Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter LIX

Mgr. Lefebvre, An Australian Viewpoint

In Chapter V, comments by Dr. Georg May and Father Urs von Balthasar set the case of Archbishop Lefebvre within its correct historical perspective, that of a Church in a state of decomposition with little effective action by the Vatican to eradicate abuses, or discipline bishops and theologians who are undermining the teaching and authority of the Magisterium. In Chapter LVIII there was provided a detailed expose of the inroads of Modernism in the United States, written by an American parish priest. This chapter will provide a discussion of the case of Archbishop Lefebvre by B.A. Santamaria, who is undoubtedly the outstanding Australian lay apostle of this century, and certainly one of the greatest lay apostles in the entire Catholic world. It will be seen how close his conclusions come to those of the European writers cited in Chapter V, and those of the American priest cited in Chapter LVIII. There must certainly be considerable significance in the fact that such erudite Catholics writing in total independence, on three different continents, are able to assess the condition of the Church and the position of Archbishop Lefebvre in virtually identical terms.

Archbishop Lefebvre:
A Discussion of the Issues He Raises

A good deal of media coverage has been given during the past week to the Australian visit of Archbishop Lefebvre, whose public disagreement, on certain critical issues, with the Vatican and the Papacy has now lasted for more than ten years. For the Catholic, his visit draws attention to issues of deepest religious belief. But for many others without any religious belief, who nevertheless are deeply concerned with the obvious disintegration of Western civilization, his stand may prompt a different set of questions: whether Catholicism retains sufficiently clear principles and sufficient cohesion to assist in the recovery of a culture in evident decline.

To those whose concern is cultural rather than religious, arguments about the language of the Mass the central act of Catholic worship can only seem a little remote from daily reality. Nevertheless the answer to the purely historical function of Catholicism in defending a number of social values, depends ultimately on the answer to the religious question.

Archbishop Lefebvre has made it clear that whether the Mass is said in Latin or in English, is not really the heart of the matter. He draws attention to a more complex issue: the way in which changes in the language and the symbolism of ritual have been brought about so as ultimately to "change consciousness" as to the inner core of the basic beliefs which Catholics have held since time immemorial.

In relation to the Mass, the Catholic belief, founded on the Bible, on the earliest traditions of Christendom, and finally on definitions by General Councils, has been that its central action is a repetition of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary; that at the moment of consecration the bread is transformed into the Body of Christ; and that only the ordained priest has the power to effect so radical a change. On this pattern of beliefs hangs the essential nature of the Mass, of the Eucharist, and of the priesthood.

What Archbishop Lefebvre is really saying is that when thousands of Catholic priests abandon the use of the word "sacrifice" to describe the central action of the Mass and substitute the word "meal," the change in language, if persisted in, will ultimately bring about a change in belief; that that was the intention of at least some of those who originally popularized the change; namely to bring the Catholic to believe that the Mass is not a repetition of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, but simply a "family" occasion in which the Christian community meets merely to experience its common unity. In the latter interpretation, it is only of secondary importance whether the bread becomes really the Body of Christ, or whether the change is merely symbolic.

The final logic of the transformation is the growing practice of offering the Host to any person who presents himself at the altar, including some who, as far as the priest knows, may have no religious belief at all. At this point the entire structure of beliefs begins to dissolve the Eucharist, the Mass, the ordained priesthood, and through that erosion, the concept of the Church itself. However, what the theological revolutionaries seek is not simply the "protestantizing" of Catholicism via ecumenism, as the Archbishop sometimes seems to imply:
for the changes in ritual have come about at the same time as strong attacks on ancient Christian doctrines like the Divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the Resurrection, and on the entire basis of Christian sexual morality, all of which are of as much concern to the serious Protestant as to the Catholic.

As the philosopher Jacques Maritain pointed out in The Peasant of the Garonne, the last work he published before his death, the neo Modernist is not really seeking to build bridges to Protestantism. He is seeking "to empty (the Christian faith) of all (supernatural) content." Yet, as the supernatural is emptied out of religion, religion itself becomes merely a form of secular "do goodism," or, more recently, of quasi Marxist politics.

If Archbishop Lefebvre was correctly reported to have said that the present Pope John Paul II was not "strong," I believe that he is quite mistaken. The man who has undertaken the enormous task of reforming the Jesuit Order is precisely the opposite. One should not equate a different strategic plan, or a different set of priorities, or the use of what Liddell Hart1 called "the strategy of indirect approach," with weakness. The cost of the disintegration of Christianity, to which Archbishop Lefebvre points, is that by far the larger part of the Dutch Catholic Church is either in schism or has abandoned essential beliefs; the number of regularly and irregularly practising Catholics in France fell from 65% in 1966 to 31% in 1977; in Australia, those who had been to Mass in the last seven days fell from 54% in 1961 to 36% in 1980; the Italian referenda which have twice legalized abortion and could not have been carried without the defection from Catholicism of large numbers of previously Catholic women. The inconvenient Archbishop Lefebvre will go away: but these problems will not, until they are correctly identified, not as "renewal" but as disintegration. It is only then that the task of restoration can begin. It will not begin until firm administrative measures are taken against those who, knowingly and deliberately, flout the doctrines and practices by which they are supposed to abide. In the meantime, the Archbishop may console himself for the difficulties occasioned by his estrangement from the Papacy, to whose religious authority he remains ultimately committed, with the knowledge that, after all, he does have the right enemies.

1. A British military historian.

Chapter 58

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