
- The stakes of this war couldn’t be higher.
“The faction in power right now will do their utmost to suppress the old Mass altogether,” Kwasniewski warns. “It’s worse: they want the extinction of the usus antiquior in entirety—all the sacramental rites, the Breviarium Romanum of Pius X, the Rituale Romanum, the Pontificale Romanum, the whole works” (92).
Ultimately, this all-out war is part of a larger assault on the pre-conciliar past. As George Neumayr searingly puts it: “[Francis’s] decree against the traditional Latin Mass is designed to finish off the pre-conciliar Church” (161).
And as another contributor, Michael Fiedrowicz, says elsewhere, all of this is “frighteningly reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984.”
“Every memory of the past must be erased,” says Fiedrowicz.
- We both do and do not know what happens in this story.
From one perspective, Douthat speaks of the “total uncertainty about what now lies ahead” (177). Regarding the attempted suppression of the old Mass, Douthat notes that Francis’s “authority may not be strong enough to achieve this goal.” Everything from “decentralization” to “the role of the internet as a rallying point against disliked authority” will “make many bishops reluctant to act as Rome’s enforcers and probably allow the old Mass to persist” (178).
Meanwhile, Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson stresses that our situation remains “terribly worrisome” and yet still not hopeless (184). Ultimately, he describes Traditionis Custodes as “a scythe or a winnowing fan, which will further bring to light that good seed” (185).
“At some point the fuming and railing against us and the usus antiquior will subside or stop altogether,” the Archbishop predicts. “It has to, for we have a world to claim for Christ” (185).
- Now is the time for our own long game.
As Kwasniewski writes:
My wife and I decided to commit to a daily Holy Hour at an adoration chapel near our house, to pray for a resolution to this crisis, to pray for all the priests and laity it will affect, for all the bishops and, of course, for the pope. I would urge everyone to take some concrete step, even if it’s as simple as explicitly praying daily in the Rosary for the restoration of tradition to its rightful place. Enroll in the Brown Scapular of Our Lady if you haven’t already done so. Choose a day or days for fasting: Our Lord says some demons are driven out only through prayer and fasting (92).
Ultimately, Kwasniewski reminds us that “this crisis is not likely to clear up quickly” (92-93). In other words, we have to play our own long game—that of counter-revolution, offering up our prayers, works, and sacrifices for the restoration of the Mass we love.