Sunday, October 23, 2011
Fr. Michael Rodriguez: A Priest with Fortitude
Fr. Michael Rodriguez gives me hope. (He’s the El Paso, Texas, priest who was banished to a far, desolate corner of his diocese for publicly defending the teaching of the Church on homosexuality.)
An interview with Fr. Rodriguez appeared in The Remnant on Oct. 12. He has some very interesting, edifying, and encouraging things to say. We should all be paying careful attention to his example of fidelity to the Church, obedience to his superior, and devotion to the Sacred Liturgy.
Fr. Rodriguez is not afraid to express his affinity for the older form of the Mass, and he is not afraid to say that he prefers it to the Novus Ordo. Asked if he is a “traditionalist”, he says (my emphasis):
Liturgically, I'm 100% behind the Traditional Latin Mass, which is without question the true Mass of the Roman Catholic Church. Theology, liturgy, Catholic spirituality and asceticism, and history itself all point to the obvious superiority of the Classical Roman Rite.
I must agree. There is something eminently superior about the extraordinary form compared to the ordinary form. Even when the most devout and reverent priest I know says the novus ordo Mass in Latin and ad orientem, there is something missing. It makes me sad that so many people want to keep themselves cut off from the extraordinary form – or worse yet, to keep others from experiencing it (actually, the latter makes me downright angry!). In my little corner of the Catholic world, I see a dismaying lack of vitality in the faith. And I think it’s largely due to the watering down of the prayers and rubrics of the Mass.
Fr. Rodriguez didn’t start out to be a “traditionalist”; he was “raised” with the novus ordo, both in his pre-adult years and in his priestly formation. It was only six years ago, he says, that he began to learn the EF.
As the weeks passed, I began to study the prayers and theology of the Traditional Latin Mass. The more I studied, the more my awe and amazement grew. I was "discovering" not only the true Catholic theology of the Mass, but also the true Catholic theology of the priesthood, and so much more!
Yes, again, I agree. One of the first things I saw about the extraordinary form of the Mass was that it lets a priest be a priest. In the novus ordo, the priest has become a talk-show host – at least in the parishes where I have attended Mass, and especially when the Mass is said in English, and the priest faces the people. The priest faces the temptation to adlib prayers, to insert a little commentary, to make sure to try to make the people chuckle at his introductory comments. After all, you have to make the people feel good about giving up their time on a Sunday morning to come to the Fr. Friendly Show…er…Holy Mass…right?
Fr. Rodriguez continues:
Throughout my first nine years of priesthood, I had struggled to make sense of the very serious problems which exist in the Church. At this point, it was obvious that an extreme crisis pervaded the Church and her hierarchy, but why? I just couldn't quite understand how all of this "diabolical disorientation" had come to pass . . . until the brilliant light of the true Catholic Mass ("Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam . . .") began to penetrate my priestly soul. This "discovery" of the Traditional Latin Mass has been, by far, the greatest gift of God to my poor priesthood.
And the greatest gift of God to my poor spiritual development. It is a great gift to anyone who will accept it.
But going back to the point about just how the current crisis we face in the Church came to exist in the first place, Fr. Rodriguez is drawing a connection between the liturgy and the issues of the day. In fact, I made the same connection in my article “Abortion, Contraception, and the Liturgy” (Homiletic and Pastoral Review, October 2009):
The main thesis of this article is that the current tragedy of abortion has its roots in the widespread acceptance of artificial birth control, and that Catholics’ current attitude toward and use of contraception are related to the abuses and problems that have plagued the sacred liturgy since Vatican II.
Towards the conclusion of the paper, I wrote:
Now let’s connect the dots: all of a sudden, right around the time of Humanae Vitae and Roe v. Wade, Catholics were being shown that it was acceptable to tamper with the liturgy, to make it “more relevant”, to not follow the rubrics. What would this tell them about the Church? If we may interpret the “source and summit” the way we want to, then surely we may interpret other Church teaching that way, too. And surely we should be living contemporary lives; maybe the Church is just behind the times on this contraception thing. We’ve got to help her along and make the change ourselves so that the Church will be more relevant to others.
Fr. Rodriguez, I think, would agree. He notes:
The dismal response of both civil and ecclesiastical authorities to the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church in regard to homosexuality demonstrates how extreme the current crisis of faith actually is. It really can't get much worse. There's hardly any faith left to lose! Even a pagan, bereft of the light of faith, can arrive at the conclusion that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil. Reason, natural law, and consideration of the male and female anatomy more than suffice to confirm this moral truth.
It may seem simplistic to insist that the answer to the issues of the day lies in the Mass. But really, at the heart of the issues of the day is our faith. And what is at the heart of our faith? The Mass, the Eucharist. A proper understanding of the Mass underlies Catholic teaching. If the extraordinary form of the Mass leads to greater reverence, greater appreciation, greater spiritual advancement among the faithful, it should be promoted. Fr. Rodriguez sees the truth in that, sees the value of the “traditional Latin Mass”, and is not afraid to discuss it (emphases in original):
In the accompanying letter to the world's bishops (July 7, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI writes, "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church's faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place." These remarkable words of our Holy Father are also being disrespected and disobeyed almost universally, especially by many bishops. Finally, Universæ Ecclesiæ, No. 8, states very clearly that the Ancient Rite is a "precious treasure to be preserved" and is to be "offered to all the faithful." Where in the entire world of Catholicism is this directive actually being obeyed? The same number from Universæ Ecclesiæ emphasizes that the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy "is a faculty generously granted for the good of the faithful and therefore is to be interpreted in a sense favourable to the faithful who are its principal addressees." This is an astounding statement. This statement from Rome means that the use of the 1962 Missal doesn't depend on a particular bishop's liturgical views, preferences, or theology. It's not about the bishops! On the contrary, it's about the faithful! Where in the entire world of Catholicism is this directive actually being obeyed?
Rem acu tetigisti, Fr. Rodriguez! You have hit the nail on the head!
Fr. Rodriguez is already paying for his political incorrectness regarding his outspoken stance on homosexual marriage, and I suspect he will pay the price for defending and promoting the extraordinary form of the Mass.
But I also suspect that Fr. Rodriguez will endure. He will be an example to all of us. He is an example and an inspiration to me.