“But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no…” (Mt 5:37)
Bp. Richard Williamson’s Strange Theology on the ‘New Mass’
Long-time readers of this web site may remember the outrage and exasperation the recognize-and-resist bishop Richard Williamson (b. 1940, ex-SSPX) triggered five years ago when he answered a laywoman’s question about whether it was ever permissible to assist at the Novus Ordo Missae (“New Mass”) of Paul VI. The answer the Lefebvrist bishop gave was so lengthy, convoluted, and vacillating that by the end he had said everything and its opposite, from yes to no, to maybe, to ask someone else.
As Novus Ordo Watch has gained a lot of new visitors since this story made the rounds, we figured it may not be a bad idea to publish a post about it once more, especially for those who are not familiar with the person of Bp. Williamson or at least not with this particular low point in his resistance theology.
On June 28, 2015, Bp. Williamson was a speaker at a semi-trad conference held in Mahopcac, New York. The entire talk given by His Excellency has been posted in full and is available here (watch at your own risk):
At the end of the talk, there was a question-and-answer session at which His Excellency was asked about assistance at the “New Mass”. The bishop’s 10-minute response was a paragon of illogical SSPX (Society of St. Pius X) mumbo-jumbo that was, not surprisingly, totally devoid of any discernible Catholic theological principles.
In fact, the answer Williamson gave was loaded with so many howlers and unsupported assertions that we thought it best to republish the video ourselves after adding our own comments as subtitles to the clip as the bishop is speaking. Give this is a try and see if you do not agree that Williamson’s ideas on assistance at the Novus Ordo Missae are a theological disaster the size of the Titanic:
Click to play video
In this video clip, you will notice that His Excellency really is “all over the place” with his answer. In fact, one may discover a certain similarity between his way of speaking and that of the Modernists, for both are unclear in their assertions, use subjective criteria, and do not base their arguments on genuine Catholic theological principles. More on this later.
In his answer, Bp. Williamson argues all of the following — and then some:
- The New Mass is a key part of the New Religion and the worldwide apostasy
- Stay away from the New Mass!
- You can go to the New Mass under certain circumstances
- The New Mass is wrong as a whole
- If it nourishes your Faith, you can go (this “seems” to be the “absolute rule of rules”)
- You cannot cause scandal by going to the New Mass
- Archbishop Lefebvre said the New Mass is a danger to the Faith
- There are Eucharistic miracles in the New Mass
- The New Religion, of which the New Mass is a key part, is dangerous and strangles grace
- The New Mass can build your Faith
- The New Mass does harm in itself
- Decide for yourself
- Ask a priest you trust and heed his advice — maybe
- The rite of the New Mass was designed to get you away from the Catholic Faith
- If you can trust your own judgment, use your own judgment
- All of this is just his opinion and “almost heresy”
- Maybe none of this should be said in public
- Etc., ad nauseam
If His Excellency was trying to dispel confusion, he didn’t succeed.
It is really sad to see how many souls “follow” Bp. Williamson and look up to him as a guiding light in these terrible times. Regardless of how noble his subjective intentions may be, the objective fact is that Williamson is part of the problem in this post-Vatican II nightmare. So much rubbish in 10 minutes! He does not clarify; he confuses. His answers are yes and no and maybe and ask someone else. One may perhaps summarize his answer in a way that reminds one of a typical American pharmaceutical commercial: “Talk to your trusted priest and find out if the Novus Ordo Mass is right for you.” Just be sure you understand the health risks and side effects. CAUTION! May be fatal.
The inconsistencies, the contradictions, the waffling, the gratuitous assertions, the refusal to employ the Catholic positive-scholastic theological method — all these are a recurring symptom in the Society of St. Pius X, the “official” one as well as the “Marian Corps” edition (aka “Strict Observance” or “Resistance”), of which Williamson is now a part.
People who outsource their theological and spiritual health to Bp. Williamson are in big trouble. They may think they have escaped the errors of the Modernist Vatican II Sect, but in reality they are simply imbibing different (yet sometimes quite similar) errors instead. That is what you get when you follow people instead of Catholic doctrine.
A proper application of real Catholic theology to the question of assistance at the New Mass — and an evaluation of Bp. Williamson’s response — was provided by Bp. Donald Sanborn, a sedevacantist bishop who himself used to be a priest in the SSPX (until 1983). On July 29, 2015, Bp. Sanborn responded in a blog post entitled “Christ or Belial?”, of which we quote the following highlights:
CHRIST OR BELIAL?
A Response to Bishop Williamson concerning Attendance at the New Mass
On June 28th of this year, Bishop Williamson gave a conference to a gathering of people in Connecticut, followed by questions and answers.
A woman asked him whether it was permissible to attend the New Mass. Bishop Williamson says that, under certain circumstances, it is permissible to actively participate in the New Mass.
Point # 1. The New Mass is either Catholic worship or it is non-Catholic worship. There is no third possibility.In order that a Mass be Catholic, it must (a) contain a valid Catholic rite of consecration; (b) be offered by a validly ordained Catholic priest who is in union with the Catholic hierarchy, and who is authorized by that hierarchy to offer the Mass in the name of the whole Church; (c) Catholic ceremonies, that is, ceremonies which express the Catholic truth concerning the Mass. If any of these elements should be lacking, it would not be a Catholic Mass, and it would be a mortal sin to attend it.
If we concentrate only on the question of Catholic ceremonies, it is clear that the New Mass is non-Catholic worship….
The Anglican communion service, for example, contains a valid consecration formula, but it is non-Catholic worship because the surrounding prayers convey error and heresy concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the priesthood. The same is true of the New Mass. The same is true of the Mass of Luther.
For this reason, ever since 1969, Catholics all over the world have been avidly resisting and rejecting the New Mass, even though it was promulgated by Paul VI, precisely because it is non-Catholic worship. If it is Catholic worship, then why are we resisting it? If it is non-Catholic worship, then how could we attend it?
One cannot say that “a rite designed to undermine Catholics’ faith” is Catholic worship, and pleasing to God. It is an abomination in God’s sight, and this fact is the very reason for our decades-long persistent rejection of it.
Point # 2. The Catholic Mass is not primarily a spiritual pick-me-up. Bishop Williamson, early in the response to the woman’s question, stated as the golden rule and the absolute rule of rules: “Do whatever you need to do to nourish your faith.”
Let it be said, first of all, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered primarily and essentially for the worship of God, and not as a fervor stimulant for our spiritual lives. It is accurate that any true worship of God, even Miraculous Medal devotions, will have as a side effect the increase of fervor and devotion in our souls. In no case, however, is any act of worship directed primarily or essentially toward the increase of personal piety.
The principle which Bishop Williamson gives here — “Do whatever you need to do to nourish your faith.” — is utterly protestant. For the protestant all worship consists solely of an interior act of praise and thanksgiving to God. The protestant’s altar is his heart. His worship is consequently completely subjective, as is his faith. The purpose of external protestant worship, i.e., whatever they do on Sundays at their churches, is to excite the heart towards feelings of faith. For this reason, protestant worship can vary from being very Catholic in its trappings, such as that of the High Anglicans, to being something very low and vulgar, such as that of the pentecostalists. What is the golden rule for protestants which makes all of it true worship? It is exactly what Bishop Williamson said: “Do whatever you need to do to nourish your faith.”
The statement is also modernist. Modernism utterly subjectivizes religion. Religion is your own interior religious experience, and dogma must evolve according as your religious experience evolves. To tell someone that the absolute rule of rules is to “do whatever you need to do to nourish your faith” means that our interior faith is what justifies the external worship, whatever it may be.
Consequently the modernist could just as easily say that a balloon Mass nourishes his faith, or a clown Mass, or any other kind of liturgical aberration.
The Catholic position is that what nourishes our faith is Catholic doctrine. Pope Pius XII said in his encyclical Mediator Dei: “Let the rule of prayer determine the rule of belief.” (no. 48), which means, as he explains, that the liturgy must reflect Catholic truth: “The liturgy is a profession of eternal truths.” (ibid.) The Pontiff also says in the same paragraph that the liturgy receives its doctrine from the teachings of the Church, and that it is also right to say: “Let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.”
Catholic liturgical doctrine, therefore, declares that there is a tight and mutual connection between Catholic dogma and Catholic liturgy. Consequently, the only liturgy which could nourish our faith, according to Pius XII, would be one which is determined by Catholic dogma.
How then could the New Mass nourish one’s faith? The only way in which it could is if it reflects Catholic truth, i.e., as Pius XII says, if “it is a profession of eternal truths.”
If the New Mass is a profession of eternal truths, however, then in what way is it bad, and why do we resist it and reject it?
It is obviously not a profession of eternal truths, as everyone knows, and especially Bishop Williamson, who said: “It is a rite designed to undermine Catholics’ faith, and to turn their belief away from God towards man.”
The conclusion is that Bishop Williamson is thoroughly mixed up, is totally inconsistent, is tainted by protestant and modernist thinking, and lays all the logical groundwork for a reconciliation with the modernists, for him the dreaded Fellay-ism.
(Most Rev. Donald J. Sanborn, “Christ or Belial?”, In Veritate, July 29, 2015; bold and italics given.)
Readers are highly encouraged to read the full text of His Excellency’s response.
It is wonderfully refreshing to see someone put forth real Catholic theological principles and juxtaposing them with the half-baked and haphazard ideas of Bp. Williamson. It is in this contrast that it becomes amply clear which of the two bishops is dispassionately using Catholic theology in an analysis of the situation and applies it to the case at hand. Sanborn uses the rigorous content and method of Sacred Theology; Williamson simply makes it up as he goes along (“if you watch and pray”; “if you trust the priest”; “if it’s a decent Mass”, etc.).
Shortly after the release of Bp. Sanborn’s blog post, Stephen Heiner of Restoration Radio sat down with His Excellency to discuss further the theological position taken by Bp. Williamson on the “New Mass” and also the Modernist Vatican II religion as a whole, which is at the origin of all this confusion.
You can download or stream online this informative radio program free of charge using the link below:
Restoration Radio: “Williamson Watch”
(Bp. Donald Sanborn / Aug. 4, 2015)
This show is not simply a rehashing of the blog post Bp. Sanborn had published, it also includes more discussion about the person of Bp. Williamson himself and his alarming subjectivist and Protestantized theology. Bp. Sanborn is eminently qualified not only to speak on traditional Catholic theology but also on the person of Bp. Williamson, whom he knows well from his time in the SSPX (both he and Williamson were ordained priests by Abp. Lefebvre in 1975 and 1976, respectively).
One of the arguments Bp. Williamson brings up to justify his position on the Novus Ordo Missae is that of alleged “Eucharistic miracles” in the Modernist “Mass”. Bp. Sanborn explains well why those are false miracles; but there is another point we would like to bring up in connection with this: How does Williamson claim to know that these reported miracles are genuine and not fake? Is he relying on the Vatican II Church to tell him this — the same church whose canonizations he doubts, whose teachings he rejects, whose laws he denounces, whose marriage annulments he sneers at? The same church which has introduced a new, apostate religion whose job it is to undermine and destroy Catholicism? Seriously — is this the basis on which he accepts alleged miracles as genuine? Or is it simply his own, fallible discernment, his mere “opinion”, so to speak?
In either case, the former SSPX bishop, who is also a former Anglican (1971), is demonstrating not only his poor grasp of Catholic theology (whether a Mass is valid or Catholic is never determined by empirical observation a posteriori or by subjective conviction, but always by Catholic theological principles, which are objective and a priori), he is also opening himself up to being deceived precisely by false miracles — against which Our Blessed Lord issued dire warnings: “For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect” (Mt 24:24).
Other Scripture passages, too, are very applicable here:
Who answering said to them: An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.
And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity.
(2 Thess 2:8-11)
False miracles are nothing new in salvation history — Pharaoh’s wizards worked them against Moses and Aaron, albeit to no avail: “And Pharao called the wise men and the magicians: and they also by Egyptian enchantments and certain secrets did in like manner. And they every one cast down their rods, and they were turned into serpents: but Aaron’ s rod devoured their rods” (Ex 7:11-12). How much more deceptive must things be with the Antichrist, who will deceive even the elect, if it were possible!
The key point to remember is — and this Bp. Sanborn points out forcefully — that Almighty God works miracles only in confirmation of the truth, not of falsehood. But a Eucharistic miracle in the “New Mass”, if it were genuine, would give credence to the Modernist religion, to a “bastard rite” (Abp. Lefebvre’s words), to “a key part of the new religion” that “does harm in itself” (Williamson). Impossible!
It is quite frightening to see how much Williamson’s theology resembles that of Vatican II and the Neo-Modernists. For example, he effectively takes a line of “reject[ing] nothing that is true and holy in [false] religions” (Vatican II, Declaration Nostra Aetate, n. 2) and tries to find “elements” of goodness and truth in the Novus Ordo worship service that can “impel” towards Catholicism (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 8) inasmuch as they “nourish your faith.” This is straight out of the Modernist playbook!
The SSPX and resistance traditionalism as a whole take this line again and again with regard to their position on the Vatican II Church, which they claim is somehow both the Catholic Church and a false church at the same time, and the “Pope” is the Vicar of Christ and Vicar of Satan at the same time, depending on whether he sides with “Eternal Rome” or “Modernist Rome” at a given moment — as determined, of course, by the SSPX “authorities”.
This is insanity! This is most definitely not supported by traditional Catholic theology, which is why none is ever cited, or only selectively, and appeal is usually made to what Archbishop Lefebvre thought, as though his ideas were somehow the measuring rod of orthodoxy or constituted any sort of authority to which we must submit. That is the epitome of private judgment!
No, the criterion of being a true Catholic can never be, per se, what this or that bishop thinks, but only complete fidelity and adherence to the Holy See (inasmuch as it is validly occupied, obviously), which is the bulwark of the True Faith and the ultimate guarantor of Faith and morals:
Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
(Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam, Nov. 18, 1302)
Nor will We permit anything against the sanctity of the oath by which We were bound when, however undeservingly, We ascended the supreme seat of the prince of the apostles, the citadel and bulwark of the Catholic faith.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Qui Nuper, n. 3)
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair [of St. Peter]; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion. Therefore, because of your special faith in the Church and special piety toward the same Chair of Peter, We exhort you to direct your constant efforts so that the faithful people of France may avoid the crafty deceptions and errors of these plotters and develop a more filial affection and obedience to this Apostolic See. Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7)
This is Our last lesson to you: receive it, engrave it in your minds, all of you: by God’s commandment salvation is to be found nowhere but in the Church; the strong and effective instrument of salvation is none other than the Roman Pontificate.
(Pope Leo XIII, Allocution for the 25th Anniversary of his Election, Feb. 20, 1903; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 653)
Union with the Roman See of Peter is … always the public criterion of a Catholic …. “You are not to be looked upon as holding the true Catholic faith if you do not teach that the faith of Rome is to be held.”
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 13)
What — Bp. Williamson didn’t tell you this? The SSPX didn’t tell you this? Your diocesan Latin Mass presbyter didn’t tell you this? The Remnant didn’t tell you this? Then you’ve been listening to the wrong people. Start listening to traditional Catholic teaching instead.
For more refutations of Bp. Williamson, and for more from Bp. Sanborn, be sure to check the following posts:
- Bp. Sanborn’s Response to Bp. Williamson on Sedevacantism
- Novus Ordo Watch Response to Bp. Williamson on Sedevacantism (Part 1)
- Opinionism — Is the Pope Question just a Matter of “Opinion”?
- Debate: Did Vatican II Teach Heresy? Bp. Sanborn vs. Dr. Fastiggi (Video)
- The Syllogism of Sedevacantism: Bp. Sanborn explains how we know the Vatican II Church is False (Video)
The bottom line regarding Bp. Williamson’s “New Mass” blunder is this: You cannot uphold Catholic Tradition if you make up new ideas and principles to suit a predetermined conclusion. If you wish to defend and keep the Faith of old, then you cannot modify it to make it fit your desired position; for by doing so, you are necessarily giving up the very Faith you mean to preserve.
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License: fair use