A House Divided

Archbishop Sample of Portland, Oregon, is definitely one of our best bishops. Articulate, energetic, and intelligent, he is an outspoken defender of the traditional liturgy and celebrates it regularly. In addition, he contributes in concrete ways towards improving the celebration of the Novus Ordo. His participation in this Gregorian Chant workshop held at a Brigittine Monastery is a case in point.

We can certainly go a long way with the sermon he preached in this video. It’s a plea for unity of mission and purpose in the Catholic Church. More specifically, though, he’s saying that adherents of TLM should not be needlessly divisive; that we should be joyful and filled with charity towards our fellow Catholics; that we should refrain from harsh and bitter language; and that we should strive to remove any exaggerated divisions that are the result of liturgical sensibilities. All good advice in a Church where the “angry trad” stereotype makes the job of good bishops that much more difficult. But he also suggests – rather strongly – that traditionalists should not view the Novus Ordo as inferior or defective, and should refrain from criticizing problems in the Novus Ordo milieu. These remarks begin at 13:05 and continue for the rest of the video.

Unfortunately this last bit is asking too much. The Novus Ordo is without question an inferior and defective liturgy, and its defects have had enormous consequences. That doesn’t mean we should always be shouting this from the rooftops – there is a time and place to discuss such things: discernment and prudence is needed – but it would be wrong to give the impression that the TLM is a mere personal preference without any qualitative content. There also needs to be a realization that unity is pointless (or even harmful) unless it is unity in the truth. Unity does not exist for its own sake. The “gospel” preached these days by even the best in the hierarchy, going all the way to the top, is so weak and empty as to be an embarrassment. Are we to be united in the “gospel” of social work, of being nice to people, or even of loving our neighbor? Not even the so-called “gospel of life” counts as the real Gospel. There’s nothing wrong with unity around these admirable things, but it’s not unity in the Gospel or in the mission of the Catholic Church! The Church exists fundamentally for the salvation of souls. Nothing else is even a close second. I’m sure Archbishop Sample would agree, but the point is that Catholic unity is not possible until Catholics actually believe in the tenets of their own religion once again.

There does seem to be a heightened sense among many prelates that division in the Church is, today, reaching the level of a crisis. Catholic unity is threatened as never before. Division in the Church is certainly a scandal, and many of our divisions can be healed with the exercise of simple charity. But there is another kind of division that charity alone cannot bridge.  We need to understand that doctrinal dissent and bad liturgy have made certain divisions insurmountable. Mutual love between orthodox and heterodox Catholics doesn’t create unity in the Gospel. Only a return to God and a reverence for all of His gifts, bequeathed to us in the Church, will end the division. The Novus Ordo liturgy and the revolution that followed was, more than anything, a rejection of those gifts. It’s not too late to lay down our arms and receive His gifts again with gratitude.


4 thoughts on “A House Divided

  1. Jeff, I absolutely agree with you that those of us who love the TLM should not feel it is sinfully “divisive” to bring valid criticisms about the Novus Ordo – within due bounds, which includes the right time, the right place, with the right people, etc. However, I think you may have over-stated the degree to which the Archbishop was “strongly suggesting” that traditionalists should not view the Novus Ordo as inferior or defective. His most pointed comment is this, at about 15:00, criticizing trads: “Or, to say in some way, that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is somehow not valid, or isn’t quite right.”

    First, it is really true that some who love the TLM say the Ordinary Form is invalid of its very nature. And this is indeed a problem.

    The second part is more vague, (“or not quite right”) as to what he really meant and what criticism he was laying down about it. If by “not quite right” he is referring to trads who say things like “it was wrong to change the canon in any respect” (even though they don’t say this is invalid), that’s (a) something some trads do say, (b) could plausibly be described as “calling the Novus Ordo ‘not quite right’ ” and (c) is a bit over the top as a criticism of the Ordinary Form. On the other end, if he was referring to trads who say “the Novus Ordo” is inherently less reverent, and less noble a form of worship”, then (d) there are indeed trads who do say this, but (e) it is less clearly on the money to characterize this as “calling the Novus Ordo ‘not quite right’ “. For, being “less reverent” and “less noble” is not a way of being “wrong” as such. If we harken back to the interplay of source meanings for “right” to include “straight” and “just” and even “righteous”, one can admittedly be LESS NOBLE without being UNRIGHTEOUS. Playing cards with your child is less noble than teaching your child the parts of the Mass, but playing cards is not unrighteous.

    Sure, the men who chose to lessen the Mass may have been making wrong choices. But that wrongness is in the choices they made in acting, not the Mass they designed. Sure, the mass they designed may harbor “defects” in the sense of lacking things that it could have (and, but for their wrong choices, would have), but that doesn’t make the mass so designed BAD as an act of worship.

    If the archbishop was referring to those trads who characterize the Ordinary Form as a bad act of worship, he is not being egregious about what he is calling us to watch out for. If he was trying to prevent us trads from speaking out about the ways the Novus Ordo could be improved and repaird, that would be wrong of him. But since he owned Benedict’s thesis that the “reform” needs a reform, the latter is unlikely.


  2. to all of my beautiful catholic brothers and sisters I am a catholic who has come home after being away for 43 years….I did not expect to discover the terrible division in our once united church…..I am terribly confused and have found it very difficult to find a church who is willing to embrace me….I believe in the prayerful and spirit written words of two popes(who have to be crying in heaven),who attempted without success to unite us….we look unfavorably at the protestants and all their different denominations yet we fail to see the “log” in our own eye….please pray for me but especially our church in deep distress Angela


  3. Good to have landed on your site (via a posting by P. Blosser), Will review it regularly.

    Not that too long a convert into the Church – though, presently, I stand quite nervously and am not easily comforted.

    Came via the Orthodox Church, though I do tell folks (these days) I became a Thomist before I became Catholic. That threshold – if you will – does keep me (for the moment) stable in this present quaking under St. Peter’s seat..

    (Jamestown, CA)


  4. “But there is another kind of division that charity alone cannot bridge. We need to understand that doctrinal dissent and bad liturgy have made certain divisions insurmountable. Mutual love between orthodox and heterodox Catholics doesn’t create unity in the Gospel.”

    Thanks, Jeff, this needed to be said. And Trads should not take up this defensive “oh, I only go there because it’s nice, quiet and reverend” attitude in regards to the TLM, just as much as they shouldn’t make agressive and uncharitable comments. The truth shouldn’t be gagged, the NO needs to be addressed publicly and so does Vatican II (and the liturgical changes of the 50’s, but that should take a backseat to the more pressing issues).


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