LEFEBVRE and the
Sermon of Archbishop
envisioned by Archbishop Lefebvre in its statutes, the apostolate
of the Society of Saint Pius X is the restoration of the Catholic
Priesthood and the preservation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
These ends were clearly on His Grace’s mind when he gave this
sermon at the Society’s International Seminary of the Holy Curé
of Ars (Flavigny, France) on February 2, 1988. The occasion was
the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady on which date seminarians
were tonsured and received the clerical habit known as the “cassock.”
The Order of Tonsure is the official public act of the Catholic
Church making a man a cleric. In reading this sermon, who can
deny that Archbishop Lefebvre was a prelate sent to the Catholic
Church to restore the spirit of God’s priests?
I am glad
to give the cassock, the clerical habit, and particularly to give
the tonsure to those who entered last year, thereby marking the
official entry into the clergy and preparing them to receive the
Orders, steps toward the Priesthood. It is always
a very moving celebration.
itself is a moving Feast. We can imagine the Virgin
Mary coming to the temple with the Child Jesus and St. Joseph, bringing
the offering—doves—and meeting on their way the old man, Simeon,
who acknowledged his God in this little Child carried by the Virgin
Mary; and as it had been promised to him that he would not leave,
would not die, without seeing his Savior, he took Him in his arms
and sang this magnificent hymn, Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine—Now
thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in
peace. Our Lord, Who is the King of all things, entered into the
temple carried by the Virgin Mary. It was His temple
because it was the temple of God. He did not come
there as other creatures, to give themselves to God. He
was God. He came to take possession of His
temple, which belonged to Him, and He had a right to all the honors
which were given in this temple to God Himself.
And you, my
very dear friends, who are going to be tonsured in a very few moments,
you shall also enter in the temple of God. You shall
enter by the tonsure; you are indeed going to receive the cassock
and the tonsure but these two things are very distinct; indeed,
one can receive the religious habit, yet without receiving the tonsure.
There are in holy Church diverse families: the two principle
families are the family of the simple faithful and the family of
the clergy—the laity and the clergy. Among the laity
there are also two families: there is the family of those who destine
themselves to remain in the world, to found families, Christian
families, and there are those who give themselves to the Good Lord,
who consecrate themselves to God as religious, monks or nuns, though
they do not participate in the sacred Orders. They
receive the religious habit, they pronounce the vows of religion,
totally consecrate themselves to God, and dedicate themselves in
a very particular way to their neighbor, yet, they do not belong
to the clergy. Only those who are tonsured belong
to the clergy. One enters into the clergy by the tonsure.
This is the Tradition of the Church. Once
one is tonsured, then, one can accede to the Minor Orders and, later,
to the Major Orders. Certainly, the decisive step
shall be taken at the moment of the subdiaconate, but to receive
the tonsure is already a promise to go to the altar—to ascend to
It is, therefore,
a very important thing for you, my very dear friends. You
know that from the moment you receive the tonsure—the Pontiff shall
say this during his last instruction—you are accountable to the
Church, you belong to the clergy of the Church. You
are no longer subject to certain laws that are for the lay Catholic.
You can say, my very dear friends—and, I think, this is
the main thought that you should have today: “I do not have the
intention to remain among the faithful to found a family.
I want to give myself to God for my whole life; I want to
serve Him and I hope, one day, to become a priest.” Moreover,
you are not like the monks, at least not as many of them who enter
the different orders and have made their religious profession but
have not become clerics; no, this is not your intention. You
wish to ascend the degrees of the altar.
is your responsibility? What responsibility do you
take in front of the Church, in front of God, in front of the faithful,
in front of the religious who are not clerics? What
is your obligation to holiness, to go in the way of perfection that
you are entering? Are you more or less engaged in
the way of perfection than those that found Catholic families, than
the religious who enter diverse orders without becoming priests?
I think that
this obligation to holiness is greater, is more incumbent upon you
by the very fact that you enter the clergy, and that you want to
become priests. Greater even than for those who pronounce
the vows of religion and who are not clerics, than the faithful
who remain in the world to found a Catholic family. You
obligation to holiness is greater. Why? Because
your condition is different.
who does not enter into a religious society, who does not enter
the clergy, this Catholic has an obligation to pursue holiness because
of his Baptism, because of his Confirmation; he must fulfil the
promises of his Baptism: I attach myself to Jesus Christ for always,
I renounce Satan, his scandals, his sins, and I attach myself to
Jesus Christ for always. This is not a promise in
vain. It is important; the priest says this when he
puts the white veil on the head of the child and then when he gives
him the candle through the intermediary of his godfather or godmother;
he says to them, “serva Dei mandata—keep the commandments
of God,” “Receive this white robe and carry it unstained to the
judgment seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have everlasting
life.” Here you have the obligation that the Catholic
makes for his whole life. Therefore, even if he remains
in what is called the “world,” he is in the world but he
is not of the world, he has an obligation to come and offer
himself at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but to offer himself
through the intermediary of the ministry of the priest. He
cannot himself go up to the altar and offer the Sacrifice of his
family, of his goods, of what he has; no, God has willed that there
be priests who participate in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ and
who be intermediaries between Him and the faithful people.
who pronounce the vows of religion engage themselves even in a more
solemn way than the faithful, in front of the Church and in front
of God. Pronouncing the vows of religion, they engage
themselves in a public and official way, acknowledged by the Church
to practice the holiness of the three vows of poverty, chastity
and obedience. This is what constitutes a religious:
he has made as profession of holiness. This is true.
In spite of the fact that the obligation undertaken by the
religious by pronouncing his vows is grievous and great in front
of the Church and in front of God, however, he is still not allowed
to go up to the altar and offer the Sacrifice, because he is not
a cleric, because he is not a priest. He does not
participate in the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, the cleric,
that is, he who intends to participate in the Priesthood of Our
Lord Jesus Christ, engages himself to holiness by his very function.
It is no more the matter of a promise made in front of God,
in front of Heaven, in front of the Elect of Heaven, in front of
the Church, to profess holiness, but his very function is one of
holiness because he participates in the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus
Christ. To be a priest and not to search for holiness
is a contradiction in terms. The priest must essentially
be holy because of his function, because of the Order that he receives.
Every admonition the bishop gives on the occasion of each
ordination recalls this exigency. You, my very dear
friends, who received the Orders of Lector and Porter yesterday,
you remember well that the bishop told you: you must give the example
by your life; you must sanctify the faithful by the example of your
life, not only by your words, not only by your functions, but by
the example of your life. And the same is true of
every ordination, and much more by the priestly ordination.
This is very important; it is a very profound commitment.
It is inadmissible
that a priest does not search for holiness, and thus does not seek
to be separated from the world, as Our Lord Jesus Christ, does not
seek to be detached from the goods of this world, does not seek
poverty, chastity and obedience. Even if he does not
make a solemn profession in front of the Church to search for these
virtues essential to holiness, nevertheless he engages himself to
follow Our Lord Jesus Christ to perform the most important act which
Our Lord Jesus Christ performed here below: his Sacrifice.
We have said
that the religious pronounce vows of religion, that is, vows that
bind them to God, that elevate them towards God, that place them,
in a certain way, in eternity, already blessed, united with God
by the vows of religion. However, I say it once more,
they cannot perform the principle act of religion, the essential
act of religion, which is the Sacrifice.
In this Sacrifice,
all the acts of religion are summed up: devotion, contemplation,
adoration; but all these acts of religion which are a part of the
virtue of religion are nothing compared with the Sacrifice.
As St. Thomas says, the Sacrifice can be offered only to
God, because we can make a total gift of ourselves, of what we are,
make the sacrifice of what we are only to the One who has given
us these things and not to a creature. We may have
a certain devotion to some creatures, in a certain measure, a kind
of adoration, but we may not perform the act of Sacrifice in front
of a creature. This is inconceivable. The
Sacrifice is reserved to God.
This is the
reason why the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme
act, the central act, of all His life. All His life
was directed towards His Cross, and then, it is from His Cross,
that all goods flow upon mankind unto eternity. And
this is what you are going to perform, my dear friends, the act
of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not another act, another
sacrifice, you shall be alter Christus.Offering the Sacrifice
of the Mass you are no longer yourself; you act in the Person of
Christ, you shall open heaven in a certain way and make the most
marvelous, the most extraordinary, gifts come down: God Himself
in your hands! You hold the Holy Trinity in your hands,
and it is you who, by your words, open heaven so that the gifts
of heaven come down and be given to the faithful. And
you alone are able to do this. Even if one of the
faithful tries to pronounce the words of consecration, nothing particular
would happen on the altar; even if a monk who is not a cleric pronounced
the words of consecration, there would be nothing on the altar more
than bread and wine. When you become priests and you
pronounce the words of consecration, God comes down, the Holy God
comes and takes the place of the substance of bread and wine, and
thus you can give God to the faithful. This is what
a priest is.
And now, how
can you tell me that you do not have the obligation to be holy,
as Jesus Christ Himself was holy? Is He not on the
Cross the Model of Poverty? Could He give a greater
example of poverty than the one He gave on His Cross? Could
He give a greater example of obedience than the one He gave on the
Cross, “obedient unto death”? Could He give a greater
example of chastity than by his virgin Body lacerated by the flagellation
for all the sins of the world against chastity? This
is the example that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given to us.
We would not follow Him, we would not imitate Him, and we
would like to offer His Sacrifice? No, my dear friends!
for the first time this sign of detachment that the tonsure is,
sign of abandonment of the things of this world in order to attach
yourself to Our Lord Jesus Christ anew, take with your whole heart,
with your whole soul, with your whole strength, the resolution to
pursue holiness. Holiness is not a little thing, it
is not a mere word; it is a reality. This holiness
will have to be practiced in your life, in the life of your seminary
and after the seminary.
I take the
occasion of the presence here of many of our dear confrères, who
are already in the ministry and who have a little experience, some
two years, some five years, some ten years, some already fifteen
years of ministry....May they also on the occasion of this ceremony,
think about what they promised at the moment of their ordination,
about what they longed for during their seminary years, and ask
themselves if they realize every day what they have promised.
There may be need on certain points to see whether some
efforts should not be made to practice better poverty, to practice
better chastity, to practice better obedience. We
must get away from the world, we must separate ourselves from the
world. Tepidity is what has lost so many priests.
One wants to be a priest and still wants to be of the world.
One wants to enjoy what those who have remained in the world
may enjoy, those who are not clerics, who have not made a profession
of religion. These priests want to be both priests
and men of the world at the same time. This is not
possible. This is against the very essence of the
priesthood. The priest is a man detached, the priest
is a man poor, a man chaste, a man obedient.
Let us strive
in this period of the Church when priests have precisely lost all
these priestly virtues, these religious virtues, these virtues that
make real holiness; they have abandoned them and have called themselves
common men. We want to reform the priesthood and this
was the reason why the seminaries have been founded. It
is useless to found seminaries if we follow in the ways that have
lost these priests. It is useless, we are losing our
Why have these
priests been lost? It was not big actions; it was
the slow abandonment of priestly virtues. You know
it, no need to give details, to enter into the particulars.
The life these priests were living in general, unfortunately,
before the Council, prepared them for the failures and the faults
that have happened since the Council. And, if ourselves,
after having justly desired to fight against these abandonments,
against this decadence, we follow in the same ways, we shall reach
the same results; it is evident. It is useless to
think that we are stronger than our predecessors. If
we take the worldly ways, in the middle of the world, we shall fall—there
is no other outcome possible, and we shall do no good around us.
On the contrary,
we must be an army, an armada, which pleases Our Lord Jesus Christ,
which follows Our Lord Jesus Christ, who fights this crusade that
Our Lord wishes to wage today, and through which we must convert
the world, through which we must be a light in the world.
With the grace of God we are already a little of this through
your apostolate, my dear friends. Through your dedication,
through your zeal, through the example of your holiness, you have
brought back many souls. How many testimonies of persons
lost, disoriented, abandoned, tell us their gratitude, give us their
thanks for you, my dear friends, for the apostolate that you accomplish!
Therefore, I beg you not to stop doing such an apostolate.
It is time to think about it in order to remain what we
are, what we want to be, and what Our Lord Jesus Christ wants us
to be, simply what the Church wants that we be.
All the catastrophes
throughout the history of the Church came in general from the clergy.
The clergy had abandoned the way of holiness, had abandoned
the Way of the Cross; and it is in the measure that the clergy abandoned
the Way of the Cross, in the same measure society was degraded.
And there was need that the Good Lord raised founders of
orders and founders of religious congregations to give back to the
priests the way of holiness. We hope that the Society
is precisely willed by God so that priestly holiness remains in
the world. Let us hope that the Society shall be a
light in the world, and also the other foundations which through
the grace of God have understood with us the necessity of living
the precepts of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the precepts of the Gospel,
and who are here present. I don’t want to name them
but they also are searching for holiness, are searching for an example
of prayer, of abnegation, of renouncement, of the Cross.
This is our
raison d’être [reason for being], my dear friends; if we
lose this, we lose our raison d’être. If we
lose the way of holiness we lose the very reason of our existence.
us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who was the Mother of the High
Priest, who brought Our Lord to the temple, that she remain with
us, my dear friends. She is certainly there; the Virgin
Mary accompanies you and when you shall present yourself in a few
moments with your cassocks to ask the bishop to bless them, Mary
is with you. What she did with her Divine Son, she
is doing for you now, hoping that you shall be “other Christs.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109