Over the years of my adult life, as I have gotten to know more and more intimately the traditional liturgy, theology, spirituality, hagiography, and cultural accomplishments of the Catholic Church prior to the temporary bout of madness that seized churchmen after the Second Vatican Council (and continues to hold too many in its grip), I have realized to what an overwhelming extent we are indebted to Our Lord for His wholly gracious gift of Tradition, and what fervent love we ought to be giving to Him in return, not only in a spirit of thanksgiving, but also in a spirit of reparation.
What follows is a three-point “spiritual charter” for traditionalists.
We must be humble and grateful, precisely because tradition is true. We can be strong, fearless, and confident from irrefutable experience.
Once a man has tasted the rich sweetness of Catholic tradition, he cannot settle again — or at least, not without an uneasy conscience — for the blandness or sourness of self-consciously “up-to-date” Catholicism. The Novus Ordo establishment wants you to deny your experience and “trust the experts.” This is the warmed-over language of twentieth-century ideologies: the experts always know better than the people. As Dom Gregory Murray, OSB wrote in The Tablet on March 14, 1964: “The plea that the laity as a body do not want liturgical change, whether in rite or in language, is, I submit, quite beside the point[.] … It is not a question of what people want; it is a question of what is good for them.”
Well, we’re still not asking for it, and we won’t take your third-rate substitute. We will never abandon that which we know to be great, worthy, and sacred, that which carried the saints and sinners of every age prior to ours, that which bore the truths, mysteries, and secrets of our holy faith along the course of centuries. This is our inheritance, too, and no amount of “expert advice” can persuade us to relinquish it. It is as if the words of St. Augustine were addressed to us: “Once smitten by these [arrows] and set on fire by them, you must blaze with so great a love for the kingdom of heaven that you scorn the tongues of all who block your path and want to call you back from your fixed resolve” (Exp. Ps. 7, n. 14, New City ed., 125).
On the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, the Epistle is taken from St. Paul to the Ephesians 5:15–21:
Brethren: See how you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore, become not unwise, but understanding what is the will of God. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury but be ye filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father being subject one to another in the fear of Christ.
St. Paul tells us we should be “giving thanks always for all things, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Blessed Solanus Casey was famous for saying: “Thank God ahead of time.” This should be our mentality: “Thank you, Lord, for the full restoration of Catholic Tradition that you have prepared in the secret counsels of Your wisdom and that you will bring about by Your might. Make use of me as You will; fill me with humility and holy zeal. Amen.”
At the same time, St. Paul pointedly says: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury.” The great temptation in times of crisis, especially where immediate effective action seems impossible, is to despair, which leads us often to seek refuge in creature comforts: wine and luxury (which latter term, in this context, means sexual gratification). We need just the opposite: vigilance, asceticism, and focused energy. When we are most intensely alert and spiritually keen, then the Lord can make use of us in the ways He wants — even if that will “only” mean leading us to more prayer, study, or conversation with others.
We must share the gifts that have been given to us.
Just as we are beneficiaries of the Tradition, we owe it to our fellow Catholics to bestow benefits on them, by leading them into the inexhaustible riches that we, through no merits of our own, have inherited. An attempt was made to tear traditional Catholicism away from the faithful, and by many miraculous interventions of Divine Providence, this attempt has been thwarted in you and me, who somehow, often by a circuitous and craggy path, came to know and love the Church’s tradition. Each of us has a different story, but the story ended happily: we found the treasury of the Church, and it has saved us from the self-absorbed novelty, emptiness, and despair of modernity — or at least continues to pull us away from it, degree by degree.
Alessandro Gnocchi movingly writes:
The quandary that marks the Traditionalist as such, the awareness of being the thing he has lost, is also that he must decide whether to still love the Church turned into an unreliable stepmother or lose himself in zealous and bitter lamentation of that time when She was mother and teacher. This sans-papiers de l’Église [undocumented immigrant in the Church] cannot withdraw himself from the choice imposed by the times in which he lives, that is, either hoarding the treasure for himself, or bringing it back again to the naves, under the arches, and in front of the altar, whence he had been thrown out. If he has charity, he will share with his brothers the seed he was able to save. If he does not share it, he will keep it for himself, irremediably ending up shaping the treasure into his own image and likeness, thus rendering it sterile.
I remember fondly a priest who used to preach the paradox: “All that is not given away is lost.” The desert father Agathon said: “Never take possession of anything if it can’t later be given to someone else.” On this, Roberto Molinelli comments: “What is yours, act to make it belong also to others.” The rousing words of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati apply to us who love the same Mass he did: “To live without faith, without a heritage to defend, without battling constantly for truth, is not to live but to ‘get along’; we must never just ‘get along.’”
Acts of self-sacrifice are unintelligible to the Devil. Their fruitfulness surprises the enemy of human nature. The Devil does not understand love of another for the other’s sake — he cannot think of reality except as it refers to his own self-love. There is only one guaranteed way to live under the enemy’s radar: give yourself to God for God’s sake, and to others for His sake, and keep renewing that commitment. This takes you into a realm to which the Devil has no access and in which there is nothing to fear.
We must therefore often ask ourselves: what am I doing to help others find this treasury of Catholic tradition? Am I praying daily for the religious, clergy, and laity throughout the world who are dedicated to or drawn to the usus antiquior? Am I praying for the conversion of the clergy to tradition, and for the conversion of my family and friends? Am I offering a helping hand to my brother or my sister who is languishing in the cavernous darkness of the modern world, or in the no less stygian shades of that segment of the Church that has sold itself into slavery?
In spite of the outrageous behavior of our enemies, in whom mercy and truth never became acquainted and justice and peace got a no-fault divorce (cf. Ps. 84:11), we ourselves must strive to be patient, fair-minded, calm in spirit, undeterred, and compassionate toward those enmeshed in error. We must be courageous and fearless in speaking the truth but always respectful in our discourse, not descending to slurs, curses, denigrations, or any other ugly misuses of the tongue or pen.
We must be men and women of persevering prayer and serious study.
I leave the most important of the three points until last. To introduce it, I will quote the great Dominican Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel (1914–1975):
It is not out of the question that we may experience the temptation, What’s the use? What is out of the question is that we should take this temptation seriously, or let it gain a foothold in our hearts, or impinge on our resolutions by a fraction of an inch. It is impossible to say What’s the use? when one knows that it is always good to prove to God our love, the first proof of love being to persevere in the Faith and to keep Catholic Tradition.
All the reasons we have for losing heart — the prolonged fight, the extensive betrayal, increased isolation — should only be considered in the supreme light of faith. The greatest misfortune that could befall us is not to be bruised in the depth of our soul by the woes of the present times and the scandals from on high; it would be to lack faith and consequently to fail to see that the Lord makes use of the present distress to urge us to turn our gaze towards Him, to invite us to show Him more than ever our trust and love. So, the first thing to do — and it is here that the intercession and example of the great Pope [Pius V], a true son of St. Dominic, are such a boon — the first thing to do is to look at the Lord, and then to keep this supernatural contemplation inseparable from consideration of the attacks to be repulsed and the struggle to be engaged till the end. (The Angelus, vol. 38, n. 1 [Jan-Feb 2015], 43)
Throughout history we see that the Lord wills to save His Church not by a Deus ex machina solution — a God thundering from the heavens, sweeping aside His enemies with lightning — but rather through the fidelity, prayers, and patient work of the faithful.
Let us resolve, every day, to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The problem is a worldly Church, prelates who have sold their souls (more or less consciously) to the Devil. How would we be helping the Church if we abandoned prayer, penance, reparation, and public profession, thereby becoming worldly ourselves, and joining the party of the Devil and his dupes? No. The worse they become, the better we must become. The more corrupt the hierarchy, the more zealous must be the lower clergy and the laity.
In his poignant book The Bells of Nagasaki, Dr. Takashi Nagai, who survived the dropping of the atomic bomb and immediately began to help the victims, writes:
Like a mosquito whose legs have been plucked off, like a crab whose claws have been torn away, we faced a multitude of wounded people, helpless and emptyhanded. It was really primitive medicine that we were now reduced to. Our knowledge, our love, our hands — we had only these with which to save the people.
As two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, so two metaphorical atomic bombs have been dropped on the Catholic Church: the liturgical reform of Paul VI and the papacy of Francis. This is not to discount the countless conventional bombs that have fallen before and in between: Assisi gatherings, Koran-kissing, bad episcopal appointments, and the rest of it. I’m speaking of the two things that are disproportionately evil in the harm they have caused or occasioned. But, like Dr. Nagai in Nagasaki, we have survived the blasts, and we can help the victims. Our knowledge, our love, our hands: our doctrine, our morals, our liturgy and prayer. We have only these with which to save the Church on Earth, in union with Christ her Head and Savior (cf. Eph 5:23). This “primitive medicine” is enough, for it is God’s medicine. He will sustain us no matter how long and bitter the road.
It is a great privilege to be living in a time like ours, when God has given to some few (cf. 1 Cor. 1:27) the task of rebuilding a glorious Church out of its charred ruins — like the task given, in very different circumstances, to St. Francis and St. Dominic in the thirteenth century, or to many other reforming saints in their day. Our source of hope is twofold: God Himself, who can never be defeated by the Devil or the Devil’s eager servants, and who is always willing and able to equip us with the interior resources we need for our sanctification and who will also, at the time and in the way He deems best, bring about external success, and the very nature of Catholic tradition, which, so far from being like a building made of dead items (as the image of a crumbling church suggests), is more like an enormous luxuriant tree grown up from a divine acorn, with a root system so deeply planted and of such indomitable vitality that, even if every branch were sawed off, even if the trunk itself were blown to bits, the tree would irresistibly grow anew, sending up its bold shoots again and again.
That is what the traditionalist movement is: the vitality of the tree planted by God, pushing up toward the light that heralds His coming. What a blessing to be part of it.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism who has written many books and publishes on a wide variety of sites. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Visit his personal website at www.peterkwasniewski.com, his Substack “Tradition and Sanity,” his publishing house Os Justi Press, and his composer site CantaboDomino.