Victor Aubert on the Motu Proprio

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Victor Aubert, President of Academia Christiana

Since the promulgation of the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes, it seems that Pope Francis has decided to wage open warfare against communities committed to the traditional liturgy. The authoritarianism with which the Vatican is handling this issue has stunned many of the faithful and outside observers. At a time when practicing Catholics represent less than 5% of the population of Western Europe, such measures seem totally out of touch with reality. The West is sinking ever deeper into materialism and consumerism. Since our societies have left religion behind, Europeans have been wandering aimlessly in the realm of the absurd. The traditionalist spiritual movement is a remedy against nonsense. Is it not madness to condemn it so harshly? What can be the reasons that drive Pope Francis? Does he sincerely believe that the Church must be purified of its ritualism, of popular piety, of the figure of the pontiff and sacrificer, and of an overly “naïve” faith in the dogmas of the last ends (hell, purgatory, heaven)? All these old-fashioned notions fascinated the modernist clergy of the 1960s, but the generation born in the ‘80s have distanced themselves from their progressive elders.

Today’s young Catholics are mostly affirming their attachment to a more traditional religiosity. Uprootedness uproots everything but the need for roots, Christopher Lasch reminds us.

Whether traditionalist or conservative, young Catholics are less numerous but more assertive. Today’s churchgoers were not all born into Christian families, many are converts who find God on a journey to their roots. The problem today is not simply theological or liturgical, but also generational and anthropological. Preventing the traditional liturgy as a form of prayer not only opposes a strong dynamic within the younger generations but it is above all an attack on one of the last forms of sacredness, of transcendence, and of rites that are still alive, because they have been transmitted by an uninterrupted continuity of transmitters. The traditional liturgy is not a cultural heritage that is preserved like a work of art in a museum, it is a set of gestures and signs that deeply express our human condition with regard to the divine. This mystical dance is understandable only for those who see in man an animal with a spiritual soul. Under these conditions, the sacred can only be experienced in an embodied way by touching, kissing, kneeling, singing, prostrating, and contemplating the beauty of symbols. The cycle of the liturgical year accompanies that of the seasons. When autumn ends and nature declines, the Church celebrates the dead, Christ becomes incarnate in the heart of the longest night of winter, and resurrects in spring when the first buds appear. The Church celebrates the summer Saint John and blesses the wheat fields. With the traditional liturgies, man learns to direct his soul towards God through corporal discipline.

Let us listen to the Italian Christina Campo:

The sacred gestures are also sacred in a biological sense, since they are linked by millenary traditions to numbers which mysteriously respond to the life of man: three, seven, ten and so on. A researcher, Sambucy, has noted that in the Mass are contained the purest ritual attitudes of yoga contemplation, for example at the moment of the Canon, when the priest prays with his arms open geometrically and raised, his thumbs joined with his index fingers; but in our country, in an incomprehensible way, we now judge arbitrary, gratuitous and replaceable the splendor of these gestures or the marvelous complication of certain ceremonial rules; like the one, revolving entirely around the number three and the mystical relationship between straight lines and the circle (in modum circuli, in modum crucis), which marks the incensing of the offerings at High Mass.[1]

The enemies of tradition have an exclusively cerebral and intellectual conception of religion. They conceive of the body only as a burden to be rid of. It is not without reason that the defenders of tradition are often also the defenders of homelands and identities, so many incarnate and concrete elements that are worthless in the eyes of the enemies of the body. And it may seem paradoxical that the abstract spiritualism of the modernist theologians should in fact join the atheistic materialism of the money worshippers, if one does not remember Pascal’s words: whoever wants to act the angel, acts the beast.

This Motu Proprio affair may not only concern traditionalist Catholics, but also two visions of man and the world. To perpetuate this liturgical heritage is, on the one hand, to revere the natural and cosmic order that all men have sensed since the beginning of time, because this sensitive piety contained in the ancient rites corresponds to the deep nature of man who needs to prostrate himself with his body before the divine. On the other hand, in addition to embodying faith through gestures, poetry, ornaments, music, art and sacred architecture, the ancient rites give a central place to the sacrificial dimension of Christianity. We can draw endless graces and wisdom from this liturgical treasure that has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors. The mystery of the cross lived through the Mass gives meaning to all our sufferings and struggles.

The arbitrariness of a legal decision that lags behind the times can never dry up man’s need for the sacred. Law in the Church is not an end in itself, it is a means to the common good, and if it is misused, it is our duty to point it out and to correct its deviations. If it is sometimes meritorious to suffer patiently an individual injustice, it is always cowardly to support a public injustice. The history of the Church teaches us that Peter’s boat must weather storms, and clerics have not always lived up to their calling.

We cannot let the men of this century spoil a heritage that does not belong to them. There is a great risk of being impressed by the authority of those who abuse it. If this motu proprio causes regrettable divisions, let us not forget that conflicts are inevitable and sometimes healthy. Some cancers can only be cured by removal. Here again the mystery of the cross will give meaning to the tribulations we will undoubtedly go through soon. All struggle is first of all spiritual. To whom much is given, much will be required. Our duty is therefore to hold firmly to our mission as guardians of tradition.

Victor Aubert, President of Academia Christiana


[1] Christina Campo, Notes on the Liturgy, La Noix d’or

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