In its essence, this crisis is a crisis of Faith. Let us take a little tour of history so as better to appreciate how this is so, and what it means for those of us who have been chosen from all eternity to live through this crisis and to receive the great gift of the true Faith. We may for our purposes divide the history of the Church into four periods – the foundation, the early, the middle, and the present crisis.
The foundation or beginning saw Holy Church emerge mystically from the side of Our Lord on Calvary, as the Fathers say, symbolized by the Blood and water (the divine and the human). And it saw Our Blessed Redeemer appear to the Apostles and disciples many times, to confirm their Faith and instruct them. But to give them the opportunity to become truly spiritual men with truly meritorious Faith, He withdrew Himself sensibly from their presence and sent the Holy Ghost Who would enlighten them interiorly and remind them of all things He had taught them whilst still on earth. “Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.” St. Augustine says that if Our Lord had remained visibly on earth, the Apostles and disciples would have found His sacred humanity an obstacle to advancement in Faith and Charity, precisely because their love for Him was too human and imperfect. And it was for this reason that the Holy Ghost, Who can do anything, could not come to us unless Christ first left us – for we could not yet receive Him. Thus we learn that right in the beginning of the history of the Church Our Lord's withdrawal of a good (Himself) was in itself an act of charity for men. It was so that man could grow in virtue and become more like Him, and thus merit for eternity. And it was so that the Holy Ghost could come and dwell permanently in our souls! God is so good!
The second – the early period – of the Church, saw the gift of miracles bestowed upon the Apostles and their immediate successors in accord with the promise of Our Lord, so as to provide indisputable confirmation of the truth of the Gospel and thus ensure its rapid propagation throughout the world. When this was achieved, the particular gift was withdrawn, as Our Lord had withdrawn His own visible presence, so as to permit men to merit to a greater degree from acts of Faith. Again we see Our Lord taking something away – the gift of miracles – so as to give the greatest possible opportunity to men to elevate themselves above this world and hence earn eternal felicity.
The middle period – that is, the period prior to this present crisis – displays many features which are indisputably divine, such as the really spectacular visible unity of the Church in Faith and Charity, the line of the popes unbroken even despite horrors such as the Great Western Schism, the obvious fruitfulness of the Church in producing so many and varied saints, the scintillating culture of the civilisation forged by the Church from the remnants of the classical culture and the raw stuff of Europe's exotic mixture of bloods, with its music, architecture, literature, religious orders, universities, guilds, parliaments, and the rest. All of these, I say, were gigantic motives for holding the Church in awe – and holding it in awe, believing in its divine character. Modern man does not see this because he doesn't realise that Europe is a creation of the Church, but everybody prior to our benighted centuries saw it and respected it, even if they did not want to see it.
Our period sees all of this obscured, and rapidly obscured. Holy Mother Church has virtually disappeared. Her influence on the world appears to be nil. She has become tiny where she was huge. Her unity is clouded by non-essential but still important rifts – rifts which threaten to create essential and therefore deadly divisions even amongst the remnant Faithful. All is gloom and gathering darkness.
If we believe in the Catholic Church, and we believe in Divine Providence, then we must see that there are several trials that Our Blessed Redeemer is permitting us to suffer in this crisis. One is the apparent absence of those very motives for believing which the apologetics manuals employed as their starting point – the visible unity of the Church, her manifest holiness, etc. Another is the very absence of final decisions from Rome. Yes, we desire with a great desire to have Our Lord instruct us, and He remains silent.
Why is this so? History and the Gospels provide the answer. Our Lord does these things to give us the opportunity to merit. With His grace we are thus given greater Faith than we would otherwise enjoy, and by this Faith greater merit than we could otherwise earn. And this Faith and the corresponding merit give Him glory.
The other side of the same coin is that He does this to enable the devil to “do his worst” as the devil did to Job, and thus prove to all that he is impotent against grace. He will fail. But how close will he get to victory, before that failure? The resurrection of the Church will indeed be a marvellous demonstration of God's omnipotence and Satan's ultimate impotence.
Now let us examine a little more closely the bond of charity, so that we may see how it exists and how it is assaulted, and how we must preserve it. The essential nature of the twofold bonds of unity of the Church was expressed by the Vatican Council: "The Eternal Shepherd and guardian of our souls, in order to render permanent the saving work of redemption, determined to build a Church in which, as in the house of the living God, all the faithful should be linked by the bond of one faith and charity." So the seamless robe of Our Lord, left intact even by the Roman soldiery at Calvary, and which represents mystically the unity of the Church, consists of two elements woven together -- Faith and Charity. We have seen how our Faith is tested, purified, and made greater, by having the usual supports removed or made obscure. We should see also how Charity is served by the same process. We are being asked by God to remain in peace with men with whom we suffer the greatest possible differences outside of those things taught infallibly by Holy Mother Church. We must regard as fellow Catholics men who accept a false pope or reject the true one, depending on our point of view. We are being asked to fight the good fight with men who think that Our Blessed Redeemer is outraged daily in the Holy Eucharist in the Novus Ordo, or with men who think that He isn't there at all, depending once again on the judgement we have formed about the controverted point.
St. Augustine, speaking of controversy on matters not yet settled by Holy Church, after referring to the fact that without charity all other virtue is worthless, explains: "And yet, if within the Church different men still held different opinions on the point, without meanwhile violating peace, then till some one clear and simple decree should have been passed by an universal Council, it would have been right for the charity which seeks for unity to throw a veil over the error of human infirmity, as it is written 'For charity covers a multitude of sins.' For, seeing that its absence causes the presence of all other things to be of no avail, we may well suppose that in its presence there is found pardon for the absence of some missing things." (St. Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists. Emphasis added.)
Yes, charity. The bond of perfection, the eternal virtue, for the very nature of God Himself is, in the words of St. John, that He is love. And that same charity is the second bond of unity of the Church, and therefore must be practiced not only for the good of our fellow Catholic but also for the very preservation of the Church. This is the true Catholic spirit, and it is this spirit which maintains the unity of peace despite the gravest differences amongst men of good will. It is for this reason that “sedevacantists” can worship with "sedeplenists." It is for this reason that Archbishop Lefebvre always refused to fall into the trap of refusing sacraments to "sedevacantists." It is this essential virtue which is the second bond of unity of the Catholic Church, visible and indissoluble, even if obscured and weakened to the point of apparent failure. Its survival to this point is so improbable as to constitute a miracle, and we ought to ponder it with awe and reverence. It is, of course, a fruit of the Holy Eucharist -- no less than the chief effect of the Holy Eucharist.
Here it is described in relation to earlier crises, by the justly renowned Bishop Hedley.
"The Blessed Sacrament, next to the Holy See, held Christendom together. And once, when, for some half a century, the Holy See itself seemed to cease to rule -- I mean that period that is called the great schism of the West -- there can be little doubt that it was the Blessed Sacrament that kept Europe unshaken in its Catholic faith. In that ominous time there were great saints of the Blessed Sacrament on both sides -- St. Catherine of Siena on one, and St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Colette on the other -- and it was round the throne of the Eucharist that they, and the clergy and people of Europe, found that strong loyalty to all Catholic truth that made the schism no real schism at all, but only a darkness and a trial. But how easily, had it not been for the Blessed Sacrament, the Church might have been rent in twain!" "The Blessed Sacrament would stand us in stead even if things became much worse -- as, indeed, they might, for a time. If the free intercourse of the Holy See with the Catholic Church were interrupted, the practice of frequent and daily Communion, to which the persecution would give redoubled fervour, would effectually put out of the question all schism or disunion. If they took away all our churches, we should never give up the Mass; like our forefathers, for its sake we should, please God, be prepared to brave imprisonment, forfeiture, and death; we should somehow find the Table of the Lord, even in the wilderness..."
"The more closely and constantly Catholics unite in celebrating the great Sacrament of the Eucharist... the more will the whole body of the clergy and the faithful realise their Catholic unity, and, realising their unity, the more they will feel both their duties and their power as constituting the kingdom of God on earth." (The Blessed Sacrament and Catholic Unity, by Bishop Hedley, O.S.B.)
Read the prayers of the Mass immediately prior to Holy Communion and see how they are about peace and unity. See how men of all dispositions unite in bowing before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction. Recall the great truth that when we receive Our Lord we are united not only with Him, but with all other true Christians, in the most intimate union possible this side of Heaven. Holy Communion is not, as the Protestants say, a merely individual matter, but rather it is a social act.
This is why the objection to the behaviour of the sedevacantists, on the ground that they do not elect a pope as it seems they ought, is false. The very reason I and others like me (the vast bulk of sedevacantists in fact) do not attempt to elect a pope is that we know that those who share our Faith but differ with us on the "pope question" are our fellow Catholics, so that if we do something rash we should merely make a schism where at present there is only a difference of judgement. We would, in a nutshell, be having our own Council of Pisa and adding to the woes of the Faithful by harming the unity of the Church. That would be the last thing we should do! Let us all, therefore, keep ourselves from having an inordinate desire to see any matter settled which can only finally be settled by Holy Mother Church, and especially in this way let us preserve charity with all fellow Catholics. On both sides we must keep out of our minds all suggestion that the motives of our opponents are impure and let us be content to examine all disputed matters, including the question of the pope when occasion arises, in the spirit that if we cannot agree then we have occasion for charity, and if we do agree then we have occasion for charity, because this is without doubt the will of God, Who has established on earth a final authority precisely to give certitude to all men on questions which they would not otherwise finally agree upon, and Who has in our time permitted that authority to remain silent, whether we think this is because the See of Rome is vacant or because it is occupied by an unworthy man. And further, that He permits this trial precisely that we may exercise Faith and Charity and thus give glory to Him the author of our Faith and Charity as well as our Hope, and receive an eternal reward for having cooperated in His infinitely wise plan. And if we think this is hard, we ought to imagine what it was like at the foot of the Cross, for that is the mystical precedent of this trial. Yes, it is hard. But there is another side to consider, which is that this is a great privilege, in its way like being chosen to stand on Calvary on the dreadful and beautiful day when the world was redeemed from sin, and Christ won His victory. We are witnesses to the crucifixion of the Mystical Body. What a gift. Lord make us less unworthy! And Mary help us! Thou who didst lovingly weave the seamless robe of Jesus with thine own hands, and who alone hast destroyed all heresies and schisms.