Thursday, March 20, 2003

Mel Gibson & Spiritus Christi

Corpus Christi in Rochester, NY was once a Catholic parish with formal ties to the Church, howbeit home to some radical & scandalous innovations: inclusion of women in Eucharistic celebration at the alter; welcoming and endorsement of monogomous gay and lesbian couples; dispensation of the Eucharist to Protestants, etc. Concerned Catholics raised a protest but the bishop neglected to do anything -- and so, responding to appeals to Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican finally attempted to remedy the situation by removing the pastor from office and firing/replacing most of the parish leadership team.

The rebellious portion of this parish, now excommunicated, broke away to create their own spiritual community fashioned according to their own particular brand of Catholicism. They now call themselves 'Spiritus Christi', affiliated with the 'United Catholic Church'/'Old Catholic Church' (You can read more about the history of Spiritus Christi here).

When I read about traditionalist Catholics like Mel Gibson funding the private creation of a church for his traditional congregation, to house their own personal conception of Catholicism over and against that of the present Catholic Church, I find that a reasonable cause for concern -- and I couldn't help but think of Spiritus Christi.

To me, Mel Gibson's parish seems like a mirror-image of 'Spiritus Christi' in Rochester, NY -- at the other end of the ideological spectrum perhaps, but born of the same motivation: "I don't like what's going on in my diocese, my parish, my Church, so, by golly, I'm going to fashion my own."

In either case, both the "progressive" Catholics of Spiritus Christi and the traditionalist Catholics of Mel Gibson's parish are quite convinced that they embody the true representation of what the Catholic Church *ought* to be over and against the present Church.

Yes, one can voice legitimate complaints about Vatican II and the new mass, but I do not think creating a new church and separating yourself from the jurisdiction of your bishop as a proper solution. Exclusivism cannot be the answer.

When is dissent appropriate? When is criticism of the Pope and the Councils of the Church appropriate? If it is appropriate, where do you draw the line?

There is a great lecture by Msgr. Arthur Calkins that I read recently on [Traditional Catholic News], given at a Latin Mass Magazine conference which seems to be of particular relevance to this discussion, and which I'd like to close by quoting from -- on the chief temptation of the traditionalist movement (exclusivism):

One of the problems thus far, at least in this writer's humble opinion, is that too often traditionalists have stated their case in 'black and white', 'life or death' terms, and have not seen themselves as part of a greater movement in favour of 'a return to mystery, to adoration, to the sacred',and to the common patrimony of the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, what do I mean by that? I wouldn't want you to have to read some of the things I am obliged to read. For instance, someone petitions his bishop for the traditional Latin Mass and in support of his argument says 'we want the 'true' Mass, not the 'new' Mass'. This is very unfortunate language that really undermines the faith because we must recognise that the sacrifice of Jesus is the sacrifice of Jesus in every rite that the Church has officially authorised. We may have our preferences, which is all well and good, but let us not assault and attack. What has happened in extremist hard-line literature is that the new Mass, almost always described with all the abuses imaginable, is demonised, so that the only way to preserve the faith is with the old Mass. This is not a healthy Catholic attitude and unfortunately it is present in all too many traditionalist circles.

Now I have indicated that the traditional Mass movement needs to be seen in a wider context because there are ever more groups growing up that want a return to the sacred, as [Ratzinger] points out, to the transcendent, and to our liturgical patrimony. And I believe there is more than one way to do it. At the same time I am convinced that the more the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated, the more this can be a contribution to the whole Church, to a kind of reinfusion of our patrimony back into our veins. Undoubtedly, the celebration of the traditional Mass can have a very good effect on the way the new Mass is celebrated. As Dom Gerard Calvet, the Abbot of Le Barroux, points out, the priests who come to the abbey to learn how to celebrate the traditional Mass tell him that it improves the way in which they celebrate the new Mass.

This is part of what I mean by seeing things in a wider context. In fact, too many traditionalists have become exclusivists; for some it is even a matter of the 1962 Missal or nothing, and unfortunately, this has become, by and large, a propaganda tactic of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. Their priests will often tell the faithful that, if they are unable to attend the traditional Mass every Sunday, they shouldn't go to any other Mass in the meantime because 'the new Mass is an abomination before God'. Thus, in the name of preserving the Catholic faith, they undermine it.

Happily, and tactfully, Cardinal Ratzinger urges those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition to see the broader picture without fearing that the classic Roman liturgy will be taken away from them. In fact, I am convinced that, if they would embrace with open minds and open hearts the perspectives that the Cardinal presented in that conference, they would gain a more ready hearing from their bishops and make greater strides in gaining what they seek, and thus enriching the Church.

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