What Archbishop Lefebvre said about the New Mass... in the beginning
We present here some excerpts from the book Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography which outline the first reactions of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to the Novus Ordo Missae and how he was compelled to eventually oppose assisting at the New Mass.
From the chapter: For the Catholic Priesthood
A problem: assisting at the New Mass
Since Archbishop Lefebvre was opposed to the New Mass, he would not have it in the seminary. On the eve of the first Sunday of Advent 1969 when the Novus Ordo Missae came into force in the diocese of Fribourg, the archbishop simply said: “We’ll keep the old Mass, eh? ” Everyone agreed...
It is true that prudence might suggest to this or that priest “not to refuse the new Ordo for fear of scandalizing the faithful” by their witnessing his apparent disobedience to the bishop. Such a priest should, however, “keep the Roman Canon which is still permitted, and say the words of consecration in a low voice according to the old form, which is still allowed.” When Archbishop Lefebvre was absent on a Sunday, the seminarians would go and assist at Mass together at the Bernadine convent of La Maigrauge where an old monk celebrated the New Mass in Latin. The archbishop was not a man to rush souls. He allowed himself time to seethe fruits more clearly in order to pass better judgment on the tree. He also wanted to hear the opinions of his colleagues in the episcopate, and find a consensus among his friends.
His friend Bishop de Castro Mayer found himself with a very painful problem of conscience with respect to his priests:
Can we, the bishops, be silent? Can we, pastors of souls, follow a via media, saying nothing and leaving each priest to follow his conscience as he wishes at such risk to so many souls? And if we say openly what we think, what will be the consequences? We will be removed... leaving many of the faithful in confusion and scandalizing the weakest souls."
In January 1970 the Bishop of Campos had already solved his doubts. He translated the Short Critical Study and distributed it among his priests.
It seems to me preferable that scandal be given rather than a situation be maintained in which one slides into heresy. After considerable thought on the matter, I am convinced that one cannot take part in the New Mass, and even just to be present one must have a serious reason. We cannot collaborate in spreading a rite which, even if it is not heretical, leads to heresy. This is the rule I am giving my friends."
At the time, Archbishop Lefebvre’s position was not quite as categorical. He considered that the New Mass was not heretical, but as Cardinal Ottaviani had said, it represents serious dangers; thus in the course of time, “Protestant ideas concerning the Supper would be unconsciously accepted by the Catholics.” This was why children had to be taught the fundamental notions about the Mass. However, “it is an exaggeration to say that most of these Masses are invalid.” One should not hesitate to go a little further to have Mass according to the Roman Ordo; but “if one does not have the choice and if the priest celebrating Mass according to the Novus Ordo is faithful and worthy, one should not abstain from going to Mass.”
From the chapter: “I adhere to Eternal Rome”
Faithfulness to the Mass of All Time: rejecting the Novus Ordo
Archbishop Lefebvre did not found his Society against the New Mass, but for the priesthood. However, the concerns of the priesthood now brought him to reject the new Ordo Missae.
The orthodoxy and validity of the New Mass
Archbishop Lefebvre did not hesitate to speak publicly on the question of the orthodoxy and validity of Paul VI’s Mass. He considered that “one cannot say generally that the New Mass is invalid or heretical”; however, “it leads slowly to heresy.”
In 1975, the archbishop added that the New Mass:
is ambivalent and ambiguous because one priest can say it with a totally Catholic faith in the sacrifice, etc., and another can say it with a different intention, because the words he pronounces and the gestures he makes no longer contradict [other intentions]."
The problem of assisting at the New Mass
Some priests were torn between the need to keep the Faith as expressed by the traditional Mass and a desire to be obedient as they saw it. In the early days of the reforms, Archbishop Lefebvre advised them to keep at least the traditional Offertory and Canon and to say them in Latin. His advice to the seminarians as to the faithful was remarkably moderate in tone for one who was first to step up to the breach to repel the New Mass.
He exhorted them:
Make every effort to have the Mass of St. Pius V, but if it is impossible to find one within forty kilometers and if there is a pious priest who says the New Mass in as traditional a way as possible, it is good for you to assist at it to fulfill your Sunday obligation."
One can counter the dangers for the Faith through solid catechism:
Should all the world’s churches be emptied? I do not feel brave enough to say such a thing. I don’t want to encourage atheism."
Little by little the archbishop’s position hardened: this Mass with its ecumenical rite was seriously ambiguous and harmful to the Catholic Faith.
This is why one cannot be made to assist at it to fulfill one’s Sunday obligation.”
In 1975 he still admitted that one could “assist occasionally” at the New Mass when one feared going without Communion for a longtime. However in 1977, he was more or less absolute:
To avoid conforming to the evolution slowly taking place in the minds of priests, we must avoid—I could almost say completely—assisting at the New Mass."
A poisoned liturgy
Soon, Archbishop Lefebvre would no longer tolerate participation at Masses celebrated in the new rite except passively, for example at funerals [this is also true for marriages—Ed].
- The Theology and Spirituality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
- The New Mass weakens notion of sacrifice
- The New Mass and the Priesthood
- The New Mass and the Real Presence
For section: For the Catholic Priesthood
40 Spiritual Conference, Fribourg, Nov. 9, 1969.
41 Letter to a young priest, Sierre, Feb. 16, 1970.
42 Bishop de Castro Mayer, Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, Oct. 5, 1969.
43 Letter of Jan. 29, 1970, to Archbishop Lefebvre. Unfortunately, Bishop de Castro Mayer states that Archbishop Sigaud “has drawn up a decree for the implementation of the New Mass in his diocese.”
44 Letter of Feb. 17, 1970, to Gerald Wailliez.
For section: “I adhere to Eternal Rome”
9 “La messe de Luther,” Talk in Florence, Feb. 15, 1975. [In A Bishop Speaks, 192 ff.]
10 Spiritual Conferences at Econe, Dec. 10, 1972.
15 Letter to M. Lenoir, Nov. 23, 1975.
16 Spiritual Conferences at Econe, 42 B, March 21, 1977.
17 Circumstances he considered decisive in 1974: Spiritual Conferences at Econe, March 7, 1974, and April 1, 1974.