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Oringinally printed in The Recusant 50, January 2020

The 'Any Valid Mass' Canard

This seems to be a constantly recurring theme. How did so many Traditional Catholics end up thinking like this? How did we end up here? A gentleman who, one suspects, is not on the side of the Resistance, and who could not, I think, be called “a reader,” recently wrote in to The Recusant to castigate the Resistance in general, this newsletter and its editor in particular. After saying that we have “lost the plot” and are on the road “to ruin damnation and failure,” he continues thus:

 

“I would like to make some more serious points after having read the recent issue of the ‘Recusant’:

 

• There is absolutely no way to ever justify remaining at home on Sunday when there is a Tridentine mass available in your area.

 

• If there are concerns about being ‘contaminated’ by the views of a priest who doesn’t fit your definition of a ‘true son of Archbishop Lefebvre’, why not sit outside during the sermon and leave straight after mass?

 

• As shocking as this may sound, there are graces to be earned at each and every Latin mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest.

 

• I couldn’t disagree more with the conclusions you make with regards to the SSPX, however, if ever I found myself in a situation where the only Latin mass available in my area was offered by a priest associated with the so-called ‘Resistance’ movement, I certainly wouldn’t deprive myself of attending such a mass.

 

• Going to mass is not the same as attending a political rally where our presence signifies support for the priest - the only reason we go to mass is to receive the necessary nourishment for our souls.

 

• Our Lord said by their fruits ye shall know them. The number of faithful supporting the Society worldwide continues to increase as does the number of overall priests. These are indisputable facts which you choose to conveniently ignore. ”

 

Although he is wrong, I admire the fact that the author goes straight to the point and does not waste time. Let us try to answer in a similar way, point by point.

1. There is absolutely no justification for remaining at home when there is a valid Tridentine Mass in your area.

 

Not true.

 

If this were true, what are we to make of the Catholics behind the Iron Curtain, in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere, who refused to attend the Mass of a “pax priest” (one who had gained the approval of the Communist authorities)? Those “pax priests” were certainly validly ordained and they offered a valid Tridentine Mass. How then could so many Catholics refuse to attend their Masses, even when they had no alternative on a given Sunday?

 

Let us take another example closer to our own era. In recent decades, we have seen the Church driven underground in China and replaced with a phoney counterfeit controlled by the Communist government (called the “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” or CPCA). Clearly the ministrations of an underground priest cannot be relied upon to be all that regular, and being part of an underground Church will necessarily mean uncertainty and irregularity when it comes to the sacraments. What’s more, due to the unusual circumstances, both the CPCA and the underground Church continued to use the Tridentine Missal all the way down to the 1990s in many places. From Wikipedia:

 

“Due to CPCA pressure, Mass continued for some years after Pope Paul VI's 1969 revision of the Roman Missal to be celebrated in mainland China in the Tridentine Mass form, and for lack of the revised text in Latin or Chinese, even priests who   refused any connection with the CPCA kept the older form. As the effects of the Cultural Revolution faded in the 1980s, the Mass of Paul VI began to be used, and at the beginning of the next decade the CPCA officially permitted the publication even locally of texts […]”

 

So: were the faithful (non-Communist, non-“patriotic”) Catholics wrong to flee underground? Nobody once disputed that the CPCA had valid orders or that their Masses were valid Masses. Valid Tridentine Masses, as it happens. If, as we are told, “there is absolutely no way ever to justify remaining at home on Sunday when there is a Tridentine Mass available in your area,” what ought those underground Catholics to have done? Suppose the priest who had been due to offer Mass for them in secret had been arrested on Saturday? Suppose there were no faithful underground priest nearby to begin with? What ought they to have done? Attend a CPCA Mass? Or is there more to being a Catholic than valid sacraments?

 

What about the old SSPX? I can remember the days when an SSPX priest would tell you that you were better off not going to an indult Mass, even if there was no SSPX Mass to go to. Take a look at the list of SSPX Mass centres in Great Britain in 2001, which we reproduced in a previous issue (Recusant 47, p.44). See how many of those Mass centres were bi-weekly or monthly? Regular weekly Masses were in the minority. In 2001, the majority of SSPX chapels did not have Mass every week. And yet was there ever an occasion where the faithful were warned about making a holy hour at home? Did the SSPX used officially to tell people to go to the Indult Mass? No? Why not?

 

The truth is that there are any number of reasons or circumstances which not only “justify” staying home and avoiding a “valid Tridentine Mass” but make it a positive duty. Anyone who says otherwise needs some remedial catechism.

 

Take another look at the baptism ritual. When the child is presented at the door of the Church on the day of his baptism, and the priest asks: “What do you ask of the Church?” What is   the answer to this question? Is it “baptism”? Is it: “The sacraments”?  How about: “Valid tridentine sacraments”..? Think about it. What is it which “gives life everlasting”..?

2. If there are concerns about being ‘contaminated’ by the views of a priest who doesn't fit your definition of a ‘true son of Archbishop Lefebvre’, why not sit outside during the sermon and leave straight after mass?

 

Because that is not our main concern. This so-called “risk of contamination” is not, and   never has been, our justification. You will not find that sentiment expressed anywhere in these pages going back fifty issues or seven years.

 

This does not mean that there are no negative effects which one would expect to see (and have been seen) as a result from regularly attending Mass at the SSPX, particularly those who know better but who, often through weakness, did not make the break. The gradual  process of becoming slowly more liberal without realising it, being boiled alive like the frog in the proverbial boiling pot is a very real danger. But that is something which comes more as a result of making our public confession of Christ secondary, and making own selfish  desire to “get more sacraments” primary; it is not something which comes from “contamination” by the priest. And it is not the reason why we do not attend. The main reason why we do not attend the SSPX is because our presence there would offend Almighty God. This offence given to Almighty God which, I think, also brings in its train the weakening, the gradual loss of zeal, the diminution of Faith.

 

Again, let me emphasise this point. What you seem to present as our reason for not attending SSPX Mass is the opposite of the truth. We are not concerned with the individual priest. There may well be some very fine examples of priests still in the SSPX, but that doesn’t   matter, it is beside the point. What matters is the official, public stance of the organisation. If you knew a “validly ordained” Orthodox priest and you happened to know him well enough to have heard him admit, in private, that the Catholic Church was the true Church, that he accepted papal primacy, etc. you still could not attend his Mass. The same goes for a priest who says the both New Mass and the Tridentine Mass: even if he told you that he hates the New Mass and thinks it is un-Catholic. What he thinks or says privately doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change a thing. What a priest admits in private does not count. I would attend the Mass of a priest whom, personally, I could not stand, provided he publicly stands for the truth; the converse is equally true, no matter how much you like a particular priest or agree with what he says, you ought not to support him as long as he is a member of something which publicly stands for compromise and denial of Catholic Tradition.

 

Anyone who thought and acted the way you describe would find himself faced with a truly impossible task. How can the average layman possibly be expected to vet every single priest? Especially in some SSPX chapels where different priests are rotated through from one week to the next, how could anyone be expected to know whether or to what extent this or that priest is a “true son of Archbishop Lefebvre”..? It’s ludicrous.

 

3. As shocking as this may sound, there are graces to be earned at each and every Latin mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest.

 

Again, I ask: What on earth were the faithful Chinese Catholics thinking? What madness overcame the Catholics behind the Iron Curtain? How could they have been so wrong?

 

The answer is that they were not wrong. Here is where I think the problem arises. The   Council of Trent teaches that the sacraments actually contain the graces they represent. This is a contradiction of the Protestant teaching that they are only symbolic or that it is the ‘faith’ of the believer which somehow makes them work. But the fact that the sacraments are not merely symbolic and actually do contain the grace they represent, does not mean that one will always and everywhere and in all circumstances receive grace from a sacrament provided it is valid. That is not, never has been and never could be Catholic teaching. If that were so, then the majority of Catholics in Russia ought to be attending Mass at the Russian Orthodox and the 4th century Catholic faithful were wrong to steer clear of Arian priest and bishops.

 

What many Catholics today, your good self included, seem to believe is that the sacraments are some sort of magic talisman. They are like the ‘one ring’ of Sauron, whoever has it can use it, no matter how honestly or dishonestly he came by it. In reality, of course, you cannot “steal” a sacrament any more than you can cheat Almighty God. If you obtain a sacrament by doing something which displeases Him, then you would have been better off not having it.

 

Let us take another hypothetical example. Suppose there is a Tridentine Mass in your area. Suppose, too, that it is “celebrated by a validly ordained priest.” But suppose that priest had been suspended or even defrocked because he was a homosexual pederast who abused boys. Suppose that priest, according to the law of the Church, ought not to be celebrating that     Tridentine Mass and you ought not to be attending it. Is it still true to say that “there is absolutely no way ever to justify” not going to that Mass? And what about the graces? Will you be getting those graces by attending the illegal Mass of a suspended homo-pederast?

 

We may never do evil that good may come of it. That being the case, may we attend a Mass which we know we ought not to attend, simply because it is valid and we want to steal, sorry I mean “earn” graces from it? If it as simple as saying that one can gain graces from attending “each and every Latin mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest,” does that mean that if the only Tridentine Mass is the one said by the suspended pederast, you have to go? You it seems, would say, “Yes, go”. We, on the other hand, would say, “No, don’t go”. Very well, let’s forget for one moment what you or I would say. What does the Church say about attending such a Mass offered by such a priest? Do I need to spell it out, or can you guess?

4. I couldn’t disagree more with the conclusions you make with regards to the SSPX, however, if ever I found myself in a situation where the only Latin mass available in my area was offered by a priest associated with the so-called ‘Resistance’ movement, I certainly wouldn’t deprive myself of attending such a mass.

 

Good. Though the real reason for attending is of course far more serious. You attend it because, once you are no longer in ignorance of what is really going on, you are morally obliged not only to attend but wholeheartedly to support the Resistance.

 

This does bring up an interesting point, though. The SSPX priests and superiors would not agree with you. They tell people not to attend the Resistance. They even sometimes punish people for attending. If you have your children in a SSPX school, just see what happens when you start regularly to attend the Resistance. The SSPX of yore told people not to go to the Indult Mass. The SSPX of today is fine with the Indult Mass (our own District Superior of Great Britain positively tells people to go to it!). But they used to recommend not to go. In neither case did or do the SSPX appear to agree with your mistaken notion that, “there are graces to be earned at each and every Latin mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest”, or that “there is absolutely no justification” for staying away from any Tridentine Mass ever.

 

Staying home when it is the wrong Mass is the Catholic thing to do. It is what the Catholics did during the Arian crisis; it is what the Catholics did and do in China; it is what Catholics did during the upheavals of 16th century England; it is what Catholics did behind the Iron Curtain. It is what many Catholics do today in vast swathes of Russia, despite the ecumenism of the past fifty years.

5. Going to mass is not the same as attending a political rally where our presence signifies support for the priest - the only reason we go to mass is to receive the necessary nourishment for our souls.

 

Again, that is not true.  The reason you go to Mass is to give glory to God, to assist in His worship, to give Him that which is His right. We don’t give glory to God in secret; we don’t worship Him in secret. Your idea that “the only reason we go to Mass is to receive the necessary nourishment for our souls” is in essence selfish. If you were talking about confession, I might agree with you: you need to take good care, but in the end which priest you confess to or how often to is really nobody’s business. But Mass is not the same as confession, it is the official public worship given to Almighty God by His Church. And we are not talking about a Mass said in private, on a weekday, by an elderly priest on one of the innumerable dusty and disused side altars of an old abbey church. We are, I think, talking about a publicly advertised Sunday Mass: a parish Mass or the equivalent.

 

Again, if what you say were true, what reason would there be not to attend the Mass of a “validly ordained” Arian priest if you were living in the Arian crisis 1,500 -odd years ago? What reason would there be for not going to the Mass of a “validly ordained” ‘pax priest’ behind the Iron Curtain? What reason for Catholics in China not to assist at the Mass of a “validly ordained” CPCA priest? None.

 

I really think you must snap out of this idea that your duty is somehow to “get grace” out of the sacraments by hook or by crook, and that how you get it does not matter. It is not only our interior actions which matter, but our exterior actions too. Our Lord tells us that we must  confess Him “before men” if we wish Him to confess us before God the Father. When we die, when we go before the Judgement Seat of Almighty God, we will be judged not just on our interior thoughts and desires, but on our exterior actions. Remember that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of the Father. Note, he who does. It is what we do, our actions, which matter most.

6. Our Lord said by their fruits ye shall know them. The number of faithful  supporting the Society worldwide continues to increase as does the number of overall priests. These are indisputable facts which you choose to conveniently ignore.

 

“Indisputable”..? I hope you will forgive me then, if I dispute some of your “facts.”

 

First, I hate to break this to you, but the number of faithful has been noticeably in decline for a few years already. There are noticeably fewer chapels in Great Britain than there were even ten years ago. In the 1970s there were perhaps 2,000 faithful at the SSPX in this country. By the year 2000 it was more like 1,500; by 2012 more like 1,000. Who knows what it is now.

 

Second, does that argument not strike you as rather facile? What are the “fruits” that we should be looking for? Is it simply a numbers game? If that were so, then the SSPX is not and never was the answer. The Novus Ordo has far more priests, even today. In my country there are 15 SSPX priests compared to some 3,500 novus ordo priests, or 233 for every one SSPX priest. I have heard it said that there may be as many as 200 or more SSPX priests in France. But even if there were 250, that is still less than 2% when compared with an estimated 13,000 conciliar priests. The US District website says that there are 89 SSPX priests in that country; but there are around 35,000 novus ordo priests, or 393 for every one SSPX priests. We could go on. You get the idea, I think. 

 

That is just priests. You in fact mentioned the number of faithful supporting the Society. Unfortunately, there again it’s the same story. Around 1,000 faithful (perhaps less) in Great Britain compared to somewhere in the region of 700,000 or 800,000 Catholics who attend the novus ordo on Sundays. In the USA, around 25,000 faithful attend the SSPX, according to the SSPX themselves (sspx.org/en/general-statistics-about-sspx) versus roughly 2.75 million souls at the novus ordo on a given Sunday (39% of 70.4million total, according to a 2018 Gallup survey). Significantly less than 1%, in other words.

 

‘Ah, but that doesn’t count!’ - I can hear the cry - ‘Those are novus ordo Catholics, they’re not Traditional! They don’t have the same spirit! They’re lukewarm! They believe all sorts of heresies! You’re not comparing like with like! They don’t count!’ Very well. But that’s my point - it isn’t really a question of numbers then, is it? We need to dig a little deeper than the skin-deep analysis found in raw figures. If we agree that it has more to do with the spirit, the ardour and zeal or whatever else, perhaps it would be more fruitful to look at those qualities as they are found at the SSPX and compare it to the old SSPX and the Resistance of today.

 

In the old SSPX, it was normal for a priest to say three Masses on Sunday in three different locations and to spend the rest of the day on the road, travelling hundreds of miles between each one. That is still the case in the Resistance today, except that the priest will have to travel even greater distances between Mass centres than was the case before. The SSPX priest in the old days used to do anointings at all hours of the day and night, as does the Resistance priest of today. In the days of the old SSPX, the typical SSPX Mass centre in Great Britain was a rented hall with Mass once or twice a month. Whenever there was Mass there, the faithful supported it even if they had to travel some distance themselves. On the Sunday when there wasn’t Mass, many of them sanctified the day without Mass, rather than involving themselves in the compromise of the Indult Mass. The typical SSPX faithful knew why he was there, what the fight was about and why it was necessary to support the work of Archbishop Lefebvre. For the typical faithful at an SSPX chapel today, alas, that is increasingly less the case. The typical SSPX priest of today travels far less, grumbles when he does have to travel, expects to have everything laid on for him and would as soon close the Mass centre down as carry on saying Mass in a rented hall. The old SSPX was not afraid to carry Christ into the public forum,    processions, for instance, used to go out of the Church and down the street; the new SSPX are often too scared to leave the property. The faithful of the old SSPX, the died-in-the-wool Lefebvrists might sometimes have been eccentric, they might have been offensive, they might have been many things, but one can also imagine them being martyrs. Somehow, try as I might, I just cannot picture the typical modern-day SSPX faithful defying princes and rulers and laying down his life for Christ. Which of the two have “the fruits”, where do we see more zeal, greater ardour, more devotion? The old SSPX or the new SSPX? Which one does the Resistance today more closely resemble?

 

One could dig even deeper and have a look at the signs of worldliness: standards of modesty in dress; the size of families; whether one would overhear “right-wing conspiracy theory” -type conversations versus “mainstream normie” conversations after Mass; the old SSPX, where families were urged not even to have a TV in the home, versus the modern equivalent homes where electronic gadgets and screens abound. We could go on. The presence or absence of Catholic Action and other lay initiatives, of Catholic Social teaching, including controversial topics such as true Catholic social order, the evils of usury, etc. The fact alone that in 2013 the SSPX purged all the Fr. Denis Fahey articles from the US District website speaks volumes.

 

Finally, let me say a word about your boast that “the number of overall priests” in the SSPX “continues to rise.” It is true that there are more SSPX priests than ever before, but this is a double-edged sword, and I wouldn’t shout it too loudly about it if I were you. Firstly, if things had continued as they were, one ought to see an exponential rise, not the more-or-less straight-line increase which we see over the past forty-something years. Vocations are supposed to come from SSPX chapels run by SSPX priests, aren’t they? How then do you explain that there are more SSPX priests than there were in earlier times, but more or less the same number of vocations and ordinations? The number of vocations-per-priest must surely be less..?      Secondly, what are those priests doing? In the USA there are 89 priests looking after 103  chapels. In the 1990s there were roughly one-third the number of priests looking after the same number of chapels. How is that possible? It is only possible due to a diminution of apostolic zeal. The number of priests, as we saw earlier by comparing it to the novus ordo, is not the only thing that matters. If what matters is the quality of those priests, the zeal of those priests, then you need to start worrying. The current model SSPX priest is greatly inferior to his 1980s counterpart, in his actions, his spirit and even his loyalty to Catholic Tradition. No SSPX priest from a couple of decades ago would ever have been found  dead publishing the kind of      modernist nonsense about evolution which Fr. Paul Robinson’s book contains. Is it not an  insult to St. Pius X that the Society which bears his name should be publishing and promoting some of the very same ideas which gave rise, towards the end of the 19th century, to the modernism which he had to condemn?

Conclusion

 

As to the whole of what you have said, in case you hadn’t gathered I think you are wrong. I am sure that it is not entirely your fault, however. And I am equally certain that there are others out there who think along the same lines. All I will conclude for now is that the clergy seem to  have done a very poor job in instructing the faithful. Many Catholics, for instance, are under the mistaken impression that Sunday Mass attendance is one of the ten commandments. It is not. Sunday Mass attendance is a commandment of the Church. What the ten commandments require is that we sanctify the day. One of the main ways in which we do this is by attending Mass, if you can (abstaining from servile work being another). In normal times, that would simply mean that you attend your nearest Mass. These are not normal times. Since attending Mass is a commandment of the Church, it is for the Church to provide you with a Mass which you can attend. Any Mass which would involve offending Almighty God, is clearly not a Mass which you can attend. If there is a Mass nearby which you can in conscience attend and where your presence would not involve a compromise on the level of the Faith and would not, therefore, offend Almighty God, then you must attend it on Sundays and holy days. You must also try to make an extra effort to travel further to such a Mass, and if the effort seems too great, the circumstances too inconvenient, you must try not to resent it; rather, you must ask yourself why it is that Almighty God planned from all eternity for you to be living through this, why He wishes for you to find yourself facing such a choice. Then you must respond with generosity, urging yourself and summoning as much love and devotion towards Him as possible, and   telling Him that you will prove your love and devotion for Him through your actions.

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