What the death of a pope means for Americans
The pope has died...sort of.
The passing of Joseph Ratzinger, once (and still, kind of) known as Pope (Emeritus?) Benedict XVI, has many commentators setting fingers to keyboards. The abundance of parentheses in this paragraph can hint at the confusion surrounding his tenure in office — and, even more, his tenure out of office, as the first pope to resign since the end of the Great Western Schism in the fifteenth century. Up until now, "pope emeritus" was not really a thing in the Catholic Church. But here we are.
One important aspect of Benedict's pontificate that's sure to be ill reported in secular media is his promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, a legislative document that protected the right of every priest to celebrate the "Latin" or "Tridentine" Mass. This is the one from before 1970, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, when the Mass was overhauled. (Summorum applied to the other sacraments as well — baptisms, weddings, priestly ordinations, etc. — which also got overhauled after Vatican II.)
Pope Francis, who has a habit of railing against "traditional Catholics," last year shattered the protections that Summorum provided. Many Catholic bishops have zealously enforced Francis's directives, drastically curtailing the faithful's access to the old sacraments and the spiritual riches they provide.
This isn't the place for an in-depth comparison between the "new" sacraments of the post–Vatican II era and their ancient and enduring predecessors. Suffice it to say that you can find a lot of good information on the old sacraments here and here, if you're interested, or you can watch this exquisite documentary series. The story of the "Agatha Christie letter" might also be of interest.
In our mostly secular country, teetering on the spasming, failing shoulders of the Protestantism that birthed it, the possible extinguishment of the Catholic Church's "old way" of delivering sacramental graces can't be expected to garner much interest. But conservatives who care about living freely and virtuously might appreciate the parallels here to our government's vicious persecution of those who speak out against the weird, disturbing narratives we're all expected to live by.
The Vatican won't be sending armed Swiss Guardsmen to knock down the front doors of those laypeople who seek out the old Mass where they can find it, nor is a January 6–style D.C. gulag (or an Elizabethan gibbet) likely to await the heroic priests who continue, clandestinely or openly, to baptize babies, marry fresh-faced couples, and prepare the dying according to the Church's pious norms of many centuries. There's no arguing that secular governments are in the driver's seat in our age when it comes to threats of physical violence to get what they want.
But the Church has something more powerful than that. Jesus Christ warns in the book of Matthew, "Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell." It's hard to fathom — because what could be scarier than a phalanx of FBI agents, with the full backing of the U.S. government, pointing guns at you? — but the men now running the Church have access to graver penalties than any bullet-bristling secular government can impose. After all, the threat of eternal punishment in hell, for those who believe in it, is a better motivator than any number of bullets.
What does this matter for the vast majority of conservative Americans, who care little for the Catholic Church, and perhaps not so much for religion at all anymore, considering the well tolerated behavior and opinions of conservatism's modern heroes? It's an opportunity to think carefully about what's worth standing up for.
Catholics who seek out the currently outré sacraments that sustained the Church's greatest saints over many centuries are already undergoing spiritual persecution for the stand they're taking. They're slandered as schismatics and heretics — both hell-worthy offenses — and shunned by friends and family. They may soon be excommunicated. But they've found the pearl of great price, and may God help them hold on to it even as the vise tightens.
As for politics — if we're going to have ourselves imprisoned or fined into oblivion or rendered unemployable or robbed of our children, let it be for stances that advance supernatural goods, things that orient us and those around us toward a place of everlasting virtue and happiness, beyond the trifles and vanities of the temporal world. The permanence of marriage and the right of innocent children not to be butchered are worth standing up for. A regime of do-whatever-you-want "rights," including the right to sunder your family or have your genitals mutilated or pick your own pronouns...these, not so much.
Where we go to worship God and how we practice our politics are, or should be, grounded in the same fact: every one of us has a soul that will live on, eternally, beyond his bodily death, and every one of us will have to do that eternal living in one of only two possible, very opposite places. Our behavior toward neighbors, friends, and family should reflect that. So should our votes.
Drew is a deputy editor at American Thinker. Contact him at email@example.com.