The following article, written by the eminent Spanish columnist Juan Manuel de Prada, first appeared on ABC on 18 July 2021. We offer our readers the following translation with the author’s permission. It has been cross-posted on Rorate Caeli.
Chesterton asserted that “the church asks us to take off our hats, not our heads when entering it.” Taking off one’s hat can, however, be an act of mortification when the church lacks a roof or if its roof is leaky, not to mention when shitting pigeons nest therein. But through mortification a Catholic completes the Passion of Christ in his flesh, as St. Paul asked of us. In order to mortify myself, I have humbly endured masses that violently assault my artistic sensibility and devotional preferences: masses with revolting little ditties based on Simon & Garfunkel tunes, masses with empowered laywomen who read the epistles stumbling over every phrase, masses with thick-headed priests who stuff the liturgy with a tacky filling of improvisation till it overflows, masses with sermons that stink of forgettable politicking. And I have endured all these mortifications because I believe that a Catholic should go to mass in his parish, even if the masses he slurps leave him disgusted and sodden with their hideousness. This painful awareness of their hideousness stings even more when I compare them with the awareness of beauty I have felt in the few traditional masses I have participated in. There I have recognized myself as another link in the chain of a living tradition that has inspired the most eminent artists.
For the sake of my faith I have often taken off my hat, putting up with a shower of revolting little ditties, tacky improvisations, empowered laywomen, and forgettable sermons. However, my faith cannot demand that I take off my head, and this, precisely this, is what Bergoglio has just asked of me. Only a few years ago, Benedict XVI explained in a motu proprio that “the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi”. And now Bergoglio affirms in another motu proprio that “the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite”.
I am a Catholic, but I cannot be irrational. I cannot accept one thing and its opposite; I cannot split my head in half. I cannot obey contradictory instructions, as if I were a corpse or a robot that reacts to electric impulses. The virtue of obedience does not exempt us from the obligation to use our reason correctly, since obedience, as St. Thomas teaches us, is “a reasonable offering ratified by a vow to submit one’s will to another in order to submit it to God for the sake of perfection”. Obedience cannot assent to an absurdity, nor can it submit to contradictory commands just to avoid annoyances or complications.
The God in whom I believe is the Logos, and therefore I cannot be asked to take off my head. Bergoglio’s motu proprio asks me to do just that, and I have no intention of doing it.