Archbishop Lefebvre on the Indult Mass

The 1984 Indult may be history, but the principles why Archbishop Lefebvre rejected it continue to exist, that is, the Mass of All Time does not require special permission as it continues (de jure) to be the liturgical norm of the Latin Church.

By the decree Quattuor Abhinc Annos of October 3, 1984, the Congregation for Divine Worship gave bishops the faculty to grant an indult for the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, provided that certain conditions be respected. The first one required that the celebrant and the faithful hearing the Mass “in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970.” If such an indult was in some way able to gladden Archbishop Lefebvre, he nonetheless pointed out its limitations...

Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter implies that the Holy Father may be getting ready to authorize by decree the official public celebration of the Tridentine rite. But the religious authorities would only grant this freedom on condition that the traditional Mass not be celebrated out of contempt for the new rite. They would require priests to say the New Mass at least once in a while. It is difficult not to descry in the arrangement of the conditions a maneuver destined to put pressure on traditional priests to convince them to celebrate the New Mass.[1]

Availing ourselves of the Indult is tantamount to putting ourselves into a state of contradiction because at the same time that Rome gives the Fraternity of St. Peter, for example, or Le Barroux Abbey and other groups authorization to say the Mass of All Time, they also require young priests to sign a profession of faith in which the spirit of the Council must be accepted. It is a contradiction: the spirit of the Council is embodied in the New Mass. How is it possible to desire to preserve the Mass of all time while accepting the spirit that destroys this Mass of All Time? It is completely contradictory.

One day, very gently, they will oblige those who have been granted the use of the Tridentine Mass, the Mass of All Time, also to accept the New Mass. And they will tell them that it is simply a matter of squaring themselves with what they have signed, since they signed a statement that they accepted the spirit of the Council and its reforms. You cannot put yourself thus into an unbelievable, irrational contradiction. It is a very uncomfortable situation. This is what has created the difficulty for these groups that have signed it and that currently find themselves in a kind of impasse."[2]

The fruits of the Indult

From one standpoint, Archbishop Lefebvre deemed the effect of this indult to be positive. Besides being a tacit avowal of the weakness of the new rite, which had been unable to supplant the former, it also gave the faithful to understand that the pope no longer opposed the traditional rite. But it also had, alas! more negative fruits. Several priests and laymen abandoned the doctrinal reasons for their refusal of the missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI, and their attachment to the rite revised by St. Pius V was reduced to a subjective and sentimental dimension.

First remark. Major precautions to safeguard the permanence of the New Mass. Whoever can say the old Mass must accept the new: bishop’s authorization, protection of the parishes.

The precautions certify the weakness of the New Mass against the old

The opportunity afforded some priests of saying the traditional Mass proves that some priests and faithful want the old Mass.

The motives adduced and the wording of the decree reveal a frame of mind that is more political and diplomatic than supernatural.[3]

I had occasion to say, at first, that the indult has been beneficial to us, whatever the conditions, because many people concluded that the pope was no longer against the celebration of the old Mass, and that, consequently, they could go to it, and that disobedience in going to the traditional Mass [false, moreover] was no longer an issue. Very many people thus joined us, and we have observed, in general, a rather considerable increase of the faithful coming to our centers. That was an initial positive result that pleased us.

But another result, unfortunate and disagreeable, was that a certain number of priests thought they had to accept the conditions of the indult in order to regularly celebrate the old Mass, and with the approval of their bishop. That has given rise to some fairly serious problems, since they have been obliged to consider the New Mass as good as the old Mass, which we have always refused, and which we have always opposed because we esteem that the New Mass is dangerous, and thus bad, because it was made in an ecumenical spirit. It diminishes the faith of Catholics and ends by giving them a Protestant mentality.

We are very sorry to see that some priests have consented to say that the new Mass is as good as the old Mass, so as to be able to say, so they say, the old Mass in all security and in conformity with the bishops’ regulations.... And now, supposedly for the sake of following the rules regarding the old Mass, they have given up the fight against novelties, particularly liturgical novelties....

Among traditionalists, you have some who are attached to Tradition the way people are attached to folklore: for example, they like the sung Mass; they like the Mass in Latin, because when they were young they were used to that Mass. They like Latin and Gregorian chant. So for them, as soon as the Mass is said in Latin, whether it is the traditional Mass or the New Mass, all the problems are resolved. Those people are quite content with the indult solution from Rome...."[4]


1 Manuscript note, 1983, Econe seminary archives.

2 Homily, Friedrichshafen, April 29, 1990.

3 Manuscript notes, 1983, Econe Seminary archives.

4 Spiritual conference, Econe, January 14, 1986.