Where Saints Have Prayed

In the midst of the Church


IN MEDIO ecclesiae aperuit os eius....

So begins the introit for the Mass from the Common of Doctors. 'In the midst of the Church the Lord opened his mouth…'

When we examine the lives of the saints we find a consistent theme of fidelity to the Church and its pastors, even to the point of bearing patiently unjust persecution in the name of the Church. 

Catholics whose 'legitimate aspirations' for the celebration of the traditional rites of Mass are denied by their pastors contrary to the law and often in ignorance of the real pastoral needs of their people can take consolation from the lives of these saints. We need also, however, to draw the lesson of their lives that to aspire to sanctity is to aspire to be and act in medio ecclesiae, "in the midst of the Church." This is a hard lesson and one not perhaps easily learned by most of us. 

For a Catholic the Church is not an abstract entity. There is no perfect Church that exists apart from the visible structure of sinful human beings we encounter each day. Et in unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam. We profess belief in the Creed in the visible Church militant, not just the Church triumphant in heaven. We cannot profess faith in 'spiritual Rome' without thereby professing faith in the real Rome of clerical intrigue and compromise. The Rome of the martyrs and doctors and confessors is still with us. You can get on an aeroplane and go there.

A cursory reading of the history of the Popes will convince anyone that the martyrs and doctors and confessors have always rubbed shoulders with ecclesiastical pimps and prostitutes and charlatans in that same City. This goes for the rest of the Church. Original sin is still alive and well. 

It is in this tension that many "traditional" Catholics experience a keen sense of ambiguity in their day to day dealings with the clergy and with their own parishes. Our faithfulness to the traditional rites of the Church is not some mere aesthetic preference, not some liturgical purism, but is felt as a deep conscientious imperative, a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As such it ought, and often does, carry with it discernible fruits of that same Spirit.

This conscientious striving for the traditional liturgy, nevertheless, often results in direct, though unintended, conflict with pastors and within religious communities and within parishes. What is more unfortunate is that this conflict occurs at precisely that point of the Christian life that should be a source of fraternal unity and brotherly love, the Sacrament of Charity itself. 

How then does one live and act in medio ecclesiae and still express a very controversial but nonetheless deeply felt conscientious objection to the prevailing pastoral and sacramental practice of the Church? There is, of course, no easy answer, but the lives of the saints and the history of the Church again provide us with some indications of how to act. Our first principle is that we must act and speak in accordance with the truth about ourselves and about the current crisis of the Church.

There is no place for false optimism, or indeed apocalyptic pessimism. The truth might be comfortable or uncomfortable. It remains, however, the truth and we must order our lives by it. The sayings of the Fathers of the desert show us extraordinary men and women who were able to live in total freedom because of their obedience to the truth of Christ. They were set free by the Truth Himself. It is above all else that Truth that we must seek.


The second principle is that of charity. If our concern for the worthy celebration of the Mass and the sacraments is sincere then it can only be pursued out of love for the Church and our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not a crusade. Any mentality that denigrates the Church or its pastors as opponents is not truly Catholic, let alone traditional. This is not to say that we will always succeed in charity. Neither will those who disagree with us. We must always be on our guard, however, to work in tune with the Spirit of God, who is Love, lest we work against him thinking that our way is better than the path of the beatitudes.

Charity will most often express itself in magnanimity, in generosity of spirit, which is willing to forgive and to forget past offences and misunderstandings. We might reflect on the way in which Blessed Mary of the Cross accepted her own extraordinarily unjust excommunication and the slanders that accompanied it with such greatness of heart that she showed no rancour or ill-will to her persecutors. Perhaps we might all profitably pray through her intercession for this grace.


A third principle is that of holy courage and fortitude. Dom Bartholomew of the Martyrs, the sixteenth century Dominican Archbishop of Braga in Portugal single-handedly reformed his diocese by the most direct of confrontations in which he was seemingly oblivious to the manifest physical danger that he was in. He was by all accounts a very holy man. It is one thing to reprimand an erring cleric in the comfort of one's own chancery, it is quite another to face down a Knight Commander of a military order in his own headquarters surrounded by his own troops.

Dom Bartholomew succeeded on more than one occasion in saving the soul of a well-armed rural dean or knight by dint of both courageous indifference to his own safety and fatherly concern for the sinner. By comparison our obstacles to reform are rather smaller. We might be ignored, called names or occasionally be sent to Coventry, but as far as one knows no one has yet been martyred by a rural dean on account of the traditional Mass.


A final principle must be that of patience. God works in His own time not ours. Whatever trials we encounter we must see as God's way of bringing us to perfection. We must exercise patience, moreover, with our brothers and sisters in Christ. So often we are called on to explain ourselves again and again to those who will not be convinced even that we are in good faith. This work is perhaps the most necessary: gently and firmly to put forward the claims of tradition on our conscience and why we act in the way we do. It is necessary not just for ourselves and our strategic position in the Church but most importantly to bring our theological perspective into open discussion.

It is not enough that we have "our Mass" to be our solace. We must be and act and think and speak in medio ecclesiae, for it is only there that we will encounter Christ our Saviour and Lord.

from Ecclesia Dei, Austrailia