Ending the Ecclesial Crisis: The Fatima Perspective
Lecture Title: Recovering the Ancient Liturgy in San Francisco
by Fr. Joseph Illo
PART ONE of THREE
The theme of my talk this morning is “Recovery:” recovering the Ancient Liturgy. Recovery implies that the object has not completely disappeared and is not beyond recovery. You can “permanently” delete a year’s worth of work on you hard drive but it’s still there. You just have to pay a data “recovery” company to find it for you. They piece it back together from bits and pieces stored on your computer memory. Our sponsoring organization for these conferences is “Keep the Faith.” The faith has never left us. Some call us “conservatives:” we conserve what is still with us.
The human capacity to know beauty, for example, can never be completely extinguished. Douglas Murry, author of The Strange Death of Europe, tells of us visit to a modern art exhibit. He found the art uninspiring, and the halls rather empty, but then “I heard the strains of Spem in alium (16th Century, Thomas Tallis) and made my way to the sound…. Everybody had migrated toward the same “sound installation” by Janet Cardiff, consisting of 40 speakers arranged in an oval, each replaying the voice of a singer in the choir. In the center people stood mesmerized.” The museum of modern art had “discovered” a sacred polyphony from the 16th Century. It had discovered a remnant of the Roman Liturgy, mesmerizing in its beauty.
In this talk I will relate how we have begun to recover the truth and beauty in a typical diocesan parish, a liturgy that, as Bishop Schneider mentioned, is “in exile,” but not irrevocably eliminated. Perhaps Pope Benedict’s most important contribution to the Church in his all-too short papacy was to point out the simple fact that the Sacred Roman Liturgy has never been “abrogated.” The Sacred Rites have never left the Roman Church, but they are scattered about in bits and pieces. They were exiled not only merely to dusty tomes of rubric and chant (many of which have now been republished, Deo Gratias). More fundamentally our Sacred Rites have been exiled to the dark and vague parts of peoples’ subconsciousness. Most Catholics have a distant recollection of a more beautiful, reverent, transcendent liturgy. Maybe we saw a Solemn High Mass in an old movie (the Sound of Music!), or heard bits of chant in a concert. Somewhere in our olfactory nerves the memory of liturgical incense wafts. The human person’s longing for beauty cannot be “permanently deleted.”
It’s not impossible, and really not that hard, to recover a proper reverence and beauty in the Sacred Rites. It takes time and effort. I include “San Francisco” in my presentation title because that is where I live and work in a typical diocesan parish with a typical parochial school. God has blessed my city with exceptional natural beauty, and although San Francisco prides itself in its progressive secularization, deep down it’s a Catholic city. It was founded by a Franciscan priest in 1776, and named for St. Francis himself. From any moderate hill you can pick out six or seven Catholic churches whose domes and spires still punctuate the city. Inside these lovely buildings you will discover that their sanctuaries have not been gutted. High altars and altar rails remain, although some of them have been carpeted over. But with time and effort one can remove the carpet and recover the shining white marble beneath.
Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament
But first let’s orient the talk with the overall theme of our conference, “Ending the Ecclesial Crisis from the Fatima Perspective.” Many popes have said that Fatima is Our Lady’s most important apparition. They say that her messages were singularly imperative and universal, more urgent now than when she appeared. She gave us in 1917 the means to recover the faith that by our time has been driven into exile.
Our Lady chose May 13, the feast of Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament, to appear to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. When we look at her many messages as a whole, it becomes evident that her purpose was to lead us to the Blessed Sacrament. Her insistence on the “first Saturdays,” for instance (confession, Mass, rosary, and 15 minutes of meditation) work together to orient us toward the Most Blessed Sacrament.
In July 1913 Our Lady showed three small children a vision of hell. Had she not assured them before that they would all go to heaven, they would not have survived the vision. Why would Our Lady take such an extreme measure with these little ones? Obviously because souls are indeed falling into hell, and the mother of all the living has been sent by God to prevent this supreme tragedy.
The loving mother of all these souls falling into hell begged the children to intercede for them by offering Communions of Reparation and the First Saturdays. The enemy, therefore, has concentrated his powers on destroying reverence for the Most Blessed Sacrament. He has focused his energies on rendering the Sacred Rites unintelligible. Cardinal Robert Sarah, in a preface to Fr. Frederico Bartoli’s recently-issued historical analysis of communion in the hand, writes: “The most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist.... Satan’s target is the sacrifice of the Mass.” We must recover, as best we can, the sacred rites.
“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go,” Our Lady told the children. “To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.” Devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart means not only honoring her in prayers and devotions, but much more in imitating the purity of her Immaculate Heart. It means first of all fidelity to the Mass, receiving the Jesus as she received Him at the Annunciation, in purity and trust.
How to Receive the Holy Sacrament
God sent the Guardian angel of Portugal in 1915 and 1916 to prepare the children for Our Lady’s apparitions in 1917. His third and final message was to teach the children how to receive the Holy Eucharist.
He held a chalice in his left hand and above the chalice, suspended in mid air, was a host and drops of blood fell from the host into the chalice. The angel left the chalice in the air with the host above it, and knelt down with the children to pray. “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly and offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended.” Outrages (satanic rituals, destruction of churches and tabernacles, online sale of hosts, etc), sacrileges (receiving Christ in mortal sin—even now promoted by some bishops—or without believing in the Real Presence), indifference (the irreverence with which we receive, and attend, Mass, hosts that crumble to the floor, and the 75% of Catholics who do not attend Mass regularly).
Three years ago I gave a retreat to Mother Teresa’s sisters in Dominican Republic. All her sisters receive on the tongue with great reverence, but the local pastor asked me to take a Sunday Mass for him. It was in a poor village, and the chapel had only a roof with no walls. Everyone was receiving in the hand, and hosts were so crumbly that pieces were flying away in the wind. I was amazed at such carelessness on the part of the priests and bishops, who would offer Mass with such shoddy hosts. How can we expect folk to believe that these hosts are the physical presence of God when we throw them away? How could we possibly treat the body of Mary’s Son like this and say we are devoted to her? We are little better than those who crucified Him in front of His mother as she stood at Calvary, or the indifferent onlookers who didn’t lift a finger to help a man who was being crucified in front of his mother. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart means, first of all, purity of worship. It is urgent that the bishops of the world return all their dioceses to the ancient practice of communion on the tongue. This basic devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament is a simple but necessary act of devotion to the Immaculate Heart and the Sacred Heart.