Validity of new rite of episcopal consecrations: 2

Argument on the contrary[17]

1) The reform of the ritual of episcopal consecration was examined by the Holy Office at a time when Cardinal Ottaviani [known for his staunch and unwavering orthodoxy—Ed.] was the Prefect. Fr. Bugnini relates the episode in his memoirs.

The completely positive answer from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was particularly pleasing and an occasion of both joy and surprise. The Consilium had been worried especially about the proposal to use the text from the Traditio Apostolica of Hippolytus for the prayer of episcopal ordination. Here is what the Congregation said (November 8, 1967):

Their Eminences of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carefully examined the matter at their plenary session on Wednesday, October 11, 1967, and came to the following decisions:

The new schema is approved with the following qualifications:

  1. Number 89: in the questions asked of the candidate for the episcopal office, greater emphasis should be put on faith and its conscientious transmission; moreover, the candidate should be expressly asked about his determination to give obedience to the Roman Pontiff.[18]
  2. Number 96: The text of Hippolytus, duly adapted, is acceptable.[19]

Regarding the approach: the mind of the cardinals is that liturgical innovations should be dictated by real need and introduced with all the precautions that so sacred and serious a matter requires.

Once the changes listed have been made in the Ordo, it is then to be studied by a joint committee, in accordance with the august decision of the Holy Father...”[20]

Now, Cardinal Ottaviani would never have allowed a rite of doubtful validity to pass review.

2) Archbishop Lefebvre, visibly raised up by God to sustain the little flock of the faithful, never called in question the validity of the new rite of episcopal ordinations as published by Rome.

We know that he was informed of the objections made against the ritual, especially by Fr. Kröger.

If Archbishop Lefebvre had had a serious and positive doubt about the validity of the ordinations, he would not have failed to say so given the seriousness of the consequences.

3) For the 37 years that have elapsed since this rite was promulgated, most of the Roman Rite bishops of the Catholic Church have been ordained with it. There is certainly not a single resident bishop (a bishop having the power of jurisdiction) who was ordained before 1968.

Consequently, if the new rite is invalid, the Roman Church is deprived of a hierarchy, which would seem contrary to the promises of Christ (“the gates of hell shall not prevail against her”).

Answer to the question

In order to answer the question, it is necessary to find out what was done.

Now, at this level of inquiry, we should first point out the lack of seriousness of those who have undertaken to “demonstrate the invalidity of the new rite.”

For example, Dr. Coomaraswamy, followed in this by numerous disciples, did not go to the trouble to inform himself as to the identity of the Coptic and Syrian rites to which Pope Paul VI compares the new rite.

The doctor quite simply made an error as to rite. He compares the rite of Pope Paul VI with a Syrian rite that has nothing in common with it, and then confidently concludes that the pope “stretches the truth to the limit in stating that this highly questionable document is ‘still used in large part in the ordination rites of the Coptic and Western Syrian liturgies.’”

Indeed, we shall have no difficulty in showing that the affirmation of Pope Paul VI is exact and that it is the doctor who has not done his work.

When someone pretends to be involved in something serious like theology, he must do it seriously. This is not the case with Dr. Coomaraswamy and the “Coomaraswamists.”[21]

The genesis of the new rite

Let us begin by exposing the genesis of the new rite.[22] The execution of the reform prescribed by the Second Vatican Council was entrusted to a new organism, parallel to the Congregation of Rites, called the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia (Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), referred to hereafter as the Consilium. Its president was Cardinal Lercaro, Archbishop of Bologna,[23] and its secretary was Fr. Bugnini (who had already worked on the preparation of the Constitution on the Liturgy.)

The Consilium was composed of two different groups. Firstly, there were 40 members as such, for the most part cardinals or bishops, who had a deliberative vote. Then there was the group of consultors, more numerous and given the task of preparing the work.

The consultors were divided into a certain number of study groups (coetus), each one tasked with a specified area. Each group was presided over by a relator who had to organize the work. Dom Bernard Botte, O.S.B. (1893-1980), a monk of Mont-Cesar (Belgium) was the relator of “Group 20” given the task of revising the first part of the Roman Pontifical [which included the rite of ordinations]. His collaborators were: Fr. B. Kleinheyer (secretary), then professor at the seminary of Aix-la-Chapelle, author of a thesis on the ordination of the priest in the Roman Rite; Fr. C. Vogel, professor at Strasbourg, who had taken the succession from Msgr. Andrieu for editing the Ordines Romani and the Romano-Germanic Pontifical; Fr. E. Lengeling, professor of Liturgy at Munster-in-Westphalia (later Dean of the Faculty of Theology); Fr. P. Jounel, professor at the Superior Institute of Liturgy at Paris; Msgr. J. Nabuco, Brazilian prelate [a monsignore, but not a bishop—Ed.] and author of a Commentary on the Roman Pontifical; finally, (but not at the beginning) Fr. J. Lecuyer, then professor at the French Seminary in Rome, who in 1968 became Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost after the resignation of Archbishop Lefebvre. The three most active members were Dom Botte and Frs. Kleinheyer and Lengeling.

The group held its first meeting at Trier from August 3-5, 1965. Despite his faults, of which we shall speak later, it must be recognized that Dom Botte was competent, and that the group which he directed worked seriously. After the first presentation of the project of the new rite before the Consilium, Dom Botte wrote to Fr. Kleinheyer on November 27, 1965:

I believe that that is the first time that they found themselves in the presence of a coetus that proposed reasonable things supported by sufficient documentation and justification.

One bishop told me: “There is no way not to agree with you, since it has been explained so well.” It went completely otherwise for the ordo missae![24]

The Coetus drafted five successive schemas: Schemas 102 (De Pontificali No. 5 of September 10, 1965),[25] 150 (De Pontificali No. 7 of April 5, 1966),[26] 180 (De Pontificali No. 12 from August 29, 1966),[27] 220 (De Pontificali No. 15 of March 31, 1967),[28] and 270 (De Pontificali No. 17 of February 1, 1968). All these schemas are kept in the archives of the German Liturgical Institute at Trier, where they can be consulted.[29]

The origin of the new rite as told by Dom Botte

Let us first look at what the artisans of the new rite said about their reform, then we shall look at what they didn’t say.

The chief artisans of the reform were the “experts,” that is to say, the consultors. Undoubtedly, their work was subject to the Consilium and to the Roman Congregations, but it was the consultors who had the initiative in the work, and who sometimes exerted pressure that their superiors did not have the courage to resist. An example is given in the memoirs of Dom Botte:

Thereafter we decided to use the new rite on the occasion of the ordination of Bishop Hänggi, bishop-elect of Basel. But before obtaining the pope’s definitive approval, the text still had to be submitted for review to the appropriate Roman congregations. This is why I was called to Rome to appear before a commission composed of representatives of the Congregation for the Faith, the Congregation of the Sacraments, and the Congregation of Rites.

The latter congregation proceeded in an entirely correct fashion: it sent me a series of written remarks which I had time to examine. Some looked well-advised to me, and I immediately agreed to them. Others were less so, but I was able to prepare a reply. Unfortunately, the other two congregations did not have the same attitude, and their representative waited to get into the meeting to raise loads of unforeseen objections. The representative from the Congregation of the Faith[30] proved particularly zealous in dissecting the text and asking for corrections. As banal an expression as “celebratio mysteriorum” was suspect because it could be regarded as approving the theories of Dom Casel [See The Angelus, April 2002—Ed.] As a result we were not moving ahead. Perhaps this was fortunate, in a certain way, since for the time being it limited the damage to a small part of the text. But on the other hand, if we continued at this pace and with the same method, I didn’t see where it would all end, or, especially, what would be left of our draft since everything was being challenged. This never would have happened with Cardinal Lercaro, but Cardinal Gut was incapable of leading the discussion, and when he did intervene, it was generally misinterpreted. Fr. Bugnini was visibly ill-at-ease, but he was intimidated by the cardinal’s attitude. We couldn’t continue on in this way.

I managed to keep my cool during the first meeting, but afterwards I had one of the most beautiful fits of anger in my life. I quite frankly told Cardinal Gut and Fr. Bugnini that if this should go on in the same way and in the same spirit, I’d pack my bags and return home. The commission had before it a draft which had required several years’ work by specialists. It had been revised and corrected several times by about forty consultors of the Commission. It had been examined and approved by about forty cardinals and bishops. And, at the last minute everything had to be changed and new solutions improvised at a moment’s notice on the advice of half-a-dozen incompetent bureaucrats. No lay institution could survive with such work methods. I don’t know how things were worked out, but I’m fairly certain that Fr. Bugnini found a diplomatic solution. He knew I’d given no empty threat, and he himself was exasperated by the procedure. As a matter of fact the person from the Congregation of the Faith who really got on our nerves had disappeared by the next session, and I’ve never seen him since. At the beginning of the second meeting I ventured to tell the representatives of the congregations, except for the Congregation of Rites, which had sent its remarks beforehand, what I thought of their method. The review then moved ahead by leaps and bounds, and it was over by the end of the meeting. The text was ready for the ordination of Bishop Hanggi."[31]

It is not normal to leave so much power to experts, even if they are very knowledgeable in their field. They should have been more closely directed by the hierarchy and checked as regards doctrine.

Our Lord entrusted His Church to bishops, not to “experts,” and the principal role of the hierarchy is to watch over the orthodoxy of the faith.

It comes as no surprise that the result of the Consilium’s work was not a happy one for the Church. The reforms reflect the attitudes—and the defects—of the experts.

Now, Dom Botte had a failing: a lack of filial piety towards Rome. This stands out in his memoirs:

When the Commission was established, I was often obliged to stay in Rome in order to speak before the group. These visits were as short as possible. As there were two sessions back-to-back, I received permission to speak on the last day of the former and on the first day of the latter. My excuse was that after three days I turned anti-clerical, and after a week I risked losing my faith. It was only a joke, but I must say that I did not bear up well under the Roman atmosphere. I like Italy a lot though, and have fine memories of time spent in Verona, Florence, and Venice. But Rome was something else. There was too much red, purple, and cassocks. I stayed at the Pensionato Romano, a large building six stories high, located on the via Transpontina, not far from the Vatican. It was comfortable and meticulously clean; but the cooking was insipid, and the atmosphere purely clerical. My only break was to eat my meals in the little public restaurants on the nearby streets where I felt more at ease."[32]

It was not just “the Roman atmosphere” that Dom Botte didn’t like. It was also the theology and liturgy of Rome:

The Pontifical took shape progressively, from the fifth to the end of the thirteenth centuries, to a great extent outside Rome. It contained elements of very different origin and value. The essential element, that is, the laying on of hands, was somewhat buried under a pile of secondary rites. Furthermore, certain formulas were inspired by medieval theology and needed correction. For example, the theologians of the Middle Ages considered the handing over of the paten and chalice to be the essential rite of ordination to the priesthood. Now, this was not compatible with the Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis of Pius XII which had re-established the primacy of the laying on of hands. The rite of handing over the paten and chalice could be retained, but not the accompanying formula: “Receive the power to celebrate Mass for the living and the dead.” The power to celebrate Mass is given to the priest by the imposition of hands alone.[33]

Besides, the text was loaded with questionable symbolism: for example, the miter as symbolizing the two horns of Moses as he came down from the mountain. The investiture ceremonies were interminable....

The main one was the formula for the ordination of a bishop. The text in the Pontifical was comprised of two parts. The first was derived from some old strictly Roman sacramentaries, the Leonine and the Gregorian. They articulated only one idea: the bishop was the high priest of the New Testament. In the Old Testament the high priest was consecrated by anointing with oil and clothing with precious vestments. In the New it was the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the ornament of virtues. The literary form of this section did not make up for its poor content. The typology insisted exclusively on the cultic role of the bishop and left aside his apostolic ministry. The second part was a long interpolation found for the first time in the Gelasian Sacramentary. It consists of a jumbled series of scriptural quotations, most of which—but not all—are linked to the apostolic ministry. This interpolation of the Gelasian did not suffice to re-establish the balance. Could we, after Vatican II, retain such a poor formula? Was it possible to correct and improve the text?"[34]

It should come as no surprise that by giving Dom Botte free rein the result was a ritual that broke with the tradition of the Roman Church. He describes how he proceeded:

I didn’t see how we could make a coherent whole out of the two badly matched parts of the formula. Should we create a new prayer from start to finish? I felt myself incapable of this. It’s true that some amateurs could be found who would be willing to attempt it—some people feel they have a special charism for composing liturgical formulas—but I don’t trust these amateurs. Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to seek a formula in the Eastern rites that could be adapted? An examination of the Eastern rites led my attention to a text I knew well, the prayer in the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus.

The first time I proposed this to my colleagues they looked at me in disbelief. They found Hippolytus’ formula to be excellent, but they didn’t believe it had the slightest chance of being accepted. I told them that I perhaps had a way of getting it accepted. If I was paying attention to this text it wasn’t because I had just finished a critical edition of it, but because my study of the Eastern rites made me notice that the formula always survived under more evolved forms. Thus, in the Syrian Rite the prayer for the patriarch’s ordination[35] was none other than the one in the Testamentum Domini,[36] a reworking of the Apostolic Tradition. The same is true for the Coptic Rite where the prayer for the bishop’s ordination is close to that of the Apostolic Constitutions,[37] another reworking of Hippolytus’ text. The essential ideas of the Apostolic Tradition can be found everywhere.

Reusing the old text in the Roman Rite would affirm a unity of outlook between East and West on the episcopacy. This was an ecumenical argument. It was decisive.

I had provided the fathers with a synoptic table of the different texts with a brief commentary. The discussion was lively, and I understand why. What finally obtained a favorable vote was, I think, Pere Lecuyer’s intervention.

He had published in the Nouvelle Revue Theologique a short article showing how the text of the Apostolic Tradition agreed with the teaching of the ancient Fathers. During the session, when it was time to vote on this issue, he made a plea which convinced those who were wavering. Afterward we invited him to join our work group, and he was a great help to us by his theological competence and knowledge of the Fathers.[38]

Dom Botte then explains how the allocution for the ordination of a bishop was composed:

Another problem was that of the addresses to the candidates. These were found in the Pontifical for all the orders except the episcopacy. They were drafted at the end of the thirteenth century by Durand of Mende. Why did he not compose one for the ordination of a bishop? We don’t know, but the question came up: wouldn’t it be desirable to have an address at the beginning of this ordination? It was the hope of the Council that the ordination rite be a catechesis for the people. We believed we were responding to the Council’s directives by providing an address given by the first consecrator. In our first draft there was only a simple rubric indicating the moment when it was to be made, for our understanding was that the person speaking would improvise it. Therefore, we had not drafted any text. The bishops of the Commission asked us—with an insistence that surprised us—to draft a formula which could at least serve as a model. So I asked Professor Lengeling to compose an address inspired by the teachings of Vatican II. He did this very carefully. It was an excellent synthesis of the Council’s teaching: each sentence was backed up by precise references. However, since the conciliar style is not particularly elegant, I tried to give a more harmonious literary shape to the text. I don’t know if I succeeded, but at least I am sure that I did not misrepresent the drafter’s thought since he agreed with me."[39]

We shall conclude this account of the genesis of the new rite by the explanation of how the examination of the candidate which precedes the ordination of the bishop-elect was changed:

The final point that presented us with a problem was the examination which precedes the ordination of the bishop.

This is an old tradition which was kept by the Pontifical. The one consecrating asked a series of questions of the candidate before the people. Undoubtedly this venerable custom should be kept, but the examination aimed at the orthodoxy of the candidate in light of heresies today having only historical interest. We thought it preferable to have the examination cover the commitment of the bishop to the church and his people. I drafted a questionnaire which I submitted for review to my consultors. We proposed it to the Commission which received it well and helped us finalize it. It serves as a useful complement to the address of the consecrator."

This insider testimony puts a finger on the problem with this liturgical reform: it was entrusted to specialists who did not have much interest (nor, probably, competence) in that which concerns the integrity of the Faith.

It is quite inexact to claim that the examination in the traditional rite only targeted “heresies today having only historical interest.” It was a magnificent moral and doctrinal allocution exposing the candidate to what he must do and believe. Certain questions are even quite current:

Will you receive with respect, teach and guard the traditions of the orthodox Fathers, and the constitutions and decrees of the apostolic Holy See? ...Will you, with the help of God, keep and teach chastity and sobriety? ...Do you believe that there is only one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church? ...Do you anathematize every heresy that arises against this holy Catholic Church? ...Do you believe that the New and the Old Testaments, the Law, the Prophets, and the Apostles have as their sole inspiration God the Lord almighty?"

Rather than replace this questionnaire on faith and morals, it would have been better to complete it in such fashion as to fight against more recent errors. But this was hardly the concern of Dom Botte and the other “specialists.”

Part 3>


17 It is known that in the arguments on the contrary (“sed contra”), the argumentation is not always irreproachable. St. Thomas sometimes gives a response to these arguments at the end of his article in order to rectify what might have been deficient. That is what we shall do here.

18 “Largior pars fiat circa ipsam fidem eamdemque fideliter tradendam et explicita quaestio ponatur candidato de praestanda obedientia romano ponifici.”

19 “Placet textus Hyppoliti [sic], opportunis inductis accomodationibus.”

20 Annibale Bugnini, La Riforma liturgica, 1948-1975 (Rome: CLV Edizioni liturgiche, 1983), p.692 [English version for citations: The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990), p.712]. This approbation was conveyed to Fr. Buginini on November 8. The notification bears a protocol number (Prot. 578/67), but no signature, at least on the copy we consulted in the archives of the German Liturgical Institute (Trier), under “Pontificale Romanum.”

21 Coomaraswamy and most of his disciples are sedevacantists. It is a windfall for them to have been able to “demonstrate” the invalidity of the new rite of episcopal ordination. Thus the last conclave was a “conclave of laymen” and Benedict XVI cannot be pope, because he is not even a bishop...

22 See especially: Bernard Botte, O.S.B., Le Mouvement liturgique: Temoignage et souvenirs (Desclee, 1973) pp.156ff. This book contains interesting admissions. [English version of cited passages: From Silence to Participation: An Insider’s View of Liturgical Renewal, tr. by John Sullivan, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1988), pp.125ff.

23 1891-1976. After the Council, Cardinal Lercaro became a public leader of the progressive wing. Later, Cardinal Gut replaced Cardinal Lercaro at the head of the Consilium.

24 Archives of the German Liturgical Institute (Trier), Kleinheyer file, B 116.

25 This first schema of the Pontifical was presented to the Consilium at the sixth plenary session, from Nov. 21-23, 1965.

26 Discussed in a relation between the relators of the Consilium in May, 1966.

27 Discussed at the seventh plenary session of the Consilium, October 6, 1966.

28 Sent to the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and of Sacraments and Rites on April 8, 1967, and to Pope Paul VI on April 19.

29 The history of the work of Group 20 has been written: Jan Michael Joncas, “The Work of the Consilium in the Reform of the Roman Rite Episcopal Ordination, 1965-1968,” in Ephemerides Liturgicae 108 (1994), 81-127, 183-204. Nevertheless, this work only provides information of a “material” nature.

30 According to Fr. Bugnini, two representatives from this congregation participated at the meetings: Msgr. Philippe and Msgr. G. Agustoni (op. cit., p.692).

31 Botte, An Insider’s View of Liturgical Renewal, pp.138-39.

32 Ibid., p.131.

33 It is true that the power to celebrate Mass is given to the priest by the imposition of hands alone. But that does not prevent one from keeping the venerable rite of “handing over” the implements which does but illustrate this power. If Dom Botte were right, it would have been necessary for Pius XII to correct the ceremonial of the ordination of priests when he promulgated his Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis, but he declined to do so.—Ed.

34 Botte, An Insider’s View of the Liturgical Renewal, pp.134-35.

35 Note that it involves the ordination of a patriarch. Coomaraswamy compares the rite of Paul VI with the rite of ordination of a simple bishop (quite different from the rite of ordination of a patriarch), and he is astonished at finding no concordance.—Ed.

36 This is a translation into Syriac of a Greek text (probably 5th century) from the patriarchate of Antioch, analogous to the Apostolic Constitutions. It contains an ecclesiastical rule which follows closely the Apostolic Tradition, placed in the mouth of Our Lord at the time of an apparition in Galilee after His resurrection. It constitutes the first books of a vast canonical collection called the Clementine Octateuch. Edited by I. E. Rahmani (Mayence, 1899) with the title Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (reprint—Hildesheim:G. Olms, 1968); French translation in F. Nau—P. Ciprotti, La Version syriaquede l’Octateuque de Clement (Paris: Lethielleux, 1967). See the text in Appendix 3.

37 A Syrian compilation, probably written at Antioch c. 380, of three earlier writings: the Didascalia of the Apostles (originating from the region of Antioch in Syria in the first half of the third century, probably written by a bishop to instruct his fellow bishops in the episcopacy on proper conduct inthe pastoral ministry, it includes treatises on Christian life, the hierarchy, the liturgy, lawsuits, offerings, and the reconciliation of sinners); the Didache of the Twelve Apostles (originating in Syria, from the first century—with a later, final redaction—by one or several unknown authors containing teaching on the doctrine of the “two ways,” a liturgical section, advice on discipline, and comments on eschatology); and the Diataxis of the Holy Apostles or the Apostolic Tradition (see below). This compilation has been accused ofbeing at the service of a heterodox theology (Arian according to B. Capelleand J. Lecuyer; subordinationist, Apollinarist or Macedonian according to others) whereas several defend its orthodoxy (F.X. Funk; M. Metzger in his edition of Sources Chretiennes (SC) Nos. 320, 329, and 336). See the text in Appendix 3.

38 Botte, An Insider’s View, pp.135-36.

39 Ibid., p.136.