Moses and the Traditionalist Movement
“Because you trespassed against me in the midst of the children of Israel, at the waters of contradiction
in Cades of the desert of Sin: and you did not sanctify me among the children of Israel. Thou shalt see
the land before thee, which I will give to the children of Israel, but thou shalt not enter into it.”
- Deuteronomy 32:51-52
It isn’t a perfect metaphor. But it’s close. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his successors, like Moses, led many faithful Catholics out of Egypt and into a painful desert exile. These faithful Catholics were nourished and fed the orthodox Catholic Faith at a time when Catholicism was scarcely to be found within the official bounds of ecclesiastical authority. They preserved not only the traditional worship of the Latin Rite, but also the riches of Catholic theology and spirituality, including the indispensable customs and traditions that make Catholicism an incarnational reality. For this we all must be grateful.
Unfortunately the well has been poisoned. The abuse of authority within the Church has led to a habit of contempt for authority among the exiles. Their mistrust is deep and seemingly intractable. Like revolutionaries of every stripe, they view anyone outside their little orbit as guilty until proven innocent. Every member of the regular hierarchy is suspect, his motives questioned, his words almost deliberately misunderstood. Catholic precepts against rash judgment, calumny, and detraction are thrown out the window when it comes to priests and bishops in good standing with Rome. The minimum respect that is owed to all priests is hardly remembered. For many exiles it is not enough that Rome is now anxious to provide the traditional Mass and sacraments, to revive the ancient devotions and traditional piety, and to welcome those who have been surviving in a desert exile for so long. No! Everything must be perfect before they return! The hierarchy must first be converted to Tradition exactly as the exiles understand it!
Today the Land of Canaan looms over the horizon. We can see the smoke from the fires in the distance – the fires of restoration. But the exiles are still grumbling. They have been faithful custodians of many things, but at the same time they have allowed the enemy to poison their souls. They have survived for a long time without the complications of obedience to flawed prelates: why should they change now? Hasn’t the Lord preserved them in the desert for forty years? Shouldn’t He be trusted to preserve them for another forty years if they happen to like it there?
Like Moses, they will remain outside and will observe the restoration from afar. Unlike Moses, however, this exile will be of their own choosing – and without the consolations of repentance.