Volume 3, Chapter
Historical Significance of Mgr. Lefebvre
by Dr. Greorg May
Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, penned the beautiful sentence:
“The most important and the most necessary characteristic
of a politician is courage.” The office of a bishop is related
to the activity of a politician insofar as they are both concerned
with taking care of public business and furthering the common good.
For this reason as well as others a bishop needs courage just as
much as a politician. There are few things we miss in most present-day
bishops as much as this particular quality. Nothing is done against
well-known false teachers simply because they are public opinion
and the mass media on their side. They are able to proceed energetically
only when someone stands consistently for the preservation of the
spiritual treasures of the Church; for such a one stands alone today;
his disciplining provokes no contradiction from the leaders of public
opinion. Then suddenly, one hears pithy words, then ecclesiastical
penal law is appealed to, which they have otherwise forgotten about;
then sanctions are imposed which they want to forget about in other
connections. To cite a scandalous example of this conduct: the Bishop
of Augsburg suspended a thirty-two-year-old priest because the latter
could not in good conscience give Communion in the hand.
We of the Una
Voce movement work for the recovery of the Church independently
of Archbishop Lefebvre. But in view of the bedevilment of this man,
on grounds of justice, I cannot withhold some comment. They say
that Lefebvre challenges the Second Vatican Council. I know bishops
who challenge a great many more councils than just this one. They
say Lefebvre divides the Church. I know bishops who protect and
favor schismatics. They say that Lefebvre is disobedient. It is
strange that the very ones who accuse Lefebvre of disobedience are
the ones who haven't done their duty for fifteen years, who encourage
or tolerate insubordination, and even in numerous cases have not
concerned themselves with law and order in the Church. I do not
understand the accusation of disobedience cast at Lefebvre who protects,
upholds and defends values which the Pope and bishops have protected,
upheld and defended insufficiently or not at all. He is therefore
not disobedient. For years the bishops have invoked conscience,
and referred the faithful to conscience. But when someone moved
by conscience stands up and takes a stand against innovations, then
all of a sudden conscience is not worth considering.
significance of Archbishop Lefebvre lies in his carrying, in a way,
the care of millions of the best Catholics who can no longer be
ignored. Without his public protest, the concerns of orthodox believers
would have been poo-pooed and dismissed with a wave of the hand,
the way we were used to it from Herr Döpfner,2
for example. Before Archbishop Lefebvre arrived on the scene the
hierarchy of the Church passed over them carelessly or cynically;
since his appearance they must at least take note of them, and perhaps
even concern themselves with them.3
* * *
Dr. May's remarks
coincide very closely with the opinion of Dr. Urs von Balthasar,
a moderately conservative Swiss theologian, as expressed in a lecture
he delivered at St. Gallen in Switzerland on 13 June 1977. An English
translation of his lecture appeared in the 30 June 1979 issue of
True Background to Ecône
by Dr. Urs von Balthasar 4
We are all
aware of the disgraceful state of the French seminaries: nearly
all of them have been closed down. There are no university faculties
(for clerical students) except in the Instituts Catholiques.
The rector of the faculty in Paris complained to me recently, "Why
is my school in this state?" The reason is that the Jesuits
and Dominicans no longer supply professors. One group is Marxist,
the other is inclined towards atheism. You have only to read Etudes
or the books published by these gentlemen. All that we can hope
for is that some of them, at any rate, will soon get out of their
Orders. And these were the Orders which once upon a time furnished
men for the great faculties. Not long ago the former Revue ascétique
et mystique, later changed to the merely historical Revue
de Spiritualité, ceased publication because the Jesuits
refused to support it financially any longer.
It has been
found impossible to set up a seminary which – though in no
way on traditionalist lines – is yet conformed to Christian
and Catholic tradition in its lecture courses and general condition.
The last attempt was made at Paray-Le-Monial – all previous
attempts were failures – and it is uncertain whether it will
have any better fate. There is no lack of candidates. But unless
they are sufficiently imbued with psychology, psychiatry, sociology,
etc., they are not accepted. Great Jesuit colleges have been closed
and sold. Even the Dominican Le Saulchoir has been sold…
who was a fellow student of mine, has turned some young men away
from the idea of joining the Jesuits – at least in France.
This is important to note because there, over the heads of the bishops,
and whether they agree or not, a systematic destruction of the Faith
is in progress. I have in my hands a booklet called Foi à
l’épreuve produced by a group who call themselves
Animateurs de catéchèse région ouest.
In volume two it is stated that the former dogmatic beliefs can
no longer be accepted because there is now a completely different
approach to truth. As a basic concept Truth comes into being, "happens,"
when people come into contact with one another. Each time they do
so truth is, of course, new truth. The old dogmas, at best, represent
a theory. Les données de la révelations répètent
donc une thérie. Another booklet poses the question:
Is Jesus present in the Eucharist? The answer is: Yes, but this
ancient manner of presence can no longer be held literally as though
we were talking of a local presence. In some way Christ is present
everywhere by means of the idea of Him. These booklets carry the
imprimatur of the Bishop of Angers.
I have a sister
who is the superior general of a Congregation of Franciscans who
have their mother-house in Angers. She tells me that the sisters
there object to making their hour of adoration before the Blessed
Sacrament because the theologians have told them that they were
no longer sure about the Real Presence.
is the true background to the long, drawn-out saga of Archbishop
Lefebvre. None of those who have reported the case in Switzerland
have told us who are the true guilty parties in the case. Beyond
all doubt it is the French clergy, or indeed the French bishops
who, as long as fifteen years ago, excluded Lefebvre from the Bishops’
Conference on the ground that he was too right-wing while they were
left-wing. So since there are no seminaries in France where men
can study proper theology they will go to Ecône. Now that
Rome has joined the fight and it has become so easy to attack this
man, I find that the French bishops have very hypocritically –
I am bound to say – suddenly become pro-Roman. For a long
time they were so anti-Roman, as I saw for myself during the Bishops’
Synod in 1971 in Rome, where I acted as secretary. The French were
the leaders of the opposition and constantly gained the votes by
getting the better of the black cardinals and bishops. All this
sounds not very pretty and even a bit primitive. But I think it
must be admitted that such a background is really present in what
I can only call a bitter and altogether primitive Gallicanism…
We received the other day a letter from the bishops warning us about
the extreme conservatism of Mgr. Lefebvre and his followers. We
were informed that they celebrate irregular Masses which many people
attend. This is to stop and these men must not be allowed in our
churches. All very well, but why don't they tell us about the other
side of the coin, too? Why do the French bishops say nothing, too?
I am thinking of such excesses as those crazy Eucharistic celebrations
where lay people are invited to join in the words of consecration;
or, of those ecumenical services where one man says the words over
the bread, another over the wine, and then the mixed assembly receive
what I might call the end-product. This sort of thing happens too
in our own country. There are fancy liturgies with all sorts of
changes and inventions: new canons and readings from non-scriptural
works. The clergy have run amuck. I imagine that clericalism never
before bore such fruit.
celebrant has so much to say and the lay folk present don't get
much of a look in; perhaps they are allowed to sing a bit here and
there. But the celebrant goes on as though he were the boss of the
service and arranges it completely as he wishes, as though it were
a work of art to be exhibited on Sunday. There are churches in Basle
that many of my friends refuse to attend, because in them Mass is
quite unrecognizable. You can make a good guess when the consecration
takes place, but everything else is changed. I myself was asked
to say Mass in two churches, ordinary ones. But I was told, "We
don't have the Epistle any more, we have organ music instead."
Surely the Council had no idea of all this, even if it did introduce
four Eucharistic canons and a Eucharistic service people could understand.
These fancy services produce a feeling of frustration in the minds
of people. No wonder that, according to French statistics, attendance
at Mass sank from 25% to 12% in two or three years.
Much more could
be said of the same matter, as, for instance, when a parish priest
from near Zurich invited the parents of those to be confirmed, and
told them that "Essentially confirmation is all about acceptance
of your own life," and that "the death of Jesus is heaven's
cry that man must be anxious about his own life." But what
I have said so far is only because, though we have heard all about
Lefebvre, they haven't uttered a syllable about things like this.
Why? Is it lack of courage?
Extract from a lecture given to the German Branch of Una Voce Association.
Dr. May is Professor of Canon Law at the University of Mainz.
2. i.e., Julius Cardinal Döpfner
3. This extract was taken from
a translation of Dr. May’s lecture which was published in
the 30 June 1980 issue of The Remnant.
Father von Balthasar was to have been created a cardinal by Pope
John Paul II, but died in June 1988, before the Consistory.
5. Jean Cardinal Daniélou,
us about the other side of the coin, too? Why do the French bishops
say nothing, too? I am thinking of such excesses as those crazy
Eucharistic celebrations where lay people are invited to join in
the words of consecration; or, of those ecumenical services where
one man says the words over the bread, another over the wine, and
then the mixed assembly receive what I might call the end-product.
This sort of thing happens too in our own country. There are fancy
liturgies with all sorts of changes and inventions: new canons and
readings from non-scriptural works. The clergy have run amuck. I
imagine that clericalism never before bore such fruit.
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