The Second Vatican Council began in 1962 and officially ended in 1965, and for many Catholics, church history is completely defined by this event, regardless of their political or liturgical orientation. There is the pre-Vatican II era, and everything that came after it. For conservotrads and traditionalists, the pre-Vatican II era was when everything was swell, and then everything went to hell in a handbasket after Vatican II. For progressives, the spirit and promises of Vatican II liberated Catholics from a rigid, oppressive, and narrow-minded obscurantism. However, the pre-Vatican II era, strictly speaking, covered almost 1,900 years of history in a variety of different cultures. When American Catholics in 2015 discuss the pre-Vatican II era, they probably aren’t talking about the devotional practices of ninth century Anglo-Saxons. So what does the phrase “pre-Vatican II church” mean in current Catholic discourse?
Last week, I went to a planning session of a “Pizza and Politics” group at Boston University, where graduate students and professor talk about religion and politics over lunch. We did the usual introductions thing, and unsurprisingly, most of the other students listed Islam as their primary research interest. When my turn came around, I mentioned that I was interested in studying the Society of St. Pius X and the Catholic church’s response to modernity, particularly liberal democracy. Crickets from the others. I gave a quick and dirty explanation of the SSPX for the perplexed, but once again, it illustrated to me that outside of the Catholic blogosphere, nobody really knows or cares about the SSPX
When Pope Emertius Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum first came out back in 2007, I remember there being a lot of excitement at St F’s because we widely believed that it would cause a proliferation of Latin Masses in the archdiocese. Eight years later, the number of officially sanctioned Latin Masses in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is the same as it was then: one. I checked the Latin Mass Times site for all Latin Mass sites in the state of Georgia, and it lists three “independent chapels” (whatever that means), the SSPX parish up in Roswell, an official Latin Mass once a month at a parish in Macon, a weekly official one at the cathedral in Savannah, and St. F (http://www.latinmasstimes.com/Georgia). For those of you who aren’t familiar with Georgia geography, Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah are all in completely different parts of the state. When I was still “orthodox,” I visited the church in Macon where the Latin Mass is held, and the woman who ran the parish bookstore told me that it’s mostly attended by elderly people. If Catholics are demanding the Latin Mass, as traditionalists claim, they don’t seem to be in Georgia.
A common meme among conservotrads and traditionalists is that millenials who were raised in “traditional” parishes are keeping the proverbial faith, while young people who were raised in “Novus Ordo” parishes are leaving Catholicism for Protestantism, atheism, or who knows what else. A variation on this theme is that “traditional” liturgical churches are gaining more millenial converts, while liberal mainline churches wither and die. As a member of one of those “traditional” parishes for three years and a former convert, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on these propositions.
An interesting news story is coming out of radtrad land; apparently, Richard Williamson, the former SSPX bishop most known for his Holocaust denial consecrated a new bishop, Jean-Michel Faure, two weeks ago, who in turn is planning to consecrate a new generation of traditionalist bishops for their schismatic church known as “The Resistance”:
Unlike the SSPX, which at least in theory, desires to be reconciled with Rome, the priests associated with “The Resistance” have decided that further dialogue with the Vatican is pointless unless it gives up its “modernizing” ways and returns to the old ways of the pre-Vatican II church. In the afore mentioned article, Faure muses that perhaps a “World War” will convince Rome to go back to “tradition”.
No doubt, Williamson and Faure imagine themselves as a couple of beleaguered Athanasiuses contra a crazy world where women can marry women, black men can become the presidents of majority white countries, and Jews can walk around in public instead of being confined to ghettos as was the case during “the good old days” of Christendom. I think they imagine that they’ll be supported in their efforts by other traditionalist Catholics who think that the SSPX has “gone soft” but I’m doubtful that. While discussion of the SSPX takes up a lot of space in the conservotrad Catholic blogosphere, the average Catholic has no idea who they are. When the SSPX does enter the news, it’s usually under dubious circumstances, like providing asylum to a Nazi war criminal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Touvier#Arrest_and_trial), offering to perform a funeral mass for another Nazi war criminal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Priebke#Death), and public Holocaust denial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Williamson_%28bishop%29#Jews_and_Holocaust_denial). Contrary to what PT Barnum said, there is such as thing as bad publicity and the only people who are going to look the other way at a religious leader who denies the Holocaust are other Holocaust deniers and/or their fellow travelers.
I think that the creation of “The Resistance” is motivated by Pope Francis’ indifference to the traditionalist cause in general and the status of the SSPX in general. While Benedict was obsessed with bringing the SSPX back into the Vatican fold, a move that blew up in his face when the press discovered Williamson’s very public and noisy statements in favor of Holocaust denial, Francis simply isn’t interested; if the SSPX isn’t willing to play by Rome’s rules, then Francis isn’t going to waste his time dialoguing with them. Traditionalist Catholicism isn’t part of Francis’ own spirituality, so he doesn’t have the same sympathy towards the SSPX’s position that Benedict had.
One lingering question I have is whether “The Resistance” uses the revised Holy Week rite devised by Pius XII. If they do, then I seriously doubt their notion of “tradition,” since that’s just as much an “innovation” as the mass in the vernacular (indeed, this is one of the points of contention that the Society of St. Pius V has with the SSPX). As with many restorationist/traditionalist groups, it’s difficult for them to pin down when “moral decline” occurred. Vatican II is a convenient whipping boy, because the liturgical and ecclesiastical changes also happened coincided with a period of intense social changes, thus creating a perfect storm of conservotrad disapproval. Yet, as Pius XII’s changes to the Holy Week rites show, liturgical change didn’t just start with Vatican II; indeed, Pius X made a number of changes, not just to the liturgy, but to the breviary and the culture of the church itself, like lowering the age of first communion:
In the end, I suspect that “The Resistance” will just be another fringe group in the already fringe radtrad scene. The SSPX and the FSSP already have most of the non-sedevacantist trad support sewn up through the sheer number and strength of their institutions. Only the most zealous supporters of Williamson will be interested in “The Resistance” and that crowd is probably not the sort that many people, even trads, will want to associate with.
In an earlier post, I noted the similar logic used by both the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and the woman priest movement to justify why their ordinations and masses are valid (see here https://extraecclesiamestlibertas.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/women-priests/). Upon further thinking about the matter, I realized that the two groups have much more in common, despite being on opposite ends of the ideological and liturgical spectrum.
A couple of days ago, another woman was ordained as part of the Roman Catholic woman priests movement: