Volume 2, Chapter
In the following statement
dated 8 November 1979, Archbishop Lefebvre clarified his position
and that of the Society of St. Pius X on the subject of the New
Mass and the Pope. This clarification had been made necessary by
the growing number of traditional Catholics who claimed that the
New Mass was intrinsically invalid, even in its papally approved
Latin version, and that the Holy See was vacant. In the latter case,
some claimed that Pope Paul VI had been a heretic before assuming
office, and had never been truly Pope, and others alleged that he
had lost his office through heresy. These two opinions certainly
have an emotional rather than a theological basis. The New Mass
is so frequently celebrated with such banality and even profanity
that many Catholics cannot convince themselves that it is truly
a Mass. Pope Paul VI was so inactive in stemming the tide of heresy
which was engulfing the Church that many Catholics could not convince
themselves that he was truly the Pope. Some, who were not prepared
to claim that he had lost his office through heresy, concocted the
most bizarre theories purporting to prove that Pope Paul VI had
been kidnapped and replaced by an impostor, adducing photographs
of his ears and recordings of “voice patterns” to prove their case!
Quite frequently the “impostor pope” thesis formed part of an alleged
private revelation. The explanation for the “vacant see” and “kidnapped
pope” theses probably lies in the fact that for well over a century
we have had a series of fine popes whose teaching and example have
fulfilled the highest expectations of the faithful. But such popes
have by no means always been the norm in the Church, as is made
clear in Appendix I, to Volume I of the Apologia. In the
statement which follows, the Archbishop reminds us that a pope can
fall far short of the standards we would like to find in a successor
of St. Peter, but still be a true pope in the legal sense, i.e.,
in that he is the legitimately elected successor of St. Peter who
has not forfeited his office through formal heresy.
In the case of the New Mass,
it is evident that while still upholding its intrinsic validity,
the Archbishop has adopted a more negative stance towards assisting
at it than he did in earlier years. This is not surprising, because,
as the years have passed, the manner in which the New Mass is celebrated
has become consistently more unacceptable in many parishes. Matters
had reached the stage in 1980 that Pope John Paul II needed to offer
an apology to the faithful for the scandal and disturbance caused
to them by the way the New Mass was so frequently celebrated.1
In the same year he felt it necessary to order the publication of
an Instruction, Inaestimabile Donum, intended to curtail
some of the more flagrant abuses.2
This Instruction has been largely ignored.
Unfortunately, the Archbishop's
statement was not as clearly worded as it might have been on the
matter. One passage in particular gave some readers the impression
that the Archbishop had stated that a Catholic could never fulfil
his Sunday obligation by assisting at the New Mass. Among those
who had received this impression from the statement was Cardinal
Seper, who mentioned the anxiety it had caused him during an interview
he granted me at Easter 1980. I had the opportunity of a long interview
with the Archbishop a few weeks later when we discussed the matter.
He was kind enough to summarize his considered opinion for me in
writing (dated 9 May 1980). It read as follows:
Those who feel themselves
obliged in conscience to assist at the New Mass on Sunday can
fulfil their Sunday obligation. But one cannot accuse a person
of a grave fault because he prefers not to assist at Mass on Sunday
rather than assist at the New Mass.
Thus where the Archbishop
states that “these New Masses are incapable of fulfilling
our Sunday obligation,” he is referring to New Masses which involve
“sacrilegious acts which pervert the faith by diminishing it.” The
declaration which he made at my request makes it quite clear that
this was indeed his meaning.
It has also been suggested
that the Archbishop exaggerated in claiming that most celebrations
of the New Mass today “are sacrilegious acts which pervert the faith
by diminishing it.” It is quite possible that he has overstated
the extent to which the liturgy has declined to this level. Not
unnaturally, in his travels around the world he tends to meet Catholics
who have felt unable to assist at their parish churches any longer
because of such abuses. But there are many priests, perhaps more
than he imagines, who have felt it their duty to remain in their
parishes and celebrate the New Mass in the most reverent way possible
for the good of their people. In such cases far fewer of their people
would be likely to assist at the Masses of society priests, and
hence meet or write to the Archbishop. But as the years pass, these
conservative priests die, retire, or are replaced, and so it is
inevitable that the state of the liturgy will degenerate with each
succeeding year, unless drastic action is taken by the Pope to remedy
the situation; the issuing of an Instruction such as Inaestimabile
Donum, which is defied with impunity, does not constitute such
The text of the Archbishop's statement follows:
New Mass and the Pope
How often during these last
ten years have I not had occasion to respond to questions concerning
the weighty problems of the New Mass and the Pope. In answering
them I have ever been careful to breathe with the spirit of the
Church, conforming myself to her Faith as expressed in her theological
principles, and to her pastoral prudence as expressed in moral theology
and in the long experiences of her history.
I think I can say that my
own views have not changed over the years and that they are, happily,
those of the great majority of priests and faithful attached to
the indefectible Tradition of the Church.
It should be clear that the
few lines which follow are not an exhaustive study of these problems,
The purpose, rather is to clarify our conclusions to such an extent
that no one may be mistaken regarding the official position of the
Society of St, Pius X.
It must be understood immediately
that we do not hold to the absurd idea that if the New Mass is valid,
we are then free to assist at it. The Church has always forbidden
the faithful to assist at the Masses of heretics and schismatics,
even when they are valid. It is clear that no one can assist at
sacrilegious Masses or at Masses which endanger our faith.
Now, it is easy to show that
the New Mass, as it was formulated by the officially authorized
Conciliar Liturgical Commission considered together with the accompanying
explanation of Mgr. Bugnini, manifests an inexplicable rapprochement
with the theology and liturgy of the Protestants. The following
fundamental dogmas of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are not clearly
represented and are even contradicted:
- that the priest is the
essential minister of the Rite;
- that in the Mass there
is a true sacrifice, a sacrificial action;
- that the Victim or Host
is Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, present under the species of
bread and wine, with His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity;
- that this Sacrifice
is a propitiatory one;
- that the Sacrifice and
the Sacrament are effected by the words of the Consecration alone,
and not also by those which either precede or follow them.
It is sufficient to enumerate
a few of the novelties in the New Mass to be convinced of the rapprochement
with the Protestants;
- the altar replaced by
a table without an altar stone;
- Mass celebrated facing
the people, concelebrated, in a loud voice, and in the vernacular;
- the Mass divided into
two distinct parts: Liturgy of the Word, and Liturgy of the Eucharist;
- the cheapening of the
sacred vessels, the use of leavened bread, distribution of Holy
Communion in the hand, and by the laity, and even by women;
- the Blessed Sacrament
hidden in corners;
- the Epistle read by women;
- Holy Communion brought
to the sick by laity.
All these innovations are
authorized. One can fairly say without exaggeration that most of
these Masses are sacrilegious acts which pervert the Faith by diminishing
it. The de-sacralization is such that these Masses risk the loss
of their supernatural character, their mysterium fidei; they
would then be no more than acts of natural religion. These New Masses
are not only incapable of fulfilling our Sunday obligation, but
are such that we must apply to them the canonical rules which the
Church customarily applies to communicatio in sacris with
Orthodox Churches and Protestant sects.
Must one conclude further
that all these Masses are invalid? As long as the essential conditions
for validity are present (matter, form, intention, and a validly
ordained priest), I do not see how one can affirm this.
The prayers at the Offertory,
the Canon, and the Priest’s Communion which surround the words of
Consecration are necessary, not to the validity of the Sacrifice
and the Sacrament, but rather to their integrity. When the imprisoned
Cardinal Mindszenty, desiring to nourish himself with the Body and
Blood of Our Lord, and to escape the gaze of his captors, pronounced
solely the words of Consecration over a little bread and wine, he
most certainly accomplished the Sacrifice and the Sacrament.
It is clear, however, that
fewer and fewer Masses are valid these days, as the faith of priests
is destroyed and they possess no longer the intention to do what
the Church does – an intention which the Church cannot change. The
current formation of those who are called seminarians today does
not prepare them to celebrate Mass validly. The propitiatory Sacrifice
of the Mass is no longer considered the essential work of the priest.
Nothing is sadder or more disappointing than to read the sermons
or teachings of the Conciliar bishops on the subject of vocations,
or on the occasion of a priestly ordination. They no longer know
what a priest is.
Nevertheless, in order to
judge the subjective fault of those who celebrate the New Mass as
of those who attend it, we must apply the roles of the discernment
of spirits given us in moral and pastoral theology. We (the priests
of the Society) must always act as doctors of the soul and not as
judge and hangmen. Those who are tempted by this latter course are
animated by a bitter spirit and not true zeal for souls. I hope
that our young priests will be inspired by the words of St. Pius
X in his first encyclical, and by the numerous texts on this subject
to be found in such works as The Soul of the Apostolate by
Dom Chautard, Christian Perfection and Contemplation by Garrigou-Lagrange,
and Christ the Ideal of the Monk by Dom Marmion.
Let us now pass to a second
but no less important subject: does the Church have a true Pope
or an impostor on the Throne of St. Peter? Happy are those who have
lived and died without having to pose such a question! One must
indeed recognize that the pontificate of Paul VI posed, and continues
to pose, a serious problem of conscience for the faithful. Without
reference to his culpability for the terrible demolition of the
Church which took place under his pontificate, one cannot but realize
that he hastened the causes of that decline in every domain. One
can fairly ask oneself how it was possible that a successor of Peter
can, in so little time, have caused more damage to the Church than
the French Revolution.
Some precise facts, such
as the signatures which he gave to Article VII in the Instruction
concerning the New Mass, and to the Declaration on Religious Liberty,
are indeed scandalous and have led certain traditionalists to affirm
that Paul VI was heretical and thus no longer Pope. They argue further
that, chosen by a heretical Pope, the great majority of the cardinals
are not cardinals at all and thus lacked the authority to elect
another Pope. Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II were thus,
they say, illegitimately elected. They continue that it is inadmissible
to pray for a pope who is not Pope or to have any "conversations"
(like mine of November 1978) with one who has no right to the Chair
As with the question of the
invalidity of the Novus Ordo, those who affirm that there
is no Pope over-simplify the problem. The reality is more complex.
If one begins to study the question of whether or not a Pope can
be heretical, one quickly discovers that the problem is not as simple
as one might have thought. The very objective study of Xaverio de
Silverira on this subject demonstrates that a good number of theologians
teach that the Pope can be heretical as a private doctor or theologian
but not as a teacher of the Universal Church. One must then examine
in what measure Pope Paul VI willed to engage in infallibility in
the diverse cases where he signed texts close to heresy if not formally
But we can say that in the
two cases cited above, as in many another, Paul VI acted much more
the Liberal than as a man attached to heresy. For when one informed
him of the danger that he ran in approving certain conciliar texts,
he would proceed to render the text contradictory by adding a formula
contrary in meaning to affirmations already in the text, or by drafting
an equivocal formula. Now, equivocation is the very mark of the
Liberal, who is inconsistent by nature.
The Liberalism of Paul VI,
recognized by his friend, Cardinal Daniélou, is thus sufficient
to explain the disasters of his pontificate. Pope Pius IX, in particular,
spoke often of the Liberal Catholic, whom he considered a destroyer
of the Church. The Liberal Catholic is a two-sided being, living
in a world of continual self-contradiction. While he would like
to remain Catholic, he is possessed by a thirst to appease the world.
He affirms his faith weakly, fearing to appear too dogmatic, and
as a result, his actions are similar to those of the enemies of
the Catholic Faith.
Can a Pope be Liberal and
remain Pope? The Church has always severely reprimanded Liberal
Catholics, but she has not always excommunicated them. Here, too,
we must continue in the spirit of the Church. We must refuse Liberalism
from whatever source it comes because the Church has aways condemned
it. She has done so because it is contrary, in the social realm
especially, to the Kingship of Our Lord.
Does not the exclusion of
the cardinals of over eighty years of ages, and the secret meetings
which preceded and prepared the last two Conclaves, render them
invalid? Invalid: no, that is saying too much. Doubtful at the time:
perhaps. But in any case, the subsequent unanimous acceptance of
the election by the Cardinals and the Roman clergy suffices to validate
it. That is the teaching of the theologians.
The visibility of the Church
is too necessary to its existence for it to be possible that God
would allow that visibility to disappear for decades. The reasoning
of those who deny that we have a Pope puts the Church in an inextricable
situation. Who will tell us who the future Pope is to be? How, as
there are no Cardinals, is he to be chosen? This spirit is a schismatical
one for at least the majority of those who attach themselves to
certainly schismatical sects like Palmar de Troya, the Eglise
Latine de Toulouse, and others.
Our Fraternity absolutely
refuses to enter into such reasonings.
We wish to remain attached
to Rome and to the Successor of Peter, while refusing his Liberalism
through fidelity to his predecessors. We are not afraid to speak
to him, respectfully but firmly, as did St. Paul with St. Peter.
And so, far from refusing
to pray for the Pope, we redouble our prayers and supplications
that the Holy Ghost will grant him light and strength in his affirmations
and defense of the Faith.
Thus, I have never refused
to go to Rome at his request or that of his representatives. The
Truth must be affirmed at Rome above all other places. It is of
God, and He will assure its ultimate triumph.
Consequently, the Society
of St. Pius X, its priests, brothers, sisters, and oblates, cannot
tolerate among its members those who refuse to pray for the Pope
or affirm that the Novus Ordo Missae is per se invalid.
Certainly, we suffer from this continual incoherence which consists
in praising all the Liberal orientations of Vatican II and at the
same time straining to mitigate its effects. But all of this must
incite us to prayer and to the firm maintenance of Tradition rather
than to the affirmation that the Pope is not the Pope.
In conclusion, we must have
that missionary spirit which is the true spirit of the Church. We
must do everything to bring about the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ
according to the words of our Holy Patron, St. Pius X: Instaurare
omnia in Christo. We must restore all things in Christ, and
we must submit to all, as did Our Lord in His Passion for the salvation
of souls and the triumph of Truth. "In hoc natus sum,"
said Our Lord to Pilate, "ut testimonium perhibeam veritati."
“I was born to give witness
to the Truth."
See Pope Paul’s
New Mass, p. 240.
Ibid., pp. 65-66.
forbids girls to serve on the altar, but this instruction is widely
defied in the U.S.A. The Apostolic Delegate has been made aware
of this but no action has been taken to curtail the abuse (see The
Angelus, December 1982).
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109