Reply to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on Blessings and Latin

In my previous post here, I wrote a section on “Rejection of holy Water” by Fr. Z. and by Peter Kwasniewski (who cites Fr. Z. on this point). In his latest post, Fr. Z. defends his rejection of any blessings of anything that is not in Latin.

Fr. Z.: “Moreover, the Rituale Romanum, in the edition that was in force at the time of Vatican II and after explicitly states that if Latin is not used the blessing is void. I am not making that up.”

Fr. Z. then cites this text from the Rituale Romanum: “Both constitutive and invocative blessings are invalid if the form prescribed by the Church is not used.” He also states: “The Church without doubt said that the approved text, meaning Latin, has to be used.”

Fr. Z. call this text from RR the teaching of the Church. However, it is not a teaching, but a discipline. If it were a teaching, then it would be true at all times in all places. In other words, if it were a teaching of an eternal truth, then Old Testament blessings and the blessings given by Christ, by the Apostles, by Popes and Saints in every age, would be invalid if not in Latin — which is absurd. It is not a teaching, but a changeable discipline.

Does Fr. Z. think that the consecration of the Eucharist needs to be in Latin to be valid? Does he think that the formula for absolution needs to be in Latin to be valid? Certainly, the Sacraments are not bound to the Latin language for their validity, and neither are the sacramental. But when the Mass of the Roman Rite was only in Latin (before Vatican II), the discipline was to use Latin. This is not binding for all time, and was changed by the Church to allow the vernacular languages to be used in a valid and licit Mass, and in valid and licit other Sacraments.

The discipline for blessings was changed by the authority of the Roman Pontiffs. Referring to an older discipline does not prove the recent Popes wrong. Fr. Z. has no authority to judge what is permissible or good for the universal Church; that authority belongs to the Roman Pontiff and to the body of Bishops acting with the Roman Pontiff. Blessings are valid in English and other languages, as the Church has decided the matter.

Roma locuta est; causa finita est.

Rome has spoken, the case is closed. Those who reject the authority of the Roman Pontiffs and the body of Bishops with him are rejecting the authority of Christ.

Fr. Z.: “We are our rites.”

Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God from all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. But the second is similar to it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments the entire law depends, and also the prophets.” (Mt 22:37-40).

To characterize the Catholic Christian faith as being nothing but our rites — and in addition, to reject all rites instituted by the successors of Peter and the successors to the other Apostles — is heresy and schism. Fr. Z. openly rejects the authority of the Church to decide matters of discipline, substituting his own judgments, as if he were above every Pope and every Council. So does he usurp the role of Christ Himself over the Church.

Fr. Z.: “We are our rites and our rites are doctrine.”

No, rites are discipline. The authority of Peter and his successors is represented by two Keys, the one key over doctrine and the other key over discipline. Rites are discipline, and to mistake them for doctrine is a grave error. The reason this is a grave error is that discipline can be changed by the authority of the Church, whereas the authority of the Church over doctrine is to teach eternal truths from the deposit of faith.

The other error that Fr. Z. makes on rites is to speak as if he has the authority to decide both matters of discipline and matters of doctrine, in contradiction to the authority of the Roman Pontiffs and the body of Bishops. He rejects Vatican II; he rejects the Novus Ordo Mass decided and confirmed by Pope Saint Paul VI, Blessed Pope John Paul I, Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. The body of Bishops has confirmed that these Popes are the valid successors of Peter, and has confirmed their decisions on the Novus Ordo Mass and the various other changes, such as the new code of Canon Law (approved by John Paul II) and the use of the vernacular for various rites and Sacraments. Fr. Z.’s rejection of this decision is public formal schism. He rejects the authority of the Popes and Bishops to decide matters of discipline, and to teach matters of doctrine. He puts his own judgment above their decisions.

Fr. Z.: “The apparent meaning of that, read as it is, is that if priests are using the Weller translation to bless things, Holy Water, etc., they aren’t blessing. At the end, you have salty water.”

The Church has the authority to decide matters of discipline. The Church also has the ability to decide matters of discipline.

{16:18} And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
{16:19} And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

Fr. Z. rejects these words of Christ. He does not accept the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiffs over the Church. He does not accept that what the Pope binds on earth is bound even in heaven. Instead, he claims that the authority of the Church is ineffective when the Church makes a decision that Fr. Z. has determined is incorrect. The Church’s holy water is just “salty water”, and is not blessed or holy, he claims. But if what the Church decides, approved by the Pope, is bound even in heaven, then every decision is effective. Even if it were somehow less good to use a language other than Latin, in blessings or in the Mass, what the Church decides is bound even in heaven. Whoever says otherwise rejects the words of Christ.

Fr. Z. then tries to equivocate, and presents some room for doubt, contradicting his own clear and definitive assertions. He says: “The efficacy of the blessings depends ultimately on God, who desires what is good for us.” That claim rejects the authority of God given to the Church and especially to the Roman Pontiff. What the Pope binds on earth, is bound in heaven; what the Pope releases on earth is released even in heaven.

Fr. Z.: “All I know is that I will always use Latin when I bless holy water. I will always use Latin to bless objects. I will always use Latin for the important bits, such as forms of sacraments and exorcisms. I am never going to leave anyone with the slightest whisp of a doubt about what just happened. When you come to me for blessings or sacramentals or sacraments, I owe that to you. It is my duty to make sure that you have no doubt as to what happened. Latin always resolves that and the vernacular can resolve that.”

Obstinate doubt of matters decided by the authority of the Church is sinful. One’s own refusal to believe that the Church has effective authority, which actually makes blessings, Sacraments, the Mass, and other rituals effective is a rejection of the teaching of Christ that the Church has full authority over doctrine and discipline, the full authority of Christ.

Christ never taught that Latin is essential to the Faith. The Church has never taught that Latin is essential. Disciplines can and have changed.

Fr. Z. has influence and money from a certain subculture in the Church, a subculture which revolves around rituals in Latin. If the Church removes those forms of those rituals, requiring the vernacular, Fr. Z. loses his influence and money. On the point about money, see his post here. He seeks supporters to give him a monthly donation on particular days of the month. He is supported by his online writings, which appeal to those who reject the authority and decisions of Pope Francis and of Vatican II. He complains when certain days of the month are “lean” and don’t have many donors for that day. He travels frequently and dines at various restaurants, posting pictures from his airline seat or his restaurant table on his blog.

The situation of Fr. Z. is much like the Pharisees who opposed Jesus. Souls are endangered by the efforts of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf to oppose the authority of Popes and Councils. He seeks to make the Catholic Faith revolve around certain rituals and a subculture, and around his own judgments on doctrine and discipline, in opposition to the judgments and teachings of the Roman Pontiffs. This is not faithfulness to Christ. Perhaps Fr. Z. has a sincere but mistaken conscience. In any case, he needs our prayers. May God bring him to repentance and to obedience to the Church.

Teachings of the Popes, Saints, and Councils

References and further quotes here.

Saint Thomas Aquinas: “For it is revealed that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation…. And [Saint] Maximus [the Confessor] in the epistle to those of the East directly says: ‘We state that the universal Church has been united and founded upon the rock of the confession of Peter, [and] according to the definition of salvation, in Her, by the necessity of salvation, our souls are to remain, and to her [our souls] are to be obedient, keeping her faith and confession.’ “84

Saint Thomas quoting Saint Cyril: “According to this promise of the Lord, the Apostolic Church of Peter remains pure and spotless from all leading into error, or heretical fraud, above all Heads and Bishops, and Primates of Churches and people, with its own Pontiffs, with most abundant faith, and the authority of Peter. And while other Churches have to blush for the error of some of their members, this [Apostolic Church of Peter] reigns alone, immovably established, enforcing silence, and stopping the mouths of all heretics; and we, from the necessity of salvation, not drunken with the wine of pride, confess, together with it, the formula of truth and of the holy apostolic tradition.”85 [From the golden chain of Saint Thomas Aquinas, attributed incorrectly to Saint Cyril, but approved by Thomas.]

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: “schism is the road to heresy. Therefore [Saint] Jerome adds (In Ep. ad Tit. iii, 10) that ‘at the outset it is possible, in a certain respect, to find a difference between schism and heresy: yet there is no schism that does not devise some heresy for itself, that it may appear to have had a reason for separating from the Church.’ “86

Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam: “9. Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.”89

Fifth Lateran Council: “And since it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, just as we are taught by the testimony of the divine Scriptures and of the holy Fathers, and as is declared by the Constitution of Pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, which begins ‘Unam Sanctam,’ for the salvation of the souls of the same faithful, and by the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff and of this holy See, and by the unity and power of the Church, His spouse, the same Constitution, being approved by the sacred Council, we renew and approve.”93

Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566: “The Church has but one ruler and one governor, the invisible one, Christ, whom the eternal Father has made head over all the Church, which is his body; the visible one, the Pope, who, as legitimate successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, fills the Apostolic chair. It is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers that this visible head is necessary to establish and preserve unity in the Church. This Saint Jerome clearly perceived and as clearly expressed when … he wrote: ‘One is elected that, by the appointment of a head, all occasion of schism may be removed.’ “94

Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566: “Should anyone object that the Church is content with one Head and one Spouse, Jesus Christ, and requires no other, the answer is obvious. For as we deem Christ not only the author of all the Sacraments, but also their invisible minister — He it is who baptizes, He it is who absolves, although men are appointed by Him the external ministers of the Sacraments — so has He placed over His Church, which He governs by His invisible Spirit, a man to be His vicar and the minister of His power. A visible Church requires a visible head; therefore the Savior appointed Peter head and pastor of all the faithful, when He committed to his care the feeding of all His sheep, in such ample terms that He willed the very same power of ruling and governing the entire Church to descend to Peter’s successors.”95

Pope Leo XIII: “To the shepherds alone was given all power to teach, to judge, to direct; on the faithful was imposed the duty of following their teaching, of submitting with docility to their judgment, and of allowing themselves to be governed, corrected, and guided by them in the way of salvation. Thus, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to submit in mind and heart to their own pastors, and for the latter to submit with them to the Head and Supreme Pastor. In this subordination and dependence lie the order and life of the Church; in it is to be found the indispensable condition of well-being and good government. On the contrary, if it should happen that those who have no right to do so should attribute authority to themselves, if they presume to become judges and teachers, if inferiors in the government of the universal Church attempt or try to exert an influence different from that of the supreme authority, there follows a reversal of the true order, many minds are thrown into confusion, and souls leave the right path.”
“Similarly, it is to give proof of a submission which is far from sincere to set up some kind of opposition between one Pontiff and another. Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them; and in some ways they resemble those who, on receiving a condemnation, would wish to appeal to a future council, or to a Pope who is better informed.”

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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3 Responses to Reply to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on Blessings and Latin

  1. Matt says:

    Pope Francis made the following statement at the last general audience:

    “Father, let’s think about those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: Are these also at home?” Yes, these too. All of them. The blasphemers, all of them. We are brothers. This is the communion of saints. The communion of saints holds together the community of believers on earth and in heaven, and on earth the saints, the sinners, all.”

    Could you write something about, they are accusing him of going against the Catechism of Saint Pius X.

    • Ron Conte says:

      God loves everyone. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. Grace is given to unrepentant sinners, which is why they often repent. God does not only give us grace after we repent, but also before. Apostates, formal heretics, formal schismatics are automatically excommunicated, but they are still members of the Church to some extent, in some way, which is why when they repent they are not re-baptized, but instead go to Confession — a Sacrament only for members. So the Pope is right that we are all still brothers, even those who sin gravely against the Faith. God still loves them, still gives them prevenient grace, still offers them subsequent grace, and we must seek their repentance so that they can return to full membership in the one Faith.

      Pope Francis has also spoken about those who depart from the Church by rejecting the Magisterium:
      “This is magisterium: the Council [Vatican II] is the magisterium of the Church. Either you are with the Church and therefore you follow the Council, and if you do not follow the Council or you interpret it in your own way, as you wish, you are not with the Church. We must be demanding and strict on this point. The Council should not be negotiated….”205

      “No, the Council is as it is. And this problem that we are experiencing, of selectivity with respect to the Council, has been repeated throughout history with other Councils. It makes me think of a group of bishops who, after Vatican I, left, a group of lay people, groups, to continue the ‘true doctrine’ that was not that of Vatican I: ‘We are the true Catholics’. Today they ordain women. The strictest attitude, to guard the faith without the Magisterium of the Church, leads you to ruin. Please, no concessions to those who try to present a catechesis that does not agree with the Magisterium of the Church.”206

      Pope Francis on Vatican II: “To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro [with Peter and under Peter] in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.”207
      [Notes here]

  2. Todd V says:

    And even if one should grant liturgical matters are so closely connected to faith that they could be said to be teaching the faith (Lex Orandi Lex Credendi), the Pope cannot gravely error in this “teaching”. Of course if the changes are not to the substance of the Credendi then there isn’t even a question of change of teaching of the faith – i.e a change in how the “teaching” is articulated . And If the change in Orendi makes minor changes to the “teaching” then that can’t be grave error. The burden is on the accusers to show otherwise. And although I think
    M. Hazell has shown that many prayers were changed to varying degrees, I don’t think he or others have met that burden .

    And of course you are right about the absurd charge of Father Z about the Latin aspect of blessings. He has really gone off the rails.

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