What must we do?

Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. … “As we pray, so we believe, and so we live.” … As I understand, the saying goes back to Prosper of Aquitaine (c.390–c.455), the disciple of Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the man who communicated Augustine’s remarkable teachings to the papacy, as adviser to Pope Celestine I, and as secretary to Pope Leo I. In its original form:

Ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. … “The law of prayer establishes the law of belief.” …

The rhetorical third part, lex vivendi, was added much later. For of course we should live as we believe. Often it is added, with vocal stress or printed capitals, by contemporary Church liberals, who in their ignorance suppose that it somehow modifies the preceding proposition, so that it might now be translated, “If it feels good, do it.”

This is a small point, but then there are many small points on which we have been going wrong over the last few decades, and they do add up. Here is nothing new: that our lex orandi was modified radically, and for the most part gratuitously, before, during, and after Vatican II, and that the results are plain to see. This is what I like to stress, though I am not so rude as to use capitals. Catholicism exalts Truth, which includes vivid “facts on the ground.” And here is some truth about Catholicism in our English-speaking realms:

We have today a fraction of the churches we had before the “liturgical reforms”; a fraction of the seminaries; a fraction of the priests, and a fraction of the religious; a fraction of the baptisms, marriages, funerals. We have huge multiples of the annulments, the contraceptions and abortions. Where three in four Catholics attended Sunday Mass, in the 1950s, it is now less than one in four. And even among those who attend, there has been a terrible lapse in obedience and discipline. Our remaining priests and religious are mostly quite old; their congregations, too, are aging; and within less than one generation at the present pace, the Catholic faith will be, truly, the Church Invisible. It will survive in remote locations, corresponding almost entirely to the “traditionalist” parishes, which are (thanks to God for Pope Benedict’s motu proprio of 2007) actually growing.


The apostasy lies deeper than Vatican II. The cancer was spreading long before it showed these horrific outward symptoms. Evidence for this is widely available. A friend, for instance, calls attention to the Manifesto of the Catholic Laity, published in England at Pentecost, 1943. Consider this excerpt:

“We, the undersigned Catholic Layfolk, desire … to make known our true feelings with regard to the present controversy concerning the language used by the Church in her public worship.

“We utterly repudiate the subversive efforts that are being made to discredit the use of the Latin Liturgy, a precious heritage brought to the English people by Saint Augustine of Canterbury from our glorious Apostle, Saint Gregory the Great, and which we are proud to have preserved intact these fourteen hundred years, even throughout the hardships and dangers of the penal times.

“We therefore protest that we are opposed to all attempts to tamper with this venerable Liturgy, or to substitute for it a copy of any non-Catholic rite, however beautiful or impressive.

“We strongly resent the implication that we and our children are not sufficiently intelligent to understand the simple Latin of the Mass. …”


In Ottawa, the week before last, I had the honour to be with Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, visiting the town at the invitation of the NET youth ministry. Together with several other good friends, we lunched and dined with him in the intervals between the Masses at which he presided, at both the magnificent Notre Dame Basilica and the little Saint Theresa’s parish church.

Our greatest living authority on Canon Law, Burke was until recently Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, at Rome — in effect the “chief justice” of our highest Canon Law court. Events subsequent have been in the news.

Cardinal Burke happens to be among my greatest living heroes, perhaps the greatest after our still living Pope Emeritus. A man of real sanctity, and extraordinary learning, he embodies for me the phrase with which this Idlepost began. And more, the starch of the ancient Christians. A man in his position today will inevitably be deprecated by the “progressive” mob; he has the courage to resist intimidation, and the grace to persist as a champion of what Holy Church teaches, and has always taught.

I lack both his charity and his genius. At close quarters I can report that he is all-of-a-piece with what I had seen at a distance. (I once met Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, and would say the same of him.) A gentleness, a creature kindliness is at and below the surface of his nature; a humour that is likewise gentle, often subtle, but consistently affectionate. And his learning is communicated in answers to questions entirely without pretence, in terms wonderfully adapted to the limitations of his interlocutor. He is thus a fine teacher, as I could also know from friends who once studied Canon Law under him, at the Gregorian in Rome, for each of whom he is a living inspiration.

He has all the marks of a great Christian teacher — for instance the constant excursion back and forth between principle founded in the life of Our Lord, and the particulars of a modern occasion; or the answering of questions always directly, beginning usually with a “yes” or a “no.” There is nothing of the politician in him, that I have discerned in most of our bishops; there are no cheap phrases, there is no “playing to the gallery” for applause. There is only straight shooting.

I am inspired by the knowledge that we still have such men with us, preaching truths that can still be known, that are still known, that will remain known. God will provide them.

But that is not enough. What must we do?

His Eminence very kindly sent me from Rome an edited text of the talk he delivered to the NET ministries dinner. He made remarks which I think help us to get beneath the surface arguments for the restoration of the Sacraments in their deeply reverent Tridentine form, to the cause they so adequately served, serve, and will serve. Rather than paraphrase, I shall take the liberty of quoting directly from Cardinal Burke’s speech:


“Addressing the challenge of Christian living in a totally secularized world, Pope John Paul II called us to a new evangelization. A new evangelization means teaching the faith, celebrating the faith in the Sacraments and by their extension through prayer and devotion, and living the faith through the practice of the virtues, as if for the first time, that is, with the engagement and energy of the first disciples and of the first apostles to our native place. Before the grave situation of the world today, we are, Pope John Paul II reminded us, like the first disciples who, after hearing Saint Peter’s Pentecost discourse, asked him: ‘What must we do?’ Even as the first disciples faced a pagan world which had not even heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, so we, too, face a culture which is forgetful of God and hostile to His Law written upon every human heart.”


“Once sexual union is no longer seen to be procreative by its very nature, human sexuality is abused in ways that are profoundly harmful and indeed destructive of individuals and of society itself. One has only to think of the devastation which is daily wrought in our world by the multi-million dollar industry of pornography, or the incredibly aggressive homosexual agenda which can only result in the profound unhappiness and even despair of those affected by it, and in the destruction of society, as it has always done historically. Fundamental to the transformation of Western culture is the proclamation of truth about the conjugal union in its fullness and the correction of the contraceptive thinking which fears life, which fears procreation.”


“It is the conscience, the voice of God speaking to souls, which is, in the words of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, ‘the aboriginal Vicar of Christ’. …

“Conscience does not set each of us apart as an arbiter of what is right and good, but unites us in the pursuit of the one truth, ultimately Our Lord Jesus Christ Who is the only arbiter of the right and good, so that our thoughts, words, and actions put that truth into practice.”


“The hostility and the even more pervasive indifference to the beliefs we hold most dearly tempts us to discouragement and even to avoid the more public witness to our faith. But the martyrdom to which we are called and for which we are consecrated and fortified by the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, requires us to offer tirelessly our witness, confident that God will bring forth the good fruit.”


“The life of the martyr for the faith finds its centre and source in the Eucharistic sacrifice, in Eucharistic adoration, and in all forms of Eucharistic devotion, especially visits to the Blessed Sacrament and Spiritual Communion throughout the day. Through Eucharistic devotion and all true devotion, we extend our communion with the Lord. …

“Frequent confession, including confession of devotion, is essential to our growth in the truth and love which we know in Christ. Essentially connected to it is our nightly examination of conscience and Act of Contrition, by which, day by day, we turn once again to Christ in our heart and prepare ourselves for the sacramental encounter with Him in Confession. The integrity and courage needed to be a martyr of witness in the world today demand the intimacy with Christ, which can only come through the daily examination of conscience and Act of Contrition, and the regular meeting with Him in the Sacrament of Penance.”