"And when Jesus had heard that John was delivered up, he retired into Galilee: And leaving the city Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capharnaum on the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim; That it might be fulfilled which was said by Isaias the prophet: "Land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim, the way of the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up." From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: "Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."" (Gospel of St. Matthew 4:12-17)
The virtue of penance, which Our Lord preached from the beginning of His public ministry, is not something much talked of today. Sadly our times seem lost in a turbulent rush to self-satisfaction, and all law, custom, tradition, reason, morality, and belief is cast aside to make "clear" the way. Indeed so many, frequent, great, and exceptional are the wickednesses and scandals of the present day, that many despair of any remedy, whatsoever, either for the world or in the Church Herself.
In the face of such temptation to despair, we must, as Catholics, give witness to the hope we have in Christ (cf. 1 Pt 3:15), that there is a remedy for our age and its wickedness: the virtue of penance.
To clarify the surpassing excellence and remarkable efficacy of this virtue it is useful to briefly consider the two chief errors opposed to this virtue, errors that are at work in the world and in the Church at the present. I speak of the heresies of Pelagianism and Jansensim. The pelagian denies the existence of original sin and therefore wrongly concludes that mankind's present inclination to evil is merely a personal defect, which consists in the omission to practice the natural virtues. For the pelagian, Christ and the Only True Religion, are merely useful and not necessary. Useful because they incite to virtue, but not necessary in that they do not provide humanity with something that it cannot find elsewhere. Thus the pelagian is at home both with those who deny the infallible dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (Outside the Church there is no salvation) and with the puritan who demands a strict and rigorous moral life.
From this it can be seen that as the heresy of Pelagianism spreads its influence, new errors and heresies spring forth, unshackled by this angel of light. Ironically among these is the apparently diametrical position of those who hold that moral evil is what is natural and that those who claim otherwise are prejudiced by the superstitions and taboos of a hand-me-down religion. This blasphemy is derived from the logic, inherent in Pelagianism, of denying the existence of original sin, which denial is tantamount to legalization of all forms of immorality. This latter heresy is the canonized orthodoxy of the liberal establishment; and indeed it must be, because the very notion of liberalism is logically impossible in the mind that assents to the doctrine of original sin.
But the jansensist thinks quite otherwise—but not rightly—for he considers that only those who have kept themselves pure and righteous from the beginning belong to the number of the elect, and that there is no need to busy oneself with the masses who sin, "for after all they are damned anyhow." He confesses readily enough the reality and truth of original sin; but he errs in allowing human pride to just as readily claim the prerogatives of the truth of predestination.
We can see the pelagian and jansenist attitudes at work in the world very easily if we only turn on the TV or read the local paper. There is sin, but it is denied it name. There is evil, and the remedy is always to make its occurrence less desirable; or at least less public. There is the appearance virtue, but it is for the sake of material gain; and it is the achievement of the upward rising or the politically correct, or even of the misunderstood criminal, but never does it arise through recognition and detestation of one's own sins.
A closer analysis of both the pelagian and jansenist attitudes reveals their common agreement, for they both hold that man is irreformable, like the angelic nature, and therefore end up considering men as either devils or angels, but in either case, unchangeable. Both these attitudes and their contingent errors and heresies are foreign to Catholic Faith and sentiment, for Our Lord, as the Gospels make so clear, came into this world to save sinners:
"For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his work may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God." (Gospel of John 3:16-21)
Moreover Pelagianism and Jansenism are united together in their opposition to a Catholic notion of penance and the utility of the Sacraments of the Church. The former denies their necessity in virtue of a mistaken notion of the goodness of human nature. The latter denies their efficacy in virtue of a mistaken notion of the goodness of the Divine Nature.
It is also clear that the common error of the pelagian and the jansenist is merely a convenient excuse; for if a man can not be reformed, then repentance is impossible. And if repentance is impossible then penance is not an obligation of the sinner. The only difference is that the pelagian renounces the recognition of sin in Adam, and the jansenist renounces the recognition of it in himself. But the both renounce its recognition.
From the purpose of Our Lord's coming among us as Redeemer we can clearly see the resolution to the problem posed by the opposition of pelagian and jansensist attitudes, which are among the most common reactions to the enormity of the contemporary tribulations. Our Lord came to save us from sin, both original sin and personal sin. Our Lord is God, and since He came to save us from sin, then salvation from sin is not only possible, but with Him it is certain—if only we cooperate with Him so as to receive this surpassing gift of mercy. Because He came to save us from original sin, evil is not part of our nature, and so we cannot excuse ourselves from the duty to do penance on the grounds that it is unnatural. Because He came to save us from personal sin, we need not only to recognize it, but more importantly to detest it.
That Our Lord must be hated by the pelagian and jansenist is clear, for He opposes their teachings: one must both recognize and detest one's sinfulness. And not only must he promise and actually carry out a reform of his behavior, but he must actually make satisfaction for the evil he has done. This is a true self-judgement and a true act of justice.
Penance, which leads us to detest and make satisfaction for our own personal sins and the sins of others too, is then something very wholesome, desirable, and hopeful, for it is the very occasion of a man's interior and exterior renewal, and the renovation and restoration of human and Christian society. Penance, rightly, however, should not be something thought of lightly, and for this reason, we must first recognize that penance, though it is a duty, is first of all a gift. No man can do any penance worthy of God's consideration without His first giving the grace to do so.
Therefore, if we are to both desire and receive such a revivifying gift, it will do us well to consider its origin and Giver, so that we might obtain it every more easily. Likewise it is important to consider the very best and most efficacious reason for desiring this gift, so as to spur ourselves to desire it with that importance and urgency that is fitting and appropriate.
Three Last Things
In the end each of us will die. There is no doubt about it. How strange therefore, that what is most certain in life, is such little thought of or tolerated in conversation? Is this not unreasonable? Let us then be reasonable and consider the matter more closely.
Death and Judgement; Heaven or Hell. You will die. It is just a matter of time. First an illness, then weakness, then sickness continually; then the failing of the body as the limbs grow cold, the fingers loose their touch; the sight dimming; the mind wandering; the breathe leaving; and the heart slowing; every movement a pain. Suffering. Suffering. Death.
Or perhaps it will come suddenly. Boom! And you are no more. On a highway, in the bathtub, a thief, a heart-attack, a stroke. Or silently . . in the night. You go to sleep with hopes and plans for tomorrow. But it is others who find you on the morrow in your bed, cold as ice.
You shall die. I shall die. We all shall die. But when? Death is so certain, but he time of death so uncertain? How strange a juxtaposition! Absolute certainty; absolute uncertainty!
Our forefathers spoke rightly, when they kept the habit of saying of the future, however close, " . . . if God wills it," or " . . . if we live so long."
A meditation on death is found at sometime in the life of every saint, for just as one cannot arrive at point B without first leaving point A, so likewise we cannot arrive at holiness, which consists in keeping God's commandments, without leaving aside sin, which is the violation of God's laws. It is a meditation on death that is the reason for seeing how important it is to set out from A to B, that is from the death of sin to holiness of life.
But that there may be a vital reason to set out, let us consider Judgement.
Death would not be so terrifying without judgement, which is why so many people conveniently deny the existence of God and a life to come. Even the atheist can understand that if there is a God—which even the continual anxiety of the apologetes of atheism profess—then He must be Supreme and Exacting Justice. Even Plato, the pagan philosopher saw that. And he was an advocate of sodomy, abortion, euthanasia and communism. Let us be certain therefore that contemporary man can see it too.
St. Paul writes, "And it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this, comes judgement." (Hebrews 9:27) This judgement is twofold. There is the particular judgment of each individual. This takes place immediately at death. There is the general judgment of all humanity. This takes place at the end of time.
Let us consider the particular judgement.
How sudden it is and how exacting! There is not even a moment between life and death that separates the soul from the particular judgement. As soon as the soul departs this life it is reproached by the Justice of God and His Holy Angels with all its transgressions. It does not matter what men on earth thought of you in your life; what matters alone is what God thinks of you, and especially in the moment of death. If well, then eternal life; if ill, then eternal death.
"Therefore every one of us will render an account before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive what is due the body, according as he hath done, whether good or evil." (2 Cor. v. 10) It does not matter much if you sins be great in number or small, if only you die without doing penance, you suffering is assured. Are your sins small, only one tiny, hidden, even forgotten mortal sin? Let it be unrepented of and there is no doubt what judgement you will receive. Damnation! Death eternal.
This is just, and we can recognize that it is so, if we but consider what mortal sin is: rebellion, pure and simple. God says in this life, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." And in the moment of judgement, "Do you love Me ..?" If we have not kept God's commandments, then we have not loved God. If we have not loved God, how can we expect Him to admit us to live with Him forever! It is only reasonable, isn't it?
But if we have offended God gravely, how much more do we deserve a most stern punishment. Is God not God, after all? If we punch our brother, we deserve a spanking from our dad; if our friend, the loss of friendship; if the teacher, a suspension from school; if the mayor a jail sentence; if the president, a prison sentence. Now all these persons, whom we should respect, are only finite creatures, men like ourselves. But God is God, the infinite Lord and Creator; and not only that, but our Redeemer and the Head of the Church and King of every heart. It is only reasonable that just as our offense is punished in a measurable manner, if we offend another finite man, that our offense be punished in an immeasurable manner, if we offend the infinite God.
This punishment due for mortal sin in the life to come is Hell. Eternal, inexorable, inescapable, a torment beyond imagining, a suffering without respite, a horror beyond belief, a despair beyond relief. Just as "no eye has seen, no ear heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him," so likewise one can rightly say, that "no eye has seen, no ear heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man, what God has prepared for those who have hated Him" by sin.
To obtain a right understanding of the magnitude of Hell it is sufficient to quote what the saints knew about it. St. Bonaventure says, that the stench in Hell is so great, that if but one spoon full of its muck were brought upon the Earth, all creatures would perish on account of its pestilential stench. St. Teresa of Avila, to whom God gave an experience of Hell, upon her return promised God never ever to deliberately offend Him again, commenting that she had seen enough and now understood how horrible Hell was. To which Our Lord commented that she had no idea at all what it was really like, as this was only a vision!
Perhaps a practical manner to envision Hell today would be to recall to mind all the horrible and gruesome things portrayed in contemporary horror films—that is, if you have had the misfortune of exposing yourself to them. Call them all to mind, and imagine yourself enduring all of them simultaneously AND forever. This though does not approach the actual situation at all. For horror films, which are produced from the imaginations and power of men can never depict the gruesome, the twisted, the terrible, the horrible, the madness, the evil, the wickedness, the darkness that comes forth from the minds of fallen angels, the first denizens of Hell. Hell after all is the dominion of the Prince of Darkness. He and his crew can do anything they like to you in Hell. That's Hell . . .But there is more.
Hell, everyone in it, from greatest to least, is suffused with fire. There is fire above, below, to the right, to the left, in front, behind, all around. Fire so intense that it cannot be imagined. Fire that burns both body, and soul. Fire that burns the mind and memory, the will and the senses. Pain in the senses, despair in the will, unending horror in the imagination, unimaginable dread in the senses, utter darkness in the mind, the most bitter regret in the memory . . .But this is not all.
Hell and everyone in it, from least to greatest, is suffused with hatred. More bitter and cruel than even the fire. For God is the author of the fire in Hell, and it punishes only to the extent of justice, in as much as we have used body and soul to sin. But the hatred in Hell is not of God, and it torments everyone without respect to justice. There is the hatred of the damned, for themselves, and for each other. For themselves, that they should be punished so; for each other because the suffering of one increases the suffering of others. There is the hatred of the fallen angels, for themselves and for the damned souls. For themselves, because they failed in their rebellion against God; for the damned souls because they are made in the image and likeness of that God, and the mere sight of a human soul reminds them of their utter, eternal, crushing defeat. Then there is the hatred of the Prince of Darkness, who is the "father of lies" and the "murderer from the beginning," the father of pride, of avarice, of lust, of envy, of every other vice and injustice, especially hatred and malice. It is his kingdom and he can do what he wills there . . .But even this is not all.
But the more terrifying of all the characteristics of Hell is its eternity. Its immeasurable expanse of duration. It is unending, eternal, in a word forever. To taste just a tidbit of what eternity is like imagine a bowl a huge as the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is so large that you can not see across any part of it. It takes even modern ships 10 days to cross it. And how deep it is, more than a mile in many places. Just imagine how much water to fill such a bowl of such a volume! Now imagine this bowl completely empty and dry. And imagine likewise a small faucet, turned off. Except there is a tiny occasional drip, a leak that produces one drop every hour.
Every hour: only one drop. Try this at home some time. Take a small cup, and then take an eye dropper and fill the small cup, drop by drop. How many drops? See for your self. How many hours to fill a small cup? Just calculate it! How many little cups in a gallon? Many! How many gallons in, lest us say, a swimming pool of average dimension? Very many! And how many hours to fill a gallon at one drop an hour? or the pool at one drop, one drop every hour? So, so very many!
Now think of the bowl with the volume of the Atlantic Ocean! To fill it, would it take forever? No, not forever, but a very, very, very, long time.
Now think of Hell! I tell you, it has only just begun. Fill up the Atlantic Ocean and pour it out again, and do this as many times as there are drops in the Ocean, and eternity has only just begun. Match such an eternity with all the horrors and sufferings in Hell, and what a Hell you can see it is!
And all this in return for one mortal sin!
Simply terrifying; but absolutely certain and true.
All this due to each and every human individual on account of the sin of Adam!
A horror of unimaginable proportions; the tragedy that should not be forgotten.
The Cross: our Hope
There is only One way out of Hell, that is, one way out of the doom of Hell: the Cross of Christ. Bl. John Duns Scotus says that God in His omnipotence could have solved the tragedy of original sin, the ugliness of mortal sin, merely by some small act of some pure human creature. But in reality He chose a certain, immeasurable deed of His own Divine Son upon the Cross. Such a solution to such a problem! God truly condescends to human dignity, in considering the plight of mankind worthy of such a Savior! How marvelous the condescension of the Mind of God to mankind's fiasco in foreordaining such Nobility upon such Ignominy! And in this He did not forget the pure human creature. He became Her Son and predestined Her to work with Him in the redemption of mankind. Behold our Redeemer; behold our Corredemtrix. Behold the wood of the Cross: upon It the faithful have been rescued from the shipwreck of this world. Behold the wood of the Cross: It alone has been the tool fit to bar the Gates of Hell. And this redemption offered upon the wood of the Cross is for all mankind. Let us never shrink from proclaiming That Sacrifice, which Christ made of Himself for the forgiveness of all the sins of mankind: "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." (1 Jn 2:2) He is the Propitiation for our sins. He is the One who appeases the Divine Majesty. The crux of the Redemption, the Only True Sacrifice for sin, is the appeasement of God not Man. The propitiation of God by the death of the Man. And thus we should never shrink from proclaiming that the infinite Nobility of the Divine Son upon the Ignominy of the Cross—the means chosen by God from all eternity for our redemption is by no means, no stretch of the imagination, something that God owes mankind. It is sheer, ineffable mercy, just as it is written: "His grace and mercy are with the elect."
Thus it is that the virtue of penance must decorate and enshrine every aspect of authentic Catholic life, of authentic Catholic spirituality. For in penance is proclaimed mankind's unworthiness in the face of God's condescension. And this is the indispensable disposition to God's grace, for to approach Him in any other manner is to act either as if the redemption offered in Christ is not necessary (Pelagianism) or that I, the individual, deserve it (Jansenism).
It is because of the necessity of penance that Christ died upon the Cross, stripped, beaten, whipped, nailed, abandoned by Divine Providence (in as much as He was to die thus) and forsaken by mankind (in that by the sins of all His death was necessary). It was because of the necessity of penance that two pure creatures offered the Sacrifice of the Cross: for no one who is not purged by penance of the guilt of sin can rightly partake of Divine worship. They alone were capable of offering to God the acceptable sacrifice.
And on account of what God has revealed we can say that it was the necessity of penance that chose the circumstances of the Incarnation: the penury of Bethlehem, the poverty of Nazareth; the circumstances of the Church's own childhood: persecutions by Romans, Greeks, Persians, and Jews. It was the theological necessity of penance that God hinted at in providing the origins of Christianity with the stark gloom of the catacombs and the cold stone of the Basilicas.
A Catechism on the Virtue of Penance
"Do penance with the blessing of God." (St. Francis of Assisi, Testament, II, 26).
Let us then refresh our understanding and faith in the virtue of penance. Let us learn from one of the primary doctors of the Church, St. Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio, as he speaks from his Commentary on the Four Books of the Sentences.
Penance properly can be said to be a grace, a virtue, a Sacrament, an act and a passion (Book IV, d.14, a. 1. q. 1.) Penance in every sense is expulsive of actual sin, the stain that deforms the soul and the stain that inclines the soul to evil, either by debilitating it in its orientation to the good or wounding it in its nature, all of which are wrought in the individual by an act of the will which delights in sin and is led along by its love of itself. "Therefore since the deletion of fault, as something that deforms, belongs to reforming grace, and as something that dehabilitates, belongs to habilitating virtue, and as something that wounds, belongs to the Sacrament of healing, and as an act perpetrated, belong to another act of the will (moved by grace), and as something perpetrated with delight, belongs to that which endures suffering: for this reason penance is rightly said to be a grace, a virtue, a Sacrament, an act and a passion."
Penance as a virtue has a particular character: it regards the evil which the individual has perpetrated against God, and for which he is worthy of punishment. (ibid., q. 2.) Though not a theological virtue like faith, hope or charity, it is however a part of the cardinal virtue of justice, in as much as man by the virtue of penance is inclined to repair the injustice he has wrought against God by sin (ibid., q. 3). Hence the detestation of sin, not out of its inherent ugliness, but on account of its offensiveness to God is the hallmark of the virtue of penance at work in the soul
Penance as a virtue resides in the will. Since it is a part of the cardinal virtue of justice it can operate in a soul which has lost the virtue of charity by mortal sin. However it cannot exist in a soul which has lost the virtue of faith, since without faith all sense of the just measure of the injustice of sin is lost. It urges the individual to undergo punishment for the sake of repairing the order of justice; when motivated by even an ordinary measure of supernatural charity it infallibly obtains the forgiveness of venial sins and their temporal punishments; when motivated by that extraordinary measure which is called perfect charity (love of God for his own sake) it obtains the forgiveness of even mortal sins, when it desires simultaneously to seek out the Sacrament of penance as soon as possible, and of large quantities of temporal punishment.
The origin of penance as a virtue is God as Author, and man as the one who is disposed thereby, for "He who created us without us, does not justify us without us" (St. Augustine, Sermon 169, ch. 11, n. 13). In man the work of the virtue of penance proceeds in this manner (ibid.,a.2 q. 2, resp.). First it is necessary to recognize the goodness and justice of God, to whom every evil and disorder is displeasing, who is offended by these and who in no manner leaves evil unpunished. And at the same time, it is necessary to recognize that by sin one has made his very self into that which can do nothing else by displease His goodness; and this is the recognition of fault in one's self, and from this the individual recognizes that he is obliged to undergo punishment in virtue of Divine judgement. Secondly, it is necessary to recognize the mercy of God, who is ready to remit and pardon every turning away from and grief over the fault committed. From the first recognition, spoken above, there is born divine fear; from the second, hope of forgiveness. And from both of these is born the will to turn away from sin and to make a compact with God and to make satisfaction by means of lamentation and other penances (fasting, the discipline, the cilice, the hairshirt, fatiguing work, endurace of extremes of climate, almsgiving, prayer). And if one begins to do these things which are in one's own power to accomplish, he has been already disposed to justification and the forgiveness of sins. Penance is thus a necessary act before justification, for though sanctifying grace alone forgives and purges sins from the soul, it is necessary that the individual consent to this action of grace by the work of the virtue of penance, which engenders detestation and sorrow for sin.
Penance and Catholic Worship
From this brief look at the nature, work, and necessity of the virtue of penance, we can readily see the place and importance due penance in Catholic worship. Penance reminds us that there is only once acceptable sacrifice to the Father: that of His Son upon the Cross. It is the virtue of penance at work in all who believe that leads souls adrift in the flotsam of Protestantism, with its worship services concocted by human artistry, to the authentic and true worship of God, instituted by Christ, in the Catholic Church. It is the virtue of penance at work in the faithful that has erected chapels and crosses and statutes and other art forms throughout the world to remind the faithful of God's goodness, man's guilt, mercy's offer of pardon, and the Resurrection's hope of renewal. It is the virtue of penance that purified the saints at the beginning of their conversions and led them all the way to glory. It is the virtue of penance that has decorated the humblest shrine and the loftiest basilica with hard floors, challenging kneelers and chilly expanses. It is the virtue of penance that urges the tabernacle and altar to be placed in the center of things, since penance is opposed to all disorder. It is the virtue of penance that prolongs the lingering of the faithful at the Sacred Mysteries, since penance seeks the every brighter refinement of the soul. It is the virtue of penance that loves repetition, just as a faithful handmaid loves to polish her master's finest possessions. It is the virtue of penance that does not disdain austerity and embraces silence eagerly, because only in the absence of obstruction and noise is her work possible. It is the virtue of penance that relishes rigor, since her love is more relentless than the death wrought by sin. It is the virtue of penance that urges us to meditation on the great truths, so as to accomplish her work of transforming minds. It is the virtue of penance that grasps the True Faith with unbreakable bounds, since she founds herself upon the recognition of Eternal Truth. Hence it is that the mind, habituated by the virtue of penance, sees rightly that the results of unbridled and unauthorized liturgical renewal have been almost entirely and in their every detail, simply madness and false religion. And how can it be otherwise: has not penance as a virtue been dispossessed and banished, or at least hidden and disguised? This indeed is a sin, for which the Holy Spirit is and shall inspire all Christendom to do penance. It cannot be otherwise, for the Church will not perish.
While it is of faith that Christ's infallible Magisterium perdures in the Successor of St. Peter and the Sacred Hierarchy united with him, and that His Priesthood likewise perdures in them, rendering it impossible that either the Pope or the Sacred Hierarchy will ever or could ever be the instrument of the Church's demise, nevertheless as the history of the Church sadly proclaims, Our Lord does not prevent individual failures on the part of an individual (e.g. Judas Iscariot) or group of individuals (e.g. during schisms) from leading to disastrous results; results which are left to the Popes and Bishops of the next generation to remedy. With a recognition of these truths one can speak respectfully and in a Catholic manner about the failures to take disciplinary action to promote an authentic notion of Catholic worship vis-à-vis the virtue of penance.
The sine qua non of the liturgical debacle was, in respect to the virtue of penance, two fold. The diminishment of the Eucharistic fast and the decision not to define the Mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. About the time that Pope Pius XII decided to distance himself from his predecessors' use of the title "Mediatrix" he sanctioned the diminishment of the Eucharistic fast. This was mistake that cracked the dike. Although the change in daily life brought about by the technological advances of the 19th and 20th centuries as well as the widespread disruption caused by the Second World War and the social disruptions which followed it, made a reduction in the Eucharistic fast seem eminently reasonable and merciful, what in fact resulted was something that could only be foreseen by a individual with an extraordinary gift of infused wisdom.
For the Eucharistic fast was no mere invention of men; no mere tradition of the Roman Church. It had existed from time immemorial throughout all the rites of the Catholic Church, East and West. Nor was it an institution of the Fathers of the Church; nor even of the Apostles. But Christ Our Lord Himself instituted this fast, by His own most holy fast which he began on the night He was betrayed and which He consummated upon the Cross when He said: "I thirst .... behold it is consummated!." There is no act of the virtue of penance more appropriate and fitting to prepare one to enter into a participation in the Sacrifice of the Cross than fasting. Fasting is the profession of a life to come; the disdainment of the world that is passing away. Fasting is the denial of the body through which original sin is transmitted; a preparation for the Body by which original sin is alone wiped away. Fasting sobers the mind for the contemplation of things above; frees the body from a preoccupation with what is below. How fitting fasting is: to receive the True Bread come down from Heaven, is it not necessary to renounce the bread of Earth, which passes into dust and which can never satisfy? Hence the diminishment of the Eucharistic fast that from the Garden of Gethsemane to the reign of Pope Pius XII had required abstaining from food or drink from midnight until the reception of communion was truly momentous. To many in the Church it came as a surprise and a shock, a venerable old priests and religious will still testify. Gone was The Act by which the vast majority of the faithful alone were forced to remember and recognize their own personal unworthiness of Christ's salvific work of mercy. Unleashed now were the specters of the pelagian and jansensist spirits, to roam the world for the deceiving of souls. Now man was mature; he had no need to cower before the August Mystery of Transubstantiation. Was God not merciful? Is he not our father? Does not love cast out all fear? Such were the deceits that would now roam the world and seek to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. With the diminishment of the Eucharistic fast, the possibility was thrown open for the abandonment of every other act of penance that was associated with the preparation for and the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If fasting, which is the most appropriate and fitting and integral penance associated with the Sacrifice of Calvary could be so lightly done away with, why not others? The horror that should have welled up in all Christendom against such an injustice done to God was in large part forgotten because it was the mistake of the reigning Pontiff.
But this mistake was in fact associated in time with another event that in the logic of penance was intimately connected with it: the silence of the Magisterium on the Dogma of Mary's Mediation. Under the influence of those who exaggerated and misunderstood the position of those who upheld the authentic catholic notion of Mary's Mediation, Pope Pius XII, a most adamant admirerer and son of the Immaculate Virgin, who defined Her Assumption and proclaimed Her Queenship, decided shortly after to remain silent regarding Her title of Mediatrix. He chose instead to emphasize that She was the loving companion of the Redeemer, though he did not deny the affirmation of his predecessors. At nearly the same time a request came to him from Fatima. It had been garbled before through the imprudences of others, and unbeknown of this mistake, the Pope had consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart, without requesting the simultaneous act on the part of his brother Bishops throughout the world. Then came Pope John XXIII, who read the Third Secret of Fatima, and quite unexpectedly chose not to make it known to the world, despite, or perhaps in view of the fact, that its nature had profoundly shaken him and his closest advisers. Soon the Second Vatican Council was called, and Divine Providence prepared one last stop-gap to the disintegration of the Church which was about to break out. This was the petition on behalf of over 400 bishops of the Seconf Vatican Council to define the Dogma of Mary's Mediation. The Council and the Pope (now Pope Paul VI) rejected it. This was the second crucial mistake. For in turning their mind away from an investigation of the deposit of the Faith in regard to Mary's own immediate and active role in the Redemption, in the appeasement of God and the winning of graces, the Church was debilitated by a cloud of ignorance as to the efficacy and necessity of the virtue of penance in regard to the Mass. Mary's role in the Redemption is a resounding proclamation of the necessity of purity to enter into the worship of God offered by God upon the Cross. It is likewise a resounding proclamation of the manner in which a true participation in that Sacrifice is permitted: by penance. What could be more penitential that to see one's own Immaculate Son, God Himself, suffer so upon the Cross. And She did not assuage Her grief by tears or by fainting or wailing aloud, but stood in silence contemplating the condescension of Her Son in such a deed of mercy. And if the All Pure, All Holy Mother of God had to suffer so to join Her Son in His Sacrifice, who are we sinful and guilt ridden wretches to dare to approach the Sacrifice of the Mass? We are called to approach, by Christ, it is true; but His call does not sanction our presumption. We must respond, but we must also simultaneously prepare ourselves by the acts which flow from the virtue of penance. We must do our part to restore the order of justice due to God and neighbor, which order has been disturbed and destroyed by our own sins; sins for which God died upon the wood of the Cross. Hence it is that both for sinner and saint, the worship offered from the Cross obliges penance and a penitential spirit. It was the failure to define Mary's role at Calvary that permitted in all its entirely the flood of abuse and error that characterized the liturgical world in the era following the Council. She par excellence, as a member of the laity, teaches the Church how to attend and participate in the Mass.
Hence it is that a profound spirit of penance must come once more upon the Sacred Hierarchy and lead them to the most humble confession to be made in the 2000 year history of the Church: that in their haste and enthusiasm they have unwittingly permitted an attack on the patrimony of the Church in Her most vital and intimate reality: the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is not sufficient to say that a given celebration of the Novus Ordo, regardless of the spirit in which it is celebrated, is free from doctrinal error and is in accord with the carte blanche mandates of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The doctrinal content of the Mass must be more than the weak affirmation of some of the truths of the Faith, it must be an authentic implementation of the entire deposit of the Faith, especially as regards everything that pertains to approaching and sharing in the Sacrifice of the Cross. No given celebration of the Novus Ordo, which comprises unauthorized liturgical forms, can be justified merely by its conformity to Sacrosanctum Concilium, for that document clearly approves of a great variety of possible implementations. Every celebration of the Novus Ordo is obliged, like any disciplinary ordinance of the Church, to faithfully and vitally reflect the totality of Divine Revelation: a Revelation that in including kneeling, bowing, fasting, rubrics, ablutions, gestures, silence, meditation, a spirit of sorrow, nobility, reverence, devotion, adoration, worship, propitiation, holocaust, contrition, compunction, lamentation, self-castigation, did in fact proclaim loudly the necessity of approaching the Sacrifice of the Cross in the spirit and with the acts of penance. And not just any penance, but hard, grueling, sacrificial penance. Until this be done such practices as the Eucharistic fast and receiving communion on the tongue and while kneeling, will always be ridiculed as exaggerations and aberrations. And this ridicule proclaims most infallibly that the transmission of the deposit of the Faith by means of the hasty implementation of the Council has been seriously compromised. What the Church needs and longs for is the abandoment of the worldliness and impiety that enveloped the implementation of the liturgical renewal aimed at by the Second Vatican Council, and a return to that spirit enshrined and fostered by Sacred Tradition, in the traditional rites of the Church, which is a spirit of penance, compunction, and humility, the recognition of both our own unworthiness, however invited we are, and our absolute need to participate in the Sacrifice of the Cross via the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.