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The Real Custodians of Tradition

Flash back to simpler, happier times. I refer to a time long past, when neighbor talked with neighbor – never discussing letters from the Greek alphabet. A time long past when people breathed air freely – unless the neighbor had a love for garlic. A time long past when it wasn’t illegal for someone like me to have a cup of coffee at a restaurant – curse those Greek letters. I refer to ancient days of November, 2019.

Yes, evil things were brewing around that time at the Vatican, as well as in China. But still, life was its normal everyday dumpster fire, instead of the current raging inferno we now find ourselves living.

It was in November of 2019 that a book by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Christus Vincit, was released. I recall reading it then and thinking how beautiful, and far-fetched, some of it seemed. By beautiful I refer to Schneider’s reference to his Sunday mornings of secret family prayer while living as a child under Communism. By far-fetched I refer to how impossible such a persecution seemed way back in 2019.

I will let Schneider describe his Sunday experience in Kazakhstan:

One of my fondest memories from my childhood were our family prayers on Sundays. I was eight years old in Kyrgyzstan and I remember it very well. On Sundays, we closed all the doors, drew the curtains, and knelt down – my parents with the four children – and we sanctified the day of the Lord because there was no priest, no Mass. We had to sanctify the day of the Lord, so in the morning we prayed the Rosary, a litany, prayers, and then we made our Spiritual Communion, to unite ourselves spiritually with the Mass which was being celebrated in some place at that time, at which we could not assist except in spirit (p. 14).

There was a providential-timing to the release of this book. Just four months after reading it, I found myself, with my wife and four children, kneeling down on a Sunday morning to pray at home. There was no priest willing to open the doors of the church – no Mass to be offered in the presence of a lowly layperson. More than a few times I had Bishop Schneider’s family in mind while praying on those Sunday mornings with my family.

We all know what has happened since. While COVID protocols first shut down many of the public Masses, it is the Catholic Church which now takes this cessation forward against the traditional Latin Mass (TLM). It is as if the Vatican is copying from the COVID-handbook on how to isolate and persecute people of good will. “Great idea,” I imagine Pope Francis saying when considering the TLM. “I will shut down only the traditional Latin Mass. I am the custodian of tradition, and this rigid Mass must die. Especially when I take control of the parish bulletins.” And so, though COVID protocols have lifted in many places, the TLM continues to feel the crushing effects of papal decrees, one diocese at a time.

Far be it from me to offer a correction to a pope – Peter Kwasniewski is much better at that anyway – but I must point out one simple error in the pope’s reasoning. To this, I will describe a typical scene first started during COVID, but continuing to this day:

It is early on a Sunday morning. The cold darkness outside offers stark contrast to the warm and abundant glow of candles inside. The congregation is only our family of six – in our living room. But we make it Mass just the same: chairs, missals, bells, and holy water are made ready. With the ring of a bell, the Asperges begin. There is a haunting, fervent, evocative tone to this ancient chant – I cannot help but recall how it took only one chanted Asperges to first hook me onto the TLM.

Then all kneel, with the exception of a feisty two-year-old who surely takes after his mother. The Judica Me Deus, Confiteor, Introit, and a grand banquet of prayers and readings follow in order, all with their own rhythm, purpose, and blessing.

Finally, it is time for Holy Communion. Of course, Holy Communion is not to be. As Bishop Schneider once experienced, so it is now. A Spiritual Communion is offered, followed by final prayers and a Rosary. With that, another Sunday morning has concluded, save the coffee and doughnuts in the kitchen afterwards.

Yes, this has become a weekly tradition in my home, even in the absence of COVID restrictions on Mass. I bring up our typical Sunday for two reasons:

First, I believe that even though Pope Francis continues to attack the TLM, there is real benefit taken from this Mass, even if one is not physically present. I will be frank. If you think my above explanation of a Sunday morning prayer session was some nostalgic and heavily-romanticized attempt at putting on a show, you are mistaken. Very mistaken, in fact. When we pray, we will have a two-year-old crying, a five-year-old flopping on the floor because “everything” is so emotional, a seven-year-old staring blankly as his mind is in outer space, and a ten-year-old fiercely whispering at them all to pay attention “or else.” We are anything but that perfect little Catholic family.

Yet somehow – and I truly do not understand this – somehow, they all learn their chants and prayers, sit or kneel quietly when needed, and even offer up a heartfelt prayer from time to time. More to the point, somehow, they tell us how much they love the Sunday morning Mass prayers.

I should add that, yes, we attend a Novus Ordo Mass on Saturday nights to receive the Eucharist – a Mass where there is, thankfully, no choir to sing a new Church into being for us. However, the Sunday morning “dry Mass” has become entrenched, and cherished, in our home. It may be all we have at the moment for a TLM – as pitiable as the Church is right now – but I believe God is granting abundant blessings through it.

The second point has nothing to do with my family. I have mentioned praying at home on Sunday morning before. What I have not mentioned is the outpouring of similar stories I received from many Catholics far and wide. It seems we are not alone in praying, and passing on, the traditional prayers and readings of the Mass. Far from alone, in fact. I believe Bishop Schneider’s childhood story is playing out on a much grander scale. His Sunday mornings of prayer were not merely a happy recollection, but a prophetic dare to all current Catholic families to live, and to fight, for the traditional faith.

To all of this, I conclude by stating outright the error in Pope Francis’ reasoning: he and his bishops are not the sole custodians of tradition. Quite simply, Pope Francis has discounted the role of the family. What was true for Bishop Schneider’s family under Communist-persecution is true today for families under Francis-persecution. The real custodians of tradition shall be found in all families who live this tradition and, even in their homes, pass it on faithfully.

I urge all persecuted families to stay strong in the faith, even as a noble family from Communist Kazakhstan did many years ago. If so, not even the pope shall succeed in taking away this faith.


Photo by Alison Girone. Used with Permission. 

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