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A Bishop Speaks to Us
August 1972


My dear Friends,

You have asked me to speak to you of the priest. Since we have already discussed the subject at length in the course of today, all the wise counsels, all the sound principles then set before us have clearly been a source of edification and encouragement. All I can do is confirm them.

I should like to stress, not perhaps all the points raised during the day–I should merely be repetitious–but the matter treated in our discussions and conversations from the beginning, since it seems to me of capital importance for the understanding of the situation today. Indeed, it seems to be impossible to explain the situation in which we find ourselves without tracing it back to the Council.

I am reverting to it because it seems to be indispensable to read and study carefully all the schemata of the Council in order to disclose the doors which it opened to modernism, as Fr. Simon said so well. I shall stress the fact that the Council steadily refused to give exact definitions of the matters under discussion. It is this rejection of definitions, this refusal to examine philosophically and theologically the questions under discussion, which meant that we could do no more than describe them, not define them. Not only were they not defined, but very often in the course of discussions on the subjects, the traditional definition was falsified. I believe that is why we are now confronted with a whole system that we cannot manage to grasp, and can keep in check only with difficulty because the traditional definitions, the true definitions, are no longer accepted.

Take, as an example, the question of marriage. Marriage was always traditionally defined by the first end of marriage, which was procreation, and by the secondary end, which was conjugal love. Well, at the Council, there was an expressed desire to change that definition and state that there was no longer a primary end, but that the two ends of procreational and conjugal love were equivalent. It was Cardinal Suenens who launched this attack on the very purpose of marriage, and I still remember how Cardinal Browne, Master General of the Dominicans, rose to cry “Caveatis! Caveatis! Beware! Beware!” He declared vehemently:
Quote:“If we accept this definition we are running contrary to the whole tradition of the Church, and we are about to pervert the meaning of marriage. We have no right to go against the traditional definitions of the Church.”

And he gave many examples.

So great was the emotion aroused in the assembly that Cardinal Suenens was asked, I believe by the Holy Father, to make some slight alteration in the terms he had used, or even to change them all together. That is only one example, but you can see that now everything said on the question of marriage ties up with the false conception expressed by Cardinal Suenens, that conjugal love, now called quite simply and far more crudely “sexuality,” is henceforth an end of marriage, not procreation only. The result–in the name of sexuality all acts are permissible: contraception, birth control, the use of marriage with all that can hinder birth, and, ultimately, abortion. So it goes on.

One bad definition, then, and we are plunged into confusion, or lack of definition. We have asked repeatedly for a definition of collegiality; none has yet succeeded in defining it. We have asked repeatedly for a definition of ecumenism; we are told, through the mouths of the commission secretaries and rapporteurs themselves:
Quote:“But we are not holding a dogmatic Council, we are not making philosophical definitions. This is a pastoral Council aimed at the world as a whole. Consequently, it is pointless to frame here definitions which would not be understood.”

But it is surely the height of stupidity to think that we can meet and yet fail to define the very terms we are discussing.

The definition of the Church has been equally falsified–even of the Church! There was an unwillingness to name the Church as the necessary means of salvation. Thus, insensibly, in the wording of the texts, the Church was no longer a necessary means, but a useful means, useful merely. Christians ought to penetrate the mass of humanity, which is, itself in its entirety, moving towards its salvation, and Christians should bring to it an additional element of union, of charity, etc. And that is all. It is to destroy the whole missionary spirit of the Church at its roots.

It is thus that the schema on missions has been literally undermined by the idea. Today we see many missionaries who have come back from their missions loath to return to them. In refresher courses, sessions, and reunions they have been fobbed off with twaddle. French delegates told them:
Quote:“Above all, beware of proselytizing. You should realize that there is considerable worth in all the religions you encounter; missionaries should concern themselves only with the development of these countries and, as a result, with social progress”

–no longer with true evangelization and sanctification. Those missionaries had gone overseas to preach the Gospel and save souls, saying to themselves, Some souls will be saved because I went on a mission. We have always been taught that souls in original sin and all the personal sins that follow were in great danger of failing to find salvation, and that we must therefore do everything in our power to go and bring them the Gospel. That is no longer true! If I had the text here, the first text of the schema which treats of the Church in the world, Gaudium et Spes, I would read it to you so that you might gather what there is in the other schemata on the same subject.

The first schema is inadmissible. It is there explicitly stated that all humanity is on the way to its final end–to its happiness. There is no allusion to original sin, no allusion to baptism, no allusion to the sacraments. Indeed, it is an utterly new conception of the Church. Here too, the Church is nothing but a useful means. The faithful are repeatedly reprimanded since Christians must not think themselves better than others or believe that they alone have the whole truth. Christians should make themselves useful to humanity but should not believe that they, and they alone, are the way of salvation.

That was the spirit which went to the making of Gaudium et Spes. It begins with a long description of the changes which have taken place in humanity. It is a postulate constantly repeated to justify all the changes now proposed to us: the world evolves, everything evolves, times change, humanity changes. Humanity progresses, it is in a state of continual progress. For the compilers, the consequences follow of themselves. We can no longer think of religion as it was conceived in the past. We can no longer conceive the relations of the Catholic religion with other religions in the same way as in the past. We must therefore develop a wholly different conception of our religion. I assure you that it would be useful to republish these schemata to discover the wrong spirit which inspired its editors.

There is another subject which should normally have been defined with great precision–episcopal assemblies. What is an episcopal assembly? What does it represent? What are its powers? What, then, is the purpose of an episcopal assembly? Well, no-one has ever succeeded in defining an episcopal assembly. The Pope himself has said that it will emerge, in the process of time, in practice, how the powers of episcopal assemblies can be defined and delimited. There was a rush into action and practice without having a definition, without knowing where one was going. The gravity of such a step was incalculable. It is obvious that the bigger these episcopal assemblies are, and the greater their rights, the more the bishops are reduced to nonentities. Thus, the episcopate, the true framework of our Lord’s Church, disappears with these episcopal assemblies.

It is happening today. There is still an absence of definitions. In May of last year I went to see a cardinal and explained to him what I was doing. I described the seminary, with its spirituality directed above all towards the deepening of the theology of the sacrifice of the Mass and towards liturgical prayer.

He said to me:
Quote:“But, Your Excellency, that is the exact contrary of what our young priests want today. Today the priest is defined in terms of evangelization, not in those of sanctification or the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”

I replied:
Quote:“What evangelization? Unless it bears a fundamental and essential relation to the holy sacrifice of the Mass, what is the meaning of that evangelization? Political? Social? Humanitarian? On what will the evangelization dwell?”

Yes, but that is how things stand today. It is evangelization which predominates, no longer sanctification So, yet another bad definition of the priest, and so long as the true definition is no longer given, all the consequences must be borne.

The same is true of all the sacraments. Consider all the sacraments one after the other; they are no longer defined as in the past. Baptism is no longer redemption from original sin, but simply the sacrament that unites you to God, or rather makes you belong to the community. There is no longer mention of the remission of original sin. Marriage has already been discussed. The Mass is now defined as the Lord’s Supper, as an assembly, no longer as the true sacrifice of the Mass. The consequences flowing from that are all too obvious. Extreme Unction is no longer the sacrament of the infirm, the sacrament of the sick; it is now the sacrament of the old. It is no longer the sacrament which prepares for our last moment, which wipes away sins before death and is a true preparation for our final union with God.

And the sacrament of Penance? Now, with the new decree, I sincerely believe that the very definition of the sacrament of Penance is affected, because one cannot make the exception into the rule. What was an exception was general absolution given in the case of shipwreck or war–an absolution, moreover, the validity of which is debated by the authors.One comes up against the definition and very essence of the sacrament of Penance, which is a judicial act, a judgment. No judgment is possible where no case has been heard. Every man’s case must be heard if it is to be judged for the remission or retention of sins. As I see it, this practice will end by destroying the very essence of the sacrament of Penance, and it is a practice which will certainly spread rapidly. Confessors will find it far easier to say to the people waiting outside the confessional, “Listen, I haven’t time to hear your confession. You realize that I am now authorized to give you general absolution. I give you general absolution.” In principle, one should confess grave sins if there are any; but psychologically, one need no longer confess mortal sins if such exist, that is absurd; people will not go afterwards to confession and show themselves to the others as having grave sins. Then those who have already been to Holy Communion after receiving absolution will say, “I cannot see why I should go to confession since I have already received Communion.” It is grave indeed. We are on the way to the abolition of the Sacrament of Penance.

I sincerely believe that it is the Council which is at the back of all this since many of the bishops, above all those chosen to be members of the commissions, were people who had studied an existentialist philosophy but had never studied Thomist philosophy and so do not know what a definition is. For them, there is no such thing as essence; nothing is defined any longer; one expresses or describes something, but never defines it. Moreover, this lack of philosophy was patent throughout the whole Council. I believe this to be the reason why the Council was a mass of ambiguities, vagueness, and sentimentality, things which now clearly admit all interpretations and have left all doors open.

But we should return to the Mass, which most closely concerns priests. The Mass, as the Council of Trent so well expressed it, is the heart of the Church. An attack on the Mass is an attack on the Church as a whole and, by that very fact, on the priest. The priest is the person who is ultimately most affected by all these reforms, for he is at the heart of the Church with the duty of spreading the faith and the holiness of the Church. He is the true responsible minister by virtue of his sacerdotal character. The Church is essentially sacerdotal. Thus, when anything in the Church is touched, the priest suffers the consequences. That is why the priest is today in the most tragic of situations, the most dramatic imaginable. Seminaries are non-existent, since the definition of the priest and the true concept of the priesthood have been abandoned.

I admit that I find myself incapable, truly incapable, of founding a seminary with the new Mass. Since the priest is defined precisely by the sacrifice, the priest cannot be defined without reference to sacrifice, nor can one define sacrifice without reference to the priest. They are ideas indissolubly linked by their very essence.It follows that where there is no longer a sacrifice there can no longer be a priest. I do not see how one can make priests if there is no longer sacrifice. And, for example, there is no longer a sacrifice if there is no longer a victim, and there is no longer a victim if there is no longer a Real Presence and no longer transubstantiation.

Thus, where there is no victim there is no sacrifice. What, then, is there to hold the priest or seminarian? I would say, what is it that makes his fervor, his piety? What gives him his very reason for being in the seminary? It is the Sacrifice of the Mass. I think it was true of all of us during our seminary days that our happiness, our joy, was to look forward to the tonsure, to minor orders, to going to the altar, to becoming a subdeacon, deacon, and, at last, a priest. To be able at last to offer the divine Victim! To be able at last to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass! As seminarians, that was our whole life.
Now doubt is cast on the Real Presence, doubt is cast on the Sacrifice of the Mass: it is a supper, it is a meal, it is a presence–the Lord is present as when we are together. But that is not the Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist; it is the Presence of the Victim, the same Victim as on the Cross. That explains why there are seminarians, why there are vocations; it is worth while to be a priest to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, the true Sacrifice of the Mass.

It is not worth while being a priest to bring together an assembly where the laity may all but concelebrate, where the laity may do all things. Nothing is left in this new conception of the Mass, a Protestant conception leading us to Protestantism. That is why I cannot see how one can make a seminary with this new Mass. It can neither hold seminarians nor raise up vocations. There, it seems to me, lies the fundamental reason why there are no more vocations–there is no more Sacrifice of the Mass. Without the sacrifice there is no priest; the priest cannot be defined save by the Sacrament. There are no other grounds. Until the true Sacrifice of the Mass is re-established in all its divine reality there will be no more seminaries and no more seminarians.

You will tell me, “But there are other rites.” Certainly, there are other rites–Coptic, Maronite, Slav, take your choice; but in all these Catholic rites you will find the concepts of sacrifice, of the Real Presence, and of the sacerdotal character. Some rites, of course, might have been changed, but by laying yet more stress on the three or four fundamental notions of the Mass. So be it. Let there be a change for the better, a yet greater and stronger affirmation of these fundamental truths; agreed. But there must be no watering down, no doing away with them. It cannot be done.

Lately, it was well said, and I wholeheartedly agree, that concelebration goes counter to the very purpose of the Mass.
The priest, himself, individually, has been consecrated as a priest to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, his sacrifice, the sacrifice for which he himself, not an assembly, has been given the sacerdotal character. It is he himself who has been consecrated. There was no massive and global consecration of all priests. Each has severally been truly and personally consecrated, and they have received a character not given to the assembly. It is a sacrament received personally, hence the priest is made to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass individually.

There is, therefore, no doubt that concelebration has not the worth of the totality of Masses which would be celebrated individually. It is not possible. There is but one transubstantiation, consequently there is but one Sacrifice of the Mass. Why multiply the Sacrifices of the Mass if one transubstantiation alone has the worth of all the Sacrifices of the Mass? In that case, there should never have been more than one Mass in the world after our Lord’s, did it still serve a purpose. The multiplication of Masses is useless if the priests who concelebrate perform an act which is equivalent to ten distinct Masses. It is false, utterly false. Why should we say three Masses at Christmas and on All Saints’ Day? It would be an absurd practice.

The Church rightly requires that multiplication of the sacrifice of the Mass, both for the application of the sacrifice of the cross and for all the ends of the Mass–adoration, the act of thanksgiving, propitiation, and entreaty. All these new practices show a lack of theology and a lack of the definition of things.

From this point of view I am grateful to Fr. Deen for having written his little work on the celibacy of the clergy, stating that celibacy was practised from the earliest times, for it is untrue to say that celibacy was required after a certain number of centuries. There, too, I believe there to be a lack of theological reasoning. Celibacy is not demanded of the priest solely to facilitate his apostolate and make him more available to his people; it is a supererogatory reason, but not the true cause.

I think the priest should be compared with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why is the Blessed Virgin Mary a virgin? By reason of her divine motherhood, because she is the Mother of our Lord. She has thus been so closely united with the Word of God, with God Himself, that it was meet that she should be a virgin. Well, fundamentally the priest likewise re-enacts what the Virgin Mary was called upon to do. The Virgin Mary brought our Lord down to the earth, in her womb, by her Fiat. The priest, by his own words, brings our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Hence it is fitting that the priest should be a virgin because of his intimate relation to our Lord, through which he has power over the physical body of our Lord, over His divinity, over the whole Person of our Lord. The priest is so close to Him, has such power over Him, that he ought properly to be a virgin. If any exceptions are made, it is by the tolerance of the Church. In the Near East for instance–if one knows them really well and talks to priests of the Eastern Church, they are always exceptions. Married priests may not be appointed to important posts in the dioceses. Bishops may not be married. It is therefore a question of sufferance, pure sufferance.

But it is fitting and, I should say, in some ways and to some extent, that the priest should be a virgin, since it is he who speaks the words of Consecration. Therein lies the mystery, the great mystery of the priest, at once his greatness and his humility. Before the Sovereign Priest, the Supreme Pontiff, who is our Lord, Jesus Christ, the priest is nothing. It is Christ who is the Priest, He who is the Victim, He who offers Himself anew. The priest, of course, is only His minister and should therefore humble himself before our Lord, but it is nevertheless that which makes his greatness, the greatness of the priesthood. We should always meditate on this. We shall never succeed in reaching the depths of the great mystery of the Mass.
It is therein that the Mystery of Faith lies. It is indeed that, not the mystery of Jesus, which comes with the end of the world. It is wrong to contemplate the coming of our Lord at the end of time when the great mystery of our faith has just taken place. How could such an idea arise? The words “Mystery of Faith” have been introduced simply to stress the mystery accomplished in the words of the Consecration.

You have asked me to suggest subjects for your meditation, I should say for your sanctification. If one there be, it is indeed our resemblance to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin Mary is not a priest, but she is the Mother of the priest, as near as possible to the priest. No greater resemblance is possible nor any closer union between the Mother of God and the priest, since both bring our Lord Jesus Christ to earth, both give our Lord Jesus Christ to the world and for that reason are virgin. In that, I think, there is a subject for meditation that can help us in all our difficulties and conflicts. It is strictly necessary that our sacrifice of the Mass be a true sacrifice in order that we may keep our priestly holiness. In the same measure as our sacrifice of the Mass vanishes, in just that measure we lose the source of our sacerdotal holiness.

The present problem of the Mass is one extremely serious for the Church. I believe that if today our dioceses, our seminaries, and our religious activities are stricken with sterility, it is because our recent deviations have brought down upon us the curse of God. All the endeavors to recapture what is being lost, to reorganize, reconstruct, and rebuild, have been stricken with sterility since we no longer have the true source of holiness, which is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Now that it has been profaned it no longer gives or channels grace. How many priests do we see today who no longer celebrate the Mass when they cannot concelebrate, or when there are none present to form a congregation. They no longer celebrate Mass alone. This happens very often, even in our religious orders.

Think, too, of all the sacrileges now committed through this scorn of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Yet it was the Council of Trent that declared that our Lord was present in the smallest particles of the Eucharist. Think, then, of the lack of respect in those who can take particles of the Eucharist into their hands and return to their places without purifying their hands! When there are few Communions and a Communion plate is used, some fragments are always left on the plate. As a result, these fragments remain in the hands of the faithful–that constitutes contempt for the presence of our Lord, which is sacrilege. St. Thomas numbers among his examples of sacrilege the taking of the Eucharist in their hands by the laity.

No doubt that is now authorized, but the ecclesiastical regulation forbidding it was so important that faith in it has certainly been shaken in many Catholics and even in children. How can children still believe in the Real Presence? How can they still have any respect for the priest when the priest no longer respects himself? How can they have a proper conception of the sacrifice of the Mass when there is no longer even a crucifix on the altars? It has clearly lost its meaning.

Now I will say nothing more. I do not want to trespass on your patience. Besides, I believe that over and above the desire to keep our Holy Mass intact, we must wish to keep our breviary. Its definition also has been changed. It is said in the preface to the famous Prayers for Today that, from now on, these prayers will be altered to allow the laity, on occasion, to recite the breviary with the priest. That involves falsifying the very definition of the breviary! The breviary is the prayer of the priest. The priest alone, under penalty of mortal sin, was bound to recite these hours–not the laity. The priest is God’s religious, he is a man of prayer, therefore he is given a breviary so that he may pray all day long, make his acts of thanksgiving and give praise to God, thus, in some way, continuing his Mass.

Now he is suddenly told:
Quote:“No, no, no! That is no longer the case. The priest’s prayers are prayers so composed that, on occasion, he may recite them with the laity.”

It is a complete illusion. Just think! People have no time to come to the parish church to say the breviary with the priest. Only someone with no experience of the priestly ministry could make such a suggestion.

Certainly, one might sometimes say evening prayers with the faithful, but all these prayers and often all those psalms, which are hard to understand! If one is bent on saying evening prayers with the faithful, it is better to choose very simple prayers the faithful understand; or else the true Latin, the beautiful Latin, sung as at Compline. People are united by the chant, by melody, and that lifts up their souls.

Nevertheless, we must keep our breviary. I assure you that it is a necessity. The more we give up our breviary, the fewer will be the sources of grace for our sanctification. You realize that we have gone back to the old psalter, with only those changes introduced in the revised version of St. Jerome’s Abbey. That was the wish of Pope John XXIII. He did not like the new psalter. He said so openly to the preconciliar central commission. He said to all of us who were there: “Oh, I’m not in favor of the new psalter.” He liked the old psalter. It now seems that the new breviary has reverted to the old psalter as modified by the study carried out by the monks of St. Jerome’s. That shows that there is sometimes a return to the sound solutions of the past.

I have heard that the Committee on Liturgy is preparing yet another decree on the Holy Mass. The priest will be free to act as he pleases, save to alter the words of the Consecration, which, however, have already been changed! Then everything will have been changed. The new decree will only give a few directions for framing new Canons. Each may frame the Canon as he please, a Canon that will be said to be adapted to his congregation.

Do you realize what they want to achieve! We should then be wrong to allow ourselves to be swept along by the current which leads to nothing other than the complete and absolute ruin of the holy sacrifice. I do not know what the bishops will think of it all. Will they be satisfied with this new reform, if it comes? It means the end of any conception of the liturgy. A liturgy without rules is no longer a liturgy.

It is for that reason that we must stand by our preconciliar position without fear of seeming to disobey the Church by carrying on a Tradition two thousand years old. That is impossible.

What should be the criterion of the ordinary magisterium if we are to know whether or not it is infallible? It is its faithfulness to all Tradition. To the extent to which he does not cling to Tradition, to that extent we are not bound by the acts of the Holy Father. The same is true of the Council. To the extent to which the Council is in line with Tradition, because it is the ordinary magisterium, we must conform. But to the extent to which that teaching is new or not in conformity with Tradition, there is greater liberty of choice. Hence, we must not refrain from judging things now since we cannot allow ourselves to be swept into the current of Modernism, risking the loss of our faith and unwittingly becoming Protestants.

It is that which is serious, and it is that which is happening to our poor faithful, unhappy people dragged unawares towards a new Protestantism, a “neo-modernism” as the Holy Father himself called it; serious for many priests, too! Then let us thank the good God who gives us the grace to see with some clarity in the unrest in the Church. Then let us stay united, as we have been united today, united in prayer, united in endeavor, united in our undertakings.

God is there. That is why we must not lose heart. God is there, keeping watch over His Church. It is for us to ensure that she shall endure through all the grievous trials that beset her.



Lefebvre, Marcel, A Bishop Speaks: Writings and Addresses 1963-1976. Kansas City: Angelus Press, E-Book

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