Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Absence of Joy

In my Internet wanderings I sometimes come across some unusual Catholic websites.

At first, they look very nice. Lovely Catholic images, information about a saint's feast day, that sort of thing.

But then, inevitably, there's a link to another page which purports to tell you the 'truth' about the Catholic Church--and that 'truth' is that the See of Peter is empty. There is no 'true' pope (or there is a true pope that the Holy Spirit has revealed to a select few), Benedict XVI is an antipope, and what appears to be the Catholic Church has been in a state of heresy since just before the Second Vatican Council. In other words, they are sedevacantists.

My reaction to such sites, and the people behind them, is generally pity. It must be a terrible thing to think that Christ has broken His promise and has abandoned His Church. Though the upheavals in the Church following Vatican II were deeply unsettling to many faithful Catholics, there is no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit does not still guide the Catholic Church, or that the current pope isn't the rightful Vicar of Christ. And although a spirit of pride and disobedience may animate many of the leaders of such movements, I can't help but feel sorry for most of the followers, who may, however confusedly, believe they are doing God's will in seeking out some tiny fragment of the "true" Catholic Church.

I tend to have different feelings on stumbling across websites run by people who, while in sympathy to many of the complaints of the sedevacantists, themselves say (though sometimes rather grudgingly) that Peter's Chair isn't empty, and Benedict XVI is the real pope. They often go on to say that due to this or that evil influence on the current pope, the most recent past one, or the two before him, the Church has changed, and for the worse. They think that things can be fixed, provided Pope Benedict XVI immediately adopts a course of action they think is imperative. At the center of their demands is a return to the Traditional Latin Mass.

It's important to note that this group does not include all people who like the TLM, or who like Latin in general. I like Latin, and have had the opportunity to attend a few Masses, both Traditional and Novus Ordo, in that beautiful ancient language. The people I'm speaking of above believe that the Novus Ordo is, at best, seriously deficient. They'd like it suppressed completely, and the TLM reinstated as the chief form of the liturgy in the Roman Rite.

But even if that happened, they wouldn't really be happy, unless the reinstatement of the Traditional Latin Mass was accompanied by a few other 'non-negotiable' changes: the abolition of the Saturday Vigil Mass, the return to mandatory head coverings for women, the return to the practice of fasting before receiving the Eucharist beginning at midnight the night before the Mass, the removal of all free-standing altars, the reinstitution of Ember Days, the replacement of the current calendar with the former, and so on and so forth. One is tempted to suspect that even if all these things and more were done, there'd still be complaints.

Frequently people like those I'm describing are called RadTrads, short for Radical Traditionalists, I suppose. I don't much like this name, at least in part because my silly brain conjures up the image of a young man with spiky hair and a surfboard (though clad in a three-piece suit) entering a Catholic Church and saying (in a loud but respectful whisper) "Dude! Where's the baldacchino?"

I'm tempted to propose a new name: gaudivacantists.

Now, for those Latin scholars out there, I'm not saying "the joy is empty." It's not an exact parallel to the sedevacantist term. The Latin root from which 'vacantist' comes from, after all, can contain the meaning 'free from' as well as 'empty'. And the overwhelming impression I get from many of the gaudivacantists I've met, either personally or on the Internet, is that they find very little joy in their faith, at least since the changes they dislike so much were made in the worship of the Church.

Don't get me wrong--I have some sympathy for the gaudivacantists, too. There have been some years of confusion in the Church, and some of this confusion has played out in her liturgy. Most regrettable is the fact that some unscrupulous people used the atmosphere of lawful change to allow a fog of chaos to swirl about just long enough to implement some things that not only weren't called for, but were, in some cases, positively forbidden. No one should be joyful about disobedience, or remain quiescent in the face of actual liturgical abuse.

But there's a vast difference between preferring a parish where the Novus Ordo Mass is offered prayerfully, reverently, and with full adherence to the rubrics, and insisting that even in that case the N.O. Mass is suspect, deficient, or displeasing to God. The first position is merely insisting on the right of the faithful to have the Mass offered properly; the second is insisting that the N.O. Mass is never really 'proper' to the worship of the Church.

Sadly, many gaudivacantists take this position to the extremes, calling the Novus Ordo Mass the "Nervous Disorder Mass" and poking fun at it, and by extension at those who attend it. They sometimes go so far as to insist among themselves that 'Novus Ordo' Catholics are going to be held accountable to God for facilitating the continuation of the N.O. Mass, and for such things as not fasting from midnight on or not, if female, covering their heads in church, a law which they firmly believe has never been abrogated. In this they resemble no group as much as the Pharisees of old, who were
condemned by Our Lord for laying superfluous burdens on the people.

My concern for the gaudivacantists is that they may become so obsessed with the 'right' way to worship God (no matter what the Pope says) that they find themselves incapable of receiving Him in love, as we are called to do when we worship Him. Love without joy isn't really possible. And it isn't love that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that only the Traditional Latin Mass is pleasing to God and that only those who worship Him in this way are blessed by Him; it's fear.


4andcounting said...

I'm confused by a lot of the debate about this issue. I guess I just don't know enough about it to make an informed opinion. I do think that all of the criticism does nothing but weaken the Body of Christ. We are under attack from those outside of our faith, we don't need to spend time attacking from within.

Red Cardigan said...

4andcounting, I do agree with you.

But there really is a problem here, and we can't strengthen the Body of Christ by ignoring the problem, either.

For example, some people in the group generally called RadTrads will go to a TLM, but if they are in line to receive the Eucharist and the priest runs out of the hosts consecrated at that Mass and must use reserved hosts, some will refuse to receive, out of fear that these hosts may have been consecrated at a Novus Ordo Mass!

An attitude like that, however good the intentions and motivations of the person having it, cannot help being destructive to the Body of Christ. It really is as though those who refuse to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the circumstances I describe are sitting in judgment on the rest of the Catholic Church. I don't think it's unduly critical to point out that this is a situation that needs some mending, first and foremost by means of prayer.

4andcounting said...

I didn't mean to indicate that you were attacking anyone. I think you make excellent points. And there is definitely room for loving, constructive criticism; there just seems to be a shortage of that these days.

annonymouse said...

You summed it up. We have dear friends who went from Catholic, to Tradionalist to Sedevacantists. They are the ones, early before our homeschooling days, that alerted us to some things that were NOT ok and that our own education was lacking. They have become joyless. It is one battle after another when we get together.