The SSPX declaration on “Amoris laetitia”

The Society of St. Pius X has issued a very, very subtle statement on Amoris laetitia. Before quoting the interesting bit, we observe that this document has essentially dispelled whatever doubt we had that the SSPX is on a trajectory toward canonical regularity. And soon.

We note first that the Society’s declaration, while being perhaps slightly—very slightly—stringently worded, comes down on the line that Amoris laetitia has created unnecessary confusion. But note the subtle maneuver here: the Society argues that the Church’s duty is to proclaim general rules, the concrete application of which in individual cases is left to pastors, confessors, and Catholics with well-formed consciences:

3. The question concerning admission of divorced-and-“remarried” persons to Holy Communion has already been addressed several times by the Church, whose clear answer has been repeated even recently. A new discussion of the Church’s constant teaching and practice could therefore only be detrimental and likely to confuse matters instead of clarifying them. And that is what happened.

4. In a papal document one expects to find a clear presentation of the Church’s magisterial teaching and the Christian manner of living. Now, as others have correctly noted, Amoris Laetitia is rather “a treatise on psychology, pedagogy, moral and pastoral theology and spirituality”. The Church has the mission of proclaiming the teaching of Jesus Christ in season and out of season and of drawing from it the necessary conclusions, all for the good of souls. It is incumbent upon her to remind men of God’s Law and not to minimize it or explain how it might not apply in some cases. The Church has the obligation of stating principles, the concrete application of which she leaves to pastors of souls, to confessors, and also to the conscience that has been enlightened by faith, the proximate rule of human action.

(Emphasis supplied and slightly reformatted.) Forgive us for being dense, but this does not seem like a root-and-branch condemnation of Amoris laetitia. It does not even seem like much of a condemnation of the fundamental innovation of Amoris laetitia. (We will assume that the Society did not intend to fully endorse the fundamental innovation, notwithstanding that last sentence.) Remember what the Holy Father said in paragraph 300:

If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same. Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop. Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone”. What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”. These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard.

(Emphasis supplied.) Despite the Society’s (presumed) resistance, it is awfully hard to see much daylight between Amoris laetitia 300 and the Society’s position. It is true, of course, that the Holy Father could have spent more time setting forth the perennial general rules as formulated by St. John Paul II and the Pope Emeritus before articulating his ideas about specific culpability. However, given the tendentious attitude toward Familiaris consortio 84 that was exhibited throughout the Synodal process, we were not hugely surprised to see it breezed past and glossed over. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the Pope seems to be saying, albeit with many more words, something not all that far removed from the Society’s position.

The strongest criticism of the SSPX’s declaration is essentially that Amoris laetitia establishes the primacy of conscience, with all the problems that entails. That is, of course, a fair criticism not only of Amoris laetitia but the mindset that emerged during the Synod, not least given some of the comments by Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich during the Synod. (And one is kidding oneself, in our view, if this primacy of conscience business was designed to stop at communion for bigamists; it was not.) However, it seems to us that their criticism also encompasses John Paul’s personalist “theology of the body” and the Council’s understanding of marriage. In other words, the SSPX is criticizing essentially the direction of the Church as a whole over the last fifty years on these issues:

5. Because of its search for a pastoral practice based on mercy, the document is in some places marred by subjectivism and moral relativism. Objective rules are replaced, in Protestant fashion, by the individual’s conscience. This poison is in part attributable to personalism, which, in the matter of pastoral care of families, no longer places the gift of life and the good of the family first and foremost, but rather the personal fulfillment and spiritual development of the spouses. On this subject we can only deplore once again the inversion of the ends of marriage sketched out in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes of the Second Vatican Council, an inversion that is found again in Amoris Laetitia. The so-called “law of gradualness” turns Catholic morality upside down.

(Emphasis supplied and slightly reformatted.) Certainly, to our reading, the declaration does not single out Amoris laetitia for special criticism; if anything, the declaration prescinds from special criticism of Amoris laetitia in favor of criticism of broader theological trends.

Certainly the declaration ratifies some of the comments by Society priests that express a stronger attitude toward Amoris laetitia than the declaration itself does, but it seems to us, as is the case with Amoris laetitia, you cannot take a soft line and a hard line simultaneously. On the other hand, the Society shows itself once again to be very astute and very reasonable about these issues. Compared to some of the stringent—not to say hysterical—interpretations of Amoris laetitia, the Society sounds downright placid.

A final comment on St. Joseph the Workman

That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year – in fact, forever. The church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life

History, in fact, tells us that in the course of ages these festivals have been instituted one after another according as the needs or the advantage of the people of Christ seemed to demand: as when they needed strength to face a common danger, when they were attacked by insidious heresies, when they needed to be urged to the pious consideration of some mystery of faith or of some divine blessing. Thus in the earliest days of the Christian era, when the people of Christ were suffering cruel persecution, the cult of the martyrs was begun in order, says St. Augustine, “that the feasts of the martyrs might incite men to martyrdom.” The liturgical honors paid to confessors, virgins and widows produced wonderful results in an increased zest for virtue, necessary even in times of peace. But more fruitful still were the feasts instituted in honor of the Blessed Virgin. As a result of these men grew not only in their devotion to the Mother of God as an ever-present advocate, but also in their love of her as a mother bequeathed to them by their Redeemer. Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy. We may well admire in this the admirable wisdom of the Providence of God, who, ever bringing good out of evil, has from time to time suffered the faith and piety of men to grow weak, and allowed Catholic truth to be attacked by false doctrines, but always with the result that truth has afterwards shone out with greater splendor, and that men’s faith, aroused from its lethargy, has shown itself more vigorous than before

The festivals that have been introduced into the liturgy in more recent years have had a similar origin, and have been attended with similar results. When reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament had grown cold, the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted, so that by means of solemn processions and prayer of eight days’ duration, men might be brought once more to render public homage to Christ. So, too, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, which had made their hearts grow cold, and shut them out from the love of God and the hope of salvation.

Pius XI, Encyclical on the Feast of Christ the King Quas primas (Dec. 11, 1925) (emphasis supplied and footnote omitted). 

Countering the consensus against St. Joseph the Workman

At Opus Publicum, Gabriel Sanchez has an interesting comment about the feast of St. Joseph the Workman, which begins, in relevant part:

The author’s latest target is the Latin feast of St. Joseph the Worker (San Giuseppe Comunista!), a mid-1950s invention which most traditional Catholics today regard as either imprudent or unnecessary. Those who have been exposed to the Gregorian hymns for this occasion know full well that they fall pretty darn short of “the mark” when it comes to the beauty and richness of the Roman Rite and some of the propers are not exactly inspiring. However, to howl on about the feast being a “modernist invention” is a bridge too far, particularly when one understands that the primary intent and purpose behind the feast was to dislodge May Day as an exclusively secularist (and communistic) holiday. Did it work? Well, of course not, but not because the liturgical texts themselves are riddled with theological error or bumped the feast Ss. Phillip and James (a feast many Catholics have all but forgotten about). Let’s not forget, however, that the feast was introduced during a period of time when the great 19th and 20th century popes took it upon themselves to speak forcefully on matters concerning labor, economics, and society, with stern reminders being issued by the likes of Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI on the justice due to laborers. In fact, this teaching is captured nicely in the feast’s introit: “Wisdom rendered to the just the wages of their labors, and conducted them in a wonderful way: and she was to them for a covert by day, and for the light of stars by night, allelúja, allelúja.”

(Emphasis supplied and quotation marks reformatted.) And the author Sanchez discusses is not the only author to criticize at great length the feast of St. Joseph the Workman. Fr. John Hunwicke, for example, has had several lengthy posts in the last couple of weeks, mostly directed to the fact that the new feast of St. Joseph the Workman replaced the feast of Ss. Phillip and James. (Or, more precisely, displaced, since Phillip and James were moved to May 11.) And Fr. Hunwicke is not alone in his distaste for St. Joseph the Workman. Part of the low regard in which the feast is held is, we think, a function of the fact that a broader sense is emerging that the liturgical reform that culminated in the Novus Ordo really began in earnest under Pius XII. (Though that attitude fails to take into account that the Breviary was reformed almost constantly from the moment Quod a nobis was signed.) And St. Joseph the Workman is seen as part and parcel of that reform.

But Sanchez makes a point that—we confess—had not occurred to us before; that is, the feast of St. Joseph the Workman fits into the broader context of the great pronouncements of Leo XIII and Pius XI on social-justice issues. And, aside from the twin pillars of Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno, these issues were very much in the Church’s mind in the first half of the twentieth century, the two world wars notwithstanding. The Church’s developing social teaching was very much present in Pius X’s Notre Charge Apostolique, though that encyclical was directed to more concrete circumstances in France. And, of course, Pius XII himself made significant contributions to the Church’s social teaching with his radio address, La solennità della Pentecoste, some of which found its way into his document on migrants, Exsul Familia Nazarethana. All of this is to say that the question of workers and justice for workers was very much a live question for the Church in the first half of the twentieth century. And, certainly, one cannot remove Pius XII from this context. And, therefore, it makes sense, as Sanchez suggests, that Pius XII would introduce a major feast addressing in a liturgical way the issues that he and his immediate predecessor had grappled with.

Now, it is an open question whether the implementation of St. Joseph the Workman was well done. One of the comboxers at Sanchez’s site points out that the readings at Matins are not uniformly hugely edifying. And it is true that one of the three nocturns consists of the acta of Pius XII regarding the implementation of the feast, though the other two nocturns seem more or less okay, especially the readings from Genesis. But, setting that to one side, is the office of St. Joseph the Workman worse in any objective sense than the offices of any of the important saints whose third-class feasts consist of the psalms and antiphons of the day, the usual hymns, chapters, and antiphons from the common, and one reading at Matins unique to the saint (with the bulk of Matins being given over to the occurring readings)? We have a hard time seeing that it is, especially since, when one gets into a long run of confessors-not-bishops as one is apt to do in tempus per annum, the offices blend together. One does not necessarily excuse the other, of course, but let us not, out of condemnatory zeal, act as though St. Joseph the Workman is a blight on an otherwise traditional Breviary. By 1960 the trajectory toward Pope Paul’s Liturgia Horarum, with its horror of repetition and its strong (almost unalterable) presumption in favor of the occurring psalmody, was largely marked out.

With the chummy relations between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X, we are, of course, hopeful that full canonical regularity will be established, ideally in the form of a personal prelature or some other juridical structure that preserves, insofar as possible and desirable, the independence of the SSPX. But one of the issues that will have to be addressed at some point is the question of the liturgical books. Lefebvre’s choice of the 1960/1962 books was not necessarily a deeply ideological decision, as we understand it, and there may well be little reason to cling to them once the SSPX is regularized. Perhaps at that time, with so much in the air, a complete overhaul of the calendar would be in order. The differences between the 1960/1962 calendar and the current calendar are especially acute on this subject: St. Joseph the Workman is not a solemnity in the new calendar (having been drastically downgraded to an optional memorial), and Ss. Phillip and James are no longer celebrated on May 11, but May 3.

Read Sanchez’s whole post. A couple parts we did not quote are well worth thinking about.


Link Roundup: St. Joseph the Workman 2016

Fr. John Hunwicke has a couple of posts about the creation, in 1956, of the first class feast of St. Joseph Opifex (St. Joseph the Workman), which was intended, more or less, to take May Day back from the Communists. The first post deals with some Easter feasts that were suppressed or translated under Pius XII and John XXIII. The second offers some suggestions for priests inclined to celebrate SS. Philip and James on May 1, as was done before 1956.

John Allen has a lengthy piece at Crux about the Holy Father’s Curial appointments, noting clearly the Holy Father’s preference for liberal appointments. Allen notes that Pope Francis seems to prefer the sort of administrators that helped Paul VI govern the Church. (We think we’ll say some extra prayers after that revelation.) It would have been interesting to see Allen discourse on the rise of the Sodano party under this pope after being cast into the wilderness somewhat under Benedict and Bertone.

Also at Crux, a long piece about the status of Holy See-SSPX negotiations after the release of Fr. Schmidberger’s memorandum.

At Sancrucensis, Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has a great meditation on “light” penances. For our part, we suspect that many Catholics have had a that’s all? moment when their confessor hands down a light penance. Pater Waldstein’s piece ought to give them a little pause next time.

New Liturgical Movement has a splendid photo-post of some very ancient churches in northern Italy (some distance outside Milan, in fact).

Elliot Milco has a “a brief note” (very brief!) on the meaning of Amoris laetitia, and, as usual, he gets right to the heart of the matter. Whether the Holy Father intended to legitimize Cardinal Kasper’s penitential path (or Cardinal Marx’s forum internum solution), Milco makes the point that there is now little legal authority to stand against such a proposal.