As Pope Francis has just issued his Motu proprio Traditionis Custodes against the traditional Mass, it is worth remembering where and when the fight to defend the Mass from the abuses of power from Rome began.
Summer 1976, the famous "hot summer
Pope Paul VI gave an address to the consistory of cardinals on May 24, 1976, which was largely devoted to Archbishop Lefebvre, reproaching him for refusing today's authority in the name of yesterday's, for leading to disobedience "under the pretext of keeping one's faith intact," and for refusing the new Mass out of "sentimental attachment" to the old. And Paul VI asserts that the "new Ordo was promulgated to be substituted for the old." "It was not otherwise," he says, "that our holy predecessor Pius V had made the reformed missal obligatory under his authority, following the Council of Trent."
Archbishop Lefebvre is indignant at this misinterpretation of his fight for the faith, and even more indignant at the captious comparison that Paul VI dares to make of his own reform with that of St. Pius V.
Already, as we can see, the crux of the conflict between Rome and Ecône is the explicit acceptance of the whole of the Second Vatican Council, of all its decisions and of the reforms that came out of it, beginning with the acceptance of the new Mass. It would have sufficed if Archbishop Lefebvre had accepted to concelebrate only once in the new rite, and all difficulties would have been resolved. For the sake of the whole Church, Archbishop Lefebvre did not give in.
As the priestly ordinations approached, fever gripped Rome: would the archbishop dare to ordain priests without dimissorial letters?
June 29, 1976. In Ecône, in the meadow adjacent to the seminary, a large canvas chapel was built. The sun was shining, several thousand Catholics from all over Europe and the world were in the prepared places; it was difficult to discipline the many photographers and journalists on the lookout. At 9 a.m., the procession started to move down the meadow. The archbishop, mitred and gloved, came forward with his crozier in hand, his face a little contracted, with an air of determination. He was about to ordain 13 priests and 14 subdeacons. In his sermon, he explained his resistance.
After the ordination, Archbishop Lefebvre was given a "suspens a divinis". A sanction which, he observed with humour, prevented him from saying the new Mass! On August 29, 1976, he went to Lille to celebrate Mass before thousands of faithful. There too he delivered a resounding sermon that made the headlines.
Sermon of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul - June 29,1976
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
My dear friends, dear confreres, dear brethren…who have come from every country, from all horizons: It is a joy for us to welcome you and to feel you so close to us at this moment so important for our Fraternity and also for the Church. I think that, if the pilgrims have permitted themselves to make this sacrifice, to journey day and night, to come from distant regions to participate in this ceremony, it is because they had the conviction that they were coming to participate in a ceremony of the Church, to participate in a ceremony which would fill their hearts with joy, because they will now have the certitude in returning to their homes that the Catholic Church continues.
Ah, I know well that the difficulties are numerous in this undertaking which we have been told is foolhardy. They say that we are in a deadlock. Why? Because from Rome have come to us, especially in the last three months, since 19 March in particular, the Feast of Saint Joseph, demands, supplications, orders, and threats to inform us that we must cease our activity, to inform us that we must not perform these ordinations to the priesthood. They have been pressing these last few days. In the last twelve days in particular, we have not ceased to receive messages and envoys from Rome enjoining us to refrain from performing these ordinations.
But if in all objectivity we seek the true motive animating those who ask us not to perform these ordinations, if we look for the hidden motive, it is because we are ordaining these priests that they may say the Mass of all time. It is because they know that these priests will be faithful to the Mass of the Church, to the Mass of Tradition, to the Mass of all time, that they urge us not to ordain them.
In proof of this, consider that six times in the last three weeks-six times-we have been asked to re-establish normal relations with Rome and to give as proof the acceptance of the new rite; and I have been asked to celebrate it myself. They have gone so far as to send me someone who offered to concelebrate with me in the new rite so as to manifest that I accepted voluntarily this new liturgy, saying that in this way all would be straightened out between us and Rome. They put a new Missal into my hands, saying "Here is the Mass that you must celebrate and that you shall celebrate hence- forth in all your houses.” They told me as well that if on this date, today, this 29th of June, before your entire assembly, we celebrated a Mass according to the new rite, all would be straightened out henceforth between ourselves and Rome. Thus it is clear, it is evidence that it is on the problem of the Mass that the whole drama between Ecône and Rome depends.
Are we wrong in obstinately wanting to keep the rite of all time? We have, of course, prayed, we have consulted, we have reflected, we have meditated to discover if it is not indeed we who are in error, or if we do not really have a sufficient reason not to submit ourselves to the new rite. And in fact, the very insistence of those who were sent from Rome to ask us to change rite makes us wonder .
And we have the precise conviction that this new rite of Mass expresses a new faith, a faith which is not ours, a faith which is not the Catholic Faith. This New Mass is a symbol, is an expression, is an image of a new faith, of a Modernist faith. For if the most holy Church has wished to guard throughout the centuries this precious treasure which She has given us of the rite of Holy Mass which was canonised by Saint Pius V, it has not been without purpose. It is because this Mass contains our whole faith, the whole Catholic Faith: faith in the Most Holy Trinity, faith in the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, faith in the Redemption of Our Lord Jesus Christ, faith in the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ which flowed for the redemption of our sins, faith in supernatural grace, which comes to us from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which comes to us from the Cross, which comes to us through all the Sacraments.
This is what we believe. This is what we believe in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass of all time. It is a lesson of faith and at the same time a source of our faith, indispensable for us in this age when our faith is attacked from all sides. We have need of this true Mass, of this Mass of all time. of this Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ really to fill our souls with the Holy Ghost and with the strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now it is evident that the new rite, if I may say so, supposes another conception of the Catholic religion-another religion. It is no longer the priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is the assembly. Now this is an entire program-an entire program. Henceforth it is the assembly also that replaces authority in the Church. It is the assembly of bishops that replaces the power of (individual) bishops. It is the priests' council that replaces the power of the bishop in the diocese. It is numbers that command from now on in the Holy Church. And this is expressed in the Mass precisely because the assembly replaces the priest, to such a point that now many priests no longer want to celebrate Holy Mass when there is no assembly. Slowly but surely the Protestant notion of the Mass is being introduced into the Holy Church.
And this is consistent with the mentality of modern man- absolutely consistent. For it is the democratic ideal which is the fundamental idea of modern man, that is to say, that the power lies with the assembly, that authority is in the people, in the masses, and not in God. And this is most grave. Because we believe that God is all-powerful; we believe that God has all authority; we believe that all authority comes from God. "Omnis potestas a Deo." All authority comes from God. We do not believe that authority comes from below. Now that is the mentality of modern man.
And the New Mass is not less than the expression of this idea that authority is at the base, and no longer in God. This Mass is no longer a hierarchical Mass; it is a democratic Mass. And this is most grave. It is the expression of a whole new ideology. The ideology of modern man has been brought into our most sacred rites.
And this is what is at present corrupting the entire Church. For by this idea of power bestowed on the lower rank, in the Holy Mass, they have destroyed the priesthood! They are destroying the priesthood, for what is the priest, if the priest no longer has a personal power, that power which is given to him by his ordination, as these future priests are going to receive it in a moment? They are going to receive a character, a character which will put them above the people of God! Nevermore shall they be able to say after the ceremony about to be performed, they shall never be able to say, "We are men like other men." This would not be true.
They will no longer be men like other men! They will be men of God. They will be men, I should say, who almost participate in the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ by His sacerdotal character. For Our Lord Jesus Christ is Priest for eternity, Priest according to the Order of Melchisedech, because He is Jesus Christ; because the divinity of the Word of God was infused into the humanity which He assumed. And it is at the moment that He assumed this humanity in the womb of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus became Priest.
The grace in which these young priests are going to participate is not the sanctifying grace in which Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us to participate by the grace of baptism; it is the grace of union-that grace of union unique to Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in this grace that they are going to participate, for it is by His grace of union with the divinity of God, with the divinity of the Word, that Our Lord Jesus Christ became Priest; that Our Lord Jesus Christ is King; that Our Lord Jesus Christ is Judge; that Our Lord Jesus Christ ought to be adored by all men: by His grace of union, sublime grace! grace which no being here below could ever receive-this grace of the divinity itself descending into a humanity which is Our Lord Jesus Christ, anointing Him, after a fashion, like the oil that descends on the head and consecrates him who receives this oil. The humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ was penetrated by the divinity of the Word of God, and thus He was made Priest. He was made Mediator between God and men.
It is in this very grace, which will place them above the people of God, that these priests are going to participate. They too will be the intermediaries between God and God's people. They will not merely be the representatives of the people of God; they will not be the functionaries of the people of God; they will not merely be 'presidents of the assembly.' They are priests for eternity, marked by this character for eternity, and no one has the right not to respect them; even if they themselves did not respect this character-they have it always in themselves, they will always have it in themselves.
This is what we believe, this is our faith, and this is what constitutes our Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and the faithful participate in this offering, with all their heart, with all their soul, but it is not they who offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As proof, consider that the priest, when he is alone, offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the same manner and with the same value as if there were a thousand people around him. His sacrifice has an infinite value: the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ offered by the priest has an infinite value.
This is what we believe. This is why we think that we cannot accept the new rite, which is the work of another ideology, or a new ideology. They thought that they would attract the world by accepting the ideas of the world. They thought they would attract to the Church those who do not believe by accepting the ideas of these persons who do not believe, by accepting the ideas of modern man-this modern man who is a Liberal, who is a Modernist; who is a man who accepts the plurality of religions, who no longer accepts the social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This I have heard twice from the envoys of the Holy See, who told me that the social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ was no longer possible in our time; that we must accept definitely the pluralism of religions. That is what they told me. That the Encyclical Quas Primas, which is so beautiful, on the social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which was written by Pope Pius XI, would never be written today by the Pope. This is what they said to me-the official envoys of the Holy See.
Well, we are not of this religion. We do not accept this new religion. We are of the religion of all time; we are of the Catholic religion. We are not of this 'universal religion' as they call it today-this is not the Catholic religion any more. We are not of this Liberal, Modernist religion which has its own worship, its own priests, its own faith, its own catechisms, its own Bible, the 'ecumenical Bible'-these things we do not accept. We do not accept the 'ecumenical Bible.' There is no 'ecumenical Bible.' There is only the Bible of God, the Bible of the Holy Ghost, written under the influence of the Holy Ghost. It is the Word of God. We do not have the right to mix it with the words of men. There is no 'ecumenical Bible' which could possibly exist. There is only one Word- the Word of the Holy Ghost. We do not accept the catechisms which no longer uphold our Creed. And so on and so forth.
We cannot accept these things. They are contrary to our Faith. We regret infinitely, it is an immense, immense pain for us, to think that we are in difficulty with Rome because of our faith! How is this possible? It is something that exceeds the imagination, that we should never have been able to imagine, that we should never have been able to believe, especially in our childhood-then when all was uniform, when the whole Church believed in Her general unity, and held the same Faith, the same Sacraments, the same Sacrifice of the Mass, the same catechism. And behold, suddenly all is in division, in chaos.
I said as much to those who came from Rome. I said so: Christians are torn apart in their families, in their homes, among their children; they are torn apart in their hearts by this division in the Church, by this new religion now being taught and practised. Priests are dying prematurely, torn apart in their hearts and in their souls at the thought that they no longer know what to do: either to submit to obedience and lose, in a way, the faith of their childhood and of their youth, and renounce the promises which they made at the time of their ordination in taking the anti-Modernist oath; or to have the impression of separating themselves from him who is our father, the Pope, from him who is the representative of Saint Peter. What agony for these priests! Many priests have died prematurely of grief. Priests are now hounded from their churches, persecuted, because they say the Mass of all time.
We are in a truly dramatic situation. We have to choose between an appearance, I should say, of disobedience-for the Holy Father cannot ask us to abandon our faith. It is impossible, impossible-the abandonment of our faith. We choose not to abandon our faith, for in that we cannot go wrong. In that which the Catholic Church has taught for two thousand years, the Church cannot be in error. It is absolutely impossible, and that is why we are attached to this tradition which is expressed in such an admirable and definitive manner, as Pope Saint Pius V said so well, in a definitive manner in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Tomorrow perhaps, in the newspapers, will appear our condemnation. It is quite possible, because of these ordinations today. I myself shall probably be struck by suspension. These young priests will be struck by an irregularity which in theory should prevent them from saying Holy Mass. It is possible. Well, I appeal to Saint Pius V-Saint Pius V, who in his Bull said that, in perpetuity, no priest could incur a censure, whatever it might be, in perpetuity, for saying this Mass. And consequently, this censure, this excommunication, if there was one, these censures, if there are any, are absolutely invalid, contrary to that which Saint Pius V established in perpetuity in his Bull : that never in any age could one inflict a censure on a priest who says this Holy Mass.
Why? Because this Mass is canonised. He canonised it definitively. Now a Pope cannot remove a canonisation. The Pope can make a new rite, but he cannot remove a canonisation. He cannot forbid a Mass that is canonised. Thus, if he has canonised a Saint, another Pope cannot come and say that this Saint is no longer canonised. That is not possible. Now this Holy Mass was canonised by Pope Saint Pius V. And that is why we can say it in all tranquillity, in all security, and even be certain that, in saying this Mass, we are professing our faith, we are upholding our faith, we are upholding the faith of the Catholic people. This is, indeed, the best manner of upholding it.
And that is why we are going to proceed in a few moments with these ordinations. Certainly we should desire to have a blessing as was given in the past by the Holy See-a benediction came from Rome for the newly-ordained. But we believe that God is here present, that He sees all things, and that He also blesses this ceremony which we are performing; and that one day He will certainly draw from it the fruits which He desires, and will aid us in any case, to maintain our Faith and to serve the Church.
We ask this especially of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saints Peter and Paul today. Let us ask the Most Blessed Virgin, who is the Mother of the Priesthood, to give these young men the true grace of the priesthood; to give them the Holy Ghost in Whose giving she was intermediary the day of Pentecost.
Let us ask Saint Peter and Saint Paul to maintain in us this faith in Peter. Ah, yes, we believe in Peter, we believe in the Successor of Peter! But as Pope Pius IX says well in his dogmatic constitution, the Pope has received the Holy Ghost, not to make new truths, but to maintain us in the Faith of all time. This is the definition of the Pope made at the time of the First Vatican Council by Pope Pius IX. And that is why we are persuaded that, in maintaining these traditions, we are manifesting our love, our docility, our obedience to the Successor of Peter.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
† Marcel Lefebvre