There was a comment recently in one of my posts on Bishop Williamson of the SSPX that got me thinking. (dangerous, I know) I have seen this comment here before and on many other blogs that comment on either the traditional liturgy generally or the motu proprio SummorumPontificum specifically. The comment comes in various special forms but all belonging to the same genus. The comment goes something like this.
—Stop criticizing the SSPX [or its leaders] because without the SSPX there would be no motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and there would be no Latin Mass. If they hadn’t done what they did, the traditional liturgy would have been lost forever. We should all be grateful to the SSPX—
Many accept the above comment as obviously true and it is rarely challenged in the places I have seen it. However, is it really axiomatic that without the SSPX we would have no Latin Mass? Is it possible that the actions of Archbishop Lefebvre specifically and the SSPX generally were in fact counter-productive for those seeking the restoration of the Latin Mass? Is it possible that if they had submitted humbly and worked within the church that we would have seen the renaissance of the traditional liturgy much earlier?
Before I delve too deeply into this post, let me take a moment to stipulate that I realize that the issues with the SSPX go beyond the liturgy itself and that the intent of this post is not to criticize the SSPX but to ask some simple questions. Further, I am focusing exclusively on the restoration of the freedom to say the Latin Mass and not on all the other issues, legitmitate or otherwise, raised by the SSPX. With that said, now back to the post.
I think that it is without question that without the SSPX we would not have had a Summorum Pontificum. The larger question is whether, without the SSPX, would we have needed it? It is beyond question that the the TLM became the most recognizable and identifiable aspect of the SSPX. Their trademark if you will. During the last decades, to be identified with the Latin Mass meant, to some degree, to be identified with the SSPX. After the illicit consecrations performed by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, to be identified with the Latin Mass meant to be identified with that ‘schismatic act.’
In response to that ‘schismatic act’ , on July 2, 1988 Pope John Paul II issued motu proprio the document Ecclesia Dei. It is also without question that the application of Ecclesia Dei by many Bishops was stingy at best (I am being charitable). Frankly, Bishops were stingy even after Quattuor abhinc annos in 1984 and this was before the consecrations of 1988. However the consecrations of 1988 seemed to harden the lines between the two camps dooming us to two decades of trench warfare with little movement of the lines. Here comes the “what if.”
Of course it is impossible to know what would have happened had the illicit consecrations of 1988 had never taken place. Would the battle lines have hardened the way that they did? What if the SSPX had submitted humbly? (Caveat: Again, I know there are issues here beyond the liturgy) Would an SSPX more in the mold of the FSSP or ICKSP have done more good than SSPX seen to be on the outside? If they had stayed clearly within the church, might we have seen the restoration of the TLM sooner? Might some diocesan Bishops been more open to Quattuor abhinc annos over time if not for subsequent identification with ‘schism.’
Obviously, this is a lot of questions without any answers. “What if” scenarios are by their very nature paths of which we cannot see the end. However, this my point. The concept that we would never have seen the restoration of the TLM were it not for the actions of Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX is an equally unknowable “what if” scenario. We simply cannot be sure. We can however speculate on the likelihood of a given outcome. I base my opinion on this likelihood on a few things. The first is my experience here in my diocese.
In my diocese (Rockville Centre) we have a priest who is a long time devotee of the traditional liturgy. Monsignor James Pereda has served his diocese and his Bishop with dedication and humility for years travelling thousands upon thousands of miles to serve the indult community here. A recent report on Rorate Caeli on the recalled some of the history of the Latin Mass on Long Island.
Long Island has always demonstrated a definite interest in the Latin Mass that probably cannot be matched by any other diocese in the U.S. – a statement that can be illustrated by recalling Long Island’s role in the history of the the traditional resurgence, including the unapproved variety. The late Father Gommer De Pauw set up his “Catholic Traditionalist Movement” and Ave Maria Chapel here immediately after Vatican II without local episcopal approval.
The irregular Society of St. Pius X was quick to establish a chapel here, and SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a frequent visitor, celebrating mass confirmations in large rented venues. It was also on Long Island that the Society of St. Pius V was founded in a break with the SSPX. Other independent chapels dot the area, making Bishop Murphy’s solicitude for Traditionalists of his diocese – the seventh largest in the U.S, — especially valuable for the future.
In my mind, it is beyond question that the influence of the SSPX and SSPV here hampered the development and greater use of the TLM within the diocese. I believe that the humble and loyal Msgr. Pereda has done much more for those devoted to the traditional liturgy than any of these other groups. In fact, his position and that of the entire indult community has likely been immeasurably more difficult because of the presence of the SSPX and SSPV. I think that Bishop Murphy’s openness to the traditional Latin Mass community post motu proprio is in large part due to the humility, loyalty, and steadfastness of good priests like Msgr. Pereda.
My thoughts on this matter are simple. If the Holy Spirit desires the eventual restoration of the the traditional liturgy, He does not need a ‘schismatic act’ to achieve that end. Submission in humility is much more likely to achieve the desired end ever more promptly than any act of disobedience. It is for these reasons that I do not accept as axiomatic the concept that “without the SSPX (as it is now) and those consecrations, we would have no TLM.”
Again, this should not be seen as an attack on the SSPX or on the legitimate aspirations of the many faithful who attend their masses. Rather, it should be seen as my questions and thoughts on this matter. I write it simply in the desire to delve into these questions a little further. I look forward to any discussion on this topic as long as it stays respectful. Respectful of each other, the Pope, the Church, the SSPX and Archbishop Lefebvre.
Additional Note: None of the comments on this post should be longer than the post itself. (You know who you are 😉