> Status Ecclesiae, January, 2006: "The Obedience
The Obedience Test
- by John Mallon, Contributing Editor, Inside the Vatican
Three significant movements have swept through
the Church since the Second Vatican Council, all of which
have been sources of great blessing and sometimes confusion,
with, on occasion, some devotees mistakenly making themselves
a Magisterium unto themselves. Most of them outgrow this error.
I am speaking of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the Marian
movement — particularly involving reported apparitions,
especially those occurring in Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia
— and the Traditionalist/ Tridentine Mass movement.
I most closely associate myself with the charismatic renewal
which I credit with perhaps saving my life while Jesus was
working on saving my soul.
Of course there are other great movements like Opus Dei,
Communion and Liberation, and the Focolare; however, I focus
on the three mentioned above because these three appear to
have arisen almost spontaneously without a particular human
founder. Wherever human beings gather, there one finds error,
mistakes, even abuses, as the history of the Church attests.
In the early days of the charismatic renewal there were people,
including priests in leadership positions, who left the Church
for Protestant congregations, believing them to be more “alive”
than their parishes. There were also those who made absurd
judgments about other Christians and whether they were really
Christians if they didn’t pray in tongues. This is unfortunate
because St. Paul settled the matter once and for all in 1
Cor. 14. I wish everyone prayed in tongues, but that’s
just me—and St. Paul (see 1 Cor. 14:5). But everyone
doesn’t and that’s fine. Paul addressed the issue
of what is most important. (See 1 Cor. 13)
But for the most part problems were recognized, attended
to and corrected by wise pastoral authority which stressed
fidelity to Church authority and specific Catholic elements
of the faith like the Eucharist, Mary and the papacy. There
was also a brief scrape over the practices of certain covenant
communities that overstepped themselves. I personally witnessed
the embarrassment and humiliation of various charismatic movement
leaders who accepted correction and took their medicine in
humble submission to the competent authorities.
The fruits to the Church have been tremendous in terms of
devotion, prayer and Bible study. In my opinion the charismatic
renewal led to increased Marian devotion, pro-life activism
and Eucharistic adoration. Far from being “emotionalism”
as some critics have charged, an increase in silence, contemplation
and orthodoxy have been among the fruits of the charismatic
renewal. At least that is my experience.
The charismatic renewal also won praise from both Pope Paul
VI and John Paul II as being “a chance for the Church.”
As prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith,
Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, also spoke approvingly
and hopefully of the renewal.
In the 80s and early 90s there was a great deal of excitement
over alleged apparitions of Our Lady in the town of Medjugorje,
in the former Yugoslavia. The urgent message was “Pray
for peace!” No one dreamed at the time that the region
would soon explode in war. We are not concerned here with
the validity or non-validity of those events other than to
say they had the effect worldwide of people coming into the
Church and fallen-away Catholics returning to the sacraments.
On the other hand most of the objections to it seemed to involve
alleged misconduct by those closest to the events, which I’m
not sure is grounds to invalidate the reported apparitions.
I remember at the time the question being posed to those
devotees: “What would you do if the Church turned thumbs
down on those apparitions? How would it affect your faith?”
All those I spoke to at the time said they would obey the
This brings us to the Traditionalist/Tridentine Mass movement
of the present. There seem to be a lot of goats mixed in with
the sheep. On the one hand the followers of the late Archbishop
Lefebvre and his St. Pius X Society (SSPX) are simply in formal
schism. Yet there seems to be a great deal of cross-pollinization
between the SSPX people and the Priestly Fraternity of St.
Peter, (FSSP) the group that broke off from SSPX and pledged
fealty to the See of Peter, very sensibly avoiding excommunication.
The FSSP has grown remarkably fast in every corner of the
world, and from what I hear the good Fathers of the FSSP have
their hands full teaching the validity of the Second Vatican
Council and the Novus Ordo Mass.
For my money, Traditionalists who currently claim that Vatican
II and the Novus Ordo Mass are invalid are the traditionalist
equivalent of those charismatics in the 70s and early 80s
who claimed those who didn’t speak in tongues weren’t
really Christians. Additionally, some scholars in the traditionalist
movement (not theologians, by the way) have bitterly mocked
the charismatic renewal as though it were some sort of “novelty”
introduced by post-conciliar euphoria, instead of a genuine
outpouring of the graces of Pentecost. While the charismatic
experience may not be to some people’s taste, (as though
taste were an issue), it would be wise to be very circumspect
about anything vaguely close to mocking—blaspheming—the
It is unwise to mistake one’s liturgical “tastes”
for what is valid or invalid. How often history shows that
those who attempt to be “more Catholic than the Pope”
soon enough find themselves no longer Catholic at all. To
be running after conspiracy theories and the spiritual lust,
paranoia and arrogance they inspire, not trusting in Christ’s
promised protection of the Depositum Fidei, is to be deceived.
Protestantism ushered in a new form of Christianity wherein
each believer was a magisterium unto himself. Catholics are
free of that burden. It is a pastoral tragedy when people
of no theological training, or even very little formal education,
start declaring themselves right and the Pope wrong, and that
includes rejecting an ecumenical council, one of the highest
levels of Magisterial authority.
Every Catholic has the right to be indignant, even angry,
about the abuses introduced into the Church by dissent after
the Council, often in the name of the Council, but there is
a huge difference between saying that many problems emerged
after Vatican II and saying the problems emerged as a result
of Vatican II. There is always some vertigo and a period of
adjustment after an ecumenical council, and the Church tends
to think in centuries, not decades. Every Catholic needs to
remember that abusus non tollit usum— the abuse does
not remove the use.
Andy Warhol said, “Anyone who says they remember the
1960s wasn’t there.” I am inclined to paraphrase
him to those who would romanticize the 1950s as a utopia of
ecclesiastical culture. The 1950s contained a simmering dysfunction
which merely exploded in the 1960s, using the Council as an
excuse to run wild. But the Council did not call for anyone
to run wild. It called for universal holiness.
John Paul II wisely introduced the Indult allowing the Tridentine
Mass to be said. This is a wonderful thing, expressing the
richness of Catholic tradition, another option to help us
worship. Benedict XVI has expressed great sympathy for the
devotees of the Tridentine Mass. There is even talk that he
may lift the limitations of the Indult, granting every validly
ordained priest the right to celebrate it if he wishes. That
would also be wonderful, should he choose to do so.
But until then every serious Catholic calling himself a traditionalist
should ask himself the question, “If the Pope removed
the Indult tomorrow and forbade the celebration of the Tridentine
Mass, where would my loyalties be? Would I bend the knee,
make the sign of the Cross and say, ‘Your will, not
mine be done, Lord,’ or announce ‘Non serviam!’
and go into schism?”
St. Ignatius of Loyola, who taught the Church much about
discernment of spirits, said, “We ought always to hold
that the white which I see is black, if the hierarchical Church
so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the
Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit
which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls.
Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the Ten Commandments,
our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.”
For almost exactly 40 years now dissenters have been putting
forth the idea that dissent was somehow an expression of “adult
faith” or “thinking for oneself.” The exact
opposite is true. In fact, dissent is an adolescent act. Religious
obedience, on the other hand, is a matter of great spiritual
maturity. Obedience to God is the pinnacle of wisdom. There
is no greater expression of maturity than obedience to God.
When it comes to faith and morals, the Magisterium is our
divine guarantee of freedom from error. There is no other.
John Mallon is a Contributing Editor to Inside the Vatican
magazine. He also has regular columns on the website Catholic.Org.
An archive of Mr. Mallon's work also appears here: http://www.petersvoice.com/mallon/index.html.
You can reach Mr. Mallon at
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