Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Liturgy and Mortification According to the Teaching of the Holy See
The highest respect we all owe to the eminent authority of the Holy See moves us to complete the preceding chapter with some refutations of the doctrine we have described, and which unfortunately circulates in certain milieus of Catholic Action. We excused ourselves from doctrinal considerations on the problem of grace and free will, a problem of restricted accessibility to the masses and depicted today by some theoreticians in terms so obviously contrary to the traditional doctrine of the Church, that any Catholic, as little versed as he might be in theological matters, will immediately perceive it.
Let us quote only, as documentation, some important papal texts that develop the thoughts contained in the letter Magna Equidem which proves that the sacred liturgy does not dispense with man's cooperation or with traditional means of asceticism, such as mortification, fleeing from occasions of sin, etc.:
Saint St. Cyprian does not hesitate to affirm that "the Lord's sacrifice is not celebrated with legitimate sanctification, unless our oblation and sacrifice correspond to His passion" (Ephes. 63). For this reason, the Apostle admonishes us that "bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:10), and buried together with Christ, and planted together in the likeness of His death (Cf. Rom. 6:4-5), we must not only crucify our flesh with the vices and concupiscences (Cf. Gal. 5:24), "flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world" (2 Pet. 1:4), but "that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies" (2 Cor. 4:10) and being made partakers of His eternal priesthood we are to offer up "gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Heb. 5:1)…
10. But, the more perfectly that our oblation and sacrifice corresponds to the sacrifice of Our Lord, that is to say, the more perfectly we have immolated our [self-]love and our desires and have crucified our flesh by that mystic crucifixion of which the Apostle speaks, the more abundant fruits of that propitiation and expiation shall we receive for ourselves and for others. (1)
In fact, we can never excuse ourselves from suffering. Saint Paul reminds us, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church." (2)
Even more. Without the spirit of penance we will obtain nothing from God. Indeed, Pope Leo XIII expressly recommends that, together with the spirit of prayer, one should ask God for the spirit of penance, without which divine justice is not appeased:
Our fatherly solicitude urges Us to implore of God, the Giver of all good gifts, not merely the spirit of prayer, but also that of holy penance for all the sons of the Church. And whilst We make this most earnest supplication, We exhort all and each one to the practice with equal fervour of both these virtues combined. Thus prayer fortifies the soul, makes it strong for noble endeavours, leads it up to divine things: penance enables us to overcome ourselves, especially our bodies—most inveterate enemies of reason and the evangelical law. (3)
This is how the same Pontiff describes the life of penance of the saints:
They governed and kept assiduously in subjection their minds and hearts and wills.…Their unique desire was to advance in the science of God; nor had their actions any other object than the increase of His glory. They restrained most severely their passions, treated their bodies rudely and harshly, abstaining from even permitted pleasures through love of virtue. And therefore most deservedly could they have said with the Apostle Paul, “our conversation is in Heaven” (Phil. 3:20): hence the potent efficacy of their prayers in appeasing and in supplicating the Divine Majesty. (4)
And finally, prayer, even liturgical prayer, when done unworthily can only provoke God's anger against the person who makes it:
It is vain to hope that the blessing of heaven will descend abundantly upon us, when our homage to the Most High, instead of ascending in the odor of sweetness, puts into the hand of the Lord the scourges wherewith of old the Divine Redeemer drove the unworthy profaners from the Temple. (5)
It is good never to forget the command of the Holy Ghost: "Do not offer wicked gifts, for such He will not receive." (6) Cain's sacrifice has, in this regard, a decisive eloquence.
The purpose of this book does not consist in refuting the errors of pseudo-liturgism, but only the consequences to be deduced from it in the field of Catholic Action. When we refer, therefore, to these errors, we do so only because it would be otherwise impossible to point out the true roots of the doctrinal disorders which, in regard to Catholic Action, can be noticed in some of our lay environments. Since, however, no error should ever be mentioned or described without its corresponding refutation, we thought it useful to add to this part of the book some briefly stated arguments that we hope will forewarn, against certain doctrinal innovations, souls who are docile to the supreme and decisive authority of the Holy See. It is quite obvious that a refutation based on arguments other than those of authority, could only be done in a work particularly focused on the subject and written by a specialist rather than a layman. However, if the argument of authority does not exhaust the matter, it does suffice at least to solve the problem. So we are certain that the quotes and reflections we will now transcribe are appropriate for the job.
Before going into the matter, we would like, however, to make crystal clear that, when we refer to "pseudo-liturgism" we have selected the expression purposely, so as to preserve from any censure some meritorious efforts, undertaken with the praiseworthy intention of increasing piety around the Sacred Liturgy.
We also set aside the problem of the "dialogued Mass" and of exclusive use of the Missal. This problem has nothing to do with this book directly, and transcends the realm of a layman's judgment. We do not want to abstain from emphasizing however, that the obvious exaggerations that certain "pseudo-liturgists" have yielded to in this realm, fool even a number of wary souls. In fact, the most serious evil of this tendency does not lie here, but rather in certain doctrines professed in a more or less veiled manner, regarding piety and the so-called "passive priesthood" of the laity. The latter is enormously exaggerated, deforming the teaching of the Church which, incidentally, recognizes such priesthood. Let us deal only with errors regarding piety, which are more closely linked with Catholic Action, though this matter is also above our competence.
Devotions Approved by the Church May Not Be Attacked
When the Holy See approves a practice of piety, it declares implicitly that the objectives aimed at by such practice are holy and that the means of which it consists are licit and adequate for its purpose. Consequently, the Church affirms that the use of such means is suitable to contribute towards the increase of piety and the sanctification of the faithful. It is not licit, therefore, for anyone to hold the contrary, alleging that the practice of such acts implies the acceptance of principles contrary to the Church's own and that they are radically inefficacious in facilitating the sanctification of souls.
The Holy Rosary and the Way of the Cross are devotions which have been approved countless times by Holy Church; they have been recommended by the Pontiffs, profusely endowed with indulgences, and incorporated to common piety in such a way that several associations have been established for their diffusion with all the blessings of the Church; many religious orders and congregations have as a point of honor and solemn obligation to propagate them; and the Code of Canon Law instructs bishops to stimulate devotion to the Holy Rosary among their clergy. By a decree of August 20, 1885 His Holiness Pope Leo XIII made obligatory the recitation of the Rosary during Holy Mass during the month of October. (7) Obviously, therefore, whoever does not render unto these devotions the high and respectful appreciation engendered by so many and so praiseworthy acts of the Church, revolts against the authority of the Holy See.
It would be entirely futile to allege that in our day and age these practices are antiquated. It is true that practices of piety as admirable as these may yet emerge; but their motives—from which the value of the Rosary and the Way of the Cross flow—are merged so profoundly with the Church's immutable doctrine and with the unchangeable characteristics of human psychology, that it would be erroneous to affirm that these practices will one day become obsolete.
Being cold toward devotions warmly recommended by the Church, burying in silence devotions of which the Church talks constantly, is proof that one does not think, act, or feel in union with the Church.
One Cannot Admit Contradictions in the Spirituality of the Various Religious Orders
The same can be said in regard to the spirituality proper to each religious order or congregation. Each of the religious families existing in the Church has its special goals, its particular devotions, and its own way of life approved by the Holy See as irreprehensible and in accordance with Catholic doctrine in everything. Therefore, whoever rises up against a given religious order attacks the Church herself and revolts against the Holy See.
Thus, the animosity some people profess against the Society of Jesus is simply unbearable. This animosity is often based on arguments rehashed from criticism by either Freemasonry or the Protestants. The spirituality of the Society of Jesus is just as unassailable as that of any other religious order. Consequently, the "spiritual treasures," Spiritual Exercises, and examination of conscience several times a day may not be attacked by anyone, as they are spiritual resources of which souls can freely avail themselves when they see that by doing so they progress in virtue.
Even more unbearable is the odious attempt to throw one altar against another by forging alleged incompatibilities between the spiritualities of different orders. There are variances among them, and the Church is proud of these variances like "a queen with a dress adorned with many colors." But such variety never implied nor will it ever imply anything but a profound harmony like the one resulting from the variety of notes in a musical chord.
Religious orders and congregations
dedicate themselves to the service of God, each one in its own way, and all of them try to obtain the greater glory of God and their neighbor's profit through their respective goals, and while using different works of charity and love for one's neighbor. This enormous variety of religious orders—like trees of different perfumes planted in the Lord's field—produces most varied fruits and all of them most abundant for the salvation of mankind. Certainly there is nothing more pleasing to the eye, or more beautiful, than the homogeneity and harmonious diversity of these institutions: all tend toward the same end and, nevertheless each possesses special works of zeal and activity, diverse from those of other institutions under some special point of view. It is a customary method of Divine Providence to respond to each new necessity of the Church with the creation and development of a new religious institution. (8)
Because of this, we consider it abominable for a member of the faithful, in his legitimate preference for this or that religious order, to wish to set himself up in opposition to the others, finding no other outlet for his admiration for one except by diminishing others. To diminish one religious order is to diminish them all; it is to diminish the Catholic Church herself.
Undoubtedly, it is licit and even normal for the faithful to feel attracted, as a preference, to practice the spirituality of one of these orders. It would never be licit, however, for them to deviate from other paths, also very holy, souls oriented towards the spirituality of other orders. In the garden of the Holy Church of God, no one may hinder, without criminal injustice, our right to pick the flowers of sanctity in whichever flower bed the Holy Ghost calls us to.
Loving the Church filially and all the orders that exist in Her, we could not abstain, in this affectionate veneration, from attributing a particularly tender place to the Order of Saint Benedict. Because of the admirable wisdom of its rule and the extraordinary spiritual fruits it produced, produces and will always produce in the Church; because of its historical primacy in relation to all the religious orders of the West; because of the role the sons of Saint Benedict had in the formation of medieval society and culture, they occupy a chosen place in our heart, all the more so as we find in its ranks some of the best friends we have ever had. We are therefore filled with indignation when we hear the rumor that such errors can be identified or in any way affiliated with the spirit of Saint Benedict, on the pretext of the liturgy.
Not to love the liturgy, which is the voice of the praying Church, means at the very least to be suspect of heresy. It is an absurdity to believe that improprieties may arise from the effort developed by the Benedictine Order in favor of a more profound understanding of the liturgy and its exact place in the spiritual life of the faithful. Because of all this, we consider a calumny any identification that fortuitous and maybe nonexistent circumstances may suggest between the Benedictine spirit and the authentic liturgical spirit, on one hand, and on the other the modernist strategy and the "hyper-liturgist" exaggerations we have been fighting. In this regard the magnificent article written by the Most Reverend Lourenço Zeller, titular Bishop of Dorilea and Archabbot of the Benedictine Congregation of Brazil, published in Legionário on December 13, 1942, is perfectly explanatory. It is most important reading for those who wish orientation on this point.
As for the glorious and invincible Society of Jesus, on the occasion of their recent centenary, Pope Pius XII published an encyclical praising so highly the statutes and spirituality of this noble militia that we really do not know what remains of filial adhesion to the Holy See in those who, after reading it, persist in criticizing it. Referring to the Spiritual Exercises, Pius XI said that
Saint Ignatius learned from the Mother of God herself how to fight the battles of the Lord. It was as if he received from her hands this perfect code—this is the name that in truth we can give it—that is the Spiritual Exercises, which every soldier of Christ should use. In the Exercises organized according to the method of St. Ignatius, everything is laid out with so much wisdom, everything is so strictly ordered, that if there is no resistance to divine grace, the Exercises renew man to his very depths and make him perfectly submissive to divine authority. We declare St. Ignatius of Loyola, heavenly patron of the Spiritual Exercises.
Although other methods of spiritual exercises are not lacking, as we have already said, it is nevertheless true that the method of Saint Ignatius possesses a true excellence, and that, above all because of the more secure hope it gives of solid and durable advantages, they are the object of the Holy See's more abundant approval. (9)
In view of this affirmation, the alternative is clear: either Pius XI was affected with anthropocentric individualism, which is absurd, or the adversaries of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius are in declared opposition to the spirit of the Church in this vital subject.
1) Pius XI, Miserentissimus Redemptor, nos. 9-10.
2) Col. 1:24.
3) Leo XIII, Encyclical Octobri Mense, Sept. 22, 1891, no. 11, at www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_22091891_octobri-mense_en.html
5) St. Pius X, Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, Nov. 22, 1903 at www.adoremus.org/MotuProprio.html
6) Ecclus. 35:14.
7) [Trans.: decree S.R.C. Inter Plurimos]
8) Pius XI, Apostolic Letter Unigenitus Dei Filius, Mar. 19, 1924, AAS 16 (1924).
9) Pius XI, Letter Meditantibus Noster, Dec. 3, 1922. (Our emphasis.)