Quodlibets: Two Recent Proposals

It is easier to see the problems than to find good solutions to them. How often have we heard the clear teaching of the Magisterium distorted, sometimes even from the pulpit? How often have we seen variations introduced into the liturgy, as if we are all bored with the official rite and needed relief from it? What can be done about this? Of late, I have heard two extremely interesting suggestions.

The first was made by Phyllis Zagano and addressed an issue of obvious importance. How can the Church address the faithful without having Her message distorted by the media? One could forgive the instinctive adoption of an adversarial stance on the part of secular journalists, at least up to a point, but many representatives of Catholic publications are worse. They are cynical, derisive, obviously carrying a chip on the shoulder. Writers who see the Holy Father and Cardinal Ratzinger as obstacles to the faith can scarcely be expected to state accurately what they do or say.

The problem is clear. What is the solution? Well, one solution is that of the Daughters of St. Paul and Ignatius Press. Make the statements of the Holy Father available in inexpensive and attractive form. Phyllis Zagano had another good idea. Why not, she asked, make Vatican Radio world wide, not on shortwave, but in the usual way all day every day?

Those who have had the occasion to listen to Vatican Radio will know that it is one of the most interesting stations in the world. Its news broadcasts — in several language — are models of succinct information. Its music is a delight. Its special programs are marvelous. And there is, of course, the Holy Father leading the Rosary.

Imagine the impact on millions of American Catholics if they could, at any hour of the day or night, in any part of the country, tune in the Vatican. Original programs could be re-broadcast, others re-designed for an American audience. And, this being America, commercials could be run to pay for the enterprise. Undiluted direct communication with the faithful and no dissident theologian to undercut the message! Such a station could be culturally attractive to many non-Catholics as well. I think it is a great idea and I hope it is implemented as soon as possible.

Another suggestion, this one aimed at the liturgical shenanigans already alluded to, seems less attractive. A retired archbishop has written the Pope suggesting that he permit the formation of a Tridentine Catholic Rite in the United States, one modeled on the Uniate Orthodox rites, which would have its own bishops, priests, parishes, and Mass according to the Tridentine rite.

This proposal is described as solving with one blow the anguish of Catholics when they petition for Mass in the Tridentine rite and are treated with coolness, delay, anything but the readiness they have a right to expect. Many Catholics feel threatened by the thought of Mass in Latin, whether the Tridentine or the newer rite, regarding it as a step backward into a past they are happy to have put behind them. Solve the problem by separating the two groups.

I think it is clear that there is far more than the liturgy involved in this proposal. As I read it, it is saying that the best way to rally Catholics loyal to the Magisterium and the Holy Father is to gather them all together in a new rite and to let other soi-disant Catholics go their own way. The assumption is that the Church is in schism and that this should be acknowledged by the institution of a Tridentine Latin Rite.

It seems to me very doubtful that the Holy Father will consent to this, since it would mean setting adrift what would still call itself the Catholic Church, which would include most bishops and priests and presumably the vast majority of the faithful also who would be confused by the new separation.

Nonetheless, the proposal addresses real problems. It is prompted in part by the reluctance of bishops to grant the legitimate request of the faithful that the Tridentine Mass be provided them under the conditions set down by the Holy Father. Already this calls attention to a feature of the conduct of our bishops, but it seems excessive to regard their unwillingness as a sign that they are somehow schismatic. The word that rather occurs is weak. Or, as a holy priest suggested to me recently, our bishops are moved too much by human respect, by the desire for a good press.

A good press. We are back to the first problem. When will we realize that, in the world, the Good News is never going to get a good press? What we need are thoroughly Catholic media.


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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