(LifeSiteNews) — When the Latin Mass-suppressing Traditionis Custodes was released in July, esteemed liturgist Dr. Peter Kwasniewski compared it to an “atomic bomb” and gave a powerful speech at this year’s Catholic Identity Conference on why true obedience to God requires that we disobey its instructions.
Now that the Responsa Ad Dubia has been released — what Kwasniewski describes as another atomic bomb, or an attempt to root out the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments entirely so that they “will never grow again” — there is nothing less than a burning need for his explanation of why all priests and laity are not only permitted to resist, but are “obliged to resist.”
It’s perhaps impossible to overstate how important this resistance is. If well-meaning priests fail to do so, it will be, of course, from a desire to be obedient, ordinarily a holy and necessary way of life for clergy. But as Kwasniewski so well shows, obedience to these documents would undermine the very mission of the holy Catholic Church.
Here I’ll attempt to outline his outstanding, theologically grounded explanation as to why. (Emphasis my own)
Discerning true and false obedience in the era of Traditionis Custodes
Kwasniewski opens with the story of a friend who once proposed before the faculty of Harvard Divinity School his idea for a doctoral thesis: the obedience of Jesus in the Gospel of John. One of the senior professors, who had lived through the horrors of Nazi Germany, leaned forward and said, “Obedience is the root of all evils.”
While such a statement from one who lived under Hitler is understandable, this extreme position is not at all the position of a Catholic, even during a time rife with corruption. On the contrary, Kwasniewski says, it is through obedience to “God and his representatives on earth” that man finds true liberty and imitates Christ Himself, who became “obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.”
The “royal road of obedience” was exceptionally modeled by the saints, and indeed, it is a guidestone for the liturgy of priests, who must “obey the rigorous and comprehensive rubrics” of the Mass “so totally that their individuality disappears and the primacy of Christ the Eternal High Priest comes to the fore.”
The conditions of obedience
The strong aversion that the elderly Harvard professor, and that we ourselves naturally have to the idea of obeying someone such as a Nazi SS officer, is for good reason: “It is not obedience that comes first, but truth and charity; and this is why obedience, rightly understood, is not blind,” Kwasniewski says. “Take away truth and you take away love; take away love and you take away the root of obedience.”
Thus, insofar as a legitimate authority, is himself obedient to God — to divine and natural law — and “wills our good,” we owe that authority obedience.
The “free, intelligent, conscientious obedience” owed to our Church superiors then requires at least first that we trust our superior, that is, “we believe the superior loves us with Christian charity, wills our good, does not seek our injury or destruction;” and second, rightful subordination, which means the superior subjects himself to God, which includes “respec[t] of custom and tradition — especially within the Church, where these things have the force of law;” and also means “that the inferior is subject to the superior only in those matters over which the superior has discretion or command.”
Kwasniewski notes that a “crucial aspect of trust in a superior is having confidence that he is telling the truth,” or “a basic confidence that the superior is not himself being lied to or manipulated by his own superior, or by his counselors.”
And so, “Christian obedience is never a form of unthinking servility,” Kwasniewski affirms. Only God, who “is Love itself” and always wills our good, “deserves absolute and unconditional obedience.” True obedience then “is always obedience to GOD, whether immediately or mediately.”
“If one has a serious and well-founded doubt about whether the human command is compatible with the divine or natural law, one should not obey it,” Kwasniewski notes. “To say otherwise would be to say that in a case where we fear we might be committing a mortal sin, or even a venial sin, we should go ahead and do it lest we offend our superior.”
St. Thomas Aquinas affirms this principle in his Summa theologiae, writing, “Sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God. Therefore, superiors are not to be obeyed in all things.”
Leo XIII “reinforces the point” in his encyclical Libértas Praestantissimum:
If, then, by anyone in authority, something be sanctioned out of conformity with the principles of right reason, and consequently hurtful to the commonwealth, such an enactment can have no binding force of law, as being no rule of justice, but certain to lead men away from that good which is the very end of civil society. (n. 10)
Kwasniewski points out that Leo XIII ties the proper exercise of authority to the common good of a society, and that this same principle applies to the Church as a society, when the “common good” is properly understood.
The intrinsic relationship between authority and the common good
Kwasniewski whittles down to the origin of authority: “It is born to serve and promote the shared good of many. This is the very reason authority can bind people to a certain course of action (or, conversely, forbid a course of action).”
“Here is where we reach the heart of the question. An authority’s power to morally bind resides in the common good, so if the authority deploys his office overtly against the common good, then that command inherently lacks moral binding power.”
He then asks another critical question: “What, then, is the common good of the Church that gives rise to her authority — which is then wielded, to one degree or another, by the members of the hierarchy?”
Kwasniewski beautifully captures the truth at the source of his response to Traditionis Custodes and its kin:
“The Church’s common good is the divine life of Jesus Christ, her sovereign Head— the superabundant grace of His divinized soul, shared with His members through the illumination of the intellect by revelation and the inflaming of the heart by the supernatural charity of His Heart — and the divinization of souls by the sacramental life and the life of prayer (including the solemn, formal, public worship we call the sacred liturgy).”
Traditional liturgy as inherent to the Church’s common good
“In the realm of the liturgy in particular,” but also with regard to the sacraments, “we must see the traditional rites of the Church as not merely human works but works conjointly of God and men — of the Church moved by the Holy Spirit,” Kwasniewski writes.
“Our Lord promised His disciples: ‘When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he will teach you all truth” (Jn 16:13). This promise includes the fullness of liturgy.”
“One would expect, if the Church is truly governed by the Spirit of God, that her divine worship would, in its large lines and accepted forms, mature and become more perfect over time.”
This is why, Kwasniewski says, “the rate of liturgical change slows down as liturgical rites grow in their perfection until they have reached a certain maturity —a fullness of doctrinal expression, symbolic saturation, and artistic impressiveness— after which they cease to develop in any but incidental or minor ways.”
He also makes the important point that “the traditional liturgical worship of the Church, her lex orandi, (“law of prayer”)” is a “fundamental” “expression of her lex credendi, (“law of belief”), one that cannot be contradicted or abolished or heavily rewritten without rejecting the Spirit-led continuity of the Catholic Church as a whole.”
The pope who sets himself against the common good
“Since the liturgy truly is the ‘font and apex of the Christian life,’ the home of divine revelation and the primary agent of our transformation in Christ, it follows that to abolish or prohibit or in any way work against the venerable Roman Rite that was humbly received … and lavishly praised for century after century of uninterrupted growth is the most notorious and damaging attack on the common good possible or imaginable,” Kwasniewski writes.
“If this is not the kind of good the Church’s authority exists to protect, one may well ask what goods would qualify?” Kwasniewski continues. “As a statement from the Society of St. Pius X correctly argues:
‘The traditional Mass belongs to the most intimate part of the common good in the Church. Restricting it, pushing it into ghettos, and ultimately planning its demise, can have no legitimacy. This law is not a law of the Church, because, as St. Thomas says, a law against the common good is no valid law.’”
Kwasniewski notes that “Catholic tradition recognizes the pope’s solemn duty towards the immemorial liturgical practice of the Church.”
Pope Francis, then, clearly violates “the famous Papal Oath of the Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, a handbook of formularies used by the pontifical chancellery at the end of the first millennium,” according to which “the pope is to swear: ‘I shall keep inviolate the discipline and ritual of the Church just as I found and received it handed down by my predecessors.’”
“In one of its approved texts, the Council of Constance, states: ‘Since the Roman Pontiff exercises such great power among mortals, it is right that he be bound all the more by the incontrovertible bonds of the faith and by the rites that are to be observed regarding the Church’s Sacraments.’”
Kwasniewski then quotes the famous, solemn, strong words of St. Pius V’s bull Quo Primum, which he notes “is not ‘just a disciplinary document’ that can be readily set aside or contradicted by his successors; it is a document de rebus fidei et morum, concerning matters of faith and morals, and therefore not susceptible to being set aside by a later pontiff” — something acknowledged by “his successors who, whenever they published a new edition of the missal, were careful to preface it with Quo Primum, showing that they accepted and embraced that which Pius V had codified and canonized.”
Quo Primum states:
“In virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used. Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us. We likewise declare and ordain … that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remains always valid and retains its full force … Would anyone, however, presume to commit such an act [i.e., altering Quo Primum], he should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”
The sensus fidelium and the resistance of a well-formed conscience
Kwasniewski affirms that “we do not owe obedience to an ecclesiastical authority if he acts against the common good of the Church,” and that “It is important to note that Catholic theologians are unanimous in maintaining that this is possible — it can actually happen — and, even more importantly, that ordinary Catholics are capable of recognizing when it is happening.”
He draws attention to a 2014 document prepared by the International Theological Commission of the Vatican that explains that the sensus fidei, which it describes as “the capacity enjoyed by the baptized members of the Church to discern the truth of Christ if they have been formed properly by it and are striving to live according to it.”
The document goes on to note, “For St. Thomas, a believer, even without theological competence, can and even must resist, by virtue of the sensus fidei, his or her bishop if the latter preaches heterodoxy.”
Why does suppression of the traditional Latin Mass and rites qualify as “heterodox”? Kwasniewski explains:
“Let us be absolutely clear about this: to attack the traditional Latin Mass (or any of the traditional liturgical rites) is to attack the Providence of God the Father; to reject the work of Christ, the King and Lord of history; to blaspheme the fruitfulness of the Holy Ghost in the Church’s life of prayer. It is contrary to the practice of every age of the Church, of every saint, council, and pope prior to the 20th century. It contradicts several key virtues of the Christian life, most notably religion, gratitude, and humility. It implies the rejection of the dogmatic confession of faith contained in the traditional Latin lex orandi in its organic unfolding over at least 1,600 years, which is contrary to the theological virtue of faith … ”
“In all these ways and more, the postconciliar liturgical reform, its subsequent ruthless implementation, and Pope Francis’s renewed effort to extinguish the preceding tradition are unreasonable, unjust, and unholy, and therefore cannot be accepted as legitimate or embraced as the will of God,” Kwasniewski continues.
“A repudiation of our Catholic liturgical patrimony is tantamount to disobedience to God; and we will be obedient to God precisely through our ‘disobedience’ to the revolutionaries.”
Conclusion: stand firm and hold fast
“In short: if we are convinced that something essential, something decisive, in the Faith is under attack from the pope or any other hierarch, we are not only permitted to refuse to do what is being asked or commanded, not only permitted to refuse to give up what is being unjustly taken away or forbidden; we are obliged to refuse. Sitting on the fence is not an option.”
“Our obedience is rightfully given to the higher authority — in this case, to Divine Providence, to the Holy Spirit, and to the authority of the Church of all ages. Because this is true, any penalty or punishment that was meted out against us for this disobedience would be illicit. If a punishment is given on false theological or canonical premises, it is null and void.”
“Imagine a modernist hierarch who suspends or excommunicates a tradition-loving Catholic priest because the hierarch hates tradition and the priest loves it and adheres to it. This suspension or excommunication is null and void. The priest may continue administering the sacraments as before; his faculties remain unimpaired.”
Kwasniewski points out that when tradition is condemned, “so is the Church’s substantive continuity, and with it, the basis of ecclesiastical authority (since the episcopacy and the papacy are themselves transmitted to us by tradition!).”
“The clergy who are committed exclusively to the old rite as a matter of principle (such as the members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest) must not compromise, regardless of threats or penalties. Rather they should understand the legal emptiness of these baseless maneuvers.
Now that our enemies have made it clear that they intend our eventual liquidation, classic legal principles of self-defense, proportionate resistance, and the invalidity of unjustly-imposed penalties come fully into play.”
Kwasniewski observes that those suppressing the traditional rites are driven by nothing but their own ideology — not “theology, history, tradition, canon law.” Therefore, “no arguments will prevail with them; no appeals to kindness, fairness, justice, mercy; no petitions even if signed by millions. And that is why they must be opposed with absolute refusal to comply with any of their destructive demands.”
“In this way we will also add lustre to obedience in its highest, most beautiful, most radical form: obedience to the truth, for love of the good — for the love of God.”
Recall what the great Anglican convert Hugh Ross Williamson wrote in 1970 in his blistering pamphlet The Great Betrayal:
Our bishops, forbidding this rite, call on our “obedience.” But they must surely know that obedience to conscience takes precedence of everything, and that obedience cannot be commanded for something wrong. Even in military life, a soldier can no longer plead obedience to a superior as an excuse for committing a crime. What the bishops mean by “obedience” is mindless regimentation — the kind of obedience which the apostate priests of the first Reformation gave to their apostate bishops, among whom there was only one who defended the Faith — St. John Fisher. At the moment, there is no St. John Fisher.
The defense of the Church, in the face of the great betrayal by the ecclesiastics, devolves on the laity, who should be active in pursuing the policy which is already coming into effect in various places — providing a priest to say the Tridentine Mass and devoting to his upkeep all the money they would normally give to their local church. As we are back to the Catacombs, the celebration can be held in private houses.
There can be no possible censures for this. It was for this eventuality that St. Pius decreed: “At no time in the future can a priest ever be forced to use any other way of saying Mass.” It would, in the end, be impossible to accuse of schism those who continued to use the form of Mass sanctified by the centuries. It is the ecumenists who would be the schismatics.
Our situation today is both worse, in that the depth of the corruption is worse, and better, in that many more people see it and have made a resolute return to tradition. We even have in the hierarchy a few St. John Fishers-in-the-making. Let us not lose hope but hold fast to all that we know to be good and holy and Catholic. God will take care of the rest.
St. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621): “As it is lawful to resist the pope, if he assaulted a man’s person, so it is lawful to resist him, if he assaulted souls, or troubled the state, and much more if he strove to destroy the Church. It is lawful, I say, to resist him, by not doing what he commands, and hindering the execution of his will.”
What to do if my local TLM is canceled?
Kwasniewski advises: If your diocesan TLM is canceled, go to the SSPX for Sundays and Holy Days. Pray the rosary and the traditional breviary at home. If you don’t have any Latin Mass in your area at all, find an Eastern Catholic rite or, should it be available, an Anglican Ordinariate parish.