Our progress along the spiritual path to God is essentially one of purification, illumination, and union. The purification of our souls should be thought of as the refinement of precious metal, trial by fire and the expurgation of impurities under the blows of the Divine Smith. The great St. John of the Cross wrote of the dark nights of the senses and of the soul of individuals, but I would suggest that the Church herself also undergoes these dark nights.
God often tests our love by removing from us those things that obscure our view of Him: sensual pleasures, people, and other things that may get in our way. It hurts. Purification is a painful process, ripping away from us those things we have come to love instead of God or in priority over Him. We lose, one by one or all at once, those many creature comforts and other goods we have become inordinately attached to.
Because God moves in our souls and wages this battle for our souls progressively, the first attachments He removes from us usually are clearly sinful or excessive. The nearer He draws us, however, the more these things resemble Him — but are not Him. He may withdraw the consolations we receive in prayer, the daily inspirations we sense Him planting in our minds. This loss confuses us. It feels as if God Himself is withdrawing. Yet He would not rip away these attachments unless He were, in fact, very close to us.
Today, as ever more restrictions are placed on traditional prayer, devotion, and liturgy, it feels as though God is withdrawing from His people. We may be tempted to say, “if the Pope is against us, let us be against the Pope,” or “if the Church hates us, then we will carry on without her.” Yet through the Pope, Christ is present in authority, and in the Church, He is present as our Bridegroom. The temptation may be to turn our backs on the Church as though God and Church have abandoned us, yet this cannot be.
I do not know what to expect for the future of liturgy. I hope that the Novus Ordo may now be celebrated with more solemnity and tradition than ever before. I hope that, in the absence of widespread Latin Mass, the Ordinary Form will be refined as more traditional priests and faithful make their way into typical parishes.
But I know one thing: even if Latin and ad orientem and altar rails and chant and every other vestige of tradition — none of them God nor strictly necessary to reach God — should be taken from us, God Himself will never abandon us. Even if we are impoverished of these traditions, even if we are marginalized for our love of the sacred, we are merely being given the opportunity to focus more closely on Christ Himself. We must continue to seek Him, to love and to serve Him, and to trust Him to purify the Church, illuminate the Church, and ultimately unite the Church to Himself through this process.
Perhaps, as we enter this final week of Advent 2021, though He feels so far away, He has never been nearer.
Veni, veni Emmanuel,
captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio,
privatus Dei Filio!
“The one who gives this testimony says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”John 22:20