A Defence of the Catholic Priesthood
by Michael Davies
1979 AND 1993

Appendix X
The Indefectibility of the Church

The indefectibility of the Church is a teaching fundamental to the nature of Catholicism. It assures us that the Church is divinely constituted, and because Our Lord has promised that the gates of Hell will never prevail against it, its Divine constitution will endure unchanged until He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. In other words, the Church will remain in every essential respect precisely as Our Lord constituted it until the end of time. It will always be a visible, hierarchically governed Church whose bishops are in full Communion with the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ. It will always teach faithfully the Gospel entrusted to it by Our Lord, and impart the grace necessary for the faithful to live up to the demands of the Gospel through the Sacraments instituted by Our Lord. The doctrine of indefectibility guarantees that the supreme authority in the Church, the Roman Pontiff, could never impose or authorize for universal use throughout the Church any liturgical rite or practice that was contrary to sound doctrine, could invalidate the Sacrament, or undermine Catholic belief.

In this instance the Roman Rite can be considered as equivalent to universal as it includes the overwhelming majority of Catholics throughout the world, and is proper to the Holy See itself. Thus, if the Latin Ordinal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968, or the Latin Missal promulgated by him in 1970, are examined carefully, they will be found to contain nothing incompatible with the Catholic faith. But only the Latin typical editions of sacramental rites come within the scope of the Church's indefectibility. Vernacular translations are, by their very nature, not imposed or authorized for the universal Church, and the possibility that they may contain erroneous or harmful elements cannot be excluded. A vernacular version of a sacramental form could result in invalidity if it did not reproduce the exact sense of the Latin text. This does not mean that it must be an absolutely literal translation, but if it departs from the Latin to the extent of involving a significant change of meaning, then the Sacrament will not be valid. It is true that all vernacular translations receive Papal approval, but this merely indicates that the Pope and the curial department concerned presume that a national hierarchy, or group of hierarchies linked on the basis of a common langauge, has ensured that translations into their languages are accurate. The almost countless vernacular versions of sacramental rites in the world today preclude the least possibility of any pope being able to vet them all personally for reasons of time, apart from ignorance of almost all the languages concerned. Mass is now said in Esperanto and Pidgin English, a fact which almost defies credibility, and does indeed do so when one hears the Pidgin form of the Consecration.

The aftermath of Vatican II proves how prudent the Popes were prior to the Council to insist upon the use of uniform Latin text for sacramental rites throughout the world.

The Church could not be considered a perfect, visible supernatural society (and it is of Divine faith that the Church possesses these characteristics) if the possibility existed of it offering its members invalid Sacraments. If ever a pope approved an invalid sacramental rite the faithful would be deprived of a means of holiness necesary for their salvation, and hence the Church would have failed, and the gates of Hell would have triumphed. In other words, Our Lord would have made a promise that He could not keep and hence He could not have been divine, which would mean that our entire religion is a mockery.

This is precisely what is claimed by those alleging that any of the sacramental rites promulgated since Vatican II are invalid. Concessions such as the permission for Communion in the hand, granted to specific countries, are also excluded from the scope of indefectibility. Where the reception of Holy Communion is concerned, the norm for the Roman Rite is still Communion on the tongue, even though in almost every country Communion in the hand has become the norm. But in every instance of the authorization of this practice the permission given has been from the norm of Communion on the tongue. It is perfectly legitimate to argue that by surrendering to the fait accompli of Communion in the hand in country after country the Holy See has contributed to the weakening of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. True as this may be, and I have not the least doubt that it is true, it does not compromise the doctrine of indefectibility as no blanket permission for Communion in the hand for the universal Church has ever been given.

The doctrine of indefectibility most certainly does not require us to believe that new sacramental rites promulgated with papal authority are ipso facto superior to those that they are intended to replace. It
is perfectly permissible to claim that such a rite gives liturgical expression to the doctrine of the Sacrament it enshrines less effectively than its predecessor, thus weakening the principle lex orandi lex credendi. It is equally permissible to argue that the prayers and ceremonies of a new rite are less effective in raising the hearts and minds of the faithful to Almighty God, and evoking in them the sentiments and dispositions most likely to ensure fruitful reception of the Sacrament. All that the doctrine of indefectibility requires us to believe is that at the very least in its Latin Typical Edition, any sacramental rite approved by a Pope will be valid, contain no heresy, and nothing overtly harmful to the faithful participating in it.

Theologians make a distinction between the Pope 'sentiendo' (giving sentence) and the Pope 'disserendo' (giving an opinion). When Pope Paul VI promulgated the New Mass he "gave sentence" and guaranteed its validity. When, in his discourse of 19 November 1969, he claimed that it expresses Catholic Eucharistic teaching more clearly than the Tridentine Mass, he expressed an opinion. An opinion, even the opinion of the Sovereign Pontiff, deserves respect only to the extent to which it corresponds with reality.

The new sacramental rites promulgated since the Second Vatican Council can be seen as a paradigm of the Divine and human aspects of the Church. Pope Paul VI displayed lamentable human weakness in agreeing to replace rites whose origin is lost in the mists of Christian antiquity by the artificially concocted creations of commitee advised by Protestants. The Divine nature of the Church, and the practical application of the doctrine of indefectibility, can be seen in the fact that the new rites are undoubtedly valid and convey the same sacramental grace as those that they have replaced, but which, we must hope, will be restored one day. Acceptance of the doctrine of indefectibility by no means precludes our working and praying for this end.

In his Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei" of 2 July 1988, Pope John Paul II required the implementation of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for the rightful aspirations "of those Catholic faithful attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition." The Motu Proprio was soon implemented by authorizing the use of all the pre-conciliar sacramental rites by such orders as the Fraternity of St. Peter or the Benedictine Monks of Le Barroux, and so it is now beyond doubt that both the pre-and post-conciliar rites coexist within the Roman Rite. This must be regarded as no more than an interim measure in the process of their total restoration.

In his encyclical 'Iucanda Sane' commemorating the thirteenth centenary of the death of St. Gregory the Great, Pope St. Pius X wrote:

Never throughout the course of the ages has supernatural power been lacking in the Church; never have the promises of Christ failed. They remain as powerful today as when they filled the heart of Gregory with consolation. Rather, having withstood the test of time and the change of circumstances and events, they possess even greater assurance.

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