schismatic, fundamentalist Society, excommunicated, anchored in
medieval beliefs". Such judgements and similar others
are heard regularly about the Society of St Pius X, known mainly
for its attachment to the traditional rite of the Mass. Do those
who think and speak in such manner really know the origins, goals
and works of this Society? In a word do they know the real nature
and status of the Society of St Pius X?
present leaflet has been written in order to dispel errors and to
give precise and historical information. It intends to give all
the basic data on the SSPX, its Founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre,
its history, goals, status in the Catholic Church and its development
after 25 years.
- Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
in Tourcoing (near Lille), France, November 29, 1905. 3rd of 8 children,
the 5 eldest consecrating themselves to God in the priestly or religious
vocation (2 priests, 3 sisters).
training: 1923-29 in the French Seminary, Rome, Doctor in philosophy
and in theology.
a priest on September 21, 1929, in Lille, France.
in the parish of Marais-de-Lomme, Lille, 1929-1931.
the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers, 1931.
in Gabon, first as seminary professor and director, 1932-1938, then
in the bush, 1938-1945.
of the Philosophy Seminary in Mortain, France, 1945-1947.
consecration September 18, 1947.
Vicar, then 1st Archbishop of Dakar, Senegal, 1947-1962.
Delegate (equivalent to a Nuncio) for all of French Africa (18 countries),
Assistant to the Pontifical Throne.
are some figures of the development of the Catholic Church in Dakar
in the field of education during his term of office
classes, 2000 students
classes, 12000 students
institutions, 150 students
institutions, 1800 students
institutions, 400 students
of Tulle, France, 1962 January - August.
General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, 1962-1968.
(1970) and First Superior General (1970 - 1983) of the Society of
St. Pius X.
on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1991.
- Brief History of the Society of St. Pius X
his resignation as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers in
September 1968, Archbishop Lefebvre lived a very retired life in
Rome. As many disciplinary rules of the French seminary were being
discarded (the wearing of the soutane, daily Mass obligatory, etc.)
as well as some moral issues (contraception, etc.), some seminarians
turned to him for help (he was a well known figure since the French
Seminary was run by the Holy Ghost Fathers). He declined at first
on the grounds of lacking all the requirements (money, building
...). Finally, under the repeated plea from these seminarians and
from their parents, he agreed to do something. He rented a house
in Fribourg, Switzerland. There the seminarians lived and went to
attend the classes in the still reliable Dominican University nearby,
while other seminarians were continuing their studies in the Lateran
University in Rome.
The New Mass came out and gradually replaced the traditional Mass
everywhere. The Fribourg seminarians, worried at the thought of
having to go back after their ordination to their Dioceses in the
hands of modernist bishops, begged the Archbishop to establish a
religious society that would bind them together and protect their
priesthood. After consulting with high ranking ecclesiastics and
encouraged favourably by them, the Archbishop wrote the Constitutions
of the Society of Saint Pius X. These were then approved officially
by the local bishop, François Charrière, on November
1, 1970. The Society of Saint Pius X was born and welcomed into
the Church as Cardinal Wright approved it in the letter of praise
dated February 18, 1971.
The nature and goals of the Society of St. Pius X
Its canonical nature:
SSPX is "a priestly Society of common life without vows, after the
pattern of the Societies of Foreign Missions," and it has as its
purpose "the Priesthood, whatever pertains to it and nothing but
that which concerns it" (Statutes I,1; II,1).
include firstly all the works necessary for the formation of priests
and whatever pertains thereto, whether the candidates are destined
to be members of the Society or not.
must be taken that the training attain its chief goal: the Priest's
Holiness, together with sufficient knowledge. Nothing, therefore,
shall be neglected to the end that piety be directed towards and
flow from the Liturgy of the Holy Mass, which is the heart of
theology, of pastoral activity, and of the Church's life.
second purpose of the Society is to assist the sanctification
of priests by providing them with opportunities for retreats and
Society shall seek to inculcate a sense of the greatness and nobility
of the vocation of helpers in the service of the Altar and all
that is related to it: participation in the Liturgy, in the Sacraments,
in the teaching of Catechism -- helpers generally in all that
assists the Priest, his parish ministry, the housework in rectories
and Seminaries. The Society's members shall devote particular
spiritual care to persons, whether religious or not, who dedicate
themselves to this ideal under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin
and St. Joseph.
truly free and unfettered, able to bestow on youth a thoroughly
Christian education, shall be fostered and, if need be, founded
by the members of the Society. From these will come vocations
and Christian homes.
ministry, and the preaching of parish Missions, without restrictions
of place, are also works to which the Society devotes itself.
These ministries will be matters of contract with local Ordinaries,
in order to enable the Society to exercise its apostolate in accord
with its own particular grace.
Society will willingly come to the assistance of aged and infirm
priests, and even of those who have not been faithful." (Statutes
III, 1 - 6)
The struggle for the Catholic Priesthood and for the Traditional
decided from day one to form priests that would only say the old
Latin Mass, the Archbishop knew that sooner or later there would
be a confrontation with those who were pushing the "up-dating" of
the Catholic Church, especially through the liturgical reform.
their annual meeting in Lourdes in 1972, the French Bishops called
the seminary of Ecône "un séminaire sauvage", "a wild-cat
seminary." The persecution begins.
11 - 13 1974. At the request of the same French Bishops, 2 Apostolic
Visitors arrived at Ecône for 48 hours. They questioned seminarians
and priests, observed the discipline, sat in classes. Having come
to investigate the doctrinal rectitude of the seminary, rather they
themselves cast doubt on the physical resurrection of Christ, on
the immutability of truth and on priestly celibacy.
21, 1974. Indignant by such a procedure, Archbishop Lefebvre
wrote his famous declaration: "We adhere with all our heart to the
1975. He is "invited for a discussion" by Cardinals Tabera,
Wright, and Garonne.
1975. Meeting with the three Cardinals . In fact it was a hidden
trial, a direct condemnation of his Declaration of Nov. 21. No mention
whatever of the Apostolic visit of the previous November.
6, 1975. Archbishop Lefebvre is asked to close his seminary.
The Society of St. Pius X is "suppressed" by the new Bishop of Fribourg,
Mgr Mamie. However, according to Canon Law (1917), c. 492, when
a religious society has been approved in a diocese, only Rome can
subsequently suppress it. As modern seminaries were closing everywhere
and more and more disillusioned young men were asking for admission
at Ecône, the Archbishop decided to continue.
- June 29, 1976. Every attempt was made to prevent the ordination
of June 28 by numerous visits, letters, telephone calls and telegrams.
The Archbishop asked: "Why? Don't we need priests?" The answer came
a few days before the June ordination: "Say the New Mass on June
29, and all will be normalised." The real issue was the rite
29, 1976. Priestly ordinations of 12 candidates. In his sermon,
his Grace appealed to the Bull Quo Primum of St. Pius V explicitly
stating that any censure against the Old Mass would be invalid.
"By virtue of Our Apostolic Authority We give and grant
in perpetuity that... this Missal may be followed absolutely, without
any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgement
or censure, and may be freely and lawfully used. Nor shall Bishops...
and other secular priests... be obliged to celebrate Mass otherwise
than enjoined by Us." (Quo Primum)
11, 1976. The Congregation of Bishops issued a censure: Archbishop
Lefebvre was "suspens a divinis" (i.e. forbidden to administer the
Sacraments). However, 1) the act, signed by the secretary, was canonically
invalid; 2) the Archbishop made an appeal "in forma surpensiva"
which meant that the act was suspended until a juridical decision
was issued. This has never come.
1976. With all the publicity around Ecône, the news travelled
around the whole world that there was a bishop in Switzerland training
priests for the Old Mass.
1976. Meeting with Pope Paul VI.
18, 1978. Archbishop Lefebvre met Pope John Paul II for 45 minutes.
- 1984. On a number of occasions, Archbishop Lefebvre went to
Rome and faced long interrogations (cross-examinations) on his work,
the question of jurisdiction, conditional confirmations, Vatican
II, etc. But he was never accused and condemned for having erred
in the Faith.
29, 1987. Archbishop Lefebvre announced that he was going to
proceed to the consecration of some bishops.
- December 87. Visit of Cardinal Gagnon. On Dec. 8, the Cardinal
assisted officially, at the Pontifical High Mass said by Archbishop
Lefebvre, a so-called "suspended" Archbishop, during which Mass,
25 Seminarians joined a "so-called" "suppressed" Society of St.
Pius X. The Cardinal's presence was a tacit approbation of the attitude
and work of the Archbishop and the official recognition of the canonical
existence of the Society. (See above, May 6, 1975 and July 11, 1976)
30, 1988. Consecration of 4 Bishops as "auxiliaries" of the
- Neither schismatic, nor excommunicated, nor disobedient.
The key issue: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
key issue behind this whole history is the right to have the traditional
Latin Mass, and the constant refusal of the new rite of Mass. In
his bull Quo Primum (1571), Pope St Pius V clearly established
the three grounds upon which stands the tridentine rite of Mass:
It is a general law of the Church, (everyone must use
It is a privilege (everyone may use this missal);
And it is an centenary and immemorial custom: the Mass was "restored
to the rite of the Fathers".
Paul VI in 1969 did not remove, or abrogate, any of those three
grounds, he merely derogated from them i.e. modified one of the
clauses of Quo Primum (which forbade the use of any other
Missal less than 200 years old) by issuing a new rite of Mass. In
1976, Archbishop Lefebvre was told that all his problems would be
solved if he ordained his priests in the new rather than in the
old rite of Mass (see above March - June 1976). He justly refused,
relying on Quo Primum, which said that any censure issued
to prevent this Missal from being used, was null and void.
the period 1977 - 1983, the Vatican authorities gradually softened
their requests by demanding first that the Archbishop say the New
Mass just occasionally, then just once.
1984, they only asked him not to speak against the New Mass, to
accept its doctrinal soundness and legitimacy. This became the first
condition of the "Indult" of October 3, 1984.
The Consecration of Bishops
is imperative to know the sequence of events that led to the consecration
of Bishops on June 30, 1988.
In the early 70's, the Archbishop decided to hold on fast to
the traditional rite of Mass.
In order to have the Mass, priests are needed. Thus, he proceeded
to perform the priestly ordinations especially from 1976 onwards,
in spite of the (invalid) prohibition to do so.
But no priests can be ordained without a bishop -- that is the
reason for the consecrations of Bishops of 1988 to assist the
aging Archbishop, whose health was deteriorating. Ill health
made it no longer possible to travel around the world to the
six Seminaries to perform the various ordinations as well as
the innumerable ceremonies of confirmation.
The State of Necessity
Church's Canon Law explicitly states that a censure (such as excommunication)
is not incurred if one acts out of necessity or thinks
he is in a state of necessity.
code of law, civil and ecclesiastical, provides for cases of emergencies,
since laws are made for the common good which, at times, admits
exceptions. St Thomas Aquinas teaches that "a circumstance gives
the species of good or evil to a moral action, in so far as it regards
a special order of reason" (I-II, q.18, a.10) and, "that circumstance
is the most important of all which touches the act on the part of
the end, viz., the circumstance why " (I-II, q.7. a.4). For
instance, the law will condemn as vandalism the breaking of a window
by a thief, but will praise the same act done to free one caught
in a house on fire.
Church knows well these principles and provides for them in its
Code of Canon Law (1983). In the introductory canons dealing with
sanctions in the Church, it is clearly spelled out. Canon 1323:
one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept:
(...) 4o acted (..) by reason of necessity (...); 7o though,
through no personal fault, that some of the circumstances existed
which are mentioned in nn. 4 or 5."
Lefebvre "acted by reason of necessity" when he consecrated
four bishops in 1988: firstly, because of the tragic shortage of
priests (of which we hear regularly in the media); secondly, for
having heard the cries of innumerable Catholics world-wide, abandoned,
if not betrayed, by their shepherds. "The little ones have asked
for bread (i.e. the catechism, the sacraments) and there
was none to break it unto them" (Lament. IV, 4). In the parable
of the Good Samaritan (Lk. X, 30-37), the priest and the Levite
passed by the injured man, stripped, wounded, lying half dead. It
was a good Samaritan who, moved with compassion, went up to him,
bound up his wounds and took care of him, although that was unlawful...
We are told to "go and do in like manner" (v. 37). Alas,
some are scandalised by this good deed.
one denies blindly the objective state of necessity at present
in the Church, at least subjectively the Archbishop thought
there was one, and in this case canon 1323 n. 7o quoted above applies
and renders the penalty null and void. As long as the SSPX holds
on to its Constitutions approved by the Church and does not act
contrary to doctrine or moral issues, its claim to be fully in the
Catholic Church is truly justified.
in itself is neither good nor bad. It can be an act of virtue and
it can also be a vice, sinful. For instance there is the obedience
of Communists to their Party. This is a very strict obedience, and
it can even be spontaneous. And there are numerous cases of what
happens when a fraction of the Party refuses to obey! Is it a good
obedience? Of course, not. Why? Because the purpose of this obedience,
the goal of the Party, is wicked. Therefore, those who collaborate
to achieve the aims of the Party accomplish a sinful act. Another
example: the obedience of doctors to the Governments who have legalised
abortion. "We have to obey or else we will lose our job."
Is that a virtuous obedience? Surely not. It is a sinful act because
it is to collaborate with a sinful law, with a sinful end, destructive
of Society. Other examples could be given of false, of sinful obedience.
then to be a virtue, must stand between two opposite errors:
error by defect (not enough): disobedience = the refusal to
submit to the lawful orders of a lawful superior. For example,
the child disobeying a legitimate order of his parents.
error by excess (too much): blind obedience = the submission
to any order, good or bad, coming from a superior, as in the
examples given above.
principles apply also inside the Church. One cannot blindly obey
to priests who organise sacrilegious ‘Masses’ in their parishes,
who invite their parishioners to attend non-Catholic services; one
cannot obey Bishops who encourage heretical Catechisms in the ‘Catholic’
schools. And one cannot obey even Rome when orders coming from Rome
lead us to abandon or diminish our Faith. "Though We or an
Angel from heaven, preach a Gospel to you besides that which We
have preached to you, let him be anathema" (Gal. I, 8). Faith
is then greater than obedience. Obedience is at the service of Faith,
not Faith at the service of obedience. "We ought to obey God
rather than men" (Act V, 29).
Society of St Pius X recognises the Pope as the successor of St
Peter but reject his liberalism through fidelity to his predecessors.
The Pope is not infallible in everything he says. There are very
strict conditions which he must follow to fall under the charism
of infallibility. One is that he must teach something in matters
of faith or morals, another is that he must bind all Catholics to
believe what he says as being divinely revealed. These conditions
are to be found in the very words used by the Pope. In case of doubt,
the Catholic must always refer to Tradition, following the rule
of St Vincent of Lerins: it must have been believed always, in
all places and by all - quod semper, ubique et ab omnibus.
- The Works of the SSPX 1970 - 1995
spite of the numerous public condemnations and the continuous black-mailing
in the media, in spite of going against the Conciliar tide, from
an initial group of 9 seminarians who started with Archbishop Lefebvre
in a rented house in September 1969, here are some figures of the
growth of the Society of St Pius X after 25 years. (At the same
time one should keep in mind the tragic drop of vocations world-wide.)
6, (Switzerland, Germany, France, USA, Argentina and Australia).
130, in 26 countries, on the 5 continents.
3 Universities, about 20 Secondary Schools & 50 Primary
Houses: 4 full-time; many seminaries and priories are also used
Homes: 3 operating and 1 in preparation.
of traditional communities and schools: about 20.
Other Communities of Catholic Traditions
the SSPX a number of Communities of Catholic Tradition have emerged
in the last 25 years, around the world: over 10 for men (Dominicans,
Benedictines, Capuchins, etc.) and more than 17 for women (Teaching
Dominicans, enclosed Carmelites, Poor Clares, The Nursing Congregation
of Le Rafflay, etc.).
Suffer for the Church
interesting text, very appropriate and written in 390 A.D.:
too, Divine Providence permits even good men to be driven from the
congregation of Christ by the turbulent seditions of carnal men.
When for the sake of the peace of the Church, they patiently endure
that insult or injury, and attempt no novelties in the way of heresy
or schism. They will teach men how God is to be served with a true
disposition and with great and sincere charity. The intention of
such men is to return when the tumult has subsided. But if that
is not permitted because the storm continues or because a fiercer
one might be stirred up by their return, they hold fast to their
purpose to look to the good even of those responsible for the tumults
and commotions that drove them out. They form no separate sects
of their own, but defend to the death and assist by their testimony
the faith which they know is preached in the Catholic Church. These
the Father who seeth in secret crowns secretly. It appears that
this is a rare kind of Christian, but examples are not lacking.
So Divine Providence uses all kinds of men as examples for the oversight
of souls and for the building up of his spiritual people."
Augustine, Of True Religion, 6,11