In the eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus wept over the death of His friend Lazarus. It’s commonly believed this was simply our Lord expressing his grief. However, some scholars argue that our Lord’s tears in this instance were an expression not just of grief but of a holy and terrible rage. Twice the text observes that Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (vv. 33, 38), the same Greek phrase used to describe the rearing up of war horses before charging into battle. Jesus knew better than anyone the effects that the enemy has had in sundering and ruining the created order. Faced with the destruction of His Father’s beautiful creation and the death of His beloved friend, Jesus wasn’t just sorrowful. He was furious.
In his account of anger, St. Thomas Aquinas notes that in the face of injustice, “the lack of anger is a sign that the judgment of reason is lacking” (ST II-II.158.8). This logic is something we find exemplified in the life of Our Lord, not only at the tomb of Lazarus, but also in the temple with the money changers, in his exchanges with the Pharisees, and before King Herod. With the advent late last week of the Holy Father’s motu proprio Traditionis Custodes (“Guardians of the Tradition”)—an Orwellian title if ever there was one—we would do well to recall that holy rage that we find in the life of Our Lord.
For the blissfully uninformed, it should be noted that the new Vatican document serves as a sweeping crackdown on the public practice of the Traditional Latin Mass, with a particular eye to eliminating its usage among future priests. Done with “solicitude for the whole Church,” the Holy Father’s fait accompli was presented as an attempt “to press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion.” A search, that is, which now entails the deliberate extirpation of the liturgical devotions of millions of traditionalist Catholics.
The arrival of Traditionis Custodes is nothing less than a declaration of total war against traditionalist Catholics everywhere. Much more than that, however, it is a direct attack against all faithful Catholics of good will, regardless of our liturgical preferences. This is not just another “trad issue”—this is a Catholic issue, and one which concerns all of us. Agitated and alarmed by the explosive growth in traditionalist circles, the Holy Father has deemed it necessary to intervene in a manner notably absent of the “mercy,” “accompaniment,” and “synodality” which he loves to preach. (For a pontiff who criticizes traditionalists as rigid, Traditionis Custodes is a remarkably asperous document.) I say all this, moreover, not as a regular attendee of the Traditional Latin Mass but simply as a young, orthodox Catholic, one who currently chooses to attend a reverently-celebrated Novus Ordo.
Under the facade of unity, Pope Francis has determined that those Catholics actually seeking to live out Church teaching and uphold its traditions are Ecclesial Enemy No. 1. For eight years his actions have pushed traditionalist Catholics to the margins, and now he has decided that the margins must be eliminated. In the obdurate pursuit of ideological uniformity, he has sparked enormous and deeply painful division. The situation is akin to a leper severing off his one healthy limb in the name of unifying his body. Meanwhile, of course, the openly schismatic tendencies of the German church, the shameful conduct of pro-abortion politicians, and the repeated ambiguities and confusion spread by Fr. James Martin continue to go unchallenged.
For my peers and I growing up in the twenty-first-century Church, this experience is not unrepresentative of the scandal and corruption to which we have become accustomed. As millennials and members of Generation Z, we grew up being taught to respect and obey our spiritual fathers, only to witness time and again their complete and utter betrayal of that trust. We have sought authentic doctrine and beautiful liturgy, only to be mocked and disdained by the institutional Church for daring to question the status quo or rock the boat, even when the boat is sinking. We’ve been called rigid, extreme, uncompassionate, and worse, all because we’ve had the audacity to ask for real Catholicism, not some half-baked, complacent, pseudo-religious alternative.
Lest we forget, the Catholic Church of 2021 faces a situation where two out of three believers in the United States express disbelief in the central mystery of their faith. We face a situation where doctrinal confusion wreaks havoc, heretical preachers run wild, and Rome remains silent. We face a situation of a bloated, miasmic, effeminate hierarchy where large swathes of the episcopate have abandoned their duty to save souls and focused their efforts on social justice and worldly approbation instead. We face a situation of old, dying churches with horrendous liturgies and plummeting attendance. We face a situation where, to put it bluntly, the great majority of our bishops have blood on their hands for their utter failure to uphold the right to life through the ballot box. And we face, too, a situation where, despite lacking the backbone to confront politicians over their pro-abortion stance, Rome now has the audacity to go after one of the only parts of the Church actually trying to live out the Gospel fully.
Those of us who either attend the Traditional Latin Mass or are sympathetic to its practice have had enough. And we’re angry. We’re angry at our cruel, wicked, selfish culture which has crippled families and enslaved individuals in their millions. But even more than that, we’re angry at that corrupt idea of religion, that perverted notion of the Church which has allowed all this to go unchallenged. We’re angry at our spiritual fathers who have betrayed and hurt us at every turn. We’re angry at their complicity in the abuse crisis, their cowardice in the face of the election, and their worldliness in the face of COVID-19.
Yes, we need charity. Yes, we need obedience. But we are done with mistaking obedience for a vile, obsequious, dangerous clericalism, and we reject the assumption that true charity precludes a righteous anger. We know our rights and duties as lay people, and we will no longer be afraid to exercise them (CCC 907; CCL 212; ST II-II 33.4). We will not stand idly by while these wolves in sheep’s clothing seek to deceive and devour our family members and friends.
This is not sensationalism. It is a sober assessment of the facts, sorry though they be. Yet we take comfort in the fact that our ultimate allegiance lies not with any particular bishop or even the pope, but rather with Christ and His mystical Body. For this, we must remember, is the Church in her true state: the bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle, unfathomable in her beauty, whose banner continues to fly proudly over the heavenly city above. This is our allegiance, our birthright, and it is for this that we fight.
We think here of St. Thomas More, who in his masterpiece Utopia observed drily that the priests on the island were very holy and therefore very few—a thinly veiled critique of the Church of his day. Yet it is that same Church that he defended to the death, even after his shepherds abandoned him. Such is our calling, too. It is with this in mind that I offer the following practical recommendations as a call to arms, as much for myself as for the reader:
First, we need to grow in prayer. Relationship with God is the most important thing we can do, and without it all of our human efforts are in vain. It is prayer, too, which will better allow us to address the failures in our own lives before being distracted by the problems “out there.” An uncompromising daily commitment to prayer is a primary necessity for every Christian—and we must pray for the Holy Father and the bishops especially.
Second, we need to engage in regular fasting. The evil forces which assail Holy Mother Church today will not be driven out by prayer alone. The ancient ascetic practice of fasting is also essential. Augustine described it this way: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity.”
Third, we need to practice intentional tithing. If you live in a diocese with an unfaithful bishop, you should stop giving money during the offertory at Mass and start donating to your pastor directly instead. Barring circumstances of exceptional need, moreover, we should all be giving at least 10% of our earnings to support the poor, the pro-life movement, and particularly those movements within the Church that remain faithful to her mission.
Fourth, we need to take action. Wherever God is calling us to be more radical in our lives, we need to be ready to respond—whether it be something simple like installing internet filters for your kids, or something more drastic like switching parishes or moving to join a healthier diocese.
Fifth, we need to take seriously our formation. We need to study, to learn the faith, to grow in discipline. Maybe take up Latin. And if you have children receiving malformation in school, you need to immediately take them out of school and begin to homeschool—and tell your friends and family to do the same. The stakes are simply too high for any of us to be complacent.
Finally, sixth, we need to counterattack. Whether we’re traditional, charismatic, or somewhere in between, we need to write to our bishops to express our dismay and encourage them to retain the Latin Mass. In those dioceses where the Latin Mass has been maintained, we need to encourage priests to begin celebrating it daily. For those family and friends in dioceses where the bishop has cracked down, we need to encourage (and help sponsor) them to switch dioceses and even move if necessary.
To be sure, we live in troubled times. But so did our forefathers in the faith, and in that sense we are in good company. We can take joy, furthermore, in the knowledge that Christ has already won the war. In the battles which precede that final victory, however, we could do worse than to aspire to be like Gandalf, who, after galloping to Weathertop “like a gale,” openly confronts six Nazgûl, which “drew away from me, for they felt the coming of my anger and they dared not face it while the Sun was in the sky.” As the Christ-figure Mithrandir observes in another place, “Courage will now be your best defense against the storm that is at hand—that and such hope as I bring.” In our fight against the principalities and the powers that have taken hold in our beloved Church, we should recognize that now is the time for courage, the time for anger, the time for holiness.
[Image: Mosaic of Christ in Majesty (Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC)]