I am privileged to spend Christmas this year in a very special setting: in the rectory of a chapel that offers the mass and sacraments according to the traditional usage of the Catholic Church.
The mass, done in accordance with the norms last codified in 1962, is performed in Latin, and the priest and people face the same direction. The canon, the central part of the mass in which the consecration of the bread and wine occur, is spoken silently, representing the “mystery of faith” that is the Eucharist. The hymns are sung in the contemplative tones of Gregorian Chant, the ancient melodies that developed out of the traditions of the synagogue.
The continuity of tradition represented by the ancient usages of the Roman Rite stand in stark contradiction to the spirit of novelty and laxity that has crippled the Catholic Church in the last fifty years. Priests and laity who favored such traditions were often marginalized and even demonized. However, the last two decades have witnessed a resurgence of traditional practices and a new spirit of doctrinal orthodoxy in the Church, especially among the youth.
The new springtime of tradition in the Church is a reminder to us all that the hope of Christmas is always alive, even in the darkest moments in history. Although it may seem that destructive social and cultural trends are unstoppable, they are literally child’s play for God, the Creator of all, who appeared to the world as a helpless infant who would in turn save the world through his apparent defeat on the cross.
Although bad news abounds in the modern world, particularly in the battle over human life and family issues, one may find signs of hope everywhere, signs that God’s grace continues to work in human history, even in the worst moments of despair.
In Latin America, the Catholic bishops and their counterparts among the protestants have grown increasingly aware and militant in their battle to prevent the legalization of abortion. Even in Mexico, where abortion was unfortunately legalized in the nation’s capital in 2007, the states have responded with a tidal wave of constitutional amendments protecting the right to life. Seventeen have so far approved such measures, and the possibility is looming of an amendment to the national constitution that will strike down Mexico City’s pro-abortion legislation.
Although pro-abortion forces are currently ascendant politically in the United States, they continue to battle against a growing opposition that now apparently includes a majority of Americans, who for the first time since they began to be asked in the mid 1990s, now identify themselves as “pro-life.” Herculean efforts have been necessary to gain approval in the Congress for the current health “reform,” and it remains to be seen if it will succeed at all.
In Argentina, the accession of Kristina Fernandez to the presidency, along with pro-life victories at the local level, have arrested abortionist political trends. And in Chile, the Supreme Court has ruled against the government of Michelle Bachelet, who wished to force pharmacies to distribute the deadly “morning after pill,” which along with the conventional contraceptive pill, can cause abortions.
However, while major victories and positive trends are easily observable in the battle for the right to life, other family values are suffering terribly, even in Latin American countries with a strong tradition of family and traditional sexual roles.
Homosexual “marriage” has recently been approved by the city of Buenos Aires and by Mexico City’s legislature. Opposition to homosexualism is weak, hesitant, and qualified. And pro-family forces are losing battle after battle, even in countries that should be strongholds of sexual morality.
These trends, however, are not reasons for frustration and despair, but rather to turn in trust to the God of history, whose providential will is unconquerable, and whose victory is always assured. Human civilizations cannot defeat God nor the commandments of morality — they can only defeat themselves.
As it was in the beginning, as it was that night in Bethlehem two millennia ago, is now, and ever shall be, forever and ever. Amen.