The road we know

Blasphemy, idolatry, heresy, and bad manners are not exactly new things in the history of Holy Church. Not even “difficult” popes are new, nor priests who aren’t believing Christians, and in prevision of the circumstances that might arise, Our Founder provided a Mass that is very hard to fuddle. It could be illicit — could be Not the Mass — but with bona fides in order it is impossible to render invalid through any human act that is not visibly and audibly intentional. And even then the devil may fail, surrounded as I hope he would be by sincere Christians, not intending to be scorned. Even full-dress clowns in the sanctuary can’t invalidate the Mass, if there is a licit priest presiding, and he has gone through the motions of the consecration — whatever rubbish he might privately believe. His mistakes remain on his head only, until we try to disencumber him.

I mention this as a public service, from the many queries I get, which ought to be addressed to a competent priest. It seems to me that a great deal of unnecessary anxiety is endured by “Trad Catholics,” left wondering whether they have just been conned, and must now attend Mass in another parish to fulfil their Sunday obligation. This is especially enervating for them, when no other Catholic church is in hiking distance, they have no car, and they are stuck with the ministrations of some vain, liberal-progressive head case. This is hard, but I think the wisdom of the ages would proclaim: “Be patient until you can see him off.”

(Often they see themselves off, voluntarily; the quicker when faced with a hardy congregation. Unfortunately, given the priest shortage that “the spirit of Vatican II” brought about, there is danger they will be re-posted elsewhere.)

Christ, in my fairly secure understanding, would not do this to us. He might allow tribulations, that will always be deserved, but He would not make His own presence in our lives conditional upon the antics of befrocked delusionaries. He is not only present in the sacrifice of the Mass, but like us, came on purpose. An “invalid” celebration (actually there is no such category) would be so obviously Not the Mass, that no one present in mind could be fooled. And anyone who could be, is anyway under His protection. There would have to be a fake priest, or no consecration at all. The intention to profane the Host would have to be sufficiently obvious that only those intending to profane it would themselves receive. It would have to be unsubtle.

Of course this does happen, sometimes. But the notion that we must sit in the pews, constantly judging our priests in our distraction, is also unCatholic and unChristian. If the priest is determined to go to Hell, there is little we can do to stop him. We need not follow him there with our imprecations.

Meanwhile, I pass along the counsel from many who endured something much like desolation, through decades of the “deforms” after Vatican II; which seem to be returning under the current pontificate. It is best expressed in the colloquial: “Don’t let the bastards drive you out of the Church.” Nor yourself abandon, to their misery, your fellow faithful. Bad priests come and go, for all they may tarry, but the Church will endure. And things are worse in Aleppo.

Priests (or even bishops) preaching heresy and rot is much more common, these days. And this is worth the occasional public confrontation, in which, incidentally, one is likely to lose. In the short term, however, one can tune the homily out, by tuning in the Rosary. One may follow the Missal, whatever the priest is doing. While avoiding the kind of ostentatious deportment that will alienate the laity around you.

The rules are as Cardinal Burke explains: to transmit one’s dubia first in private, then in public only if that does no good. Only thereafter should one take it over the errant’s head. The rules for just engagement in war are similar. Even a declaration of war should be delivered with civility and politeness and the proper ceremony; and collateral damage ought to be avoided.


The same holds, I have come to think, by analogy in the rest of life. People do things that are bad. Or so I allege, backed by the weight of Scripture and Tradition. I have seen examples of very bad. I have seen more examples of bad masquerading as good: by people who have convinced themselves (if they really have) that their bad behaviour, their evil plans, somehow can be justified. It is by their fruits we know them.

So deeply ingrained is the human moral sense, that some attempt at self-vindication is likely to be made, even by the babbling insane. But seldom is there any puzzle, and if one follows the plot with modest attention one need not be vexed. For by the time an action needs to be condemned, and resisted, no subtlety is left. Nor need one be hot-headed in response to the crime. The malefactor will have gone out of his way to make the situation clear: the universe is so constructed that he has no choice. His pretence of goodness is ludicrous. His casuistry becomes self-satirizing. He is beyond kindly admonishment now.

We suffer sometimes from sensory deprivation. And yet this moral sense is so powerful, that the loss of sight and hearing — of smell, taste, or even touch — can hardly impair it. Too, it engages with all the other senses, when they are functioning; and I would not say only with these five because we have many more than five senses. (Indeed, scientistic materialism attempts to undercut this knowledge, by restricting the field; but this is a topic for many other days.)

My point for today is only that scrupulosity — one of the temptations in religious as in social life — can be safely forsaken. As the law once recognized, there is nothing ambiguous in an act of bad faith; and as Christians should know, Christ would not put us in that situation, where we must judge fine points beyond our ken. Moreover, as in the Mass, He is there when called upon. Faith is faith.