Woman says first Mass in secret
The following are excerpts from Out of the Depths: The Story of Ludmila Javorova, Ordained Roman Catholic Priest, by Miriam Therese Winter (Crossroad, 172 pages, $19.95).
The precedent for secret consecrations and ordinations had been set in Mexico in the 1920s as a result of the virulent persecution of Catholicism during the revolution. To counteract the decimation of the clergy and the complete suppression of the church, Pope Pius XI provided the means of ensuring there would be leaders to function in secret. Special faculties were given to bishops that allowed them to surreptitiously consecrate bishops and ordain priests for the survival of the Catholic faith and a continuation of the sacraments, in effect giving rise to an underground church. These emergency faculties were later invoked, again with Vatican approval, in countries under communist control: in Russia, where secret consecrations took place in 1926 in Moscow, in Romania in the late 1940s and early 1950s, where the consecration of bishops occurred without government approval, and in Czechoslovakia.
As the totalitarian regime unleashed its brutal repression of the Catholic church in Czechoslovakia in 1949, Pope Pius XII extended the provisional authority inherent in the Mexican faculties to include this latest crisis. These special faculties allowed for the consecration of a secret successor for every diocese, according to specific conditions. Each bishop could consecrate only one secret bishop, who could then ordain priests without notifying either the Vatican or the state. These secret bishops were not permitted to consecrate other bishops and could function only if the incumbent bishop were arrested. To safeguard the secrecy and security of all involved, no documentation exists to verify the application of this extraordinary permission. The underground church in Czechoslovakia -- known also as the hidden church, the silent church, the secret church, the clandestine church, the second line -- traces its claim of Vatican approval through the following series of events.
In January 1951 in Bratislava, Slovakia, Bishop Robert Pobozny secretly consecrated Pavol Hnilica, a young Jesuit priest. Almost immediately a warrant was issued for Hnilicas arrest, forcing him to seek asylum outside the country. In August of that same year Jan Korec, another Jesuit clergyman working as a manual laborer, was consecrated as [Poboznys] successor. [Pobozny] says, I had already received the instruction direct from Rome that there should always be two bishops -- uno nascosto, uno attivo -- one hidden, one active (Catholic Digest, July 1991).
On September 9, 1955, Bishop Korec, S.J., secretly consecrated Jesuit Father Dominik Kalata. On May 18, 1961, Bishop Kalata, S.J., consecrated Jesuit Father Peter Dubovsky, through whom the valid apostolic succession of Koinotes consecrations and ordinations would eventually be traced. The decision had been made for Koinotes to acquire a bishop of its own, one from within the community, who would be able to ordain in apostolic succession. The most viable option was for someone from Koinotes to seek consecration outside the country. While Davidek was the logical choice, neither he nor Kratky were eligible for travel because of their political past. Both had been imprisoned and were still being watched, so they would never be allowed to leave the country. Jan Blaha and Frantisek Mikes, who already had traveled abroad on business, were under consideration. In the end, Davidek chose Blaha, a 29-year-old scientist with a degree in chemistry, who had recently come to Koinotes seeking ordination. For quite some time Davidek refused to consider Blaha because he did not meet his requirements. He was on record with the police over an incident in which he had been falsely accused of conspiring against the state, and his brother-in-law had been harassed by the regime. Only three people knew he was a contender: Ludmila, Mikes and Kratky. Mikes, the other candidate, spoke in favor of Blaha. After his initial hesitation, Davidek decided on Blaha and immediately began to share with him essential information. Blahas scientific and scholarly credentials were impeccable, his priestly vocation genuine, his academic readiness for ordination nearly complete, and he had a permit to travel abroad. There was no guarantee that any bishop would consider a request for episcopal consecration, but it was worth a try.
Jan Blaha was scheduled to leave the country in July of 1967. Davidek ordained him a sub-deacon in February. During the intervening months, he continued his studies and prepared the paper that would be read at the professional seminar he planned to attend. He asked the authorities for an extension of his time abroad so he could take a holiday and his request was granted. Once he was in East Germany, he made contact with Josef Stimpfle, the bishop in Augsburg, who listened to Blahas story, then read the testimony that had been written by Davidek in Latin and smuggled out of the country. After giving careful consideration to the request for ordination, he decided he would do it. On July 12, 1967, Jan Blaha was ordained a priest by Bishop Josef Stimpfle in Augsburg. He returned to Czechoslovakia, and on October 28, 1967, four months after he had been ordained, Jan Blaha was consecrated bishop by Bishop Peter Dubovsky, S.J. The next day, October 29, Bishop Jan Blaha consecrated Felix Maria Davidek a bishop and delegated his episcopal faculties to him.
After Davidek died, Blaha assumed leadership of Koinotes. As with all members, even those in leadership positions, his knowledge was limited. It would take everyone sharing whatever they knew, and especially Ludmila, who knew more than anyone else, to understand the full extent of Koinotes and its contributions to the church.
When I heard Father Davidek speak, something in me was awakened, something that was already there. From the moment I began cooperating with him, he insisted that pastoral visits were essential to the program. Ludmila explains what these entailed. He would tell me to find ill and lonesome people, those that are isolated from church and society, because they are part of Christs body. He would say, it seems as if their lives are simply set aside as no longer relevant. They are a vital presence in the church. They should be invited to participate in things. We must reach out to them. So right from the start I began looking for such people. I would ask those who were bedridden to offer their illness for the church, because the church really needed it at that time. Then we began to ask a specific thing from them. We would say, please offer your illness for priests who are not able to be ordained or for the security of this project. Such visits became a regular part of the whole program. At the seminars Davidek would always stress that we depend on the ill and the suffering and must become more aware of them. He reminded us that if they had not been praying and offering their suffering for us, we would not be here. And so these two groups, Koinotes and those who were suffering and alone, melded together spiritually. I believe sick people gave us a lot. In the beginning Ludmila was the only one who made these pastoral visits to the sick and the infirm. Bit by bit other people started to identify with the idea. Once ordained, a Koinotes priest was encouraged to look for ill people to support him in his priesthood by offering their suffering and their prayers for him. A number of priests did.
There were many candidates awaiting ordination. After his consecration, Davidek wanted no further delay. Ludmila recalled, The very next day I brought him a candidate to ordain. That first ordination took place on a cold and foggy autumn evening. At 9 p.m. I walked with the candidate through the gardens and surreptitiously led him to the back door and into Davideks house before I went on patrol. I did not witness this first ordination because I had to be on guard to guarantee everyones safety. Two or three ordinations took place in Davideks house before we moved to my parents house. Then it was my brother Josefs place, and then there were other locations. This strategy enabled them to evade the secret police.
Although the site was unpredictable, the event itself followed a carefully crafted routine. The candidate, who wore ordinary clothes, had to promise to follow strict security instructions should he be discovered. He was taken into the house after dark. The ritual was the same one used for any other ordination. At 10 p.m. one evening, Ludmila went to Felixs place ready to receive the sacrament reserved through the centuries for men. Prior to her priestly ordination, Ludmila was ordained a deacon. The liturgy for ordination to the priesthood was from The Rite of Ordination. According to the Roman Pontifical, literally, word for word. Felix followed the same rite used from time immemorial to ordain men as priests.
As a member of Koinotes, the hidden church, local manifestation of the universal church, Ludmila Javorova was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the late night hours of December 28, 1970, by Bishop Felix Maria Davidek in the presence of his brother, Leo, who witnessed the event. Following the rite of ordination, Ludmila celebrated her First Mass -- simply, quietly, together with Felix and Leo Davidek, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and all the angels and saints of God.
National Catholic Reporter, May 11, 2001