Updated: Sep 23
In my previous post, I arguably relied too heavily on a liturgical absence in order to declare the illegitimacy of said liturgy. I don't retract my conclusion, as I am not bereft of evidence for falling into the same one, but the tables can easily be turned on me using the same approach. If I say I adhere to the rubrics of 1962 for worship, then what of the removal of X number of Vigils, Octaves and Feasts throughout the year, and of the removal of X number of Lessons and Hours during Holy Week, and of the shortening of the Passions, and of the removal of the second Confiteor, and of the removal of the Eucharistic fast from midnight, and on and on? Does that make my supposed traditional Mass as illegitimate as the modernist one I'm critiquing. I imagine my NO correspondent smiling with glee at this "gotcha" volley which nullifies my detraction, but instead of aggrandizing his pride with further discourse I instead turn my attention to the man in the back corner. The one who's sat silently during this exchange patiently waiting for his turn to interject. The one who's "been-there-done-that," has wrestled through the confusing contradictions and come out the other side with the piece of the puzzle that sets the matrix aright.
Yes, the sedevacantist.
N.B. During Lent I forfeited the use of print media to a large extent, so I missed a similar take on this subject by Louie Verrecchio where he similarly assessed the status of the NO and then suggested further repercussions from that perspective. As my discursion differs slightly from his, it is not necessary to review Mr. Verrechio's work before reading on, but I do encourage a look if you're so inclined.
Though I stayed away from words on a screen, I still filled the space of long drives with podcasts. Three in particular that I've listened to recently have framed the sede question in a new light for me.
The first is a sedevacantist rebuttal to a Marshall-Gaspers interview on whether Francis could ban the Latin Mass. The host provided many excerpts from past popes saying that it is within their authority to impose rites of their choosing on the faithful provided they be Catholic rites. This flies in the face of many Recognize-and-Resist apologists who jump to the one line from Pope St. Pius V's Quo Primum which states...
[B]y this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it under the penalty of Our displeasure.
... as to why the TLM will endure until the Second Coming. But this reasoning ignores several things, namely that in the same document the pope refers to the selfsame as "[t]his new rite" (meaning it was a new codification that had not previously existed) and that several revisions with alterations greater than just adding feast days for new saints occurred between 1570 and 1954 (1908, anyone?). Now, this is not a matter of Pope Pius XII legitimately imposing the Maronite Rite on Latin Catholics, but of Paul VI and Francis flexing "apostolic" "authority" to force a rite so non- and anti-Catholic that neither Luther nor Cranmer could conceive of it.
My sedevacantist friend begins: What does this say about your supposed popes' authority?
The second is the audiobook chapter treating sedevacantism from Open Letter to Confused Catholics by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. It provides a partial answer to the sede's question, in that there are some things that are within my purview to judge based on my state in life, such as truth and falsehood and good fruits and bad fruits, and that I can even discern malice and identify heresy, but that I cannot judge a person in a higher office. From David to Peter to Charlemagne, monarchs are judged by God alone. If we take it upon ourselves to spiritually guillotine the Vicar of Christ, we put ourselves in a worse position than that which St. Thomas More warned William Roper would be in. Lefebvre foresaw this interregnist ridiculousness when he wrote...
The reasoning of those who deny that we have a Pope puts the Church in an inextricable situation. The visibility of the Church is too necessary for its existence for it to be possible that God would allow it to disappear for decades. Who would be able to tell us where the future Pope is? How can he be elected if there are no more Cardinals? We detect a schismatic spirit behind those reasonings, and our Society utterly refuses to follow them. While rejecting Paul VI's liberalism, we wish to remain attached to Rome and the Successor of St. Peter out of fidelity to his predecessors.
The sedevacantist may then say: The good Archbishop's take is too terse. It glosses over the acumen with which Bellarmine, Suarez, et al. posit that a heretic is incapable of holding ecclesiastical office. His heresy leads to his schism, not mine. You say that you're holding to Truth, that you're holding to Tradition, but are you? You admit to resisting the pope, and that is un-Catholic. I don't resist the pope, because there isn't one. I don't judge the pope, because there isn't one. If your perception of reality is correct and mine is defective, how can you go on disobeying the Holy Pontiff?
The third is an interview with the SSPX District Superior of Canada offering the principles justifying the actions the Society makes. The interview served as a synthesis of the above two: all due respect is granted as such to the office and man in it, but the law of faith supersedes that of man when the situation calls for it. That is why the 1962 rubrics are followed, as there is nothing in its entirety that contradicts the faith, but when 1965 rolls around the ambiguity is apparent enough to put its Catholicity into doubt. This doesn't explain why the Society claims adherence to 1962 and yet sprinkles some pre-1955 accoutrements. So I still have some quibbles with the choices that my sacerdotal superiors have made, but my perspective aligns most closely with that of the SSPX.
At this point, the sedevacantist may throw up his arms and say: You're being a cafeteria-Catholic about this, choosing when to listen to your Holy Father and when not to. At the same time, you're being too closed-minded about the implications of the gravity of the defection. Have you ever truly considered what it would be like to live the sedevacantist position?
To which my retort would be: Yes, yes I have. I have looked at the position long and hard and have found it wanting. Una cum or non-una cum, totalist or thesis, can the Thuc line be validated, what basis do you have to celebrate older rubrics if Pope Pius XII promolgated the 1955 changes, is there intercommunion between all the different groups (SGG, RCI, MHT, MHFM, SSPV, SSPX-MC, CMRI, IMBI)? And yes, to live out one of these avenues would be deemed by some to be heroic. You've chosen to ally yourself to one society or independent priest, and if you happen to have found out the truth online and have no Mass center near you then you and your family must spend every Sunday reading the missal and praying the Rosary, waiting for that annual trip to Ohio during Eastertide to receive Our Blessed Lord. Whether this presents me as a weak man or not, that is something I am not willing to do. I have a master's degree in engineering; it can't be that I need separate doctorates in theology, philosophy and canon law in order to convince myself that I share the same plight as the kakure kirishitans.
I admit, in the stillness of the night I sometimes worry if the historians of the 23rd century will write me and my family off as adherents to the Lefebvrist heresy who, like the Donatists and Jansenists of old, separated themselves from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I'm of the belief that my repudiation of the true earthly head of the Church may cause my schism, but my rejection of him will definitely cause it. Supposing the Church to be a boat (haven't heard that one before...), I can believe that the rightful captain could have gone native or insane or both, but not that after passing through a thick fog we find ourselves with a pirate at the helm or kidnapped onto another ship.
In proofing the above, I feel that came on harder than I intended. I style myself to my fellow traditionalists as a sede-sympathizer, but not in a condescending sort of way. I don't claim to absolutely know the truth about the crisis, but simply to be a confused Catholic who finds the (neo-)SSPX position the most reasonable. I have to be honest in assessing my crooked pilgrimage in Christ. Around the age of 15, I received an NO confirmation. Around 20, I had a campus ministry "reversion." Around 25, I discovered a diocesan TLM and was eventually married in that form. Around 30, my wife and I decided to assist exclusively at SSPX chapels. Who knows, around 35 I may be one of the many Baskin-Robbins flavors of sede. Until then, you'll find the Sandigos at St. Anthony Mary Claret.
The conversation may have got heated at times, but I'm certain at the end of it I'd still be able to shake hands with my debater with our friendship intact.