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The Energies of God

and the Progress of Traditionalism


Anthony Mazzone



His Excellency Bishop Kevin Rhoades solemnly encloses the sisters at the

Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg, PA, on Sept. 3, 2009.


 . .the holy city, the new Jerusalem,

coming down out of heaven from God. (Apocalypse 21:2)

(Posted 06/10/10 Just as laws of nature may be generalized from empirical observation, laws of the supernatural are discernible from the imprint of God upon events. The material universe is, if you will, the fundamental text perceived by man’s senses. Sacred Scripture contains the preeminent written record of the history of salvation. Both, under the eye of faith, speak clearly of the intelligibility of creation and of the Creator’s plenary goodness.[i] The philosopher Boethius writes: “The mind of God set down all the various rules by which all things are governed while still remaining unchanged in its own simplicity.”[ii]

The Book of Genesis and the Book of Nature should be read in conjunction with each other, as they are two parts of the same volume. So the first thing we need to comprehend is that in the beginning there was absolutely nothing apart from God. Though there was no deficiency in an eternal immeasurable present, out of no other motive than His infinite and unprompted love He created all things. In doing so He gave laws not only to Adam and his descendants but to the cosmos as well:  "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you set their dominion over the earth?" (Job 38:33). God Himself likens His fidelity to Israel to the covenant He has set with day and night, the fixed patterns of heaven and earth.[iii]

The initial harmony of creation, reflective of the Divine Mind, was disrupted by the Fall, a cataclysm that resulted in a privation of Sanctifying Grace for man and injury to nature. It is the reason for the loss of his original preternatural gifts; it is why natural systems unwind toward disorder, matter eventually decays and all living creatures die.

The last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse, is the mirror of Genesis. Here we learn the complementary half of the story of creation: God, who in six days made all new things, for the rest of eternity makes all things new. “And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new.”  (Apoc, 21:5).

Analogously, our Holy Church was created as a perfect society when the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost ushered the world into the period of the last days. On the temporal side the Church exists in history and in her sinful members is predestined to wither like all other associations. But Christ Himself sustains her, refreshing her beauty every day through the inexhaustible merits of His immolation on the Cross. Thus in the eternal present of the one Sacrifice, renewed on the altar, she is perpetually restored and made whole with the fullness of grace.

I ask that these reflections be kept in mind to provide context for the more granular subjects that follow. From the universal to the particular, we will take some time to survey a few obscure towns in the state of Pennsylvania and consider some local geography and history. Though these occasional bits of information are a matter of general interest, what they are meant to do is highlight what is of most importance: the geography of the spirit and the progress of Traditionalism.

Hell with the Lid Taken Off[iv]

First there is Mahanoy City in Schuylkill County. It lies in a gentle valley south of the Endless Mountains and west of the Poconos. As a center of anthracite coal production, Mahanoy City’s mines and foundries were once the magnets that attracted workmen from all over Europe.[v]  Each sizeable ethnic group eventually built its own church and for most of the twentieth century there were five Latin rite parishes in just half a square mile. But the hard coal industry fell on hard times and the factories closed one by one, devastating the fortunes of the town. The situation became so bleak that Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity established a local apostolate in 1991; they palliate the economic hardship by their ministrations, and more importantly attend to the dispirited by their prayers. The changes wrought by social and economic hardship, modernism and modernity, ravaged religious practice also. The five churches have since been consolidated into one. Though now diminished, its formerly robust Catholicism has had enough residual energy to play a small role in what I believe is mounting evidence of a substantial revival of orthodoxy and the traditional Latin liturgy.

Elysburg in Northumberland County is situated closer to the center of the state. Since it lies outside the main mining areas there are no culm piles or abandoned breakers to disfigure the landscape. The wooded valleys in the area are especially beautiful in late June when the mountain laurel blooms and numerous spring-fed streams purl through the bottomland. With a population of fewer than two thousand it is even smaller than Mahanoy City. It avoids complete obscurity by being the site of the Knoebels Amusement Park. Free admission, food stands full of the carnival treats that nutritionists abhor, and three wooden roller coasters make it one of the best amusement parks in the country. The town also serves as a convenient resting place for those traveling further west to view the elk herds around St. Mary’s.[vi]

Most visitors to Knoebels would be surprised to learn there is an institution right next door that is the exact antithesis to an amusement park. This is a convent of cloistered Carmelite nuns in a newly established contemplative foundation: the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

There has been a Carmel here since the early 1960’s when the land was acquired as the site for a daughter house of the Discalced Carmelite nuns from Loretto, PA. For a decade or so, these nuns lived a hidden and austere Carmelite way of life. The liturgical year processed through its seasons; day after day the chantress led the singing of the psalms and Mass was heard in substantially the same manner as would be familiar to St Teresa of Avila and St Therese of the Holy Face.

In the course of time the thunder of Vatican II echoed from the city of Rome, even through the hills and valleys of rural Pennsylvania, rattling the walls of Carmel. It rattled the sisters too, and they unfortunately heeded the supposed mandate of the Council to “renew” their way of life and experiment with different forms of prayer, government, and lifestyle. Not surprisingly the changes failed to invigorate the congregation. When I first visited about a dozen years ago it was obvious that the foundation was faltering. Novices had not been attracted and the remaining sisters were becoming increasingly infirm. They finally made the decision to move to a retirement center run by another religious congregation in nearby Danville, on the northern bank of the Susquehanna. A wise and generous accommodation was implemented when a cloistered wing was established in the retirement home, enabling the Carmelites to continue to live together as a contemplative community.

Simultaneously with the decline of the modernized Elysburg Carmelites, the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, Nebraska was experiencing dramatic growth. This is even more striking because the Valparaiso Carmel is itself a recent foundation, dating only from 2001 when it was founded as a daughter house from Las Vegas. Attracted not by novelty but by the promise of holy austerity, prayerful young women kept arriving at the convent door. They were not seeking innovation but to adventure for themselves the traditional Carmelite vocation of prayer, enclosure and sacrifice. They came to share, as the clothing ceremony says, “the mercy of God, the poverty of the Order, and the society of the Sisters.”

When their number passed 30, and at the invitation of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, the decision was made to establish a daughter house in the Diocese of Harrisburg. The news was greeted with joy by the residents of the area, and the proposal readily gained the prayerful support of the Mater Dei Latin Mass Community in Harrisburg.

So it was that on August 24th, 2009, 447 years to the day that St Teresa of Avila founded the first convent of the Carmelite reform, the solemn blessing and enclosure of the new community took place. This was a momentous event for the local diocese and a blessing for the universal Church. The nuns are now in canonical enclosure, where their communal life revolves around the daily sacrifice of the Mass and the liturgical hours of prayer.

Carrying on the close ties that the Valparaiso nuns have had with the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter in Denton, the nuns’ spiritual needs are served by a FSSP chaplain. As Discalced Carmelites, the Roman Rite is normative but, I understand, with particular Carmelite propers and sanctoral cycle. The monastery itself is modestly set back about a quarter mile from the main road. The chapel sits on a slight rise, its steeple slim and dignified against the sky. The buff interior is somewhat austere. As strict enclosure is perpetually maintained there is a proper turn and speakroom. The sisters are able to hear Mass from behind a grille on the Epistle Side. This is a double grille that had been rescued from storage. It appears to be composed of metal on the peoples’ side with small square openings, and what looks like wooden dowels on the sisters’ side

The original altar rail in the chapel had disappeared. I believe the present one was a gift from an historic church in Harrisburg. Beyond the altar rail, filling the far wall of the sanctuary is the focal point of the nuns’ lives: the magnificent high altar upon which the priest, in the person of Christ, reenacts the one sacrifice of the Cross for the world’s salvation. This altar, which as St, Ambrose tells us is the image of the Body of Christ[vii], was obtained from St. Casimir’s Church in Mahanoy City. St Casimir’s had been closed for a number of years. The dust was literally shaken off this altar, as the dust of the recalcitrant towns from the Apostles’ feet.[viii] God makes all things new. This altar had been bought by laborers whose wages were earned under brutal conditions, mining coal in darkness from deep within the ground. It became the light of their lives. It was their cynosure and source of consolation, the sacred space upon which the most important events of a lifetime were dedicated to God. They knelt in prayer as it was consecrated with chrism, and for years thereafter as it was regularly honored with incense. Now it is in the highest place of honor at the Elysburg Carmel, standing not so much as a testimony against the new liturgy which has no use for it but as a witness to the venerability of the old.

Somehow the damage caused by the Fall to souls and nature must be ameliorated by physical proximity to a contemplative community. Strip mines still scar the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania, acid-mine water still drains into the aquifer, but now the prayers of the Carmelites mystically descend upon it in some restorative way.

Not far to the east of the monastery is the town of Centralia. Seams of coal have been burning beneath it for over forty years. While noxious fumes escape from fissures in the ground and garden vegetables char in the soil, fire of a healing kind burns in Elysburg. The greater Shamokin region has been the site of the most violent episodes in the history of America’s labor movement,[ix]but now the unhurried keeping of the monastic hours, the practice of sororal charity provides a Christian lexicon, a climate in which historical passions are purified and memories of past injustices reconciled.

Every day on that magnificent altar Christ offers Himself to the Father through the hands of the priest. Thus the labors of the miners of Mahanoy City are still being rewarded. In a special way God, whose blessings are illimitable, rains grace upon their souls, on the souls in Purgatory, upon the adjacent hills and valleys and all who dwell therein. He continues to pour forth His graces beyond even our capacity to receive.

This then, I propose as an exceptionless regularity: wherever the immemorial Catholic liturgy is enacted with appropriate exactitude, where it is humbly prayed—in a monastery, parish church, or hood of a jeep in a war-zone—there is created an island of serenity and beauty. Wherever one finds a traditional Catholic spirituality, there is order and charity. This is why even a short visit to the Elysburg Carmel has such a moving effect on visitors; they emerge after Mass or the Divine Office, blinking in the sunlight and invariably exclaim: “that was beautiful.”

The Sepulcher Becomes the Nest[x]

Charles Dickens made a journey through Pennsylvania in the 1840’s and found the experience “sufficiently disconcerting.” I make the same trip today and find it sufficiently encouraging. In the small area of God’s earth that I know reasonably well there is a slow—but I believe insuppressible—growth in the availability of the traditional Catholic Mass. This has enormous implications, as the Mass does not come without its halo of divine grace, its penumbra of heaven.

I can set out from Daniel Boone’s birthplace in the Oley Valley just southeast of Reading, head down the modern descendants of the old Conestoga wagon roads to York and Lancaster (each briefly the seat of the Continental Congress), back through Altoona and Boalsburg (where you can say a prayer at the 16th century Columbus Family Chapel, imported from Asturias in 1909) and at least on Sundays be able to hear the traditional Latin Mass. If someone had told me even a few years ago that I could be present at the traditional clothing ceremony of a Carmelite novice in the middle of Pennsylvania followed by a Solemn High Mass, all approved by a local bishop, I would have questioned his sanity. I never imagined I could attend a weekly Missa Cantata, beautifully celebrated, at St Paul the Apostle’s Church in South Philadelphia, where my father had been baptized a century before.

That there has been such progress at all is a testimony to the resolute devotion of the Catholic people. It was by no means inevitable. Remember, everything in Catholic life was supposed to be transformed in the sunny renewal after Vatican II, when open windows would dissipate the musty odors of the past. Not only were traditionalists not accorded a seat in the sunshine, they weren’t even supposed to be.

Novelty indeed entered Rome like Pompey in triumph, and by 1971 there seemed to be little earthly hope for the survival of the traditional Mass of the Roman Rite. The faculty for praying it was allowed only to elderly priests in private while explicit canonical toleration existed solely under the Cardinal Heenan indult of that same year.

Yet to the extreme annoyance of the revolutionaries the ancient Mass remained. Inexplicably, inexcusably, some men were still attached to it. Who were these recusants who refused their acclamation? What lack of vision, what defect of the intellect, what disordered attraction kept their hearts fixated on the obscurantist rituals of yesterday? Though they numbered not many more than a few holy bishops, a handful of heroic priests, and some stubborn bands of laymen their very existence was intolerable, a living contradiction to the myth that liturgical revolution was historically inevitable and universally welcomed.

In those early days traditionalists felt as if they were island hopping in a vast ocean of cultural barbarism and apostasy, leaping from one solid piece of Catholicism to another. The goal all along was to expand the number of islands until they would unite in a land bridge to a homeland with a semblance of Christian sensibility. Through it all, the rallying cry had always been “it’s the Mass that matters.”

So, whether in hedgerow or hotel room, the Introibo continued to be uttered. “Rebel” priests repeated the venerable gestures, followed the ancient ceremonies, attended to their flock of “breakaway” congregations. In a sort of informal underground faithful Catholics told one another of a Mass in a hotel room here, passed news of another to be said at a side altar there. They rescued discarded church furnishings, catechized their children, kept alive the innumerable small customs of their ancestors in the faith. It was not until 1980 that some comfort came their way, when in a rare note of pastoral concern Pope John Paul II issued his Holy Thursday letter Domenicae Coenae.[xi]

These words were followed by substantial action a long four years later when an indult was granted providing for a more frequent celebration of the immemorial Mass, “without prejudice” to the new rite.[xii] This was an overdue act of solicitude and was greeted with relief by traditionalists; it provided just enough spiritual nourishment to stay alive. Still, most of the world’s episcopate declined to interpret the document in a wide or generous manner, and the restrictions imposed on the permission were contemptible. Perhaps the chief among the painful memories from this period is the recollection of the faithful who were denied even the last consolation of their dying wish: to have a traditional Requiem said at their funeral.

The number of “indult” Masses slowly increased. Too often they were scheduled at inconvenient times, or in old churches in desperate neighborhoods. It was often the case that theologically liberal bishops proved more accommodating than others. This is because most mainstream “conservative” Catholic intellectuals agreed with their more unorthodox colleagues that the Tridentine Mass had been abrogated, and was in any case hopelessly outdated. The consensus was that the indult was a mere pastoral provision for those too stubborn, nostalgic, or perverse to recognize the benefits of the Novus Ordo.

Adjutorium nostrum in nomine domini. Traditionalist writers continued to contend that the received rite of the Roman Mass had neither been abrogated nor obrogated. They argued these points in small journals, in books issued by publishers working out of living rooms and basements. With exacting labor and at considerable personal expense missals were reprinted; the treasury of sacred music was revived. Independent priests formed a loose federation of like-minded missionaries. More Mass centers were established and pilgrimages to the great shrines were organized (their doors were usually closed to Catholic traditionalists, so the Mass of the Saints had to be said outside at makeshift altars.) No matter, the important thing was that the Masses continued to be said, allowing the traditional Mass to retain a tenuous foothold in the public worship of the Church. All along the intellectual foundation was being laid, the spiritual substructure prepared, for the growth of the ancient Mass whenever it would be liberated.

Though tolerance was requested, no one at the time experienced much agreement. Therefore when the so-called Ratzinger Report appeared in 1985, traditionalists felt for the first time that there were churchmen in positions of power who had some understanding of the catechetical, theological and liturgical issues they had been confronting for so long. In fact, the role played behind the scenes by Cardinal Ratzinger was significant.

Further encouragement came in 1986—21 years before Summorum Pontificum –when a commission of nine cardinals (including Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Alfons Cardinal Stickler) made the finding that the traditional liturgy had not been abrogated and recommended a general right of all priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. This recommendation was never acted on and there was no relevant juridical issue.

As the decline within the Church and the world accelerated, the arguments for Tradition were given another look. Issues that had been limited to the small tribe of traditionalists were now openly discussed in mainstream Catholic publications. It was patently obvious to many younger seminarians and scholars that there indeed seemed to be a discontinuity in the development of the liturgy in the West. At the very least there was no denying that the liturgy celebrated in Catholic churches was insipid, having fallen from a celestial height.

The doubts would not go away. How could worship in the informal and desultory manner of the typical Novus Ordo Mass be compatible with the virtue of Fear of the Lord? And if at Mass we are accompanied by Seraphim and Cherubim, if Angels and Archangels surround the altar, how can one not be uncomfortable with such pedestrian language, the pervasive sense of familiarity? As for hand clapping and sundry other “charismatic” manifestations, how can one act like a dang fool in the presence of the Glorious Company of Martyrs? Questions about this liturgy’s parentage and intrinsic aesthetic quality became insistent.

The great traditionalist priests, editors and writers deserve someday to be properly commemorated. They negotiated the inevitable squabbles within the movement: initiatives, petitions, successes and reversals most of which are now best forgotten. Through it all, the single most important organization connecting the pre-Conciliar past with the present was the priestly Fraternity of St Pius X (SSPX) founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. It was by far the most prominent clerical community dedicated to the traditional rites of the Western church. In chapels and missions throughout the world, the priests of the Society taught the traditional catechism and brought the sacraments to hundreds of thousands who were in acute need of them. The SSPX never ceased to form seminarians in time-honored ways of spirituality and discipline.  But the most beneficial effect of the Society’s work was in maintaining the living praxis of Catholicism. I doubt very much if this could have survived in any significant way without the SSPX. Formal teaching of dogma, punctilious protocol, even the most piercing nostalgia are not enough. There has to be a living experience of inherited Catholic custom, new generations who have been raised with a Catholic mentality and experience the world in a peculiarly Catholic way: in short, a living sensus Catholicus. This is no small thing. And this is precisely why no one can be indifferent to the doctrinal discussions currently occurring between the representatives of the Holy See and the SSPX.

The outcome of these discussions is absolutely critical to the temporal and spiritual welfare of humanity. It isn’t just a matter of regularizing the ecclesial status of the Society, as apparently suitable arrangements have already been offered. This is a far more critical undertaking, a necessary beginning (in which the two parties should not be antagonists but cooperators) to confront the fundamental doctrinal reasons behind the post-Conciliar changes to the liturgy and the way the Church relates to the modern world. For the good of souls ambiguities in post-Conciliar teachings and actions must be clarified, theological uncertainties dispelled, and moral doubts dissipated. The faithful need reassurance that, whatever novel formulations may be used in contemporary church pronouncements, the doctrines at issue are to be held in the same understanding, with the same meaning as always before. This should not be as difficult as it is being made out to be, if correspondence with received tradition is used as the invariable measure.

A widening of the indult occurred in 1988 immediately after Archbishop Lefebvre and Brazilian Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, contrary to the express canonical warning of Pope John Paul II, consecrated four priests to the episcopate.[xiii] Later in that same year the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter was founded as a clerical society of Pontifical right. Their mission, similar to that of the SSPX, is the formation of priests according to the traditional seminary disciplines and their sanctification in the context of the traditional liturgy of the Roman Rite. They are deployed in apostolates throughout the world. Other “Ecclesia Dei” communities followed, most of which are very small. What they have in common is great care and love for the liturgy and complete fidelity to the traditions and doctrine of the Church. The Carmelites of Elysburg may be counted among these communities.

In particular two events in the post-Indult period are never to be forgotten. The first is the Pontifical Mass celebrated by Alfons Cardinal Sticker at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on May 12, 1996. It drew a congregation of over five thousand and press coverage around the world. The second is the now legendary SSPX pilgrimage to Rome during the Great Jubilee Year of 2000. They came to Rome in full devotional panoply to honor God, intercede for the world, and pray for the Pope. The impression made by the prayerful priests and seminarians on the assembled prelates was profound. There was no doubt that these Catholics were deeply orthodox in belief and devoted to the Vicar of Christ. As a result Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos initiated a meeting with the Society's four bishops and informally began negotiations at a rapprochement.

It was yet another auspicious occasion when on Christmas Eve of 2001, the Pope signed a decree to create the personal apostolic administration of Saint John Mary Vianney (SSJV) for the Campos jurisdiction in Brazil. The SSJV was granted papal approval to offer only the traditional Mass and sacraments. Many traditionalists hoped that this could be a model for a universal canonical structure responsive to their pastoral needs.

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos further demonstrated his firm commitment to the reintegration of Tradition when in 2003 he celebrated the Old Mass at St Mary Major. He asserted in his sermon that Catholic traditionalists are not to be treated as if they were “second class citizens.”

The same Cardinal Ratzinger was in time elected Supreme Pontiff. In July 2007, as Pope Benedict XVI, he issued on his own initiative an apostolic letter, Summorum Pontificum. As far as diplomacy could allow, he declared the vindication of all those who for years had been fighting to keep the traditional liturgy alive, since "it was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, always permitted.” The motu proprio was welcomed with acute joy because it was analogous to a patient being taken off life support and breathing on his own. It once and forever legitimized the Church’s own heritage,[xiv] and removed any stigma from traditionalists’ “rightful aspirations”.

As early as 2001 the leaders of the SSPX were requesting that Rome make two initial gestures of good will: that the right to offer the traditional Mass be recognized for every Roman-rite priest, and that the latae sententiae excommunications of their four bishops be remitted. SP took care of the first, and the second was fulfilled by a decree by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops signed on January 21 2009 which pronounced the censure henceforth to be “deprived of any juridical effect.”

These initiatives have not come without pain for the Holy Father. His solicitude has been vilified and his pastoral kindness deliberately distorted. But it is due to him, and following SP, that one can finally make the momentous statement that the traditional Roman Rite will not disappear. The very violence with which the great tree of tradition was uprooted scattered the seeds of its revival, and these took root in the most unexpected of places. The Mass of our forefathers has by the grace of God escaped the annihilation that was planned for it. In an ironic twist it turns out that the radicals are sour and aging and their spawn watery, while the children of tradition are still full of sap, still green. It is a little bewildering to think that time is on Tradition’s side, as are a healthy portion of Catholic youth. I was happily surprised when it struck me recently that the celebrants at most of the traditional Masses I attend are younger than me.

Sed contra. . .

I have pointed out some reasons for being optimistic. Now to look on the other side: it is beyond denial that the modern world is in a state of continuing deterioration, and the Church is still in major crisis. Despite the progress as outlined above, it is still intolerable there are probably fewer Latin Masses celebrated today in Pennsylvania than there were in Prince Gallitsyn’s time. It is not satisfactory that people in the sparsely populated northern tier of the state have no practical possibility of assisting at the traditional Mass. We can never acquiesce in the fact that each one of us cannot attend the traditional Mass every day in his own parish church. So while we don’t have to keep fighting battles we’ve already won, we do need to redeploy on other fronts.

There remains a discontinuity in the development of the Western liturgy that has to be reconciled. In the long run it is not fitting that the Holy See should have two distinct rites proper to it or that Roman Rite Catholics should have two ways of worship (apart from long established variations of the Latin Rite), one reflective of ancient traditions and settled doctrine and the other a correlative of twentieth century modernity. The willingness to acknowledge this fact has been the principle dividing issue between Catholic traditionalists and conservatives. In fact, the so-called “reform of the reform” can be seen as a way of healing the disassociation of sensibility this rupture with the past causes the conservative mind.  The closer the Novus Ordo is made to resemble the traditional Roman Rite, the smaller the rupture appears and the less uncomfortable are the inevitable questions.

But from what I can see the ongoing efforts at reform are becoming progressively pathetic. The number of Latin Novus Ordo Masses is minuscule, and steadily declining. In the final analysis what’s the point of attempting to reform what is in essence a deformation? As the Council fades into history it is becoming clear that the entire justification for a novus ordo was bogus. After forty years reality forces us to admit that the benefits that were supposed to be derived from it have been illusory. So the real question needs to be asked: can we live with a de facto high and low church? Is there really any reason at all for the Mass of Paul VI to exist?

The Church’s liturgy developed gradually through the centuries under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Man could no more create a new liturgy than he could write a new book of the Bible.

For the time being, the notion that the usus antiquior and novus ordo are two forms of the same rite, though historically untenable, is a convenient fiction. I believe that someday the terms “Ordinary Form” and “Extraordinary Form” will likely sound as obsolete as “celebret” and “indult” do today.

As this process takes its course traditionalists will continue to be tempted by feelings of impatience and resentment. These weaknesses have to be combated with the countervailing virtues of fortitude and long-suffering. Every day the Carmelites pray for the peace and triumph of Holy Mother Church. Can we think these prayers will remain unavailing forever? Have we not all seen that new generations of Catholic children are being raised by heroic parents, that even outside the explicitly traditionalist orders many orthodox and fervent young priests are being ordained who have no living memory of the catastrophic ecumenical council and no personal stake in its innovations? Bishops are finally waking from their non-dogmatic slumbers. We have entered a new era, reaching a point in time from which honest men can look back and see that there was a failed Council, that the new liturgy which was the Council’s natural outcome was also a failure.

Let’s again be vigilant to excise from our attitudes any sense of grievance, any notions of exclusivity or superiority. It would be a big mistake to discount the piety of our natural fellow travelers, those good people who are not traditionalists as we generally define ourselves but who could teach us a thing or two about devotion and perseverance. The day is still far off but I am convinced it is coming: the day we traditionalists are out of business, when we will attend the same Mass with all our fellow Catholics, because what was new had no roots and withered and what was old is still grounded and firm, still deep.

The Ancient of Days

Now let us return to the reflections on nature and Sacred Scripture made at the beginning of this article. As we have seen, before the act of creation there was not a single atom of matter. In the absence of physical things, there was no motion. God made everything Himself and knows everything He has made. He has numbered not only the hairs of your head (Luke 12:7) but every leaf on the maples and oaks that line the ridges of Schuylkill County. As one walks the forests of central Pennsylvania he will naturally meditate on the fact that, as Dante writes, “Nature is the Art of God.”[xv] The hiker perceives the intricate shapes of the rock formations interspersed among the pines and hemlocks; he contemplates that God also sees and knows them intimately. All things and all events are simultaneously present in the sight of God and in this sense of God’s memory, nothing will cease to be: "It is sufficient for humans to understand one and only one thing: God, who has created everything in nature, also governs all things and directs them towards good.”[xvi]

Indeed God so loves His creation that He re-causes it at every moment. The homely and beautiful solicitude of the Lord is lauded by poets and mystics alike:

Also in this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall last for that God loveth it.[xvii]

Just as there was no matter before the act of creation, neither were there any souls or spirits. Then the Lord spoke: "Let the earth bring forth the living creature. . .” (Gen. 1:24). This command is still in force, and the earth ceases not to obey its Creator. It was likewise the origin of the inscrutable entity we know as time, for without created beings there is no context for such a thing as past, present, or future.

Taking these thoughts further, we find then that every person who comes into the world occupies not only a unique place in nature but also his own proper place in time. His existence began not a second prematurely. Yes, even our Blessed Lord in His humanity was born in “the fullness of time.” (Gal. 4:4) You are alive, you are reading these words in a moment not of your own choosing but of God’s (a moment, I believe, closer to the events foretold in Apocalypse than those narrated in Genesis.)

History then is the record of man in time, relevant only to man, with its final end being his eternal life.[xviii] The story of our salvation began immediately after the fall of our first parents and the promise to their descendants of a Redeemer. This is Sacred History and it is still happening today. You and I live within Sacred History just as surely as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are as fully involved as St Peter and St Paul.

Now consider that, since we live in the exact place and time chosen by God, we have as much to hope for from His omnipotence as we do from His mercy. Be serene in the knowledge that no one’s existence is an accident, no life is irrelevant, and no place on earth is insignificant. Just as your soul is as precious to God as that of St Francis, so Elysburg under the eye of God is no less negligible than Rome. No holy initiative is wasted or unremarked, not the prodigious efforts of a St Francis Xavier, not our own secret works of charity, not the smallest sacrifice of the most reticent nun in Carmel.

Through the transcendent energies of God creation will be rejuvenated even beyond its prelapsarian perfection. Against all purely natural laws, we are assured that in some unimaginable future scenario all will be made right; by His omnipotent power even our long decayed bodies will be transformed to incorruption, for “He shall cast death down headlong for ever.” (Isaias 25:8) While the future is totally opaque to human speculation, we do know with certitude that history will turn out as God intends. And against the immense failures of the human element of the Church, she is the spotless bride of Christ in which injured souls are made whole. The elect, whose sharing in the life of Jesus began with Baptism, will enjoy His presence forever. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (Cor. 5:17)

An expression of thanks is due to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades (who has since been assigned to the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend). Also, it is very important that we support the sisters by our prayers and donations. Those called to do so may become spiritual cooperators. The address for information, prayer requests and benefactions is:


Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

430 Monastery Rd

Elysburg, PA 17824


[i]  “Those, who thus base their reasoning on what is before their eyes, apprehend God by means of a shadow cast, discerning the Artificer by means of His works.” Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, III, XXXII, 98-102). Philo Judaeus lived in Alexandria, Egypt, from 20 B.C. to 40 A.D.

[ii] The Consolation of Philosophy, “Fate and Providence 1”, (Book IV, Prose 6). Boethius was born at Rome in 480 and is regarded by tradition as a martyr, having been put to death under the Arian Emperor Theodoric.

[iii] “Thus saith the Lord. If I have not set my covenant between day and night, and laws to heaven and earth: Surely I will also cast off the seed of Jacob. . .”(Jer. 33:25-26)

[iv] Though often attributed to Charles Dickens, this phrase was penned by writer James Parton in the January 1868 edition of the Atlantic Monthly. He was describing the view of Pittsburgh’s open-hearth steel mills and coke ovens.

[v] The mountainous terrain made it difficult for the residents to receive TV signals. Thus a local entrepreneur created a kind of community antenna, giving the town the “distinction” of being the first in the world to have cable television.

[vi] St. Mary’s was founded on December 8, 1842 by Bavarian Catholics from Baltimore and Philadelphia who were seeking to practice their religion free from the oppression of the Eastern Protestant establishment. It is the home of Decker’s Chapel, possibly the smallest chapel in America, and of the first female Benedictines to settle permanently in the U.S.

[vii] See The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No 1383)

[viii] And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off even the dust of your feet, for a testimony against them (Luke 9:5)

[ix] The coal region was the location of America’s nascent labor movement, giving rise to the incident known as the Lattimer Massacre and home of the Molly Maguires.

[x] This refers—as metaphor for the resurrection of the Tridentine Mass-- to the Roman Poet Ovid’s beautiful description of the legendary Phoenix: “It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. . . it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth. . . When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent's sepulchre).  .”  Recounted in Chapter 36 of  Thomas Bulfinch, Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes. 1913

[xi] February 24, 1980: “I would like to ask forgiveness-in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate-for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament. And I pray the Lord Jesus that in the future we may avoid in our manner of dealing with this sacred mystery anything which could weaken or disorient in any way the sense of reverence and love that exists in our faithful people.”

[xii] Circular letter by the Congregation for Divine Worship, “Quattuor Abhinc Annos”, 3 October 1984.

[xiii] The Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei Adflilcta" of 2 July 1988, asks for a “wide and generous” application of the previous indult.

[xiv]What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”

[xv]Art, as far as it is able, follows nature, as a pupil imitates his master; thus your art must be, as it were, God's grandchild.” Inferno XI, 103.

[xvi] Boethius, Ibid, (Book 4, Prose 6).

[xvii] The English anchoress Juliana of Norwich (1342 – c. 1413) recounts a series of intense mystical experiences in her Revelations of Divine Love. See “The First Revelation”, Chapter V in the on line Christian Classics Ethereal Library:

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