Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter XLV

Letter of Mgr. Lefebvre to Cardinal Seper

15 December 1980

Your Eminence,

In your letter of 20 October you asked me to pray and reflect before replying, and this is what I have done in the hope that these lines will help to make the situation clearer.

I firmly hope that relations will soon be brought back to normal, relying upon the prayer for unity expressed by Our Lord and the benevolent attitude of the Holy Father towards us, to which you refer once again.

To tell the truth, I have replied on numerous occasions to all the observations that you make in your letter. It is enough to refer above all to my replies to the questionnaire of 28 January 19781 and to the oral questions of 11/12 January 1979, as well as to my numerous letters addressed to the Holy Father in the course of the two years of his pontificate.

The reply to the reprimands in the first part of your letter is to be found in the situation of the Church, especially in France, since Vatican II, a situation such that it justifies the use of the extraordinary remedies foreseen by Canon Law, and even Natural Law, under such circumstances.

On the matter of the Confirmations, in accordance with your wishes I refrained from conferring this sacrament for six months; but seeing no solution to hand, I deemed it necessary to respond to the anguish of the faithful, in conformity to the replies that I gave on 26 February 1978 to the questions of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 28 January 1978 and my answers to Nos. 4, 5 and 7 of the questionnaire of 11/12 January 1979. On the matter of the Ordinations, I twice delayed carrying them out upon your request, to facilitate a solution. Seeing that there was no result, I undertook these ceremonies in conformity to the explanations that I gave in answers 9, 10, and 11 to the questionnaire of 11/12 January 1979 as well in my letter to the Holy Father of 24 December 1978.

As to the conditions expressed in the second part of your letter, they should not cause any serious problems: indeed the first, which demands submission to the Magisterium of the Church, the pope and the bishops, is dearer to me than anyone; witness the lectures on the Magisterium that I have given in all my seminaries, and that I give myself at the seminary of Ecône.

Besides, is it not for the sake of this fidelity to the Magisterium that I am persecuted, and, what is more, for the very argument put forward by the Holy Father, i.e., "that the Council must be understood in the light of the whole of holy Tradition, and on the basis of the unvarying Magisterium of Holy Mother Church." The criterion by which any magisterium is judged is precisely the degree to which it conforms to Tradition and the constant Magisterium of the Church. Whence the grave reservations that we must have about certain of the documents of Vatican II, such as Dignitatis Humanæ and Gaudium et Spes, reservations which people better qualified than myself have expressed to the same degree.

So I quite agree to your first condition.

As to the second condition, I have never disputed the validity of the liturgical reform in principle, since I signed the document on the Liturgy; but, like many of my brethren in the episcopate, we were a long way from thinking that this document could be used in the ways that it has been used. Besides, there has been no lack of protests. At the Synod of 1969, on the occasion of the presentation of the Missa Normativa in the Sistine Chapel, a vote was taken and the majority voted against it.2 Cardinal Ottaviani and Cardinal Bacci informed the Holy Father by letter of their grave disquiet.3 What is more, I can bear personal witness to Pope Paul VI’s comments on the occasion of a public audience, when he expressed his disappointment at the disappearance of the exorcisms in the new rite of Baptism and his regret at the changes in the Offertory in the Novus Ordo.

If it is added that these ways of applying the liturgical reforms have opened the door to all sorts of innovations, it seems not only legitimate but also praiseworthy to abide by the traditional rites which defend the sacred nature of our holy mysteries and are a rampart against Modernist and Protestant influences.

During my visits you have often told me of a document which ought to put an end to the ostracism of which the pre-1969 liturgy is a victim. We await it in hope. It would be a great source of consolation within the Church and would be the occasion of a great renewal of fervor and of faith.

This document would provide an opportunity to normalize relations between the Society and the Holy See and would make a supplementary apostolate unnecessary.

Relations could be improved by the designation of a delegate agreed upon by all parties, appointed for a limited time and for a precisely determined end.

So this situation, which must be considered appalling, would be resolved: that of the Vatican, supreme administrative body of the Church, which is all Tradition, persecuting bishops, priests and the faithful for the crime of remaining true to Tradition.

To facilitate such a solution, I renew the proposals that I sent to the Holy Father on 16 October 1980 via Cardinal Thiandoum, and attached a copy for your reference.

In the hope that this answer, with God's help and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, will hasten a happy decision by the Holy Father, let me assure you, Your Eminence, of my most respectful and fraternal devotion in Christo et Maria.

+ Marcel Lefebvre

* * * *

(The appendix to the letter of 16 October was enclosed.)

1. See Apologia II, Chapter XIV to XVIII.

2. There have been conflicting interpretations of the voting at this Synod. Seventy-one bishops voted placet (“yes”); forty-three voted non placet (“no”); sixty-two voted placet juxta modum (“yes, with reservations”); and four abstained. Traditionalists tend to add the placet juxta modum to the non placet votes and speak of the rejection of the Missa Normativa (as the Novus Ordo was then known). A number of the reservations expressed by the bishops who voted placet justa modum were in favor of an even more radical adaptation of the Mass, which means that adding these votes to the non placet votes and speaking of a straightforward rejectioncannot be justified. What is beyond dispute is that only a minority of the bishops at the synod found the Missa Normativa acceptable as it stood. Detailed documentation on this matter is available in Pope Paul’s New Mass, pp. 48-51.

3. The full text of this letter is available in Pope Paul’s New Mass, pp.493-4.

Chapter 44

Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109