Some observations about Archbishop Lefebvre's defense of the Mass for the sake of the priesthood and salvation of souls.
Pastor's Corner for Sunday, March 23
As we are approaching the anniversary of Archbishop Lefebvre’s death on March 25 1991, we wish to offer our readers a few thoughts on the Herculean struggle he fought for the defense of the true priesthood and the Mass. No doubt, divine Providence took him on the feast of the Incarnation which consecrates the High Priest in the bosom of the Blessed Virgin.
The Ottaviani Intervention, forcefully condemning the revolution set up by the Novus Ordo Missae, was written in June 1969 (and sent to Pope Paul VI in September). A few months later, the Archbishop had bought a little house in Fribourg, Switzerland, to host a dozen of seminarians under his direction. Soon, he put into writing the Statutes of the incipient religious institute the Society of St. Pius X. Its aim is clearly the defense of "the priesthood".
The Society is placed especially under the patronage of the priesthood of Jesus. For Our Lord's whole existence was and remains priestly, and the Sacrifice of the Cross was the reason for His Incarnation. Thus will the Society's members, for whom 'Mihi vivere Christus est ' (Phil. 1:21) is a reality, live in a way entirely directed towards the Sacrifice of the Mass and Our Lord's Sacred Passion. ...The Society is essentially apostolic, because such is the Sacrifice of the Mass."
Why did our founder focus the spirituality of the SSPX in the priesthood and the Mass? Because, to use of the words of his spiritual son and successor, Bishop Fellay:
We can sum up the diagnostic of the sickness affecting the post-conciliar church thus. The Church is in crisis since the Council Vatican II because the priesthood is in crisis. This is one of the fundamental elements of the crisis. To a specific malady we need to apply the adequate remedy: no Church restoration will take place without restoring the priesthood. Now, among the Church men of the 20th century, Archbishop Lefebvre is probably the one who has best understood this. By establishing the SSPX, he sought no other thing than to restore the priesthood so as to restore the entire Church. And in order to do so, he wished to restore this intimate bond, of unfathomable depth, between the priest and the Mass."
We are priests, formed at the source of the traditional priesthood and the traditional Mass and our mission as priests is the Mass. At each Mass which he celebrates, the priest offers the great sacrifice in an unbloody fashion. When the Archbishop said this over and over again, he was not saying anything new. This doctrine belongs to Tradition and is found in St. Thomas, the Council of Trent, and Pius XII (Menti Nostrae and Mediator Dei). The priest—sacerdos—essentially is made for the Holy Sacrifice—sacrum facere—to perform the sacred action. And in as much as his love for the Mass of All Time became more persistent, the Archbishop grew in the rejection of the Novus Ordo.
From the beginning, the Society rejected the New Mass urbi et orbi. The fruits of the priestly society that clung to the Old Mass revealed the wisdom of this firm stand of its founder, Archbishop Lefebvre—demonstrated by the blossoming of deeply Christian families, Catholic school and colleges, sound vocations of priests, nuns and brothers. The ever growing tree of Tradition covers birds of all shapes and colors: Franciscans and Dominicans, Benedictines and Carmelites and other numerous friendly associate confraternities who have willingly placed themselves under the broad protection of the SSPX.
Even after the 1984 Indult which gave an appearance of “allowing the experiment of Tradition”, the sky had not really cleared above St. Peter’s dome and Pope John Paul II was promoting ecumenism at a rapid rhythm which escalated with the Assisi meeting. In 1988, the Archbishop laid out the reasons which had finally decided him to perform the consecration of four bishops, this act of such grave import in the face of the whole Church and he invokes, once again, the priesthood and the Mass as the reason for his apparent disobedience.
'The corruption of the Holy Mass has brought with it the corruption of the priesthood and the universal decadence of faith in the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ', accompanied by the resolute intention, clearly shown by the Roman authorities, to continue with 'their work of destroying the reign of Our Lord, as proved by Assisi, and by Rome's confirmation of the liberal theses of Vatican II on religious liberty.'"
This man, who had spent most of his life in forming priests and bishops in the spirit of Jesus Christ, was indeed well suited to be the last defense when the cataclysm fell on Holy Mother the Church. The most admirable thing is that he stood, feeling and suffering and in agony within, but firm against the wind of madness which swept across the plains.
Might we not add another gem to his crown by raising the following questions:
- if Archbishop Lefebvre was the last stronghold which prevented the utter obliteration of the traditional Mass for thirty years,
- iIf the Church depends essentially on the identity of the priesthood,
- if the priesthood depends on the identity of the Mass,
- if the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church because the priesthood and the Mass will have been preserved until the end of time,
- then, would it be wrong to say that Our Lord Jesus Christ, when He set Peter as the rock of the Catholic Church, had also clearly in mind Marcel Lefebvre in the 20th century, when He uttered these prophetic words: “And the gates of hell will not prevail against it”?
1 Statutes of the Society of St. Pius X, I; sec. 2 and 3.
2 Bishop Fellay, June 6, 2006.
3 Letter written to the future SSPX bishops, 1988.