Get Interrupted

News: Commentary
by Simon Rafe  •  •  July 16, 2021   

We have a great opportunity to make a mistake

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Napoleon Bonaparte — who famously said he would destroy the Church and who is, of course, now dead and buried in a place sharing homophony with the English word "invalid" — once (perhaps equally famously) said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake."

Napoleon Bonaparte

We — the Church, Catholics, Christendom, the orthodox, the remnant, whatever you want to call us but, truly and more broadly, humanity — have many enemies but, truly, only one Enemy, and he has only one goal: destroy our spiritual life. It's not to make us suffer or physically hurt us; it's not to deprive us of wealth or liberty or health or happiness; it's not to do anything, ultimately, except separate us from Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Of course, Satan can't separate us from Christ: Nothing can snatch us out of His hand. That's biblical and, therefore, true — and therefore inevitably misinterpreted by many Protestants as some sort of eternal assurance, some "once-saved-always-saved" claptrap that delights Satan as much (if not more) than some pantomime Faust cackling on the edge of Hell.

So if that doesn't mean I can't lose my salvation, what does it mean? It means no one can take it away. But I can sure as sunrise do something stupid and give it up. We do something stupid every single time we commit a sin — mortal or venial, but mortal sin, which kills the life of God within us, is spiritual suicide. Fortunately, we have a God who not only rose from the dead but can raise us from spiritual death, too.

We are now being presented with a gold-plated opportunity to make a stupid mistake. Satan will not interrupt us. He'll follow Napoleon's dictum because he's no fool. I know some people will make that fatal mistake because some people already have.

Pope Francis' recent motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and its accompanying letter do many things. To a layman's reading, they "ban the Latin Mass." To an expert's reading, they probably do something like "abrogate existing norms which, hitherto, have allowed a broad and fundamentally unregulated access to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and, thereby, render the faithful with less access to the aforementioned Extraordinary Form within ecclesial communities in communion with the Holy See." I don't know, I'm not an expert. I don't even play one on TV.

Mortal sin is a destruction of that communion, temporarily, until we go to confession.

But what I do know is the only way Satan — my enemy, your enemy, to whom we are his enemy — can win is to get me to make a mistake. And the only mistake that matters is to break communion with Christ.

Mortal sin is a destruction of that communion, temporarily, until we go to confession. But schism — refusal of submission to the Roman pontiff, denial of the validity of a form of the Mass, those kinds of things — isn't just spiritual suicide. It isn't just jumping off the Barque of Peter with a life preserver ready to be thrown to you.

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Rather, it's jumping off the boat and swimming away as fast as you can and screaming that you don't want to be saved because the storm-wracked water is better than the boat and the life preserver will just drag you under.

It remains to be seen what the intent or goal of the Vatican's latest pronouncement is, but the inevitable result if we do something stupid is as plain as the nose on your face.

For us, personally, individually, salvation-wise: If we jump the metaphorical ship, we've separated ourselves from Christ. We haven't been snatched out of His hand; we've jerked our fingers out of Our Father's grasp and gone running off through the mall, which (for the purposes of this belabored metaphor) is just as bad as all those after-school specials warned us it was.

If we go to a schismatic group saying only the Latin Mass, if we join the Orthodox, if we attend some underground Liturgy offered by a priest who deludes himself (and us) into believing "the pope ain't the boss of me," we're doing just what Satan wants us to do and what he can't do to us.

The Novus Ordo Mass and the Latin Mass

Satan is brilliantly clever, but his tactic here is so simple an imbecile could come up with it, and it's amazing we keep falling for it. It's to take something good and to exaggerate its importance so as to turn it into an idol. Satan isn't offering us suffering and difficulty. He isn't even offering us ease and comfort. Satan is offering us something good, beautiful and worthy and whispering, "This is the only thing that matters. This is the most important thing. God will understand if you break faith elsewhere because this, this is everything."

The Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form of the Mass is, well, the Mass. It confects the Eucharist; it dispenses grace; it is efficacious for salvation. It is protected by the indefectible charism of the Church because it is offered to us as the thing to be offered to God. The form of worship the Church gives us cannot be inappropriate or invalid because the Body of Christ offers it to us so that we can offer the Body of Christ to His Father. To deny the validity of the Mass is to deny the validity of the Church, of Christ, of the entire mechanism of salvation.

We are a corporate Church, a community in union with Christ and with each other through the Liturgy, which is given to us by the Church Herself, the Bride of Christ. To reject that fact — as difficult and hard as it is, as sometimes-banal as the Novus Ordo can be when liberty is over-applied, as attached as we are to the Latin Mass — is not just to reject the pope or one form of the Mass; it is to reject Christ.

The Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form of the Mass is, well, the Mass. It confects the Eucharist; it dispenses grace; it is efficacious for salvation.

And there is a very real communal danger too. Satan's temptation is for good, reverent, orthodox Catholics to jump ship to schismatic groups or commit schism or start their own schismatic groups. The danger is that the "traditional Catholics" will self-isolate as one limb of the Body of Christ and then, using a justifiable and legitimate accusation of schism, the Church will amputate that limb like a gangrenous arm. "Look at them; everything we said about them was right!" will be the cry from the Church of Nice.

That would be the stupid mistake. The strategy is obvious and simple. As Francis himself intimates in his letter, faithful, orthodox Catholics need to demand reverence in the Liturgy, speaking out against the abuse and license and free-for-all permissiveness so common in the Novus Ordo. We need to point to the pope's letter and say we are fully on board with that. Say the black, do the red. Quit the abuse and license and craziness, and bring back the reverence. Don't let them beat us up with the second point; make them admit the first.

Right now, Satan is hoping he'll be able to follow Napoleon's dictum to never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. If we've started making that mistake, let's interrupt ourselves. Interrupt others. Satan's not going to do it for you.

Napoleon also famously said he could destroy the Church. The equally famous answer from a bishop was (paraphrasing here), "If we haven't managed it ourselves, how are you going to do it?" Satan's response will be silence and complete inaction and watching it unfold.

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