In February, Francis Cardinal George blasted Bishop Richard Williamson for making “deeply offensive and utterly false statements about the Holocaust of the Second World War.”

Here in Oak Park, Our Lady Immaculate Catholic Church at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Ridgeland Avenue is served by Rev. Michael Goldade, who belongs to the same international sect, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) as does Bishop Williamson.

Does Williamson speak for the congregation that receives communion from Father Goldade? Does the parish’s small school teach what Williamson said in the interview on Swedish television, which aired on Jan. 21, that there were no gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps and that the figure of 6 million Jews killed in the camps is grossly exaggerated?

When approached on the subject, Goldade pointed to the SSPX Web site on which there is a link to a response by Williamson made on Feb. 26 in which he said he regretted having made the comments. Goldade himself preferred not to talk about the controversy, indicating that it was a distraction from what happens daily at Our Lady Immaculate. He was echoing his superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who said recently that Williamson did not speak for SSPX, told Williamson to not speak publicly about such matters, and “after the uproar which broke out recently, we all need to let the dust settle.”

What does go on every week at Our Lady Immaculate is an attempt to return to what they would call the traditional teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. Even before you enter the nave (the general worship area), there are signs posted which read:

“Out of respect for our Lord and for the edification of our neighbors we beg visitors to appear in church modestly dressed. For men, norms of modesty are not met by jeans, open shirts or tennis shoes. For women, they are not met by mini-skirts, sheer blouses, slacks or sleeveless or low cut dresses. Women are further asked to cover their heads [with “modesty veils”]. Your cooperation is evidence of your love for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and respect for the House of God.”

Goldade was raised in a Catholic family in which that kind of respect for traditional worship and morality was a core value. His parents, in fact, moved from North Dakota to Kansas so their son could attend an SSPX school. “The decision to follow a vocation in the priesthood,” he said, “came both from home influence, i.e. the respect for the clergy within the home, and the opportunity to see the work of priests firsthand in the local parish.”

Mediated worship

The 10 a.m. Mass here on Sundays is said entirely in Latin except for the sermon, which is delivered in English. The worshipers participate in a very physical way with many genuflections, signs of the cross, standing, sitting and kneeling, but the choir sings almost all of the responses at this “high Mass,” and servers give many of the responses at low Masses.

Catholic baby boomers visiting Our Lady Immaculate would see what they experienced every Sunday before the reforms were instituted by Rome in 1965 following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). The liturgy celebrated here is called the Tridentine Mass or the Mass of St. Pius V, which became the standard for worship in the Roman church after the Council of Trent in the 16th century.

The emphasis in the Tridentine Mass is on the holiness of God whose presence is mediated to the congregation through the sacraments, which are presided over by an ordained priest. The altar is lifted high with respect to the worshipers and is flanked by 6-foot-tall plaster statues of Mary and Joseph, each holding the infant Jesus. The priest often has his back turned to the congregation, emphasizing his role as mediator. Incense and Gregorian chant help create the reverent ambience.

Indeed, reverence is what strikes the first-time visitor. Many worshipers come early to say the Rosary in preparation for the Mass. No one chats in the pews about the weather or the chances of the Cubs winning the pennant this year. Women wear veils and men have on suits and ties. Aside from stifling a yawn or two, the six altar boys and three older male servers appear pious and engaged.

Goldade explained that this kind of piety is not limited to one hour on Sunday morning. “Catholicism,” he said, “is not only a system of belief but a code of conduct, a moral system which forms goodness and holiness in its members. There must be integrity; one cannot believe one way and act another.”

In the traditional Mass, the personality of the priest who is celebrating is almost irrelevant. Charisma is not what communicates God’s grace in the Tridentine Mass but officiating the “Sacrifice of the Mass” according to form. The priest and servers genuflect, kiss the altar, press hands prayerfully together at the chest-movements that reinforce the words of the celebrant.

“We see the Tridentine Latin Mass,” Goldade explained, “as the best possible expression of the theology of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the best liturgical expression of worship due to God.”

Preserving tradition

Tradition is what Our Lady Immaculate is all about, not just in terms of worship and piety but also in the way they think about God and the world. In fact, they feel betrayed by Vatican II (1962-1965), saying it was a “turning away from God and a turning to the world, to man.” (Most Asked Questions about the Society of Saint Pius X, p. 2)

Their critique begins with “the new Mass.” They feel that Novus Ordo Missae – i.e. the Mass after the reforms of Vatican II with its use of the vernacular, changing the emphasis of the Eucharist (communion) from a sacrifice to a meal, moving altars away from the wall and omission of many rubrics in the Tridentine Mass – represents not only a “dissimulation of Catholic elements” and a “pandering to Protestants” but also “a danger to our faith, and, as such, evil.” (Questions, p. 27)

Moving from liturgy to relations with other religions, SSPX contends that Vatican II has fostered an attitude of acceptance of religious pluralism that undermines the exclusive truth contained in the Catholic faith. For example, one of the documents from Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, states:

“Religions found everywhere strive in different ways to answer the restless searchings of the human heart. … The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. … The Church exhorts her members to prudently and lovingly dialogue and collaborate with the followers of other religions.”

“The gravity of the situation,” declare the authors of Questions, “lies in the fact that Vatican II actually favors heresy. … Pope John Paul II (Pontiff from 1978 till 2005) is preaching a new religion, a humanism, a gospel of the intrinsic goodness of man … with the implied consequence of the salvation of all men.” (Questions, p. 37)

Schism

To no one’s surprise, the scathing critique of Vatican II and refusal of SSPX’s founder, Archbishop Marcel LeFebvre, to accept the Novus Ordo Missae, did not sit well with the Vatican. In 1988, he and four bishops, whom he consecrated without Rome’s consent, were excommunicated. LeFebvre always maintained his commitment to the authority of the Pope and at the same time upheld his right and duty to protect the truth of the Catholic faith. In 1974 he wrote,

“We hold fast, with all our heart and with all our soul to Catholic Rome … Mistress of wisdom and truth. We refuse, on the other hand … to follow the Rome of neo-Modernists and neo-Protestant tendencies. … No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries.”

The irony, of course, is that Archbishop LeFebvre’s stand in the face of excommunication is reminiscent of Luther’s refusal at the Diet of Worms in 1521 to bow to both civil and church authority and recant what he had written. The ensuing Reformation, as historians call it, was what sparked the convening of the Council of Trent which promulgated the order of the Mass that SSPX so staunchly defends.

Not surprisingly, Goldade did not think the analogy was appropriate. Instead he used the comparison of a parent who asks a child to do something wrong. “It’s an abuse of authority,” he said, “and the child isn’t obliged or even permitted to do it, but the parent still remains parent.”

Lest readers assume that traditional always means conservative, what Rev. Juan Carlos Iscara, an SSPX priest, wrote in 2003 about the war in Iraq reveals how critical traditionalists can be of conservative political policies. Basing his argument on the centuries-old Just War Doctrine Iscara wrote,

“In practice, [continuing with Bush’s policy] would mean that America is ready to intervene anywhere, any time, to neutralize any serious threat to its global dominance. If this is true, we may have become the very thing we hated about Communism … an ideology willing to invade and control countries to impose its will.”

The two Latin masses on Sunday are well attended with altogether about 400 worshipers filling the pews. The Latin Mass at Our Lady Immaculate is not a lone voice in the wilderness. There are 11 Latin Masses-one as close as in Berwyn-approved by the Chicago Archdiocese.

SSPX bought the building which is now called Our Lady Immaculate from what was then Second Presbyterian Church in 1990. It is called a chapel or mission because no priest is in residence full time in the neighborhood, and it is a non-geographical parish because people drive from as far as an hour away to worship.

The Mass at Our Lady Immaculate has gotten mixed reviews from mainstream Catholics who have tried it out. Some appreciate the reverence and solemnity. Others agree with one parish priest who said, “I’m glad we left all of that behind 40 years ago.”

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...

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