By Fr. Basil Wrighton
Originally written in August 1982 issue of The Angelus magazine, Fr. Wrighton expertly shows how "the spirit of Vatican II" is protestantizing Catholics.
Whatever the new "ecumenism" may say or mean, the plain fact remains that there is fundamental antithesis between "Catholic" and "Protestant." One has only to reflect on the history of these two religions to see how they contradict and exclude one another. While the one claims to expound a divine revelation with divinely conferred authority, and to administer supernatural sacraments as a means of divine grace, the other professes only to comment on the Scriptures by the light of human reason, and fights shy of anything supernatural or miraculous. While the one upholds the great Christian mysteries of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption and the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the other has become very doubtful about these mysteries and included to reject some or all of them as outdated superstitions. The same holds good concerning angels and devils, hell, purgatory and heaven: these are very real for Catholics, very unreal for Protestants, at any rate for the contemporary type.
For the Protestant mentality is essentially skeptical and fissiparous. Once it had broken away from the parent Christian stock and committed itself to the vagaries of private judgment, it went on changing, evolving and splitting up into ever new sects. For a time it held on the main tenets of Christian faith, but as the sects became more and more liberal, they tended to drop them overboard or explain them away. Low-church grows into broad-church, and broad-church evolves toward no-church.
There have, of course, been reactions against this devolution. "Fundamentalist" minorities in various times and places have dug in their heels and refused to move with the times, hanging on to some semblance of the original faith. A more intellectual and more influential reaction was that of Newman and his Tractarian followers, who reasoned their way back to a substantially Catholic theology, emerging as a "high-church" party within the Anglican establishment. But they could never be really at home in that flock —how could they? Newman himself was quick to perceive that they had no future there; he thereupon made his submission to Rome, and many of his disciples followed him, to the great advantage of both the neophytes and their hosts. We never thought to see this historic decision reversed.
Now, however, since Vatican the Second we have been faced with the hitherto incredible spectacle of a mass movement in reverse —a movement of Catholics towards Protestantism. It began with the caucus of modernist prelates and their "experts" who brought off a successful coup d’etat at the first session of the Council, by tearing up the authorized agenda and substituting their own program [cf. the article, Archbishop Lefebvre Preparing the Council, and Fr. Wrighton's article, Collegiality]. This gave them a certain control of the proceedings and enabled them to devise loopholes and ambiguities in the acta for subsequent exploitation. The "pastoral" rather than dogmatic character of this Council made its texts all the more susceptible of tendentious interpretation.
It was of course the same progressive party which got the job of implementing the conciliar decrees, and that is where the trouble became most serious. The Party’s first concern was with the liturgy, which of all the Church’s institutions stood in least need of reform, and which no responsible Catholic wanted to change. The Council had made a few cautious, limited and reasonable concessions for the vernacular languages to be used in scriptural readings and prayers in which the people took a vocal part. These apart, it insisted on the retention of Latin. But that was not what the Party wanted. The existing lex orandi was an obstacle to their new religion, so it had to be destroyed. The Church text was defied, and the Holy Mass of all the Catholic ages, the Church’s most sacred treasure and the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, was cunningly demolished by installments and replaced by a completely different rite, entirely vernacular and frequently vulgar, celebrated back to front, and shorn of the traditional gestures of reverence and the verbal safeguards of Catholic Eucharistic doctrine —just the things that Cranmer himself had suppressed. The sacrificial element was consigned to oblivion, and all the emphasis transferred to the "memorial" and "meal" elements, just as in the Protestant "Lord’s Supper." The obvious purpose was to make the Eucharist so "ecumenical" that it could be shared by those who had no belief in either the Sacrifice or the Real Presence. Can one imagine anything more dastardly than this betrayal of the Holy of Holies for the beaux yeux of believers? Yet the Modernists were allowed —and are still allowed —to get away with it and to impose it on the whole Church of the West. No such subversion has ever before been known in the Catholic Church.
And what a vernacular! —the shabby, ephemeral speech of the streets and the pubs brought into the sanctuary! The whole concept of a vernacular liturgy is indeed a monstrosity, only to be excused by total illiteracy of the worshippers. Are the Catholics of the West so illiterate that they cannot read even the simplest prayer book? Liturgy is an essentially sacred thing, eternal truths clad in an unchanging form: in a word, it must be hieratic, not demotic. The Church has been telling us this for centuries, and had repeated it emphatically as recently as 1962 (the Apostolic Constitution of John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia); but the Church was now made to eat her own words and swing over to the Protestant slogan of "a language understanded of the people" —as if Latin had been a mere mumbo-jumbo to our people for all these centuries!
Since the Novus Ordo Missae was designed as an "ecumenical" liturgy, ambivalence was essential to it. Hence the many alternative formulas (Confiteors, Canons, etc.) left to the option of the celebrant, together with the studied ambiguity of the wording where any definite Catholic doctrine (such as transubstantiation or sacrifice) is involved. Hence the abolition of the Offertory prayers, and the reduction of the Consecration to what can be taken as a mere narrative. The result of it all has been to stir up controversy among the faithful as to whether the new liturgy can be regarded as sacramentally valid. To take the negative view would amount to questioning the God-given authority of the Church which has sanctioned the changes. But a careful study of such works as Michael Davies’ masterly trilogy on the Liturgical Revolution will show that the bare essentials of validity have been preserved, but in so thoroughly Protestantized a setting and mentality that lapses from validity are much more likely to occur, and the Catholic faith cannot be expected to survive or flourish in such an environment. All that used to protect and nourish this faith has been ruthlessly cut away in the interests of "ecumenism", and the effect of the revolution can be plainly seen in the vast exodus from the Church which has followed it.
The Novus Ordo was only a first step. The Party had many more changes up its sleeve. The revolution was to be "on-going," the faithful were to have no respite from shocks and scandals. Soon we had Communion in the hand, a gratuitous profanation borrowed from the Dutch dissenters and railroaded into the Church elsewhere by admiring episcopal conferences in face of papal protest and popular disgust. Then came the Lay Ministers, male and female, handing out Holy Communion, while the priest looks on from his chair —unemployed, redundant. It is a galloping process of "desacralization." Nothing is now to be held sacred or inviolable. All that was sacred in our religion from time immemorial is being dragged down to a common and profane level, to adapt it to the abject spirit of this age.
So much for what is going on with official approval, within the widening limits of the law. I have said nothing about the spate of outrages and sacrileges which have sprung up in the wake of the Novus Ordo, for these should be abhorrent even to progressives. They simply did not happen under the old order; therefore the new order is responsible for them. But authority does nothing to correct them. There seems to be no limit to what the bishops will now tolerate —so long as the abuses are committed on the liberal, revolutionary side. But if any poor deprived Catholic on the other side attempts to revive the Holy Mass, then the fulminations begin! The only capital offence that remains, it seems, is fidelity to Catholic tradition.
When the President of Una Voce at an interview with Archbishop (now Cardinal) Benelli in Rome in October 1976, pointed out the existing liturgical chaos and asked how, in view of this state of things, the suppression of the old Mass could be justified, he was told that "those who wish to retain the old Mass have a different ecclesiology." This from one of the closest advisors of the then Pope; it meant that those who were faithful to Catholic tradition were now to be treated as dissidents. The phrase quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus ("What has been believed always, everywhere, and by all") as a criterion of orthodoxy bad now been rejected in favor of a new Party Line which contradicted the Church’s entire previous tradition. What was forbidden and condemned yesterday becomes lawful today, and mandatory tomorrow. What had always been seen as black, is now white, and vice versa —because the Party says so. This comes close to the Bolshevik criterion of morality: what is right or wrong is simply what helps or hinders the Party.
Pope Paul VI himself used to speak of a "new orientation" of the Church’s life and liturgy following Vatican II, and the whole charge against Archbishop Lefebvre in that pontificate was that His Grace would not accept this fatal orientation. He could not accept it —we cannot accept it —because it is an entirely new thing in the Church, a new ethos incompatible with Catholic dogmatic tradition. If we accept this reorientation, we must hold that the Church’s teaching has been utterly mistaken all through the past twenty centuries of its history, from the Apostles onward, until light dawned at last in the nineteen-sixties, thanks to Bugnini and his men. It was an about-turn, away from the supernatural and transcendent towards the natural and worldly, from the divine to the merely human. Those who have eyes to see can see more clearly every day that such a periagoge, if persisted in, can only lead to the destruction of the Catholic and Christian religion.
The Party, modernist and progressive, which seized power in the Church from the Council onwards and is constantly building it up by selective appointments, is moving in the same direction as the Protestant reformers whom it copied so closely in the new liturgy. But it is going much faster and further than they went. It is Liberal-Protestant, which means in the long run non-Christian and anti-Christian. It has allied itself with the secular humanism which now rules the Western world, and is even making overtures to the communist powers, after having rendered the Council virtually ineffectual by refusing to condemn the world’s greatest menace.
It should be noted that the ideology of Liberal-Protestantism is practically the same as that of the Modernism which appeared somewhat later in the Catholic Church. It disintegrates traditional beliefs in much the same way, and both can be seen as concurrent stages in the destruction of Christianity itself. St. Pius X remarked this in his encyclical Pascendi in 1907: historical Protestantism and Modernism, he says, are successive stages in the progress to Atheism.
Contemporary liberals (e.g., those who write in the ex-Catholic Tablet) are apt to crow with delight over the notion that the Catholic religion has undergone a "mutation" in consequence of Vatican II —or rather, "the spirit of Vatican II," a spook which as often as not is made to contradict the letter of the Council. They fail to understand, it seems, that the Catholic religion is of such a nature that a "mutation" —i.e., a radical and permanent change —can only destroy it.
From these observations, and from many others which could be mentioned, there emerges the picture of a Church which is unrecognizable as the Church we were brought up in —rather like an ugly stepmother, all spots and wrinkles, in place of the Holy Mother Church we knew and loved in pre-conciliar days. It is not only the ecclesiology that is different; everything is different. The bogus "ecumenism" aims at ironing out the distinctions of true and false in religion, so that Catholic doctrine goes into the melting pot with everything else. The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation are dismissed as no longer "relevant" to the "adult man" of the twentieth century. Christ’s hierarchical Kingdom of God, transcending space and time, must now give place to the "People of God," this-worldly, democratic, liberal and egalitarian. The ministerial priesthood must no longer be distinguished from the common priesthood of the faithful, and the Pope must forego his supreme and paternal authority and resign himself to being a mere primus inter pares, the spokesman of the bishops, whose claim to "collegiality" implies that it is for them to decide all questions in committee, by a majority of votes.
With doctrine thus being whittled away for the sake of specious agreement with heterodox bodies, and with the supreme authority being put into commission, the prospect before the Conciliar Church becomes bleakly Protestant, and ultimately non-Christian. A further catastrophic development is that the Neo-Modernists, unlike the earlier breed, have now scrapped the Ten Commandments, done away with moral absolutes and the notion of sin as an offence against God, and reduced morality to the "situation ethics" of secular humanism, where literally everything is permitted as long as one thinks it meets one’s needs of the moment or develops one’s "personality."
Now that sin has been swept under the carpet, those two bastions of Catholic spirituality, confession and penance, are of course found to be superfluous. The deserted confessionals are being removed from the churches, and the sacrament, when it is used, tends to become a sort of psychiatric session. As for the laws of fasting and abstinence, they are virtually abolished. Before the Council about a hundred days of the year were affected by fasting or abstinence or both. Since then a series of wholesale swipes has reduced them to a derisory two days in the year! Another concession to Protestantism, which from its earliest days has despised these weapons of the spirit. This progressive ideology has of course taken over the Catholic schools, seminaries and universities, and bought up the Catholic press: all these institutions are failing, or have already fallen, into the "ex-Catholic" category. Even the expensive schools run by the religious orders themselves have joined the Modernist bandwagon. Many faithful Catholics have found themselves obliged to take their children away from "Catholic", schools in order to save their faith. As for the others, the present hapless generation of children will, for the most part apparently, become a write-off. The only hope of a genuinely Catholic education lies now in new foundations, at the cost of much sacrifice and struggle for the faithful remnant. A grace-selected remnant there will certainly be, for the continuance of the Church, but the majority of our once-Catholic population, those who will not bestir themselves to resist and protest against what has been done to them, finding it easier to swim with the post-conciliar stream, are becoming daily and visibly more and more assimilated in manners, morals and beliefs to their Protestant neighbors, and will soon be indistinguishable from them. "Ecumenism" will then have attained its goal, not by a return of the separated brethren to the one true fold, but by a massive apostasy from that fold, led by its own shepherds —a massive sell-out of Catholic truth.
A fearful example of this sell-out may be seen in the "pastoral" councils and congresses of recent years —an updated kind of "robber councils" of lay persons and clerics, approved and attended by the national hierarchies for the furtherance of "renewal" or revolution. Among the most notorious have been those of Holland and America (the Detroit "Call to Action"), and (in 1980) Liverpool. At this latest festival of loquacity and pop-theology the participants (hand-picked Modernists, of course) called for the scrapping among other things, of considerable portions of the moral law (God’s eternal law). At the end of it all, the bishops got up and effusively thanked and congratulated the pastoral freebooters. If anyone cares to remember this conciliabulum, it may well go down in history as the Latrocinium Liverpolitanum ("The Robber Council of Liverpool").
What shall we call the multitudes of ex-Catholic shepherds and their sheep who have
either defected or drifted into a new religion? Perhaps we might call them "Roman Protestants." We older Catholics did not like being called Roman Catholics, for we did not admit that there was any other kind of Catholics. But there are various kinds of Romans, and many kinds of Protestants; and Rome is now the headquarters, not only of the Catholic Church, but of the Modernist Mafia which has invaded and subjected it. At the English CoIlege in Rome, that venerable nursery of episcopabiles, we got occasional pep-talks on the cardinal virtue of romanita (Romishness). That was in the nineteen-twenties, when Rome was the citadel of orthodoxy, and we saw nothing incongruous in such a virtue. Things are very different in the Deutero-Vatican era, and I often wonder whether my contemporaries and epigoni, mitred or otherwise, might not have done well to dilute their romanita with a much stiffer dose of cattolicita. It might have saved some of them from ending up as Roman Protestants.
When obedience to the constant tradition of the Church is so clearly in conflict with obedience to certain office-holders who have departed from that tradition, we rank-and-file Catholics must use our common sense and opt for the superior obedience. The simple faithful have always done this in times of epidemic heresy. Such crisis are happily very rare. The gravest in the Church’s past history was the Arian crisis of the fourth century, when, as St. Jerome expressed it, "the whole world groaned in astonishment to find themselves Arian;" or, as Newman puts it, "there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the ‘ecclesia docens’." We are living in such a crisis now, that of the Modernist Reformation. The Church was drugged for a major "mutation" in the nineteen-sixties, and is now gradually coming round to find itself Liberal-Protestant. It is in this situation that faithful Catholics are finding themselves faced with the stark alternative of becoming either recusants or renegades.
Sixteen hundred years ago, when the bulk of the hierarchy had strayed from the faith of Nicaea and even the Pope faltered for a time, St. Athanasius headed the faithful few who stood out for Catholic truth against a world in the grip of heresy. He had much to suffer, and was even excommunicated, but eventually his cause prevailed and the faith was saved. In our day likewise, amid the ceaseless babble of post-conciliar Newspeak, one episcopal voice has been heard to observe, in plain French, that one religion is not as good as another, that faith and morals are not variable with times and circumstances, and (with regard to "renewal") that the emperor has no clothes! For the audacity of these views, and for his fidelity to Catholic tradition, he is denounced and persecuted by the liberal establishment, but will not recant. His witness and his work continues, and the day will come when a restored Church will bless his name. Once again, magna est veritas et praevalebit.