What defines the Society of St. Pius X and why does it actually exist as an entity of the Roman Catholic Church? What was the guiding principle of Archbishop Lefebvre in dealing with the Roman authorities?
We are pleased to offer another editorial from Le Seignadou (The Sign of God), the newsletter of the SSPX's priory of St. Joseph-des-Carmes in Montreal de l'Aude, France.
This important piece outlines the cause of the SSPX's existence as well as Archbishop Lefebvre's example in dealing with the Roman authorities in the midst of the Modernist crisis and even the unjust persecution of Tradition.
It is my nature: the more what I love is attacked and criticized the more deeply I love it. The more my Society of St. Pius X (and its Superior General) is criticized, the more I love it, the closer I grow to it in order to preserve the grace I have received through it and the spirit I owe to it. Maybe that is what we call “team spirit.” I know well that no human being and no institution are perfect. The Church herself is composed of saints and sinners. So I am not blind to the defects that I find in my priestly family and its members, whoever they may be, but I believe in the Society of the Apostles of Jesus and Mary, or (under its public title), the Priestly Society of St. Pius X. And I have noticed that every time it is attacked, it focuses once again on its “fundamentals” and grows the stronger for it! That is why I believe more and more in its particular grace, whose conditions were engraved by the Church into its statutes:
The goal of the Society is the priesthood and everything connected to the priesthood and only what concerns the priesthood, that is, according to the will of Our Lord Jesus Christ when he said: Do this in remembrance of Me."
That is exactly what Archbishop Lefebvre perceived in his dream in Dakar. It is the plan he sought and pursued from the moment he left Africa, including his failed attempt to restore the seminaries of the Holy Ghost Fathers. Add to that the works of the Society, and you will have read his whole soul:
All the works of priestly formation, that is, the sanctification of the priests, auxiliary vocations, schools, parochial ministry, help to elderly, infirm and even unfaithful priests."
None of this has changed and it cannot change with the circumstances. It is the soul of the Society, and that is what assures the unity of all its members. Some may abandon it and attack it once they have abandoned it, but it will never change, it can never change. This in no way excludes the fight against the conciliar errors, on the contrary, it makes this fight necessary; but that is not its first finality, and our “cor unum et anima una” remains the combat for the Mass and the priesthood. The strength of our Society resides in the fidelity of its members to our grace in the service of the Church.
[The Society of St. Pius X] was not born in order to contest and oppose, not at all. It was born as the works of the Church are born, of a necessity that came up: the necessity of guarding the good formation to the priesthood." (Archbishop Lefebvre, spiritual conference, Econe, October 10-11, 1977)
No matter what anyone says, Archbishop Lefebvre never varied on this point. He may have spoken in different tones according to the circumstances, but his objective was always the same: the priesthood and the Mass, for the Church. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, who is perhaps one of those who knew Archbishop Lefebvre the best [see Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography—Ed], made an important remark on this point:
If Archbishop Lefebvre was above all a man of faith and wisdom, he possessed a healthy dose of pragmatism, as Fr. Aulagnier so well discerned in his Tradition without Fear. Out of natural sagacity and a supernatural disposition to follow the ways of Providence, Archbishop Lefebvre always sought to take advantage of favorable occasions to renew the connection with Rome and obtain the return of our canonical approbation. Father did not fully understand our founder’s pragmatism. What he might have added, is that this pragmatism always failed in the face of conciliar Rome" (Letter from January 6, 2014).
It seems to me that this testimony can hardly be ignored or neglected. Archbishop Lefebvre was not a voluntarist, under the spell of some Kantian-style categorical imperative, such as: “Hurry, an agreement at all costs!” or: “Watch out! No practical agreement without a doctrinal agreement! End of discussion!”; he was a man of a more delicate virtuous principle, that of authority: the virtue of prudence, the vital art of applying the theological virtues to the ever varying concrete circumstances and situations.
It is true that in the face of acts or new and sometimes scandalous situations, Archbishop Lefebvre spoke in very strong, even violent terms. His Catholic bishop’s heart voiced the clamors of the Holy Church wounded, humiliated, offended. Remember his sermon in Lille in 1976, or his “little drawings” of Assisi, or his declaration after the consecration of the bishops in 1988. The times required him to leave a mark on our minds, but the basis of his doctrine remained intact, and we cannot limit Archbishop Lefebvre to his most thunderous declarations or to his “holy anger”. Who would dare to reduce the portrait and doctrine of Our Lord to His condemnations and invectives against the Pharisees?
In a spiritual conference given to the seminarians on April 1, 1982, Archbishop Lefebvre recounted as follows his recent interviews with Cardinal Ratzinger:
Cardinal Ratzinger told me: you must recognize that this reform [by Paul VI] is in conformity with the spirit of the Church. I answered him, of course, that it was impossible: if the reform was good, I would have accepted it. But why speak of it, I added, let us leave aside this problem of the liturgical reform, or there is no way we will ever come to an agreement. The cardinal: We must find a way! I answered him: The only solution is not to mention it; you just grant us what we ask, the freedom of the former rites.
As for the canonical question, I told the cardinal: if you grant us what we wish, there will be no more difficulty. If all the sure rites are authorized, there will be no more problem for a canonical regularization. If the old rite is free, the faithful will be able to choose the traditional rite for confirmation, and I will have no further reason to administer the sacrament myself. The faithful simply want to receive valid sacraments. But the new translations are doubtful and the matter also renders their validity doubtful, since olive oil is no longer required or consecrated. I told the cardinal: If you grant this, we are ready to place ourselves under the Congregation for Religious. You ask much, responded the cardinal!" (Extract from the notes taken by a priest present)
In 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre only added one single requirement, because of his age: the consecration of a bishop to succeed him. This was refused to him, in spite of the promise that had been made.
He shared with us his last reflections on the matter six months before his death. I can still hear him telling us in his conference for the priests at the end of the priests’ retreat in September 1990 in Econe, after having recalled the conflict that is tearing the Church between the pro and anti-Syllabus, and strongly restated his refusals and demands:
Humanly speaking, I see no possibility of an agreement at present. [Archbishop Lefebvre was therefore not opposed in principle to the possibility of an agreement in a more favorable future.] Someone said to me yesterday: If Rome accepted your bishops and left you completely exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishops…
First of all, they are far from ready to accept such a thing; and then, they would have to make the offer and I do not think they are ready to do so, for the heart of the difficulty is giving us a traditional bishop. They only wanted a bishop with a Holy See profile. 'Profile': you understand what that means! They knew very well that by giving us a traditional bishop they would be building a traditional fortress. They did not want that, and they did not grant it to anyone.
When the others say they have signed the same protocol as us, it is not true. Our protocol included a bishop and two members in the Roman Commission. But they have no bishop and no members in the Roman Commission. Rome took that out of the protocol, for she did not want it at any cost."
[In 2000, Rome made new offers to the Society of St. Pius X, that were renewed by Benedict XVI until 2013. Faced with these offers, Bishop Fellay wanted to believe that the hand they were holding out was a favorable hand, but he was forced to recognize that accepting these offers would have led us to be dissolved into the conciliar magma. Since then, we are waiting again, taking refuge in the grace of the founding blessing, in the place the Church assigned to us at that time.]
Concluded Archbishop Lefebvre:
On November 1 we shall celebrate the Society’s 20th anniversary, and I am deeply convinced that this Society represents what God wishes in order to save and maintain the Faith, the truth of the Church, and everything in the Church that can still be saved. This will be done thanks to the bishops who surround the Superior General, and fulfill their indispensable role as guardians of the Faith, by preaching, and administering the graces of priesthood and confirmation. These things are irreplaceable, and we are in absolute need of them.
All of this is truly consoling, and I think that we can thank God, and work with perseverance, that one day what we are doing may be recognized. Even though Cardinal Gagnon’s visit did not have many results, it at least showed us that we were there, and that good was being done by the Society. Although they do not wish to say so explicitly, they are forced to recognize that the Society represents a spiritual strength that is irreplaceable for the Faith, and that they will, I hope, have the joy and satisfaction of using when they have returned to the traditional Faith.
Let us ask Our Lady of Fatima, during all our pilgrimages in all countries, to help the Society and send it many vocations. We should have more vocations, our seminaries are not full. But I think that with the grace of God, that will come. Thank you for your attention. I beg you to pray that I may die a good and holy death, since that is all I have left to do."
(Source: Le Seignadou, 2-2014)