No Room in the Inn for Traditional Catholics?
St. Athanasius of Antioch was a bishop, confessor, and doctor of the Church, who died in the later part of the 4th century AD. C. Clifford calls him the “Father of Orthodoxy” for his heroic defense of the Catholic faith against the Arian heresy in the wake of the council of Nicaea. He suffered for that faithfulness, being exiled five times and spending around 17 total years in exile from his see. Despite his frequent and lengthy exiles, his flock seems to have remained loyal to their bishop and St. Athanasius often wrote them letters of support and encouragement.
In one such letter, he wrote to his flock:
May God console you! ...What saddens you ...is the fact that others have occupied the churches by violence, while during this time you are on the outside. It is a fact that they have the premises─but you have the apostolic Faith. They can occupy our churches, but they are outside the true Faith. You remain outside the places of worship, but the Faith dwells within you…
You are the ones who are happy: you who remain within the church by your faith, who hold firmly to the foundations of the Faith which has come down to you from apostolic Tradition. And if an execrable jealousy has tried to shake it on a number of occasions, it has not succeeded.
In the wake of the apparent increasing harsh crackdown on the Traditional Latin Mass today, it is not hard to see the parallels with Athanasius’s own day. They have the Churches. On June 16 2021, Pope Francis issued, Traditio Custodes, significantly restricting the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass and thereby reversing Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontiifcum. A further clarification from the head of the Vatican’s liturgy office indicated that the measures should be interpreted even more strictly. He indicated that the Traditional Latin Mass was forbidden from being said in parish Churches without the explicit permission of the Holy See. No longer did individual bishops have the power to dispense from that harsh restriction.
The results of this restriction were immediate and harsh. My own diocese, the Diocese of Albany, immediately suspended all TLMs in the Albany Diocese, except for those at one remote shrine Church, that is itself closed until May. (One Church that celebrates the Carmelite Rite Latin Mass is unaffected). The belief in the diocese is that the bishop’s hand was forced as he has, in the past, shown himself friendly to the TLM and had been willing to allow the TLM to continue in parish Churches. The hope is that the suspension is temporary as he finds alternate locations to house the Traditional Latin Mass.
And yet, many TLM goers in the diocese will, understandably, find it hard not to be disheartened. There is no room for them in the inn. A secular concert could take place in a parish Church, but the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the ancient usage cannot. The “synodal process” has held listening sessions for every other group–there have even been LGBTQ listening sessions–but there is no welcome and no accompaniment for those attached to the older rite. Talk of “welcome” and “inclusion” is directed to those who reject the teaching of the Church on marriage and divorce, but fruitful families attending the TLM have no such welcome. They are not part of parishes. The parish Church is not for them or their children. There is no room for them in the inn.
And yet, we must resist the tendency toward discouragement, even if this be easier to say than do. There was no room for God either in the inn, when He came into the world. He never promised His followers would not suffer. On the contrary, He told them, “in this world, you will have trouble.” But He also offered them hope: “but take heart, for I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
This is not to say that we should not raise voices of protest. Canon Law (212) holds that the faithful “have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful.” Bishops and Church leaders should know and be told respectfully of the great hurt that harsh restrictions of the TLM are causing to some of the Church’s most faithful Catholics and their families. They and their families also need the shepherd’s care, not the cold shoulder.
But we should do so in faith and patience, thinking how the words of St. Athanasius to his flock might still apply to us:
No one, ever, will prevail against your faith, beloved brothers. And we believe that God will give us our churches back some day.
St. Athanasius, Pray for us.
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