What a Real Reform Looks Like.
The Fifth Saturday of Easter.
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 16: 1-10.
• Psalm 100: 1-3, 5.
• John 15: 18-21.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Pius V, Pope & Confessor.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Pet 5: 1-4; 5: 10-11.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• Matthew 16: 13-19.
3:51 PM 5/5/2018 — A few of you may remember my mentioning how the Blessed Apostle John, in his account of the life of our Blessed Lord, plays fast and loose with the chronology of events, compressing a public life of three years into one, and often rearranging events so as to follow certain themes. The Gospel lessons we've been hearing at Holy Mass all this week purport to come from our Lord's last discourse to His Apostles at the Last Supper, and today Saint John offers us the conclusion of this speech, in which our Lord reminds his disciples that the hatred the world has for Him will translate to whomever follows Him, so that they should expect to endure persecution.
Comparing these chapters of John's Gospel with the other three Gospels, it's pretty clear that Saint John has taken sayings and sermons said by our Lord at various times during His public ministry and inserted them into his Last Supper narrative in a form of poetic license;—it is unreasonable to assume that our Lord's Apostles could have sat through a dinner speech of this length without some sort of intermission—but, we must admit that, rearranged by Saint John, outside of their original context, our Lord's words do take on a whole new meaning. This is wholly consistent with the thematic thrust of John's Gospel, which is concerned not so much with presenting the facts of our Blessed Lord's life, as are the other three, but with serving more as a theological and spiritual reflection on the life of our Lord. John, after all, was the last survivor of the original twelve; his Gospel was written after most of his brother Apostles were dead. In the twilight of his years, he pens his Gospel, along with the Book of Revelation, to serve as a final testament to the meaning of our Lord's life on earth; and, many of the themes found in those books are mirrored by his own Epistles to the Churches that he had established.
So, in the Gospel lesson of today's Mass we come to what Saint John clearly regards as the punch-line: “If the world hates you, be sure that it hated me before it learned to hate you” (15: 18 Knox). And, if we take Saint John's method of taking these sayings out of context as inspired by God for a purpose—which we must, since it is a Gospel accepted by the Church—then we must accept, as well, the artificial context provided by John, which has a purpose different from the more chronological approach taken by the other Evangelists. John, after all, has already seen nearly all of his brother Apostles murdered by the enemies of Christ. He has already seen the various Churches they established ripped apart by dissension and heresy. He has already seen the spectacle of Christians turning on one another, denouncing one another, appealing to Peter against one another. Part of that whole saga was presented to us all this week in the first lessons from Acts, which concludes the whole history of Paul, Barnabas and Cornelius converting the Gentiles, then having to defend their actions at the First Council of Jerusalem.
So, when Saint John finally pens his Gospel, he's reflecting not only on the life of our Blessed Lord as he remembers it, but on everything that's happened in the life of the Church since, much of which was not pretty. Some might make a comparison to a lot that’s happening in the Church today.
For those who occasionally attend the Tradition Latin Mass, today is the Feast of Pope Saint Pius V. As written in the Missal, “The pontificate of Pope Pius V was one of the most notable of the sixteenth century. He enforced the decrees of the Council of Trent, published the Roman Catechism, and revised the Roman Missal and Liturgy of the Hours.” Period. That's like saying that Albert Einstein was good at math. The Catholic Church that he inherited upon his election was in such a state of chaos that it makes the relative confusion some think we're in now pale by comparison. But let's begin by taking a brief look at his life.
Born Antonio Ghislieri in Bosco, Italy, to a poor family, he labored as a shepherd until the age of fourteen and then joined the Dominicans, being ordained in 1528. He studied in Bologna and Genoa, and then taught theology and philosophy for sixteen years before holding the posts of master of novices and prior for several Dominican houses. While out of favor for a time under Pope Pius IV, who disliked his reputation for excessive zeal, Ghislieri was unanimously elected to succeed him on January 7, 1566. And, just as an aside, prior to his election, the popes wore the same red cassock as other members of the College of Cardinals; Pius V, however, continued to wear his Dominican habit after being elected, which started the custom of the popes wearing white.
The Council of Trent was over by the time he was elected, but the conditions which prompted it were far from resolved; and Saint Vincent de Paul, who lived around the time just prior to that council, gives us glimpses of what the Church was like before then: there was no set program for the training of priests; there was no consistent way of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as each local region had its own missal; there were bishops bouncing around who had never once set foot in their own dioceses. Saint Vincent tells of going once into the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and witnessing five different priests at various side altars all saying Mass differently, one beginning the Mass with the “Our Father,” another saying Mass with nothing but a chasuble thrown over his hunting clothes. There's even the story of one bishop, who had bought his office from someone, who happened to be passing through his diocese by coincidence during Holy Week, and being asked by the rector of his cathedral if might want to stay and offer any of the Holy Week services, and who responded that he didn't have time for such trivial things.
The Council of Trent had issued decrees which corrected all of this and more, laying down requirements for the training and the life of the clergy, promulgating a Missal to be used throughout the whole Church; but, as we know from our own experience, the period just following an ecumenical council can be a time of great confusion as everyone seeks to interpret that council in their own way. Our own Pope Benedict, you may recall, claimed—and still does—that Vatican II had never been fully implemented, and that the reform that followed it, in many respects, did exactly the opposite of what the fathers of that Council had envisioned.
So, while the Council of Trent laid down the blueprint for the reform of the Church, it was the skill and determination of Pius V that actually made it happen, putting the Church back on the rails and keeping her there for almost a thousand years. But, as you can imagine, someone like that is not destined to be a popular person, and Pius went to his death universally hated by everyone whose wings he had clipped.
It's even more remarkable when you consider some of the other things he was able to accomplish aside from the reform of the Church. He proclaimed Saint Thomas Aquinas a Doctor of the Church and commanded a new edition of Saint Thomas' works, he established a commission to revise the Vulgate, he excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I for her persecution of the Church in England, and brokered an alliance between Venice and Spain to combat the advance of the Ottoman Turks, culminating in the magnificent triumph at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, which is commemorated every year on the Feast of Our Lady of Victories.
It wasn't until two hundred years after his death that his leadership over the Church was properly assessed, and he was canonized by Pope Clement XI on May 22nd, 1712.
So, while we might be tempted to view the Church in a state of confusion today, it can be some consolation to us to recognize that what we're going through now is nothing compared to what we've been through at various times in the past. Christ promised us that He would be with us until the end of time, and throughout history He has shown us how He often raises up great saints to lead His flock out of dark times. Let us ask Saint Pius V to add his prayers to our own, and to lend us some of the prudence and wisdom that kept his feet firmly set on the right path.