A Berlin Wall—Again

It must seem to the decent Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass that a kind of Berlin Wall is closing in upon them.

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Rising, piece by piece, are the bricks of a new Berlin Wall. It is not a physical barrier, like the original Wall, imprisoning captive peoples in a communist hell. This one is a spiritual Wall, separating devout Catholics from a means of adoring God that they love: the Traditional Mass.

It is an unprecedented reversal of the generous indulgences of both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Both pontiffs were redressing the unjust suppression of the Traditional Mass by Pope Paul VI. In the now historic words of Pope Benedict XVI in the letter to the bishops of the world accompanying his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum

What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

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This document was the culmination of pontifical acts which finally ended the hegemony of a corrupt theological/liturgical nomenklatura that had foisted upon the Church an alien lex orandi that, if not deforming the lex credendi, most certainly attenuated it. With an intrepid determination, this liturgical bien pensant violated the millennial work of the Holy Spirit which fashioned the Traditional Mass whose roots traced back to the first centuries of the Church’s existence.  

No such intrusion had ever been perpetrated in the history of the Church’s sacred liturgy. Ludwig Wittgenstein, eminent linguistic analyst, was correct when he wrote, “attempting to change the canons of a language is like trying to mend a spider’s web wearing boxing gloves.”  

No description more aptly captures the damage done by these liturgical apparatchiks. Preceding Benedict XVI’s providential declaration had been the methodical accumulation of many decades of meticulous theological/philosophical scholarship collecting evidence of the Bugnini/Concilium vandalization of the sacred liturgy. 

All of this germinated in the formidable intellect of Joseph Ratzinger. As he sifted the weight of the massive work of theologians, historians, and philosophers, he began a decades-long work of piecing together the proper understanding of the Mass, while producing devastating critiques of the liturgical junta responsible for the fabrication of the Novus Ordo.

With glacial progress, a growing number throughout the Church were convinced of the liturgical arguments of Pope Benedict. In a particularly striking passage, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in a Forward to a groundbreaking work of Dom Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, 

Growth is not possible unless the Liturgy’s identity is preserved…. Proper development is possible only if careful attention is paid to the inner structural logic of this “organism”: just as a gardener cares for a living plant as it develops, with due attention to the power of growth and life within the plant and the rules it obeys, so the Church ought to give reverent care to the Liturgy through the ages, distinguishing actions that are helpful and healing from those that are violent and destructive…. With respect to the Liturgy, the Pope has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk pile.

Like the appearance of a new land mass, Summorum Pontificum was promulgated by Pope Benedict on July 7, 2007. It released the Traditional Mass from its decades-long captivity. But not without howls from an unreconstructed hierarchy wedded to Old Ideas. Their groaning was joined by a chorus of theological mandarins whose revisionist theology depended upon the elasticity of a Novus Ordo regime.

On February 21st, the Holy See promulgated still another juridical document further restricting the Traditional Mass from its celebration. It comes two years after the initial restrictions of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes. These two documents, both draconian and gratuitous, originated in the discredited thinking that Pope Benedict laid bare.  

Both are oblivious to the conspicuous spiritual fruits the Traditional Mass has borne, with scores of single young people and families crowding it. Their attendance is not spawned by resentment of the Novus Ordo nor animus toward a sometimes-ungracious hierarchy. Thus proving that the suppression is one of ideological spite and vindictive reprisal.  

Further demonstration lies in the Holy See’s indifference to the doctrinal enormities of places like Germany, to say nothing of the shocking remarks of the current Synodal relators.  

One wonders where is the “accompaniment” so beloved by the present pontificate? Where is the “going out to the fringes”? Where is their “listening Church”?

Indeed, it must seem to the decent Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass that a kind of Berlin Wall is closing in upon them. Yet, though bewildered and downtrodden, they are not petulant; confused, but not vitriolic; sorrowful, but not inflamed. Their reaction to The Suppression is serene, but not unintelligent. Terribly bright, they appreciate the theological/canonical dynamic at work, and they respond intelligently but never disobediently.

Their response is tempered by respect for rightful authority, but not blinded by it.  They strive to be faithful sons and daughters of the Church no matter the persecution by the Church. As the great Thomistic scholar Fr. Antonin Sertillanges, O.P., once remarked, “Sometimes Catholics are called to suffer for the Church; but there is no greater suffering as to endure suffering by the Church.”

Even as the height of this new Berlin Wall grows higher, they will accept this suffering as willed by God, deepening their fidelity to Mother Church.

One thing they will not surrender is the Immemorial Mass. To that they are committed usque ad mortem. Their inspiration is the English martyrs, especially in the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1547-48, when thousands marched in protest against Henry VIII’s frightful abolition of the Roman Mass from every corner of England, a country so soaked in the Faith that for centuries it boasted the title of Our Lady’s Dowry.   Even as the height of this new Berlin Wall grows higher, they will accept this suffering as willed by God, deepening their fidelity to Mother Church. One thing they will not surrender is the Immemorial Mass.Tweet This

They take courage from the Catholics behind the Iron Curtain who remained ever faithful to the True Faith in spite of the jackboot of barbaric Communism. They are steeled by the stories of Polish Catholics in the darkest days of Communist tyranny. Having no priest, they would secretly congregate in the forest and pray the Mass together with their missals. When they arrived at the Consecration, they would fall silent and weep.

Today’s heroic Catholics recognize that this cruel season will pass in God’s good time. Till then, they will let the fires of their suffering forge more strongly the supernatural virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. They will endure the lies patiently because they possess the truth. 

If the Holy See forbids their participation at the millennial Traditional Mass, they will not be deterred. They will repair to auditoriums, to open fields, to street corners and alleyways. They will not cease praying the Mass of the Ages. For without this Ancient Mass, their hearts will no longer soar.  

You see, love does such things.


  • Fr. John A. Perricone

    Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Iona University in New Rochelle, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John’s Law Review, The Latin Mass, New Oxford Review and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. He can be reached at www.fatherperricone.com.

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