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(A Brief Reflection on the Role of the SSPX,

by a Convert from Protestantism)

Joshua Teske POSTED: 6/23/12


Tu es Sacérdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech


( For the past three years I’ve traveled from Saint Paul to Winona, Minnesota for the ordinations at the Society of St. Pius X’s (SSPX) St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary.  Despite various commitments and uncertainty regarding my traveling companions (I ended up going alone this year), I wanted to make the trip again this month.  Two factors weighed in my decision: the seminary project in Virginia that will likely make this one of the last ordinations I attend here in Minnesota and the rumors surrounding the SSPX negotiations with Rome.

The drive afforded me some time to contemplate the role the SSPX is playing in the Church today, a role necessary due to the lack of sound doctrine and unwillingness for the official organs of the Church to unashamedly take up Her banner and fight.  Let us all recognize that even orthodox expressions of the Church have downplayed its militant and supernatural character.  Christ’s kingship has been relegated to an eschatological afterthought; sin has been replaced by the need to create an open and accepting atmosphere; and suffering and sacrifice are to be avoided if at all possible.  Meanwhile the world has usurped the moral authority and controls the very language we use to defend our “religious liberty.”  It’s no wonder that people have walked away from the Church.  She represents Herself as being capable of providing what the world values, but is only able do so in poor, imitative fashion.

I am not saying that the hierarchical, diocesan Catholic Church is not the true church or is diminished in its mystical or supernatural character.  What I am saying is that the representatives of the Church on the natural order and at the human level have forgotten or have rejected the authentic Christian tradition.  Some have perhaps done so with the best of intentions, but they have done it nonetheless.  Simply put, I don’t trust the anonymous Catholic priest to be able to advise me in spiritual matters, let alone provide spiritual sustenance for my children.  I recently attended an event at which several Catholic priests and a bishop were present.  The question had occurred to me several days prior as to why Ember days, which I understand to be penitential, occurred within the Octave of Pentecost.  I considered asking one of the priests, but for once prudence triumphed over curiosity and I decided against it, considering the most likely outcome to be an unproductive and awkward exchange.

The SSPX represents for me—a relatively new and inquisitive Catholic—a reliable source of truth uncompromised by modern and politically correct ideology.  I do not wish to attribute a monolithic or universal character to their knowledge or piety; but in general they reflect the Catholic tradition in its true sense.  They have been ostracized and libeled.  It is still common to read about the “schismatic” and “breakaway” group of ultra-traditionalists despite official declarations from Rome to the contrary.  Yet popular disapproval has not diminished their resolve, and their numbers continue to grow.

This attitude of resilience and trust in almighty God is one of the great lessons of the Society—this attitude of abandonment and steadfast resolution in the face of overwhelming opposition.  There will come a time when those who seek to kill Catholics will believe they’re doing the work of God.  Precious in the sight of God is the death of his saints.  This was very much in line with the sermon of His Excellency Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, who put forth as the example for deacons the proto-martyr Saint Stephen.  In all, 12 new deacons and 8 new priests were ordained on June 15 of this year.

Contrast the vitality of the society with an account from the New York Times of the lone priest ordained in the diocese of New York this year:

[T]his year the New York Archdiocese has ordained only one new priest, Father D'Arcy. It is the first year that has happened since the archdiocese opened its seminary more than 110 years ago… The number of seminarians has been declining, in New York and nationally, since the 1960s. St. Joseph's, the New York Archdiocese's stately limestone seminary in Yonkers, opened in 1896 with room for 180 students. It graduated 25 or 30 men annually through the mid-1970s, but since the mid-1990s, most graduating classes have had fewer than 10 priests. Before this year, the archdiocese's smallest graduating class was in 1998, with two priests…the numbers are consistently low enough that the archdiocese has decided to make a change. Starting next year, all seminarians from the Brooklyn and Rockville Centre Dioceses, who currently study in Huntington, N.Y., will study at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, along with the seminarians from the New York Archdiocese, which does not include Brooklyn or Queens, but extends northward nearly to Albany.

As the SSPX builds a new seminary to support a growing number of candidates to the priesthood, one of the largest population centers in the country is consolidating seminaries due to lack of seminarians.  Notably, Fr. D’Arcy chose to celebrate his first Mass in Latin and looks to the Cristeros martyrs for inspiration.  It seems that all the recently ordained priests in the New York diocese, then, have an attachment to the old rite. Let us all remember to say a prayer for Fr. D’Arcy who will face many difficulties in his labors to be a good and faithful priest.  It’s an unfortunate comment on the situation in the Church today that he did not have 179 fellow seminarians just like him.

Why do young men continue to be drawn to the SSPX despite the stigma?  Why is it that those diocesan priests like Fr. D’Arcy, also subject to ridicule in their own right by the mere fact that they are priests and more so for doing medieval things like celebrating Mass in Latin, still pursue clerical life?  I can’t read their hearts, but perhaps it has something to do with the sentiment expressed in Ernst Dowson’s poem Benedictio Domini:

Without, the sullen noises of the street!
The voice of London, inarticulate,
Hoarse and blaspheming, surges in to meet
The silent blessing of the Immaculate.

Dark is the church, and dim the worshippers,
Hushed with bowed heads as though by some old spell.
While through the incense-laden air there stirs
The admonition of a silver bell.

Dark is the church, save where the altar stands,
Dressed like a bride, illustrious with light,
Where one old priest exalts with tremulous hands
The one true solace of man's fallen plight.

Strange silence here: without, the sounding street
Heralds the world's swift passage to the fire:
O Benediction, perfect and complete!
When shall men cease to suffer and desire?

For my part, this exaltation of the sacred as a relief to the sullen and blasphemous rancor of the street is what compelled me to abandon both the pagan and protestant experiments of our age.  Note the emphasis on silence and the exclusivity with which the “one true solace to man’s fallen plight” is invoked.  This is precious and not to be found outside those few bastions of tradition.  Young men (some people still claim I am one) won’t give up the goods of marriage and children and life in the world, dim though it may be, for trifles.  As Dowson reminds us, himself a deeply flawed and desperate man, the true Catholic faith, specifically the mass is no trifle, but something terrible and complete and reminiscent of sacrifice.  Perhaps it is the difficulty of the task that reconciles a young man to give up so much,

Monsignor Hughes said in reference to Saint Gregory X that “the appearance of a great saint is the first indication of things seriously wrong and urgently needing correction, for the role of the saints in the Church has been very much that of the prophets in the older dispensation.” 

We should take comfort in this since it implies that God is always ready with a response and that response is commensurate to the challenge.  Whatever is needed God will supply and His means are usually unexpected and let us not be scandalized if they fail to comport with our very secular and modern notions of goodness.  The poor may have the gospel preached unto them, but they also remain poor.  The Church will be restored, but we may not all be comfortable along the way.

My attitude toward the recent and ongoing events between the SSPX and Rome is tempered by a cautious optimism and I will not presume to offer an opinion on the looming prudential decisions in their future.  Prayer is more productive than polemics.  If reading history has taught me anything it’s that the situation is often bleak and we should always go forth in confidence and hope.  Whether the resolution is an obviously and immediately productive one, an apparent setback or something seemingly worse, I will try to say, even if through clenched teeth and with a cracked heart, “Voluntas” – the same word that is written on one of the stakes marking the seminary foundation pictured in the SSPX’s New Seminary Project Newsletter.  May this word and all it embodies serve as foundation for all edifices the Church builds, temporal and spiritual alike.

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