Back in October, 2017 I had the great privilege of meeting Bishop Athanasius Schneider when he visited the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina and offered a Solemn Pontifical Mass. Following the release of his latest book, The Catholic Mass: Steps to Restore the Centrality of God in the Liturgy (Sophia Institute Press, 2022), I recently interviewed His Excellency about the resurgence of the traditional Mass, the centrality of God in our worship, and what lies ahead for the faithful in the wake of Traditionis Custodes.
Your Excellency, in your book The Catholic Mass you speak of the Mass as ritual, making the connection between our interior prayer and disposition and our exterior worship, and the importance of visible signs and ceremonies within the liturgy (i.e. man’s need for ritual). Do you think this explains in part why so many Catholics today, particularly among the young, are drawn to the Traditional Mass?
Yes, this is true. All what is beautiful, harmonious, sacred and supernatural mystery attracts a soul, who is sincerely seeking God. God Himself is the absolute beauty, harmony, holiness and the ineffable mystery. The closer we want to come to God, the more we love the real beauty, harmony, sacredness and the mystery. The beauty and nobleness of the ritual and the ceremonies instill in a sincere soul the desire for interior purity and prayer, i.e. for a closer union with God.
In your book you explain how the usus antiquior “proclaims…the centrality of God” more effectively than the Novus Ordo. In the months since the Holy Father released his motu proprio, Traditionis custodes, we have seen numerous examples of high profile bishops rushing to restrict, or even suppress, the Traditional Mass, some even going so far as to forbid ad orientem Masses, kneeling to receive Communion, or even wearing of the maniple by the priest. Do you believe that this attack against our liturgical tradition represents an attack against the centrality of God in the liturgy?
The prohibition of the ad orientem, or better ad Deum celebration of the Mass is clearly an attack against the centrality of God in the liturgy. To be the entire assembly, celebrant and the faithful, visibly turned towards the same direction, i.e. towards the Crucifix or the tabernacle is, in some way, scaring these bishops, who during the liturgy love to be visibly at the centre of the attention and to be watched continuously by the entire assembly like a showman or an entertainer. Receiving Holy Communion kneeling is a very expressive gesture that by itself proclaims the immense greatness of God, hidden in the little sacred host. If such unambiguous and powerful Christocentric liturgical signs (like the ad orientem celebration and reception of Communion kneeling) disturb or upset those bishops, then one has to ask about the quality of their faith in the Eucharistic Lord and their love for Him. Surely, the Lord will on the Day of judgement, make the same reproach to these bishops, that He did to the Pharisees, when they prohibited the little ones to exteriorly manifest their worship to Christ on the Day of Palm Sunday, when Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem. We know the following passage from the Gospel: “The whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:37-40).
In the wake of Traditionis custodes and the ensuing dubia and various restrictions and suppression of the traditional rites and sacraments, what do you have to say to the many faithful Catholics feeling wounded, lost, and despairing? What words of hope can you offer to my readers, those simply desiring to practice their faith as the Church’s faithful have done so for centuries?
Please, continue to be faithful to the same liturgy of the Mass and of the sacraments, which all the Saints from the last millennium, which your venerable ancestors and other heroic Catholics loved so much and which nurtured them in the Catholic faith and in the virtues. Seek all the possibilities to assist the traditional Mass and sacraments. Make insistent, though respectful, petitions to the bishops and to the Holy See that they may to lift the liturgical restrictions and stop the discrimination you are suffering. Consider it an honor to be despised and marginalized for the sake of the fidelity to the venerable millennium old liturgy of the Saints and of your forefathers. Don’t be in despair, in anger or resentment. Continue to love supernaturally the Church, the Pope and your bishop, even though they may discriminate you by these drastic liturgical restrictions, and pray for them. Your fidelity, respectful demands, noble attitude and your sufferings will contribute to the full restoration of the traditional liturgy in the Church.
Photo credit: Phillip Budidharma