We come now to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest—a young society of Priests I very much want to support, both here in Ireland and the wider world.
We have considered numerous reasons for this in recent posts. Among them is the serious threat to the Church—and its urgent need for renewed zeal and vigour.
In other words, passion is called for: a passion utterly different from the flaccid torpidity that characterises so much Catholicism in recent decades.
And last time, I also evoked my ongoing experience of the traditional liturgy – compared with the Novus Ordo. I suggested that, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, once put it:
The ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy.
Now, much of this experience was in France, where Kim (my wife and fellow blogger at this site) have lived and also travelled much. It was there we came to know the Institute of Christ the King (as well as the Fraternity of St. Peter and even the recently established Institute of the Good Shepherd).
All these societies not only offer the Latin Mass, but they very much bear unashamed witness to the sacramental and supernatural Mystery of the Church, as well as the fullness and beauty of her tradition.
At the same time, all my travels in France revealed the Catholic wasteland that country has become. As I said here, I once knew a priest responsible for forty (virtually dead) parishes …
And now I have returned, at long last, to my beloved Hibernia. Now, I witness a situation that parallels France, in so many ways. For French Catholicism also suffered a tremendously vicious propaganda campaign against it—as well as an ultra-liberal Catholicism, which emptied the churches and led to a dearth of vocations.
The parallels, while not precise, are haunting. For we began this current series of reflections, listening to the blogger Irish Papist, who asked of the future of Catholic Ireland:
Will there be daily Mass, outside the cathedrals and a few more prominent churches? … Will Catholics have to travel long distances to attend Mass?
Will RTE [Irish television]and The Irish Times even bother bashing the Church any more? Will the Church even be able to hold onto its churches, never mind find congregations or priests for them?
Irish Papist‘s concerns are very valid, if France is anything to go by. For the French media has largely abandoned its brutal campaigns. The battle, as I said before, has been won.
There is, however, one great difference between Ireland and France. France now has a vital, flourishing traditionalist movement. Compared to the Irish situation, it is never hard to find the Latin Mass in France.
As a traditional nun in France once told me, one need not drive more than forty five minutes to find the traditional liturgy – at a maximum. (Based on my own experience, that sounds about right. Obviously, untold numbers of French are even more fortunate: The Latin Mass is almost on their doorsteps …)
For all this, traditional societies like the Fraternity and the two Institutes (i.e. Christ the King and the Good Shepherd) deserve great credit indeed. For nowhere in the world are these groups more active than in France. (Indeed, they are all of French origin.)
Now, the success of societies like the Institute of Christ the King can be estimated in different ways – either by outwardly demonstrable means or by one’s own admittedly personal and subjective experience. I will say more on my own interior experience of the Institute of Christ the King – which is rich, so very rich …
But let us begin with something more tangible – vocations. For decades, France has known the same vocations crisis that Ireland now witnesses. However, the traditional societies reveal something remarkable.
Despite their still tiny size, they yield a remarkable rate of vocations. Right now, I have no figures at hand. But I believe I am right that while I lived in France traditional vocations accounted for something like twenty percent of French vocations. This is striking – given that less than five percent of French Catholics are involved in traditionalism!
Now, Irish Papist reported a very sobering thing in the same post we quoted above. Last year, Ireland only had twelve new seminarians. This, I think, is the mainstream figure – candidates being trained to celebrate the Novus Ordo.
However, last year, there were also two Irish men who entered the seminary of the Institute of Christ the King (in Italy)! If these figures are right, one seventh of new Irish seminarians was traditionalist last year – drawn to the Institute of Christ the King rather than the Novus Ordo.
This would seem remarkable indeed, given the very, very tiny presence of the Latin Mass in Ireland (compared to the Novus Ordo or compared to France).
Perhaps you will say: It is a fluke, unlikely to be repeated anytime soon! This may be true. Still, if the Latin Mass progresses in Ireland and the French example is anything to go by, it may be a harbinger of things to come.
In Ireland, we may yet witness a phenomenon, like France, which clearly demonstrates the vigour of traditional Catholicism (when compared with the dwindling vocations elsewhere.)
This, then, is one tangible, demonstrable factor of the vibrancy of Catholic traditionalism. Alas! Much else is far less easy to substantiate in a society addicted to ‘proofs’. I can only invoke my rich, personal experience of the new traditional communities. But speak of that I must.
Now, my own experience is largely to do with the Institute of Christ the King, founded and still led by Monsignor Gilles Wach. For although I experienced all three major traditional societies in France (at least of those faithful to Rome) providence, it seemed to me brought me repeatedly in contact with the Institute. Kim and I had to travel much in France and – oddly, it seemed – the Institute of Christ the King was always more along our route than the other two.
And after leaving France, we lived briefly in Madrid and then Liverpool in England – both places where the Institute of Christ the King has established nearby apostolates.
And so the grace of God, it seemed to me, led me back and back again to the Institute of Christ the King.
This Institute of Christ the King – what a profoundly moving, enriching experience it rendered to my soul in Spain and England!
Their English apostolate on the Merseyside is still young, as I write these words. But I had both the joy and privilege of witnessing its birth. Within weeks, a disused church had been transformed into a liturgical haven – and heaven – with a daily Latin Mass, daily confession, adoration and devotions. Its passion and beauty were breathtaking.
In contrast to young apostolates, the older apostolates of the Institute of Christ the King (as well as the Fraternity of St. Peter etc.) reveal rich, sustained development as they put down roots – forming expansive communities and building schools. The Institute of Christ the King is also establishing convents of nuns.
Several times I stayed in Besancon, France – where the Fraternity of St. Peter has been established many years. I had the joy of meeting several (large) Catholic families there. This experience was very deeply moving to me, as they spoke about how the Latin Mass had transformed their lives for over twenty years.
Indeed, I saw how it had. I clearly sensed how it had nourished wholesome family life – so much so that one young family there helped to change my life.
For sensing this wholesomeness in their little home, I saw something unwholesome in my own heart – which led to repentance and confession. The outcome of this was a decisive change: a small miracle in my life.
But leaving that cryptic remark aside, I saw similar things when I went to live in Madrid. There, Kim and I became part of a community of families and young people associated with the Institute of Christ the King’s apostolate there. Again I saw how nourished people were by the integral Catholic life the Institute provided. For not only was there twice daily Latin Mass, daily absolution in Latin, adoration and devotion, but the priests were running beautiful study groups and catechesis for the young.
Now, I have said, earlier in this series of posts, how I wrestled with the tragedy of the Church’s decline for many years, considering everything from liberal answers (e.g. the Church has failed to march to the beat of modernity) to New Age ideology (e.g. the Aquarian dispensation ushers in a new non-religious spirituality).
But after all these years, I arrive at Joseph Ratzinger’s uncomfortable conclusion: The ecclesiastical crisis is deeply related to liturgical devastation.
Here, then, is why my greatest hope for the renewal of the Church lies with with groups like the Institute – in Ireland and elsewhere.
This is not to say that tradition is not provided for outside these new priestly societies! It is – often by a variety of local initiatives and networks. But, in my experience, these new traditional apostolates possess resources that the local networks often lack.
At least, I am sad to say that I have witnessed many local initiatives -in France, England and Ireland – which, despite valiant effort, failed to provide what the new apostolates do.
Problems beseige them. For example, often there is no single priest to supply the Sacraments. As a result, a rota is set up with rotating priests or even irregular masses. These efforts, I say, whilst brave and necessary, are not enough.
And so I pay this special tribute to the Institute of Christ the King and societies like them For in my experience, they can offer a complete traditional liturgical Catholic practice. With their stable priests, their resources, their schools and their convents, as well as their vigour and their beauty, they create rich oases in the desert of secular materialism.
How I was nourished by these oases in France – and how I pray for these oases in Ireland!
And now, a final note about Ireland. The Institute of Christ the King, I suspect, is struggling here. I suspect; I do not know. Alas, I am a long way from Limerick and have only managed to attend three of its Masses. Each one was a joy – however this hardly equips me to say much regarding this Institute in Ireland.
However, considering the situation of the Latin Mass in Ireland, it certainly seems to struggle very much compared to the situation in France.
The brave and solitary priests here offering the Latin Mass are not enough. And the crisis in Ireland is grave. It seems to me that the Institute of Christ the King is desperately needed here.
This is why I have written this special post in tribute to the Institute. I hope that it will not only flourish in Limerick, but in time be able to establish further apostolates as it has throughout France.
Indeed, this aim of supporting the Institute has occupied me for several posts now. I think, then, in upcoming entries we will take a little break from the Irish situation.
Among other things, I mean to speak of Hilaire Belloc again, as well as Valentin Tomberg – and the remarkable hope he has given me for the future of the Church.
But we shall certainly return to Catholic Ireland, before very long.
Foreword for Monarchy by Roger Buck
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