Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 2, Chapter XXI

A Pilgrimage to Lourdes


14 May 1978


Although, as with the story of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, the event which is described here does not involve Mgr. Lefebvre, it provides another useful illustration of the hostility towards traditional Catholicism prevailing in France, the country in which the Society of St. Pius X has the strongest presence. It was written by Angela Cookson, and appeared in the 31 July 1978 issue of The Remnant, with the following title:

The True Face of the Conciliar Church

During the weekend of Pentecost 1978 Fr. Louis Coache led a group of French pilgrims to Lourdes. As Remnant readers will be aware, Fr. Coache was deprived of his parish for the crime of organizing a procession in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. He told his bishop that he would be appealing to Rome, and received a letter from the Vatican station that the appeal had been examined carefully and rejected – before he had even posted it!1 Fr. Bordes, the priest in charge of the shrine, had announced before the pilgrimage took place that the pilgrims would be denied access to the churches of Lourdes and the grotto-by force if necessary. Under no circumstances would any priest be allowed to celebrate the only form of Mass at which St. Bernadette herself assisted, the Mass at which countless millions of pilgrims had assisted at Lourdes until the French bishops had taken it upon themselves to prohibit its celebration anywhere in France. In order to appreciate the enormity of this prohibition, to understand that it is a case not of madness but diabolic logic, it is necessary to take some moments to pause and reflect, to appreciate the fact that it really is true that in the year of Our Lord 1978, French Catholic pilgrims were threatened with force if, while in Lourdes, they attempted to celebrate the order of Mass at which St. Bernadette had assisted.

Fr. Coache's pilgrimage was in no sense a demonstration. Many French Catholics who have been making pilgrimages to Lourdes for decades feel unable to take part in the official pilgrimages any longer-the atmosphere and the liturgy being such as to repel any Catholic who loves the faith. All the literature given to those taking part in the pilgrimage stressed that its only aims were to be prayer and penance; that no one was to engage in arguments or polemic no matter how seriously provoked. Fr. Coache summed up the attitude he expected from the pilgrims in one sentence: "En un mot, prière fervente, esprit de sacrifice, charité – In a word, fervent prayer, a spirit of sacrifice, charity."

Pilgrims came from all over France and from several other countries, including England. A special train brought the main party from Paris. The spiritual exercises began on the vigil of Pentecost, with devotions lasting three and a half hours, beginning with the Rosary, at the statue of Our Lady Crowned, which faces the Basilica. The pilgrims had been instructed to converge upon the statue individually in case they were refused entry to the Domain – that part of Lourdes be- longing to the Church, which is technically private property. They were urged to conduct themselves in a peaceful and contemplative manner, and to set an example to the other pilgrims. They carried out this advice to the letter, not just on this occasion, but throughout the entire pilgrimage.

Peace certainly was not the objective of Fr. Bordes, the Rector. Hardly had the pilgrims finished their Rosary when all hell was let loose over the loudspeakers. A message from the local bishop was broadcast claiming that Fr. Coache was some clerical counterpart of the Incredible Hulk,2 liable to tear basilica and grotto apart with his bare hands. Pilgrims were warned not to have any contact with the traditionalists, even out of curiosity. The fact that Fr. Coache could only walk with the aid of a stick, as he was still recovering from an illness which affected him with perpetual giddiness, was not calculated to add credibility to the bishop's warning, and, as time passed, more and more pilgrims from other groups joined the Abbé Coache when they found to their delight, that it was possible to take part in a truly Catholic pilgrimage. The warning against Fr. Coache blared forth in a number of languages – hardly in the spirit of Pentecost.

The way to the grotto was barricaded and guarded by a line of strong-arm men in civilian clothes and so the pilgrims passed by to celebrate Mass in an adjacent field. The wind was so strong that four men were needed to hold down the corner of the altar cloth on the temporary altar which had been set up. No sooner had Mass of the Vigil of Pentecost begun when the Rector turned up his amplifiers to full volume and broadcast a veritable cacophony, including bells calculated to drown out any other sound for miles around. But the Mass continued with dignity. While Holy Communion was distributes to the congregation kneeling patiently in the field, two priests shielded the ciboria from the wind with borrowed black umbrellas. The communicants sang the Lauda and Jerusalem, it is certain that their Hosannas were heard in heaven, even if drowned on earth by the cacophony of electronic sound. Here indeed was the most dramatic possible representation of the conflict between the Eternal and the Conciliar Churches, the former on its knees adoring God with the traditional Mass, the latter trying to obliterate the least remaining vestige of the Faith which had sustained St. Bernadette.

After Mass there was Benediction and a Blessed Sacrament procession-both conducted in the face of the overpowering din of the Rector's loudspeakers. Visitors who did not understand what was happening would have been surprised to see that with three churches in easy reach, a priest was sitting under a tree to hear confessions. By an interesting coincidence, this was the very tree where St. Bernadette had seen the last apparition of Our Lady when the way to the grotto had been barred to her 120 years before, just as it was barred to Fr. Coache and his pilgrims. History has its ironies. However, the day was not to pass without a Mass which St. Bernadette would have recognized being celebrated in the grotto. When night had fallen, after the torchlight procession, the pilgrims entered the grotto one by one. The strong-arm men who manned the barricades had no means of differentiating members of the Eternal and the Conciliar Churches. At about 10 o'clock glimpses of white vestments could be seen within a huddle of people. A priest was vesting for Mass and acolytes were donning their cottas and cassocks. The traditionalists converged upon the group. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, an altar had been set up, protected by a ring of kneeling pilgrims, and the traditional Mass was being celebrated. A priest of the Conciliar Church launched forth upon a diatribe in rapid French, then fell silent. He may have felt the temptation to order his "heavies" to demolish the altar and remove the priest by force-but with the press present he clearly deemed this imprudent. He fell silent and, protected by an umbrella, in the flickering light of the candles, the indomitable Fr. Coache celebrated the immemorial Catholic Mass before the grotto where the Mother of God had appeared to a little shepherd girl who had known no Mass but this, Up to a thousand pilgrims knelt on the wet ground, some knelt in puddles to receive Holy Communion.

On Pentecost Sunday the situation had changed. The Rector made a formal demand that the police should take action against Fr. Coache for "failing to respect the private domain of the grotto." The police refused, and stated that far from the traditionalists causing trouble or endangering the peace, the only person doing this was the Rector! The barricades were removed, the strong-arm men disappeared, an attempt by the Rector to use the amplifiers as a weapon was swiftly curtailed, apparently on the insistence of the police.

The Mass of Pentecost was celebrated in a field opposite the grotto, accompanied by birdsong against the background of snowy mountains, wooded slopes, the cloudy sky, and swiftly flowing River Gave. The congregation was at least double that of the previous day, so many pilgrims from other groups had joined. There was a poignant moment when a group of mostly middle-aged Dutch pilgrims passed by. They slowed down – they looked at the Mass not with curiosity but longing. Then a priest wearing a collar and tie came running back, clapped his hands, shouted at them, and shooed them safety away. The last man in the line walked backwards, unable to take his eyes from the Mass he had been brought up to know and love-but he, too, was shepherded away, saved from contagion.

On the following day the pilgrims made the Stations of the Cross. After Mass they made the ascent of the steep winding hill where these moving, life-sized statues are situated. Many of the traditionalists knelt on the steep slopes at each station. Young mothers carried their babies, an old blind priest was supported by two faithful friends. The sun shone through the green leaves as the pilgrims united themselves with the Passion of Blessed Lord.

“Pray, my children, and do penance."

This had been Our Lady's message. This was the message the pilgrims obeyed. But even here it was not possible to escape from the Conciliar Church. The traditionalists were followed by a small German group led by a priest in lay attire with a dazzling tie and a stole made of sacking in the shape of Tyrolean braces.

When the train pulled out of Lourdes later in the day, and the pilgrims passed the field that had been their church, they sang the Salve Regina. Life for traditionalists today is indeed a lacrymarum valle, and yet they returned from their pilgrim – age with a feeling of intense joy and consolation. It was the Rector who felt misery and bitterness, still insisting that the police should prosecute his fellow Catholics for the crime of coming to pray and do penance in answer to the request the Lady of the Grotto had given to little Bernadette. Once before the way to the grotto had been barricaded. Who knows, the time may come once more when those who wish to worship God in the churches of Lourdes in the manner of St. Bernadette will be freely permitted to do so. The greater the extent to which traditionalists obey the call of the Blessed Virgin to pray and do penance, the sooner that day may come!


1. Vol. I, pp. 108-109.

2. An American cartoon character with superhuman strength.


Chapter 20

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