No, not his own. His Holiness has neither jumped off his balcony nor put a soaped noose around his neck.
The suicide the Pope has attempted is that of his Church, known in some quarters as the Bride of Christ. If so, then Jesus is coming precious close to being jilted at the altar.
On the surface of it, the step Pope Francis has taken is almost trivial. He has espied with his eagle eye that some Catholics still don’t share his enthusiasm for kowtowing to modernity, in all its variously perverse manifestations.
And wouldn’t you know, some dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries still whinge about the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, which was only marginally less subversive than Luther’s little escapade in 1517.
Vatican II introduced many liturgical reforms that made the Church look and sound uncannily similar to some Protestant denominations. In fact, the Council was blessed with the presence of several Protestant observers, although I’m not sure they had veto powers.
The most visible reform concerned the liturgical language, which until then had tended to be Latin. Completing the work started by Luther, Vatican II effectively mandated a switch to the vernacular. Celebration of the Latin Mass wasn’t banned but only discouraged, but in such strong terms that it was as near as damn.
As a result, finding a London church celebrating the Latin Mass has become as difficult as finding an Anglican one still using the Book of Common Prayer. The reasons for this are the same in both cases. The church hierarchies of both denominations are infected with the modernising virus – and give me Covid any day.
Yet difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Searching high and wide, one can still find Catholic and Anglican churches retaining respect for tradition. This though such respect must be presupposed by definition, for the Church is inherently a conservative institution.
Yet the hierarchs, including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, evidently believe that their churches must swing with the times. And, defying physics, the swing is monodirectional: always towards the cheapest and most condescending populism those gentlemen can muster.
Acting in that spirit, Pope Francis reversed his predecessor’s decision to ease restrictions on the use of the Latin Mass, and introduced draconian measures enforcing compliance. Henceforth, any groups defying Vatican II and clinging on to the Latin Mass may be kicked out of their churches.
You want to say Ave Maria, gratia plena instead of Hail Mary, full of grace, do it someplace else. A garage perhaps. Or else the reception room at the social services. Anywhere, as long as you keep your retrograde mugs out of the churches.
As objectionable as this move is, the explanation proffered for it is even worse. The Latin Mass, says the Vatican, is divisive. It’s a tool in the hands of liturgical terrorists conducting guerrilla warfare against Vatican II.
The Vatican here follows its beloved modernity by choosing words denoting the exact opposite of truth. In this case, what they call ‘divisive’ is actually unifying.
For that’s exactly what the Latin Mass is, bringing together as it does parishioners from all over the world. A Pole can go to a church in Argentina and worship in the same language he has heard from childhood.
The argument that most people don’t know Latin is nonsensical. Anyone used to the Latin liturgy from an early age will know exactly what every word means. In any case, it’s easy to provide bilingual prayer sheets. Give them to even a slow learner for a couple of years, and he won’t be looking at the vernacular translation any longer.
Many Russians don’t know Church Slavonic either, many Muslims aren’t fluent in Arabic, and many Jews don’t know much Hebrew outside Shema, Israel. However, they somehow manage to get their heads around the difference between a liturgical and a spoken language.
Exactly the same arguments as Catholic modernisers use against Latin are used by Anglican subversives to banish the KJB and the Book of Common Prayer. All those ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘betwixt’, no one talks that way.
That’s right. But then nobody talked in the language of poetic Biblical imagery in 1617, when the King James Bible came out. Few even talked that way in 1526, when William Tyndale produced his translation. But then even the fire-eating reformers and popularisers knew the difference between the sacral and the profane.
The switch to the vernacular was a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the Reformation, the anteroom of atheism. It was also the anteroom of the Enlightenment, with its similar quest to empower every individual, no matter how unqualified, all the way to complete self-sufficiency.
The principal idea of the Reformation was to remove, at least partially but ideally altogether, the mediation of the Church from a personal relationship with Christ. The Holy Spirit was all it was supposed to take to enable any believer to understand and interpret the word of God.
Alas, an average untrained parishioner can interpret Christian theology no better than he can sit down at the organ and interpret a Bach chorale. He’ll end up producing gibberish in the first case and cacophony in the second.
Guided by Luther, and especially Calvin who reformed the Reformation, every man became his own priest, the first step on the path towards becoming his own God. Wanton voluntarism replaced humble obedience, and Protestantism predictably began to fracture into hundreds of sects almost immediately.
Many became closely intertwined with, and dependent on, secular politics. In fact, Luther’s animadversions succeeded, and he himself escaped punishment, only because the local lords desperately wanted their bailiwicks to gain independence from the Holy Roman Emperor. Abandoning the Emperor’s religion could be a useful political step, and Luther did nicely. However, intimacy with secular authorities usually leads to dependence on them.
The Catholic Church has always been organised on the basis of doctrinal centralism but organisational localism, called subsidiarity. Its episcopates are autonomous, both structurally and politically. Conversely, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, most Protestant denominations get too close to secular politics to remain independent of them. Secularism was built into Protestantism from the start.
Then again, many people found the demands of the Catholic Church too onerous. Any real religion asks for a proof of humility through service (other than of the lip variety), and humility became a rare commodity in a world increasingly inhabited by self-deifying ignoramuses.
Calvinism in particular encouraged a focus of remunerative toil, for it treated wealth as a sign of divine benevolence and a hint that the person was predestined for salvation. And Catholicism, with its plethora of days put aside for devotions every year, wasn’t conducive to a lifelong pursuit of riches. (Even today, Protestant countries are 30 per cent more prosperous than Catholic ones.)
Initially happy to receive the Scripture and the liturgy in their everyday language, Protestants gradually reduced the time devoted to reading the former and attending the latter. And then mass atheism was just around the corner.
It may be my pride talking, and I may well burn in hell for it, but I find it hard to see many Protestants as brothers in Christ. Even the less insane sects smack of paganism too much for my liking. Many more smack of atheism.
For it’s largely thanks to the Reformation that many baptised Christians put their denomination down when required to fill a questionnaire, and then attend services only at Easter and Christmas, if then.
The closer the Catholic Church gets to Protestantism, the more it’ll promote atheism – the more it’ll betray its remit. The vernacular Catholic Mass is already barely distinguishable from its High Anglican counterpart, but at least conservative Catholics can seek refuge in the few churches that still celebrate Mass the old way.
The Pope’s decree is bound to shut the few doors still open – opening instead the doors to Protestantism. Ecumenism is all fine and well, but any proximity between Catholicism and Protestantism can only spell the triumph of the latter and the gradual demise of the former.
I wonder if His Holiness understands this.