The Church, priesthood and the Tridentine Indult
Conference of Archbishop Lefebvre to priests on October 29, 1984 at Stuttgart, Germany.
My dear brethren,
I would like to speak to you today on three things in particular: first, a little bit about the general situation of the Church, next a few words on the spirituality of the priesthood, and finally, a few thoughts on the decree [1984 Indult] which has just appeared.
First, I would like to give you a little overview of the general situation of the Church, and particularly of Rome, especially the pope, because it is the pope, I would say, who leaves his particular influence on the actual state of the Church. In our present epoch it is difficult to deny that we find the Church in a painful state—for nearly 20 years—because the principles of Liberalism have penetrated the Church.
Journalists often say to me:
But, Your Excellency, you should have better relations with Pope John Paul II because he is a traditionalist. He stresses the importance of the cassock or religious habit; he is very devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary; he wants discipline in the seminaries. He gives the impression of 'reacting' against the changes of Paul VI—you should certainly have better relations with him!"
It is indeed true that on some particular points Pope John Paul II does desire a certain return to the old discipline in the seminaries, in religious life, in certain exterior aspects of the Church. Unfortunately, however, we would not be correctly judging the mind of the Holy Father were we to judge only by these kinds of things, which are certainly secondary. It cannot be denied, and he himself said it, that one of the principal goals of his pontificate would be religious liberty—he himself says it and ecumenism as well, He said it again in Canada when he was there. He said it to the World Council of Churches: "Ecumenism cannot be turned back, thus we must continue towards this end," and, for him, as he often repeats, it is one of the principal ends of his pontificate. One can see it also in his discourses published in Documentation Catholique: "One of the goals of my pontificate is ecumenism, and religious liberty."
Ecumenism, such as it is actually practiced, and religious liberty, are principles, which come from the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It is written in the constitution of the Rights of Man that every man has the right to his religion according to his conscience, and thus he has the right to express and publicly practice it according to his conscience. It is one of the rights contained in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, condemned by Pope Pius VI [1775-1799].
Now, it is clear that it is the Freemasons who drew up this document, against the Ten Commandments—their own answer, as it were, to the Ten Commandments—against the will of God, against the authority of God. It is, for all that, a very serious thing to believe, and rightly so, that it was the idea of the Liberals to introduce that into the Church. And when the head of the Church himself begins to propagate these ideas—and he has frequently praised the principles found in the Constitution of the Rights of Man; he did it at Berne before all the members of the Swiss government that is serious, very serious, because that goes absolutely against the rights of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are not "free" in religious matters any more than we are free in moral questions; we do not have the right to follow whatever morality our conscience suggests; we do not have the right to follow whatever kind of faith conforms to our temperament and way of thinking. Faith and morals are imposed upon us by God, and Our Lord Jesus Christ is God. It is thus inadmissible to give the impression that all religions are equally good, that all moral teachings are equal.
We must not forget that the conciliar reforms of the liturgy, the reforms of the Bible, the changes in the internal structure of the Church, of the constitution of the Church—all these things are a result of the ecumenical spirit. That is clear, since Protestants were present for the changes in the Mass—six Protestant ministers were photographed with Pope Paul VI who thanked them for having come to participate in the liturgical commission, which transformed our Catholic Mass! Everything was done in this ecumenical spirit: liturgical reforms, catechetical reforms, an ecumenical Bible—which is sold in the bookstore at the Vatican. There was then, a considerable Protestant influence.
And the pope himself says that he is the spiritual son of Pope Paul VI, that he must continue the Council, to put the Council into practice. He has repeated this more than once.
Well, the consequence of all this is that the abuses start to appear as, for example, catechetics in France. When it becomes too obvious that the consequences are disastrous, the pope takes notice. He sends Cardinal Ratzinger to stop, to finally put a limit, a certain limit, to this destruction of the catechism. But since the principles are still there—the principles behind this catechetical reform have not changed—they find themselves in an ongoing contradiction. They do not have the courage to go to the logical conclusion. They ought to have suppressed these new catechisms, but since they, themselves, said that a change was necessary, to transform these things according to the modern spirit, to modern man's way of thinking, they are caught in contradiction.
The same is true of liberation theology. Liberation theology is Marxism pure and simple—Communism, and that frightens the pope a little. Yet, what is this liberation theology if not the conclusion, the putting into practice, of the Rights of Man; it is the Constitution of the Rights of Man that liberates him, liberates him from all authority, from the authority of God, from the authority of the States, from the authority of parents, of godparents... And so the pope, on the one hand, praises the Rights of Man and, on the other hand, opposes liberation theology. He finds himself in a contradiction, and that is why one gets a strong impression that he conducts this battle against liberation theology without a firm conviction, and thus he does not follow through on it. All you need is for a few bishops to stand up and say: No, no, liberation theology is not that bad; besides, we must support the people, the rights of the people, the rights of man, etc., and the pope backs off.
It is the same thing with the new catechetics in France. The bishops stood up, showed their displeasure, and Cardinal Ratzinger backed off as well. Why? Because they don't have real conviction, they are using false principles to combat the errors of liberalism, and so they are in a constant inconsistency. Until they go back to the principles of tradition, they will not succeed in stopping the progress and the consequences of the Council and the conciliar reforms.
There is also another aspect of the situation of the Church which is very serious, an idea which is spread far and wide within the Church, the concept of the salvation of man: salvation which from now on is for all men in all religions. That is no longer the old conception of the Church, which demands Baptism, which restores the soul, which takes away Original Sin and provides a remedy for souls, which have fallen sick. The Holy Ghost comes as a remedy to save us, and the sacraments are to help us save ourselves, and give us health of soul. That is no longer what they believe, but rather, the Protestant notion is little by little entering the Church, the idea that the whole world is saved. Just look at the burial rites now: they are joyful ceremonies, the soul is evidently saved, there are no prayers said for it; instead they have chants of thanksgiving to God, or praise, etc. No more purgatory—that doesn't exist anymore.
And they no longer have the notion of asceticism, of a spiritual combat. The idea of a spiritual combat has practically disappeared in the Church, and they have done away with all the prayers, which made mention of the enemies of the Church, or enemies of our souls. All that has been suppressed in the liturgical prayers, or any notion of contempt for the world, for example: "contemnere terrestria et amare caelestia—to despise earthly things and to love heavenly things." That has been eliminated from the orations as if to say that we must not despise the world, that it is an error to eschew the world. Now in the spirit of the Church, to take no heed of the world is in the same spirit as Our Savior, Who said that He did not pray for "the world" since the world is under the influence of Satan. It was in this spirit that the Church spoke that way. All these things have been changed; now there is a completely different attitude.
You may have noticed this in the pope's Wednesday conferences—I don't know if you read them—but, if you read them, you can see: for well-nigh five years almost ad nauseam, he has spoken of the theology of the human body; we have really had our fill of it, we must say. There is no ascetical theology in it, and for him it seems that marriage will be sublimated right up to heaven and become, I don't know, some sort of celestial mysticism. Incredible! Incomprehensible!
I don't think anybody understands what he says; so mysterious is all this theology of the human body. One searches in vain for the old asceticism. All he does is praise marriage, praise the union according to the flesh, without a single mention of concupiscence, it's unbelievable, since we must never forget that even after receiving Baptism, as St. Thomas says, we still have four profound wounds in our soul. He calls them the fomes peccati (remains of sin), which are: ignorance, malice, weakness and concupiscence; these are the four wounds which remain in us and of which we stand in need of a cure, and for this cure we need the merits of Our Lord. Well, all that is over with, finished. They say Baptism remits our sins and, most importantly, makes us members of the Christian community. There it is, exactly like the Protestants.
Now this different vision of Christian spirituality is exceedingly grave because it excludes once and for all the Cross, it excludes sacrifice, it casts aside the Cross and the Sacrifice and the Redemption of Our Savior.
Another grave problem now undermining the Church is found in the new Canon Law. The new Canon Law is very serious for it goes much further than the Council itself.
In the Council they succeeded, for example, in avoiding the creation of two supreme powers in the Church: the pope on the one hand, and on the other hand, the pope and the bishops as two ordinary powers in the Church, which is contrary to the doctrine of the Church. There is only one supreme ordinary power in the Church and that is the pope. The pope communicates his supreme power in extraordinary cases like a council, but the pope and the bishops are not an ordinary power in Holy Church. Besides, it is contradictory because the bishops could claim this power from the pope if the pope acts alone, saying: "We also have supreme power with you, therefore you must consult us." The pope could say, "But I alone have the power"—"Yes, but we have it with you," and thus he would be in continual conflict with the bishops. That is inadmissible. Our Lord did not found the Holy Church in such a way that there would be a continual conflict between the pope and the bishops.
Then another thing, which is very seriously flawed in the new Canon Law, is the definition of the Church. For me, that is perhaps what best characterizes the new theories of the Church since the Council: the Church is the "people of God." The Church no longer consists of clerics and the laity, with only the clergy exercising the ministry from which all the graces are communicated to the laity, while the laity must receive these graces from their ministry. No, now it is all one "People of God," everyone is admitted, according to his function, according to his capacities, to different ministries, as if there were no more distinction between the clergy and the laity.
This is extremely serious. It is, fundamentally, the destruction of the Church. Now one could say, "No, look at the following chapter and there is, all the same, a distinction made between the clergy and the laity." Yes, but that does not take away the contradiction. The error exists. It is there even if later on it is more or less "corrected" by an affirmation of the distinction between clerics and laypeople. Notice however that it is precisely this which becomes the leit motif of the following chapters, when they speak of the munus docendi—in the chapter on the Church's Teaching Office—the Teaching Office is given to the People of God, it is not given to the priests; the mission of sanctifying is given to the People of God; it is incredible!
What power will they leave to the priests then? There remains only the power of jurisdiction; that is a little more difficult to change; so they published an article in L'Osservatore Romano on the powers which the laity now has in the new Canon Law, in which they said: you may have taken notice of the fact that the Teaching Office and the mission of sanctifying have been attributed to the People of God; as for the power of jurisdiction, that is a bit more delicate, what they say about that is less precise.
There you are! These are grave errors. For example, with the Teaching Office and the mission of sanctifying, they make an absolute link between the role of a parent with respect to his children, and the role of the priest. The priest has a role: the Teaching Office and the mission of sanctifying with regard to his parish. The father of a family has a role: a teaching office and mission of sanctifying of his family. All this comes from a false vision of the Church. It will mean the definitive disappearance of the essential distinction between the priesthood of the faithful and the sacramental priesthood.
The priest has received a sacrament, the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which confers a character on the priest and which gives him alone the power to pardon sins, the power to pronounce the words of consecration at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the power to administer the sacraments. It is really unbelievable to have made this kind of comparison between the priests and the faithful.
There is also more and more of this democratic spirit in the Church. You are aware of all the councils they have—although they are only "consultative"—but they still have them all the same: a parish council, a bishops' council—at least two councils in the parish and one or two for the bishop—there is the Synod of Bishops at Rome, which is now a recognized institution in Canon Law, so that the authorities, in practice, are obliged to take them into account, and it is no easy thing to govern when one is continually obliged to seek the counsel of a majority vote, or to hold a vote to see what the assembly thinks. Those in authority have their hands tied. Not that there was no such thing as consultation in the old Code of Canon Law, there were certain consultations which the bishop had to make, but they were much more discreet, much more reasonable than now. Now it has become an institution, which really limits the powers of the bishop.
All this means that the new Code of Canon Law, to my way of thinking, goes considerably further than the Council itself.
The giving of Holy Communion to Protestants—Eucharistic hospitality, as they call it—is a dogmatic error. One does not have the right to give Communion to someone who does not have the Catholic Faith, that is a real rupture with what has always been most precious in the Church: the Body and Blood of Our Lord, and faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. One does not give the Body and Blood of Our Lord except to someone who truly has the Catholic Faith, faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, and not simply faith in the Real Presence while he perhaps denies the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Before passing to the second point, which will be somewhat shorter than this one, I would like to make a little comparison between the preceding and what Archbishop Bugnini said. Last year there appeared an enormous book of his on the liturgical reform, published posthumously, by one of his confreres. I recommend, if you ever come across this book, that you read the general principles. They are very instructive, and absolutely incredible—right in these general principles Archbishop Bugnini says, this liturgical reform is a profound one, aiming at restoring to its true place—for him, according to what he says—the People of God.
It is very curious to find here this notion of the People of God, which is in the new Code of Canon Law, published after the death of Archbishop Bugnini. He could not have gotten it from the new Code, so these ideas must have been around well before it. It is stupefying to read in the Documentation Catholique that the Lutheran-Catholic Commission of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, and thus an official Roman commission, said in effect that numerous points in the Council were drawn from the teachings of Luther, one of them being the notion of the People of God. They say it explicitly; so with this doctrine of the People of God, they are restoring the assembly to its true place, to give it an important role in the liturgy, implying that before the assembly did not exist, or that its role was minimal, that there was no participation; and that, now, thanks to the new liturgy, there is finally participation.
There comes to mind an objection made by a certain Benedictine abbot at the conference which Archbishop Bugnini gave before 24 superiors of religious orders—I myself was present at this conference—at Rome, before the publication of the New Mass. When he introduced to us his "Normative Mass," Archbishop Bugnini spoke to us precisely about this participation of the faithful, active participation, as if before Vatican II the faithful had never participated in the Mass. And so an abbot got up and said, "Father, if I understand correctly, we should not say private Masses any more, since there is no congregation, and thus no participation by the people in our Masses." The response was, "Quite truthfully, we have not envisioned that." Incredible! As he himself said, this idea has inspired the liturgical reform, an idea which reverses the roles, giving the greater role to the assembly, and no longer to the priest and the sacrifice, the Sacrifice of Our Lord.
I have been asked to give you a few reflections on the spirituality of the priest. I cannot very well separate the spirituality of the priest from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
To my mind there are not two different kinds of priestly spirituality, there is only one: that of his Mass, that of the Sacrifice of Our Lord, because the priest is essentially the man of sacrifice. I would say there is a transcendental relation between the priest and the sacrifice, and between the sacrifice and the priest. One cannot imagine sacrifice without a priest, and the priesthood without sacrifice. And so there is a relation there that is more than essential, transcendental really, a relation that goes beyond even the essence of the priest. So, we must go back to the idea of the Sacrifice. One can say that our sacrifice, the sacrifice which Our Lord has put into our hands, the sacrifice which Our Lord has left us, is a thing without limit, inexpressible, so divine and mysterious is it, that it surpasses everything we can imagine.
To think that we are really "other Christs," and that it is His words, His words that produce His presence, that we recite these words each morning, that it is not simply a narrative but also an action, and that we say, "This is My Body," we do not say, "This is the Body of Jesus Christ." But we say, "This is My Body," "This is the chalice of My Blood" it is we ourselves who pronounce it! Consequently we are truly in the Person of Christ, it is truly Christ that we represent. It is no longer we who speak; it is Our Lord Who makes use of our lips, Who makes use of us to pronounce these words anew. There it is, I truly believe, the great program of the priest, the program of priestly life: his Mass. That is why the Mass is so important. And this program, it is not really complicated, it is very simple.
The first part of the Mass consists in teaching: "to teach all nations," that is our role. We have to teach precisely because we have the Teaching Office. Our Lord said to us, to priests, "Teach all nations." He did not say that to just anybody, He said that to His Apostles, and so we have this role and we must teach. That is what we do in the first part of the Mass, more especially than in the other parts. May we be solicitous that our teaching truly be the teaching of the faith, that our teaching truly be the teaching of the Church! And may I point out that the faith is essentially connected with Revelation, and Revelation is essentially connected with Tradition: Faith, Revelation, Tradition! And that is why, when we say we are traditionalists, we are right. We must be traditionalists; there can be no Catholics who are not traditionalists. Tradition is part of our faith. We should not forget that there was a time of prophecy, as St. Thomas says. There was a prophetical epoch which began with the first prophets, continuing right up to the Prophet Who is Our Lord Jesus Christ: He is the Prophet, there is none greater, none holier, none more perfect, than this Prophet.
Thus the prophetical epoch continued right up to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostles were joined with Our Lord Jesus Christ to announce the Gospel. After the death of the last Apostle, the prophetical epoch came to a close, was finished; there is no other prophet, there can be no other prophet after Our Lord. Who could surpass Our Lord? Who could say: "I come after Our Lord to complete what Our Lord said"? Who could say such a thing? God Himself has come, who can make himself greater than God? There are no more prophets; the time of prophecy is finished, terminated.
St. Thomas goes on to say: "Then followed the dogmatic epoch," the time of definitions, that is, the time in which the contents of Revelation were defined, that which was revealed, that which is in the deposit of faith. And the popes have no other role than to define what is in the deposit of Revelation—not to add a single truth, but simply to say: "This is in the deposit of revelation." That is where Tradition comes in: Tradition, from generation to generation, from pope to pope, from council to council, the tradition of the Faith, of what has been defined, and to the extent to which it is defined it is untouchable, one can no longer touch this truth, it is defined for all times.
When a pope uses his infallibility, it is the deposit of faith, the treasure of our faith, there is thus a tradition, which we cannot avoid, which we must keep, hence the importance for us to always refer to the past, to refer back to what the Church had always taught. Now, this is the great error of Cardinal Ratzinger, the great error of those who are in the Church today, who say to us: "The Church is a living body and so it evolves, always changing, always in evolution, the Church is not a corpse." Truth is always the same. When I said to Cardinal Ratzinger, "Look, religious liberty and Quanta Cura are incompatible," "Oh," he said, "we are no longer in the times of Quanta Cura." We are no longer in the times of Quanta Cura, then tomorrow we will no longer be in the times of their own new truths—this is not possible!
Now in this first part of the Mass, which, I would say, is the model for our own teaching, we must refer back to that, to Tradition. The essence of what St. Paul said is: "Tradidi vos quod et accepi—I have passed on to you what I have myself received." Already in his time he said that, and he said: "If an angel himself says the contrary of what I have handed on to you, or if I say the contrary of what I have passed on to you, may I be anathema!" And that is serious! And so neither do we have the right to deny what was handed down to us.
There are two other parts of Holy Mass, the part with the consecration, the Sacrifice, and then the part where the priest communicates, which are united because we are united to our Victim, Our Lord.
First, the Sacrifice. I now make a distinction between gratia sanans (grace healing) and gratia elevans (grace elevating), the grace which Our Lord gives us in Baptism, which He also gives us in the Sacrifice of the Mass. The augmentation of this grace has the aspect of "healing" and "elevating.”—Grace healing that is the sacrificial, penitential aspect, of compunction for our faults, of everything that heals us. It is the Blood of Our Lord, it is in the Sacraments, in the Sacrament of Penance... then, there is "grace elevating” which lifts us up, the Holy Ghost Who elevates us with Our Lord Jesus Christ in contemplation, in the love of the Father, in the love of the Holy Trinity. In the Sacrifice of the Mass we find ourselves as it were on the Cross again with Our Lord. That is the sacrificial and penitential aspect, the healing aspect, but also the aspect of love, of charity, of the contemplation of Our Lord.
Next comes the third part: the communion of the faithful. Fundamentally we cannot give them more than Our Lord Jesus Christ, but we must prepare them, precisely by teaching, and then we are the doctors of their souls by the Sacrament of Penance, by the advice we can give. We must do this in such a way that souls receive Our Lord Jesus Christ under the best conditions, so that they can receive this gratia sanans and gratia elevans, and unite themselves with Our Lord the Victim, Our Lord Who praises His Father for eternity.
These are, in summary, the different aspects of the Most Holy Sacrifice, which are very important, essential, and which are an entire program of life, this is practically our entire program of priestly life. I wish that we could always gain a deeper understanding of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There you can see the change on the perspective on the Mass: if one insists only on the meal, as the progressives do now, on the meat the table, the table of the eucharistic banquet the sharing of bread, the sharing of the word—they leave aside the aspect of the Cross, the sacrificial aspect which lifts us up to heaven. Let us not separate the aspect of Our Lord which lifts us right up to the bosom of the Trinity, in the midst of praise, the propitiatory aspect of sacrifice which covers us with the Blood of Our Lord, which heals us of out maladies, precisely this "healing grace." We ought not to forget that there is "healing grace" and "elevating grace"—there are these two aspects of grace.
I will finish this talk with a few words on the new decree which has just come out [Quattuor Abhinc Annos, aka, the "1984 Indult"]. Is it a boon, or not? It would be difficult to say that it is not a good thing, since many people have asked Rome for this liberty, that those who say the Old Mass not be persecuted. I myself also during these years have not ceased asking of Rome: leave us this liberty! And so, faced with the insistence of many people, and mine also, they finally decided to do something. Unfortunately however they have added to it incredible conditions. It's absolutely unimaginable, after all this, to be interrogating people on their opinion: Do you reject the New Mass? If you reject the New Mass, then you don't have the right to say the old one. That surpasses the imagination.
For as I said to my confreres, if one of you were asked, or, if for example, we take the Abbey of Fontgombault in France, the Benedictines, they like the Old Mass, but they have accepted the New Mass out of "obedience." Now they will surely ask for the Old Mass again. And they could ask them: "Why do you opt for the Old Mass?" "Ah, because we prefer the Old Mass. You see, the New Mass has certain features..." "Ah! You don't like the New Mass! Neither then shall you have the Old!"
That is ridiculous, because if we choose the Old Mass it is because we find it better than the new one. If you reject the new one, you don't have the right to the old one! They could quibble back and forth like that.
To my mind, this decree is a typical example of the present mentality at Rome, the progressive mentality. This is a progressive decree; it is not a traditional decree where Rome would act out of consideration for the holiness of the Mass, for the holiness of the faithful, for the apostolate and good of souls, the glory of God. No, it's not that. It's pure politics. They conducted a referendum... a poll... to see who were in agreement; because there was still a small group holding out, they decided to make a concession, but to also add some conditions. That is politics, the same kind they practice in democracies—it's not supernatural at all. Be that as it may, I think Providence has willed this nevertheless for now we have a foot in the door and never again will they be able to shut it! The old era is finished, now we have a foothold, and I think that the good God will permit, little by little, that there will be a return to Tradition. It has triggered the common sense of many of the faithful who say, "Finally this business is over with! Finally we can go to the Old Mass! Finally the dispute is over!"
They aren't really taking the conditions into account. There was even a radio station in Switzerland that said, "Pope Paul VI condemned Archbishop Lefebvre and now John Paul II has condemned Paul VI." That is not altogether accurate, but that is the impression the faithful will get from this decree.
Will we, in our priories, in our traditional groups, will we lose much support? Personally, I don't think so; on the contrary. For one thing, we must say, this decree will unfortunately be difficult for those priests who have charge of a parish, for example, to have the Old Mass when their faithful are divided. Some want the Old Mass, some want the New; some want Communion in the hand, some don't want Communion in the hand; some want Mass facing the people, some don't want Mass facing the people. That will cause interminable divisions. Thus it will be very difficult to have the Old Mass in this environment.
And so I believe that many of our faithful, even if they were accustomed to going to an environment like that, where they see the faithful receive Communion in the hand, where they see the priest celebrate the Old Mass facing the people, they will say: No, no, we will go to those who keep Tradition in its entirety. I don't believe that we will suffer losses. If that is what they figured, I believe they are mistaken. If they calculated beforehand: we will isolate the Society, we will isolate their priests, we will drive the faithful from them—for my part, I believe they are mistaken; I believe, on the contrary, that we will have more support than ever. Already some have said to us, "Oh, now we will be able to come to you." Before they were afraid and thought it would be disobedience to the priests, to the bishops who said to them: "You disobey if you go to those Masses." Now that issue of disobedience is over, so now we can go there, the faithful believe.
That is why, after all is said and done, we must look beyond the actual text of the decree, and the divisions it will cause, and the difficulties it will cause with the bishops: look at it as the good God sees it. I believe it is providential, a first step on the road back to Tradition and so, I hope, God will see to it that other steps will follow.