© Copyright 2013, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
Since the earliest days, and actually since the time of the Babylonian Captivity in the Old Testament, those who love God have kept their faith privately despite a lack of ministers to serve them. In the early centuries of the Church, the faithful hid in the catacombs of Rome where they had access to bishops and priests, until they were martyred or imprisoned. There later were those who were forced to keep the faith alive on their own during the Arian heresy because those clergy who remained Catholic were so few in number that they were able to minister to them only infrequently at best. Until the faith spread across all of Europe, certainly there was a dearth of clergy to say Mass and confer the Sacraments. During the Protestant Reformation we know the English and Irish were forced to hear Mass secretly and that it was rarely available. This also was true for a time following the French Revolution, when St. John Vianney was a young boy. For over 200 years the Japanese were forbidden to practice their faith and so practiced it in secret; they had no bishops or priests. On the American frontier, especially in the Southwest, Catholics went for years, sometimes for a lifetime, without ever seeing a priest. Those behind the Iron Curtain following the Communist takeover of Russia, Eastern Europe and later China were forced to keep the faith secretly or suffer death or imprisonment. Catacomb Catholics during those times would not seek the Sacraments from the Orthodox or national churches because they knew they were schismatic. Yet Traditionalists think nothing of attending Orthodox services today.
Today’s Catacomb Catholics do nothing different than their persecuted forbearerers did, only their persecutors are fellow “Catholics.” They see that there are no certainly valid hierarchy or priests available and rather than consult schismatics, they simply pray the Mass in home chapels or at family altars in the home. They baptize each other’s children and witness civil marriage. They make perfect Acts of Contrition and Spiritual Communions. They do all this to avoid communicatio in sacris and to keep the Deposit of Faith whole and unimpaired. Most believe that we live in the time of Antichrist and that the Mass has ceased. They obey Canon Law and papal law, up to the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Many home school their children and live in rural areas. Their main concern is keeping the faith alive for their children. They do their best to reach out to others interested in the faith and to work for the salvation of souls. Many feel isolated and unable to do as much as they could or should do. But their numbers are so few that it is difficult to accomplish anything on a larger scale.
What has been presented in this series was not presented with the intent of herding anyone into Catacomb Catholicism as the only alternative to Traditionalism. This is not yet another attempt to practice group Catholicism minus the pope. If anything has been demonstrated here it is the impossibility of recreating a juridic Church unless a canonically elected Pope be the head of that Church. Catholics, however, who have completed the three-year probationary period suggested on embracing stay-at-home Catholicism often find themselves desirous of doing more on an outreach scale. Many have expressed the hope that they could convince Traditionalists and even others of the need to truly convert and simply pray and watch together as members of the Mystical Body. In commanding Catholic Action, the Popes have left a way open to work together for the salvation of souls, provided certain conditions are fulfilled. It would depend in large part on whether such Catholics can develop a true devotion to the interior life and a comprehensive understanding of the virtue of charity. And here we do not mean the liberal brand of charity practiced today by so many Traditionalists and even some of those who stay at home. For working for the salvation of souls IS true charity, although many believe it is a waste of time and an impossible dream. But it also requires the practice of charity among those who undertake this work, and this is where the need for delicacy and restraint enter in. If anything be done in the way of Catholic Action, Catholics would need to carefully follow any guidelines set down by the popes for engaging in this apostolate. Please read the teachings of the popes in the article on Catholic Action at: /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/the-church/the-popes-on-catholic-action/
As Pope St. Pius X says in this article, we have no excuse whatsoever not to obey the commands of the popes to spread the faith when and wherever it is possible. This, Pope Pius XII told lay apostles in 1957, is the DUTY of Catholics in the absence of the hierarchy. In fact if we fail to obey their commands, then we question their supreme authority. The successors of St. Peter who have gone to their eternal reward are as much members of the Mystical Body as we are today, for that Body encompasses the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. Infallible decrees bind perpetually, for the Church is the same forever: Eadem Sempiternum. Revs. Devivier and Sasia, S.J. wrote. “If we ascend the course of ages, even to Apostolic times, we see the same identical doctrine professed by the Faithful throughout Christendom… (We) say, with St. Vincent of Lerins: ‘We hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” (Christian Apologetics). The Vatican Council (DZ 1800) and Pope St. Pius X in his oath against Modernism (DZ 2145) define the changelessness of the Church as dogma. From the earliest days of Christianity, Catholics have kept their faith and saved their souls in times of persecution without the clergy; they have cooperated with the bishops and priests or functioned in their stead to spread the faith; they have defied incredible odds to pass the faith onto future generations.
Catacomb Catholics believe in all aspects of this timeless Tradition and know that they must observe the conditions set down by Pope Pius XII concerning their functions in the absence of the hierarchy. This means that they must follow all teachings on faith and morals, obey all the laws of the Church, and never do anything against the implicit or explicit will of the Church. Catacomb Catholics have their critics but these critics have never been able to offer proofs that staying away from Traditional chapels is sinful in any way. Indeed they cannot; for no one could ever prove that a faithful Catholic was obligated to participate in any service or group not in communion with a true pope. All roads lead to Peter and His Master. Catacomb Catholics would fail in their duties as spelled out by Pius XII were they to neglect to spread the faith and warn others about the dangers of Traditionalism. The only question is how best to accomplish this task, and that will be addressed in future articles. To read more on Catacomb Catholics, please visit this heading in the articles list.