Letter #90, 2022, Thursday, July 21: Unity
Today, July 21, is the Feast Day, in the Orthodox East, of Our Lady of Kazan.
And, just as I was writing this email, I heard a “ping” and I received an email.
It was from Daria Khafizov, the daughter of a friend of mine in Russia, Dmitry Khafizov, who died last year.
She was writing from her home in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, 600 miles east of Moscow, on the Volga River…
I had visited Kazan a number of times, in summer and in frigid winter, when the temperature dropped to 20 or 30 degrees below zero, coming to know the big, joyful bear of a man, Dmitry, a student of the history of the icon of Kazan, popularly known in the country as “the protection of Russia.” (One night in Kazan in February, 2001, when the temperature was minus 20 Fahrenheit, after staying up talking until 1 a.m., I walked alone in my snow parka and knit cap back toward the hotel where I was staying. The snow was falling, and the city was completely still. I said to myself, “I am so very tired, perhaps I could just stop for a moment and lie down to rest on the snow bank.” But then another voice spoke to me, “Do not lie down. If you fall asleep, you will not wake up.” And a shiver of horror passed through me. So I resolved to obey that voice, and not to lie down, on that mile walk to my room, down the main street of Kazan, in the falling snow.)
Years later, in 2013, my two sons, Chris and Luke, visited Kazan in the summer of 2013, before coming to Rome, and I was always grateful to Dmitry for taking care of the boys for a couple of days as they made their way across Asia on the Trans-Siberian railroad.
So, in a sense, as I conceived of my mission, I was traveling to Kazan to try to find the long-lost “protection of Russia,” the precious icon which had originally been discovered in the burnt-out ashes of a church in Kazan in 1579, after a battle between Russians and Tatars.
I was, to my astonishment, able to find it in what seemed to me a most unlikely place… in the library of Pope John Paul II in the Papal Palace, where the lost icon was kept from 1992 until 2004, when it was returned to Russia, not by Pope John Paul, who was very weak by then, but by Cardinal Walter Kasper and another cardinal. It is now in a new cathedral, built to house it, in the center of the city of Kazan.
So it is meaningful to me that on this day, on the day when I was thinking only of writing about Church division, and the need for unity, this email should arrive in my email, recalling to me those old times, which so seem like legendary times, so far have they receded into the past, and so much things in the world have changed…
Here is Daria’s email to me:
Several months ago I have accidently found in Internet your letter to my father… It was like a poem and so realistic, that it made me hard to write you a letter at that time.
One month later I met my old school friend, she is working as music therapist and we haven’t seen each other for a long time. Alina was telling a story about two musicians traveling to Russia many years ago. She showed me several photos and I was really suprised to see your sons from father’s emails, that I had found while searching for your contact.
Amazing, how our world is connected.
Today is Feast Day of “Our Lady of Kazan”, it was a very important day for my father. I remembered all your words again and decided to send you this email.
I hope that the war will end and I wish you and your family all the best!
Thank you so much, I think your letter will stay in my mind for the rest of my life.
Unity and division
A centrifuge spins, separating a substance into heavier and lighter parts, until what was once a united substance is divided.
A centrifuge breaks things apart.
We now face a centrifugal process in the Church.
This process threatens to spin the Church into pieces, into various elements, along various fault lines.
And this process ought to be met by a centripetal process, which unites things, holding them together based on a fundamental unity.
And, in the case of the Church, that unity is the person of Christ Himself, and the teaching, the doctrine, that he expressed, and was heard and recorded by his followers, in the Gospels, and taught over the decades and centuries by word of mouth, and affirmed solemnly in various Councils, where a number of contested or not fully understood truths were defined.
This is our heritage.
The danger we face is that, if the Church officially splits — and there are many who already say, “we are de facto already divided” — it will not stop with just two groups of Catholic, one “progressive” and one “traditional.”
No — the fissures will multiply, as at the time of the Reformation, and we will end up with 22 Catholic Churches, or 222, one here, one there, all with differing names, procedures, theologies, liturgies, hierarchies.
This will — should it occur — be a tragedy.
Our consequent disunity with be a scandal to many simple faithful, a cause of mockery and laughter for some of the powerful in this world, and it will be, for the world as a whole, for humanity’s future, individually and collectively, a source and cause of great sorrow, for the unified Church, with all her flaws, has been an impediment, though often less staunch and intransigent than it could or should have been, to many evils.
The Church rejoices, or should rejoice, in her unity: “We believe… we all believe, as Catholic believers…”
And the Church weeps, we should weep, when disunity divides us, weakens us, impedes us from doing what we are called to do in proclaiming Christ to a fallen world, a fallen world which risks falling into yet graver miseries in the months and years ahead than we have seen up until now.
This is why I believe we should do all we can to preserve our unity, our “one” Church — “one, holy, catholic [meaning universal, everywhere, worldwide, not just in Germany, for example], apostolic [that is, holding to what was handed down by the Church Fathers, who received the faith from the Apostles themselves, mediated by the Holy Spirit].”
This does not mean to suggest that clarity on doctrine, or practice, should be muddled. We need clarity, as we do in setting out on any journey: where are we going, and how will we get there…
But it does mean to suggest that there is a need for a renewed focus on what possible way can we find to keep us united, and to prevent the centrifugal forces from shattering our unity.
In this regard, there are two matters of concern today.
Two sources of disunity
A grave problem we face in the Catholic Church today is a growing tension between the “progressive” and the “traditional” elements in the Church. threatening the unity of the Church.
And this tension is presently evident in two principal matters:
1) the Church’s liturgy and
2) the Church’s teaching and pastoral practice concerning sexual morality, seen most strikingly in proposals being set forth now in Germany.
The “old” and “new” liturgy
The struggle over the liturgy, especially the struggle over whether the embrace of the new Mass produced after the Second Vatican Council has been harmful for the Church, and individual souls, has grown dangerously bitter.
In two recent letters, Pope Francis has written that the old liturgy should be strongly circumscribed, even suppressed entirely: first in his letter of July 16, 2021 (Traditionis custodes) and then, very recently, in his letter of June 29, 2022 (Desiderio desideravi).
The Pope has said the “old” liturgy has become a type of “symbol” or “rallying cry” for opposition to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and, therefore, he concludes, the old liturgy — in a way that was not envisioned by Pope Benedict XVI — should be diminished, not celebrated, not taught to priests, not offered to parishioners even on only rare occasions. Essentially, the old liturgy should disappear for the purpose of… increasing Church unity.
Pope Benedict understood these tensions.
He had wrestled with the issue of the liturgy for 50 years, or more: how to make the liturgy available and understandable to the ordinary faithful (rather than a mysterious rite in a mostly incomprehensible language) yet still keep that “link,” that “continuity,” which would acknowledge that what was being reformed was nevertheless a venerable, profound, holy rite, which had nourished the faith of untold generations, including G. K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Bishop John Fisher, Fr. Edmund Campion, and Thomas More.
And that is why he authored Summorum Pontificum, published on July 7, 2007, proposing the coexistence of the two liturgies, old and new.
To respect the old, to accept the new, to allow for the mutual enrichment of the two forms.
That compromise is what Pope Francis (on the advice of some of his advisors, I believe) has now rejected.
A modest proposal
The old Latin Mass could be celebrated in the vernacular, of course.
I mean, celebrate that Mass, not in Latin, but in English.
Just translate it.
I actually have proposed this on a number of occasions in Rome, to men as various as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in private conversations. All seemed to find it unobjectionable on theological grounds, yet so simple in practical terms they could not imagine that it could be the solution.
Or perhaps, celebrate most of the old Mass in English (or any other vernacular language), but leave the Kyrie eleison in Greek (which draws us back in close proximity to the early Greek-speaking Christians in the catacombs of Rome ) and then some other key prayers, perhaps the Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus and the Agnus dei, in the original Latin.
Such a solution would have been, in many ways, in full accord with the request of the Second Vatican Council: that the Mass be “updated” to make it more accessible to ordinary people.
Translating the old liturgy into English — or any other modern language — would have accomplished the goal of greater understanding, and thus of more conscious, active participation, for those many who do not know or speak Latin.
Some will consider this proposal inadequate or objectionable for one reason or another, but it has to its credit one basic fact: it would be the same Mass, only more understandable. And on solemn occasions, the entire old Mass could be celebrated in the ancient Latin language.
That was, and is, my own modest proposal.
What happened instead
But what happened instead was that the group of liturgists who decided to reform the old Mass in the years after the Council, in order to “update” the old Mass, decided not simply to translate it into the vernacular, but, to change the prayers.
This is a profound difference.
Obviously, if someone is used to saying a prayer, it becomes a part of him or her — it takes on a certain personal resonance, a type of sacrality; one becomes “invested” in the long-used prayers… one “knows” them, intellectually and spiritually.
In addition, we often say “lex orandi, lex credendi” — “the law of praying is the law of believing” or perhaps better “the way we pray determines what and how we believe.”
So, to translate a prayer does change the language used, and does change the sound of the prayer, and may even be an impoverishment if the translation is poor (“to translate is to betray”), but still, essentially, the purpose is to give the same meaning in a new language, not to change the meaning.
To alter the prayer, on the other hand — that changes not only the sound, and also the meaning.
And this is what the liturgists did, painstakingly, in the three years after the Second Vatican Council — they changed the prayers, eliminating some, adding others, and this became the new Mass.
The second example is the struggle over sexual morality, initiated as far back as the debate over the use of artificial means of contraception (Humanae vitae, issued by Paul VI on July 25, 1968, so its 54th anniversary is coming up in just four days), but also over divorce, remarriage and the reception of holy communion (see the debate over Pope Francis‘ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, published on March 19, 2016, which was the 3rd anniversary of the inauguration of Pope Francis‘ pontificate on March 19, 2013) and over homosexuality (see the current debate over the blessings of homosexual unions taking place in Germany, and other places, on which the Vatican press office today released a statement saying none of the decisions of the German synodal process can be implemented or binding in Germany, or anywhere, until the universal Church examines the matter at the bishops’ synod on synodality next year in Rome). Note: The Vatican Press Office today issued a note that no decision of the German Synodal process could be implemented until after the discussion at the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2023. That is, that no one nation can implement changes in pastoral practice with doctrinal implications without the approval of the entire Church…
Behind this struggle in Germany, on a deeper level, lie differing views of the nature of man and of the purpose of the lives of men and women, and of the nature of the universe itself, whether it is eternal, or created in time, and whether there is a creator who is in relationship with men, or merely impersonal forces which have produced the universe, and men, and which must be mastered by men (by science, by knowledge).
Father John Zuhlsdorf on July 14, without revealing where this would occur or what it was, warned that a bitter “persecution” was about to be launched against a traditional Catholic group from within the Catholic Church itself. (link)
The next day, Fr. Zuhlsdorf updated the post to confirm that the request related specifically to Cardinal Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, and his apparent plans to shut down the Institute of Christ the King’s Chicago apostolate at the end of July. The Institute of Christ the King is a group of priests who all celebrate the old rite of the liturgy, and have up until now been granted the Church’s approval to do so. This is what Cardinal Cupich seems set on revoking.
Cardinal Cupich was made a cardinal by Pope Francis and named to be the archbishopric of Chicago by Pope Francis (over the objections of then-papal nuncio to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò). Note: It is well known, of course, that the Roman Curia makes recommendations to the Pope on whom to choose as cardinals and bishops.
(Viganò once confided in me that he did not place Cupich on the “terna,” or list of three recommended names, as one of his choices for the appointment to Chicago. He alludes to this fact in the letter published below.)
Yesterday, July 21, Viganò wrote his own “Declaration” on the decision of Cardinal Cupich to restrict the use of the old Mass in the archdiocese of Chicago.
Here is that text below.